Debates between Lord Willetts and Baroness Chakrabarti during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 21st Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Debate between Lord Willetts and Baroness Chakrabarti
Lord Willetts Portrait Lord Willetts (Con)
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Briefly, the debate we have just had shows why the amendments are necessary. They do not change the underlying framework of law but make explicit something which otherwise would just be implicit. There are benefits for universities and people participating in them by it being explicit.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I forgot to declare my interests as a visiting professor of practice at the LSE and in receipt of research services from a PhD student from King’s College London. To support the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, if this is becoming such a difficult area, it will be tempting for regulators that “may” issue guidance not to do so in a particular contentious area. We go down this road or we do not, to some extent. If there are rows between competing minority interests and around particular foreign policy issues, then if I were a regulator, it would be all too tempting to sit back. That has sometimes been the case in the past, whether with the police or regulators. That is in support of the rather tighter duty that the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, proposes to put on the regulator.

Elections Bill

Debate between Lord Willetts and Baroness Chakrabarti
Lord Willetts Portrait Lord Willetts (Con)
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Well, it will be up to the Committee to decide. I very much hope the Minister will be able to provide some welcome to my amendment, because it is certainly drafted in a way that is intended to be consistent with both the Conservative manifesto and the important report from my noble friend Lord Pickles.

I shall end by painting a picture of a scenario which several noble Lords opposite have hinted at. It is a scenario that concerns me; I think it is unlikely, but it is possible. It is that we go into the next election and in the course of election day we have, for the first time in British political history, a significant number of voters being turned away from polling stations on the grounds that they do not possess a photo ID. We would then have an election won—and I hope it will be an election won by my party—by a party with a small majority, including quite small majorities in a range of marginal seats. We will find ourselves in an extremely difficult political and constitutional crisis if people are saying, “This is an election where a Government has won by a very small majority after we have seen, for the first time on our TV screens, voters being turned away”. I think that would be catastrophic for trust in our electoral system, and everything that we agree in this Committee must be proportionate, given that there are, in the background, risks such as that. I therefore hope that, within the spirit of the Conservative manifesto, it will be possible for the Government to accept my amendment.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, I will ask a question specifically addressed to his amendment. By the way, I wholly commend the thrust of what he is trying to do with the amendment and his incredibly bipartisan remarks about our constitution. I looked through his list on the basis of what I readily have to hand myself. Did he ever consider the simple bank card, as opposed to bank statements, mortgage statements et cetera? I understand that he is trying to make the list as broad as possible. For myself, I find the debit card or whatever the most ubiquitous and quite a sensitive form of identity. I would favour it over, for example, a cheque book. I cannot remember the last time I wrote a cheque.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I make no comment about that, but people increasingly use debit and credit cards. They carry them around on their person. In fact, some people now use their phones for everything. People are paperless even in relation to their statements and so on. I wonder whether that was something the noble Lord considered, because I am so with him in the thrust of what he is trying to achieve.

Lord Willetts Portrait Lord Willetts (Con)
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I take that point; this is not the perfect list. Indeed, there is a rather different agenda behind it. I shared at Second Reading my concern about lower rates of participation in voting and the difficulty of voter registration, especially for younger voters. It is odd that a Government driving forward a digital reform agenda in so many other areas are not doing so in this one. I believe in modernisation; I think digitisation is coming. It is very odd that we are not taking the Bill as an opportunity to introduce it in the electoral register. I also do not believe in lots of red tape and disproportionate burdens from it. By adding to the list, I am trying to reduce the amount of red tape as a barrier to people legitimately voting in elections.