All 1 Earl of Courtown contributions to the Ballot Secrecy Act 2023

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Fri 15th Jul 2022
Ballot Secrecy Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading

Ballot Secrecy Bill [HL] Debate

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Ballot Secrecy Bill [HL]

Earl of Courtown Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 15th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend for his passion and expertise in electoral matters, and for continuing to draw attention to this important topic. I hope to continue engaging with him and the Electoral Commission further on this area. The proposals in this Bill and the debate we have had so far today have been tremendously interesting, and I am grateful for the contributions of all noble Lords.

The Government are committed to safeguarding our democracy against those who would seek to harm it. The Elections Act 2022, as mentioned by noble Lords, which received Royal Assent recently, is a testament to that, and we are hard at work implementing the various measures contained within it.

I have noted the serious allegations made in the Democracy Volunteers report into the 2022 local elections, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hayward. It will come as no surprise that I fully share my noble friend’s concerns on the issue of coercive behaviour—including that which is known as family voting—taking place in our elections. The Government take these matters extremely seriously and we welcome debate and discussion on proposals for changes that seek to prevent such offences taking place. Let me be clear: it is completely unacceptable for anyone’s vote to be influenced or pressured inside a polling station. Protecting the secrecy of the ballot is of the utmost importance to the health of our democracy.

I am pleased to note that a number of the measures in the Elections Act will strengthen our democratic processes in this very area. We will be expanding secrecy laws to provide the same protections to postal voters as they would have when completing their ballot in a polling station, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. In addition, the Government have updated the existing offence of undue influence. The offence, as provided in the Representation of the People Act 1983, protects electors and proxies from malicious interference when casting their vote. The Government have clarified “undue influence” to make the offence easier for the police, prosecutors and the courts to interpret and enforce. The revised offence also has a broader scope in relation to intimidation and covers any act intended to intimidate a person to vote in a particular way or refrain from voting, or to otherwise impede the free exercise of their right to vote. This will include acts of intimidation around a polling station.

More broadly, I am pleased to note the introduction of a number of other measures to strengthen electoral security, perhaps most noticeably the new requirement for photographic identification at the polling station, which will go a great way to securing our elections against fraud.

I turn to the Bill before us. The measures proposed are interesting and merit consideration. The Government are still assessing these proposals, including their impacts, ramifications and suitability in the light of the new provisions of the Elections Act and the secondary legislation that flows from it, and with regard to the strategy and policy statement for the Electoral Commission’s remit. We will confirm our position in due course as the Bill progresses to Committee—and of course I have noted the general support for this Bill from all corners of the House. Part of the consideration should be whether we need a new offence or whether the existing provisions in the Representation of the People Act should be enforced more rigorously, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hayward and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. We look forward to continuing discussions with my noble friend to that end.