All 4 Lord Desai contributions to the Elections Act 2022

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Wed 23rd Feb 2022
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2nd reading & 2nd reading
Mon 21st Mar 2022
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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Mon 28th Mar 2022
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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Wed 6th Apr 2022
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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage & Report stage: Part 1

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Lord Desai Excerpts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I have a very different view of what the Government are proposing and the whole election business. I find the election process in this country severely out of date. It is like a penny farthing machine, if not something worse. Had the Labour Government been allowed to have identity cards as they proposed— Nick Clegg talked about privacy and some said it was too expensive—none of these problems would arise.

People say that that is against our tradition. In India, which had 900 million people on the electoral register last time round in 2019, everybody has an identity card. All 1,300 million people carry an identity card. I have seen them. Everybody can produce their identity at any time—ignorant people, illiterate people, tribals, women, blacks and whites. Again and again, people here make this drama about it being the poorest who are illiterate or unintelligent and cannot get a photo ID. Why are we so patronising about our own citizens?

My children and grandchildren laugh at the fact that we have to go to a booth and sign something there. They have a smartphone; they should be allowed to vote directly online on a phone. We used the smartphone during the pandemic for a number of things and relied on it. It was very useful. Which world do we live in so that, for elections, we have to go through a very old- fashioned system with people counting votes all night? In India, with 900 million people voting, once the ballot boxes are gathered it takes one and a half hours to declare the national result, because we have electronic machines to count the votes. You do not need people sitting there all night putting little pieces of paper by their side and throwing things away, and us then having to rely on the BBC exit poll to know what will happen over the next 36 hours.

Why do we tolerate this peculiar system? I know that we have a great love for treating politics as a medieval system; that is our pride. That is why our parliamentary Chambers have to be overcrowded; we cannot really have seats to ourselves or equipment on each chair so we can vote sitting on our seat. No, that is not in our tradition; it is not in our tradition to have people sitting comfortably in parliamentary seats. No, we are an old democracy, we are the best democracy; therefore, we must be made physically uncomfortable to be able to be in Parliament. Look at the House of Commons. It is so crowded. If every Member of the House of Lords turned up, half of us would not be able to sit. Why do we tolerate that, and why, each time anybody suggests a change, does everybody say, “Oh my God, we cannot have this change, because somebody somewhere will be deprived”?

The Government should have proposed an identity card scheme and implemented it quickly before the next election. We all get an electoral registration note every month or two that says, “Please certify that you are at this residence”. I do not know why it has to be done that many times but, okay, I do it. Of course I have lost my vote by coming here, but I still dutifully fill out the form and send it back because that is my duty, but it should not be necessary.

If we had an identity card, it would have all the information required in one little thing. It should be on your smartphone. My smartphone knows more about me than I myself know. It tells me where I have been. We really ought to think about this whole process and much less patronisingly about those who are deprived. We should ask: what is the best, most efficient and fastest way to get people to vote, and the most comfortable way? They should not have to go to a polling booth; it is completely unnecessary, because we can create an identity—a number with a picture—which can be accurately determined to give that person a vote. We are discussing an antiquated thing and passionately want to keep it antiquated. I do not think I can make any difference to that logic, but perhaps in another 25 years somebody will do it.

Elections Bill Debate

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Lord Desai Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 21st March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I have been somewhat orthogonal to this whole debate for a long time. I feel that whether Clause 1 stands part or not is neither here nor there—but there is an important point here. If voting is my right, it is the Government’s duty to deliver the instruments that will make it easy for me to vote. I should not have to go out there and register; the Government ought to be at my door, knowing that I have attained the appropriate age of 18, or whatever it is nowadays, to register me and give me my identity card. I do not know what the fuss is about. Why do we put the burden on the voter all the time? We really ought to make it easy for the voter to vote.

As I have said before, at Second Reading, we should not even have to go to the voting booth to vote; people should be able to vote on their smartphones, as long as it is a valid, encrypted method.

I am not at all worried that the great unwashed and coloured people like me will not be able to handle literacy. That is not the point. The point is that the Government are not doing enough on their own to make good and allay the fears they have that lots of people are going to cheat.

It is very simple. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, in India they have 900 million-plus voters, and everyone has an identity card. I do not know what the fuss is about. It is not expensive and it is very convenient. After all, when people go out, they have their debit card, and they can give their phone to identify themselves, and so on.

My grandchildren laugh about our system of voting, because it is a very old-fashioned system. I do not think that is anything to be proud of: it is a voting system that puts all the burden on the voter and none on the Government. Whether or not Clause 1 stands part is another matter, but if the Government want identity cards to be introduced, they should introduce them and provide them, and they should make it easy for people to vote.

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, I hope that I have displayed to the Committee an independence of spirit on certain parts of this Bill, including in my comments on this clause stand part debate previously, but I am absolutely 100% behind the Government in introducing photo ID. It is for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, touched on, and actually for the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, accidentally touched on last week—and I am pleased that he is here. He raised the question twice in relation to the last general election, about the uncertainty of our democratic institutions.

If one looks at the surveys undertaken by the Electoral Commission, there is serious doubt about the validity of the ballots that take place, persistently. The trials that were undertaken, and then followed up by research thereafter, showed that there was a marked—

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Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, I shall speak first to my Amendment 66A and, in so doing, I draw the Committee’s attention to my entry in the register, particularly my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I see this as what I call a “two Ps” amendment: a probing amendment about the practicalities of what the Government are suggesting. I thank Solace, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, for the wide and helpful briefing that it sent about this. It is important that we consider this briefing, because many of those chief executives are the returning officers in constituencies up and down the country.

The briefing talks about the impracticality of suggesting that the voter ID card can be applied for and supplied if people apply by 5 pm on the day before the poll takes place, which, as it points out, is inconsistent with every other form of voter application—whether it be for a postal or a proxy vote—unless it is a medical emergency. We talked about the practicalities of Northern Ireland and it is also inconsistent with Northern Ireland, where this is not allowed to happen until 5 pm on the day before the poll.

It is impractical because it places extra burdens on those administering an election at their busiest time: the week before the election. Anybody who has seen what happens in an electoral office a week before an election will understand that the administrators are already under great pressure to ensure the security and integrity of the election. To suggest that people can turn up until 5 pm on the day before the poll to seek one of these voter ID cards is impractical. The Government’s impact assessment suggests that 50% of people will apply by post and 50% will apply in person. It states that the closer you get to an election, the more people will apply in person. So people could be trying to sort out postal votes and ensuring that the ballot boxes and everything else are in place with queues of people seeking this ID.

In this respect, the Government’s impact assessment is detailed. It suggests that the cards will take approximately five to 10 minutes to produce, assuming that everybody has the things that they need to produce one. It suggests that there be one machine per constituency, which I think works out at just over two on average per local authority.

It is inconceivable that this requirement is practical. So I ask the Minister: why was the stipulation of 5 pm on the day before the poll selected; why is it not consistent with Northern Ireland; and, specifically, what discussion took place with Solace and other returning officers, who would have pointed out that this was impractical? If the Government did consult those who administer elections, what advice came back on the practicalities of delivering this?

I will now speak to some of the other amendments, particularly weighing in with my support for those to which my noble friend Lord Rennard has put his name. I will talk specifically about Amendments 64, 68, 78 and 80.

On Amendment 64, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has mentioned on a number of occasions, it is absolutely vital that when people register to vote, they should be able at the same time, as an automatic right laid down in the Bill, to apply for the voter ID card. I see no practical reason why that should not happen. There is no practical reason why returning officers, Solace or anybody else who administers elections would say that is not consistent. So what would stop the Government allowing that to happen as an automatic right and including it in the Bill?

Amendment 68 is important because it comes back to the powers of the Secretary of State, which we have talked about a lot. The Secretary of State could, by decree, by the stroke of their pen, decide what documentation is or is not available. I shall come in a second to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which is really important. I see no reason for that provision.

Amendment 78 is also important. The noble Lord, Lord True, has on many occasions referenced Canada having voter ID. It is absolutely not true to say that to vote in Canada, you have to have voter ID. If you turn up without voter ID, there is a system called vouching. Somebody can vouch for you, if they have some ID, to say that you are the person who you say you are and they vouch for your identification.

I see no practical reason why that should not happen if this clause stands part of the Bill. It is sensible, it is not unknown across the world, it is practical and it happens. In Canada, it does not happen significantly, but it happens. As many people have said, if somebody turns up without their voter ID at 9.55 pm with their spouse, friend or loved one, I see no reason why that person could not vouch for them.

The Minister mentioned people turning up to a polling station and being asked to return, as he was. For some people, that is impractical. If you work 12-hour shifts and are going just before you start work, you cannot turn back. For people with childcare responsibilities, it may be impractical or impossible to do that. That is why, if you turn up without your ID but with somebody else who has some ID, vouching on the Canadian system should be allowed. I see no reason why it should not. It does not undermine the integrity of the ballot. Somebody who has the appropriate ID could vouch for somebody who has not whom they know. There is then a way of checking, if there is personation by the second person, who the person has vouched for—but there is no evidence in Canada that that actually happens.

I come to the most powerful and important intervention in the debate on this group, which was from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. He made it very clear as a member of the Conservative Party who sits on the Conservative Benches exactly what was in both the 2017 and the 2019 Conservative manifestos: that voter ID would be required. Neither manifesto used the word “photographic”. That is key in terms of the Salisbury convention and the Conservatives being able to carry out their manifesto commitment. In terms of providing extra ID, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, showed a practicality and pragmatism that I would expect his Front Bench to replicate. If not, the cat is out of the bag. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is trying to make it as easy as possible, if this provision comes in, for people to exercise their democratic right to vote.

If the Government, from the Front Bench, refuse to accept that mandatory photographic ID is not required to vote, then they will be saying that they will be making it as difficult as possible for people to exercise their vote. This is the litmus test. We must all listen to the answer to this particular set of amendments.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, not just for his amendment but for making it very clear that the Conservatives would be carrying out their manifesto commitment without introducing photo ID.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I shall make a very short point about Amendment 80. The noble Lord should look carefully at whether many of these indicators are male-oriented. Women do not have their names on documents such as mortgage statements and utility bills. It would make more sense to have one particular card, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, suggested. It would be personal, in the name of the man or woman.

I want to add that I have my Freedom Pass in London. It is a very good thing. I could show it around.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, again I thank all those who have spoken in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, outside what he imagined to be the walls of Jericho, sounded a very loud trumpet call to lead his Front Bench into a battle over the Salisbury convention. I will not pursue this. It is for everybody in the House to decide to what extent the opinion of the other place and the Government’s manifesto should be respected or not. I made a statement about that at the beginning of our proceedings.

I was asked about the card and the words “is or has”. I shall come to this shortly because it is important. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that any voter who does not have one of the forms of identification listed in the Bill will be able to apply for a voter card. There is a wide range. I know that my noble friend Lord Willetts wants to extend it. The card is supplementary. All the other types of identification are listed. Expired identification will also be permitted. Not every elector will be required to have the voter card. People will be able to apply for it at the same time as they register to vote, so the process will be as easy and accessible as possible. If they are already registered and need a voter card, they will be able to apply online, on paper or in person. It is our ambition that they will be able to do so until 5 pm on the day before polling day. That was challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. I will come back to it. The Government would regard that as unnecessarily restrictive.

I am not a parliamentary draftsman, but I am advised that the wording,

“is or has applied to be”

is there because, on the wording of Amendment 64, it could be construed that someone who is applying should be able to get it. You obviously have to be on the register to get the voter card. Either you are on it, or you have applied to register. You send your letter or your online application in. With both applications, the process will be that the registration officer will check the correctness of the application to register. When someone is on the register, they will be able to have the voter card. It is sequential, but the application can be done at the same time. This is the purport of why these words are there.

Elections Bill Debate

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Lord Desai Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 28th March 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-VI Sixth marshalled list for Committee - (24 Mar 2022)
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I regret that the noble Lord, Lord True, is unable to be with us. I gather he is down with Covid, and I send him sympathies. I hope I have not caught it from him—we shall press on. This creates some further difficulties in completing the Bill, on which I hope I may briefly remark. We need to have some discussions between Committee and Report. I hope there will be some—time is short and they need to be fixed up very quickly. As many of us have remarked, the state of the Bill is unsatisfactory. We know that the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said that the Bill was unfit for purpose as presented to the Lords. We have explored many areas already in Committee, such as overseas voting, which we debated late at night in our previous sitting, when it was quite clear that the Government did not have answers to a number of our questions. How that will be implemented if the Bill is passed is, to put it mildly, extremely unclear and probably very messy.

We all regret the missed opportunity of this Bill. It is clear that there will have to be another elections Bill within the next two to three years to achieve what the Law Commission proposed, which is a simplification and rationalisation of our electoral law. This Bill is not that.

This group of amendments deals with the tangle of voting rights left by imperial history and various other things, which the Government appear not to be concerned to rationalise. We have rights for Commonwealth citizens. We have had rights for EU citizens. We have no rights for long-term residents from the United States, which is extraordinary given the Conservative Party’s long feeling that we were closer to the United States than any other country.

My Amendment 152 is a probing one to spark a discussion on how we might think about rationalising the system. EU citizens resident in this country for a very long time—there are 100,000 French citizens in the London area alone, for example—have had the right to vote in British elections. Some would say that they should no longer have the right to vote in British parliamentary elections, but the case for the right to vote in British local elections for those who are resident here, pay council tax and contribute to other British taxes seems to me strong. As far as I am aware, the Government have no particular clear ideas on any of this.

Amendment 155 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, takes us to a recommendation of a number of reports that preceded the Bill: that we should move towards a residency requirement. That seems a rational suggestion. It has a clear principle, unlike the present situation. A residency requirement, at least for voting rights in local elections, would be a very sensible way forward. I am very sorry that it is not in the Bill as drafted.

The rationale for extending rights to overseas voters does not seem to go along with a refusal to recognise that the argument for extending the rights of residents to local voting ought to be considered in the same context, but, sadly, the Bill leaves that as tangled as before. Part of the problem is that the concept of UK citizenship is also a tangle of historical legacies and anomalies.

I find it odd that the Government are happy with this. Do they not consider that a wider reform with a clearer rationale for the changes proposed is now needed? Why is it not in the Bill? The passage of this Bill in its current form will require a successor Bill as soon as possible by this Government or their successor. I beg to move.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I speak on this amendment because, when I arrived here in 1965, I had an Indian passport and I was surprised when, during the 1966 election, someone said to me, “Have you voted yet?” I said that I did not know I had voting rights in this country. He said, “Get on with it and get yourself registered.” This explained to me that, in the UK, we were subjects, not citizens. It was as subjects of the monarch that we qualified. Since the monarch also ruled over the Empire, all subjects of the Empire were equally qualified to vote in the election.

As far as I remember, the notion of citizenship only came with our membership of the European Union. We began to talk of ourselves as citizens, and we had differently coloured passports and things like that. However, the muddle that the noble Lord referred to in moving his amendment is that we are not clear as to what entitles us to vote. Is it our status as subjects of an empire? Is it our status as local taxpayers, as used to be the case before the universal franchise came in? Is it residency? If there is ever another, better version of this Bill, perhaps the first part of it should clarify the status of an individual under which he or she is qualified to be a voter. Until the muddle is clarified, we will have to proceed with a compromised mish-mash of rights.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I also pass on my best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord True, for a speedy recovery. Having had it myself fairly recently, I can say that it is a horrible illness.

I want to move on to the question of Northern Ireland and speak in favour of Amendment 156 in my name, which the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, has signed. It would ensure that EU citizens lawfully resident in Northern Ireland can continue to stand for election and vote in Northern Ireland district elections after the end of the Brexit transition period. It is primarily a probing amendment, however.

In the EU-UK withdrawal agreement, the UK Government committed, under Article 2.1 of the Northern Ireland protocol, to ensuring that certain equalities and human rights in Northern Ireland would continue to be protected after Brexit. Does the Minister—I appreciate that he is filling in at rather late notice—agree with the assessment of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland that the Bill as it stands risks stepping back from those commitments and may in fact be in breach of the UK’s obligations under Article 2.1 of the protocol? Will he undertake to set out, either in response to this amendment or in writing following this debate, the Government’s assessment of the relevant provisions of the Elections Bill in the context of their conformity with our commitments under Article 2.1 of the Northern Ireland protocol?

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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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In the six general elections since I have been a Member of this House, I have always found people to be very surprised that I was unable to cast a vote in them, even though I campaigned in all of them. They find it ironic that I have been campaigning for my party, and its predecessor the Liberal Party, for some 49 years, but I now no longer have a say on who will be the Prime Minister of the country.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am not an opponent of piecemeal reform of this House; I am actually rather in favour of radical reform, and quickly. However, if we had objected to piecemeal reform, this place would be the same as it was in the 19th century. All the progress on reform of your Lordships’ House has been piecemeal, and this amendment would also be an example of piecemeal reform. The principle of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was debated extensively when it formed the basis of two recent Private Members’ Bills, and there was a clear logic to the proposition. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 ensured that Peers lost the power of an absolute veto on legislation, or to determine any financial measure. As Peers, we have no opportunity to vote at a general election to help decide who becomes Prime Minister. Therefore, in those debates on the Private Members’ Bills, I supported the principle of Peers being able to vote in general elections, but I also emphasised that it is not my party’s immediate priority. There are many measures in this Bill which may have considerable impact on future elections, but this is not one of them. As the noble Lord, Lord Horam, pointed out, if membership of the House were evenly distributed across 650 constituencies, there would, on average, be one extra voter on top of some 73,000 others. Therefore, it would be unlikely to make a great deal of difference to the election outcome—although it was of course Churchill who said that “one vote is enough”.

The issue we are debating is really one of principle. As an issue of principle, it is ironic, in my view and that of my party, for any Peer to argue for their right to vote in general elections without also arguing for the right of our country’s voters to have a say in who becomes a Member of this House. There are other priorities. Before we argue for our right to vote in general elections, we must address the problem of 9 million people being missing from or incorrectly recorded on the electoral registers. Our last debate showed that there is a real need to address major inconsistences in the right to be included in our electoral registers. For these reasons, we support this amendment but, while it is logical, it is not our priority.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, one of the things which today’s debate has proved is that logic has never been the basis of enfranchisement in this country or of its constitution. The constitution is what it is because of the way it has developed. As far as the logic is concerned, let me try this. The weight of my vote to elect someone to the House of Commons may, theoretically, be one in 73,000, but in rejecting government legislation it is one in 800—or, given how many noble Lords are present, one in 400. When I was asked to come here, I had a choice. I could have said, “No, I am not coming to this place because I would lose my right to vote”. I chose to come here and that is a very big sacrifice because, as noble Lords have said, we are here for life. Of the 193 upper Houses to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred, not one is unelected, although maybe a few people in them are unelected. However, we are unelected and, therefore, we are here.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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I think the Canadian upper House is not elected.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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They follow us, which is quite nice; they are part of the Empire. I would rather that we be removed from here and replaced by elected Members—this is the futile movement for which I have fought all these years. However, the privilege of being legislators for life is so great that we must make a small sacrifice for it. Not being able to vote at a general election is one such small sacrifice.

Baroness Quin Portrait Baroness Quin (Lab)
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My Lords, I did not speak on the Bill on Second Reading, because I was not able to be present, although I have followed debates very closely on a number of issues. I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions on this issue. My noble friend Lord Dubs, in his persuasive speech, certainly convinced me that it needs to be looked at in the light of two things in particular. First, he mentioned that Bishops were able to vote, which I was surprised at. That means Bishops who are Members of this House can vote in parliamentary elections.

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To allow people who are not citizens of this country to vote in our elections seems to me to simply devalue the whole idea of citizenship. Why should people who are not citizens vote in our elections? People should qualify for citizenship, as they can in the appropriate way, and then be allowed to vote. That treats citizenship as a valuable thing, which I believe it to be. Therefore, as the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Collins, have argued, we should look at this and give clarity to the whole idea of citizenship, which is what the amendment does. The noble Lord, Lord Green, has therefore performed a public service in moving this amendment, and I hope the Government will listen to what he says.
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, this is the third occasion on which I have had to say that, given the way our constitution is, it is obviously not an exercise in logic. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is right that the Bill should have been an occasion to sort out in a clear, straightforward, logical way what the qualifications are that give somebody a right to vote in this country. The right to vote in this country has been based on the principle of the Empire. In 1858, Queen Victoria’s declaration for the Indian empire, a very important document, said that she would treat all subjects of her Empire as equal. She meant that the people in this country were the same part of the Empire as people in India. One of the leading Indian nationalists in the 1870s described that as a Magna Carta for India.

Mahatma Gandhi fought in South Africa for the rights of indentured labourers on the grounds that, being Indian subjects of Queen Victoria, they had the same rights as the white settlers in South Africa. He did not get very much, but that was the principle on which he fought.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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I assume the noble Lord is aware that British citizens in India are not permitted to vote.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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I shall come to that; this is the beginning of a lecture that will take some time.

When I arrived here, I was the holder of an Indian passport. India had become a republic in 1950. Just as we recently saw in the exercise of persuading the Jamaicans not to become a republic, becoming a republic takes a Commonwealth country out of the reciprocity relationship because the country can then choose whether to give reciprocal rights. That is Jamaica’s choice, not ours.

We have to be aware that our original right to vote was as subjects—we are still subjects—of the Crown, and the whole notion that we are citizens is an entirely European import. We became citizens only when we joined the EU; we ceased to be citizens when we left. The notion of citizenship is not relevant. We are not a democracy: the Crown in Parliament is sovereign; people are not sovereign. That is the constitutional position. Noble Lords can challenge me if they wish.

I am not disputing the principle of what the noble Lord is proposing, because he has explained very clearly and patiently that there ought to be reciprocity or symmetry. The Commonwealth itself is an anomaly because it is not a symmetrical association of equal states. Her Majesty the Queen heads the Commonwealth because of her position as the Crown and she has asked the Commonwealth Heads of Government to agree that His Royal Highness Prince Charles will head the Commonwealth when he succeeds her. So the Head of the Commonwealth will always be the British monarch. The Commonwealth is not a society of equal nations; there is an asymmetry there.

We are not French; we are British. We do not believe in logic; we believe in convention, tradition and evolution, and therefore there is an anomaly. If the Government want to have a logical structure, let them bring a Bill that in the first clause defines who has the right to vote in this country and why, and who does not have the right to vote, despite being a resident, taxpayer or whatever. That exercise has not been carried out, and so we have an anomalous position. That is the beauty of the constitution—it is not a logical construct.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I was sorry not to be able to speak at Second Reading. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. Logic, clarity and lack of reciprocity call for Amendment 154, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green, to be taken seriously and for the questions he has raised to be answered. I look forward to hearing positively from my noble friend the Deputy Leader. I will not delay the House.

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How did those rights originate? The Representation of the People Act 1918 provided that only British subjects could register as electors; others, defined in the Act as “aliens”, were excluded from voting. However, the term “British subject” then included any person who owed allegiance to the Crown, regardless of the Crown territory in which he or she was born. In general terms, this included citizens who became Commonwealth citizens under the British Nationality Act 1981, as I mentioned. The Government gave assurances during the passage of that Act that the new definition of “British subject” would not alter the possession of civic rights and privileges, such as the right to vote.
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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I just wanted to point out that the 1918 Act was passed especially in recognition of the fact that many people from the Empire had given their lives in the First World War.

Elections Bill Debate

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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage
Wednesday 6th April 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 141-I(Rev) Revised marshalled list for Report - (5 Apr 2022)
We do not even know how far Russian interference in our election goes. Why not try sorting that out before we sort out this non-existent problem of voter fraud? We have to stop the Government’s interference with democracy, today and on subsequent days.
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 2, 3 and 4. Throughout the debates on the Bill I have been of an opposite view from most of my friends about the fear of identity cards. I do not have any fear of identity cards at all, nor do I believe that BAME people are so backward and so bad that they would be frightened by an identity card. I just do not see the logic. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, India has ID cards; the 900 million voters there all use them and electronic voting machines. It is perfectly straightforward stuff and nobody is intimidated or discouraged from voting. If people are not voting, it might be that the quality of politics has declined and people do not see any point in voting—but that is a point that I will come to another time.

The main problem is that responsibility for getting an ID card should not be put on the voter. The Electoral Commission has to enable people to have an ID card. It has the resources. It is very simple. We live in a digitised world, so why are we still using pencil and paper?

For example, I recently moved from where I had lived for 17 years to somewhere in Lambeth. I immediately got a letter from the electoral registration office, saying, “This flat used to be vacant, now suddenly somebody’s occupying it. Will you please tell us who you are?” I sent back a form with my name and saying who else lived in the house. I posted it off and so I will be voting at my local polling station.

The electoral registration office has my particulars and my address. It would be very easy for it to send me an ID card. I do not see what the fuss is about. It has much more resources than I have as a voter, so it would be very easy for it to send me an ID card. It is a no-brainer, as far as I am concerned. My children’s and grandchildren’s generations laugh at this electoral system, in which people have to go to some booth, take a little pencil and put a cross.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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I do not understand what the noble Lord is saying. The last Labour Government started the procedure for introducing photo identity cards for everyone; the Conservatives scuppered the whole scheme. We should have had ID cards for everyone. The Government could then have introduced this, but they cannot when it is only privileged people with passports and driving licences who have photo IDs. The noble Lord should understand that.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I used to be on those Benches with the noble Lord, so I am not a stranger to that story. It was not only the Government who stopped it but the Liberal Democrats, whose great leader Nick Clegg cared so passionately for privacy that he has gone to work for Facebook. That was his price for agreeing to ID cards; the Labour Party could not pay it.

I do not care who was responsible—they were responsible, you were responsible—I now want to move on. The Bill is an opportunity for us to thoroughly rethink our electoral system, bring it into the 20th century if not the 21st and get on with it. We conduct our elections in the most antediluvian way possible.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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The noble Lord made such an important point about the need to move on, this being Report after a very extensive consideration of the Bill in Committee. There are crucial amendments to get through and vote on. I throw that into the ether of your Lordships’ House.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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I thank the noble Baroness but, as she knows, I have been here listening to all the debates. This is the first time I have introduced amendments, so I have to explain them. If I do not, nobody will understand what I am saying. Because I am putting an argument contrary to that generally put forward in the context of this clause, let me continue.

My amendments say that the Electoral Commission should provide everybody with an ID card that has to contain some very simple facts, which we all have. Amendment 4 says

“address … date of birth, and … NHS number”.

BAME, white or black and whatever religion, we all have an NHS number. When I call up for anything, the hospital asks for my date of birth and knows immediately who I am. NHS number and date of birth should be sufficient to identify anybody. If you have the address, you will be able to see which is the nearest polling booth.

I recently had my fourth jab. To make an appointment for it, I had a text message from the NHS. It took me five minutes to book myself a jab, with the location and time all in a simple text message. It is not difficult. People will be able to find out where and when they can vote as long as they have this ID card.

Since my time is being rationed, I urge people to vote for this because it will simplify the voting procedure and remove the problem that somehow this special class of untouchables who are called BAME people will be frightened by this. Nobody needs to be frightened by this; everybody would receive an ID card.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, this House can spend a great deal of time discussing the meaning of a single word. Words such as “may” or “must” have great significance in law, and today we are debating the difference between compulsory “photo identification” and just “voter identification”. We are debating the word “photo”.

It is important for many people because voter identification was in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto, while “photo identification” was not, and manifesto commitments may be treated differently by Members of the House. In Committee the Government’s position appeared to be that the word “photo” was irrelevant or that whoever wrote their manifesto was careless and used sloppy wording, but the Government know the difference between “photo ID” and “voter ID”.

How do we know that for certain? Because the Government specifically legislated for different forms of ID requirement when they introduced pilot schemes in 15 local authority areas in 2018 and 2019. In the 2019 pilots, the Government legislated for different rules in 10 different authorities. In two areas people had to show a specified form of photo ID. In five areas they could choose to show either a specified form of photo ID or two pieces of specified non-photo ID. In three areas people could show either their poll card, which does not have a photo, or a specified form of photo ID. So the Government understand the difference between different forms of voter ID, including those which require a photo and those which do not. Their manifesto did not mention “photo”.

As the highly regarded expert from the Electoral Integrity Project, Professor Toby James, pointed out on Twitter the other day, the fact that the manifesto did not specify photo ID means that we should “allow non-photographic” ID as in many other countries, or allow those without the requisite ID at the time to be vouched for by someone accompanying them who does have it, as in Canada.

Many of the references made by Ministers to photo ID in other countries have been very misleading. That is because everybody already has a compulsory national ID card in almost all the rest of Europe, so there is no extra barrier to voting by requiring one to be presented at a polling station there.

It is ironic that, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has just pointed out, one of the main reasons we do not have national ID cards in the UK is because Conservative Members of this House opposed attempts by the Blair Government to introduce them on the grounds that they were not specifically mentioned in the Labour manifesto. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. National ID cards were not in the Labour manifesto, so this House blocked their introduction. Compulsory photo ID at polling stations was not in the Conservative manifesto, so the Government’s attempt to abuse their majority in the other place to change election rules should be prevented here.

In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, highlighted what the former chair of the Conservative Party, the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, said in the report which the Government commissioned from him—that

“The Government should consider the options for electors to have to produce personal identification before voting at polling stations. There is no need to be over elaborate … measures should enhance public confidence and be proportional. A driving licence, passport or utility bills”.—[Official Report, 21/3/22; col. 695.]


Utility bills do not have photos.

There is, however, one form of voter ID eminently suitable for the purpose—the official poll card. Making poll cards an acceptable form of ID is proposed in both Amendments 6 and 7, and these amendments are both compatible with Amendment 8, which includes many other forms of possible ID. A polling card is issued to every voter by electoral registration officers. Anyone impersonating a voter would not just have to expose themselves to risk at the polling station, but they would have to steal the poll card as well prior to going to vote. If a polling card was stolen, a replacement could be issued, and a note made to question anyone turning up at a polling station with the original poll card.

In the pilots in 2018, poll cards were allowed in both Swindon and Watford. In Swindon, 95% of voters used their poll card, 4% their driving licence and 3% their passport. In Watford, 87% used their poll card, 8% their driving licence and 3% their debit card. Altogether across the two local authority areas, 69 replacement poll cards had to be issued. In Swindon a vouching or attestation scheme was also used, and 107 voters used this option.

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Moved by
2: Schedule 1, page 69, leave out line 8 and insert “The Electoral Commission must provide an electoral identity document to”
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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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I want to move Amendment 2 because I feel that I have a simpler solution to what the Government propose. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker decided on a show of voices that Amendment 2 was disagreed.