Electoral Fraud

Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee 12:00 am, 8th February 2017

Whether he plans to implement the proposals made in the “Securing the ballot” review of electoral fraud.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

It is a mistake commonly made.

The Government published on 27 December their response to the review of electoral fraud by my right hon. Friend Sir Eric Pickles. The response sets out clearly the action that the Government intend to take on each recommendation and proposes a comprehensive programme for reforming our electoral system and making our democracy more secure.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

I am not sure which of the two of you is the more offended, but my apologies to the both of you.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee

In December 2008, I was an election observer in Bangladesh. Because of previous voter fraud, photographs were taken of 80 million people, and people were clearly identifiable from those photographs when they went to vote. Have the Government considered doing that? A democracy needs as many people to vote as possible, but we do not want identity fraud when people vote.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend makes a good point about international comparisons. Many countries, including Canada, Brazil and Austria, already require photographic ID to vote at polling stations, and such a scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2003. The Government are taking forward pilots to look at electoral identification in the 2018 local government elections, and we are willing to test various forms of identification—photographic and non-photographic—to ensure above all that no one is disenfranchised.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Government’s talk of voter fraud is a smokescreen for voter suppression.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Yes. They are putting obstacles between people and the polling booth instead of working to boost our democracy. If voter fraud is such a problem, will the Minister tell the House how many voter fraud convictions there were last year?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman for somehow claiming that this is a smokescreen. It was a Labour Government that introduced photographic ID in Northern Ireland in 2003. The Electoral Commission and all other electoral administrators have called for ID in polling stations, and we will test its use rigorously in the pilots. There were 481 cases of voter fraud reported to the Electoral Commission, and 184 additional cases were reported to the police. Above all, this is about perception. The Electoral Commission reported last year that 30% of the population believe that voter fraud is an issue in their local area, and we are determined to tackle that perception.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

The organisations that the Minister just referred to and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have warned that our voting system is peculiarly vulnerable to identity theft. There is no evidence of voter suppression in the countries that the Minister listed. Does he think that those who talk of conspiracy theories are at grave risk of becoming apologists for electoral fraud?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

We are determined to ensure that we have a clear and secure democracy in which voters can have confidence. We have 46.5 million people on the electoral register, and turnout increased from 26.3 million in 2001 to 30.8 million in 2015. We want to ensure that we have voter participation, but if the public perceive that fraud is an issue, that perception can be as damaging as cases of fraud.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

Has the Minister made any equality impact assessment of the recommendation to ban the use of any language other than English or Welsh in polling stations?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The issue of language in polling stations is an important part of the package of measures in our response to my right hon. Friend’s report. If electoral administrators are to do their job and be confident that no one is being put under undue pressure or influence when voting, it is important that we look at the question of language. At the same time, the Government’s announcements will be thorough and based on correct analysis, and we will be going through due process to ensure that all the impact assessments are correct.