Voter Identification

Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

What assessment the Government have made of the potential effect on the number of enfranchised people of the provisions on voter identification in the proposed legislation on electoral integrity.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

What steps the Government are taking to improve the integrity of electoral (a) processes and (b) systems.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

What steps the Government are taking to improve the integrity of electoral (a) processes and (b) systems.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Voters deserve to have confidence in our democracy, so we will legislate to introduce voter ID, in line with Northern Ireland and many other nations, and to provide greater security for postal and proxy votes. The pilots and the experience in Northern Ireland showed no adverse effect on turnout.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

Over the last two years, more than 1,000 people in pilot areas have lost their chance to vote due to ID requirements, which is more than 30 times the number of allegations of polling station fraud across the whole country. Once this pilot is rolled out, thousands upon thousands of people will lose their right to vote—a disproportionate response. Is not the reality that this is just US-style voter suppression?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My wife is Canadian. When I first went to vote with her, she found it extraordinary that people could turn up at the ballot box without any form of identification. Voter ID is what happens in Canada, Switzerland, France and other advanced democracies.

As to the point about lower turnout. In the pilots we undertook, over 99% of people who wished to vote were able to do so.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I welcome the Government’s plans, but do they go far enough? The United States introduced the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1938 to protect that country against covert interference from malign states. Australia passed a similar Act in July 2018. Does the Minister think we need a FARA in this country?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Home Office is reviewing legislation related to hostile state activity following the Salisbury attacks. This is a thorough process to assess whether additional powers are required to clamp down on the activities of hostile states that threaten the UK both here and overseas. As part of this we are considering the legislation of likeminded international partners to see whether the UK would benefit from adopting something similar.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I welcome voter ID, which is commonplace in many democracies, but for those who do not have an existing form of ID, such as a driving licence, what provisions are the Government proposing?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and it is why local authorities will provide voters who lack the required ID with an alternative ID, free of charge, to ensure that everyone eligible to vote has the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Is not the inevitable consequence of creating this obstacle to voting in person that anybody who wants to cheat the system will simply migrate to postal and proxy voting, where fraud is easy?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman is worried about a measure that is designed to enhance the integrity of our voting system. Any member of the public needs to produce identification to pick up a parcel, for example, or to pick up a book from the library, so why should they not produce identification to engage in the act of voting?

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs

We seem to be importing a lot from across the pond. If it is not Trumpian trade deals weakening workers’ protections and opening our NHS to further privatisation, it is repressive voter ID laws that are well used by right-wing Republicans as an act of voter suppression. Is the Minister ashamed to be part of a Government who are learning lessons from the US Republican party on voter suppression? How many convictions have there been for in-person voter fraud in the last year?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

We are not following the example of the United States; we are following the example set by the last Labour Government, who introduced photographic voter identification in 2003, and it had no discernible impact on turnout.