Elections: May 2021

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:37 pm on 13th January 2021.

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Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement 1:37 pm, 13th January 2021

It is a pleasure to see the Minister respond to the urgent question. I wish her well with her continued recovery.

As the Minister set out, elections have been suspended for more than a year, and a record number of polls are now set to take place on the same day, with every elector able to cast a ballot in one election or another. It is deeply disappointing that the Government have failed to provide clarity on how these polls will be covid-secure.

Clarity is urgently needed by local councils, electoral staff, candidates, campaigners and, of course, the public. This is yet another example of the Conservative Government being too slow to act. Ministers have had many months to make the necessary changes to protect our democratic process. Instead, they are treating these elections like business as usual. Across the world, countries have demonstrated that elections can take place safely with the right safety measures in place. National elections were held in the US, New Zealand, Singapore, Iceland and Lithuania last year. Labour has consistently called for safer voting methods to be introduced, including voting over multiple days and an all-postal ballot. Will the Minister explain why the Government have taken no action so far? Will she also confirm whether the Conservative party chair took advice from Conservative party candidates about the timeframe for a possible delay? The scheduling of elections should come above party political advantage.

Will the Minister confirm, in no uncertain terms, that these elections will not be postponed in an irresponsible, last-minute U-turn? Unless councils are informed of changes in good time, unnecessary expenditure will be wasted on the printing of poll cards and other preparatory work. Given the crippling Government cuts, councils simply cannot afford to be caught on the hoof here. Electoral staff have expressed deep anxiety about running these elections safely without additional funding, so will the Minister produce clear guidance and training for local authorities about how to make polling stations and the count covid-secure?

High numbers of electoral staff are volunteers, with many in the high-risk category under covid-19 guidance. Does the Minister expect at-risk people to risk their health to support the safe running of these elections? The Welsh Labour Government have been working to ensure that elections can still go ahead safely. What steps have the Government taken to co-operate with the devolved nations? Finally, does the Minister share my concern that the Government’s lack of preparation will force many people to choose between their health and their right to vote?