Voter ID: Enfranchisement

Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons on 27th May 2021.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the introduction of voter ID on levels of enfranchisement.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Shadow Solicitor General

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the introduction of voter ID on levels of enfranchisement.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the introduction of voter ID on levels of enfranchisement.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will take these Questions together, if that is okay.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Some 3.5 million people in the UK do not have the type of ID papers that this Government have deemed suitable to allow them to participate in a vote, so what are the Government going to do to ensure that people will not be denied their basic human right to take part in a democratic, free and fair election in the UK by these Government changes?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. It is integral to our democracy that everyone has the chance to vote and to have their voice heard, and research commissioned by the Cabinet Office shows that 98% of the electorate already hold an accepted form of photographic identification, and for those who do not currently a free local voter card will be available from their local authority.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Shadow Solicitor General

The Bromley wards in my constituency were part of a voter ID pilot in 2018 and the council’s own figures suggest that 154 people were turned away from polling stations because of the requirement for ID. If this was scaled up nationally the overall number of those disfranchised would be huge, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission says it would disproportionately impact ethnic minority communities and older people, yet there were only 33 allegations of voter personation at the 2019 general election. Can the Minister not see the huge disparity here?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The hon. Lady makes an important point. It is incumbent on local authorities like her excellent local authority in Lewisham to work to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to vote. I should say, because her question gives me an opportunity to do so, that in recent local elections, not just for the London Assembly and the London Mayor but across the country, those who work in local government—returning officers and others—did a sterling job in challenging circumstances, and I know that as we introduce reforms to ensure the integrity of the ballot, local authorities such as hers will be at the forefront of delivering those changes.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

The Prime Minister once said:

“If I am ever asked…to produce my ID card as evidence that I am who I say I am…then I will…physically eat it”,

so why the change of heart? It is not because of evidence of voter ballot fraud, because just six cases were confirmed at the last election while millions of people risk losing their vote because they do not have photo ID. Might it instead be because the Conservatives want to copy voter suppression tactics used in the USA, disproportionately disenfranchising black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, working-class people, trans people and young people—all groups less likely to vote Conservative?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

We are not seeking to emulate America; we are seeking to emulate the Labour Government who introduced a form of photographic identification for voters in Northern Ireland when they were in power. I should say that the hon. Lady made reference to working-class people, and overwhelmingly, working-class people now are much more likely to vote Conservative than Labour.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster knows fine well that there was evidence of voter personation in Northern Ireland, which was why we needed to see a change in legislation there, but he also knows that there have been only four convicted cases of electoral personation in Britain. So with £4 million of taxpayers’ money already down the drain on testing this policy, that is £1 million per conviction; I have got to ask him, does he think this is really a good use of taxpayers’ money?

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

I have to question whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that is a good use of taxpayers’ money when there are people waiting for mental health beds up and down this country; I have to ask him whether it is the Government’s priority when we have children needing to catch up on the education that they have been denied over the past year. If the Government want to spend this money on electoral matters, why not get the 9 million people who are not registered correctly in this country registered on the electoral rolls, allow them to use their vote and consider introducing universal voter registration?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The hon. Lady makes two important points. Obviously, as we emerge from covid concentrating on recovery in public services is important, and she is absolutely right to say that there is work to be done not just in mental health but in the NHS and education, but fundamentally the integrity of our democracy is an important issue. As she knows, and as she has been reminded by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, the Labour party’s own internal democracy depends on the production of voter ID and—[Interruption.] Facts are chiels that winna ding, as we say in Aberdeen, and on that basis we are delighted to be emulating Labour party policy, in this regard at least.