Electoral Registration — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:11 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour 1:11 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, like everyone else, I thank my noble friend Lord Wills for introducing this particular subject and for his excellent introduction. He has raised a subject that is at the very heart of our democracy: the people's right to vote and therefore to be on a register. That is more important than what appears to be the underlying theme behind what the Government are doing-a point that other noble Lords and noble Baronesses have remarked upon-that the prevention of fraud is more important than the right to vote. Electoral fraud appears to be the driving force behind this particular move, and the Electoral Commission makes that quite clear. That is wrong. It ought to be that people have the right to vote and we investigate if there is fraud. This is not new. Anyone who has studied history will know that people have been defrauding in that sense for some time.

It might not surprise many people here that I take the view that the register is just part of an outdated, very old fashioned electoral system. We now live in an age of hi-tech science and development. No wonder a lot of our youngsters do not go out and vote and are disillusioned with our electoral system; they consider it to be so out of date and old fashioned. They vote for their favourite characters in "The X Factor" and "Strictly Come Dancing" by mobile phone. They do not have to traipse along a road on a cold wet night, to be crossed off a paper register and given another piece of paper on which to put a cross after going into a booth, thus deciding how they are going to vote and putting it into a box. Afterwards, there is a long drawn-out process whereby those ballot papers are taken somewhere else and counted by various people. It takes long hours. I have been through this process. I was an MP for over five elections. We sat for night after night, waiting for the result to come in for our particular constituency.

Surely, in this day and age, it is time we started to use modern technology as part of our electoral system. Many of those who have opposed this measure so violently will disagree with me, but I am sorry to say that we have to have a national identity card and a national register to go with it. Then the electoral register could be drawn up on the basis of that national ID card register. It would be a smartcard. Smartcard technology has moved on so fast in the past four or five years that it is no longer the problem that it was even a few years ago. The cost is also considerably lower, because that is the nature of technology-the price comes down all the time. It also solves some of the problems of service voters. If you are in Afghanistan, why wait for a postal vote if you can vote using your ID card in some form of electoral machine that will allow you to do that?

The starting point for that register is an ID card that is compulsory: that everyone must have. They must update their address when necessary or the penalty will be severe, a measure which the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, wants to apply to electoral registration anyway. He, of course, was massively in favour of the abolition of the ID card but is now in favour of it.

I should say in passing that I was the spokesman for the Opposition in the other place when the Scottish poll tax Bill was introduced. If the noble Lord is worried about the £1,000 fine, it was increased by the then Tory Government to deal exactly with the problem of people possibly coming off the electoral register. The fine used to be £50 if you did not send in the form. It then became £1,000 to deal with the poll tax problem.

The fact is that we should have such an electoral register. To start with, we would not move straight to electronic voting. That ought to be the way in which we are moving Instead, we seem to be standing still, not moving with the times, technology or science on this. Not just youngsters, but 75 year-olds like me, use smartcards, which we all have in our wallet, all the time. I do not think I bought anything with cash over Christmas. I used my bank card, which is a smartcard, or I bought online with it. Why should I not be able to vote in the same way, or at least prove my identity to electoral registration officers and those at the polling booth in this manner?

Surely we must move to having some form of compulsory ID card in this country in order to ensure that we have as full a register as possible and do away with some of the electoral fraud that might take place. When going to vote, you would have to produce an ID card with your photograph on it. It could then be checked whether the right person was actually voting. Surely that is the way forward. Instead, we are tinkering around with a system that is increasingly old fashioned, out of date and not working properly. It really is time that we moved on rather than standing where we are at the present, using a system that is completely out of date.