I have tabled a number of amendments in this group. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, for their support for Amendment 55. Amendments 55, 61, 62 and 92 all concern cost, finance and what it will mean if we are looking to deliver the requirement for voter identification of electors at polling stations. Some amendments are to do with making Statements to Parliament on the estimated cost in order that Parliament has proper oversight. There are also amendments around local authority finances because they will have a serious role to play in ensuring that this is delivered appropriately and on time. Amendment 62 concerns the public purse.
First, whenever legislation is brought in that has serious cost implications for local authorities, it is really important that those costs are properly understood and considered. We know that local authorities are under huge pressure at the moment. Such new legislation impacts not just on finances but on resources as well. This is not just about money; it is about people and expertise.
The first three amendments in this group relate to Schedule 1. Amendment 92, to which I shall come later, concerns Schedule 3 but is still about costs. When PACAC held its witness evidence sessions on the Elections Bill, it explored the practical and cost implications of implementing the voter ID proposals.
I just wanted to draw attention to the evidence given by Peter Stanyon, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators. He described the cost as:
“Effectively unquantifiable in many respects.”
I find that quite concerning when you are looking at the impact on local authorities. He said that the Bill is
“light on the practicalities because that will come in secondary legislation down the line”.
I am sure the Minister is aware that some of our concerns about the Bill are about the amount that is to come later in secondary legislation. What this means is that noble Lords and Members of the other place are being asked to pass this legislation with a large amount of detail about the cost implications pretty much unknown.
The impact assessment on the Bill, carried out by the Cabinet Office—and discussed at Second Reading, if I recall correctly—estimated the total cost of introducing photo ID at £120 million over 10 years. That includes £15 million to produce the free voter ID cards for those who have no other photographic ID. That £120 million was a best estimate within the ranges that were looked at. The top end was £180 million. We all know how costs tend to go up rather than down with anything brought in by government.
According to the Electoral Reform Society, these costs include £55 million on larger, more detailed polling cards, which will have to be posted in envelopes for the first time, and another £15 million on producing plastic voter cards for the estimated 2.1 million people who may not have suitable ID. Does the Minister believe that this is really a good use of public money? It is worth noting that this is at a time when our NHS, for example, is under immense stress; £120 million could buy 10,316 hip operations or 3,986 new ventilators. I ask again: is this really a good use of public money at this time?
In the evidence to the Committee stage in the other place, Virginia McVea, Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, was interviewed. She gave evidence about when voter ID was introduced in Northern Ireland. She said that in the early stages “the costs were considerable”. She drew attention to the fact that there was a time cost as well as a financial cost and a resource cost, particularly during election times. In fact, she startled the Committee by saying that she needed 70 extra staff during the election period.
The Local Government Association has said that individually each new provision is technically achievable. However, the Association of Electoral Administrators has highlighted that the cumulative impact of these changes to an already fragile system will create capacity and resilience issues. Due to the increasing complexity of registration and election processes over the last 20 years, electoral services teams already work incredibly hard in the run-up to local elections, with significant amounts of overtime and weekend working. Those of us who have been Members of Parliament also know the extraordinary amount of work that goes on in the run-up to general elections.
There were extraordinary elections in May 2021. Then, many councils used what they call the one-council approach, meaning that they drew capacity from across the council to run local elections, with election staff acting as experts on the process. However, there are concerns that this would not be sustainable in the long term. It also fails to account for the added complexity created by the new provisions, which will also require specialist knowledge to navigate, certainly in the early days.
These changes, which add complexity and further duties for returning officers and the election teams, will also put additional strain on the finite election resources in councils. As a result, additional funding and other mitigations may be required to build capacity, maintain the capability of staff in the registration and election system and ensure—this is really important—the resilience of our electoral processes.
The Bill must guarantee that local electoral authorities are properly resourced and given what they feel they need to carry out any new duties and responsibilities. During the evidence session in the other place, it transpired that local authorities had not already been asked for their estimates of what this would cost. How can the Government know what it will cost to fund local authorities adequately if they are not working closely with them on these matters? It is essential that any additional burdens associated with the introduction of new registration and electoral processes are centrally funded on an ongoing basis, so local authorities know exactly where they stand and what finances they will receive. Will this be the case and how will it work?
Are the Government planning any voter education and outreach programmes to inform the public about the changes, and to give people who do not have suitable ID the opportunity and time to apply for the new card? If this is the case, what will be the estimated cost? Have the Government looked into this? If they are not planning to do this, why not?
Another cost to local authorities will be the training of staff to ensure that the new voter ID laws are administered fairly, accurately and efficiently. Local authorities may want to supplement existing training with ID-specific materials and guidelines, and this may require increasing the overall electoral official training time. When photo ID was trialled in 10 areas holding local elections in 2019, over 2,000 people were turned away from the polls. The Government have refused to give any estimate of how many eligible voters could be turned away in a general election due to a lack of photo ID. My concerns are that if we do not have proper training, do not give proper information and enough time and do not build in the costs of that into introducing this legislation, we could have more people being turned away than should happen. No one should be turned away, but it is more likely to happen if those things are not in place.
It is hugely concerning that the Government are proposing very expensive changes to our electoral law that could disfranchise a great number of people. As Unlock Democracy says, this money could be spent on making it easier for people to vote, not harder. In Committee, the Minister, Kemi Badenoch MP, said, when looking to justify the proposals,
“Just because someone is not regularly burgled does not mean that they stop locking their front door.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/9/21; col. 127.]
In response to this, Liberty eloquently said in its briefing:
“The unintended implication of this analogy of course is that the person in question’s modest security measures seem to be working, leaving them with no reason to change what they are doing. Like our elections, their house is safe and there is no need to spend £180 million on a new lock.”
My Amendment 92 asks the Secretary of State to publish an assessment of the impact of Schedule 3 on local authority finances within six months of the passing of the Act. Schedule 3 regards the proposed changes to the period in which a person can apply for a postal vote. As it will again be local authorities implementing and administering this change, we believe the Government should have a clear understanding of the cost implications on our hard-pressed local authorities.
In this regard, the Local Government Association has said that registration costs relating to all-year-round registrations, postal and proxy votes are entirely the responsibility of registering authorities. Therefore, they cannot be recouped from the relevant authority, as with election costs. This is apparently the case for all election types, including unplanned snap general elections. Has there been any assessment of the likely costs of this? How will the Government fund local authorities to ensure compliance with the new rules?
My Lords, I am not going to take anything but a tiny bit of your Lordships’ time. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has given us a very comprehensive and clear introduction to this group. I have been worried for a long time about local authority funding and the squeeze on it for the past 10 years or so and I have just one question for the Minister: has he consulted with a selected group of local authorities about whether they regard this as a good use of their resources and their money? If not, will he set in motion a consultation with local authorities about whether they really feel they can take on this added cost and use of their resources?
My Lords, the noble Baroness made some interesting points about the issues that will face local government in implementing these proposals. She referred to the cost estimates, which are of course included in the impact statement, and seemed to say that these were extraordinarily large numbers. There are 45 million electors. At £180 million, the top end of the range, that is only about £3 per elector: we have to get this into perspective. We are talking about proposals that will improve the integrity of our electoral system. This is a very modest cost; can we just get it into perspective?
My Lords, waiting five hours to speak, you can get a bit anxious. I am not quite sure how you do this on a regular basis. I would have preferred not to be here today; I would have preferred to be in Cambridge, at Homerton College with my students. We have a big event on, and I would have liked to be there with them, but I told them I need to be here discussing the Bill, because of its immense importance, not least to them and their generation. We are making laws that, if we are not careful, lock people out rather than encouraging people in.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord True—I reached out to him to have a conversation and he said, “By all means”. We had a good conversation, and it was a respectful one. I am not sure I persuaded him on some of the fundamental points that I am going to put now, but he said, “Lord Woolley, you need to persuade the House as well”, not least those on the Government side. He said to make sure I have my facts and to make sure I have evidence. We talked about a number of things, two of which I would say the noble Lord, Lord True, violently agreed with. One was the need for comprehensive citizenship in our schools. He said, “What’s not to like about that? We need to empower, to inform, to educate the next generation to understand what happens in this Chamber. Because, if they do not have that, they do not engage in politics.” It is the truth.
I was struck, as the Minister may have been, that a year or so ago hundreds of thousands of young people, black, brown and white, protested with Black Lives Matter up and down the country, demanding justice and race equality. However, many of those hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets do not vote because they do not see the correlation between their protest and what happens in these Chambers. Having citizenship education, giving them that knowledge, would help their protests to translate into voting. We agreed on that.
We also agreed on the need for the Government and local authorities to ensure that people are encouraged to register to vote. We know that in my community, the black community, particularly among young Africans, 50% are not even registered. So these were the two issues that the Minister and I violently agreed on, yet—think about this for a second—in the Elections Bill there is nothing about citizenship, nothing about how we get people to the polling booths and nothing about ensuring that local authorities and communities engage in voter registration. You could not make it up. What we are presented with is not how we get people to the voting booth, enhance our democracy or inspire a generation to play their part, which this Bill should be campaigning for; instead we are spending hours upon hours ensuring that people do not fall off the register. Many of us today are not trying to ensure that people can get on but trying to save people from falling off. That is the truth. This is putting the cart before the horse.
The Minister said to me, “Make sure you get your facts”—and rightly so, because we are moved by evidence. I am here to tell the House that the last time I spoke here I inadvertently misled the House. When talking about voter fraud, I said in front of your Lordships that five individuals had been convicted of that offence. I was wrong: there was one, and one caution, out of 47 million people. So when we are looking at facts and justifications, are we telling these young people and our society that we are spending £180 million and are on the verge of losing—how many people might we lose through this legislation?—10, 20, 40, 100, 1,000 or potentially even millions of people because we are saying that there is a problem with voter fraud? How can I go to schools and colleges and tell young people to engage in politics when they see how we are doing politics, and when they see that we are spending millions of pounds but the effect is to take people off the register?
Evidence was asked for. The noble Baroness mentioned the local elections in 2019 and the pilot schemes. In its evaluation, the Electoral Commission noted that between 3% and 7% of those who engaged with those elections were turned away because they did not have the right voter ID, including non-photographic ID. We have to extrapolate what that might mean in a general election, because that is the evidence we are presented with. The Electoral Commission and others suggest that between 50,000 and 400,000 people could show up at a general election, be turned away and not come back—that is against one conviction of fraud. Is it me? Am I missing something here about how bonkers that sounds?
I want to go back to the college; I want to go back to young people. I want to say that, as the noble Lord, Lord True, has eloquently pointed out a number of times, we must be in the business of listening—listening to arguments and to the evidence. We must show that we will not leave people out and that we will make sure that we bring them in. I have asked before why we are not talking about automatic voter registration that would bring millions of people in rather than taking people off and keeping them out by default. The noble Lord, Lord True, will say to me, to us, “Well, it’s complicated.” It is complicated, but it is worth it. It is worth it because it is our democracy, and the more people we get in, educate and inspire, the more we will strengthen our democracy.
We have an opportunity to reset—to use this legislation and say, “You know what? We’ve looked at the evidence, and we’ve got a lot wrong.” I heard the debate on Tuesday, when the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and others said that if we do not put things right, the blind and those with eyesight impediments may not be able to engage. I am talking about young people and people from African, Asian and Caribbean communities. The report on the 2019 review says that Asian communities in Derby were disproportionately affected by voter ID. We can do better than that. This is our opportunity to tell those communities that we are listening and caring. We must get them to the voting booth by being positive—not by being negative as this Bill shows.
My Lords, I did not want to be here either today, because of my fractured foot. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and I go back a long way, fighting on the same side on many things. However, I am worried that we are pulling everybody together and thinking that wanting to clean up the system is disenfranchising people.
I have worked so hard locally engaging with people, and the thing I hear back all the time is, “What’s the point of my vote when it’s not going to count?”, because they are not engaged—not, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, because they do not want to be, but because in cities like mine, they are not encouraged to be engaged. I have talked about those who cannot speak and understand English over and again in this Chamber, and I am talking about the many women I engage with every single week in my city. I really try hard to get them engaged in what is going on in their city because their rights are constantly being set aside.
I want our voting system to reflect these women’s desires too, just as the noble Lord and I have fought battles against everything else that is discriminatory. I want to remove this inability for them to believe that they matter. They do not matter because, most of the time, the decisions they want to make are made by people who tend to speak on their behalf because they are the only people who are engaging.
It is not just about the £180 million for me—it really is not. I am passionate that we have a system where every single vote counts, whether it is from the poor, white working class in my city or the women I am engaged with. I spoke with many of them about this Bill—before I did this to my foot—and said that I would listen carefully to what was being said. Often as not, I ask for clarification from the Government Front Bench because I want to know that what I am taking back to them will actually empower them and not take power away. A lot of the time, what they said to me was that they want to be the people who matter in this process. At this moment in time, they do not feel that they matter. For me, anything that tidies that up is a great thing.
I of course want young people to be engaged, but more important than the young people coming forward are the people who are there today—the women from my communities and the noble Lord’s communities, and the poor, working class—who do not feel engaged. If that means we have to have something that helps that process, I am all for it. Do not think for one minute I will not challenge my Front Bench if I do not agree with it, but I really want a system that enables us all to feel that we are part of a process where one vote matters. At the moment, there are plenty in my city who do not believe that.
My Lords, what a wonderful, emotional, eloquent contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. I have to say I totally agree. Here we are this afternoon debating the minutiae of the costs of voter ID, when the big issue we are failing to debate and come to terms with is the huge number of people in our country who should be able to vote but are not able to because they are not on the register. It is disproportionately and discriminatively against those from black communities, Asian communities and working-class communities. That is why the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, was so powerful.
I am tired of this divisiveness that keeps coming up. We have been in this country for a very long time. The divisiveness that has been caused has been caused because we have refused to allow people to be fully engaged. I am going to stand here and say that over and over again. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, can shake her head, but I have heard it over and over again that minority communities do not want to engage. They do, but unfortunately the systems do not always help them.
I have found this absolutely fascinating—I genuinely have. This is not a rhetorical point. I understand that both the noble Baronesses opposite who have spoken have said they want integrity in the system. The noble Baroness has just said she feels passionate about a lack of engagement and obstacles to people’s engagement—an issue on which I suspect she finds common cause with the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and everyone in the Committee. My question to the noble Baroness, because I really want to understand her position, is whether she feels that, at present, a significant bar to the engagement she seeks is coming from widespread voter fraud in the communities she is discussing. Is that the problem she feels is the stumbling block and is that why she is a supporter of the Government’s policy?
My Lords, there was no intention on my part at all to create any division within our communities. I have spent a lifetime in mixed communities, trying to engage people from every background in the political process. That is the point that I was trying to make and I am sorry if the noble Baroness opposite perhaps misunderstood.
Here we are today, talking about the costs of voter ID, which the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, has eloquently said will create an even greater barrier to people being able to vote. At this point, I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that I am an elected member of Kirklees Council and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I speak in support of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—of course I do. In many ways, she is absolutely right. Any changes in the way in which elections are administered will be an additional cost to already hard-pressed council finances. Returning officers have expressed their concern. They know that there is more to it than just creating the new eligible voter ID for those without it.
Additional costs are mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum, helpfully. What it does not do is list them. I am going to draw the Committee’s attention to what some of the additional costs will be. As we have heard, there is the additional cost of creating a photographic voter ID card for those who do not have one, the cost of providing screens for voters who do not wish to remove their face covering in front of others, and the cost of additional equipment to make it easier for those with disabilities to vote in person. The latter is one part of the Bill that is positive. There is also the cost of additional polling clerks to check ID in busy polling stations—perhaps financial incentives will be required to encourage polling clerks to fulfil that role because they will now have to check the ID of every voter before they get their ballot paper. There is the cost of effectively communicating the change, and the hidden cost of more trained staff. And so it goes on.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has said, the estimate is £180 million—a mere £3 per person. I say to her that, in my council area, that is £1 million a year—and £1 million does not half fill a lot of potholes. If I asked my electors back in Kirklees whether they would rather the council produced voter ID cards for people or filled potholes, I am fairly confident that I know what the answer would be.
Can the Minister confirm that the Government will meet all the additional costs of the changes that they want to make? Can he confirm, given that individual councils will have different additional expenditure based on their demographics, that any government grant will be divided to meet the cost of changes rather than on a formulaic basis? Do the Government believe that extra expenditure is value for money? The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised that issue and I have just given an example. Have the Government consulted with electors on whether they believe that these additional costs are value for money and can be considered a priority in these straitened times?
Schedule 3 relates to the changes proposed to postal voting. There is a very high cost to the requirement to reapply after three years. In my local authority, around 50,000 electors currently vote by post; the postage costs alone are very high. In England there are about 8 million postal voters, so the postage costs for writing out to existing postal voters for them to reapply and fill in the postal voter application would be about £4 million. Is that money well spent in the current circumstances?
My only disagreement with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is that they seek an assessment of the impact on council finances within six months. Councils need and deserve the level of expenditure that they will be required to fund—and know that it will be fulfilled—before this Bill is enacted. Of course, my wish is that these elements of the Bill are never enacted. With those words, I support her amendments.
My Lords, would it not have been nice if, when the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, finished, we could have all said, “Game, set, match and tournament. Let us do the Government a favour, save them £190 million in these straitened times, scrap Part 1 of the Bill and all go for a cup of tea and save ourselves a few hours’ unnecessary work”? There is nothing else to say after that, but I will still say one or two things.
It was so compelling and convincing. I just wonder how the noble Lord, Lord True, whom I have known for a very good while, will react. He knows a lot about elections; he has fought a lot himself. He must know that, when this new system comes into operation—assuming that it does—it will involve a high level of expenditure, not least for explaining to the public what they will now have to do in an election which they did not have to do previously. It will be an expensive operation and will take national newspaper adverts. If it is in the name of public information, so be it.
I wonder what the noble Lord’s view is of the integrity of our elections. Two years ago, his party won an election with a majority of 80. I did not like that result one little bit but, sadly, I thought that the election was conducted in my constituency perfectly fairly. It was free and fair. The result was unchallengeable; we did not do a Donald Trump in the constituency. I have been on the wrong end of several election results in my varied career in politics, but I have never doubted the integrity of the election. However, presumably the noble Lord’s position is this: we should have quite significant doubts about this 80-seat majority that his party enjoys at present. There must have been voter fraud all over the place, and we have to spend a lot of money to get this right.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, that there has been the sum total of one prosecution. This whole Part 1 is much ado about nothing—sadly, it is about something, because it will reduce turnout, as we know. However, the problem it is trying to solve does not exist. We will have to go over and over the same argument. I can make so many detailed points about it.
One that struck me is that polling stations can be quite awkward at times if people forget to take their poll cards and think, “I can’t vote now, but I am going to vote; I’ve lived here 60 years”, and all the rest of it. I do not fancy being a poor old poll clerk under the new regime, telling large numbers of people, as I guess they will have to, “Sorry, you cannot vote. You haven’t got your ID”. “But I’ve lived here for 50 years; I don’t need ID. The wife and I come down and vote, have a drink on the way back and it’s a nice little evening out.” “Yes, but you need your voter ID”.
In the best circumstances, there may be an amiable exchange of views because, in local polling stations, people tend to know each other. However, I can see it turning nasty. I do not fancy being the poll clerk who says, “Sorry, you can’t vote.” This is just one specific example. You certainly need to train the poll clerk and warn them of the difficulties which will arise.
I really would like a straightforward answer from the Minister to my question which was so brilliantly dealt with in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. Does the Minister think that his Government, with their 80-seat majority, was a result of a free and fair election, or not? If the answer is, “Yes, it was a free and fair election, and I am pleased with my 80-seat majority”, why on earth is he going through all this nonsense to solve a problem which does not exist?
My Lords, in a previous debate on this Bill, I heard my noble friend say that he would not have wanted to be an election agent. I have now heard him say that he would not want to be a poll clerk. So perhaps I should begin by saying that I have been both in my lifetime. Being an election agent was quite a big responsibility, and the law has changed and become more complicated since then.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, very clearly laid out some of the questions that have been raised. Like my noble friend Lord Grocott, I will wait to hear what the Minister thinks.
I would like now to send a message, if I may, to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. We have never met. First, I thank him for coming from Cambridge today. Secondly, when the noble Lord goes back to Cambridge, can he please tell his students that it was well worth his while coming here to make his speech? I am a new Member and, shortly before Christmas, I went to visit a secondary school in west London to talk to some politics students about politics. I had a very interesting time, and they raised many interesting questions—not least about this place. Of course, I asked them whether they were interested in politics. Some of them looked fairly vague. I said, “I think you are interested in politics. You just don’t realise it.” I asked them a few more questions, including whether they were on the register, because it is essential.
As an election agent, I remember a general election in which I was quite pleased that I had persuaded someone to come with me to the polling station—which was very close by—in order to exercise their vote. From just a single individual, I saw the devasting effect on someone who gets to the polling station and realises that they were not on the register and could not vote. What we are talking about, and what the noble Lord was talking about, was this situation being replicated thousands of times. It is a terrible thing. I am not saying that I made much progress with the students at that west London school, many of whom, unlike me —I am white—
Sorry? There was a huge collection of different communities. But it is really essential that we engage with these people.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said that she wanted every single vote to count, I could not have agreed more. What we are talking about is ensuring that every single vote is available to be counted, and I hope that I might persuade her to change her mind on this. However, we will wait and see what the Minister says. I look forward to going back to that school, or indeed to any other which might invite me.
My Lords, the amendments from the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, in this group, ask many sensible questions. Perhaps, no question is no more appropriate than that asked by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and we all look forward to the Minister’s answer to that in particular.
The questions in this group are about the cost to taxpayers which may follow from the Bill introducing compulsory photo ID at polling stations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, we need to know much more about the extra costs to be imposed upon local authorities. The Minister himself was a council leader not very long ago. He will know how local authority finances have been dramatically squeezed in recent years—real-terms cuts are perhaps 40%. Meanwhile, they have also retained the burden of statutory responsibilities, including many connected with social care.
The Government’s impact assessment suggests that making the changes proposed in relation to compulsory photo ID may cost as much as £230 million over 10 years, with a best estimate of £150 million. But the truth is that we do not really know. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, quoted the Association of Electoral Administrators saying that many of these costs were unquantifiable. But the costs of the scheme proposed by the Government are still significantly higher than those of a simpler form of voter identification, as was suggested in the last Conservative manifesto and in the report conducted on behalf of the Conservative Government by the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, who sits on their Benches. So the Government are proposing to go much further than in their own manifesto—a point that should be noted—and in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Pickles. But both proposals for compulsory voter ID, with or without photos, seem to me to have a lot of costs that are not necessarily included in the impact assessment, and neither scheme has been shown to be at all necessary in any way.
The Government claim that there is public support for the proposals on compulsory photo ID, but I doubt there would be much support if people knew that the cost over 10 years could be £230 million, or if they understood that voting at polling stations is as safe as it is at present. Perhaps the public would prefer their money to be spent on hundreds more police officers or more teachers, doctors and nurses. The Government spend a great deal of public money on market research, much of it perhaps for their own party benefit. In that research, they should perhaps test this proposition in one of their surveys: should there be compulsory photo ID at polling stations, or police officers, doctors and nurses? I would like to know the answer.
In my view, the Government are simply not getting their priorities right if they are genuinely concerned about electoral integrity. An estimated 9 million people are not on electoral registers, or are incorrectly registered on them, and are therefore unable to vote. If the Government were really planning to spend money on improving the integrity of our electoral system, they would not have withdrawn funding for the voluntary organisation Bite The Ballot. During a debate on this Bill, the Government praised its efforts. Bite The Ballot organised events such as national voter registration week, and it succeeded in getting many more young people registered to vote, at very little cost. But that little cost—a few thousand pounds—was too much for the Government. Perhaps it registered the wrong people—principally young people.
But the Government can spend, or want to spend, hundreds of millions of pounds on unnecessary compulsory photo ID. If it is a question of money, they could save a lot on electoral registration by making the process as automatic as possible, cutting down the cost of paper forms and personal canvassers. They could deal with it on databases. But they do not seem to want to save money if that might allow more of our citizens, especially young people, to be able to vote.
Voter identification has been piloted in only a handful of local authorities—and only in local elections. But local elections often have only half the turnout of general elections, so I fear that the number of staff required at polling stations may have to be doubled if they are to check each voter’s ID, especially if it is photo ID. The staff may need a lot more training and support. Perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, there will be many more arguments in polling stations and more staff needed to resolve them. As he said, there will also have to be a lot of very costly public information about the changes to what the noble Lord, Lord True, often refers to as our “tried and tested” system.
He seems to like our tried and tested system when he opposes any changes that may not favour his party, but he seems quite ready to change the tried and tested system at polling stations, even at great cost, when no such radical change is at all necessary. Perhaps placing a few more police officers on duty at some polling stations might be a cheaper and much more cost-effective way of reassuring people that the voting process is safe, if that needs to be done. Certainly, we do not need compulsory photo ID.
My Lords, I have listened to this debate with a sense of bewilderment and admiration, but I am still not clear what the imposition of compulsory voter ID is going to solve. As the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Woolley, made very clear, there has been one conviction.
While everyone has been getting passionate, I have been a bit of geek over the past couple of weeks and have read the impact assessment, so I want to go through why these amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, are so important. If the Government decide to go down this path, even though they have not been able to determine that there is a need for it, the costings they are using must be absolutely watertight, otherwise people will find it hard, or sometimes impossible, to get this compulsory photographic ID.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that we should not worry because it is £3 per person. She has clearly not read the impact assessment. That is not for every voter. Under the Government’s own impact assessment, it is for those who do not have the ID that is required who will need voter ID. According to the Government’s impact assessment that is 0.1% to 0.4% of voters. That works about at £150 per card, at the Government’s best estimate, to determine a problem that no one can quite work out what it is about.
The Government also say in the impact assessment that the degree of certainty on the final scope of all the costs—the £180, the £230 and the £1 million that have been determined—is so unknown that the costs are preliminary and further work will be needed. Too true that further work will be needed. If you get down to the details, the costs just do not stack up. On basic things, the Government are saying that the poll card that we all get will have to go from A5 to A4, yet they say that the postal cost is 80p. A4 is a large letter—so the costs have not been worked out. If these costs were presented by any person doing a basic business studies degree, perhaps at Cambridge with the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, they would get F or F-minus.
The Government have assumed this from one study in Woking. I have no problem with Woking—I am sure it is a very nice place—but it is not demographically made up of the rest of the country, and you cannot work out that what happened in Woking is going to happen in every community across this country. The Government have taken the average cost in Woking, taken it across every constituency in the country and averaged it out.
So let us look at some of the costs and resources. The Government have worked out that every constituency will need 1.64 machines to print these things. What nonsense is 0.64 of a machine? They have worked out the cost of 1.64 machines for each local authority. A number of people have said, quite rightly, that extra polling station clerks will be needed. The Government’s impact assessment says that: one for every two polling stations. I worry about the poor polling clerks in my city of Sheffield and in my ward who are going to have run three miles between polling stations. This is absolute nonsense.
PACAC has been really clear on this. A survey has been done by the Government. It is referred to in the impact assessment, but it does not give the results. The Government say that only 4% of people will need these, but, when asked, 31% of the public said that they would need them, want them or ask for them. PACAC is right to say that, for every 1% extra of the population who asks for one, it is a £10.2 million cost. As PACAC says, 31% takes it up from £150 million to £450 million.
I know that the Minister will say that it will all be guaranteed under the new burdens process. Under that process, there is meant to be a new burdens assessment with the impact assessment. I ask the Minister where that is, because I have not been able to find it. It does not seem to appear. I speak as a former leader of a council and declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. If this kind of nonsense accounting is going to be the basis of the new burdens, I can tell you that you will have polling clerks running between polling stations and 0.64 of a machine. It does not stack up.
That is why these amendments are vital. We need proper accounting, proper costs and proper assessments, and then, and only then, will these cards be introduced—if they are to be introduced—speedily and in a timely way, with councils having the resources to deliver the very things which the Government say are required.
My Lords, there is a great temptation to stray into clause stand part issues, which we shall debate later, and it is unavoidable in the context of these amendments and of our first discussion of this issue. I was struck, as I think all of us were, by the speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. Both spoke in favour of greater participation and greater involvement. I say “hear, hear” to that.
What we are discussing is an additional requirement to vote. At Second Reading, a number of noble Lords—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Hannan—reflected on voting in jurisdictions which have identity cards and said that this was no big deal: you go along with your identity card, you vote, and it is all quite normal. Of course that is so, because that is not an additional requirement to vote; it exists in the society in general for other purposes. What we have here is an additional requirement—an additional impediment to the participation which the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, seek.
That additional impediment will inevitably reduce participation—by how much we can debate. There have been a number of studies, including the evidence which the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, cited and the study by the Rowntree trust, as to the degree to which participation may be reduced. We can disagree as to which study is the more accurate and the more satisfactory, but it is impossible to argue that this will not reduce participation. That is the true cost of these measures—not the financial cost so much, but the true cost.
To answer the noble Lord’s question, I was citing the review of voter ID from the local elections in 2019. It is difficult to judge what happened in Northern Ireland, but it is easier to judge what happened with these pilot projects in England. That is what the Government set out to look at—to see what happened when people showed up. The Government now want photo ID but, in the pilot projects, it was both photo and non-photographic ID, and that caused significant problems. Imagine if it was just one type—photographic ID, for example—that could double the problem. Bear in mind that people have to be more driven to vote in local elections, where the rates are a lot lower than in general elections—they have to be motivated to go to the polling booth. Then they are told they do not have the right type of ID, whether it is photographic or non-photographic, and so they have to go home and get the right one, and they do not return—they could not be bothered. The danger is, as has been argued, that potentially hundreds of thousands of people will have that encounter and not return.
As I was saying to the noble Lord, an accurate study to achieve a careful assessment of the impact of any measure would have to take into account all the circumstances of the time. Over time, there will be a change in circumstances, and therefore the gross figures may appear as if there has been no impediment. However, if you disaggregate the components of the motivations to vote, it is difficult to believe that the introduction of a new requirement or impediment has a zero effect.
Does the noble Lord believe that this will be a permanent or a temporary effect? As my noble friend Lord Hayward said, voter ID has existed in Northern Ireland for a very long time, introduced by the Labour Government. There has been no evidence of a reduction in voter turnout and, importantly, there is a higher degree of satisfaction with the integrity of elections in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales. I think we ought to ground ourselves in facts—not pilots or the studies by the Rowntree Foundation, but facts.
I think the noble Baroness would agree that the electoral issues in Northern Ireland are rather different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
As I have just said, studying a phenomenon over time requires a careful disaggregation of the effects. Looking at the gross numbers does not tell you anything. Specific studies which carefully disaggregate the impact of particular measures are necessary. I find it difficult to see how one can sustain the argument that introducing a particular impediment to vote will have a zero effect.
As I was about to say, at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord True, in what I call precautionary mode, referred to locking your door to prevent burglaries even though your house has not been burgled. However, it is striking that if you go to the Isle of Sark, where there are no burglaries, no one locks the door. It is the presence of burglars that encourages people to lock their door. If the incidence of fraud is one, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, told us, and the cost now is £180 million, or whatever the number is, to prevent one occurrence, is that value for money?
We should be actively seeking measures to do what the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, encouraged, which is to increase participation and involvement, to increase registration and, perhaps, to think about why we have elections on Thursdays, which are typically working days for so many people. There are a whole series of things that we could be worrying about on the question of increasing participation, but the Government have made the choice to spend a significant amount of money on this particular issue. I would like to hear from the Minister why it is better to spend that sum of money on this issue rather than, for example, on a campaign to increase registration and participation. That seems to be the real cost question that should be faced.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for that long, thought-provoking and interesting debate. I am sorry my noble friend Lord True is not answering on this issue, but this was much more of a stand part debate than one on any specific amendments.
I sincerely thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, and my noble friend Lady Verma for what they have said today, and indeed for coming; the noble Lord has come from Cambridge today, and I know my noble friend has a really painful foot. I thank them both for coming because, as noble Lords have said, their passion on this issue really shone out.
I think the issue is connected. It is about making sure that as many people as possible take up their democratic right to vote, and we always have more work to do on that. I totally agree with the noble Lord about citizenship in schools—I was a huge supporter of that for the many years that I was leader of a large council—but we also have to listen to my noble friend Lady Verma and the communities that she comes from about the issues in play at the moment that prevent some of her community using their democratic vote. We are going to try, through citizenship in schools and other measures that the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is taking, to make sure that people can do that. I thank them both for coming and for their input.
Most of what we have talked about today is about communications. Having worked for many years with electoral officers in local authorities, I know that they are very good locally. I thank them for everything they do in targeting their communities; they know those communities and are very good at making sure that they get the message out.
However, when this Bill goes through, the communication of the new way that the electoral system will work as a result of it will be down to the Electoral Commission, which has agreed to deliver comprehensive and targeted communications about the new system. I hope it will work with those local electoral officers—we will make sure that it does—to make sure that it is a joined-up approach so that everyone understands how it will work.
The top line on this issue is that in our manifesto the Government committed to protecting the integrity of our democracy by introducing identification to vote at polling stations. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that we won a majority of 80 seats. Yes, we did, and we won it on that manifesto commitment. That was part of what we offered the electorate at that time.
I have listened to what the noble Lord said and will check the detail of the manifesto. I will ensure that we write to all noble Lords to make that clear—
I will not intervene again, but I asked the noble Lord, Lord True, whether he could rely on the integrity of the electoral system and the mechanisms that returned an 80-seat majority. Can the noble Baroness answer that specific question? Is she happy that it was a free and fair election? If she is, why is she bothered about voter ID?
My Lords, I am sure that any good electoral system can always be improved and that is exactly what we are doing.
Many countries are doing this; we are not the only one. Italy, France, Spain and Norway—all our European friends, which I am sure the Liberal Democrats will be very pleased about—already have voter identification. Canada, which is not in the EU, also does. But as many noble Lords have mentioned—
I do not know about mandatory ID cards. All I know is that they have to use voter identification when they vote and that is the important issue—
I do not agree with that. I do not think that is necessary. It is in the government manifesto and electoral fraud is not a victimless crime. I know the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, was very clear that there had been only one case of fraud but the impact of electoral fraud on voters can be very significant. It takes away their right to vote as they want to—whether through intimidation, bribery, impersonating somebody or casting their vote for them—
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness in her flow but the implication is that a vote is taken away. It is not. There is a process in the polling stations by which if you claim that somebody has already taken your vote—usually because the wrong name has been crossed off by one of the polling clerks—a replacement ballot paper, known as a tendered ballot paper, is given to you. There is no theft and no loss of vote. You get an extra vote. We know from the Electoral Commission’s analysis that there were only 1,300 cases out of the 37 million votes cast in the 2019 general election. Most were simple clerical errors. It virtually never happens and if it does, there is a replacement.
My Lords, that is if anybody goes back because they have not been intimidated into not going in the first place, I have to say. I respectfully say that this is something that we simply cannot ignore—
You need to do both. We are trying to make sure that people in the communities that my noble friend Lady Verma has stood up and very bravely spoken about have the opportunity, as well as others, to take up their democratic right to vote. She rightly pointed out that many people may feel more empowered to participate if they feel more secure in the system—that has come out in research done by the Electoral Commission. In 2021, 66% said they would have more confidence in the system if there was voter ID at polling stations.
This might be helpful, because we were wondering what was in the manifesto. In fact, the Joint Committee on Human Rights quotes from it:
“We will protect the integrity of our democracy by introducing identification to vote at polling stations, stopping postal vote harvesting and measures to prevent any foreign interference in elections.”
There is nothing about photo ID.
The Minister might have inadvertently misled the Committee from the Dispatch Box in the figures she has just quoted from the Electoral Commission’s survey of 2019. The Government’s own impact assessment, on page 42, paragraph 83, refers to that, saying that satisfaction in the pilot areas was 69% of the poll in 2019, whereas it was 83% in those areas where there was no photo ID pilot.
I am quoting from the 2021 Electoral Commission winter tracker, which was clear that the majority of the public, two out of three voters, 66%, say a requirement to show identification at a polling station would make them more confident in the security of our elections. That was 2021.
The pilot was done in 2019. These are people who actually had the photo ID. When there was photo ID against a control group of no photo ID, the people who were more satisfied with the ballot, post the election, were the people who did not have photo ID. The Government’s own impact assessment says that, and that was signed off by the noble Lord, Lord True, on
The noble Lord is conveniently ignoring the experience from Northern Ireland, which is better than the pilots, as one would expect, because they have had it for a very long time. To keep quoting from these pilots as a way of trying to discredit the rollout is a pretty ineffective approach when there is clearly a lot of experience from Northern Ireland which shows a high degree of satisfaction.
I will answer the Minister directly. The Northern Ireland experience shows that between 2% and 3% of people, after the introduction, did not vote. If we extrapolate that over here, that is 1.2 million people who would probably be less likely to vote. It has taken 10 years to get back to the equivalent before photo ID was introduced. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but that is the evidence, because I have read it. I have read it and I have seen what the effect in Northern Ireland actually is: it has taken 10 years. The noble Baroness shakes her head, so I ask her to show me the evidence that shows that what I am saying is not correct. What is more, for one conviction, is it worth, for 10 years, 1.2 million people being discouraged from voting in England?
I want to move on, rather than discussing different pieces of information. I will move on to costs. My noble friend Lady Noakes is absolutely right about costs. I will come on to costs to local authorities, but the overall cost has been put at £25 per year per person. That is the estimated cost of the production of the voter card and of raising awareness of voter identification across all polls happening within 10 years. We are not expecting this to be a fixed cost; we are expecting it to reduce over time as voters become more familiar with these arrangements.
I specifically asked about education programmes, the rollout of information and how people were going to know about the changes. What is the cost that the Minister has just given us going to deliver? It does not seem very much to engage electors in a pretty enormous change.
As I said, the Electoral Commission has agreed to do much of this. I will come to local authorities now. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Pinnock and Lady Meacher, quite rightly talked about the costs of this to local authorities. The impact assessment presented a range of costs that could be incurred by the introduction of these measures in order to ensure that local authorities and valuation joint boards are provided with the funding to implement the changes successfully. We will continue to refine our estimates of the future new burdens required to reflect the design of the secondary legislation. Government analysts are engaging with local authorities and valuation joint boards as this model is developed. Work is being done by all those involved.
Any allocation would be subject to detailed consideration of the varied pictures across local authorities and the valuation boards and would seek to allocate funding according to need. As was the case with the introduction of individual electoral registration, new-burdens funding will be provided to cover the additional costs resulting from the changes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about the different needs of different authorities. We accept that. The administrative burden will be driven by a variety of factors across local authorities, including their existing capabilities. The allocation of new-burdens funding, including for any additional staffing required, is being modelled and discussed with local authorities and other key stakeholders, working with the programme team in the department. The allocation of the new-burdens funding will take into account the different requirements and characteristics of all local authorities. We are working with local authorities and with the Local Government Association, and we are looking at all the different characteristics of those individual authorities. As a local authority person, I understand this.
I want just to check on the question which has already been raised about the extra security costs. While preparing for this Bill, I went to talk to the Bradford electoral registration team. One of the strongest messages that came from them was that a significant number of poll clerks in Bradford were young women. We all know that intimidation is the most frequent election problem in parts of Bradford. When faced with rather aggressive men of one sort or another whose identity is being challenged, young women are going to feel very unsafe. This will require extra staffing and police. Has this been factored in?
I cannot tell the noble Lord whether that has been factored in. I will ask the team and come back to him. The fact that local authorities are working with the team means that those sorts of issues will come up and be dealt with.
We have also already established a business change network covering England, Scotland and Wales, specifically to support local authorities with the implementation of the policy changes arising from the Elections Bill. The network allows the regular flow of information both ways between local authorities and officials in DLUHC, acting as a local presence with knowledge of the Elections Bill and supporting and engaging with administrators during the implementation. That is where these sorts of issues need to come up and I expect them to be dealt with in that way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, brought up training for returning officers. This will all come out of the same network. We continue to work with local authorities to understand their needs and the needs of voters in relation to training on the new electoral system. I think that deals with all the points, so I will now get on to the actual amendments.
These amendments and those in the groups just after place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish a wide range of reports, impact assessments and reviews, as well as to hold consultations on the impacts and estimated impacts of various measures in this Bill. Amendment 55 would prevent Schedule 1 coming into force until the Secretary of State has made a statement before Parliament on the estimated cost of the provisions, in addition to the potential impacts on voter turnout across different demographics.
This amendment is entirely unnecessary. A detailed estimate of costs for all the provisions in the Bill was published alongside it, as was an equality impact assessment. To suggest that the impacts of the measures in the Bill have not been considered in great detail would be a disservice to the many officials in the team who have spent considerable time modelling the various impacts and who are already working very closely with the sector to prepare for its implementation in a thorough and very considered way.
On the financial costs, we have worked extensively with the electoral sector to assess the impacts of the measures and have rightfully modelled a range of costs to account for a number of scenarios. We continue to work to refine these as the detail of implementation planning is settled. Our priority remains ensuring that local authorities have the necessary resources to continue to deliver our elections robustly and securely, and we have secured the necessary funding to deliver that goal.
As is usual for programmes of this kind, any additional funding required will be delivered to local authorities via the new burdens mechanism. Rollout of any funding will be timed to ensure that local authorities can meet the costs incurred. This is not the first time that the Government have delivered a change programme in this area. The Government have worked closely with the sector to deliver a number of national programmes, including canvass reform and the introduction of individual electoral registration, to great effect. This programme, while complex, is no different and we will continue to take the same open and collaborative approach to implementation.
When it comes to publications, the evaluation of and reporting on funding for programmes of this kind are already subject to publication requirements, particularly as this qualifies as a government major programme. Furthermore, we are developing robust evaluation plans and intend to produce a process and impact evaluation of the programme across all policy measures. Therefore, in light of the already published assessments for the Bill and the assurances that existing plans will provide ample transparency, I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, this debate has ranged rather wide of the area covered by my amendments, to say the least. Having said that, it has been very interesting. As other noble Lords have said, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, made a very important and powerful speech. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that I am sure that we would all agree that every vote should count—of course it should—and I totally understand what she is saying. The challenge for us, as parliamentarians, is how we change that—that is a debate for another day, but she raised an incredibly important issue that we have to look at very carefully. Perhaps we should look at areas where we could do something to increase empowerment and engagement—perhaps that is missing from this Bill. I would be really interested to engage more with the noble Baroness to think about how we can support her, from this side, in what she is trying to achieve and to better understand her concerns.
I will not go into the manifesto commitment debate—my noble friend Lady Lister resolved that quite adequately. But she also raised an important concern, as did—
In the Queen’s Speech in October 2019, the Government announced that they would introduce legislation on voter identification. It was very clearly set out in the guidance and briefing that was given around the Queen’s Speech that that would specifically include photo identification and the free identity cards for local authorities. It was an announced and established policy of voter identification, and the manifesto referred to this.
That is correct. I appreciate what the Minister said about the Queen’s Speech, but, again, my noble friend is absolutely correct. Members of the Government keep telling us that this was a manifesto commitment, but it is important to clarify the distinction between a manifesto commitment and what the Government decided to go forward with in the Queen’s Speech. We can debate that, I am sure—
In that case, can the Minister explain why it was not detailed in the manifesto?
In that case, I will come back to the pilot schemes. If the Government were intending to introduce only photographic ID, and that is what the commitment was, why were pilot schemes run without including photographic identification?
Fair enough—we will move on. I will go back to my amendments and discuss cost, which is where we started this debate some time ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said the cost was actually not very much. I have the greatest respect for the noble Baroness’s knowledge around business finance, but most of my concerns are around the costs to local government. It would appear that she has not been a local authority councillor; I have not been one for seven years, but when I was one, looking at how to balance a budget following the government cuts that were in place seven years ago, it was incredibly difficult to find what we needed to cut in order to balance the books—at what we had to deliver statutorily and what we wanted to deliver.
Seven years have passed, and there have been more and more cuts, so it is even more difficult for local authorities to manage their budgets now. That was the point that I wanted to get across with some of my amendments and with what I was saying. This will be difficult for local authorities, and we need clarity around costs and the kind of investment and support that the Government will give local authorities in good time, ahead of these changes, in order to deliver them effectively, efficiently and with staff who are properly trained and understand what is expected of them and of the electorate.
My noble friend Lord Eatwell made the important point that the additional requirement, if it reduces participation, is another cost that must not be forgotten. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about the importance of factoring in the security implications. This is not just about the police; it is about the numbers of people there. Particularly in rural polling stations, people can be sitting on their own for a long time. We need to be careful about what we ask of the people who man those polling stations. It is a hugely important job.
The Minister talked about costs and went into a lot of detail. I asked a number of questions, which I know she did her best to answer, but a lot of it is still quite vague—it is about work being done and modelling. I need to go away and have a proper read of Hansard to see exactly what she says is happening at the moment. My concern is when all this will be ready. When will this modelling be completed? When will we have some idea of the costs and how they will be managed? On a number of occasions during today’s debate, we have talked about the implications of a potential snap election. Let us say that an election is called in September. Where does that leave us? Let us say that the Bill has gone through and this is what will be required, but the Government are still busy modelling.
Let me respond to that. I was not talking about modelling; I was talking about groupings and communications between DLUHC officers and local authority election officers in individual councils to make sure that we know exactly what the issues are for them and what the costs will be for them. Things such as whether they are rural or inner city and need more security are being discussed at the moment with individual local authorities.
Modelling was mentioned, but I appreciate that clarification from the noble Baroness. Again, the question is when this will be ready. When will the rollout be ready? We know that politics is pretty volatile at the moment. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act is going, so my biggest concern is what happens if things are not ready. Is there a back-up plan? I worry that, if the electorate are not ready and local authorities are not ready, we could end up in a bit of a pickle. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.