Q Welcome, Maurice; it is good to have you with us this morning. Can you explain first of all whether you feel that the policy of having a free local voter card to accompany voter identification, so that is for the 2% of people we anticipate may not have the ID that is being asked for, will be a good thing and whether there may be any points that you suggest would need to be taken into account in its design?
Hello, thanks for having me. It is not a bad idea to make it free and allow local authorities to give out these passes. The problem is that it ignores what it feels like to be part of that group without any voter ID—part of that group that is reticent even to cast a vote.
Probably everyone in this room and everyone listening sees the value of voting and feels like it is an important part of their democratic rights and that they can affect things if they turn up and vote. When you are talking about people who often do not feel very connected, do not feel very engaged, do not feel very empowered within society, yes, you can say “This is only a small hurdle, you just need to apply to your council and they will give you a free voter ID,” but that is just another hurdle that gets in the way, though. It is just one more step away from them feeling that they can engage with our democratic process. So I think it is a good thing. If we are going to have voter IDs—I would strongly argue that we do not—at least give people access to getting them for free, sure. I just think that does not solve the problem.
Q Okay, thanks for that initial view. In that case, would you join me in letting the message go out from this Bill Committee and witnesses that we all want to encourage as many people as possible to register to vote and to participate?
I absolutely agree with that. I would go further. I do not really understand why you are not automatically registered. I remember turning 18; you get your national insurance number because going out to work and paying your national insurance and your tax are important rites of passage. I do not know why we do not do the same with voting. You should not have to apply to register to vote; you should be automatically registered.
Q Thank you Maurice for your time this morning. We have seen American civil rights groups campaigning quite strongly about the introduction in some US states of ID requirements to access the ballot. They have found that, when it comes to providing ID, some groups are finding it harder to prove their identity than others. In this country it has been very difficult for me to find out what level of ID people hold based on their race; it is not data that is held by the DVLA with driving licenses, nor the Home Office with passports. Can you share with the Committee your understanding of what groups are less likely to have photo ID?
You are right that part of the problem is that this data is not always readily available. The data I have found—the Government’s own data—says that while 76% of white people hold a form of relevant photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a passport, when it comes to black people, about half do: 47% do not hold one of those forms of ID. There are 11 million people in Briton who hold no form of photo identification. That drastically discourages people from voting. You are adding an unnecessary extra burden on people who we want to turn out and vote.
Q To break that down a little bit further, I have seen evidence that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are also less likely to have ID. The free local voter card, proposed by this legislation, looks set to be delivered by local authorities. Do you have any insight into how people who are not resident in the same local authority for any length of time might have their access to those ID cards impacted?
You are very right to bring up the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Of all of the communities that make up Briton, they are already among the groups that are most likely to be disenfranchised. You do not need to be a genius to work out that if you are moving around, and your residence is not set in one place, it makes it very hard to know who to engage with, and what needs to be done to get the ID that allows you to vote. It cannot be assumed that everyone has good links with their local authority and understands where they need to go.
Looking at other communities, you have to acknowledge that the slightly hostile way that we have dealt with migration means that there is nervousness among some communities, even with people who are perfectly legal and allowed to be here. Sometimes there is a nervousness about engaging with the authorities on anything other than something that is considered essential. Sadly, for a lot of people, voting is not something that they consider essential.
Q That final point links to my last question. You have alluded to a hostile environment, and a nervousness to engage with—what is seen as—an establishment. Do you think that the requirement to show voter ID will increase or decrease participation among black voters?
Without a doubt, I believe it will decrease participation. There is already a problem with getting people from minority communities to even register to vote. Now you have to register to vote, and you also need to find some form of voter ID to—as has been said—solve a problem that I am unsure anyone thinks exists. It is very hard to see the impact of this being anything other than voter suppression within those groups. There is certainly not any suggestion that this will increase voter turnout—I cannot see how you would even make that argument.
Maurice, it is nice to talk to you, and thank you for coming to the Committee. I note that you are a Labour councillor in Battersea and a self-confessed Corbynite, and that you previously described the Government asQ
“Diluting rights, denying racism, delegitimising protest, and diminishing voter turnout.”
“Anyone who doesn’t see a concerted campaign at work here simply isn’t looking.”
What is that concerted campaign?
We have had mention of what happened in America with voter suppression, the methods that some parts of the political machine have gone through and the fights to pull back the other way. I think that there is a concerted effort, first, to instil the idea that our voting system is not secure, that there is loads of fraud, that there are loads of people doing something dodgy and that people are cheating. As I have said, I do not really see much evidence of that. Our voting system is pretty trusted and robust. So first, there is this idea of bringing in a measure. When you bring in a measure in Parliament, people think, “Oh, there must be a reason that they’re doing this; it’s because there’s loads of fraud.” It undermines faith and trust in our democracy.
Secondly, as I have said, these measures also put an extra barrier in the way of groups that some parts of the political establishment may think will not turn out for them or are not particularly strong supporters of them. What some people behind this may be thinking is, “If those people do not turn up and vote, is that such a bad deal?” When I said a concerted effort, that is what I mean.
If I said non-existent, that is not what I meant. I meant that it is very small. Yes, there have been issues in various places. To my mind, though, those issues would not be fixed by voter ID. The suggestion that there is a massive lack of faith in our electoral system just is not borne out in the polling. That is not the evidence of anyone that I have spoken to or any research that I have seen. People trust our electoral system, and that is a good thing. We should not do anything that undermines that.
Q You tweeted that the Government
“wants to bring in Voter ID to tackle non-existent voter fraud.”
I suggest that you take a look at the evidence from Peter Golds, Lord Pickles and others yesterday; it may enlighten you.
In 2018, you argued that people should be able to vote online. You then dismissed one social media user’s comment about fraud by saying,
“Sure, I understand the security risks but they are no greater than the risks of postal voting or even voting in person.”
What are those risks of postal voting or voting in person?
I see what you have done there. I was arguing, and I still argue, that we should move to online voting eventually. We should have ways of allowing more people to vote in more easy ways that fit in with their lives, so that they do not have to take time off work and go to a polling station, a post box or wherever. That is what I was arguing for. When I said that there are no more risks with that than with other types of voting, I meant that there are hardly any risks with those other types of voting, and therefore there are no risks with online voting.
That is valid. The Northern Ireland point is brought up a lot. I think I am right in saying—I could be wrong—that there is more of a tradition for carrying ID there than there is here. I could be wrong on that; I am not sure. I have not really looked into that too much.
Am I wrong on that? Okay. It stands to reason that if you have a chunk of the population that does not have what you are being asked to have to turn up to vote, then you are going to lose voters among that demographic. I do not think that is really controversial. I am not sure how you would argue against that. You can argue that there is a bigger problem that needs to be fixed than I seem to think there is, but I do not see how you can argue that it is not going to dissuade people—it is not going to encourage more people to vote, is it?
“Voter fraud played a very small part, funnily enough, in Tower Hamlets.”––[Official Report, Elections Public Bill Committee,
Thank you, Maurice; your contributions have been extremely helpful. You spoke a little bit about automatic voter registration. Could you say a little more about how you think that might work in practice and what impact it could have on turnout and participation, particularly among minority communities? Could you also say something about access to postal voting among minority communities and what impact that has? Does that help or hinder turnout, participation and engagement?
In Scotland, we have recently extended the franchise for Scottish Parliament elections to pretty much everyone with settled status, including EU nationals and people with settled refugee status. Are there any lessons that might be learned from that, particularly in terms of the message it might send to counteract some of what you have described as the hostile environment and how it might make it clear that everyone is welcome and everyone ought to participate in the democratic system?
I will try—sorry; I was not writing those down, but I will try to remember the questions.
The first was about how automatic registration could happen—I think that is what you said. I am not a techie, so there is no way I will be able to describe what the functions would be to make sure that happens, but, as I said, the same process that issues a national insurance number or the same process that says, “You are now this age and a British citizen, or whatever, therefore you can work and pay taxes” should also say, “Therefore you can now vote” and some information should be sent out with that. It might say, “Congratulations, you are 18”—you can argue whether the voting age should be younger, but it should be like a rite of passage—“You are now an adult in our society. You now have this right to have a say in how we are run as a country.” That would send a really strong message, rather than having to apply.
One of my fears about the Bill is that the people who will be most impacted by it and who really will be excluded from having a say are probably the people who are less able and probably less keen to talk about it. It is not something they are bothered about; they do not vote, so they do not vote. They are not going to be marching on Parliament demanding a vote that they do not use anyway. You end up arguing on people’s behalf.
I cannot remember the second part of your question.
Q It was about how postal voting helps with participation and turnout in minority communities? Then I asked about expanding the franchise.
Picking up on what you said there, however, that relates to some of what was discussed yesterday. Is there something about civic education and awareness raising about the importance of participation in our democratic systems among minority communities that might also help to increase turnout and participation?
Absolutely. We should do loads more for all communities, not just minority communities. Learning how your country works, how you get involved in it and how you change things, if you feel that they need to changed, should be among the most important things that we are taught as we grow up in this society. Instead, it is seen as a bit of a fringe subject or people say, “Oh, let’s not talk about politics because it might get too political and then we might be accused of being one way or the other.” Instead, we should have a real love for democracy. We should instil the idea that you, as an individual, have a say in the country that you run. That is really important and I do not think we do anywhere near enough of that, so we should consider anything that increases knowledge among the public about how you change things—what’s a councillor; who’s an MP; what’s an Assembly Member; what do these things mean; who does what. Most of us do not know this stuff—most of us in this room might do—most people out there do not know this stuff. Anything that improves that would be great.
In terms of extending the mandate, I personally am of the opinion that anyone who is resident here should have a say in what goes on here. Anyone who lives and works in our society should have a say about what goes on here. I would extend that in ways that may be tricky to do, but I think prisoners should have a say—lots of people should have a say. In my opinion the mandate should be extended to all residents in this country.
You mentioned postal voting. I have not got any evidence of whether it has a particular impact on black and minority ethnic people, but I know that you have a longer window when you have a postal vote. We should give people the ability to go down and post their vote in the middle of night, or whenever they want to to fit in with their lives; we all live these piecemeal, sometimes slightly precarious, lives and we have responsibilities. You cannot always say, “Right, I am going to go down on a Thursday and queue up if I need to, and vote” because you might need to be at work or drop off your kids. Just allowing people to vote by post is massively beneficial.
Mr Mcleod, good afternoon. I would just like to clarify a couple of points. You said in your evidence earlier that you had seen stuff. You are here as the chief executive of a charity, Race on the Agenda. The charity has not commissioned any research into this matter at all?Q
Q Sure. We heard some evidence yesterday about voter fraud and where it has occurred. We heard evidence from Tower Hamlets, as we discussed, and Slough and inner-city Birmingham, where voter fraud has occurred. Those places tend to have higher non-white populations than other places. Would you agree that the serious victims of voter fraud are ethnic minority people?
Q To the extent that it does occur, if voter fraud affects an area, it is more likely to affect—as we heard yesterday, the biggest victims in Tower Hamlets were the Bangladeshi population, who were disenfranchised because an election was stolen from them. If we agree that it is a problem, it is going to affect non-white populations in this country.
Yes, if we agree that it is a problem. I am afraid that I have not seen the evidence from Tower Hamlets, but I will take your word for it; I am sure you are right. Like I say, I am not sure whether it would have been solved by the measures that you are talking about bringing in, but if it is a problem, everyone suffers. I do not think just the residents or the voters in a particular area who might be disenfranchised suffer. We all suffer because our system does not work properly then.
Yes—sure, of course. Absolutely. But I would also like to know how prevalent this is. Is it a one-off situation in one place that needs to be dealt with in a particular way, or is it an endemic thing in our system? I am not really convinced that it is endemic in our system. I guess that is what I am saying.
Q Finally from me, we talk about how it affects ethnic minority groups, but that is not one group of people. Do you accept that there is a lot of diversity within that? When you say that this might have a particular effect on minority groups, what does that mean in practice?
If there are particular groups—the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community was mentioned earlier; those communities are particularly vulnerable to this—who, for one reason or another, are less likely to have the ID required, the impact will fall disproportionately on them. If a larger percentage of black Caribbean people do not have this ID, bringing in the measure will have a bigger impact on them.
On a point of order, Ms Rees. Can I just confirm that witnesses have been invited to speak to this Committee on the basis of their experience and there is no requirement or expectation of any of the witnesses who appear today or who appeared yesterday to back up their evidence with primary source research evidence? We have not asked any other witness to detail the evidential base. We are entitled to ask questions and witnesses are entitled to respond on the basis of their experience. Can I confirm that, please?
Thank you, Mr Grady. The witnesses have been invited to give evidence on the basis of their experience. They do not have to have any research as a back-up. We are very grateful that the witnesses have agreed to come along and give evidence.
Further to that point of order, Ms Rees. Is it not the purpose of this Committee to scrutinise any evidence that is given to us, regardless of whether it is backed up by data?
Good afternoon, Maurice. Thank you for coming to speak to the Committee. You said earlier that this does not solve the problem. Can you say anything about things that would solve the problem that you see of lower voting numbers among the black community? Just for the record, there was only one trial of the ID pilot scheme in the format that is in the Bill. That was in Woking, which has an 84% white population, so perhaps you could say that the Government also do not have the primary evidence that is needed.Q
But if the Bill does go ahead in this way and ID cards are expected, are there any other measures that could mitigate the potential for suppression? From your experience of working with the black community, what would need to be put in place that would make this less of a bad deal?
Thank you. As I was saying earlier, if we cannot move to a place where people are automatically registered and you get sent your photo ID that is relevant when you turn up and vote automatically, I would like to see a massive effort from all local authorities to actively seek out the people who do not have photo ID. Authorities must contact them and say, “Look, here’s a form, here’s how you apply for your free photo ID from the council.” It is not enough just to say, “Oh well, if people want it, it’s easy enough for them to go on this website or turn up at the town hall and ask for this stuff.” Yes, it is easy for us because we want those things, we want our vote and we see the value in it. So much more needs to be done.
It is bigger than just getting people voter ID cards: it is making our democracy transparent and making it easy to engage with your local authority, MP or Assembly member. It is making all those paths much clearer and simpler to use than they currently are. If you know how the system works, who to put pressure on and how to impact your world, you have a much better existence. If you are not that of sort of person, politics just happens to you. It is not something that you actively engage in. We should be doing everything in our power to encourage and show people where their power is, what they can do and what they can change. If you have a society that feels it cannot make changes or be engaged in the way that it should, people switch off or get distracted into things that do not benefit society at all. That is a bit wider than the question you asked, but we need to be proactive in reaching out to these communities. We can find them. We can work out who does not have a driving licence. We can work out where these people are, so let us do that and ensure that they have everything they need to be able to express their democratic rights.
Thank you for attending this session. It is interesting that you are the first black witness that we have had and you were invited along to talk about race. I apologise on behalf of the Committee for the way you were treated. The evidence we had yesterday from Peter Golds and Eric Pickles verified that election fraud does happen on very rare occasions. I would like to pick up your point about reaching out to communities and how we engage, encourage and assist people to get involved in the democratic process. Is there anything in the Bill that will enhance that communication and support?Q
I have just checked the allegation of fraud made by the hon. Member for Peterborough and, in those cases, it was found that no offences were committed. Does the message that electoral fraud has happened in black and ethnic minority communities act to disfranchise those communities, which we are trying to reach?
Sadly, I think it does, whether deliberately or not. I think we should always lean towards things having been done in good faith, but if you say things like, “There is very serious electoral fraud, and it happens in areas where there are lots of black and Asian people,” it is not a massive leap in people’s minds to, “Okay; so black and Asian people are somehow doing electoral fraud. That is what we’re clamping down on. We’re stopping people doing something dodgy to our process.” That is exactly the sort of alienating message that ends up with people saying, “I’m not interested in any of that stuff. All that politics stuff has nothing to do with me.” Those sorts of narratives do play into that, I am afraid. I have forgotten the beginning part of your question, but I worry about the narrative of, “We need to solve this massive fraud problem that is happening in minority ethnic areas.” I will not say it is a dog whistle, but I think it has an impact on minority communities, certainly.
I do not really want to go down the road of more points of order. The Committee is becoming quite agitated. If there is anything you would like to raise, perhaps it could be raised after the witnesses have left. Would the Committee be content with that? We are against the clock, and more Members would like to come in.
I am perfectly happy to raise my point afterwards, but it is worth noting that it has been implied that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and I were unreasonable in our questioning, and that it may be because the witness comes from an ethnic minority. It is perfectly legitimate to place on record that that is not the case. Our questions were perfectly in order. I find it insulting that the hon. Member for Blackburn would even suggest such a thing.
Q A final question from me. Ladies wearing face coverings turning up to polling stations will require there to be a lot more female staff in polling stations. How can that be managed, and how can we reassure communities that polling stations will have the facilities and staff required?
That is very hard. You make a really good point. It is all very well saying that photo ID should be used, but if you are not supposed to reveal your face to a man who is not in your immediate family, that is really hard. Even if councils say, “We’ll make sure there are women, or people who know what should happen, at the polling station,” there is still that worry in your head, if you are that woman who is not that confident about whatever, and you need to go out and vote. There is still that concern—“Will I be treated properly? Do they know what my faith needs?”
If that is the route we go down, I would want to see a real effort, through mosques and any other faith groups that would be impacted, to bring those communities on board and show them, “This is how it will be. It will be completely safe. We totally get what you need to do to be observant.” It is another worry—one that I have not brought up so far. Not everyone can use their face as ID as freely as the rest of us.
Q Thank you very much. Is the voter ID scheme as set out in the Bill compatible with the right to vote under the European convention on human rights, particularly when read with the anti-discrimination provision in article 14 in mind?
ThankQ you very much, Ms Rees. Maurice, thank you very much for taking part in this evidence session. In your primary evidence, you suggested that you were very concerned about the voter participation of BAME groups if photo ID were required. The rationale that you gave—I took a note at the time—was that between 47% and 50% of BAME potential voters had photo ID. Is that correct? Is that your view?
Q So roughly that. I am not holding you to a particular percentage, but roughly 50%. That is the basis of your concern, or one of the bases of your concern, about the fear of reduced voter participation in black and ethnic minority communities. Is that right?
Q We have a slight advantage. I am not going to try to trip you up on this; I am just going to read out some data that we have the advantage of having. In March of this year, the Cabinet Office undertook some independent research, done by the independent research company IFF, in which they telephone interviewed 8,500 people from right across the country to establish the facts—the real data—behind that assertion. Their conclusion was that among the general population, 98% of the population had relevant photo ID, and in the BAME communities, that figure was 99%. Given that very significant difference between your concern that it was less than 50% and the reality that it is 99%, would you accept that your concerns are based on a false premise and that you are, to that extent at least, reassured?
If it turned out that 99% or whatever you just said of BAME people do have relevant ID, that is quite reassuring indeed. There was lots of talk about this in the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ report; I would be interested in seeing a proper breakdown, because it is all very well saying, “Minority ethnic people have IDs”, but if that ignores Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in particular, or particular groups who have much lower numbers of take-up, that would still be a concern. In fact, it would mean that those groups are even more marginalised, because they are a special case: their lack of the required ID is not being flagged up.
Q I quite understand. We have already heard that “BAME” includes a large number of sub-groups, but under the methodology of that independent research, one of the key areas was
“What percentage of the eligible population do not hold at least one form of photo ID currently under consideration for the voter ID requirement?” and
“What is the level of ownership of the required photographic ID in groups with protected characteristics? specifically with reference to:
Race or ethnicity
This was a very thorough and independent piece of research, and if that is the case—you can look at it on the gov.uk website, so it is publicly available—that would, as you say, provide you with a degree of reassurance.
Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted to the Committee to ask questions, and indeed for this morning’s session. On behalf of the Committee, I thank our witness for his evidence. The Committee will meet again here at 2 pm this afternoon to continue taking oral evidence. I invite the Government Whip to move the adjournment.