Elections Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 22nd September 2021.

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[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 9:25 am, 22nd September 2021

Before we begin, I will make a few preliminary remarks. There is a load of stuff here about face masks, mobile phones, and food and drink, but do what you like, within reason. We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room. It shows how the selected amendments have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same, or a similar, issue. Please note that decisions on amendments do not take place in the order that they are debated but in the order that they appear on the amendment paper. The selection list shows the order of debates. Decisions on each amendment are taken when we come to the clause to which the amendment relates. Decisions on new clauses will be taken once we have completed consideration of the existing clauses of the Bill. Members wishing to press a grouped amendment or new clause to a Division should indicate when speaking to it that they wish to do so.

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

On a point of order, Sir Edward. On Monday evening, the House considered an instruction motion that had been tabled in the name of the previous Minister, Chloe Smith. The motion changes the scope of the Bill and includes different types of electoral systems. Having had four evidence sessions in which we were unable to question witnesses about different electoral systems, I wonder whether you, Sir Edward, have had any indication from the new Government Whip, the hon. Member for Castle Point, about whether more evidence sessions will be timetabled so that the Committee can take evidence from expert witnesses on different electoral systems.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I thank the hon. Lady for that point of order. I have had no communication from the Government. Regarding more time, it is perfectly in order for the Committee to come to an agreement, either between the usual channels or by way of an amendment, to allow more time. I will leave it to the hon. Lady to discuss with her colleagues and the Government whether they want more time. I am sure that my colleagues and I will be perfectly open to that, but it is entirely up to the Committee. We are in your hands.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Further to that point of order, Sir Edward. I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood. It is outrageous that the Government should seek to parachute in something in addition to the scope of the Bill without any debate. There was no debate on Monday night, because the Minister, Christopher Pincher, did not engage with the House. He turned up and read a pre-prepared statement. He did not engage. He did not even take an intervention from his opposite number. It is farcical that it should happen in such a way that no questions were answered and there was no scrutiny. This did not appear from thin air. The Government knew that this was happening; yet I believe they held it back from the Committee. I think it is only right that the Committee should have a chance to bring back expert witnesses so that we can have testimony from them on what this crucial part of the new scope will mean for the entire Bill.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I can only repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood. That is a perfectly fair point, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to table an amendment to that effect, I am sure that the Government will listen very closely. I am completely in the hands of the Committee.

We will start with clause 1, and the question that it stand part of the Bill. Members will note my grouping and selection, and that several detailed matters relating to voter ID will be covered in debates on amendments later today. Clause 1 introduces the schedule on voter ID. I would be grateful if Members could please restrict their remarks to the principles of the proposals. That is quite important. I am sure that we can have a very wide-ranging debate that will be more like a Second Reading debate, but remember that there are loads of amendments later, so there is no point in getting into detail now. We will have plenty of time to discuss the detail.