Clause 1 - Voter identification

Part of Elections Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 22nd September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch Minister for Equalities, Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (jointly with Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 2:00 pm, 22nd September 2021

To say that this has been a lively debate would be seriously understating the passion and arguments made by Members on both sides of the Committee. Speaking as a former Treasury Minister, it is a refreshing change from annual Finance Bill Committees, where I am used to saying lots of things to silence and often bemusement from Back Benchers. That has been a real change and I have very much enjoyed listening to the arguments.

I want to thank all Members who participated in the debate for making so many interesting points. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme, for Peterborough, for Heywood and Middleton, and for Gedling, as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell for making brilliant points in their speeches, with which I wholeheartedly agree. They all said things far better than I could, given how new I am to the brief. I also enjoyed the interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, the hon. Member for Glasgow North, my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute. I did not agree with the Opposition Members’ points, but they were well argued. I still think that they are wrong but I admire the passion of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood. This is clearly a brief she knows very much about and it is nice to see that level of engagement with the topic. However, a few points were made in the debate that I wish to reply to; I will not speak for very long.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North talked about weaknesses in the research. I know the moment has moved on, but I want to emphasise that the Cabinet Office’s research is the most comprehensive to date and is nationally representative. It shows that 99% of people from ethnic minority backgrounds surveyed owned an accepted form of identification. It seemed from his speech that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute felt this was a Bill about introducing a new voter ID card. Yes, that is part of it, but it is mainly about photographic identification. I felt that there was often conflation between people not having photographic identification and needing a voter ID card as opposed to everybody else needing one. That is not the case. I remind the hon. Gentleman that only those without existing documents need a voter card.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood talked about this being a new case for identity cards. I remind her that the coalition Government scrapped the last Labour Government’s plan for ID cards in 2010 and we have no plans for identity cards. The 2018 and 2019 voter identification pilots were delivered with a voluntary, locally issued notification. There is no compulsion here and that same model of an optional free voter card is what we are going to introduce.

Finally, I just wanted to reject completely the accusation from the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood of voter suppression. This is a political topic; we are talking about elections and MPs get very lively. We enjoy having these discussions, but it is important not to alarm people when a simple procedural Bill is being put through. People are disenfranchised if their vote has been used by someone who should not be doing so. It does not seem to be something that is of concern to Opposition Members, but we take that very seriously. As I said in my opening speech, just because someone’s house has not been burgled does not mean they should not lock the door. We can take precautions for things, even if their likelihood, depending on geography, is more or less. We should also have something uniform in bringing in this sort of Bill. We cannot just do something for Tower Hamlets and then wait until something happens in another borough.