I beg to move amendment 54, in schedule 1, page 75, line 9, at end insert—
“(1HA) In this rule a ‘specified document’ also means a poll card.”
This amendment would enable someone to vote by presenting their poll card as an alternative to photo ID.
To recap from where we left off, the Opposition feel that there is no need for the reforms listed in the Bill. They will reduce people’s ability to vote, they will suppress voting and they are disproportionate to the risks identified. They will have a huge impact on councils, be very unwieldy, potentially have an impact on frontline services delivered by councils and be very expensive.
The Government’s own pilot programmes threw up many issues regarding the ability to vote in different circumstances. Different trials were used, including on the use of a polling card, which showed many ways in which barriers to voting can be overcome—not the ways that appear in the Bill. There are also questions about whether people will be turned away on polling day, and that is why the amendment would include the use of a polling card.
To explain the context, several of the pilot schemes in 2018 and 2019 that were commissioned by the Government asked voters to bring their polling card as a form of identification, or some form of photo ID if they did not have it. The results make for interesting reading. In the 2018 voter ID pilot in Swindon, 95% of voters produced their polling card instead of another form of ID. It was much more accessible to them, and Swindon recorded the lowest percentage of voters not returning with correct ID of all the 2018 pilots, at 0.06%. The Watford pilot saw 87% of voters produce their polling card instead of an alternative form of ID, and only 0.2% of voters did not return with the correct ID.
The poll card pilots in 2019 recorded lower percentages of voters being turned away than the photo ID or mixed ID and polling card models. In the poll card pilots in Mid Sussex, North West Leicestershire and Watford, 93% of voters produced a poll card instead of the alternative form of ID. It is clearly highly preferential for voters, and we want to make voting as easy as possible while making it safe and maintaining integrity.
The impact assessment to the Bill states that the implementation of voter ID could cost up to £180 million over 10 years. As we heard in the evidence sessions, that is not entirely known because not all councils have given in assessments. They do not know how many staff it will take or what the cost will be. Of that total, £80 million could be spent on the updated polling cards, which will notify voters of the new requirements. The proposal is to move to an A4 polling card, to be posted in an envelope. If that much is being spent on polling cards, why not use them at the polling station?
Does the hon. Lady accept that, notwithstanding what she said about safety and making it easy, she has not addressed the security element of knowing the person who turns up is the person named on the polling card? In many cases, polling cards can be stolen. I am thinking in particular of when they are posted to pigeonholes in higher education institutions. That has been a real problem in previous elections, and the Opposition’s amendment does not address that.
The issue is parity with postal votes. If someone is to have a postal vote, they need to prove that they are living at the relevant address. That applies to polling cards as well; there is consistency.
The hon. Gentleman says that things can be stolen from a higher educational establishment, but that issue should be addressed by the establishment. The same could happen to postal votes, which would be a big concern. Making polling cards safe would be the same as making postal votes safe, so why not use polling cards?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again. The difference, of course, is that a postal vote requires a signature. Someone could literally take a polling card out of another person’s pigeonhole and present themselves at a polling station saying, “I am Joe Bloggs.” They would be given a vote. That is how things are at the moment, and that is what we think needs to change.
When someone is applying for a polling card, they have to prove that they live at the relevant address. The overall issue is that voting is reduced; people might not necessarily want to go to vote if they find it at all hard. On polling day, we and other people will go to people’s houses, knock on their doors and say, “You can go down and vote.” Despite all the advertising that will happen ahead of time, they will say, “Oh, I don’t have my photographic ID—I haven’t yet got it.” We saw from the pilots how things could be so much easier.
Does the hon. Lady recognise, like me, that one of the most common experiences on the doorstep is someone saying that they have lost the polling card itself and have seen that as an entry into voting? Nine times out of 10, when someone has lost something it has been the card itself. I say to them, “You don’t need that—you just need to say your name and address.” Has she had that experience?
Different people will have different ID. If we open up the forms of ID that people can take, we make it more likely that they will vote. Many people will have lost their photo ID. Some people do misplace their polling card in their pile of post and so do not have it to hand. We can say at the moment that they can just go down to the polling station, but the Bill introduces an extra barrier of people having to find their photographic ID—their passport or driving licence. If a polling card is a high barrier, photographic ID is even higher. My amendment would lower the barriers to voting and enable more people to get involved in democracy, which in the end would make decisions better. The Bill would increase the barriers.
I have been reflecting on what my hon. Friend has been saying. I recently had to send off my driving licence to update my address, and that happens to have coincided with the expiry of my passport. Normally I have two forms of photo ID, but at the moment I do not. Could this legislation not end up affecting people who would normally have forms of ID and therefore would not necessarily apply for the voter card, but who due to circumstances may occasionally disenfranchise themselves accidentally?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are many circumstances in which someone might just not have that photographic ID to hand. My children go off, use their photographic ID in a nightclub and do not return with it. There are so many reasons why it might be hard to find that photographic ID. If people find it hard to locate their polling card on the day—I accept that sometimes they do—they will find it even harder to find their photographic ID.
This amendment is so important. The polling card would give people huge reassurance that they will be able to go down and vote. If the amendment is not agreed to, that will be taken away. The amendment is logical and supported by plenty of evidence from the pilot schemes themselves. I urge the Minister to support it.
If I may, Sir Edward, I want to take time to acknowledge the tragic loss of Sir David Amess. He was a fellow Essex MP to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. He was a truly beloved friend and colleague who served both Parliament and Southend West for nearly four decades with dedication and care.
It is particularly poignant that we should be debating the Elections Bill at this point. The act of violence that occurred on Friday was abhorrent. Violence and intimidation cannot be tolerated in any circumstance and must have no place in our public life. No one should feel afraid to participate in our democracy or to represent their community, and tackling intimidation in public life is a top priority for the Government. There are measures in the Bill that seek to introduce a new electoral sanction against anyone found guilty of intimidating a candidate or elected representative, but this is a problem that no one measure alone will address. That sanction is just one part of a much wider effort by the Government to tackle intimidation and violence in public life.
Amendment 54 would allow a voter to use their poll card as a form of identification under the new system being introduced by the Bill. The amendment effectively defeats the purpose of the Bill. We cannot agree to it because the requirement to provide a form of photographic identification is the best way to secure the electoral system against fraud and to stamp out the potential for it to take place at polling stations in elections.
My hon. Friends have made the argument already, but I should also say that when evaluating the security strengths and weaknesses of each pilot model the Electoral Commission found that
“the photo identification only model has the greatest security strengths compared with the other models”.
A poll card can easily be intercepted, particularly for those living in shared accommodation, and so cannot be used as a form of identification. It is simply not secure enough. That is why we are requiring voters to provide photographic identification.
Before we continue the debate, I echo what the Minister said on behalf of all members of the Committee about our colleague Sir David Amess. I entered Parliament with him 38 years ago, with over 100 MPs. Many of them rose to great distinction; at least two became Prime Minister. Sadly, there were only three of us left from that intake, and there are now only two. I say to Back-Bench Members that the career of David Amess shows that it is wonderful to be a Member of Parliament and to be a Back Bencher, even for your whole career, so keep campaigning, intervening and talking about the causes that you hold dear.
I was inspired to say a few words, not least by your intervention, Sir Edward. I pay tribute to both Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire, whom I held in the highest regard. I express my condolences to everyone affected by their loss, and may they both rest in peace.
I was also inspired to speak by the contribution from the hon. Member for Devizes about people who, when we are out doing our knock-ups on polling day, say, “I’ve forgotten my poll card.”
I do beg your pardon—it was the hon. Member for Peterborough. They will need to fix the lighting for the next round of parliamentary photographs. I do apologise, but the point stands that it is an experience that we have all had. We knock on the door and people say, “I’ve lost my poll card. How can I vote now?”. Currently, we can reassure them by saying, “You don’t need your poll card. Simply identify who you are and your name will be ticked off the list.” That shows the attachment that people have to their poll card. A lot of people think that their poll card is required as a form of ID to vote. As campaigners standing at polling stations, we see people turning up to vote and bringing their poll card with them because of the attachment that they have to it as a document. It helps to inspire their right to vote, so in that sense it works in both directions.
Now when we are on the doorstep, we will have to say to voters, “You need to bring a form of identification with you to vote.” Under the schedule, that has to be a particular form of voter identification. If we were able to say, “You’ve got your poll card. That’s great. You can take that down. That will verify your identity and you’ll be able to take part in the poll,” that would make it even easier for people to comply with the legislation that is under consideration.
On the notion that people could go around harvesting poll cards from university dockets—not to go back to the original clause, Sir Edward—we have heard that instances of that are extremely few. It is already a crime. If someone turns up with more than one poll card, that is personation. I have every faith that in our current electoral system, individual polling clerks will realise, if a voter turns up with two cards, that they are only one person, and they will not be allowed to cast two votes. They would there and then be done, and were it determined that a candidate had been responsible for encouraging them to do that, the candidate would be disqualified from the election.
The amendment, and those that we will discuss shortly, would help as many people as possible to comply with the new requirement that people have a form of identification in order to cast their vote. Opposition Members are trying to expand people’s opportunities to comply with that requirement, and the Government’s opposing it demonstrates what the real intent is behind the clause and the Bill as a whole, which is to make it more difficult for people to vote, which is a dangerous route to go down.
I echo your words, Sir Edward, and those of the Minister, about Sir David Amess. I send my sincere condolences to his family, his staff and his constituents. We all feel his loss greatly. Sir David chaired many debates that I took part in. As a new MP, I do not know an enormous number of MPs, but I felt that I knew Sir David, so that was the measure of him.
I am disappointed that the Government will not accept the amendment, but I urge the Minister to please look into and assess the impact on voting when the Bill comes into force. It will have a big impact. Can we please continue with the pilot so that we can assess the impact of not being able to use a polling card, and keep the door open to make sure that there is the potential for everyone to vote by using a polling card?
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 56, in schedule 1, page 75, line 9, at end insert—
“(1HA) In this rule a ‘specified document’ also means a valid bank or building society debit card or credit card.”
Amendment 57, in schedule 1, page 75, line 9, at end insert—
“(1HA) In this rule a ‘specified document’ also means a birth certificate.”
Amendment 58, in schedule 1, page 75, line 9, at end insert—
“(1HA) In this rule a ‘specified document’ also means any of the following documents (in whatever form issued to the holder)—
(a) a driving licence;
(b) a birth certificate;
(c) a marriage or civil partnership certificate;
(d) an adoption certificate;
(e) the record of a decision on bail made in respect of the voter in accordance with section 5(1) of the Bail Act 1976;
(f) a bank or building society cheque book;
(g) a mortgage statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
(h) a bank or building society statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
(i) a credit card statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
(j) a council tax demand letter or statement dated within 12 months of the date of the poll;
(m) a trade union membership card;
(n) a library card;
(o) a pre-payment meter card;
(p) a National Insurance card;
(q) a workplace ID Card.”
Amendments 55 to 58 include other forms of identification that could be used to prove a voter’s identity. They would include utility bills, bank or debit cards, birth certificates and other forms of non-photographic ID as acceptable types of identification that a voter may produce to obtain a ballot under schedule 1.
The Minister has stated in support of voter ID that we already ask people to prove who they are in order to collect a parcel from the post office or to rent a car. The list of identity documents accepted at the post office for picking up a parcel includes non-photographic ID such as credit or debit cards, cheque books and utility bills. As the Government have indicated, it seems nonsensical not to extend that to voting. Instead, we should help to enable as many people as possible to get involved in our democratic processes.
The Minister might be interested to hear that half of US states with voter ID requirements allow non-photographic ID. She might also be aware that the Pickles report, “Securing the ballot”, recommended:
“There is no need to be over elaborate; measures should enhance public confidence and be proportional. A driving licence, passport or utility bills would not seem unreasonable to establish identity.”
It is estimated that 10% of people who do not have photographic ID have a birth certificate. The Government have chosen the strictest form of ID despite their own review, led by Lord Pickles, suggesting that non-photographic ID such as a utility bill would be acceptable. This is all about what is proportionate.
When it introduced voter ID, Northern Ireland did not initially require solely photographic ID. It did not leap straight to that highest barrier of ID. Elections took place for almost 20 years with a less stringent ID requirement. I urge colleagues to consider the amendments. They are logical and fair, bring the response to concerns about elections into proportion, and are in line with best practice.
The amendment would allow a voter to use a utility bill, a debit or credit card or a birth certificate as a form of identification under the new system being introduced by the Bill. I disagree with the hon. Lady’s arguments. The threshold for picking up parcels should not be the same as for voting, which is far more important.
One of the key arguments for introducing the principle of voter identification was that people needed to show ID when they were picking up a parcel from the post office. These are precisely the kinds of identification that people need to pick up a parcel at the post office. I understand the argument that people might go around harvesting poll cards, but is the Minister seriously suggesting that there is a lot of harvesting of bank cards and birth certificates going on that would make these really unreliable forms of identification at a polling station?
What the hon. Gentleman has said does not negate my argument. We are talking about the threshold and we are talking about photographic identification. All these things might meet the threshold for picking up a parcel, but we are making the threshold for elections tighter than that. I made the same arguments when talking to amendment 54.
We keep hearing this argument about what is going on in America, which is on the other side of the Atlantic.
Is my hon. Friend aware of this point? I would just warn that it is from Wikipedia:
“Netherlands: The registration office of each municipality in the Netherlands maintains a registration of all residents. Every eligible voter receives a personal polling notification by mail some weeks before the election, indicating the polling station of the voter’s precinct. Voters must present their polling notification and a piece of photo ID (passport, identity card, or drivers license (a passport or ID is compulsory from the age of 14)). Such photo ID may be expired by not by more than five years.”
Is an argument constantly focusing on America not slightly trying to muddy the waters?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention; I was not aware of that information, which is very helpful. It shows that the evidence we have gathered and the basis for the Bill is correct. As I set out in my response to amendment 54 about pilots, photographic identification is by far the most secure method of those piloted and I cannot agree to amendments that seek to weaken that protection.
I have finished.
I had not intended to give a speech, but I want to raise the point that when we look at international comparisons, it is important to find countries that reflect our country. The reason America is used as an example is that the United States does not have a national, free, state-issued ID card, unlike the Netherlands, which the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell used as an example just now, where there is a state ID card, issued by the state, for free, to every citizen. Although he is indeed correct that America is on the other side of the Atlantic—I thank him for that geography lesson—it is used as an example because it has a similar policy around state ID cards.
The hon. Lady said that identity cards do not exist in this country, but of course the information from the Netherlands also refers to the fact that a driving licence or passport is also acceptable.
I just want to expand slightly on the point I made in my intervention. If the opposition to the use of poll cards in the discussion on the previous amendment was because of the risk of harvesting and the lack of verification to go with the issuing of a poll card to ensure it matches the person who is carrying it, I do not see how that argument can be applied to the forms of identification listed in the amendment from the Labour party. All those require some form of external verification and, in many cases, someone else to verify the identity and the physical appearance of the person being identified in the document in question—unless there is evidence that we have not heard during our discussions: about the mass forgery of birth certificates, marriage certificates, paper driving licences or adoption certificates.
In fact, in many cases the forgery of such documents is already a crime, so if someone were to try to impersonate another voter by producing a forged or stolen birth certificate, they would be guilty of two crimes: personation under the existing electoral registration measures and forging important documents.
Perhaps the Minister and hon. Members who oppose the amendment are starting to question the integrity of all the organisations listed in the amendment who issue these forms of identification, such as banks and building societies who issue mortgage statements.
I thank the hon. Member for acknowledging the force of our arguments on the previous amendment, which of course he voted for. Is it not the case that people could still vote for others in their own household? That is of concern to Government Members. For example, if someone knew that their son would not vote, they could happily take one of those identity documents with them—they have no photos on them—and present themselves at the polling station. Without that check from photographic identification, security is still threatened.
I am sorry—they absolutely could not. First, I do not accept the force of the previous argument, although I accept the Committee’s decision to reject the amendment. Secondly, there is no way that someone from the same household could turn up because, by definition, they would be voting at the same polling station with the same polling clerks and with the same party candidates and activists standing outside. If one person turned up with two birth certificates, utility bills or whatever, that would be a clear case of personation. I have sufficient confidence in the integrity of our current system to trust the poll clerks on duty in a station to identify that same person from the same household trying to vote on behalf of two people.
I find it slightly ironic that my parliamentary pass, issued to me by the House of Commons on account of my being elected three times by the electors of Glasgow North, lets me get on a plane, and I can cast votes on legislation with it, but I do not think it is good enough to vote in a general election under the Bill. I am therefore happy to support the Labour party’s amendments.
I beg to move amendment 62, in schedule 1, page 82, line 4, at end insert—
“Reports on voter identification and turnout
35A The Secretary of State must prepare and publish reports on the effect of the voter identification requirements in this Schedule on turnout—
(a) across the electorate,
(b) in minority groups,
(c) among disabled people,
(d) among young people.
35B The Secretary of State must publish a report under paragraph (35B)—
(a) no later than 31 July each year, and
(b) in the 90 days following a general election.”
This is a highly reasonable amendment, which I hope will be supported. I also hope that all hon. Members would want to see the effects and outcomes of what the Bill does. The Secretary of State would be required to prepare and publish reports in a timely fashion on the effect of voter identification requirements in the schedule—in particular those where civil society groups have raised a large amount of concern—so that we can learn the effect of the measures in real time. The amendment would not undermine the fundamentals of the Bill; it just says, “We should report on it and learn from it in a timely fashion.” I hope that it will be accepted.
We believe that the amendment is unnecessary. The Bill already outlines that there must be three evaluations of the effect of a requirement to show identification on voting, and those will consider the effect of the new policy on electors’ applications for a ballot paper. Committing to further evaluations annually and in perpetuity would be disproportionate and an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.
The Government will consider how best to gather information relating to the impact of the policy on all parts of the electorate. Although some data will be collected at polling stations under new rule 40B, and used for evaluations, it is important to note that it would be inappropriate to collect information on protected characteristics at the polling station directly. Electors would not expect to have to answer questions about their race, sexual orientation or gender identity before receiving their ballot and might not feel comfortable doing so. We will consider how best to gather that information without such intrusion.
This is a very reasonable request from the Opposition. One of the most robust evidence sessions we had was when we discussed the impact of the Bill on minority groups and people with protected characteristics. I would have thought it would be in the Government’s interests to try to gather evidence to show the minimal impact—or indeed the positive impact—they expect the Bill and the requirement to show voter identification at the polls will have on those groups.
The Labour party makes a perfectly reasonable request. As the Minister said, there is already a certain amount of evaluation built into the Bill; an additional round of evaluation is not going to cause too much difficulty. No one is suggesting that people should be quizzed before the ballot box. There are perfectly acceptable and valid ways to conduct research, at academic or Government level, without having to put people under pressure at the moment they are carrying out their votes. We have seen some of that research already, as some of it was commissioned to help inform the Bill. The Opposition are entitled to make the points they have and can expect our support if they push the matter to a vote.
This is the third Public Bill Committee I have taken part in, and no amendment has yet been accepted. I tabled 200 amendments to the Environment Bill. Hoping against hope, even when I stood up for the last time to speak to the 200th amendment, I thought that might be the one to be accepted. What is the point of sitting in Committee, going through a Bill line by line, for the Minister to say, “Don’t worry—we are going to look into this”?
There are ways to find out the impact on different parts of the electorate. There are definitely ways to find out the impact very quickly after an election, so that we can learn as we go on and prepare for the next election. I am very disappointed that this measure will not be taken up. It leaves the electorate wondering what the Government have to hide.
We have now disposed of all the amendments to schedule 1. Unless a Member indicates to me that they wish to make detailed points on schedule 1 that have not been covered in the debate so far, I propose to put the question that schedule 1 be the first schedule of the Bill.