Thursday 30th November 2023

(3 months ago)

Written Statements
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Simon Hoare Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Simon Hoare)
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I wish to make a statement.

Evaluation of the Elections Act 2022

The Government are committed to ensuring UK elections remain secure, fair, modern and transparent. As part of this commitment, the Elections Act 2022 introduced new measures designed to increase the security and integrity of UK elections. Two of these measures, voter identification in Great Britain and enhanced support for disabled voters in polling stations, were delivered for the first time in polling stations at the May 2023 local council elections.

The Government are pleased with the introduction of voter identification in Great Britain, with data gathered in polling stations showing that 99.75% of voters were able to cast their vote successfully under the new measures. This smooth roll-out is a testament to the skill and careful planning of local authorities and electoral administrators, without whom the realisation of these measures would not be possible. We thank them.

However, the Government are committed to understanding fully the impact of the Elections Act and to improving its implementation where necessary. They are committed in legislation to undertake an evaluation of the voter identification policy after its first implementation. To this end, the Government appointed external research agency IFF Research to evaluate the implementation of the Act, examining the impact of the voter identification and accessibility measures at the May 2023 local elections. The Government are also committed in legislation to conducting further evaluations at the next two UK parliamentary general elections.

Today, I am pleased to share IFF Research’s first evaluation report. This independent evaluation has used data gathered at polling stations, supplemented by public opinion survey results, the Electoral Commission’s data and report on the May elections, surveys with the electoral sector and qualitative research to provide a full picture of the impact and implementation of the voter identification and accessibility measures. While providing further evidence of successful delivery, the report also makes a number of recommendations for both the Government and others including the Electoral Commission for ongoing improvements.

In addition to the Government evaluation, I have today published the Government response to the Electoral Commission’s report on the May 2023 polls. The Government welcome the views of the commission and have considered its recommendations carefully.

Implementing the Elections Act requires close partnership working between the Government, the commission, the electoral sector, and their representative bodies. We look forward to continuing close engagement with all our partners as we implement the remaining measures from the Act and take forward any necessary adjustments in response to this evaluation.

Responding to the evaluation

The IFF evaluation makes an assessment of where adjustments may be made to delivery of the voter identification and accessibility measures that would improve the experience of both voters and electoral administrators. The Government are keen to support the diligent work of the Electoral Commission and other partners and we look forward to discussing these recommendations further.

These recommendations include: action that may be taken on training and guidance for polling station staff and electoral administrators on the reasoning behind which photographic identification documents are accepted in the polling station; how to apply the Electoral Commission’s guidance for returning officers on supporting disabled voters to enable or make it easier for them to vote in polling stations; activity and communications to address any gaps in awareness or understanding across the whole electorate of the voter identification requirements; the availability of the voter authority certificate; and the additional support and equipment available to disabled voters and more specifically to address this among groups where awareness is low; supporting electors who may struggle with the online application process to apply for a voter authority certificate; and increasing the time available for processing voter authority certificates ahead of a UK parliamentary general election.

Many of these recommendations are, of course, in areas where the Government recognise they should and do not have a direct role, but in these and other aspects of delivery we remain keen to support the brilliant work of returning officers, electoral registration officers, their electoral services teams, the Electoral Commission, and all our other partners.

Other recommendations in the report are specific to supporting and strengthening future evaluations, for example by gathering more evidence from specific groups of interest, and these will be taken forward in future plans.

Ongoing evaluation

The Government are committed to maintaining the integrity of the ballot and ensuring that UK elections remain accessible to all. While the evaluation published today demonstrates the significant steps we are taking in achieving these aims, the Government will continue to learn from this and future evaluations and other sources of data. We look forward to further assessments that will be published in the future and the ongoing successful implementation of the Elections Act, ensuring the integrity and accessibility of our democracy now and into the future.

Copies of the “Electoral Integrity Programme Evaluation Report: Year 1” and the Government’s response to the Electoral Commission’s report on the May 2023 polls will be placed in the House Libraries.

Implementation of the Boundary Review

The Government’s 2019 manifesto committed to ensuring updated and more equal parliamentary boundaries. These help to make sure that votes carry more equal weight in Parliament, across the whole United Kingdom. To this end, Parliament passed the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020, which provided for the number of constituencies in the UK to remain at 650 and for a boundary review to take place on the basis of this number of constituencies and to report before 1 July 2023.

The 2020 Act also provides for regular boundary reviews, which will ensure that the boundaries remain up to date and involve less change at each cycle by not having such a long period between reviews. The boundary commissions will likely commence their next review in 2029 and complete it by October 2031.

The four independent boundary commissions commenced their review shortly after the Act came into force. Having completed the review, the boundary commissions submitted their final reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons on 27 June 2023. The Speaker laid the reports before Parliament on 28 June 2023. We thank the Boundary Commission for its work.

At the Privy Council meeting on 15 November 2023, His Majesty the King made the Order in Council to enact the changes recommended by the boundary commissions. The order came into force on 29 November 2023 and the new parliamentary constituencies and boundaries will take effect at the next UK parliamentary general election. Until that time, any UK parliamentary by-elections will continue to use the pre-existing constituencies and boundaries.

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