Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for his excellent introduction to this amendment. It is worth focusing on the fact that the Minister has, on numerous occasions, stressed the impracticalities of some of the amendments that have been considered today, saying “We can’t do this because it’s impractical”. Yet, without any thought, the electorate can be increased from 1 million to 3.3 million, as we heard from my noble friend earlier, without any infrastructure or effort to manage the implications.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about other countries. Other countries have different voting systems, such as list systems and regional systems. But our democracy is fundamentally based not on a party system but on the constituency system, where an individual MP represents the people of that constituency. With what is being proposed, we could suddenly have, as my noble friend said earlier, 7,000 or 8,000 people being allocated to a constituency who, according to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, have never lived there. And we will not even make any attempt—or there will not be any practical way—to verify people’s entitlement to vote.
In this Bill, we have said that if a resident in a constituency turns up at a polling station but fails to produce photographic evidence of their entitlement, they will not be given the vote. But someone who lives abroad can get a vote in a constituency and be sent it without any proper checks. It is absolutely crazy that the Government are not taking the time to look at the practical implications of this. It comes back to the point: why is it being done? It does not really appear to be being done to defend and enhance our democracy. I know I have said it before, but all this effort is going into people who have left this country, who have never lived here or who have lived here for a very short period of time—we are extending the vote to them—but people who have lived here for 27 years, and paid tax and national insurance, will not be given the vote. It is crazy.
This amendment is absolutely right. It would ensure that the Government pay proper attention to the practical implications of their policy and do so in a timely fashion. It is not as if we are trying to say, “Don’t do this”—even though I agree with my noble friend and would prefer that the Government did not do it. The amendment is saying, “Okay, if you’re going to do it and if it’s a principle you support, do it properly. Understand the consequences, particularly the consequences for our democracy”. This side wholeheartedly supports this amendment.