Debates between Lord Rennard and Baroness Scott of Bybrook during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 3rd May 2023
Thu 17th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Tue 15th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Mon 27th Jul 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Voter ID

Debate between Lord Rennard and Baroness Scott of Bybrook
Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Just to let my noble friend know, the Government have no intention of looking again at identity cards, as I said to him yesterday.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, allowing for postal votes, there will be more than 1 million people legally entitled to vote tomorrow who will not be able to do so because of the new requirements. The number of people who do not go to the polling station because of them will never be known; nor will the number of people turned away at the entrance to polling stations ever be known. If the Electoral Commission’s review suggests that wider forms of ID could be accepted, such as the items on the Post Office list for collecting a parcel, will such a change be made before elections in 2024? The cost saving would be substantial. Will the Minister undertake to tell us what that saving would be? She said yesterday that the government scheme would cost £2.42 per elector. There are about 48 million electors, so that would be a cost of £116 million. Which party is this expenditure most likely to benefit?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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As I have said before, we will look at whether there need to be any changes after the Electoral Commission and the Government have collected the data they require from returning officers. We said that we would do that; there will be a review by both Houses of Parliament at the end of this year, and the Electoral Commission will review it as well. We expect its interim report in early summer. That is when we will need to look at whether any changes need to be made.

Voter Authority Certificates

Debate between Lord Rennard and Baroness Scott of Bybrook
Tuesday 2nd May 2023

(10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the number of registered electors who have acquired Voter Authority Certificates, and (2) the effectiveness of the scheme in practice.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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My Lords, over 89,500 applications have been received for voter authority certificates. The Government have never had a target for applications and are pleased with the initial rollout. A three-stage evaluation will begin after May’s elections, seeking to understand how the policy measures are implemented and their impact on electors and election staff. Publication of the first review is expected in November 2023, with further reviews after each of the next UK general elections.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, the Government estimated that around 2 million people who are on the electoral register do not have one of the forms of photo ID required this year. Around 1.6 million of those people have elections on Thursday—but the figures show that more than 1.5 million do not have the local authority certificate and will be unable to vote on Thursday, unless by any chance they have acquired another form of photo ID in the meantime. So perhaps 1.5 million people could be denied their vote. Is the spending of £180 million of taxpayers’ money over 10 years a successful investment for the Conservatives if it blocks this many people from voting?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, there are multiple reasons why voters have chosen not to apply for a voter authority certificate at this time. Not everyone will have elections in their area, for a start, and not everyone will choose to vote in a polling station. Those who vote by post or by proxy will not need voter identification and therefore have no need to apply for a VAC. While we would not seek to predict turnout on 4 May, in previous local elections over the past decade a significant proportion of votes have been cast by post. For example, in the May 2022 local elections, postal votes comprised 38% of overall turnout and proxy votes a further 1%. We also have to accept that, while we hope that every elector takes part in the democratic process, this is simply never going to be the case and many will choose not to vote. The cost of this is £2.42 per elector over a 10-year period.

UK Citizens Resident Overseas: Verification

Debate between Lord Rennard and Baroness Scott of Bybrook
Wednesday 29th March 2023

(11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I cannot give the noble Baroness an answer on how many have joined in that time or who has been declined, but we are looking at about 1.1 million people. That is what we think, but it is difficult to tell how many people could register overseas; how many will register is a different matter.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, political parties and organisations monitoring the situation, such as the Electoral Commission, can find it hard to check the original source of donations made, as we saw from those made in the EU referendum campaign donated via the Isle of Man. But some checks can be made, through credit reference agencies et cetera. How will the parties and the Electoral Commission be able to make such checks on residents overseas who are now registering to vote?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The rules are the same for all electors making donations, whether they live in the UK or overseas. Political parties and other regulated campaigners will continue to have to take all reasonable steps to verify that individuals making donations are registered electors. Parties can use the electoral register to do this and the removal of the 15-year limit, which is one of the things we did in the Bill, will make no change whatever to this requirement.

Voter Identification Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Rennard and Baroness Scott of Bybrook
Tuesday 13th December 2022

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions and say that I do not intend to rerun the arguments for voter identification. That argument has been won and it is now in legislation. But I will take a little time to further detail some of the points raised by noble Lords on the actual implementation, which is the important thing this evening.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Belmont and Lord Weir of Ballyholme, for saying what it is like on the ground. These two noble Lords have lived with this over the last 20 years. They have seen it introduced. They have seen how it works for local authority and general elections and I thank them for that. I think the rest of us who are not living in Northern Ireland can never have that knowledge of how it works and how we can make it work in this country.

There was quite a lot of talk from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and others on support for local authorities to deliver this. Of course, we are aware of the pressures faced by local authorities—and the concerns that the Local Government Association brought up, I think, only yesterday—and their ability to deliver these changes. But we have been working very closely with them and, as I think my noble friend Lord Hayward said, this is not the beginning of it; this has been going on for a good seven months with the legislation there and they knew that this was coming along the line. We have been working with the sector. We have been planning the implementation of this policy and not only that we have been giving additional funds to local authorities so that they can carry out the new duties. The Government remain confident in their ability to successfully deliver these changes.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Fox, and many others, said that the Electoral Commission’s budget would be inadequate for communications. The Electoral Commission’s budget for the January communications campaign is over £5 million, which will be supplemented by £4.75 million in funding for local communications—for local authorities to communicate in their own areas.

If this legislation goes through, the Electoral Commission will start its campaign in the middle of January. It will be national and across all types of national media, but local authorities will also have the money to do local campaigns. Along with national government, they do local campaigns very well to get voters to register for voting. This will be added to those campaigns, and I have every confidence that with the money they have, local government and the Electoral Commission will be able to deliver that.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde is absolutely right. As I said, these arguments have all been had, but, as it came up again, I will repeat the point about the manifesto commitment. Voter identification was in the manifesto, and photo identification became a government discussion because it was found in our pilots to be the only approach that increased voter trust and confidence, which are key aims for this policy. We talked about it a lot during the discussions on the Bill, and I reiterate it now in case noble Lords think that we got it wrong again. We know what we said, and we know why we put in photo ID.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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If it was clear what was in the Conservative manifesto and that voter identification meant photo identification, why did the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, who conducted a review of election law on behalf of the Conservative Government, conclude that photo ID was unnecessary and that voter ID in different forms, such as council tax bills or utility bills, would be acceptable? He said there was no need for the photo ID.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not think my noble friend is in his place, but when I next see him, I will ask him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned people in poverty finding it more difficult. I remember that discussion and I know that my noble friend Lord True wrote to her. I am afraid I do not know what the outcome was so, again, with apologies, I will write to her about that because I know that it was an important issue for her then.

Digital exclusion is a different thing. Noble Lords would be surprised how many people—even those we consider to be in poverty—have phones. You can go to many libraries in this country and get access online. We also know that it can be done over the phone and by going to your local council. Wherever you can get registered to vote, you can also get your identity. If people are managing to get registered to vote, they can get identity as well. However, I will come back to the noble Baroness on who we are consulting as we go forward.

Elections Bill

Debate between Lord Rennard and Baroness Scott of Bybrook
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not agree with that. I do not think that is necessary. It is in the government manifesto and electoral fraud is not a victimless crime. I know the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, was very clear that there had been only one case of fraud but the impact of electoral fraud on voters can be very significant. It takes away their right to vote as they want to—whether through intimidation, bribery, impersonating somebody or casting their vote for them—

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness in her flow but the implication is that a vote is taken away. It is not. There is a process in the polling stations by which if you claim that somebody has already taken your vote—usually because the wrong name has been crossed off by one of the polling clerks—a replacement ballot paper, known as a tendered ballot paper, is given to you. There is no theft and no loss of vote. You get an extra vote. We know from the Electoral Commission’s analysis that there were only 1,300 cases out of the 37 million votes cast in the 2019 general election. Most were simple clerical errors. It virtually never happens and if it does, there is a replacement.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, that is if anybody goes back because they have not been intimidated into not going in the first place, I have to say. I respectfully say that this is something that we simply cannot ignore—

Elections Bill

Debate between Lord Rennard and Baroness Scott of Bybrook
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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No, what I am saying is that it will clarify for candidates and agents what is required and what was not very clear at the time of that case.

We have sought input on these measures from the Parliamentary Parties Panel and we are confident that they will bring important clarity to the rules and support compliance. Indeed, Craig Mackinlay, the Member of Parliament for South Thanet, whom we have talked about a number of times, knows better than anyone the deficient nature of the current rules, and he welcomed and praised the clarity which this Bill brings to notional expenditure.

In this clause, we are also making an equivalent amendment to the notional expenditure rules for other types of campaigners, such as political parties and third-party campaigners, to ensure that all the rules are consistent. Together, these changes will bring much-needed reassurance and clarity to candidates and their agents on the rules that apply to notional expenditure for reserved elections. Alongside guidance from the Electoral Commission, with which we are working closely, this measure will support compliance with the rules and ensure that those wishing to participate in public life can feel safe doing so, clear in their legal obligations. It is for this reason that I urge that this clause should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. She mentioned the PACAC report into some of these issues, but without quoting the crucial recommendation, in paragraph 16, which says that

“reform should only be taken forwards on the basis of clear consensus.”

This debate, at the very least, has shown that there is not that consensus. It seems to me that the debate is not about how to account for notional spending but whether to account for some of it at all. We have not really been satisfied that, if there were busloads of people from one party, the costs of the coaches, their hotels, their meals and the leaflets they deliver—all spent in a constituency with the clear intention of promoting a candidate—will appear in the constituency limit for that candidate, which is their proper place. The Bill does not seem to make that plain.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for confirming on behalf of the Labour Party and the Green Party that they do not see this clause as necessary. It seems to add significant confusion, and in my view it is particularly important not to add to confusion about what should be included at the same time as you may increase spending totals nationally. As the noble Baroness said, they may have to rise, but the Government said yesterday, in answer to a Written Question I tabled on 28 February, HL6502, that they may increase in line with inflation. That is inflation since 2000, which is 79% and would take a £19.5 million limit to nearly £36 million. There are more issues to debate on this in the next group of amendments.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Debate between Lord Rennard and Baroness Scott of Bybrook
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 was the subject of the fiercest and longest debates I have witnessed in this House. At the time my party was seeking a route to change to the AV voting system through a referendum, while the Conservative Party was seeking to address what it wrongly considered to be a bias against it in the system. My party failed to persuade people to vote for its preferred option in that referendum, and the Conservative Party failed to persuade either House of Parliament to accept the proposals for new constituency boundaries in 2013 and knew it would fail again with those of 2018—so the 2011 Act must be replaced. But to say that this Bill has been approved by the other place means only that it has been approved by the Conservative Party.

The Bill before us is better than that of 2011 in that it retains 650 constituencies and proposes reviews every eight years, not every five, but the basis of it remains flawed in at least two major respects. First, we still have a hopelessly inadequate system of voter registration, which provides the building blocks for drawing boundaries. Secondly, as we can see from the last two aborted review processes, the tiny variation of just 5% permitted to the quota for electorates in each constituency will prevent the creation of sensible constituencies based on recognised communities and will result in major disruption to many constituency boundaries with every review.

In 2015 the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee concluded that a variation of 7.5% or 8% would be consistent with the government aims and with avoiding these problems. We see from the 2013 and 2018 proposals how this inflexible figure of 5% results in great changes to many constituencies even though both sets of proposals were for the same number of seats. It was argued in the other place that splitting local government wards could limit this disruption, but an excellent and detailed note from the Boundary Commission for England explained very carefully and in detail why splitting wards is not practical on a widespread basis. This time we must properly address the problem of being unable to create sensible constituencies all within the 5% quota and which will otherwise often cross county and other local government boundaries and involve major disruption to boundaries, splitting up many constituencies every time a review is conducted.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I remind noble Lords of the advisory speaking time of three minutes. We must finish at 8.30 pm tonight and we have a 60-Member list, so we need to get on.