All 9 Baroness Scott of Bybrook contributions to the Elections Act 2022

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Tue 15th Mar 2022
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Thu 17th Mar 2022
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Mon 21st Mar 2022
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Mon 21st Mar 2022
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Wed 23rd Mar 2022
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Mon 28th Mar 2022
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Mon 28th Mar 2022
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Wed 6th Apr 2022
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Wed 6th Apr 2022
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Doing this is really dangerous. I know we will get into other debates on the codes and Electoral Commission guidance, and we will go on to some of the other issues, but we are in danger of undermining our good constitutional position of single-Member constituencies in favour of a more presidential-style election campaign. That is a big risk, and we should resist it. If it is not broken, do not fix it. Let us stick with what we have.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I will start by answering the noble Lord, Lord Collins. He asked twice, once of my noble friend and once of me: what is the problem here? Currently, as the 2018 Supreme Court case revealed, the law is at odds with what the candidates understand in their communities. That ruling has meant that agents are now unsure—we have talked a lot about how difficult it is to get agents —about how to account for notional expenditure. That is exactly what we are addressing in the Bill.

Before I move on from the noble Lord, I will just say how much I agree with him on the importance—to me, the most important thing in our electoral system—of that connection between an individual candidate, whether local or national, and the communities that they are trying to serve, and do serve if they win an election. To me, that is the most important thing in our democracy.

The level playing field was brought up by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Wallace. It is important, but the rules that we are putting forward on notional expenditure are designed to maintain free and fair elections. Political parties will not be able to spend more on candidates as a result of these amendments. All spending which is currently recorded will continue to be recorded. These amendments will therefore uphold the level playing field for elections, which, as I have said, form the cornerstone of our democracy. Expenditure that promotes an individual candidature will continue to count towards a candidate’s own spending limit. Expenditure which is joint between a party and a candidate will continue to be apportioned in an appropriate way and reported to the returning officer. The level playing field is continued.

A number of noble Lords brought up national spending limits. Spending limits are different from the protections for candidates which ensure that their agent must approve certain expenditure, but the Government are intending to review party and candidate spending limits for all other polls apart from local elections, which were increased in line with inflation in 2021. It is important that these are uprated in line with inflation, which will create a solid baseline for future reviews.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, again mentioned national versus local spending and asked whether this would cause spending to stop being reported and allow parties to spend more on candidates without reporting it. No, it will not. No notional expenditure will stop being reported as a result of this clarification. Benefits in kind which are offered and used by them or their agent, or anyone authorised, directed or encouraged to make use of them on the candidate’s behalf, will still need to be reported. Also, where a third party, including a political party, is spending money to promote a candidate directly to the electorate, this generally falls under spending in Section 75 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. Those reporting rules will still apply.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about transparency. Transparency is indeed there and will continue to be there in all spending on local and national elections.

We have heard already, and it has been said a number of times, that Clause 18 clarifies the law on notional expenditure, making it clear that candidates need to report only benefits in kind—that is, property, goods, services and facilities that are provided for the use or the benefit of the candidate at a discount or for free—which they have actually used or which they or their election agent have directed, authorised or encouraged someone else to use on their behalf. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about somebody ringing up from central office and saying that they are bringing down a bus. I suggest that you will have either authorised or encouraged it; I do not believe you would say nothing on the end of that phone if that is going to happen. This is what was already widely understood to be true. Nothing much is changing; we thought that was true prior to the Supreme Court judgment in the matter of R v Mackinlay and others.

In its 2019 report on electoral law, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee called for consultation to take place on how the law on notional spending could be clarified. In evidence to PACAC, the Labour Party said that it would be supportive of legislation

“that would serve to clarify Parliament’s intention as to the extent the election agent is responsible for expenditure by third party campaigns to support their candidates.”

So the Labour Party, in PACAC, was in support of this. That is precisely—

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I am sorry to interrupt, but one has to see the context of that response. Our argument tonight is that this clause does not do that—it does not provide clarity. I wish it did, and then we could all support it. But it could lead to the complete opposite of what the noble Baroness is suggesting.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I suggest that the Government believe that it does clarify; that is exactly what it does, so we will have to disagree on that. We feel that Clauses 18 and 20 of the Bill do precisely what the Labour Party asked for and supported in PACAC.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, if I have understood the argument that the noble Baroness has been making, this clause would not in any sense change the outcome of the Thanet case. If it is clarifying things in that direction, the clause is not necessary.

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.

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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, on Amendment 28B, which is about transparency, perhaps the Minister could comment on some of the recommendations in the CSPL report which related precisely to the point of transparency of election expenditure and its availability in electronic form so that it could be studied more widely and easily. Obviously, that clearly requires legislation and might well properly have been in the Bill.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, relate to existing provisions in electoral law in respect of codes of practice on election expenses for candidates that the Electoral Commission may prepare.

We have included measures in Clause 19 to ensure that any code of practice on candidate spending from the Electoral Commission is sufficiently broad to fully serve the purpose of explaining the rules on candidate spending, which are set out in the Representation of the People Act 1983. We are making this change to put the scope of the guidance beyond doubt. It is important that the guidance is comprehensive, so that we can address concerns raised from across the political spectrum on notional expenditure.

Amendment 25B would require the commission to issue new guidance at least every 10 years. As the noble Lord said, the commission is already able to amend any such code as required from time to time and must reflect the rules as set out in law. Clearly, the Electoral Commission is expected to keep up to date all guidance, including such a code of practice, and revise it as far as necessary to reflect changes in the law. Therefore, there is no need to legislate in such a rigid fashion.

Amendment 25C would require the Secretary of State responsible for approving the code to consult on that code before its approval. It is for the Electoral Commission to consult whomever it considers reasonable to consult before it submits a draft to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can then accept it, with or without modification, and must lay it before Parliament. It is then down to Parliament to consider the code laid before it and decide whether or not to approve it.

Amendment 28A would require the Secretary of State to publish within 12 months of Royal Assent draft legislation to amend the 2000 Act

“for the purposes of increasing the transparency of expenses”.

I say with the utmost respect to the noble Lord that that is quite an imprecise instruction to the Secretary of State. Transparency of electoral expenses is a cornerstone of the UK’s electoral system. Electoral law already has a robust set of controls and reporting requirements which ensure that spending during election campaigns is transparent, and the Bill supports that. Political parties, recognised third parties and candidates are already required to report their election spending, and this includes money they spend on digital campaigning, an issue raised by the noble Lord.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I apologise if I was misunderstood. I was referring not to digital campaigning but to the digital submission of election expenses. At the moment, they are often kept in a cupboard in the returning officer’s office and are not accessible in any way. There are also issues of data redaction, and so on, which make it more complex.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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I will take that back and get an answer for the noble Lord. It is an important issue, as the way we will do elections in future will be very different because of new IT.

As I was saying, the new digital imprints regime will also improve the transparency of digital campaigning, requiring those promoting campaign content online, paid and unpaid, to clearly show who they are. With that said, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for her comments. Of course, I am trying to get on record some political points here, so I am going to repeat them. I understand the statutory requirements for consultation by the Electoral Commission, but there is often a failure to consult beyond the political parties, and we need to ensure that that is properly addressed. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, made a very good point about transparency: if I wanted to look into a particular record, it is extremely difficult to do so, and there are ways to make it easier.

In later debates we will return to the issue of transparency, particularly when we get to Clauses 26 and beyond, but in the light of the Minister’s comments, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, the Bill delivers on the Government’s manifesto commitment to secure the integrity of elections, ensuring that they remain secure, fair, transparent and up to date. The UK Government undertook extensive engagement with the devolved Administrations in preparing the policy and drafting the legislation. For a number of measures that are within devolved competence, the UK Government considered that a co-ordinated UK-wide approach would have been beneficial by ensuring consistency and operability for electoral administrators and those regulated by electoral law, and strengthening protection for electors and relevant political actors. It is therefore regrettable that, while the Government sought legislative consent for these measures, the Scottish Parliament has not granted such consent and the Welsh Government have recommended that the Senedd does not grant legislative consent to these measures.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to make a statement on the application of Clause 20 in devolved Administrations. This measure will apply only to candidates at reserved elections, and the Scottish and Welsh Governments could choose to replicate these measures in respect of elections within their legislative competence. For clarity and reference, I remind noble Lords that subsections (2) to (7) of Clause 18 make equivalent amendments in respect of other campaigners, including political parties.

We are respecting the request of the devolved Governments by limiting this power in application only to elections within the UK Government’s legislative competence. Clause 25 is necessary because it is important that new categories of campaigner can be added to the list if necessary. This is because the introduction of the restriction on third-party expenditure in Clause 24 means that any category of campaigner not on the list will be significantly restricted in their ability to campaign by not being able to spend more than £700.

The relevant provisions will apply only to matters of reserved or excepted elections, and the Bill makes an important clarification, so that candidates and their agents can have full confidence about their legal responsibilities and do not need to fear being responsible for benefits in kind of which they had no knowledge. The Scottish and Welsh Governments could choose to replicate these measures within their legislative competence.

Finally, I will reiterate that the Electoral Commission will be responsible for preparing guidance on notional expenditure which will support those seeking to contest elections and enter public life throughout the whole of the UK. With that said, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. Just to reiterate, we will continue to have discussions around devolution, as it is affected by many parts of this Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.

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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I will comment on Amendment 31, which is about record-keeping. I return to the point I made a few minutes ago: it is about not just keeping the records but access to the records that have been kept. There are plenty of “publicly available” records that are not actually publicly available in real life. Election expenses are a case in point: GDPR has added an extra layer of complexity because they often contain personal details, bank details, addresses et cetera that ought not to be transmitted to other persons. Clearly, these records might well come within the same purview. I do not seek a detailed reply from the noble Baroness as that would be quite unfair, but I hope that, as we proceed, the Government will be able to illustrate that they have considered carefully issues of record-keeping, and, indeed, how the transparency that goes with record-keeping will be maintained in the current and projected circumstances.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, as part of the registration process, political parties are not currently required to submit a declaration of their assets or liabilities. This information becomes available only in their first annual statement of accounts published on the Electoral Commission’s website. Clause 21 brings forward this important transparency to the point of registration.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, tabled a probing amendment seeking to understand why the threshold for this declaration is set at £500. I am pleased that the noble Lord has highlighted this, and I point to the fact that this measure, including the £500 threshold, was first recommended by the Electoral Commission in its 2013 report.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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If it was a 2013 report, and thinking of inflation, I wonder whether that should have been reconsidered, to come back to an earlier discussion.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The noble Baroness has now undermined the argument about going up rather than down. I have checked that, because I know the noble Baroness mentioned 2018. I have 2013, but I will clarify that. It was also more recently recommended in the CSPL’s July 2021 Regulating Election Finance report, which is more up to date. It would not be proportionate to require parties with assets below £500 to submit this declaration.

On a similar topic, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, tabled a probing amendment to understand why the clause specifies that the Electoral Commission should make this statement available for as long as it sees fit. This is simply a matter of consistency with the existing approach to assets and liabilities declarations contained in a party’s annual statement of accounts. Under Sections 45 and 46 of PPERA, the commission is able to keep documents, including the annual statement of accounts, for

“such period as they think fit.”

Therefore, this is simply a technical provision, enabling this first assets and liabilities declaration to be compared with various subsequent records provided by political parties in their annual statements of accounts.

I will write to my noble friend Lady Noakes on her very interesting question, to which I would like to know the answer as well. I will place a copy in the Library so that we are all aware of it. That said, I urge noble Lords not to press these amendments.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for her response. Like her, I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, asked an extremely interesting question that did not occur to me when I read through the Bill. It was a very thoughtful question to take forward. I am interested to see where that goes.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, made an important point about access to records and transparency of record-keeping. It is important that we all take that on board. The Minister gave a clear response on the reasoning behind this.

On my Amendment 31, which would delete the phrase

“such period as the Commission think fit”,

it is interesting to note that this is consistent with what PPERA says. I was not aware of that, so I thank the Minister for that. I wonder whether there is any guidance as to what it means—I have no idea whether it is five or 50 years. It would be interesting to know a little more about that and what happens in practice, so that there will be more information in that area as we take this forward.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I will endeavour to find out exactly what was behind that and let the noble Baroness know, and I will also address the point about transparency and access to all these figures, because that is important. It is no good keeping them unless they are easily available to any person who wants to see them. We will take that back and respond.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that clarification. I look forward to her response. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Elections Bill Debate

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
We should be actively seeking measures to do what the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, encouraged, which is to increase participation and involvement, to increase registration and, perhaps, to think about why we have elections on Thursdays, which are typically working days for so many people. There are a whole series of things that we could be worrying about on the question of increasing participation, but the Government have made the choice to spend a significant amount of money on this particular issue. I would like to hear from the Minister why it is better to spend that sum of money on this issue rather than, for example, on a campaign to increase registration and participation. That seems to be the real cost question that should be faced.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for that long, thought-provoking and interesting debate. I am sorry my noble friend Lord True is not answering on this issue, but this was much more of a stand part debate than one on any specific amendments.

I sincerely thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, and my noble friend Lady Verma for what they have said today, and indeed for coming; the noble Lord has come from Cambridge today, and I know my noble friend has a really painful foot. I thank them both for coming because, as noble Lords have said, their passion on this issue really shone out.

I think the issue is connected. It is about making sure that as many people as possible take up their democratic right to vote, and we always have more work to do on that. I totally agree with the noble Lord about citizenship in schools—I was a huge supporter of that for the many years that I was leader of a large council—but we also have to listen to my noble friend Lady Verma and the communities that she comes from about the issues in play at the moment that prevent some of her community using their democratic vote. We are going to try, through citizenship in schools and other measures that the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is taking, to make sure that people can do that. I thank them both for coming and for their input.

Most of what we have talked about today is about communications. Having worked for many years with electoral officers in local authorities, I know that they are very good locally. I thank them for everything they do in targeting their communities; they know those communities and are very good at making sure that they get the message out.

However, when this Bill goes through, the communication of the new way that the electoral system will work as a result of it will be down to the Electoral Commission, which has agreed to deliver comprehensive and targeted communications about the new system. I hope it will work with those local electoral officers—we will make sure that it does—to make sure that it is a joined-up approach so that everyone understands how it will work.

The top line on this issue is that in our manifesto the Government committed to protecting the integrity of our democracy by introducing identification to vote at polling stations. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that we won a majority of 80 seats. Yes, we did, and we won it on that manifesto commitment. That was part of what we offered the electorate at that time.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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Can I be clear? The House has heard three times from the Government Front Bench about their manifesto. Did the Government’s manifesto commit to compulsory voter ID?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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It was photo identification—

Lord Woolley of Woodford Portrait Lord Woolley of Woodford (CB)
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With respect, it was not photo ID, it was ID. That also means non-photo ID. I am afraid that the goalposts are being shifted, which could have a dramatic effect.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I have listened to what the noble Lord said and will check the detail of the manifesto. I will ensure that we write to all noble Lords to make that clear—

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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I will not intervene again, but I asked the noble Lord, Lord True, whether he could rely on the integrity of the electoral system and the mechanisms that returned an 80-seat majority. Can the noble Baroness answer that specific question? Is she happy that it was a free and fair election? If she is, why is she bothered about voter ID?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I am sure that any good electoral system can always be improved and that is exactly what we are doing.

Many countries are doing this; we are not the only one. Italy, France, Spain and Norway—all our European friends, which I am sure the Liberal Democrats will be very pleased about—already have voter identification. Canada, which is not in the EU, also does. But as many noble Lords have mentioned—

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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It is really important that we have a level playing field here. Of the countries that the Minister has just outlined, how many do not have mandatory ID cards?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not know about mandatory ID cards. All I know is that they have to use voter identification when they vote and that is the important issue—

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am sorry to interrupt but surely the important thing is that if they already have to have an ID card, it is very different from having to get a special ID card to vote.

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—

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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Will the noble Baroness explain the relationship between intimidation and the intimidating need to get photo ID?

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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You need to do both. We are trying to make sure that people in the communities that my noble friend Lady Verma has stood up and very bravely spoken about have the opportunity, as well as others, to take up their democratic right to vote. She rightly pointed out that many people may feel more empowered to participate if they feel more secure in the system—that has come out in research done by the Electoral Commission. In 2021, 66% said they would have more confidence in the system if there was voter ID at polling stations.

Lord Maxton Portrait Lord Maxton (Lab)
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I am very reluctant to speak, because I have sat through most of this and I did not take part in Second Reading, but if an ID card is presented at the polling station, is that taken as proof that you have voted or are voting? There is a photographic ID card.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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If you have the necessary photo ID and your name is on that electoral register—

Lord Maxton Portrait Lord Maxton (Lab)
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But surely most countries that the noble Baroness has already said are part and parcel of the extension of this scheme have an ID card.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I think that is a different discussion.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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This might be helpful, because we were wondering what was in the manifesto. In fact, the Joint Committee on Human Rights quotes from it:

“We will protect the integrity of our democracy by introducing identification to vote at polling stations, stopping postal vote harvesting and measures to prevent any foreign interference in elections.”


There is nothing about photo ID.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Can we now move on, please?

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The Minister might have inadvertently misled the Committee from the Dispatch Box in the figures she has just quoted from the Electoral Commission’s survey of 2019. The Government’s own impact assessment, on page 42, paragraph 83, refers to that, saying that satisfaction in the pilot areas was 69% of the poll in 2019, whereas it was 83% in those areas where there was no photo ID pilot.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am quoting from the 2021 Electoral Commission winter tracker, which was clear that the majority of the public, two out of three voters, 66%, say a requirement to show identification at a polling station would make them more confident in the security of our elections. That was 2021.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The pilot was done in 2019. These are people who actually had the photo ID. When there was photo ID against a control group of no photo ID, the people who were more satisfied with the ballot, post the election, were the people who did not have photo ID. The Government’s own impact assessment says that, and that was signed off by the noble Lord, Lord True, on 20 January this year. Is the Government’s impact assessment correct?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The noble Lord is conveniently ignoring the experience from Northern Ireland, which is better than the pilots, as one would expect, because they have had it for a very long time. To keep quoting from these pilots as a way of trying to discredit the rollout is a pretty ineffective approach when there is clearly a lot of experience from Northern Ireland which shows a high degree of satisfaction.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I will answer the Minister directly. The Northern Ireland experience shows that between 2% and 3% of people, after the introduction, did not vote. If we extrapolate that over here, that is 1.2 million people who would probably be less likely to vote. It has taken 10 years to get back to the equivalent before photo ID was introduced. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but that is the evidence, because I have read it. I have read it and I have seen what the effect in Northern Ireland actually is: it has taken 10 years. The noble Baroness shakes her head, so I ask her to show me the evidence that shows that what I am saying is not correct. What is more, for one conviction, is it worth, for 10 years, 1.2 million people being discouraged from voting in England?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I want to move on, rather than discussing different pieces of information. I will move on to costs. My noble friend Lady Noakes is absolutely right about costs. I will come on to costs to local authorities, but the overall cost has been put at £25 per year per person. That is the estimated cost of the production of the voter card and of raising awareness of voter identification across all polls happening within 10 years. We are not expecting this to be a fixed cost; we are expecting it to reduce over time as voters become more familiar with these arrangements.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I specifically asked about education programmes, the rollout of information and how people were going to know about the changes. What is the cost that the Minister has just given us going to deliver? It does not seem very much to engage electors in a pretty enormous change.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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As I said, the Electoral Commission has agreed to do much of this. I will come to local authorities now. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Pinnock and Lady Meacher, quite rightly talked about the costs of this to local authorities. The impact assessment presented a range of costs that could be incurred by the introduction of these measures in order to ensure that local authorities and valuation joint boards are provided with the funding to implement the changes successfully. We will continue to refine our estimates of the future new burdens required to reflect the design of the secondary legislation. Government analysts are engaging with local authorities and valuation joint boards as this model is developed. Work is being done by all those involved.

Any allocation would be subject to detailed consideration of the varied pictures across local authorities and the valuation boards and would seek to allocate funding according to need. As was the case with the introduction of individual electoral registration, new-burdens funding will be provided to cover the additional costs resulting from the changes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about the different needs of different authorities. We accept that. The administrative burden will be driven by a variety of factors across local authorities, including their existing capabilities. The allocation of new-burdens funding, including for any additional staffing required, is being modelled and discussed with local authorities and other key stakeholders, working with the programme team in the department. The allocation of the new-burdens funding will take into account the different requirements and characteristics of all local authorities. We are working with local authorities and with the Local Government Association, and we are looking at all the different characteristics of those individual authorities. As a local authority person, I understand this.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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I want just to check on the question which has already been raised about the extra security costs. While preparing for this Bill, I went to talk to the Bradford electoral registration team. One of the strongest messages that came from them was that a significant number of poll clerks in Bradford were young women. We all know that intimidation is the most frequent election problem in parts of Bradford. When faced with rather aggressive men of one sort or another whose identity is being challenged, young women are going to feel very unsafe. This will require extra staffing and police. Has this been factored in?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I cannot tell the noble Lord whether that has been factored in. I will ask the team and come back to him. The fact that local authorities are working with the team means that those sorts of issues will come up and be dealt with.

We have also already established a business change network covering England, Scotland and Wales, specifically to support local authorities with the implementation of the policy changes arising from the Elections Bill. The network allows the regular flow of information both ways between local authorities and officials in DLUHC, acting as a local presence with knowledge of the Elections Bill and supporting and engaging with administrators during the implementation. That is where these sorts of issues need to come up and I expect them to be dealt with in that way.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, brought up training for returning officers. This will all come out of the same network. We continue to work with local authorities to understand their needs and the needs of voters in relation to training on the new electoral system. I think that deals with all the points, so I will now get on to the actual amendments.

These amendments and those in the groups just after place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish a wide range of reports, impact assessments and reviews, as well as to hold consultations on the impacts and estimated impacts of various measures in this Bill. Amendment 55 would prevent Schedule 1 coming into force until the Secretary of State has made a statement before Parliament on the estimated cost of the provisions, in addition to the potential impacts on voter turnout across different demographics.

This amendment is entirely unnecessary. A detailed estimate of costs for all the provisions in the Bill was published alongside it, as was an equality impact assessment. To suggest that the impacts of the measures in the Bill have not been considered in great detail would be a disservice to the many officials in the team who have spent considerable time modelling the various impacts and who are already working very closely with the sector to prepare for its implementation in a thorough and very considered way.

On the financial costs, we have worked extensively with the electoral sector to assess the impacts of the measures and have rightfully modelled a range of costs to account for a number of scenarios. We continue to work to refine these as the detail of implementation planning is settled. Our priority remains ensuring that local authorities have the necessary resources to continue to deliver our elections robustly and securely, and we have secured the necessary funding to deliver that goal.

As is usual for programmes of this kind, any additional funding required will be delivered to local authorities via the new burdens mechanism. Rollout of any funding will be timed to ensure that local authorities can meet the costs incurred. This is not the first time that the Government have delivered a change programme in this area. The Government have worked closely with the sector to deliver a number of national programmes, including canvass reform and the introduction of individual electoral registration, to great effect. This programme, while complex, is no different and we will continue to take the same open and collaborative approach to implementation.

When it comes to publications, the evaluation of and reporting on funding for programmes of this kind are already subject to publication requirements, particularly as this qualifies as a government major programme. Furthermore, we are developing robust evaluation plans and intend to produce a process and impact evaluation of the programme across all policy measures. Therefore, in light of the already published assessments for the Bill and the assurances that existing plans will provide ample transparency, I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, this debate has ranged rather wide of the area covered by my amendments, to say the least. Having said that, it has been very interesting. As other noble Lords have said, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, made a very important and powerful speech. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that I am sure that we would all agree that every vote should count—of course it should—and I totally understand what she is saying. The challenge for us, as parliamentarians, is how we change that—that is a debate for another day, but she raised an incredibly important issue that we have to look at very carefully. Perhaps we should look at areas where we could do something to increase empowerment and engagement—perhaps that is missing from this Bill. I would be really interested to engage more with the noble Baroness to think about how we can support her, from this side, in what she is trying to achieve and to better understand her concerns.

I will not go into the manifesto commitment debate—my noble friend Lady Lister resolved that quite adequately. But she also raised an important concern, as did—

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The Minister talked about costs and went into a lot of detail. I asked a number of questions, which I know she did her best to answer, but a lot of it is still quite vague—it is about work being done and modelling. I need to go away and have a proper read of Hansard to see exactly what she says is happening at the moment. My concern is when all this will be ready. When will this modelling be completed? When will we have some idea of the costs and how they will be managed? On a number of occasions during today’s debate, we have talked about the implications of a potential snap election. Let us say that an election is called in September. Where does that leave us? Let us say that the Bill has gone through and this is what will be required, but the Government are still busy modelling.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Let me respond to that. I was not talking about modelling; I was talking about groupings and communications between DLUHC officers and local authority election officers in individual councils to make sure that we know exactly what the issues are for them and what the costs will be for them. Things such as whether they are rural or inner city and need more security are being discussed at the moment with individual local authorities.

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Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, listening to this debate, it is quite obvious that some groups of people are less likely to have access to the voter ID that will be required. We should know much more about the potential consequences of such a major change to our tried and tested system at polling stations before introducing it for a general election. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, let us press the pause button on this. A single survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office is not sufficient to show that compulsory voter ID will not have many of the same problems that we see with electoral registration, which effectively excludes many people from their right to vote.

We should look in some detail at the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on this issue. It drew attention last September as to how:

“The Government must do more to demonstrate the need for voter ID”.


The committee said that the Government must also

“mitigate the potential barriers to voting its proposals may create.”

The Government’s response spoke about making elections “accessible”, but they failed to justify any additional barriers to voting or to show that they were proportionate to what is shown to be an extremely low level of electoral fraud and one conviction. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said that

“it is estimated that over 2 million people will not have an acceptable form of ID and so will have to apply for a free voter card or lose the ability to vote at the polling station. These proposals are aiming to reduce fraud at polling stations, however the recorded instances of such fraud are rare.”

Having taken expert advice, the committee warned that:

“The impact of the proposals may fall disproportionately on some groups with protected characteristics under human rights law. Older people and disabled people are less likely to have photo ID and some groups such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities may be hesitant to apply for the Voter Card. The Committee calls on the Cabinet Office to produce clear research setting out whether mandatory ID at the polling station could create barriers to taking part in elections for some groups and how they plan to mitigate this risk effectively.”


It is worth noting that this is what the impact assessment says about this policy in terms of its effects on voting:

“The analysis does not assess the impact of the policy on voter turnout.”


The Government’s own impact assessment has not even looked at what the effect will be on voter turnout. Why was this not done?

It has been mentioned that some countries have voter ID. To answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, certain states in America do not have compulsory voter ID, and the effect on turnout is that those who are more economically affluent will vote while those who are least economically affluent will not, because they do not have access to voter ID. So there are international comparisons showing that this is a problem.

Because of the lateness of the hour, I will say just this: there will be roughly 2.1 million people for whom mandatory voter ID will be a barrier to exercising their vote. If that is the case, why are the Government pursuing this policy, and why have they not carried out an impact assessment to see its effect on voter turnout?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for an interesting debate. I shall respond to a couple of things straightaway. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, raised some issues from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I have agreed with the Minister that if she does not mind, we will write to the noble Baroness and send a copy to anyone who has taken part in the debate.

Due to the lateness of the hour, and because we are going to have a stand part debate on this same issue at our next sitting, I will be much briefer than perhaps I would have been, because I am sure all these issues will get brought up again. The Government strongly stand by the importance of public participation and engagement, which has come out from many noble Lords today. It is important to us. I reassure the House that we share a joint aim on that front. We all want participation in a strong democratic election system.

Turnout fluctuates from election to election; I think we all know that. If we look at national elections versus local elections versus parish council elections, they all have fluctuating turnout, for many reasons, so it will likely not be possible to isolate the impact of the measures in the Bill on that. It would be quite difficult. I hear the concerns that have been raised but, as I said earlier, the impact of the measures in the Bill have been considered in great detail. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I will get her a list of the consultees that we worked with because that is important.

With regard to making sure that all groups, particularly minority groups, engage with the electoral system, register to vote and vote once they are registered, I go back again to the importance of the local electoral teams in all our local authorities. They are the people who have the experience of the communities that they serve and work within. I myself have a particular interest in the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities. If those local electoral teams understand a community locally—I have seen this working locally myself—then they are often the people who can speak to them, find out the barriers for those communities and work through them. I am sure that is same for many other communities across the country.

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Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB)
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I asked a specific question as to whether the Minister had met the London Voices project and, if not, whether he would be prepared to meet them now.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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We will write to the noble Lord. We have met, but I shall make sure that we give the noble Lord a clear response on that.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I know that it is very late, so I shall be quick. The Minister skipped over this, and it is quite key. There has been no analysis of the impact of this policy on voter turnout. The Electoral Commission will do it retrospectively but I am talking about before it comes in. Why have the Government missed this key issue? They keep telling us from that Dispatch Box that the policy will not have an impact on voter turnout, yet they have done no detailed analysis in their impact assessment.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I can confirm that we have not done that impact analysis. The important impact will be after.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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The issue of impacting the outcome of elections is seriously important. Will the Minister go away and think about whether the Government should do an impact assessment not only on overall turnout but on differential turnout among different groups—for example, the disabled, the poor and the elderly—to assess the likely impact on election outcomes. All these things are important, but it seems to me crucial that, in a democracy, Governments should not introduce policies that are going to skew election results. I ask the Minister to take that away and write to us all about what the intention would be.

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Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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I absolutely agree. I would add only one point to my noble friend’s observations. If we regard the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust as a reputable research body, it is saying that something like 1.7 million people are without voter ID—I do not have the notes here, but it is a very substantial figure—and they are overwhelmingly people on lower incomes. So there is a lot that we do know, but it would certainly be a lot better to have a pilot study before this kind of change was introduced.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Before my noble friend Lord Hayward sat down, the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, rose to intervene. Perhaps we could allow the noble Lord’s intervention.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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Thank you very much. I certainly have not come across any evidence to suggest that ID cards are an answer to the problem of voter fraud. I would like to broaden the debate a little and think about the consequences. I grew up in east London, where it was not unusual for people of certain backgrounds to be stopped in the street by the police and asked to show ID, when you are not required to carry any ID. What would happen in this brave new world when the police stopped people and said, “By the way, you now have an official ID. Have you not got it? Can you not bring it from home and report to the police station?” What would be the consequences for the young people who are unwilling or unable to produce those officially sanctioned ID cards? Would that drive a wedge between the police and the community? Would that criminalise people? Would that fuel more dissatisfaction with our parliamentary system? Would that fuel social instability? I would like to hear from the Minister where this ID concern will stop. What would be the broader social consequences? It seems to me that we would be opening up American-type social problems. They would be imported here, because people simply do not have or cannot produce officially sanctioned ID cards.

It is minorities who will be targeted. It is well known and well documented that the police target minorities. They would have a new authority to wield to criminalise minorities. I would love to hear the Minister’s views on that.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
We know, as the noble Lord the Minister has indicated, the abuses that have taken place in terms of harvesting postal votes, forced registration in households and those sorts of things that we need to stamp out to ensure the integrity of our electoral system. In doing so, we want to make sure that we are not using a heavy hand and that people who may do something innocently are not criminalised. I hope that the Minister understands why we have tabled this series of amendments: it is to probe and get a better understanding of how we would deal with those sorts of innocent situations that should be dealt with more clearly by guidance. I beg to move.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, these probing amendments seek to test the defence for political campaigners set out in Clause 4, which bans said campaigners from handling postal votes issued to other persons. Clause 4 is designed to address activities and behaviours that have been a cause for concern at previous elections, such as the practice of postal vote harvesting whereby voters are coerced or tricked into completing their postal voting statement before handing over their papers with the ballot paper unmarked to campaigners to be taken away and filled in elsewhere.

Amendment 93 seeks to provide that a person commits an offence only if they knowingly handled a postal vote issued to another person. The clause currently provides that it is a defence for a political campaigner charged with the offence to show that they did not dishonestly handle the postal voting document for the purpose of promoting a particular outcome at an election. This Government entirely share the concern that no offence should criminalise innocent behaviour. For this reason—

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I thank the Minister for her explanation. In preparing for this particular debate, I looked at the defence that is set out on page 2 of the Bill—I thank the Minister for reading that into the record. It further says, in new Section 112A(5), inserted by Clause 4, that

“the court must assume that the defence is satisfied unless the prosecution proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is not.”

The burden of proof there is upon the prosecution. I mention this because, as a political campaigner who quite often gets asked to take a postal vote and hand it in on behalf of an elector, it is clearly of considerable importance to know that we are—if you like—excluded from the purview of this particular offence.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I think that all of us campaigners have been asked the same question many times on the doorstep.

This Government entirely share the concern that no offence should criminalise innocent behaviour. We have been especially careful to target the wording of the new offence to ensure that it is reasonable and proportionate where somebody acts with honest intentions. For these reasons, the Government consider that the offence provisions are appropriately worded and are therefore unable to accept that amendment or the others in this group.

In fact, against the concerns of Amendment 94, new Section 112A(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, inserted by Clause 4, already provides that a person who handles a postal voting document for use in a relevant election does not commit an offence if they are responsible for or assist with the conduct of that election and the handling is consistent with the person’s duties in that capacity.

Amendment 95 seeks to exempt legal guardians from the offence. There is an exemption in the clause for a political campaigner, if they are close family—

“spouse, civil partner, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, child or grandchild”—

of the other person whose postal vote they are handling. Legal guardians are not included, as they do not have the relevant powers when acting for adults, and their powers are primarily to do with decisions about a person’s medical care and their finances.

Amendment 96 also seeks to change the definition of political campaigner for the purposes of postal vote handling offences to include those who have donated to a campaign. The definition in the Bill is comprehensive and includes candidates, electoral agents and members of a registered political party who carry on an activity designed to promote a particular outcome at an election. Donating to a campaign is not the same as actively canvassing. Therefore, I am not persuaded that it should be amended to such a disproportionate extent. For this reason, I beg that the amendment is withdrawn.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for her response and, in light of her comments, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I have a question more out of ignorance than expertise. I am old enough to have gone round as a young man in the days when different parties competed in treating the matrons of care homes, and relying on them to collect all the votes up and make sure that everyone voted in the right direction. I am sure that that no longer happens—let us hope that it is something that we left behind in the 1960s. However, this raises questions about care homes. How are people assisted to vote? Who posts their votes for them or holds their proxies? I wish for a little assurance about this.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, in answer to that question from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, keeping the numbers at four and not allowing anybody to have as many proxy votes as they like will help control this sort of behaviour. We all know that it happened in the past.

I will get an answer on why postal votes are to be in guidance and proxy votes are in the Bill, and write to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven.

I turn to the amendments concerning the measure in the Bill designed to strengthen the current arrangements for proxy voting. Currently, somebody can act as a proxy for up to two electors and for an unlimited number of close relatives in any constituency in a parliamentary election, or any electoral area at a local election. This can give rise to situations where somebody could cast an extremely large number of proxy votes, over which they could also exercise undue influence. This is where the issue of care homes and such like comes into play.

The Bill introduces a new limited of four on the total number of electors for whom a person may act as a proxy in UK parliamentary elections or local government elections in England. Within this figure, no more than two may be domestic electors—that is, electors who are not overseas electors or service voters. All four may be overseas electors or service voters. This approach will tighten up the rules on proxy voting, while also providing appropriate support for overseas electors and service voters wishing to appoint a proxy.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, as has been said, these amendments are to Clause 7, which concerns the important issue of the secrecy of the ballot for postal and proxy voters. The clause extends the requirements currently in place to protect the secrecy of voting for persons voting in polling stations to postal and proxy voting. These sensible change implementations are an important recommendation from the Pickles report.

First, in bringing forward government Amendments 98, 99 and 101 to 103, we have listened to feedback from political parties about the scope and effect of the provisions as drafted. Currently, the clause includes provisions that make it an offence for a person to obtain, attempt to obtain or communicate to anyone information about whether a postal voter has voted or about the candidate for whom they have voted. As drafted, this applies for the whole period that the elector is in possession of their postal ballot paper, which could be up to three weeks.

We now recognise that this approach goes beyond what is helpful to protect the voter and strays into unnecessarily criminalising not only legitimate political activity to engage electors in campaigns but important public information, such as opinion polling. The amendments would limit the scope of these provisions by providing for it to be an offence for a person to seek information about for whom a postal voter has voted at the time they are completing their ballot paper, or to communicate such information obtained at that time. Campaigners could therefore seek and communicate information that they obtain outside this period. This is in line with the protection for voters in polling stations, who are protected when they are in that polling station.

The amendments would also remove the restriction on asking whether a postal voter has voted so that campaigners can ask a postal voter whether they have voted, to encourage them to do so. Further, under the amendments, the offence would not apply to opinion-polling activity asking how a postal voter has voted, or intends to vote, to avoid criminalising opinion pollsters. The amendments seek to address the unintended consequences that the provisions, as they stand, would have. They would narrow the scope of the provisions so that they do not prevent legitimate campaigning by political parties and candidates outside the time when a person completes their postal ballot paper or legitimate opinion polling at any time.

I reassure noble Lords that the measures will improve the integrity of the postal vote process by reducing the opportunity for individuals to exploit the process and coerce other voters. They will give greater confidence in the integrity of absent voting; I therefore urge the Committee to accept these amendments.

The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness seek to provide that attempting to communicate information about a person’s postal vote as well as actually communicating the information is covered in the secrecy offence. Also, the amendments seek to include in the offence obtaining or attempting to obtain information or communicating information about whether a person voting by postal vote has spoilt their ballot. The Government consider that these amendments are unnecessary, as I have explained. The amendments that the Government have tabled seek to bring the protection for postal voters into line with that for those voting in polling stations.

The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would mean that there would be inconsistency in the requirements for voters in polling stations and postal voters, which would not favour them. I note that, currently, it is an offence for a person to obtain or attempt to obtain information or communicate information as to the candidate for whom a voter has voted in a polling station, and we are applying this to postal voters.

Spoilt ballot papers are not included in the existing provisions, which relate to the time when a voter is casting their vote. It is for the returning officer to decide if a vote has been spoilt and cannot be counted. That cannot be done before it is cast. To try to include such a provision could lead to uncertainty about the scope of the offence and the role of the statutory independent returning officer in making any such determination. The Government therefore cannot accept these amendments.

I turn to the amendment from my noble friend Lord Hayward, which would provide the Secretary of State with a power to issue guidance on the steps that presiding officers or clerks should take to ensure the secrecy of the ballot in polling stations. I reassure noble Lords that the Government take this and the concerns that have been raised very seriously. The Government’s view is that the secrecy of the ballot is fundamental to the ability of voters to cast their vote freely, without undue pressure to vote in a certain way. The Government fully endorse the principle that someone’s vote must be personal and secret, and that no elector should ever be subject to intimidation or coercion when voting. There are already provisions in place in electoral law to ensure the secrecy of voting in polling stations. The current legislation requires that voters should not be accompanied by another person at a polling booth except in specific circumstances, such as being a child of a voter, a formal companion or a member of staff.

Returning officers and their staff in polling stations are responsible for making sure that these requirements are upheld. In this way, they are supported by the Electoral Commission, which issues guidance to returning officers and polling station staff to help them to undertake their duties.

I note that the Electoral Commission guidance specifically advises polling station staff that they should make sure that voters go to polling booths individually, so that their right to a secret vote is protected. Therefore, I do not consider that it is the role of government to issue such guidance as provided for in the amendment. However, given the important concerns that have been raised on the secrecy of voting, Minister Badenoch will be writing to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police to confirm our common understanding of the position set out in legislation—that the only people who should provide assistance at a polling booth are polling station staff and companions who are doing so only for the purpose of supporting an elector with health and/or accessibility issues that need such support. We are confident that the Electoral Commission will be able to respond promptly, and I reassure the noble Lord and the rest of the House that we will report back on this matter.

For these reasons, I hope that the amendments from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will not be pressed.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response and the noble Lords, Lord Hayward and Lord Scriven, for their contributions. I want to say how impeccable the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was in reading the Ballot Act 1872 in the space of this debate, and I congratulate him on his reading skills. In doing so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. We did debate his Amendment 118A, and we are in contact with him on the issues he raised, so I am happy with that.

Amendment 122A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, would require that the returning officers consider whether to appoint designated people to assist electors in completing their postal votes at home or at other locations for various reasons. I commend the spirit of this amendment in looking to improve the accessibility of elections for people who may struggle to mark their vote. We know that there are people who, for many reasons, do that, but I contend that it is not necessary, given the existing assistance avenues already in place.

When voting by post, it is important that the postal vote is completed by the person to whom it is given. When someone is unable to sign the postal vote, as is required, they may get a waiver of their signature. If they need help from the returning officer, they may attend a polling station where staff are empowered to assist electors to vote, or a companion can assist them in a supervised environment. If the person cannot attend a polling station, they may appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. This proxy may themselves choose to vote by post. An elector may also appoint an emergency proxy to vote on their behalf up until 5 pm on the day of the poll in certain unforeseen circumstances.

For these reasons, while I understand everything that has been said, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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As the Minister said, we had an extensive debate on this at our previous Committee sitting, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, in speaking to my Amendment 144B, I would like first to take the opportunity to thank the Patchwork Foundation for its very helpful briefings on this matter. I will be brief because we have already heard that the current system of voter registration really is not working to the benefit of many people, and that voter registration rates are disproportionately low among young people and some minority groups.

There is confusion among eligible voters about how and when to register. The University of East Anglia carried out a survey in 2016 which found that two-thirds of electoral registration officers reported that citizens had complained to them about the voter registration process being bureaucratic, and that this had discouraged them from registering. Surveys of poll workers have also found that the most common problem that they encounter is citizens asking to vote when they are missing from the electoral register. Furthermore, a poll conducted by YouGov before the 2019 general election found that 16% of respondents believed that they were automatically registered to vote if they paid their council tax, and 17% believed that they were automatically registered when they turned 18. There is a lot of confusion and we belief that AVR will go a significant way in tackling the disparities and the inefficiency of the current system. It would diminish the impact of cyclical registration patterns, which can put so much pressure on voting infrastructure and the officials who are running and managing it. It would also go some way in bridging the current gaps in registration across various ethnic and social economic groups, as other noble Lords have said.

The UK is one of the few liberal democracies that does not already have some sort of system of AVR in place. Of 40 liberal democracies assessed by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the University of East Anglia, the UK came out as one of just six countries that does not have a system of either automatic or assisted voter registration. Where it is in existence, it has proved very effective at encouraging first-time voters to vote. By contrast, the UK is witnessing a fall in the number of young people registering to vote.

We have had quite a discussion on this, and I will finish by saying that this is terribly simple and straightforward. As other noble Lords have said, people are already written to ahead of their 16th birthday with their national insurance number. If we can do that, why can we not at the same time have an automatic registration to vote? We have the means to do it, so why do we not just get on with it?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Committee for the debate; it is a debate we had two years ago when we were discussing a previous Bill. If applying to vote was difficult or time-consuming, the Government might have more sympathy for this proposal, but it is not. It can be done online, by paper and post, in person, or by telephone, where the registration officer offers these services. Online, it takes five minutes and can be done anywhere, anytime, on a smartphone or a tablet; I have done this recently myself.

As a small but very positive step to encourage young people to vote, HMRC now includes additional information on registering to vote on letters issuing the national insurance numbers, and this practice has been in place since the end of September 2021.

These amendments contradict the principle that underpins individual electoral registration: that individuals should have ownership of, and responsibility for, their own registration. At this point, I say that some members of our communities do not want to register—we have all probably met people who do not want to go on the electoral register. Automatic registration would threaten the accuracy of the register and, in doing so, enable voting and political donations by those who are ineligible.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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The noble Baroness may be aware that there is an equivalent of a national register: Experian, which collects a great deal of data and is used by a lot of private and public authorities. If it can do that, why cannot the Government?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not know, but I will look into that with the team.

Automatic registration therefore risks not being truly automatic or adding ineligible people to the register. For example, under the EU voting and candidacy rights changes provided for in the Bill, very few EU citizens who arrived to live in the UK after 31 December 2020 will have the right to register to vote, but most will be issued with a national insurance number. Moreover, most national insurance numbers are issued before someone is 16, which is too young to be added to the register, even as an attainer, in England and Northern Ireland. Therefore, the Government have no plans to introduce automatic registration at this stage, and I request that this amendment be withdrawn.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and a number of other noble Lords asked what we are doing to encourage registration. Since its introduction, the register to vote website has revolutionised the ability of electors to participate, with over 60 million applications to registers being submitted since 2014. In the last UK general election, a record 47 million people were registered. We continue to refine and adjust the way that the digital system works to improve its security.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, brought up accessibility. It is very pleasing to see that the register to vote service has the highest accessibility rating—AAA—under the web content accessibility guidelines. It is also the responsibility of the Electoral Commission to promote participation, and it runs an annual campaign to encourage eligible voters to register.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I will ask a question, because this may impact on another group. The Minister mentioned that we will not know whether EU citizens who have come here properly after a certain date have the right to vote. The Government have signed agreements with a number of EU countries—Spain, for example—that will allow EU citizens to vote from them. Why is that a problem, in terms of this issue? How many EU countries have we signed reciprocal voting arrangements with?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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No, I think we will deal with that later—but if we do not deal with that today, I shall make sure that the noble Lord gets a note on it, because I do not have a list of them to hand.

We have no plans to introduce automatic registration, and I request that the amendment is withdrawn.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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Could the Minister address the inconsistency to which I referred—that someone with a British passport and a British driving licence, obeying the requirements in this Bill for identification for voting, could be denied the right to vote because they are not registered?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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No, because they are not registered. You cannot just have anybody walking into a polling station with some pieces of paper or a passport and saying that they have the right to vote. They have to register to vote.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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So the Minister is saying that a British passport and a driving licence are random pieces of paper. Is that how she is referring to them?

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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No, my Lords, but you have to register to vote in this country, and going into a polling station and just saying that you have a passport but you have not registered cannot allow you to vote.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting and informative debate and I thank the Minister for her answers, and thank all noble Lords who have participated.

To pick up some points from the Minister, she suggested that it was not difficult or time-consuming to register. Perhaps this is not something that most people in your Lordships’ House do very often, but moving house is up there just below divorce and death in terms of people’s level of stress. Moving house is something that many people in our society, particularly younger and poorer people, find themselves doing regularly at six- or 12-month intervals—and now we are going to make this extra thing that they have to remember when there are so many other things they are worrying about. Perhaps when people are younger, the first or second time they move they do it religiously, but by the time they get to the sixth, or the eighth or the 10th time that they move, and they have so many things to worry about, it is unsurprising that they do not. It is difficult, when it is mixed in with that whole difficult experience.

The Minister made the point about people owning their own registration and that they might get registered accidentally when they should not be. Of course, the form that automatic registration could very easily take would be to change your driving licence address in the box and then respond to the questions about whether you were eligible to vote, providing any extra information that might be needed. I shall have to go away and look at this, but all the information that you have to provide for a driving licence would be sufficient, I should have thought, for voting. I shall go away and look at that.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, brought up an interesting point about complications around EU citizens, which we will come to—but again that could be answered by a tick-box arrangement.

One key point has come out of this debate, well highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, but also by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. This is a balance to voter ID. I do not agree with voter ID but, if you are going to have it, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, said, and you turn up with your paperwork, and you are still told, although you have your passport, that you are not really a proper citizen because you have not ticked a box on a website, that is going to create some real anger.

I am not sure that the Minister really addressed the important points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, who so often in your Lordships’ House is a champion for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, and many other excluded groups in our society. For all kinds of reasons, it is so much more difficult for those citizens, and we should be going to extraordinary efforts to make sure that their voice is able to be heard.

I pick up also the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, about the Government’s own impact assessment. If this is the aim of the Bill, it is very hard to see why the Government should not be taking these steps.

I make the final point that I raised a question with the Minister that was not answered—whether the Government are looking to make it easier to check whether you are correctly registered. You may have moved two or three years ago in a mad flurry—maybe your relationship had just broken down and that was why you moved—then there is an election coming, and you think, “Did I register to vote or not in that difficult period?” You would then have to know what council you are in and find its electoral services and send them an email or ring them up—and we all know what ringing a council up is like. Are the Government doing anything to improve that? If the Minister cannot answer that now, perhaps she could write to me about that, and perhaps she could commit to that before I withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I think from the discussion it is very obvious we are going to return to this on Report, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for his introduction to his amendment. I thought what he said about the opportunities that are available for new technologies to drive inclusion in our electoral process is really important if we are looking to the future. We completely support his aim to encourage the Government to invest much more in technologies in this area. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, let us catch up with many other countries which are looking to do this and looking to invest more in this in the future.

One thing we do know is that electronic voting machines are often more accessible for disabled voters. I give the example of the United States, where visually impaired voters can use an audio interface while those with paralysed limbs can select candidates from a screen using head movements. There are all sorts of different innovations that we should be looking to investigate and see how we can bring them into our own system.

I turn to my amendment. The Government’s 2019 manifesto—I go back to their manifesto—included a commitment to

“make it easier for British expats to vote in Parliamentary elections”.

I also say, as part of that, they should be looking at the Electoral Commission’s research after the elections since 2015, which has consistently found that overseas voters have experienced difficulties in voting from outside the UK. This is mainly because many did not have enough time to receive and return their postal vote before the close of the poll.

I am aware that the Government are looking at ways to improve that, but it strikes me that as the Electoral Commission also recommends that the Government explore new approaches to improve access to voting and draws on evidence from other countries, there is an opportunity here, which is why I tabled the amendment. I hope that this will encourage the Government to consider more research into digital technologies and look at what is happening in other countries in order to drive inclusion and enable a quicker and more efficient system for those voters who live outside the UK.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments both seek to improve and expedite means of voting for British citizens living overseas. My noble friend mentioned Estonia and although Estonia has e-voting, it still uses paper ballots and less than half of Estonian voters use the e-voting system, which relies on the national ID card as a credential to vote. The blockchain technology which supports its system, although advanced in security, is not foolproof and hackers are becoming more and more sophisticated.

That leads me to Amendments 144 and 209, which would require the Government to conduct research on electronic voting and technological solutions to increase the security of the electoral register. I fully understand that electronic voting and further technological solutions supporting our processes may sound attractive in the light of ongoing digital advances. However, all electronic changes are large-scale programmes and we are currently not persuaded of the need for them and are wary of the risks that they may usher. In particular, electronic voting is a double-edged sword.

The selection of elected representatives for Parliament and other public offices is regarded as requiring the highest possible level of integrity, and the introduction of electronic voting would raise a number of issues. We know that electronic voting is not seen to be suitably rigorous and secure and could be vulnerable to attack or fraud by unscrupulous hackers and hostile foreign states.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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If that is the case, can the noble Baroness then say why we are allowed to register to vote electronically and why the Government encourage us to do that?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Security is not as necessary for that as it would be for voting.

Amendment 150 from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, would require the Government to ask the Electoral Commission to make proposals on how to facilitate the participation of overseas electors in parliamentary and local government elections while maintaining the security of the election process. I highlight the fact that British citizens resident abroad who are registered as overseas electors are not currently permitted to vote in local elections, though they may participate in parliamentary elections. Overseas electors are, by definition, more likely to be directly affected by decisions made in the UK Parliament than by decisions made by local government. For example, decisions on foreign policy, defence, immigration, or pensions may have a direct impact on British citizens abroad. The Government have no intention to change the franchise for local elections in this way.

In a similar vein, Amendment 151, tabled by the noble Baroness, would require the Government to consult on the possibility of introducing digital ballots for overseas electors within six months of the Bill passing. Ballot papers are printed on specific papers with security markings on them as a measure to prevent fraud. This cannot be replicated when printing on home printers and it would raise concerns as to the secrecy and security of the ballot if such measures were removed. Furthermore, the votes of overseas electors could then be easily distinguishable at a count if, for example, they were printed on different paper. That cannot be appropriate. As such, the Government cannot support the introduction of a “print and return” system for ballot papers.

On a wider interpretation of “digital ballots”, the Government hold the position that, at present, there are concerns that electronic voting by any means is not suitably rigorous and secure and could be vulnerable to attack or fraud. Due to these concerns, the Government could not support any alternative online voting option for overseas electors. This consultation, therefore, would be a poor use of time and resources.

The provisions in the Bill will enable overseas electors to remain registered for longer with an absent vote arrangement in place ahead of elections. The registration period for overseas electors will be extended from one year to three years. Additionally, electors will be able to reapply or refresh their absent vote arrangements as appropriate at the same time as renewing their registration. We are also introducing an online absent vote application service allowing electors registered in Great Britain, including overseas electors, to apply for a postal or proxy vote online. It is anticipated that an online service will alleviate some of the pre-existing challenges for electors and electoral administrators, by reducing the need to rely on manual processes. In addition to benefiting citizens, these changes will benefit electoral administrators by reducing workloads during busy electoral periods.

Additionally, the Government have already improved the postal voting process for overseas electors registered in Great Britain by working with Royal Mail and the British Forces Post Office to expedite dispatch abroad and funding the use of the international business response licence which expedites the return of ballot packs from overseas in a large number of countries, as well as covering any postage costs that might otherwise be incurred.

In summary, the Government have already taken steps to improve voting methods for overseas electors, without risking the integrity of the ballot, and will not consider these amendments. I urge that the amendment is withdrawn.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, I have the greatest respect for the Minister, but that was an extraordinarily disappointing response. The amendments merely asked the Government to consider these areas, but the response was, “We will not”. From the Minister’s response, we would take it that the current electoral system is without difficulties or problems. The intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, was germane, because one could register online with whatever means one chose, with no real checks. It probably boils down to still messing around with gas bills as some kind of proof of identity, but where is the quality of that? Nowhere. At this stage, I will withdraw the amendment, but I have to say that that was an extraordinarily poor response.

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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly to this amendment, which would protect the rights of people in temporary housing to stand for election where the local authority provides temporary housing outside the local authority area. At any given point, close to 100,000 households live in temporary accommodation, according to quarterly statistics published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, is right to draw attention to their right to participate in the democratic process, and I fully support the intention behind her amendment. We on these Benches fully support the points she made. Those who live in temporary accommodation are often most in need of their voice being heard, especially at local authority level. The suggestion that they would be prevented from standing for the relevant local authority due to the fact that their temporary accommodation is located outside the boundary is absurd. I hope the Minister will accept the case behind the amendment and work with the noble Baroness to find a solution to the problem.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the amendment. Although admirable in its intent, it introduces an unwelcome subjective element into the current objective criteria that specify qualifications for election as a member of a local authority. It presupposes that an individual, if moved by their local authority into temporary accommodation out of the area where they are standing for election, would otherwise satisfy the qualification criteria had they not been moved by their local authority.

The qualification criteria for local elected office must be beyond doubt. The amendment as drafted would remove the demonstration of consistent connection with an area that the current criteria rightly demand. The amendment would introduce a subjective qualification that the individual believes that they would otherwise categorically have remained eligible within the existing criteria, but this is not objective; it could be neither proved nor disproved. It would be unreasonable for the local electorate to be asked to consider voting for someone who may no longer have a strong connection with the local area nor any demonstrable proof that they would otherwise have maintained that contact.

There are other criteria for standing in local elections, and I think it is important that anyone in this situation looks at those—specifically, that they have been a local government elector for the last 12 months and that they have during the last 12 months preceding that day occupied as owner or tenant any land or other premises in that area. If they work in that area then they can stand for local election, or if they have resided there for the whole of those 12 months before they were moved just before the election. Also, there is the case that they are a member of a parish or community council. There are other points for people to consider.

We have looked at this and will give it further thought, because it is an interesting concept that has not come up before. We do not make any promises, but we will look at it. At this moment, though, the Government cannot accept the amendment and I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw it. Maybe we can have further conversations.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, that was a very short but productive group. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, for his offer of support.

I note that, with 100,000 households affected, we are not just talking about a few people; there is a significant group here. To respond to the Minister, we often think about people being moved long distances from an area, but it could literally be to the other side of the road—that would still technically be out of the area. However, I very much thank the Minister for her constructive response. I will not go through it line by line now, but I would very much like to work with her to see how we can address this issue.

I just make the point that, if you had resided there for the whole 12 months—maybe you were moved into temporary accommodation the day before—there are obviously areas there that do not help. With regard to working, again, people may volunteer in the area but maybe what they spend much of their time doing is not work in terms of that qualification. However, I very much take encouragement and I hope to work with the Minister in future to see what we can do with this. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I want to ask some technical questions, without necessarily knowing what the correct answer is myself. I hope that the Minister, if he is not able to answer today, would be prepared to write to provide a further explanation.

I start by referring to some of the text of Clause 12. On page 14, line 13, under the new section “Extension of parliamentary franchise”, there are various conditions that a person has to satisfy. They have to be,

“not subject to any legal incapacity to vote (age apart)”

et cetera. I take it—perhaps the Minister can consult the Box to get an answer to this—that that is to make sure that nobody overseas registers who is under age. I assume that is the meaning of that. If I am wrong about that, then there might be a whole set of questions arising, but that seems to be the common-sense explanation for those two words in brackets.

I want to move on to the next page of the same clause. New Section 1B is headed,

“British citizens overseas: entitlement to be registered”.

The proposed new section sets out that, essentially, there are two ways in which one can qualify to be registered. The first is as a former elector in a United Kingdom constituency. There will be discussions about that, I am sure, but the second is what I want to focus on at the moment. The second condition is that you were a former resident in a UK constituency. We already know that there is quite a large number of people who are not registered, because we discussed earlier on that the Electoral Commission’s estimate is that in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there are somewhere between 8.6 million and 9.8 million people who are currently resident but not on the electoral roll. There is, therefore, quite a large pool of people who, presumably in approximately equal proportion, will be overseas now. There is no special preference for people who have registered being the people who have migrated.

So my question is: does this legislation grant voting rights to someone who left the UK with their parents as a baby and moved to Switzerland, say, to claim their vote alongside their parents, once they reach the age of 18 overseas? If it does, I note that there does not seem to be any requirement for that baby to have been born in the United Kingdom; they need to establish only that they were resident here. As far as I can tell, there is no specified minimum period for that residence.

I will take a case that is not entirely hypothetical. Parents who came to the United Kingdom, having been working in Ghana, with a baby who was born in England, move to Switzerland six months later. It seems that nothing is set out in the legislation to prevent that baby from claiming their vote on reaching 18 while still living overseas. I want to check that I have not misunderstood what the legislation is saying there and that, by virtue of that brief period of residence, they would be eligible to vote and—I suppose I could add—to make a donation. If that is true, I know of two British nationals now in their 50s who will be very happy to take up the offer.

But I want to know whether that really is the extension to the franchise that the Government want or whether I have actually missed something and, in some other part of the RPA—or Schedule 9 or goodness knows where else—there is something that would prevent that absurd outcome.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I will first answer the noble Lord, Lord Stunell: it is late and I do not have all the answers, but we will get a letter to him as soon as we can to answer his questions.

Amendment 146 seeks to place a time limit on overseas electors’ connections with the UK. Imposing a new time limit, albeit a longer one, does not deliver on our manifesto commitment to introduce votes for life. The Government’s view is that any time limit is arbitrary in an increasingly global and connected world. Length of time outside the UK is not a certain indicator of how a person feels about their British identity or a measure of the interest that they take in this country’s future. The Bill sets a sensible boundary for the overseas franchise. Previous registration or residence denotes a strong degree of connection to the UK.

Amendments 145, 147 and 148 seek to prevent people who have committed offences or been sanctioned under the described Acts, or those who are subject to an Interpol red notice, from registering as overseas electors. Domestic electors are not required to declare whether they have ever committed offences under the Acts described, and the Government will not impose these requirements on overseas electors. Overseas electors would be subject to the same restrictions as domestic electors in respect of offences relating to personation and postal vote fraud that result in a temporary bar from voting upon a person being convicted or named as personally guilty of that offence.

In a situation where a domestic elector would not be permanently barred from voting, we would wish to treat an overseas elector equally—

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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The Minister has just said that exactly the same restrictions would apply to overseas voters as to voters in the UK. If an overseas voter had been sent to prison in Switzerland, say, for 18 months, would they be able to vote from prison there, or would we have a mechanism for making sure that they were not competent to vote in that situation?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I think that is a hypothetical question, but I shall certainly get a legal opinion on it.

On Amendment 148, as the noble Baroness said, all those issues on sanctions should be dealt with on Monday, within the group on donations, if she does not mind. I think that is the sensible place to have that debate. Therefore, I urge her not to press the amendments.

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Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The five-year period in my amendment comes from a briefing from Solace. Could I suggest that further discussion takes place to see whether something has happened since the original discussion?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I shall certainly ask the team to go back and check. I do not know whether it was Solace or another group that has been working with the policy team on this. We will check that out for the noble Lord and see why there is a difference.

Furthermore, the Bill carefully balances the need to ensure that registers are kept accurate and that overseas electors’ contact details are up to date, which is particularly important to ensure that they receive a postal ballot. I hope the noble Lord will consider these points and not press his amendments

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. I will just make a couple of points. One is that there is quite a bit of concern about this part of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about concerns about proper checks, which is what we are very concerned about—making sure that those checks are done so that the people who are asking to come on to the register who have not been in this country for a long time are proper people to come on to the register, and the checks and balances have taken place properly and correctly. Also, if that is going to happen, what about the support for local authorities and election teams? It could be a lot of work in some areas. At some point, it would be good to return to this issue.

I completely take the Minister’s point about looking at sanctions in more detail in the debate on Monday. That is a particularly important thing that we need to spend some time on, even if the broader debate is not one that the Government want to spend time on. We need to look at that. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I have very little to say other than that it is a very interesting suggestion and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for bringing it forward and giving us food for thought. I had no idea that France had overseas constituencies until he tabled his amendment and I looked into it. It is an interesting suggestion.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I fear that at this late hour, I will disappoint the noble Lord. This amendment would require the Government to prepare a report on proposals for the creation of overseas constituencies. The Bill will allow overseas electors to continue to vote in constituencies to which they have a significant and demonstrable connection. This constituency link has always been and continues to be a cornerstone of our democracy. Creating overseas constituencies is therefore not something the Government are considering. To commission a report on the topic is unnecessary. Overseas electors will continue to register in the constituencies to which they have a significant and demonstrable connection.

As the amendment acknowledges, there are extensive and complex bureaucratic challenges to implementing overseas constituencies. There would, for example, be ongoing complexities regarding how constituency boundaries and their electorate would be determined and maintained with a constituency stretching across multiple countries and being affected by fluctuating migration. Furthermore, electoral administration for overseas constituencies would have to be done in a very different way from the current process, whereby it is undertaken by local authorities. We would need to address matters such as: who would be responsible for maintaining the register of electors and administering the polls for an overseas constituency. Overseas constituencies would not fit in with the existing arrangements for organising constituencies and delivering elections, and establishing them would require the consideration of a range of complex issues. I hope the noble Lord will feel able to reconsider this suggestion and withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, that is not at all surprising as an answer. I point out that the extensive and bureaucratic challenges to which the Minister refers are involved in extending the vote to overseas voters in the first place. Those challenges will be met by local registration officers in Britain, but if we are to have a different relationship with our 5 million to 7 million citizens abroad, we need to look at it in a rather more rounded way and consider how we manage it. It is not a question of just extending the vote and leaving it like that.

After all, we have got into some difficulty in recent years with the question of how we relate to overseas citizens, particularly our dual nationals when they are imprisoned in the other countries of their nationality—and these are not particularly friendly countries. That needs to be thought about.

What I hear from the Government throughout the Bill is that they are not interested in anything except their current agenda. They are not interested in thinking through the implications of some of their proposals. I have talked to Canadian Senators about how they cope with these voters. I am aware of the French system; I am surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was not. The Britain, Ireland and Nordic constituency is one of its five overseas constituencies. Many people in London are French and therefore vote in French elections. In the last presidential election campaign, Macron came to address a large meeting in London as part of his campaign. If we were to move in that direction, of course British politicians would need to think about which other countries they would go to campaign in. There are some large implications of this which, if I may say so, the Government appear simply not to have thought through as they push this through.

That is the problem with an awful lot of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord True, will be responsible for having assisted and enabled a thoroughly badly thought-through Bill to become law. That will be on his conscience and his responsibility. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Elections Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Leader of the House
Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, very briefly from these Benches, most of these probing amendments seem reasonable and we look forward to the response of the Minister on the points that have been raised. I will just raise four points.

First, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. I have listened throughout Committee to his detailed analysis of what has happened in Tower Hamlets. I think it is important as we go through the Bill that we remember what has happened in Tower Hamlets, but we must not use it as the sole basis on which to make the law of the land; we have to listen to what has happened there, but making electoral law has to go much wider than just the Tower Hamlets case.

Having said that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I want to probe why it is five years in particular. Five years is one election cycle, or could be one general election cycle. If somebody has committed quite a serious election fraud, having a five-year, one-term ban seems rather lenient to most people who would be looking in. What analysis was done by the Government in determining that five years was the particular period?

On Amendment 172, it is pleasing that, if the Secretary of State is going to vary, omit or add to the list of offences, it will be done on the affirmative procedure. Can the Minister give an example of what type of variation would be required? One can understand omitting, one can understand adding, but what kind of variation do the Government foresee could be laid by the Secretary of State? With those comments from these Benches, and my omitting when I first spoke to also wish the noble Lord, Lord True, a speedy recovery and wish him back to his place for Report, we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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First, I thank my noble friend for bringing the Committee up to date with the letter from the Minister to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan police that we discussed at our previous sitting. The letter is one thing, but I now wait for the responses to it. I will make sure that my noble friend Lord True knows about that so that we can keep the pressure on to get those responses. That is important.

The act of intimidation and those who perpetrate it have no place in our democracy. Clause 28 would create a new disqualification order for offenders who intimidate those who contribute to our public life. This would be a five-year ban on standing for, holding and being elected to public office. It can be imposed on those convicted of intimidating a candidate, elected office holder or campaigner. After all, it is simply not right that those who try to damage political participation through intimidation are allowed to participate in the very same process that they tried to undermine.

There is no single offence of intimidation in criminal law. Therefore, the new sanction would potentially apply to a wide range of existing intimidatory criminal offences, as listed in Schedule 9. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked what more could be added to that, and I will get some suggestions for him.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I did not ask what more could be added but for an example of variation.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I will get an answer for the noble Lord and write to him.

The list includes, but is not limited to, stalking, harassment, common assault and threats to kill. By creating a new sanction instead of a new electoral offence, we would enable the protection from intimidation all year round, not just during an election period, and extend protection in law to two additional groups: future candidates and elected office holders.

We understand the noble Baroness’s view on intimidating those not wanting to stand—they just want to intimidate. I will take it back because it is a valid point, but I imagine the answer is that there are other laws for that sort of intimidation that do not affect electoral law. I will ensure that the noble Baroness gets an answer.

For the disqualification order to be imposed, the intimidatory offence must be aggravated by hostility related to the status, or perceived status, of the victim being a candidate, elected office holder or campaigner. This ensures that the disqualification is imposed only in instances where political participation is genuinely at risk. The disqualification order is, of course, in addition to whatever other punishment the court applies to the offender for the underlying criminal offence. I think that is extremely important.

Amendment 160A probes the circumstances of an elected candidate being found guilty of terrorism offences. I can confirm that anyone committing an act of terrorism against a candidate, future candidate, campaigner or holder of elective office would already be subject to the disqualification order as currently drafted in addition to the penalties associated with that specific crime. If the offender was a holder of elective office, their office would be vacated in accordance with Clause 29. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment.

I heard what my noble friend Lord Hayward said about Amendments 161 and 171, but I am not going to comment on that case because I do not think it would be right to do so. These amendments seek significantly to increase the period of disqualification or incapacity arising from the imposition of the disqualification order or from committing relevant electoral offences, respectively. Changes of this significance require very careful consideration to ensure that these penalties continue to reflect the crime and do not become disproportionate.

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Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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Before my noble friend moves off that point, and picking up a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, although I have referred on a number of occasions to Tower Hamlets, I have done so because that is the most extreme example. Does my noble friend agree that there are other examples of election offences around the country which may be considered minor, but are indications of the sort of problems we are facing in a number of areas?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Issues from around the country that we need to take note of have been brought forward in this Committee.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My question was slightly different. I appreciate that the Minister tried to answer, but what assessment has been carried out to see whether five years is still relevant? If it is benchmarked against a five-year period within the Representation of the People Act, was that assessed against the types of crime that we are talking about and was that still seen to be the correct benchmark?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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It is considered to be the correct benchmark taking into account proportionality and the fact that many of these crimes will have further consequences because other crimes have been committed.

Amendment 168 seeks to widen the definition of a campaigner in Clause 32 explicitly to include fundraising activity as an activity undertaken by a campaigner for election purposes. I can assure the noble Baroness that fundraising activities for a registered party and a candidate are already implicitly captured, as provided by the broad wording that defines campaigners as engaging in activity to “promote or procure” support. However, we will explore options to clarify this further in the Bill’s Explanatory Notes. I thank the noble Baroness for tabling this amendment, but I ask her not to press it.

Amendment 170 to Clause 33 would require a Minister of the Crown to publish a statement outlining the details of the disqualification order in the event that a person were to be elected to the House of Commons while subject to a disqualification order. Further, we note the noble Baroness’s opposition to Clause 33 more generally. As explained, the new disqualification order disqualifies offenders from being elected to various offices. Clause 33 would ensure that this disqualification applies to membership of the House of Commons. To clarify, while the other relevant elected offices already have provisions which state that an election is void because of disqualification, there is currently no equivalent provision in relation to the election of a Member to the House of Commons.

Therefore, Clause 33 has an important role to play in ensuring that the new intimidation disqualification order operates as intended and as I suggest the electorate would expect it to operate. There is no reason why those elected to the House of Commons should be treated as a special case or held to a lower standard than any other elected office in this country. Anyone convicted of a politically motivated criminal intimidation-related offence should not be sitting in the other place for the duration of the disqualification period.

Turning specifically to Amendment 170, I reassure the noble Baroness that it would not be necessary. Although there is no notice requirement in Section 7 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, in the event that a seat becomes vacant, there will be a Motion for the Speaker to issue their warrant to make out a new writ for the election of a new Member to fill that vacancy. The writ would then be issued, and Members of the House of Commons would be made aware that a vacancy has occurred. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment.

I now turn to Amendment 172, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which proposes to limit the regulation-making powers to amend Schedule 9, which lists the existing criminal offences of an intimidatory nature in respect of which the intimidation sanction can be made. The purpose of Clause 34 is to future-proof the new intimidation sanction so that it remains relevant and can continue to apply to offences of an intimidatory nature, recognising that the nature of intimidation and abuse can shift, and indeed is currently shifting, particularly online. A relevant example of this is the online safety Bill, introduced earlier this month: it proposes new communication offences originally recommended by the Law Commission last year.

In addition to enabling Ministers to respond to and add new offences, the clause ensures that the list provided in Schedule 9 remains accurate through powers to omit offences from the list and vary the description of offences already included in it, if and when any of the listed offences are amended or repealed in law. These provisions will require that any statutory instrument laid using these powers is subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the affirmative resolution procedure. This will ensure that Parliament can scrutinise and decide whether to accept any proposed changes to Schedule 9. I therefore ask the noble Baroness not to press Amendment 172.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for the clarification she has provided, particularly around my amendment seeking to include fundraising. It would be extremely helpful if that could be added to the Explanatory Notes. She also explained that the Government want to future-proof intimidation sanctions, particularly online. When the Minister talked about varying the offences, did she mean just varying the descriptions of offences as things change to make sure they are always up to date? It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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No—we are talking about ensuring that the list provided in Schedule 9 remains accurate through powers to omit offences from the list and vary the description. So it is varying or omitting.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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So the “varying” bit is just to do with the description of the offence. I thank the Minister.

As the amendments I have tabled show, my main concern is the fixed five-year period. Other noble Lords have raised that issue too—the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, rightly said that that is only one parliamentary term—so it would be good if the Government could look at that again. I will make another suggestion. If the Government are going to stick with the fixed five-year period, what would happen if there were a repeat offence? Would there be another five-year period, or is there an option to look at a greater sanction if such an offence were committed again? Otherwise, it is not a deterrent if the people just miss out every now and again. It would be good if the Government could have another think about that; otherwise, this issue will come back on Report, because there are clearly concerns about it.

I thank the Minister for her comments on the intimidation of candidates’ agents and campaigners. I am aware that she rightly said that other offences are available for people to be convicted of if they are found to have behaved like that. I know that this is not part of the Bill, but often the effectiveness of the police’s response to such intimidation varies greatly across the country. It would be good if the Government could also consider that in some form or other. For the moment, I withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his excellent introduction to a range of amendments. We should not simply think that negative campaigning and threats to our election process are new things as a result of new technology. These sorts of things have been going on for many years. Certainly, I have seen a political party put one leaflet down one street saying one thing and then another down another street saying the complete opposite.

All of these things are addressed effectively through effective transparency, with people knowing exactly where this information comes from. I think the noble Lord, Lord Mann, is right there. That is why it is important that the Minister specifically addresses the point in Amendment 180A. I am worried that we spot a problem, understand the issue, say we are addressing it in legislation but then create a loophole where everyone can escape.

I am grateful for Adobe sending me its briefing on this issue. It basically says that we have the technology and there is a standard being developed for content authenticity initiatives—CAI—which, if adopted, and it is being adopted, can address this issue. I do not understand why we have this loophole. Technology can ensure that the imprint of who has created and published the content is there. I do not see the circumstances where it is not possible. Even if it is not possible on the face, they now have the technology to point out easily how you find it. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones says, I do not see why we have this wording of “not reasonably practicable”. I am not even sure I would agree that it is not possible. It is possible—the technology is there so we should do it.

Noble Lords have referred to the Russia report. We said at the beginning of Second Reading—and I am not going to make a Second Reading speech—that the Bill is a missed opportunity. It could have embraced a lot more and the issues identified in that report will need to be addressed in future legislation as they have not been addressed here.

I hope the Minister can specifically address the issue in Amendment 180A; I particularly hope she has seen the briefing from Adobe and the industry which says that this is possible. They have created a standard which they expect everyone to adopt—in fact, Facebook, Twitter and others are all adopting it. If they are adopting it, can we not use the legislation to ensure that it becomes compulsory for all political actors to comply with this legislation and that we do not have a loophole?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for a very thorough piece of scrutiny of this part of the Bill. I think it would be useful if between now and Report we had a meeting with him and other interested parties to discuss this further and also address some of his very in-depth speech that I will not answer this evening because we might be here all night. We will get answers to him very quickly so that we can discuss them when we have that meeting.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, and many others are right: this is fast moving. What we see today is probably not what we will see in five years’ time, and we need to future- proof. I think we all understand that.

There were some very specific questions that I will answer upfront because that will give some context to what else I am going to say. First, on digital imprints, it is important that “reasonably practicable” is understood. It should be read as commonly understood; “reasonably practicable” is commonly understood. The Electoral Commission and the police will need to interpret this phrase in context in the course of their enforcement of the Bill. The statutory guidance will provide further details on the location of this imprint and what is required. There will be further guidance on this.

A number of noble Lords spoke about the Intelligence and Security Committee and said that political adverts should include an imprint. The Government’s digital imprint regime delivers the ICS’s recommendation to introduce a requirement to add an imprint on digital paid-for political advertising. As digital campaigning is not confined to election periods or geographical boundaries, the regime is intended to apply all year round, UK-wide, and regardless of where in the world content is promoted from. Following a conviction or a civil sanction, the courts can make an order or the Electoral Commission may issue a notice to anyone, including social media companies, requiring them to remove or disable access to infringed content. Failure to comply with a notice or order would be a criminal offence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, brought up the issue of targeting messages. Targeting messages at voters is a legitimate activity that allows campaigners to maximise their resources and target their message at the right audience. All campaigners must comply with direct marketing and data protection laws when using personal data in their campaigning, but it is a legal activity.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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This is about transparency, so that the public can know that somebody is saying different things in different places—that is all.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Understood. Listening to the debate, two words have come out, and we will reflect those. One is “safeguarding”, and one is “transparency”, as the noble Baroness has just said. Those two things are important as we move forward with the Bill.

The provisions in Part 6 of the Elections Bill will introduce one of the most comprehensive “digital imprint” regimes operating in the world today; that is the positive thing. However, it is crucial to take a proportionate approach to the scope and application of the regime to ensure that it is enforceable and to avoid stifling political debate. It is for this reason that the Government do not support the noble Lord’s amendments, as we consider that they would introduce unreasonable burdens on campaigners and therefore risk restricting freedom of expression.

Due to the way some digital platforms are designed, it will not always be practical to display the imprint as part of the material itself—for example, in a text- based tweet where there is a strict character limit. Amendment 180A would not give campaigners the much-needed level of flexibility and therefore risks unreasonably hampering their ability to campaign on particular digital platforms. I have listened to the points made about new technology coming out; it is important that we keep an eye on that, so that if that is possible in the future—

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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I am not asking my noble friend to reply this evening, because this is a complicated question, but I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, say that the digital material would not have to have an imprint on itself and that it could refer you by a link to another page. If that is the case, we could have a situation where if you are retweeting things, you may get even further away from the reality of what is happening. It was also not clear to me, because of the Government’s reaction to an earlier amendment, whether a third-party campaigner had to disclose on their home page that they were registered as a third-party campaigner. I am not sure that I have the links quite right here. If the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was correct, perhaps my noble friend could unpick that when she writes to us after today. I am not asking her to reply to that now.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I take note of that and will make sure that my noble friend understands the unpicking of all of that.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that this flexibility does not amount to allowing campaigners to place the imprint wherever they want. Under our regime, campaigners would be required to ensure that their imprint is displayed as part of the material and only when this is not reasonably practical may the imprint be located elsewhere—as my noble friend said—but it must still be directly accessible from the campaigning material. Those who do not comply will be committing an offence.

Turning now to Amendment 194A, the Government are mindful that transparency requirements on campaigners remain proportionate and that they are not unduly discouraged from participating in public life. Candidates and registered campaigners already have to detail their electoral spending in their returns to returning officers and the Electoral Commission and provide invoices for payments over a certain amount. Invoices provided to the Electoral Commission are then made available for public scrutiny. The practicality and impact on campaigners of requiring them to submit more detailed invoices or receipts about digital activity would need to be looked at very carefully, as the detail provided is determined by the suppliers themselves and not necessarily by the recipient.

Similarly, in relation to Amendment 196A, the Government welcome the steps already taken by many social media companies in this area. We continue to keep transparency rules under review, but given the steps taken already by platforms such as Facebook, we do not propose to mandate centralised libraries of digital political content. Requiring all campaigners promoting paid political advertising to themselves maintain a library of those adverts with specified information for at least 10 years risks adding a significant and unreasonable administrative burden on campaigners, particularly smaller groups that rely on volunteers or groups that are established only for the lifetime of a particular election campaign. We know that some small campaigns happen and, in our opinion, keeping a library for 10 years would be unreasonable.

Elections Bill Debate

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, in this overfull House at this late hour, I will be extremely brief. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who said to me earlier that he thought that this is one of the more important groups to which we had yet to come, has felt it necessary to go. So I will simply say that it is important that we come back to this issue given that this Bill is such a mess and has failed to do so many of the things which several committees recommended it should do. It has also been sharply criticised by a Commons committee.

I would choose Amendment 205; if the Labour Front Benches were minded to bring that back at Report stage, I would certainly give it support and there would be others around the House who would too. Having missed—or refused to take—this opportunity, we had better try to get it right again soon. The integrity of British elections is a very important principle. The questions of how our elections are regulated are fundamental. This is a very unsatisfactory Bill, and Amendment 205 would ensure that we have another go to deal with many of the things which it has been suggested that we need but which this Bill does not provide.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments seek to require the Government to commit to a timetable for wholesale review and consolidation of electoral law and to further consultations to be conducted on the Bill. The Government remain committed to ensuring that our electoral law is fit for purpose, now and into the future. We agree that electoral law should be revised and improved, but a wholesale review takes significant consideration and policy development is not something that we should rush at and potentially get wrong. The Government’s immediate priority will be the implementation of our manifesto commitments, which this Elections Bill delivers. This would allow us to update our electoral law in important ways, strengthening our current framework by addressing known vulnerabilities in our systems.

Amendment 206 would oblige the Secretary of State to establish a committee consisting of members of both Houses of Parliament to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of this Bill within five years of its passing. I have heard the arguments at Second Reading, and in previous Committee sessions, over perceived potential future impacts, and I understand the desire to ensure that any such legislation has the impact intended. It is already the settled will of noble Members that significant pieces of primary legislation should be subject to post-legislative scrutiny. Indeed, it was only a couple of years ago that the Government published a post-legislative assessment of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. Things would not be any different when it comes to the legislation before us today. It is the Government’s view that to include an obligation in the legislation is not necessary in light of our plans to conduct scrutiny and evaluation of the measures in the Bill in due course.

I note the purpose of Amendments 214 and 215: to require the Secretary of State to publish a consultation and an impact assessment before measures are commenced. The measures in this Bill deliver not only on recommendations by parliamentarians, Select Committees, international observers and electoral stakeholders but also on a range of consultations. This includes the overseas electors policy statement issued in October 2016, the Government’s 2017 call for evidence on the accessibility of elections and the Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence and Information consultation of July 2018. My officials have consulted with administrators and civil society groups throughout the policy development, and they are continuing to do so in our implementation planning. We have also published both an equality impact assessment and an economic impact assessment before introducing these measures, and we will continue to monitor impacts, as I have said. I can assure the noble Baroness that the Government are listening but, at this time, do not consider these amendments necessary.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The Minister will know that I am quite astute at reading impact assessments. I have also read the equality impact assessment. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is important because the equality impact assessment relies mainly on a 2021 telephone survey, and it indicates that there will be indirect discrimination based on some of the provisions in the Bill. The impact assessment says further on that mitigation ideas will show how the mitigation will take place, but there are no mitigation provisions in the equality impact assessment; there are only the issues that the 2021 telephone survey has revealed. Why are there no mitigation provisions in the equality impact assessment?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not know, but what I can say is that it is a continuing process, as I have said. We will monitor any future impacts, and I will get a fuller answer for the noble Lord.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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Before the Minister completes her remarks, her argument is that Amendment 206 is not necessary because the Government will do it anyway, while in respect of Amendment 205 she has indicated that the Government are minded to consider the question of consolidating electoral law but gives no idea of the timescale on which they might undertake that. Is that correct?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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No, I did not say that we were minded to consolidate at all. I go back to what I said: the Government’s immediate priority will be the implementation of our manifesto commitments, which the Bill delivers. I have not given any undertaking that we will do another Bill to consolidate, as was set out in that group of amendments.

Amendment 213 would prevent Schedule 8 coming into force until a time when the Secretary of State has made a statement to Parliament on the voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens. The Government’s position on this policy is clear and settled and was set out in detail in a Written Ministerial Statement in the other place on 17 June 2021. Now that we have left the EU, there should not be a continued automatic right to vote and stand in local elections solely by virtue of being an EU citizen. We have made provision to protect the rights of those who made their home here before our exit and preserved rights where that can be done on a bilateral basis, protecting UK citizens living in those countries in turn. A statement of clear intent on this matter has already been made to Parliament and I can see no purpose in restating our position. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. However, there seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether suitable consultation has been carried out on the Bill. The Consultation Institute states in its response:

“Many of the proposed changes in the Bill are not accompanied by evidence detailing why they are necessary or desirable. Where evidence in support of changes is cited, it has generally involved little consultation and engagement with the public, particularly with the general public as opposed to institutional or organisational stakeholders.”


So in the institute’s opinion, as well as mine and others’, including PACAC, there simply has not been sufficient scrutiny or consultation on the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his strong support, and I am sure we will be returning to this on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I will be very brief. This is a probing amendment with which we are seeking to better understand the powers we may currently have, and I hope the noble Baroness will be able to reassure us that we do have powers to address this issue.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for being very brief, and I will try to be nearly as brief. I am sure that it is a very well-intentioned amendment, but its effect would be minimal. I can assure the noble Lord that Section 29 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 already gives the commission the discretion to refuse the registration of an emblem where it is in its opinion obscene or offensive. According to the commission’s guidance on emblems, which is available online, all applications to register an emblem are assessed on a case-by-case basis, but are likely to be rejected if the emblem contains offensive language or terminology or links to something generally accepted as offensive with a relevant group of people.

On a more general note, Section 29 provides the commission with an appropriate and practical level of discretion to refuse or allow the registration of party emblems. Therefore, the Government consider that Section 29 already sufficiently provides for the effect of the noble Lord’s amendment, Therefore, I respectfully ask him to withdraw it.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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In the light of those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Elections Bill Debate

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I will briefly address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. There is an anomaly. The Welsh Senedd has made this clear and made important changes so I am sure that we can get this simple amendment accepted, in the spirit of the previous group. The Minister—I am glad to see him back in his place; I wish him the very best of health—accepted the previous amendments, so I am sure that it will be straightforward for him to accept these ones. I look forward to his response.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, with respect to Amendments 31 to 33 and 38, under the current law, a person who is nominated as a candidate must give their full name. They may also provide a commonly used forename or surname, which must be different to any of the names already given, that they would like to have included on the ballot paper. My noble friend Lord Hayward has highlighted that this does not, for example, facilitate the use of a middle name where someone is commonly known by such a name.

My noble friend’s amendments would widen the scope of the current provisions concerning the use of commonly used names by candidates. They would allow a person to include on their nomination paper any name that they commonly use as a forename or surname. For example, under this amendment, a candidate would be able to choose to use their middle name if that is a commonly known name for them. A candidate may also use a commonly used forename and surname on the ballot paper.

When my noble friend raised this issue in Committee, the Minister, my noble friend Lord True, indicated that the suggestions had some merit. After further consideration, I am pleased to say that the Government consider that these are sensible changes and we are able to support my noble friend’s amendments.

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, I note the welcome for that from all sides of the House. I am getting slightly embarrassed—this is the second time this afternoon that I have had support from all sides of the House on amendments I have put forward. I thank the Minister for her support and favourable response.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, for tabling this amendment, to which I have added my name, and for his introduction. I also thank noble Lords for their brief comments.

I want to refer back to Committee. The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, said that the amendments proposed on automatic voter registration

“contradict the principle that underpins individual electoral registration: that individuals should have ownership of, and responsibility for, their own registration … Automatic registration would threaten the accuracy of the register and, in doing so, enable voting and political donations by those who are ineligible.”—[Official Report, 23/3/22; col. 1058.]

However, does she agree with me that there are underlying problems with the status quo, such as millions of eligible citizens being incorrectly registered or missing from the registers entirely, major strains on the system during a last-minute registration rush ahead of election days, and resource problems for electoral officials? A founding principle of democracy is political equality. We therefore need to ensure a level playing field on election day. AVR could boost voter registration rates among under-registered groups to create this more level playing field.

It is already current law that every citizen is registered. People often get letters saying that they will be fined £60 if they do not register. Voter registration is not an opt-in process. AVR is a solution that would help administratively to best realise what appears to be the current goal of full, compulsory registration. AVR is also the norm, not the exception, in countries around the world. Many countries that have historically not had AVR because of the absence of a population register are now increasingly introducing either direct enrolment for specific groups or assisted voter enrolment through other public agencies. Where they have been designed well, these innovations have proven to be able to deliver cost savings and boost voter registration for specific groups.

As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, we can give millions of people not on the electoral register a voice. If he chooses to divide the House on this amendment, we will support him.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford. He, my noble friend Lord True and I have debated this issue a number of times in this House. The intention behind this amendment—to increase the number of people registered to vote—is one that the Government wholeheartedly support. However, the practical difficulties brought about by automatic voter registration are such that the Government cannot support the amendment.

Given the number and range of public bodies listed, as well as the vast amounts of data they hold, the amendment would overwhelm electoral registration officers with data. Data protection legislation rightly prevents the unnecessary sharing of personal data. This amendment would see unparalleled volumes of personal data shared—even that of the majority of people who are already correctly registered. Likewise, it would see people registered without their knowledge or consent.

There would also likely be a large number of security and privacy concerns, such as when it comes to handling the data of minors, those who are escaping domestic violence, those who wish to remain anonymous electors or those who do not want to be on the register—and there are a number of people who do not. I do not know whether it has happened when you have knocked on doors, but people have certainly said to me, “We are not on the register and do not want to be”.

The amendment also takes no account of the coverage, currency or accuracy of the data held by the various public bodies. As they would be listed in primary legislation, these public bodies would be required to share their data, even if it is of no use for electoral registration. Using inaccurate or out-of-date information to register people to vote automatically would seriously undermine the accuracy of the electoral register. That is the crux of the issue: accuracy is just as important as completeness. Having more individuals on a register is not inherently a good thing if those individuals are registered at incorrect or multiple addresses.

When it comes to implementation, a whole host of other issues arise. How would an ERO deal with contradictory evidence from different data sources? If an individual was removed from the register because the ERO determined they were no longer eligible, how would this be picked up by an automated system so that they were not automatically added again? What these questions point to is the fact that there is no true system of automatic voter registration; any trusted system of registration requires the active input of both electors and EROs to determine eligibility. The Government also contend that such active input is important to aid electors’ understanding of the process and their awareness of upcoming electoral events.

Lastly, the Government cannot accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, because it is deficient. It leaves untouched all the existing legislation for electoral registration. It would require significant further work, and possibly a whole new Bill, to unpick which elements of current law would need to be amended or repealed to accommodate this amendment. For these reasons, and more I have no time to go into—

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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I am grateful that the noble Baroness has explained a whole series of practical reasons that she says will make it difficult. I would like to know what the government position in principle on this is. If the practical differences can be overcome, in principle are the Government in favour of all those who have the right to be on the register actually being registered?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Of course we want maximum registration, but not through a flawed system. There are many other ways the Government will continue to work on getting more people on to the electoral register, if they want to be on it.

I urge the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, to withdraw his amendment. Tackling under-registration is an important and complex issue, but this is not the way to address it.

Lord Woolley of Woodford Portrait Lord Woolley of Woodford (CB)
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I thank the Minister very much for that answer. The irony of this discussion is that we have spent hours and hours on the Bill, and we are proposing an expenditure of about £200 million on the basis of one fraud: one out of 47 million. What I am suggesting is that we find a way, first in principle, to get 9 million people to have a voice. I know it is difficult; it will not be a walk in the park, but what price is democracy? What price is telling every individual out there eligible to vote that we will use all our powers, all our political will and all our decency to make sure that they can have a voice in these Chambers? The answer should not be, “It’s too difficult”. The question should be “How do we do it?” I am afraid that I want to put the will of this House to a vote.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak very briefly to Amendment 42. First, I have huge admiration for my noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and I recognise the history of campaigning on these issues. A lot of interesting points have been made this evening, but given the hour, I just want to say that I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Stansgate for providing his context and family experience. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, says. This is a very interesting debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, the Government’s position on this matter remains one of principle: namely, that it is not right for any one citizen to have the privilege of being represented twice. Enfranchising noble Lords to vote in UK parliamentary elections would give us two ways of being represented in Parliament: through our permanent membership here and ability to vote on legislation as we are today, and through our elected MP.

As we discussed in Committee, this is not the case for those currently sitting in the House of Commons. Once an election is called and Parliament is dissolved, an MP ceases to be an elected official and must seek re-election before returning to their place in the House of Commons. It is therefore right that they are able to vote in parliamentary elections, as not allowing them to do so would mean denying them a say in the democratic process.

We, however, do not cease to be Peers at the time of an election, and to allow us to vote would give us twice the representation of other citizens. In our roles in this Chamber, we are privileged to have an active role in the scrutiny of legislation and active participation in the democratic process of this country. To extend this participation further would undermine the principle that all citizens are equally represented in politics. I urge that this amendment be withdrawn.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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My Lords, to take just the last phrase or two of the Minister’s comments, all citizens should be treated equally. All I am asking is that we are treated equally and have the right to vote. In nearly every democracy except this one, Members of the second Chamber have the right to vote. The world will not come to an end. It is a very simple democratic proposition. I beg to move.