Oral Answers to Questions

Cat Smith Excerpts
Thursday 15th June 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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3. What recent discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the transparency of election finance from overseas.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood)
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The Committee has not had recent discussions with the Commission on the matters raised. The Commission has highlighted vulnerabilities in the political finance system that could allow unlawful foreign money to enter UK politics. It is recommended that parties should be required to conduct risk assessments of donations and “know your donor” checks. Parties should not be permitted to accept donations from companies that exceed their profits made in the UK.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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In the past five years, unincorporated associations have donated more than £14 million to political parties without declaring where the funding comes from. Given that the Tories have not exactly been shy about taking money from Russia-linked businesspeople, does the Commission share the concerns of the chair of the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life that robust transparency rules are required to prevent foreign donations being made that way? Frankly, it cannot be left to the parties, especially on the day that Boris Johnson is confirmed to be a self-serving liar.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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The Commission has highlighted weaknesses in the transparency requirements for political donations by unincorporated associations, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, which could allow donations from otherwise unlawful sources. The Commission is not required to ensure that those who donate are permissible donors. There are no transparency requirements in law for unincorporated associations that donate to candidates rather than to political parties or campaigners. The Commission will continue to recommend to Government that changes be made to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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4. What recent discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the implementation of voter ID in (a) Scotland, (b) Wales and (c) England ahead of national elections.

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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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10. What recent discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the implementation of voter ID in (a) Scotland, (b) Wales and (c) England ahead of national elections.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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The Committee discussed the Commission’s work to support the implementation of voter ID at its recent public evidence session in March. A transcript of the session is available on the Committee’s website. The Commission supported voters, campaigners and the electoral administrators ahead of the implementation of voter ID at local elections in England in May. Its research shows that public awareness of the requirement increased from 22% in December 2022 to 87% in April 2023. Voter ID will now be required for police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales, UK parliamentary by-elections, recall petitions and general elections from October.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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The introduction of new rules to require identity checks for postal and proxy voting in UK general elections via a statutory instrument means that they will not be voted on in the Commons. Age UK director Caroline Abrahams has described them as using

“a sledgehammer to crack a nut”,

amid concerns that new barriers will be erected for older people trying to vote. What concerns and ongoing discussions does the Electoral Commission have with the UK Government on the proposals, alongside any consultations with stakeholders?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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The Commission has continued to do research to identify key groups who are likely to need additional support to navigate the ID requirements, including the over-85s. Ahead of the May elections, the Commission worked with civil society organisations and local authorities to produce tailored resources to reach each group. However, the matter that the hon. Lady raised is for Government policymaking rather than the Commission, which supports electoral administrators.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
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A former Cabinet Minister has said:

“Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever schemes come back to bite them, as…we found when insisting on voter ID”.

That claim appears accurate, as a snapshot of voting in the English council elections in the east of England found that thousands of people were turned away for not having the correct ID, resulting in them not voting. What steps are being taken to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised by the Tory party’s gerrymandering?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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On the comments to which the hon. Lady refers, the introduction of the voter ID requirement was debated and passed by Parliament. Policy decisions are rightly a matter for Parliament and not the Electoral Commission. It is for the Government to comment on the intentions of their policy.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), said that the evaluation of anecdotal feedback shows that the roll-out of voter ID has been successful. The Electoral Commission warned that the introduction of voter ID should be delayed until after the English local elections in May—

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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My apologies, Mr Speaker.

Does the Electoral Commission now share similar views to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities that the roll-out of voter ID has been a success?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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The Electoral Commission will be publishing its responses and findings from the roll-out of voter ID at local elections in England that took place in May. A report on the ID aspect will be published very shortly and a full protocol report will be published in September, which will look at the evidence that has been found in information provided by returning officers across England.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
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Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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11. To ask the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, whether the Committee has had discussions with the (a) Government and (b) Electoral Commission on the Government's equality impact assessment of the Elections Bill.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood)
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The Committee has not had recent discussions with the Government or the commission on that subject. It is for the Government to comment on the equality impact assessments that they produce to accompany their legislation.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
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Given the disproportionate consequences of the Government’s voter identity mandate and the effect on the ethnic minority population, it is concerning that there has been no impact assessment. Democracy Volunteers, which deployed observers in about half the English authority areas where local elections were being held, noted that half the people they observed being turned away from polling stations were non-white. I appreciate that this is anecdotal evidence, but it is nevertheless concerning, given that that represents about three times the balance that would be expected in the population. Would the commission consider pressing the Government for an impact assessment?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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The Electoral Commission will shortly be publishing its report on the local government elections in May. It will include data collected by returning officers, but also public polling to catch the people who did not get as far as the polling station. The issue of equality impact assessments is a matter for the Government, and I would encourage the hon. Lady to raise it during the upcoming questions to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I must now suspend the House for two minutes.