Peers inflict defeat on Government over controversial voter ID proposals

The House of Lords voted 199 to 170 to expand the list of accepted identification to include non-photo documents.

Richard Wheeler
Wednesday 06 April 2022 22:27 BST
A view of The Houses of Parliament in early morning sunshine (John Walton/PA)
A view of The Houses of Parliament in early morning sunshine (John Walton/PA) (PA Archive)

Controversial election reforms have been amended after peers inflicted a defeat on the Government over plans to introduce voter ID.

People would be required to show an approved form of photographic identification before collecting their ballot paper to vote in a polling station under measures contained in the Elections Bill.

But peers voted 199 to 170, majority 29, to support an amendment from Conservative former minister Lord Willetts to expand the list of accepted identification to include non-photo documents such as birth certificates, bank statements, council tax demands and library cards.

Conservative peer Lord Willetts (PA)
Conservative peer Lord Willetts (PA)

Lord Willetts argued this would enable the Government to meet its 2019 manifesto commitment to introduce “identification to vote” at polling stations in a bid combat fraud but also prevent large numbers of people being turned away from voting.

Peers also argued the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto did not specify “photo ID” but merely identification.

Under the terms of the Bill, the requirement for photo ID to vote would apply across the UK in general elections and a free voter card would be available from councils for people without a suitable form of ID.

But critics do not believe the scale of the problem justifies the move and warn it will hit turnout.

Lord Willetts said there is “no evidence” that personation, voting in an election by pretending to be someone else, is a significant problem in the British electoral system.

He told the debate on the Bill at report stage: “The costs imposed by this measure seem to me to go way beyond the scale of the problem, costs estimated at £180 million over 10 years.

“If a broader range of documents are accepted that removes the need for a new separate group of voter ID cards and that hence lowers the costs involved.”

The Houses of Lords debates the Elections Bill at report stage (PA)
The Houses of Lords debates the Elections Bill at report stage (PA)

Lord Willetts questioned what might happen at the next election if “hundreds of voters per constituency” confronted with the Government’s photo ID requirement were turned away from polling stations and do not return.

He said: “Imagine if the outcome of the next election is a modest majority, I hope for the party which I am a member, where throughout the day the media story has been voters being turned away from polling stations?

“That seems to me a very significant political and constitutional risk that does need to be taken into account if this measure is introduced.”

Independent crossbench peer Lord Woolley of Woodford, the founder and director of Operation Black Vote, had tabled an amendment to remove the voter ID proposals from the Bill but did not push it to a vote in the Lords.

He said recently there was “one conviction” for voter fraud “out of 47 million voters”, adding: “It means you’ve got more chance of being struck down by lightning, I think it’s 300,000-to-one.

“You’ve got more chance of winning the National Lottery, which is 46 million-to-one.

“The case for fraud hasn’t been made.”

Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb said of voter ID: “It’s a cynical ploy, a clear attempt by the Government to make it harder for people to vote in elections.”

Conservative peer Baroness Verma (PA)
Conservative peer Baroness Verma (PA)

But Conservative former minister Baroness Verma said she has spent weeks talking to people from all backgrounds, including black, Asian, minority ethnic and poor communities, in Leicester.

She said: “When I ask them would they object to a voter ID card with a photograph, I’ve not had one person object to it and I don’t understand where this ‘evidence’ keeps coming from that the BAME community or the ones on the lowest incomes are going to be disenfranchised.”

Lady Verma said people in Leicester have raised concerns with her about the integrity of elections on several occasions.

Cabinet Office minister Lord True said plans to include further forms of ID to access polling stations would “weaken the security of our elections”, telling peers: “The majority of the suggestions do not share a photograph of the elector, so cannot provide the appropriate level of proof that the bearer is who they say they are.”

He added: “Should further forms of photo identification become available and, I stress this, be sufficiently secure, I do wish to reassure the House that the Bill already makes provision… for the list to be amended so that additional identification can be added or removed as necessary without the need for further primary legislation.”

The Government later saw off moves to drop plans to use the first-past-the-post system to elect police and crime commissioners (PCC), combined authority mayors and the mayor of London.

A bid to amend the Bill to require automatic voter registration was also defeated while peers rejected moves to give themselves the right to vote in UK general elections.

The Lords will consider the Bill further on April 25 before it returns to the Commons as part of the parliamentary process known as ping-pong.

This is when proposed legislation moves between the two Houses until agreement on its wording is reached.

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