Ahead of the Elections Bill's return to the Commons, Best for Britain has produced a briefing for MPs, which can be read below or accessed here.
You may also be interested in new polling for Best for Britain by Opinium showing that 70% believe the Electoral Commission should remain fully independent of the government including 79% of Conservative voters and the vast majority of all age groups. You can view the polling in more detail here.
Today, the House of Lords completed the final day of Report Stage on the Elections Bill. This briefing outlines the Lords amendments that we are asking members of the House of Commons to support and offers our rationale for why these amendments should be supported.
Today, we are asking you to give the Elections Bill your utmost attention and take into consideration what the long-term ramifications of this Bill could be if it passes as the UK Government is proposing.
We are calling on MPs from across the House to support:
- Lords Amendment 8 (Lord Willetts, Lord Woolley of Woodford, Baroness Lister of Burtersett, the Lord Bishop of Coventry) to expand the list of acceptable Voter ID.
- Lords Amendment 45 (Lord Judge, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett) to oppose that Clause 15 stand part of the Bill.
- Lords Amendment 46 (Lord Judge, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett), to oppose that Clause 16 stand part of the Bill.
Clause 1: Voter identification
Support Lords Amendment 8
Page 83, line 25, at end insert—
“(1HA) In this rule a “specified document” also means any of the following documents (in whatever form issued to the holder)—
(a) a driving licence;
(b) a birth certificate;
(c) a marriage or civil partnership certificate;
(d) an adoption certificate;
(e) the record of a decision on bail made in respect of the voter in accordance with section 5(1) of the Bail Act 1976;
(f) a bank or building society cheque book;
(g) a mortgage statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
(h) a bank or building society statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
(i) a credit card statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
(j) a council tax demand letter or statement dated within 12 months of the date of the poll;
(k) a P45 or P60 form dated within 12 months of the date of the poll;
(l) a standard acknowledgement letter (SAL) issued by the Home Office for asylum seekers;
(m) a trade union membership card;
(n) a library card;
(o) a pre-payment meter card;
(p) a National Insurance card;
(q) a workplace ID card;
(r) a student ID card;
(s) an 18+ student Oyster photocard;
(t) a National Rail Railcard;
(u) a Young Scot National Entitlement Card.”
Mandatory photographic voter ID, without expanding the list of acceptable ID, could disenfranchise 2 million voters according to the UK Government’s own Cabinet Office study. As trials have suggested, this could lead to people forgetting their ID and perhaps not returning to vote. In a country which does not have a system of national identification, this creates another unnecessary barrier to the accessibility of voting.
There is no compelling case for photographic voter ID because of personation or voter fraud. The UK Government has argued that photographic voter ID is necessary to address voter fraud and personation. The reality is that personation and voter fraud in the UK are so rare that one is more likely to win the lottery, and roughly 47 times more likely to be struck by lightning.
The people who already don’t vote and already don’t participate in elections are less likely to become actively engaged citizens if mandatory ID is introduced and is not readily and easily available to them.
Clause 15: Strategy and policy statement
Support Lords Amendment 45
Leave out Clause 15
Clause 16: Duty to have regard to Strategy and policy statement
Support Lords Amendment 46
Leave out Clause 16
Reasons to support Amendments 45 and 46 on Clauses 15 and 16:
Unamended, Clauses 15 and 16 jeopardise the independence of the Electoral Commission by compelling it to follow a ‘Strategy and Policy Statement’, written by the Secretary of State. It is Best for Britain’s view that Clauses 15 and 16 could therefore undermine free and fair elections in the UK, by subjecting the Electoral Commission to undue political influence.
It is our view that amendments 45 and 46 give the House of Commons a real opportunity to protect the integrity of future UK elections by voting for a fully independent Electoral Commission, free of undue influence by the government of the day.
Lord Judge, the Crossbench Convenor and former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, has made a compelling case for his amendments to remove Clauses 15 and 16 by stating:
“if the Electoral Commission must have regard to whatever the Minister says, the perception of undue influence is obvious, the fact of undue influence is, I suggest, inevitable”
- Lord Judge, Crossbench Convenor
Lord Judge’s amendments 45 and 46 build on a broad base of agreement stretching from the House of Commons, civil society and the UK public, as outlined below.
The House of Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), which is chaired by Conservative MP William Wragg, called for Clauses 15 and 16 to be removed from the Bill. PACAC’s December 2021 Report on the Elections Bill noted “that there is a lack of supporting evidence to demonstrate that the proposed measures are both necessary and proportionate” and that Clauses relevant to the Electoral Commission be “removed, pending a formal public consultation on the proposed measures”. To date no such consultation has taken place, so in line with PACAC recommendations Clause 15 and 16 should be removed.
Furthermore, PACAC recently sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP, on 12th April 2022. The committee stated "We strongly urge the Government to accept the amendment laid in the House of Lords in the name of the Noble Lord, Lord Judge, that would remove Clauses 15 and 16 of the Bill, as this Committee recommended in its Report".
In an unprecedented intervention, Electoral Commissioners wrote to Ministers to urge them to reconsider Clause 15 and 16 directly. In an open letter to the UK Government, Commissioners made it clear that the introduction of a Strategy and Policy Statement “is inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a healthy democracy”. The Electoral Commission insisted that “the Commission’s accountability is direct to the UK’s parliaments and should remain so, rather than being subject to government influence”.
The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto makes no mention of the Electoral Commission. The UK Government has no mandate for the changes it intends to make to the Commission as seen in Clauses 15 and 16 of the Elections Bill. Without a mandate to make changes of such constitutional consequence, Clauses 15 and 16 should not be allowed to pass.
For the reasons laid out above, it is of vital importance that the House of Commons protect the integrity of future UK elections by voting for Lord Judge’s amendments 45 and 46 to oppose that Clauses 15 and 16 stand part of the Bill.
We hope we can count on MPs to vote for a fully independent Electoral Commission, free of undue influence by the government of the day.