Valerie speaks in Elections Bill Debate

The undemocratic Elections Bill came back to the Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading last night on Monday 17 January 2022. The Bill makes wide-ranging changes to how elections are run in the UK, including requiring photo ID to vote, granting the Government more power over the independent elections regulator, and restricting the ability of civil society organisations to campaign. I spoke in the Debate to oppose the Bill and called on the Government to pause the Bill immediately. 

You can read my full speech below: 

“It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) did a fabulous job of setting out our opposition to the Bill. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) for all her work and for her discussions on electoral reform—that is a private joke between us.

Election law is complex. That is why there is a big book on it called “Schofield’s Election Law”, as anyone who has worked in local government will know. The Bill adds to that complexity. The Electoral Reform society said that it has been rushed through Parliament without any formal consultation or any pre-legislative scrutiny, and two Committees of the House have said that the Government have not provided enough evidence for the changes.

I will touch on three points, the first of which is voter ID. Since when in a democratic society do we need a certificate to say we are eligible to vote? Does the Minister in this Chamber, where women had to watch from behind a grille and then had to fight to get a vote, believe that we should return to something similar? That is happening despite the continuing hurt of the Windrush generation having to prove they live here after their parents contributed to this country. That is happening despite the evidence that during the Government’s trial people were turned away from voting in numbers larger than some hon. Members’ majorities.

The second point is interfering with the Electoral Commission, an independent body. The provisions of part 3 of the Bill are not consistent with the Electoral Commission operating as an independent regulator. Why should Ministers issue operational guidance over how the commission fulfils its functions? What is the mischief the Government are trying to stop? The Electoral Commission is responsible for and acts on everyone’s behalf, not just that of the main political parties. It is the guardian and custodian of free and fair elections. A report from the cross-party Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee made it clear that the Government did not provide evidence to justify why the measures that interfere with the Electorate Commission are necessary and proportionate. I hope that the Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru do not approve the strategy that this Government are trying to put through without considering it carefully. Our fellow citizens must have confidence in the system. Why should an independent regulator need guidance on what it should have regard to when carrying out enforcement work?

The third issue is the regulation of expenditure. It is right that the electorate can see who is spending money, but the Bill does not allow transparency. It penalises smaller organisations for joint campaigning. It penalises the Labour party, Her Majesty’s official Opposition, for having affiliated organisations. Will the Minister confirm whether third parties such as Operation Black Vote, which is non-party political and just asks people to vote, will be caught up in the Bill? Easing the regulations for overseas voters, saying to them, “You can vote and you can donate,” while someone living here must have voter ID, is bizarre and illogical. Someone can bid at a fundraiser to win a tennis match with a Minister but not get caught by this legislation, and yet a joint campaign on people’s rights at work becomes illegal.

Finally, the Bill adds to the complexity rather than making things more transparent. There is no confidence in any legislation passed by this Government because they have lost the authority to tell us what to do when they do not do it themselves. If the Government care about the democratic process, the Bill should be paused. Anyone who cares about democracy should vote against it.”

Two new clauses and two amendments were tabled by HM Opposition Labour party:

New Clause 1 would have lowered the voting age to 16 in UK parliamentary elections. 16 and 17 year olds contribute to our society, deserve a say on our future, and should be encouraged to be active citizens. I voted for this New Clause, which was lost: Ayes: 236 and Noes: 327.

New Clause 2 would have prevented overseas electors donating to political parties in the UK. The influence of foreign money in our democracy must be restricted. I voted for this New Clause, which was lost: Ayes: 237 and Noes: 322.

Amendment 1, would have removed the Government’s new requirement for Voter ID from the Bill. This amendment would remove the Voter ID provisions. Over 2 million people in our country do not have Voter ID, and there was only one prosecuted case of voter fraud in 2019.  I voted for this amendment, which was lost: Ayes: 234 and Noes: 327.

Amendment 3,  would have removed the Bill’s changes to joint campaigning by registered parties and third parties. These changes will undermine the ability of civil society, charities and trade unions to engage in our democracy. I voted for this amendment, which was lost: Ayes: 234 and Noes: 328.

At Third Reading Shadow Minister Alex Norris MP said ‘This is a bad Bill’. It is a bad Bill, and dangerous – one of the most anti-democratic pieces of legislation we’ve seen from a British Government, hidden from sight with an absence of public consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny.”   I voted against the Bill at Third Reading. The Bill passed: Ayes:325 and Noes: 234.