Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to speak against the Elections Bill last night. Below is what I would have said if I had the chance.
I wish to address a number of matters in the time I have, speaking to a number of amendments tabled by the Opposition Frontbench, namely Amendments 1 and 5 and Amendment 3.
These amendments collectively expose the partisan nature of this bill.
As I said at Second Reading, this Elections Bill is an affront to our democracy and – we should be clear – that anti-democratic arc is a recurring theme from this government.
Only today, in the Other Place, our colleagues are discussing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
They are discussing amendments tabled late by the Government, which were not part of democratic debate in the Commons debate, to clamp down on legitimate peaceful protest.
I hope our colleagues in the Lords throw them out.
Next week in this House, we will be discussing the Judicial Review and Courts Bill and its attack on the right to challenge the government in court.
And here today, whilst there is much to criticise in the Bill, we are discussing clauses on Voter ID which I believe will disenfranchise already marginalised voters. And we are discussing clauses that impact upon important third-party campaigning groups, charities and trade unions.
On Voter ID, I wish to support Amendments 1 and 5, tabled by the frontbench, and remind colleagues, how Liberty described the measure in their briefing, that Voter ID is a solution in search of a problem.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) and the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) have both highlighted the lack of need for voter ID in British elections, and warned of its discriminatory impact, whilst the Welsh Government made clear, when it published its Legislative Consent Memorandum, that it does not support the introduction of Voter ID.
As the Electoral Reform Society in Wales said, This Elections Bill could lead to a ‘two tier franchise’ in Wales, with some elections banning those without ID, and others remaining open and free.
Only last week the Minister put out a statement on the proposed new Voter Card, which made clear the government can provide us with little information on how it will work, yet still expects us to back it. I will not.
I also want to express my support for Amendment 3 tabled by the frontbench which would remove Clause 26 and the draconian new restrictions on third party campaigners.
Labour Unions said in their briefing, the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 already strictly regulates joint campaigning between non-party campaigners.
These new proposals would restrict their campaigning further. And there is a very clear target.
There is no other political party that has the close constitutional ties with separate, independent organisations in the way that the Labour Party is linked to the trade union movement. This change can only serve to silence organisations that advocate a vote for Labour, while having little or no impact on organisations that advocate for other political parties.
I therefore will support Amendment 3.
And with reference to Amendment 2 and its intention to improve access to voting, I want to make a final, more general point.
And that is if the government wishes to increase access to democracy, there are other changes it could trial. The Welsh Government has announced four pilots, to trial advance voting on the weekend before and in the week of polling day, in four constituencies including in low-turnout wards and in a school to encourage registered students.
It’s a shame the government is not proposing something similar.
I want to thank my friend the Member for Nottingham North for his work today, but also my friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood for her work in leading opposition to this Bill, which I will oppose at Third Reading.