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Baroness Fookes moved Amendment No. 9:



("( ) A scheme under this section may include the provision for the Presiding Officer at his discretion to ask for documentary proof of identification by one of the following--
(a) a polling card;
(b) a valid United Kingdom driving licence;
(c) a relevant social security benefit book;
(d) a National Health Service medical card;
(e) a certificate of verification as issued by the electoral registration officer,
or other such documentary evidence as may in the reasonable opinion of the Presiding Officer concerned constitute such evidence of the matters provided for within this subsection.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move the amendment standing in my name. With it is linked the new clause which also stands in my name. I do not want to detain your Lordships for long as the subject matter of the amendments was thoroughly aired on a previous occasion. However, I return to the matter in the hope of persuading the Government of the wisdom of allowing for the identification of voters, at least in any pilot schemes of which they approve.

It is a weakness in the present set-up that a presiding officer has to take the word of the person coming in to vote that he or she is entitled so to do. Therefore, I have set down the fact that the presiding officer should be able to ask for proof of identity: a polling card, driving licence or any of the other documents listed. On this occasion, instead of making the measure wholly obligatory, I have suggested that it should be at the discretion of the presiding officer. That is the purpose of the amendment in relation to pilot schemes.

The new clause is intended to be a wider application and to allow the presiding officer, if he thinks fit, to ask for proof of identification in all cases. I do not know whether I shall fare better on this occasion, but I believe that the measure is important. Indeed, it will be even more important if new schemes provide for early voting, perhaps spread over several days or at a polling station other than the normal one.

I offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. I raised the issue of the Plymouth pilot scheme which sought to include a requirement for the presiding officer to request identification by means of a polling card. He said that he would write to me and let me know the Government's views. He kept entirely to his word in very good time and I am delighted that the requirement will be permitted at least in that scheme. I hope that we shall have better success today. I beg to move.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I shall be brief because my noble friend has made the point most clearly. When in future elections the new provision for homeless people will be effective, it is important that the general public do not feel that there is a new opening for impersonation. That is all that my noble friend is trying to achieve in her amendments. I strongly support them.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may also speak briefly to this amendment.

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Undoubtedly, impersonation does take place. The problem is that we do not have much idea of the extent to which it occurs. We know that action has been taken in Northern Ireland to stop it happening, but I believe that perhaps it occurs more in Great Britain than we would like to believe. Certainly, in the constituency in which I live, there are frequent rumours that impersonation takes place on a scale which would be significant if it were a marginal constituency. However, as it is not, it probably does not affect the election outcome; but if it were a marginal constituency, it might.

Of course, the position will be made more serious if we move from the current way to new ways of voting; for example, early voting, where polling stations may be open for one, two or three days, or where a central polling station will be open for two or three days prior to the election and the usual local polling stations will be open thereafter. It will then become very important indeed to keep a record of who has voted.

If I may say so, it will be increasingly important to require identification, especially in urban areas. In many country areas, the polling clerks know jolly well who has come to vote. They may not know the voters personally but they know them by sight. I believe that impersonation would be extremely difficult throughout much of rural Scotland, England or Wales, but not too difficult in an urban area. If we move to a system which provides alternative polling stations--that is, where it is very much up to the individual on the day of the poll which station he attends--frankly, I believe that identification, as well as electronic communication between the stations, will be required.

Therefore, I believe that my noble friend has a point. Even if the Government do not accept my noble friend's amendment today, I believe that in the not too distant future we shall have to return to this issue and give the polling clerks or agents the right to ask for identification. As I explained, I do not believe that everyone will need to produce identification. In many cases, the polling clerks will know the person who has come to vote. However, when there is doubt, I do not believe that it will be sufficient to say simply, "Are you who you say you are?" The person will reply "Yes". He will not say "No" if he has come deliberately to impersonate. I believe that that question is no longer adequate.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise to say briefly that on these Benches we cannot possibly support these amendments. The problem is that the presiding officer must exercise his discretion and one does not know on what basis that discretion is to be exercised. In practice, one can see only that the presiding officer is likely to require proof of eligibility to vote from those who look scruffy or shiftless or who in some other way attract the attention of the presiding officer as being doubtful. That is no possible basis for exercising a discretion and I can see no other possible basis for exercising a discretion of this kind.

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Logically, it could be done fairly only by requiring everyone to produce evidence of identification. The consequences of that would be absolutely horrendous: the queues would last all day if evidence had to be produced. Of course, the people who were asked to produce evidence on the basis of a discretion might well be those who were unable to do so, simply because they had not realised that it would be required of them. They may be sent away. Unless they were voting very late, in theory they would have time to come back again with the necessary evidence. However, frankly, the chances are that they will not. In those circumstances, it seems to us that the amendment is unworkable and, if and in so far as it were applicable, likely to be unfair.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall try to be brief in dealing with the amendments. I said in Committee that I did not believe that there was a need to impose a general requirement for producing identification at polling stations; nor we do believe that we need to give the presiding officers discretionary powers to demand identification above and beyond the prescribed questions which, as things currently stand, they are allowed to ask a voter, and to insist on the production of a polling card. The Working Party on Electoral Procedures did not see a need to make a change of that kind. As was pointed out in Committee, the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place, which considered this issue at quite some length, made a positive recommendation against such a move. Accordingly, I do not believe that I can invite your Lordships to support Amendment No. 18.

As the noble Baroness is aware, the council of the City of Plymouth, which she represented with considerable distinction for many years in another place, has applied to run an early voting pilot scheme. As part of its application, it intends to require those who want to take advantage of the early voting facility to provide proof of identification. That is precisely because they may vote at a polling station other than the one in their neighbourhood. The other pilot schemes with early voting procedures established will be expected to run in a similar manner. I believe that that will provide us with an idea of the potential scope for abuse within the current system.

I believe that on this matter we have agreed across the Benches that we do not consider our system to be overly abused. Clearly, there are occasions when abuse is a problem and those come to light from time to time. However, I believe that the pilot schemes will enable us to test exactly how great the problem may or may not be. In its evaluation of the scheme, Plymouth City Council has been asked to look particularly at this aspect of the pilot and at the way it works. No doubt in the outcome of that evaluation we shall all be very interested to see whether there is any potential for abuse and whether voters have been turned away, to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.

Assuming that the Bill receives Royal Assent in time--I do not now see any great barriers to that--the pilot schemes will be able to go ahead in May on the

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basis of the Bill as it is currently drafted. Therefore, I am not able to accept the noble Baroness's first amendment. I would argue that it is not necessary. I believe that if we let the pilots take their course, it will be proven that there is not the manifest abuse which some people suspect. In the light of that and of the fact that this issue will be examined under the pilot schemes, I trust that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.


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