The Government’s recent attempt to politicise how the behaviour of MPs is policed by changing the standards rules when they implicated a member of their own party has caused outrage both in the media and across the country. The Elections Bill will give the Government unprecedented power over how elections are run in our country. It’s a dangerous move that puts democracy at risk and, so far, it’s been rushed through Parliament with next to no consultation or scrutiny.
The all-party Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s recently issued report into the Elections Bill has urged the government to stop the passage of the bill and conduct a more thorough consultation. The Conservative Chair of the Committee, William Wragg MP said, “We feel that the elections bill proposals lack a sufficient evidence base, timely consultation, and transparency, all of which should be addressed before it makes any further progress. We cannot risk any reduction of trust in UK elections, which is why the majority of the committee is calling for the bill to be paused to give time for more work to be done to ensure the measures are fit for purpose.”
Fair Vote UK, in accordance with the Democracy Defence Coalition (DDC) encourages support for the following amendments and new clauses at the Elections Bill’s report stage on Monday, 17 January, 2021.
Support Amendment 1 to remove Voter ID provisions
Justification: Large numbers of eligible voters without the right photo ID could be excluded from our democracy – they are disproportionately likely to be young people, people with disabilities and the very old.
When photo ID was trialled in 10 areas holding local elections in 2019, over 2,000 people were turned away from the polls. The Government has refused to give any estimate of how many eligible voters could be turned away in a General Election due to a lack of a photo ID. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report into the Elections Bill found that voter turnout dropped by 2.3% in 2003 Northern Ireland “as a direct consequence” of Voter ID – translated to UK elections, that could mean over a million eligible voters losing their vote.
The Government has announced that a free voter ID scheme will be run by councils at a cost of up to £180 million across ten years – but have provided no details of how that scheme will work – when people need to apply by, what documents they will need to provide or whether they will have to travel to council offices.
Support Amendment 9 to remove clause 13
Support Amendment 10 to remove clause 14, the “Electoral Commission’s duty to have regard to strategy and policy statement”
Justification: The Government is proposing to undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission by allowing its strategy and policy to be set by the Government and then monitored by a Government-dominated committee. Supporting amendments 9 and 10 will stop this from happening.
Mr Pullinger, the Chair of the Electoral Commission, expressed his concerns thus: “If the Bill is passed in its current form, it will be harder to demonstrate independence and for the public to be confident of independence…”
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report on the Elections Bill concluded that “the Government has not provided sufficient evidence to justify why the proposed measures are both necessary and proportionate.”
Third party campaigning:
Support Amendment 11 to remove clause 23, which restricts which third parties may incur controlled expenditure
Support Amendment 12 to remove clause 24, which allows the current Secretary of State to amend the list of which organisations can campaign.
Justification: Clauses 23 and 24 mean Ministers can decide to exclude a type of organisation or a category of individuals from spending more than £700 on election campaigning during the 365 days prior to election day (the regulated period). Because there are no fixed terms for Parliamentary elections, this can become a permanent restriction. For example, if a General Election is called in May 2022, then the regulated period would run back to May 2021 – so effectively charities will have to act as if they are always in a regulated period. This will have a huge chilling effect on democracy and elections.
Support New Clause 9 to require permissible donors to be based in the United Kingdom.
Member’s explanatory note: This new clause makes requirements for individual and company donors to be based in the United Kingdom and makes persons running companies liable for donation restriction evasion offences committed by those companies.
Support Amendment 125, which would require donors to be based in the UK.
Member’s explanatory note: This amendment would exclude non-UK-resident individuals from the definition of “permissible donor” for the purposes of the rules permitting donations to political parties.
Justification: Both of the above would ensure that only people resident in the United Kingdom can donate to a political party, safeguarding against foreign money flooding into UK democracy.
Support New Clause 3 to establish a citizens’ assembly representative of the population aged 16 and over to consider electoral systems in the United Kingdom.
Support New Clause 13 to introduce proportional representation for elections to the House of Commons.
Justification: Both of these new clauses would make the UK’s election system more representative of the electorate.