Lords Defeat UK Government Over Voter ID Proposals

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
April 8, 2022 Updated: April 8, 2022

The UK’s House of Lords has inflicted a defeat on the government over its plans to introduce photographic voter ID.

Voters casting their vote in polling stations in England, Scotland, and Wales currently do not need to present any form of identification, though photographic voter ID is a requirement in Northern Ireland.

The Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto committed to introducing the requirement to produce identification in order to vote at a polling station.

Boris Johnson voting
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds leave Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, London, after voting on May 06, 2021. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

The Elections Bill, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government introduced in May 2021, requires all voters to show an approved form of photographic identification before collecting their ballot paper to vote in a polling station, in line with the current practice in Northern Ireland.

Under the terms of the bill, a free voter card would be available from local councils for people without a suitable form of ID.

But on April 6, the House of Lords voted 199 to 170, a majority of 29, to support an amendment from Conservative former minister Lord Willetts to expand the list of accepted identification to include non-photo documents such as birth certificates, bank statements, council tax demands, and library cards.

Lord Willetts argued this would enable the government to meet its 2019 manifesto commitment to introduce “identification to vote” in a bid to combat fraud but also prevent large numbers of people being turned away from voting.

The amendment was supported by opposition parties. Labour’s Baroness Hayman said it would “help to mitigate against the serious concerns about the impact of photographic voter identification on turnout.”

But Conservative former minister Baroness Verma said she had not met anyone who objected to photographic voter ID in her conversations with people from all backgrounds, including black, Asian, minority ethnic, and poor communities, in Leicester.

On the contrary, she said, people in Leicester have raised concerns with her about the integrity of elections on several occasions.

Cabinet Office minister Lord True said plans to include further forms of ID would “weaken the security of our elections.”

He said: “The majority of the suggestions do not share a photograph of the elector, so cannot provide the appropriate level of proof that the bearer is who they say they are.”

Once the House of Lords have finished scrutinising the bill, it will go back to the House of Commons, where MPs will decide whether to accept or reject the Lords’ amendments.

PA Media contributed to this report.