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The Elections Bill (Bill 138 of 2021-22) was introduced on 5 July 2021. 

For background on the Bill, see the Library briefing published ahead of the second reading: Elections Bill 2021-22.

The Bill makes changes to election law that fulfil Conservative Party manifesto commitments to “protect the integrity of the UK’s democracy” (909KB, PDF).

Some of the main elements of the Bill are:

  • The introduction of voter ID for voters in polling stations at UK Parliament elections to prevent the electoral crime of personation – pretending to be someone else when you vote; 
  • Making it easier for overseas voters to register and extending eligibility by removing the 15-year limit on overseas voter registration; 
  • Introducing a requirement for an imprint on digital campaign material – an ‘imprint’ is information added to material that tells potential voters who produced it; 
  • Introducing a new electoral sanction for people convicted of intimidating a candidate during an election, following increasing levels of abuse faced by candidates; and 
  • Changes to the regulation of third-party campaigners.

The Bill also introduces new measures on the oversight of the Electoral Commission and on voting rights for EU citizens.

Second reading

The Bill was given a second reading on 7 September 2021.

Voter ID

The main point of debate centred around the proposals for voter ID and voter fraud more generally. Opposition MPs criticised the proposals with many focusing on the barriers that requiring ID would create for many voters. Several said voter ID was a solution to something that was not a problem, citing the low numbers of personation convictions. Conservative MPs highlighted types of electoral fraud and generally welcomed the measures in the Bill.

Electoral Commission

The measures to alter the oversight of the Electoral Commission were controversial. Opposition MPs argued it was an inappropriate interference with the independence of the Commission.

The Government argued it would improve parliamentary scrutiny of the Electoral Commission’s work while respecting its independence.

Overseas voters

The Labour Party argued that ending the 15-year limit on overseas registration was a ploy to increase the number of overseas voters who can donate to the Conservative Party. Labour favoured extending the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds.

The Government argued that all British citizens living abroad should have a vote and a voice in Parliament.

Other measures

Measures on digital imprints, accessibility of elections and intimidation of candidates were generally welcomed.

Instruction to look at local election systems

Following second reading, the House of Commons agreed an instruction on 20 September. This allowed the Public Bill Committee to consider voting systems for some local election in England and Wales, which had not originally been included in the Bill.

It allowed the Government to bring amendments at committee stage to change the voting system for all police and crime commissioners (PCC), combined authority mayors, and the Mayor of London, from the supplementary vote system to the first past the post system.

Public Bill Committee

The Committee had four evidence sessions before scrutinising the detail of the Bill. Eight scrutiny sessions were held, beginning on 22 September 2021. The Committee heard evidence on a range of the Bill’s measures but in particular voter fraud, the impact of voter ID on participation, and on the perceived threat to the Electoral Commission’s independence. It also heard evidence from those that run elections on the potential effects on resources and the risks to running elections additional burdens introduced by the Bill might create.

Only Government amendments were approved. Some were drafting amendments and the main substantive change was a new clause to change voting systems for PCC and mayoral elections.

Select Committee report

On 13 December 2021, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee published a report on the Elections Bill. The Committee were critical of the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and the added complexity to electoral law that would result from it.

The Committee called for the Government to pause progress on the Bill. The Chair, William Wragg, 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.”

Documents to download

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