By Lewis Denison, ITV News Westminster Producer
Plans for voter ID to prevent election fraud are using a "sledgehammer to crack a nut” and should be paused, the government has been warned.
Opposition MPs railed against the speed of the controversial plan's rollout in a House of Commons debate, but local government minister Lee Rowley insisted the policy must be in place by the local elections in England on May 4.
The requirement is already in place in Northern Ireland and, from October, the condition will be extended to UK general elections as well.
Mr Rowley said it would end voter fraud and around 98% of the electorate already have an accepted form of voter ID, but Labour's Alex Norris said: "You are more likely to be struck by lightening 54 times than you are to be queueing behind a person committing voter fraud".
Labour's Alex Norris says voter ID is a solution without a problem:
Critics of the scheme have accused the government of bringing it in to discourage younger voters, who may not have a form of ID and are typically more left-leaning.
Many believe some accepted forms of ID show more consideration has been given to encouraging elderly voters, who are more likely to vote Conservative.
For example, an Older Person’s Bus Pass is an accepted form of ID, however an equivalent travel card for younger people is not.
Labour MP Clive Betts asked "what has the government got against young people?" when attacking the scheme during the debate.
"Why is it discriminating against them?" he added, "Why is it finding every reason to disqualify their forms of ID? Is it simply the government doesn't expect many young people who are going to vote, to actually vote for them?"
Mr Rowley rejected that claim, insisting that is "absolutely not the case," adding: "We want maximim participation in elections throughout and we also want to ensure the integrity of the ballot box."
He added: "I would just gently draw his attention to the research that was undertaken by the government which states that younger people were more likely than the general population to hold a form of voter ID - so if his logic is what he says it is, it doesn’t apply."
Which forms of ID will be accepted at polling stations?
Various forms of photographic ID in different categories will be accepted and anyone without will be allowed to apply for a free voter ID document known as a Voter Authority Certificate.
You will only need to show one form of photo ID. It needs to be the original version and not a photocopy.
Passport issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, a British Overseas Territory, an EEA state or a Commonwealth country
Driving licence issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, or an EEA state (this includes a provisional driving licence)
A Blue Badge
Older Person’s Bus Pass
Disabled Person’s Bus Pass
Oyster 60+ Card
Scottish National Entitlement Card
60 and Over Welsh Concessionary Travel Card
Disabled Person’s Welsh Concessionary Travel Card
Senior SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
Registered Blind SmartPass or Blind Person’s SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
War Disablement SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
60+ SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
Half Fare SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
Identity card bearing the Proof of Age Standards Scheme hologram (a PASS card)
Biometric immigration document
Ministry of Defence Form 90 (Defence Identity Card)
National identity card issued by an EEA state
Electoral Identity Card issued in Northern Ireland
Voter Authority Certificate
Anonymous Elector's Document
What has the government got against young people? Clive Betts asks:
Mr Rowley confirmed more than 21,000 applications have been made for a free voter ID document.
Liberal Democrat MP Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) warned the reforms were similar to using a “sledgehammer to crack a nut” given there is little evidence that personation – voting in an election by pretending to be someone else – is a significant problem in the British electoral system.
She added the policy is a “thinly-veiled attempt to make it far more difficult for people to vote” and criticised the Government for the “botched” rollout of ID.
Ms Morgan said: “Of the estimated two million people who will now need a new form of ID, a voter authority certificate, in order to vote, just 1% have applied.
“And of that tiny number, not even 21,000, a tiny minority are older people or young people – groups who we were warned risk being disenfranchised under these new plans.”
Ms Morgan added: “Will the minister commit to, at the very least, pausing this year’s rollout?
“He will be aware that the Electoral Commission’s analysis that this rushed rollout means that the May elections can’t be run ‘in a fully-secure, accessible and workable manner’.”
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Mr Rowley said the government was making a “basic, fundamental change to ensure that we protect the integrity of the ballot box”, adding: “I need to take on this notion that there are two million people who need a voter ID – that is not correct.”
He added: “Of those two million people, which is an estimate, a large number of those will not have elections in their area this year.
“Secondly, of that group a number will choose not to vote – much as we would like them to do so – will have chosen never to have voted, and we would encourage them to do so, but ultimately that is what the purpose of a democracy is – people have a right to vote and not to vote, and we’re seeking to encourage them to do so, we’re seeking to guarantee that integrity.”