29 Baroness Meacher debates involving the Cabinet Office

Wed 6th Apr 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage & Report stage: Part 1
Mon 21st Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Thu 17th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Thu 17th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Tue 15th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2

Conversion Therapy Prohibition (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Bill [HL]

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Friday 9th February 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I first apologise to the Minister and to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, that I have an appointment and may not be able to be here for the final speeches.

This is a highly complex issue and I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, very much support the intentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, in the Bill. However, it seems to me that it is inadvertently dangerous. Having been a front-line social worker for several years, many years ago, I am very concerned that any social worker or healthcare worker seeking to help a confused young person to work out whether they want to change their sex could all too easily be accused of an offence under the Bill.

The Bill could make it an offence to have a conversation with a young person who is questioning their sexual orientation. Numerous professionals in the field of child mental health have expressed their serious reservations about a Bill such as this. Parents, too, are very worried that, if CAMHS finds out that a child is experiencing gender identity problems, CAMHS staff will not see the child, even if the child is suffering with a mental health problem, which it seems is often the case. Instead, such families may be advised to get a referral to the gender identity service, which of course means that their mental health problems simply will not be dealt with.

I emphasise my huge support and sympathy for anyone with sex dysphoria, which must be a deeply distressing condition. But we need to be aware that, in anticipation of Bills such as this, experienced and compassionate professionals are already leaving their profession, rather than risk professional and public censure for failing immediately to affirm a troubled child’s expressed wish to change their sex in the event that they believe that it is in the child’s best interests to consider most carefully before taking such a life-changing step.

I hope profoundly that the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, will think again, very carefully, before taking the Bill forward. It could harm a lot of innocent people.

Infected Blood Inquiry: Government Response

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is a question for many previous Governments. I can speculate, as can the noble Lord, but this Government have accepted the moral case. That has implications, and we have made interim payments. This is not a difficult matter; I always go back to the need to give the victims the justice they deserve and our intention to do that.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

The Government’s Statement on their response to the Infected Blood Inquiry is a deep disappointment—that is an understatement. The Commons Minister said, and our Minister repeated it—I in no way criticise our Minister for this; I respect her greatly—that the

“distress and trauma that each individual has faced as a result of this tragedy is unimaginable”.

Yet the Minister went on to do absolutely nothing about it, other than establish a psychological service 40 years on. In my view, all this does is recognise the extraordinary depth of the damage done to these people—nothing more.

The Government have had the full and final recommendations on compensation and redress from the inquiry since April 2023, when it said that the compensation scheme should be set up and work should begin in 2023—of course, the Government ignored this. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, mentioned the Government appointing legal and clinical experts to advise them further on the operation of the compensation scheme, when the inquiry made it very clear that the chair of the arm’s-length body should make those appointments.

As president of the Haemophilia Society, I remind the House of the sheer numbers of people affected in this appalling way by those administrative errors. Over 5,000 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were treated with contaminated blood products brought over from the United States that were taken from prisoners, drug addicts and others. This is a shocking history, and it is surely time that all those directly or indirectly affected should be compensated fully and immediately.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry for the disappointment that the noble Baroness found it necessary to express. I cannot help sharing it, to some extent. I thank her for reminding us of the numbers involved, which may be even more than she talked about. We do not exactly know, which is one of reasons why we are not in a position to do the necessary moving forward.

I reiterate the point made on previous occasions when we have discussed this: the lack of a timetable is very worrying to us all. As I explained, we will have a firm date for the final report very shortly, by 17 January. We expect the report in March, and within 25 sitting days we will provide a proper response to Parliament, with an Oral Statement on next steps. We have to move forward, as well as being disappointed and complaining about the slowness of this. This is a major scandal and we are, as a Government, trying to move forward and sort it out.

Out-of-work Benefits

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Monday 17th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with my noble friend, and we need to take this up with the Department for Education, which has responsibility for this. My noble friend has been a long-time champion of technical and higher education. I will speak to my colleague in the Department for Education, write to my noble friend and place a copy in the Library.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, in response to an earlier question the Minister rightly said that many people are sanctioned and deprived of their benefits because they fail to turn up for an interview. I happen to know that a good proportion of those people—parents with sick children, for example—are denied benefits because of a failure of somebody in the department. The child wakes up sick in the morning, the parent phones in and says, “I’m sorry, I can’t make the interview; please hand on this information”, it is not handed on and they are sanctioned. This happens time and again. Will the Minister accept that this is the case and look into it?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very happy to look into it. Before I do so, maybe I can speak with the noble Baroness to get some more information to share with my colleagues in the department.

Carer’s Leave: Government Departments

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Tuesday 19th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Jones of Cheltenham Portrait Lord Jones of Cheltenham (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I do not think I was meant to come in on this Question but on the third Question.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, may I therefore say something?

None Portrait Noble Lords
- Hansard -

Yes!

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, when the Government consider the Private Member’s Bill on this issue, will they take full account of the huge savings to the taxpayer enabled by unpaid carers? If they will, does the Minister agree that they are bound to agree to the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am responsible for the Civil Service, but obviously I hear the sentiment of the House. I have indicated the way forward. Some of the things that the great legion of carers does you cannot place a monetary value on. You cannot cost love. However, I take very firmly the points that the noble Baroness has made.

Standards of Behaviour and Honesty in Political Life

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Thursday 23rd June 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lord Morse for enabling this House to have a debate on this important issue, which affects our democratic process. These standards affect the reputation of this country across the world, which is why this debate is so important.

I will focus on two aspects of the Government’s behaviour, and I declare my interest as a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. My first issue is to do with its work. It is the relentless growth in the ways by which Ministers avoid parliamentary scrutiny of their policies, and an increasing use of these parliamentary “avoidance mechanisms”, as I would call them. Of course I am talking about secondary legislation.

The House has just considered the Schools Bill, and I must apologise to those directly involved in it because they will be familiar with what I am going to say initially. The Bill is the most extreme power grab by Ministers in recent memory. As a member of the Delegated Powers Committee, I ought to say that the Bill is an outlier, but an increasing number of Bills use these mechanisms and indeed other new mechanisms created by Ministers—and maybe their civil servants—to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. One basic mechanism is the skeletal nature of Part 1 of the Bill, bolstered or compounded by Clause 3 with its incredible list of Henry VIII clauses, which gives Ministers carte blanche to change Acts of Parliament on pretty well any aspect of the school system. Part 1 is the core part of the Bill, albeit that there are other important issues in later parts.

Due to a drop in government Ministers’ recognition of the importance of the supremacy of Parliament, our very democracy is at stake and under threat. As noble Lords know, the House of Commons pays no attention to regulations, and this House is not permitted to amend them so these regulations are outside our powers. We do have the power to reject a regulation, as I know to my cost when I put forward an amendment to the £4.4 billion cut in tax credits, which this House wonderfully passed. But it led to threats to close down this House; I was lined up and threatened that the House would lose all its powers if I were to pursue that amendment—so we do not really have the power to reject a regulation.

If we cannot reject regulations and cannot amend them, Ministers are left with inordinate power. As we know, power corrupts—and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, in my view, this is a very worrying situation. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recently undertook a 30-year review of delegated legislation, the report of which was published last November. I have touched on just two issues in that report; there are many more, and it does not make for happy reading.

For me, even more concerning than the drop in public standards domestically has been the willingness of our Foreign Secretary to consider breaching international treaties. Her readiness to breach international law by taking unilateral action, for example, on the Northern Ireland protocol not only undermines Parliament but brings the entire country into disrepute internationally and, in my view, is going to cause untold problems with the European Union. It was clear when we signed the protocol that it involved a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain, but the difficulties were deferred. They should have been much more clearly sorted out at the time of negotiations. The Irish Taoiseach made it clear that the protocol is in fact working pretty well for many industries, and that for those where there are problems, these could be sorted out by negotiation. Sinn Féin argues that the protocol is working fine. I find that a little difficult to believe, but the middle way certainly sounds sensible. The Foreign Secretary’s rush to make it clear that she would be taking unilateral action is just another example of the contempt for the maintenance of standards in public life.

We have had a drop in standards at both the domestic and international level, and the people responsible for standards are acutely conscious of it. This is where I part company a little with my noble friend Lord Butler, with whom I normally agree. We have had at least four significant reports from independent bodies and individuals on the need for public standards reform, three of them in 2021. In particular, I want to mention the landmark report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, published in November 2021. As my noble friend Lord Butler said, the Government did indeed respond on 27 May, but I have a slightly different view about their response.

In my view, the Government avoided any reform of key issues. I have just a couple of examples. The report recommends that the Government should pass primary legislation to place the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments on a statutory basis, as my noble friend Lord Butler said. Sadly, the Government have rejected this recommendation, which could have resulted in real improvements in standards. In my view, that is why the Government rejected it: they do not want to be challenged. As my noble friend Lord Butler said, the Government agreed to another important recommendation: that the independent adviser should be able to initiate investigations into breaches of the Ministerial Code, but only if the Prime Minister is basically in agreement—which, of course, immediately undermines the power of that provision.

We have a major issue, both domestically and internationally. If it is not dealt with, we parliamentarians will continue to lose respect, and this country will continue to lose the respect of countries across the world.

Elections Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 8, to which I have added my name. I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willetts.

The one real argument put by Ministers to support the restriction of identification to photo ID was that it is the most secure form of ID. However, we never got an explanation of how it was decided that, in the necessary balancing of the two, security trumped accessibility to the point that only the most secure forms of ID were permissible, despite the lack of evidence of fraud, as we have heard. In reaching that position, it was not clear why the Government rejected what we might call the “Pickles principle”—that perfection must not get in the way of a practical solution. Amendment 8 and some of the other amendments offer such a practical solution, but the Government’s response hitherto has been disappointing.

Ministers have also frequently cited the finding of the Electoral Commission tracker that 66% of the public say that the requirement to show identification at polling stations would increase their confidence in security. But I note that the word “photo” is never mentioned, so I can only assume that the question did not specify photo ID. Also, we do not know how members of the public would weigh up that balance between security and accessibility. It would appear from the latest election tracker—a point made by the noble Lord—that a much larger majority, eight in 10, are confident that elections are well run, and that nearly nine in 10 think that voting at polling stations is safe. But there is a real danger, as has been said, that perceptions will be tainted by the Government’s narrative of voting fraud, which risks reducing trust in the system, as has been pointed out by a number of bodies. According to the Electoral Reform Society, recent US studies have found that talking up voter fraud reduces confidence in electoral integrity and has indeed corroded trust in the system.

As I made clear in Committee, I am particularly concerned about the impact on people in poverty or on a low income, who are not necessarily caught in the Government’s focus on groups with protected characteristics. Of course, I am concerned about them too; I particularly noted the position of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities in Committee. The Government have chosen not to enact the socioeconomic duty in the Equality Act, which might have encouraged them to focus on people in poverty. As it is, the more I have read, the more convinced I am that they have in effect been ignored in consultations with stakeholders and in the pilots.

According to 2019 data from the British Election Study, provided to me by the Library, there was a clear income gradient in turnout in the 2019 election, with half—or slightly more than half—of those in households with an income of £15,599 or less not having voted. If the JRF is correct that, as it stands, Clause 1 and Schedule 1 risk disenfranchising as many as 1.7 million low-income members of the electorate, these worrying figures can only get worse.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, promised that she would get me

“a list of the consultees that we worked with because that is important.”

This was in response to my questions as to

“what engagement there has been with organisations speaking on behalf of people in poverty, or in which people in poverty are themselves involved, so that they can bring the expertise born of experience to these policy discussions”.—[Official Report, 17/3/22; cols. 562, 567.]

I repeated the question when we returned to the issue on day three of Committee, but there was still no sign of that list. Instead, in his letter to Peers, the Minister assured us that there has been a comprehensive programme of engagement with civil society organisations, with a heavy emphasis once again on those with protected characteristics. However, once again, the implication of the letter is that the impact of poverty has been ignored, and that there has been no engagement with organisations working with people in poverty or with those who can bring the expertise of experience of poverty to bear on the matter. Yet, their perspectives could be particularly valuable when considering appropriate voter ID and the process of applying for a voter card. I ask yet again whether there has been such consultation and, if not, will the Government now prioritise it?

As it happens, I was at an event this morning organised by Poverty2Solutions, an award-winning coalition of grassroots organisations led by people with direct experience of poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage and supported by the JRF. The key message was the need to put lived experience at the heart of policy-making, complementing other forms of expertise. I asked whether Poverty2Solutions would be willing to engage with the Government on the development of voter ID policy, and the response was an enthusiastic yes. The door is open.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I rise to support—I could say all the amendments in this group, but that is slightly inconsistent. There is absolutely no evidence at all to support the need for any voter ID in British elections in person, as highlighted by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Government’s plans are unnecessary, discriminatory, expensive and a regressive step.

There is also no public support for these changes at all. The latest edition of the Electoral Commission’s public opinion tracker, which measures public views on the electoral process, showed that 90% of voters say that voting at a polling station is safe from fraud and abuse. That is an exceptionally high percentage in any poll. Overall, public confidence in elections is apparently at its highest level since data collection began.

We know that the idea of voter ID arose from the allegations of election fraud in Tower Hamlets. However, as noble Lords know, the Tower Hamlets allegations had nothing to do with personation at polling stations. It is interesting that the judge in the Tower Hamlets case told the Bill Committee:

“Personation at polling stations is very rare indeed.”—[Official Report, Commons, Elections Bill Committee, 15/9/21; col. 15.]


This is basically the view of most noble Lords in this House.

The voter ID system will cost an estimated £120 million over three years—there are various estimates, but that is the median. I must say that I find it quite shocking that any Government would spend that sort of money on a completely unnecessary reform when there is so much need which is unmet all over the country—it is really upsetting. I like the Liberty analogy on the voter ID issue: a householder who has not had a problem with burglary for years and yet decides to spend a fortune on a new lock. In similar ways, his house was perfectly safe and so is our electoral system at polling stations. However, I would not say the same necessarily of postal votes.

Elections Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 21st March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Mar 2022)
Lord Bishop of Coventry Portrait The Lord Bishop of Coventry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I offer your Lordships an apology for not being able to contribute to Committee for all sorts of reasons, but I said at Second Reading that I would support amendments that introduced mitigating factors to reduce the risk of unintended exclusion, particularly for that group of people the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to: those on lower incomes. There is real risk that that could happen through this immediate introduction of photo ID.

That is why I was very glad to add my name to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which, as he said, seeks to widen the forms of photo ID available and extend the list to include other forms of ID that do not include photographic ID. I was going to make similar points to say that the amendment is consistent with the approach taken in the local council pilot scheme in 2018-19. As has been said, it is entirely consistent with the earlier report from the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, and the gradualist introduction, if I may put it that way, of photo ID in Northern Ireland.

It seems that the purpose of the amendment is to reduce the risk of people living on lower incomes—a significant proportion of whom we know do not possess the acceptable photo ID—being disfranchised, which is my particular concern. That would simply be a form of non-recognition, which would be a moral injury to them and an injustice that would damage the UK’s traditions of democratic participation. The amendment seems to follow the logic of the inclusion of 60+ Oyster cards and blue badges, allowing for greater accessibility to particular groups of the electorate by making provision for those on lower income and other potentially marginalised groups to retain the highest chance of inclusion in the democratic process.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support Amendments 63 to 69 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to which I have added my name. I was surprised that we had a very long debate on Clauses 1 and 2 standing part but there was very little mention of any concern about the impact of this change on the overall turnout in elections, and the potential skewing of election results. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, focus on elections that might be quite tightly fought with quite close results. You really might question those results, particularly in those constituencies where you might have a very tight result.

Before today, it struck me that this is really the big issue: there does not seem to be an issue about trust in our elections, certainly in relation to people who turn up at polling stations. I understand that there has been a problem with postal votes, but this reform does not touch that at all. I do not get it; I do not understand why there is this tremendous focus on photo ID for people who go to polling stations.

Elections Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-IV Fourth marshalled list for Committee - (17 Mar 2022)
In this regard, the Local Government Association has said that registration costs relating to all-year-round registrations, postal and proxy votes are entirely the responsibility of registering authorities. Therefore, they cannot be recouped from the relevant authority, as with election costs. This is apparently the case for all election types, including unplanned snap general elections. Has there been any assessment of the likely costs of this? How will the Government fund local authorities to ensure compliance with the new rules?
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am not going to take anything but a tiny bit of your Lordships’ time. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has given us a very comprehensive and clear introduction to this group. I have been worried for a long time about local authority funding and the squeeze on it for the past 10 years or so and I have just one question for the Minister: has he consulted with a selected group of local authorities about whether they regard this as a good use of their resources and their money? If not, will he set in motion a consultation with local authorities about whether they really feel they can take on this added cost and use of their resources?

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Baroness made some interesting points about the issues that will face local government in implementing these proposals. She referred to the cost estimates, which are of course included in the impact statement, and seemed to say that these were extraordinarily large numbers. There are 45 million electors. At £180 million, the top end of the range, that is only about £3 per elector: we have to get this into perspective. We are talking about proposals that will improve the integrity of our electoral system. This is a very modest cost; can we just get it into perspective?

--- Later in debate ---
More generally, engagement with civil society groups has been a recurrent theme in government pronouncements on voter ID. This is of course welcome, but can the Minister tell us what engagement there has been with organisations speaking on behalf of people in poverty, or in which people in poverty are themselves involved, so that they can bring the expertise born of experience to these policy discussions?
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I rise in support of Amendments 56 to 60 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to which I have added my name. As I said at Second Reading, one of my biggest concerns about the whole Bill—though it is not the only one—is that the ID requirements could, when an election is closely fought, lead to an entirely different outcome of the election from that which would have been achieved without this ID process. In some cases it could result in a change in the MP elected in particular constituencies where, again, the result is close. Although there are obviously problems about individuals and groups, my biggest concern is that this could tip over or interferes with and distort the result of an election. That is a very serious matter.

The requirement in paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 that the electoral identity document

“must … contain a photograph of the person”

risks excluding various groups. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, went through those groups in some detail, and I certainly do not want to repeat her remarks. A differential turnout in these groups and constituencies will therefore determine to what extend the ID system affects the outcome of elections. I have no doubt that the ID system will affect election results and outcomes, and therefore, in my view, the ID provision should not be included in this Bill at all. However, I do understand that the Government had the election ID proposal in their manifesto. Nevertheless, I think I am completely convinced, certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, who did not get to speak on it, that the manifesto did not refer to photographic evidence. I hope the Minister will, therefore, while hanging on to his ID scheme no doubt, agree that these amendments are very important to keep the impact on elections to a minimum. We need the information required by these amendments. It will be difficult to estimate the impact on various groups, and I would be grateful if the Minister in his response would explain how that data will be obtained—assuming of course that he accepts the vital importance of impact assessments, and I am sure he does—before the ID system is introduced.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, referred to various countries that have electoral ID documents, but it would be very helpful if the Minister would make clear which countries have electoral ID systems that do not have general national ID documentation. I think it was indicated that it would not make any difference; of course, it would make an enormous difference if everybody was automatically required to carry their ID in their pocket or bag. Of course, they would roll up at the polling station with their ID—so I have to say I do not accept that it does not matter. It does; and it would be very helpful if the Minister could give some kind of evidence about efficacy and about the impact on elections in those countries that have electoral ID but not national ID.

A very different concern relates to the delegated powers in relation to the registration officer’s power to issue the relevant electoral identity document. For noble Lords not involved in the earlier debate, perhaps I should again declare my interest as a member of the Delegated Powers Committee. The registration officer is under a duty to determine the application “in accordance with regulations”. That is a very wide power, which leaves it open to Ministers to determine the conditions that must be met before an applicant is entitled to receive an electoral identity document. We are not going to know that; that will be a ministerial decision under delegated powers. It also allows for the possibility of the registration officer being given discretion in deciding whether or not to issue an electoral identity document to a person. Again, on what grounds? What is actually going to go on here?

The Delegated Powers Committee is wanting an explanation from the Minister about why these provisions are not on the face of the Bill, and it is quite difficult to think why they are not. If the Minister cannot give an adequate explanation, the committee’s view is that the delegation in this case is inappropriate. I bring that to the Committee because I think it is relevant, and it is important for people involved in these discussions. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to respond to this, but, if he is not, maybe he can respond in writing, not just to the Delegated Powers Committee but to Members of this Committee. I hope the Minister will be able to respond, though, to this concern.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, to vote is a fundamental right. It is not a new-age right invented the other day; it is a fundamental civil and political right. It is also, for many of us, an ethical duty. If the Government took that view, they would not judge the balance of risk in the way that they currently are. That is where this group relates to the debate foreshadowed in the previous group on financial cost. In that debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that it is worth it to have integrity in the system, but the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, asked whether just one conviction really justified the risk. Now we are closer to the crux of the debate.

Different groups of people have fought for the right to vote over many centuries, all over the world. It is one of the first-order civil rights in a democracy, and an ethical duty. If the Government agreed with me, they would judge the balance of risk rather differently from the way they are currently doing with this one conviction as evidence of a problem. Although it is always hard to prove a negative, any evidence produced for it—whether in pilots or from well-established civil society research organisations—is batted away and the Minister in the other place says, “Let’s lock the house before the burglary happens”.

If I am right that it is a first-order civil right, like the right to liberty, you have to judge the balance of risk and put the presumption in a slightly different place. With the right of presumption of innocence and the right to liberty, we put the presumption in a particular direction. We say that it is more important—many Conservatives not in their places would agree with me—that one innocent person does not lose their right to liberty than that even a few more who are guilty go free. If that is how we judge the presumption of innocence in relation to liberty, and if we take participation in free and fair elections as a first-order right of that kind, why do the Government judge the balance of risk in the way they do? Why are they not doing everything possible not just to ensure that those with the right to vote can do so but to encourage the behavioural change we want so that people get the habit of voting and discharge what I think is an ethical duty?

Some other countries say that voting should be compulsory—that it is not just an ethical duty but a legal one. That is a step too far for my libertarian instincts; speaking of which, I fought for many years with many who are not in their places on the Benches opposite, and the current Prime Minister, against the principle of compulsory identification cards for people in this country. Conservatives were some of the most eloquent participants in that debate and the Conservative Party fought elections on manifestos against it, on the basis that this is the kind of free country in which free-born English men and women should not have to carry compulsory ID.

It did not make me many friends among those who are now my noble friends, but that was the argument and principle that united the Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in 2010—repealing compulsory identity legislation was their flagship policy—and I welcomed it. It seems a little odd now to say that there will not be universal compulsory identity cards for everyone but we will take your vote off you if you cannot afford ID such as a passport or a driving licence. Ministers are shaking their heads on the basis that they will make it possible for all sorts of other kinds of free and cheap ID to be available. We have to take that on trust.

That does not deal with the principled concern—why we require it at all, given that we blew all those trumpets about free-born Englishmen not requiring compulsory ID in the first place—or solve my practical concern about discouraging people who are already discouraged from getting into the habit of voting. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, made that point so eloquently in the previous debate.

With all the comings and goings and the vivid nature of the debate, I never heard from either of the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes or Lady Verma, in what way they think fraud is of a significant enough degree in this country at the moment to justify their points about people being shut out of the process by it.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can confirm that we have not done that impact analysis. The important impact will be after.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

The issue of impacting the outcome of elections is seriously important. Will the Minister go away and think about whether the Government should do an impact assessment not only on overall turnout but on differential turnout among different groups—for example, the disabled, the poor and the elderly—to assess the likely impact on election outcomes. All these things are important, but it seems to me crucial that, in a democracy, Governments should not introduce policies that are going to skew election results. I ask the Minister to take that away and write to us all about what the intention would be.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I am grateful for the wide support for the amendments and for what we are trying to achieve with them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, just made an incredibly important point. All through the debates that we have had, there has been a lot of discussion about the importance of democracy, the importance of participation and the importance of widening democracy and encouraging people to vote. It concerns me that the Government are introducing a policy that could have an impact on people’s ability to vote without having done an assessment of what the impact on voter turnout is likely to be. Whether or not we want to look at the Irish case or at what has happened in the United States or in other places, we know that there is likely to be some form of impact. Would it not therefore be good practice and a good way to do legislation to make sure that all those impact assessments are done in advance? That just seems to be logical.

It is late. I shall not speak any more. All I say is that I am sure that these issues will be discussed more when we next sit in Committee, where the clause stand part debate is the first debate. These issues will also definitely come back on Report and will need further debate and discussion. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Elections Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-IV Fourth marshalled list for Committee - (17 Mar 2022)
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will speak on whether Clause 25 should stand part, which is grouped with these amendments in an attempt to improve Clause 25. I will begin with some remarks about Part 4 as we have so far examined it.

I came away from Tuesday’s Committee much more worried about the coherence of this Bill than I had been until then. We learned that Clause 18 is there primarily to reverse the court’s judgment in the Thanet election case, although the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in her reply, attempted to persuade us that it does not really change the law; in which case, the clause is not necessary. We learned that Clause 22 was entirely about the threat to our electoral system posed by a body called Advance Together, which, on examination, fought five seats in the 2019 election and gained in total just over 400 votes. We did not learn the purpose of Clause 24. Indeed, after the Minister’s explanation, I and others were more puzzled about the purpose of this clause than we had been before we started, and worried as to whether there is some underhand objective that we have not yet uncovered.

When reading through Section 88 of PPERA last night, which defines “recognised third parties”, I could find no reference to unincorporated associations as recognised third parties. Can the Minister or his staff kindly inform me before Report whether the inclusion of unincorporated associations in Clause 24 is intended to bring these bodies within this category for the first time or whether they were already covered in existing legislation? I also found in the briefing a reference to permitting only overseas-based unincorporated associations consisting entirely of UK citizens, which is not the wording in the Government’s text.

The Minister gave us to believe that the small group of former Liberal Democrats who formed Advance Together, and then merged it into Renew, represented a major threat to the UK, but that foreign money and foreign interference, most evidently from Russia, do not present any serious threat. The Minister suggested that the paragraphs in the ISC’s Russia report and elsewhere that flag up the seriousness of that threat are little more than “innuendo”. It is astonishing that he can suggest that Russian interference should not be a serious concern to us as we consider this Bill—at this point above all.

Now we have Clause 25, which gives full power to the Secretary of State to add or remove descriptions of third parties from the approved list. I am grateful to the Minister for offering us a government amendment to delete the power to

“make such amendments of this Part as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”,

but this is only because the Government consider that PPERA already provides sufficient authority. As I wade through sections of PPERA to understand the provisions of this Bill, with the occasional reference to the earlier Representation of the People Act, I am repeatedly reminded of the CSPL’s declaration in its report on election finance that there is an “unarguable” case in favour of consolidating and simplifying electoral law.

The Minister must recognise, as he struggles to explain and justify this Bill clause by clause, that it totally fails to consolidate or simplify. The Electoral Commission’s briefing for Second Reading stated, accurately, that the changes in Part 4, including these clauses,

“would add new requirements to laws which many campaigners have said are already complex and hard to understand. The added complexity of these changes could deter some from campaigning at elections ... Voters could therefore ... hear from a narrower range of sources.”

It therefore falls to the Minister to justify the inclusion of Clause 25 and the powers that it gives to the Secretary State, and to explain, as we keep asking, what problem it is intended to resolve. If he cannot persuade us that it is necessary, we shall ask for it to be removed.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support the intention to oppose Clause 25 standing part of the Bill, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. In so doing, I also support Amendments 41 and 42, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury.

Clause 25 introduces significant delegation of powers in relation to Clause 24, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has indicated. We understood from the Minister last week that the purpose of Clause 24 is to protect the country from electioneering by overseas organisations. I am quite happy to support the Government in that purpose. However, the Minister was unable to assure the Committee last week that non-charitable civil society organisations in this country would remain outside the scope of Clause 24 and therefore also, importantly, of Clause 25. I hope that the Minister can clarify this significant point in his summing up.

I do not want to repeat my concerns about Clauses 24 and 25, which I expressed last Thursday, so will focus solely on the delegated powers in Clause 25, and in so doing declare my interest as a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

It is concerning that, in Clause 25, the Government have provided wide-ranging powers for Ministers to amend Section 88 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 to which Clause 24 applies. In a sense, it feels a little unnatural to be talking about Clause 25 when these two clauses are so very closely aligned and intertwined. The Government need a very good reason to introduce Henry VIII powers under which a Minister can amend an Act of Parliament.

I want to focus on Clause 25(1)(b) in that respect. I am sure that the Minister is aware that the DPRRC has particular concerns about this paragraph, which relates to the list of third-party organisations that can exceed the spending limits contained in Section 94 of PPERA. He may also be aware that, in its memorandum to the DPRRC, the department admits that preventing other categories of third party being able to campaign has the potential to impinge on freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR and the right to enjoy a free election under Article 3 of the first protocol of the convention. The department has argued that it is important that, if a legitimate category of third party emerges, it can be added quickly to the legitimate categories to ensure that these restrictions on campaigning remain proportionate and no more extensive than is necessary to meet the aim of preventing campaigning by those with no genuine stake in the UK. As I said, I understand that objective, but this clause seems to go much wider and, with the delegated powers in Clause 25, we have no idea where it may go. The DPRRC is clear that the Minister needs to explain the need for Ministers to have Henry VIII powers to remove third parties. If Ministers are unable to provide a satisfactory explanation, these powers are inappropriate. That is the view of the DPRRC, not my view—I am simply a member.

I have brought this issue to the Floor of the Committee because if the Minister can explain the need for these Henry VIII powers in Clause 25 it may help noble Lords when deciding whether to bring back this issue on Report. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that organisations based in the UK and which are not controlled from overseas will be clearly excluded by the Bill from Clauses 24 and Clause 25, thus taking fully into account the concerns of the DPRRC.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I too am a member of the Delegated Powers Committee and I support everything she said about the delegated powers provisions we are considering. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I support the amendments proposed by my noble friends Lord Collins and Lady Hayman.

There are 6.56 million trade union members in this country, which is one in 10 of the population, from babes in arms to our oldest citizens. Trade unions were defined by Sidney and Beatrice Webb in The History of Trade Unionism, in 1894, as

“a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving the condition of their working lives.”

They achieve this in two ways: first, by seeking to regulate relations between workers and employers, a purpose which is captured by Section 1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, and, secondly, by campaigning for changes in the law. They have a glorious history in that respect, from the “Ten Hours Act”, factory and mines legislation, and, after they had formed the Labour Party, the Trade Disputes Act 1906 and many other pieces of legislation through the 20th century.

That campaigning function is a legitimate activity, protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European convention. Article 11 protects freedom of association and specifically the right to be a member of a trade union for the protection of one’s interests, and Article 10 protects freedom of expression. Only restrictions which are

“necessary in a democratic society”

are permitted on those two guaranteed rights.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I make it clear at the outset—I will take any intervention noble Lords want to make—that the Government’s view is there is an issue being raised in Clause 25, which I will address.

Before doing so, I thought I had answered the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on spending by unincorporated associations on our previous day in Committee, but I am very happy to arrange for her to have a full explanation from either me or officials. The purpose of lines 25 to 28 on page 33 of the Bill is to carve out from Clause 24 precisely the kinds of bodies that she describes: charities and all those listed there which are allowed to campaign.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I may complete my remarks, they will not be subject to the new provisions in Clause 24, which, as I explained last time, will restrict foreign campaigning, with which I think the Committee agrees. I am very happy to meet the noble Baroness outside and explain this further.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene. As a point of clarification, I understood that charities will not be included. That is not the issue. I am concerned about non-charitable bodies from abroad, which are not controlled. If he could make that clear, that would be very helpful.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

All those bodies in the current list in Section 88(2) of PPERA are carved out, whatever their description. We will come on to the concerns raised about what is in Clause 25, but I repeat that assurance. In saying that, I understand some of the suspicions and concerns raised by noble Lords.

I do not wish to be adversarial in any way, but the other thing I would say in starting is this. As I have said several times in these discussions, I agree that, one day, ideally, a consolidation Bill would be highly desirable. I fully accept that. There are issues here that are relatively urgent, whether we are agree or not: for example, around foreign money, digital campaigning and so on and so forth. The Government are seeking to make progress on those, but it is not a zero-sum game. In presenting this legislation—by the way, as a Minister who has himself had to try to get his mind round all the various references and cross-references in the Bill—I am not in any way saying that a consolidation Bill, one day, is not a desirable end. Anybody involved in the political world would agree.

Clause 25 is really what this debate is about. The potential problems and suspicions—raised, for example, by the noble Viscount—arise from the perceived view of Clause 25 that has been expressed in this debate. Perhaps I could deal with the first part, which is about potentially adding new categories. We are conscious that, as the world evolves, new legitimate categories of third parties that are not currently on the list might emerge. Because they are not protected by the carve-out in Section 88(2), they might be significantly restricted in their ability to campaign by this provision if they could not be added to the list quickly. That is why Clause 25 makes provision for the amendment of the list of eligible categories of third-party campaigns in PPERA, to add a new category of campaigner that might emerge. That would allow any Government, not just this Government, to amend the list to enable new groups or styles of campaigners to take part. Parliament would have a lock on that, via the affirmative resolution procedure.

Elections Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage
Tuesday 15th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (15 Mar 2022)
Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, very generously attributed to us two items of business on this string that were actually submitted primarily by her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord, Collins—that is Amendment 45A—and herself in respect of opposing the Question on Clause 24. I refer to page 8 and 9 of the second Marshalled List of amendments to support the validity of the counterclaim I am making.

The intention to oppose the question of Clause 24 was tabled in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Meacher, who is in her place and may well want to speak to that proposition. All I wanted to say at this stage is that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has opened up the big questions that lurk in relation to Clause 25. We will very certainly and definitely want to return to that, and we have stated our intention to oppose the Question that Clause 25 stand part of the Bill. But that is clearly not part of this string, and I think we will be resuming discussion on that at another time.

My noble friend Lady Barker has quite rightly pointed at the fog that surrounds the intended purpose of Clauses 24 and 25, and the lack of what I would describe as a credible justification for the alterations proposed in these two clauses, particularly in relation to Clause 24, seeing as that is the one that is in front of us at the moment. My noble friend Lady Barker pointed out some of the questions that arise from that. My understanding—maybe the Minister in replying could confirm it—is that an unincorporated association would, for instance, include an organisation which I believe is called the West Midlands Industrialists, which channels funds directly to the Conservative Party—entirely legitimately; I am not suggesting anything different. An unincorporated association could be a trade association, formal or informal; it could be some kind of NGO; it could just be an informal grouping that has got its constitution together. It is an entirely separate issue whether they are legitimate bodies to be funding elections—but the law as it stands says that that is legitimate. Except insofar as deleting Clause 24 might form part of the agenda for the rest of this evening, there is no proposal before us to change that. But I think we should perhaps ask the Minister if he or she can rehearse the unincorporated associations question, so we can understand, perhaps a bit more fully, what we will in essence eventually finish up this evening by nodding through. With that, I defer to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who I am sure will want to speak on Clause 24.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I rise to support the proposal on Clause 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to which I added my name. I think most of the points that need to be made have been made very well. I have some sympathy with the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson; I think four months is a great improvement on a year as a bar on campaigning that might possibly be understood to be electioneering by small voluntary organisations—a very great improvement, actually. The real thing is whether we need this at all. I am very conscious that Clause 24 actually creates an offence. A small, rather vulnerable voluntary organisation could be setting out why its cause is so important and subsequently find it has done this within an election year; and it may be fined, I suppose, for this breach and for committing an offence.

So many bits of this Bill seem contrary to the whole essence of our democracy. Civil society contributes so very much to our political life through its work drawing attention to vulnerable groups and so on. I worked with the Child Poverty Action Group, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I was there for some years. When you are trying to draw to the attention of political parties just what really poor people are going through, how on earth could you be committing an offence if someone later calls an election?

I have a lot of worries about Clause 24, particularly because it creates that offence. It is a bit strange to me that Clause 24 stand part and Clause 25 stand part have been split because a lot of my concerns about Clause 24 are in fact deep in Clause 25—so much is left to regulations and Ministers can determine all sorts of things in relation to this provision. We will get on to that next time. I think that Clause 25 compounds the worries about Clause 24; I hope very much that the Minister will take this seriously and that the clause ultimately will not stand part.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the probing Amendment 35 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. We have to ask what my noble friend asked. What is this trying to solve? In the regulated period of one year and at a figure of £700, we are saying that an organisation that spends £1.91 a day for 12 months before a general election could be committing an offence. That is the amount that would have to be spent per day by the organisation or £13.46 a week or £58.33 a month. The very simple question I would like to ask the Minister is: how was that daily amount of £1.91 calculated? Why is it deemed to be illegal if an organisation exceeds that amount and exactly what problem does it solve?

--- Later in debate ---
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is required to have a UK connection. I will write to noble Lords to explain that clearly. In the two days that I have been listening in Committee, your Lordships have rightly—sometimes gently, sometimes aggressively—asked the Government to deal with foreign intervention. That is what this clause is intended to bear down on. We can have further discussion on the meaning of subsection (7) and I will undertake to write on that but I hope that, with those assurances—

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

I apologise for intervening at this time of night, but it would be so helpful if the Minister could be absolutely clear. My understanding is that charities are all on a list and can campaign; that is fine. Can he confirm, to me anyway and perhaps to the House, that UK-based organisations that are not necessarily charities but nevertheless promote all sorts of interests will not be covered by this offence and by these regulations?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, to help the House, I will write to clarify that. The clause refers to the bodies which the clause applies to—sorry, that sounds very circuitous. A third party that falls within any paragraph of Section 88(2) of PPERA is exempt from the provision. I will make that clear in more correct legal language, but that is how I understand it as a lay person. I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness absolutely on that. I will check it with my officials tomorrow. I hope that, leaving aside whatever questions there may still be about Clause 25, your Lordships will accept that Clause 24, however imperfect, should not be excised from the Bill.