Baroness Scott of Bybrook debates involving the Leader of the House during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1
Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, very briefly from these Benches, most of these probing amendments seem reasonable and we look forward to the response of the Minister on the points that have been raised. I will just raise four points.

First, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. I have listened throughout Committee to his detailed analysis of what has happened in Tower Hamlets. I think it is important as we go through the Bill that we remember what has happened in Tower Hamlets, but we must not use it as the sole basis on which to make the law of the land; we have to listen to what has happened there, but making electoral law has to go much wider than just the Tower Hamlets case.

Having said that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I want to probe why it is five years in particular. Five years is one election cycle, or could be one general election cycle. If somebody has committed quite a serious election fraud, having a five-year, one-term ban seems rather lenient to most people who would be looking in. What analysis was done by the Government in determining that five years was the particular period?

On Amendment 172, it is pleasing that, if the Secretary of State is going to vary, omit or add to the list of offences, it will be done on the affirmative procedure. Can the Minister give an example of what type of variation would be required? One can understand omitting, one can understand adding, but what kind of variation do the Government foresee could be laid by the Secretary of State? With those comments from these Benches, and my omitting when I first spoke to also wish the noble Lord, Lord True, a speedy recovery and wish him back to his place for Report, we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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First, I thank my noble friend for bringing the Committee up to date with the letter from the Minister to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan police that we discussed at our previous sitting. The letter is one thing, but I now wait for the responses to it. I will make sure that my noble friend Lord True knows about that so that we can keep the pressure on to get those responses. That is important.

The act of intimidation and those who perpetrate it have no place in our democracy. Clause 28 would create a new disqualification order for offenders who intimidate those who contribute to our public life. This would be a five-year ban on standing for, holding and being elected to public office. It can be imposed on those convicted of intimidating a candidate, elected office holder or campaigner. After all, it is simply not right that those who try to damage political participation through intimidation are allowed to participate in the very same process that they tried to undermine.

There is no single offence of intimidation in criminal law. Therefore, the new sanction would potentially apply to a wide range of existing intimidatory criminal offences, as listed in Schedule 9. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked what more could be added to that, and I will get some suggestions for him.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I did not ask what more could be added but for an example of variation.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I will get an answer for the noble Lord and write to him.

The list includes, but is not limited to, stalking, harassment, common assault and threats to kill. By creating a new sanction instead of a new electoral offence, we would enable the protection from intimidation all year round, not just during an election period, and extend protection in law to two additional groups: future candidates and elected office holders.

We understand the noble Baroness’s view on intimidating those not wanting to stand—they just want to intimidate. I will take it back because it is a valid point, but I imagine the answer is that there are other laws for that sort of intimidation that do not affect electoral law. I will ensure that the noble Baroness gets an answer.

For the disqualification order to be imposed, the intimidatory offence must be aggravated by hostility related to the status, or perceived status, of the victim being a candidate, elected office holder or campaigner. This ensures that the disqualification is imposed only in instances where political participation is genuinely at risk. The disqualification order is, of course, in addition to whatever other punishment the court applies to the offender for the underlying criminal offence. I think that is extremely important.

Amendment 160A probes the circumstances of an elected candidate being found guilty of terrorism offences. I can confirm that anyone committing an act of terrorism against a candidate, future candidate, campaigner or holder of elective office would already be subject to the disqualification order as currently drafted in addition to the penalties associated with that specific crime. If the offender was a holder of elective office, their office would be vacated in accordance with Clause 29. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment.

I heard what my noble friend Lord Hayward said about Amendments 161 and 171, but I am not going to comment on that case because I do not think it would be right to do so. These amendments seek significantly to increase the period of disqualification or incapacity arising from the imposition of the disqualification order or from committing relevant electoral offences, respectively. Changes of this significance require very careful consideration to ensure that these penalties continue to reflect the crime and do not become disproportionate.

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Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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Before my noble friend moves off that point, and picking up a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, although I have referred on a number of occasions to Tower Hamlets, I have done so because that is the most extreme example. Does my noble friend agree that there are other examples of election offences around the country which may be considered minor, but are indications of the sort of problems we are facing in a number of areas?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Issues from around the country that we need to take note of have been brought forward in this Committee.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My question was slightly different. I appreciate that the Minister tried to answer, but what assessment has been carried out to see whether five years is still relevant? If it is benchmarked against a five-year period within the Representation of the People Act, was that assessed against the types of crime that we are talking about and was that still seen to be the correct benchmark?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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It is considered to be the correct benchmark taking into account proportionality and the fact that many of these crimes will have further consequences because other crimes have been committed.

Amendment 168 seeks to widen the definition of a campaigner in Clause 32 explicitly to include fundraising activity as an activity undertaken by a campaigner for election purposes. I can assure the noble Baroness that fundraising activities for a registered party and a candidate are already implicitly captured, as provided by the broad wording that defines campaigners as engaging in activity to “promote or procure” support. However, we will explore options to clarify this further in the Bill’s Explanatory Notes. I thank the noble Baroness for tabling this amendment, but I ask her not to press it.

Amendment 170 to Clause 33 would require a Minister of the Crown to publish a statement outlining the details of the disqualification order in the event that a person were to be elected to the House of Commons while subject to a disqualification order. Further, we note the noble Baroness’s opposition to Clause 33 more generally. As explained, the new disqualification order disqualifies offenders from being elected to various offices. Clause 33 would ensure that this disqualification applies to membership of the House of Commons. To clarify, while the other relevant elected offices already have provisions which state that an election is void because of disqualification, there is currently no equivalent provision in relation to the election of a Member to the House of Commons.

Therefore, Clause 33 has an important role to play in ensuring that the new intimidation disqualification order operates as intended and as I suggest the electorate would expect it to operate. There is no reason why those elected to the House of Commons should be treated as a special case or held to a lower standard than any other elected office in this country. Anyone convicted of a politically motivated criminal intimidation-related offence should not be sitting in the other place for the duration of the disqualification period.

Turning specifically to Amendment 170, I reassure the noble Baroness that it would not be necessary. Although there is no notice requirement in Section 7 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, in the event that a seat becomes vacant, there will be a Motion for the Speaker to issue their warrant to make out a new writ for the election of a new Member to fill that vacancy. The writ would then be issued, and Members of the House of Commons would be made aware that a vacancy has occurred. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment.

I now turn to Amendment 172, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which proposes to limit the regulation-making powers to amend Schedule 9, which lists the existing criminal offences of an intimidatory nature in respect of which the intimidation sanction can be made. The purpose of Clause 34 is to future-proof the new intimidation sanction so that it remains relevant and can continue to apply to offences of an intimidatory nature, recognising that the nature of intimidation and abuse can shift, and indeed is currently shifting, particularly online. A relevant example of this is the online safety Bill, introduced earlier this month: it proposes new communication offences originally recommended by the Law Commission last year.

In addition to enabling Ministers to respond to and add new offences, the clause ensures that the list provided in Schedule 9 remains accurate through powers to omit offences from the list and vary the description of offences already included in it, if and when any of the listed offences are amended or repealed in law. These provisions will require that any statutory instrument laid using these powers is subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the affirmative resolution procedure. This will ensure that Parliament can scrutinise and decide whether to accept any proposed changes to Schedule 9. I therefore ask the noble Baroness not to press Amendment 172.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for the clarification she has provided, particularly around my amendment seeking to include fundraising. It would be extremely helpful if that could be added to the Explanatory Notes. She also explained that the Government want to future-proof intimidation sanctions, particularly online. When the Minister talked about varying the offences, did she mean just varying the descriptions of offences as things change to make sure they are always up to date? It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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No—we are talking about ensuring that the list provided in Schedule 9 remains accurate through powers to omit offences from the list and vary the description. So it is varying or omitting.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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So the “varying” bit is just to do with the description of the offence. I thank the Minister.

As the amendments I have tabled show, my main concern is the fixed five-year period. Other noble Lords have raised that issue too—the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, rightly said that that is only one parliamentary term—so it would be good if the Government could look at that again. I will make another suggestion. If the Government are going to stick with the fixed five-year period, what would happen if there were a repeat offence? Would there be another five-year period, or is there an option to look at a greater sanction if such an offence were committed again? Otherwise, it is not a deterrent if the people just miss out every now and again. It would be good if the Government could have another think about that; otherwise, this issue will come back on Report, because there are clearly concerns about it.

I thank the Minister for her comments on the intimidation of candidates’ agents and campaigners. I am aware that she rightly said that other offences are available for people to be convicted of if they are found to have behaved like that. I know that this is not part of the Bill, but often the effectiveness of the police’s response to such intimidation varies greatly across the country. It would be good if the Government could also consider that in some form or other. For the moment, I withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his excellent introduction to a range of amendments. We should not simply think that negative campaigning and threats to our election process are new things as a result of new technology. These sorts of things have been going on for many years. Certainly, I have seen a political party put one leaflet down one street saying one thing and then another down another street saying the complete opposite.

All of these things are addressed effectively through effective transparency, with people knowing exactly where this information comes from. I think the noble Lord, Lord Mann, is right there. That is why it is important that the Minister specifically addresses the point in Amendment 180A. I am worried that we spot a problem, understand the issue, say we are addressing it in legislation but then create a loophole where everyone can escape.

I am grateful for Adobe sending me its briefing on this issue. It basically says that we have the technology and there is a standard being developed for content authenticity initiatives—CAI—which, if adopted, and it is being adopted, can address this issue. I do not understand why we have this loophole. Technology can ensure that the imprint of who has created and published the content is there. I do not see the circumstances where it is not possible. Even if it is not possible on the face, they now have the technology to point out easily how you find it. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones says, I do not see why we have this wording of “not reasonably practicable”. I am not even sure I would agree that it is not possible. It is possible—the technology is there so we should do it.

Noble Lords have referred to the Russia report. We said at the beginning of Second Reading—and I am not going to make a Second Reading speech—that the Bill is a missed opportunity. It could have embraced a lot more and the issues identified in that report will need to be addressed in future legislation as they have not been addressed here.

I hope the Minister can specifically address the issue in Amendment 180A; I particularly hope she has seen the briefing from Adobe and the industry which says that this is possible. They have created a standard which they expect everyone to adopt—in fact, Facebook, Twitter and others are all adopting it. If they are adopting it, can we not use the legislation to ensure that it becomes compulsory for all political actors to comply with this legislation and that we do not have a loophole?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for a very thorough piece of scrutiny of this part of the Bill. I think it would be useful if between now and Report we had a meeting with him and other interested parties to discuss this further and also address some of his very in-depth speech that I will not answer this evening because we might be here all night. We will get answers to him very quickly so that we can discuss them when we have that meeting.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, and many others are right: this is fast moving. What we see today is probably not what we will see in five years’ time, and we need to future- proof. I think we all understand that.

There were some very specific questions that I will answer upfront because that will give some context to what else I am going to say. First, on digital imprints, it is important that “reasonably practicable” is understood. It should be read as commonly understood; “reasonably practicable” is commonly understood. The Electoral Commission and the police will need to interpret this phrase in context in the course of their enforcement of the Bill. The statutory guidance will provide further details on the location of this imprint and what is required. There will be further guidance on this.

A number of noble Lords spoke about the Intelligence and Security Committee and said that political adverts should include an imprint. The Government’s digital imprint regime delivers the ICS’s recommendation to introduce a requirement to add an imprint on digital paid-for political advertising. As digital campaigning is not confined to election periods or geographical boundaries, the regime is intended to apply all year round, UK-wide, and regardless of where in the world content is promoted from. Following a conviction or a civil sanction, the courts can make an order or the Electoral Commission may issue a notice to anyone, including social media companies, requiring them to remove or disable access to infringed content. Failure to comply with a notice or order would be a criminal offence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, brought up the issue of targeting messages. Targeting messages at voters is a legitimate activity that allows campaigners to maximise their resources and target their message at the right audience. All campaigners must comply with direct marketing and data protection laws when using personal data in their campaigning, but it is a legal activity.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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This is about transparency, so that the public can know that somebody is saying different things in different places—that is all.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Understood. Listening to the debate, two words have come out, and we will reflect those. One is “safeguarding”, and one is “transparency”, as the noble Baroness has just said. Those two things are important as we move forward with the Bill.

The provisions in Part 6 of the Elections Bill will introduce one of the most comprehensive “digital imprint” regimes operating in the world today; that is the positive thing. However, it is crucial to take a proportionate approach to the scope and application of the regime to ensure that it is enforceable and to avoid stifling political debate. It is for this reason that the Government do not support the noble Lord’s amendments, as we consider that they would introduce unreasonable burdens on campaigners and therefore risk restricting freedom of expression.

Due to the way some digital platforms are designed, it will not always be practical to display the imprint as part of the material itself—for example, in a text- based tweet where there is a strict character limit. Amendment 180A would not give campaigners the much-needed level of flexibility and therefore risks unreasonably hampering their ability to campaign on particular digital platforms. I have listened to the points made about new technology coming out; it is important that we keep an eye on that, so that if that is possible in the future—

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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I am not asking my noble friend to reply this evening, because this is a complicated question, but I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, say that the digital material would not have to have an imprint on itself and that it could refer you by a link to another page. If that is the case, we could have a situation where if you are retweeting things, you may get even further away from the reality of what is happening. It was also not clear to me, because of the Government’s reaction to an earlier amendment, whether a third-party campaigner had to disclose on their home page that they were registered as a third-party campaigner. I am not sure that I have the links quite right here. If the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was correct, perhaps my noble friend could unpick that when she writes to us after today. I am not asking her to reply to that now.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I take note of that and will make sure that my noble friend understands the unpicking of all of that.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that this flexibility does not amount to allowing campaigners to place the imprint wherever they want. Under our regime, campaigners would be required to ensure that their imprint is displayed as part of the material and only when this is not reasonably practical may the imprint be located elsewhere—as my noble friend said—but it must still be directly accessible from the campaigning material. Those who do not comply will be committing an offence.

Turning now to Amendment 194A, the Government are mindful that transparency requirements on campaigners remain proportionate and that they are not unduly discouraged from participating in public life. Candidates and registered campaigners already have to detail their electoral spending in their returns to returning officers and the Electoral Commission and provide invoices for payments over a certain amount. Invoices provided to the Electoral Commission are then made available for public scrutiny. The practicality and impact on campaigners of requiring them to submit more detailed invoices or receipts about digital activity would need to be looked at very carefully, as the detail provided is determined by the suppliers themselves and not necessarily by the recipient.

Similarly, in relation to Amendment 196A, the Government welcome the steps already taken by many social media companies in this area. We continue to keep transparency rules under review, but given the steps taken already by platforms such as Facebook, we do not propose to mandate centralised libraries of digital political content. Requiring all campaigners promoting paid political advertising to themselves maintain a library of those adverts with specified information for at least 10 years risks adding a significant and unreasonable administrative burden on campaigners, particularly smaller groups that rely on volunteers or groups that are established only for the lifetime of a particular election campaign. We know that some small campaigns happen and, in our opinion, keeping a library for 10 years would be unreasonable.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, in this overfull House at this late hour, I will be extremely brief. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who said to me earlier that he thought that this is one of the more important groups to which we had yet to come, has felt it necessary to go. So I will simply say that it is important that we come back to this issue given that this Bill is such a mess and has failed to do so many of the things which several committees recommended it should do. It has also been sharply criticised by a Commons committee.

I would choose Amendment 205; if the Labour Front Benches were minded to bring that back at Report stage, I would certainly give it support and there would be others around the House who would too. Having missed—or refused to take—this opportunity, we had better try to get it right again soon. The integrity of British elections is a very important principle. The questions of how our elections are regulated are fundamental. This is a very unsatisfactory Bill, and Amendment 205 would ensure that we have another go to deal with many of the things which it has been suggested that we need but which this Bill does not provide.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments seek to require the Government to commit to a timetable for wholesale review and consolidation of electoral law and to further consultations to be conducted on the Bill. The Government remain committed to ensuring that our electoral law is fit for purpose, now and into the future. We agree that electoral law should be revised and improved, but a wholesale review takes significant consideration and policy development is not something that we should rush at and potentially get wrong. The Government’s immediate priority will be the implementation of our manifesto commitments, which this Elections Bill delivers. This would allow us to update our electoral law in important ways, strengthening our current framework by addressing known vulnerabilities in our systems.

Amendment 206 would oblige the Secretary of State to establish a committee consisting of members of both Houses of Parliament to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of this Bill within five years of its passing. I have heard the arguments at Second Reading, and in previous Committee sessions, over perceived potential future impacts, and I understand the desire to ensure that any such legislation has the impact intended. It is already the settled will of noble Members that significant pieces of primary legislation should be subject to post-legislative scrutiny. Indeed, it was only a couple of years ago that the Government published a post-legislative assessment of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. Things would not be any different when it comes to the legislation before us today. It is the Government’s view that to include an obligation in the legislation is not necessary in light of our plans to conduct scrutiny and evaluation of the measures in the Bill in due course.

I note the purpose of Amendments 214 and 215: to require the Secretary of State to publish a consultation and an impact assessment before measures are commenced. The measures in this Bill deliver not only on recommendations by parliamentarians, Select Committees, international observers and electoral stakeholders but also on a range of consultations. This includes the overseas electors policy statement issued in October 2016, the Government’s 2017 call for evidence on the accessibility of elections and the Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence and Information consultation of July 2018. My officials have consulted with administrators and civil society groups throughout the policy development, and they are continuing to do so in our implementation planning. We have also published both an equality impact assessment and an economic impact assessment before introducing these measures, and we will continue to monitor impacts, as I have said. I can assure the noble Baroness that the Government are listening but, at this time, do not consider these amendments necessary.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The Minister will know that I am quite astute at reading impact assessments. I have also read the equality impact assessment. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is important because the equality impact assessment relies mainly on a 2021 telephone survey, and it indicates that there will be indirect discrimination based on some of the provisions in the Bill. The impact assessment says further on that mitigation ideas will show how the mitigation will take place, but there are no mitigation provisions in the equality impact assessment; there are only the issues that the 2021 telephone survey has revealed. Why are there no mitigation provisions in the equality impact assessment?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not know, but what I can say is that it is a continuing process, as I have said. We will monitor any future impacts, and I will get a fuller answer for the noble Lord.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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Before the Minister completes her remarks, her argument is that Amendment 206 is not necessary because the Government will do it anyway, while in respect of Amendment 205 she has indicated that the Government are minded to consider the question of consolidating electoral law but gives no idea of the timescale on which they might undertake that. Is that correct?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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No, I did not say that we were minded to consolidate at all. I go back to what I said: the Government’s immediate priority will be the implementation of our manifesto commitments, which the Bill delivers. I have not given any undertaking that we will do another Bill to consolidate, as was set out in that group of amendments.

Amendment 213 would prevent Schedule 8 coming into force until a time when the Secretary of State has made a statement to Parliament on the voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens. The Government’s position on this policy is clear and settled and was set out in detail in a Written Ministerial Statement in the other place on 17 June 2021. Now that we have left the EU, there should not be a continued automatic right to vote and stand in local elections solely by virtue of being an EU citizen. We have made provision to protect the rights of those who made their home here before our exit and preserved rights where that can be done on a bilateral basis, protecting UK citizens living in those countries in turn. A statement of clear intent on this matter has already been made to Parliament and I can see no purpose in restating our position. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. However, there seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether suitable consultation has been carried out on the Bill. The Consultation Institute states in its response:

“Many of the proposed changes in the Bill are not accompanied by evidence detailing why they are necessary or desirable. Where evidence in support of changes is cited, it has generally involved little consultation and engagement with the public, particularly with the general public as opposed to institutional or organisational stakeholders.”


So in the institute’s opinion, as well as mine and others’, including PACAC, there simply has not been sufficient scrutiny or consultation on the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his strong support, and I am sure we will be returning to this on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I will be very brief. This is a probing amendment with which we are seeking to better understand the powers we may currently have, and I hope the noble Baroness will be able to reassure us that we do have powers to address this issue.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for being very brief, and I will try to be nearly as brief. I am sure that it is a very well-intentioned amendment, but its effect would be minimal. I can assure the noble Lord that Section 29 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 already gives the commission the discretion to refuse the registration of an emblem where it is in its opinion obscene or offensive. According to the commission’s guidance on emblems, which is available online, all applications to register an emblem are assessed on a case-by-case basis, but are likely to be rejected if the emblem contains offensive language or terminology or links to something generally accepted as offensive with a relevant group of people.

On a more general note, Section 29 provides the commission with an appropriate and practical level of discretion to refuse or allow the registration of party emblems. Therefore, the Government consider that Section 29 already sufficiently provides for the effect of the noble Lord’s amendment, Therefore, I respectfully ask him to withdraw it.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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In the light of those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Official Development Assistance

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Thursday 24th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem for tabling this debate.

For what it is worth, my personal opinion is that the resounding defeat of the Government’s party in the by-election in Chesham and Amersham, one of its safest seats, by my party should be a salutary reminder that the Prime Minister’s Teflon qualities are wearing thin. What I heard on the doorstep was dislike and distrust of this Government, which made it much easier to get our points on planning issues across. The Government have underestimated the damage that cuts to the aid budget will do, not just to the UK’s reputation abroad but to their own brand. Whether or not you agree with the cuts, what sticks in the memory is that the Government willingly broke a manifesto pledge. For voters, trust is a commodity that, once lost, is hard to regain.

How does a cut to the aid budget hurt us? Let me count the ways. In a global pandemic we let down the poorest in the world, the only country in the world to cut its aid programmes, and we did so in the most brutal way possible. Without notice, we cut research funding to some of the brightest and best in developing countries. Our cuts forced nutrition centres and health clinics to close. Our cuts led to water sanitation projects being cancelled. Our cuts mean that 78,000 healthcare professionals will be left untrained and millions therefore left untreated. Our cuts mean that over 700 million donated treatments are at risk of going to waste—et cetera, et cetera.

As if trashing our reputation for trustworthiness were not enough for this Government, we have now learned that they are toying with the idea of retaining part of the £19 billion from the IMF’s proposed drawdown for special drawing rights. These, although designed to add additionality to our aid and development programmes—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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May I remind the noble Baroness that the speaking limit is two minutes?

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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Indeed. They may instead be swallowed into the 0.5% ODA limit, so we will be seen as greedy as well as untrustworthy. Can the Minister assure me that that is not the Government’s intention?

In conclusion, the latest ICAI report is a damning indictment of the lack of transparency in UK ODA spending by the new FCDO, reversing the excellent reputation held by DfID.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am sorry, I have to stop the noble Baroness. It is not fair on others.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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What will the Minister do about it?

Financial Services Bill

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Monday 1st March 2021

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Clauses 29 and 30 agreed.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, this may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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The Committee stands adjourned, but in so doing I remind everyone to sanitise desks and everything else within sight.