Debates between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 6th Apr 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

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

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Wed 23rd Mar 2022
Elections Bill
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Lords Hansard - Part 2
Mon 21st Mar 2022
Elections Bill
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Lords Hansard - Part 2
Thu 17th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
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Lords Hansard - Part 2
Tue 15th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, for tabling this amendment, to which I have added my name, and for his introduction. I also thank noble Lords for their brief comments.

I want to refer back to Committee. The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, said that the amendments proposed on automatic voter registration

“contradict the principle that underpins individual electoral registration: that individuals should have ownership of, and responsibility for, their own registration … Automatic registration would threaten the accuracy of the register and, in doing so, enable voting and political donations by those who are ineligible.”—[Official Report, 23/3/22; col. 1058.]

However, does she agree with me that there are underlying problems with the status quo, such as millions of eligible citizens being incorrectly registered or missing from the registers entirely, major strains on the system during a last-minute registration rush ahead of election days, and resource problems for electoral officials? A founding principle of democracy is political equality. We therefore need to ensure a level playing field on election day. AVR could boost voter registration rates among under-registered groups to create this more level playing field.

It is already current law that every citizen is registered. People often get letters saying that they will be fined £60 if they do not register. Voter registration is not an opt-in process. AVR is a solution that would help administratively to best realise what appears to be the current goal of full, compulsory registration. AVR is also the norm, not the exception, in countries around the world. Many countries that have historically not had AVR because of the absence of a population register are now increasingly introducing either direct enrolment for specific groups or assisted voter enrolment through other public agencies. Where they have been designed well, these innovations have proven to be able to deliver cost savings and boost voter registration for specific groups.

As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, we can give millions of people not on the electoral register a voice. If he chooses to divide the House on this amendment, we will support him.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford. He, my noble friend Lord True and I have debated this issue a number of times in this House. The intention behind this amendment—to increase the number of people registered to vote—is one that the Government wholeheartedly support. However, the practical difficulties brought about by automatic voter registration are such that the Government cannot support the amendment.

Given the number and range of public bodies listed, as well as the vast amounts of data they hold, the amendment would overwhelm electoral registration officers with data. Data protection legislation rightly prevents the unnecessary sharing of personal data. This amendment would see unparalleled volumes of personal data shared—even that of the majority of people who are already correctly registered. Likewise, it would see people registered without their knowledge or consent.

There would also likely be a large number of security and privacy concerns, such as when it comes to handling the data of minors, those who are escaping domestic violence, those who wish to remain anonymous electors or those who do not want to be on the register—and there are a number of people who do not. I do not know whether it has happened when you have knocked on doors, but people have certainly said to me, “We are not on the register and do not want to be”.

The amendment also takes no account of the coverage, currency or accuracy of the data held by the various public bodies. As they would be listed in primary legislation, these public bodies would be required to share their data, even if it is of no use for electoral registration. Using inaccurate or out-of-date information to register people to vote automatically would seriously undermine the accuracy of the electoral register. That is the crux of the issue: accuracy is just as important as completeness. Having more individuals on a register is not inherently a good thing if those individuals are registered at incorrect or multiple addresses.

When it comes to implementation, a whole host of other issues arise. How would an ERO deal with contradictory evidence from different data sources? If an individual was removed from the register because the ERO determined they were no longer eligible, how would this be picked up by an automated system so that they were not automatically added again? What these questions point to is the fact that there is no true system of automatic voter registration; any trusted system of registration requires the active input of both electors and EROs to determine eligibility. The Government also contend that such active input is important to aid electors’ understanding of the process and their awareness of upcoming electoral events.

Lastly, the Government cannot accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, because it is deficient. It leaves untouched all the existing legislation for electoral registration. It would require significant further work, and possibly a whole new Bill, to unpick which elements of current law would need to be amended or repealed to accommodate this amendment. For these reasons, and more I have no time to go into—

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
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.

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
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.

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, in speaking to my Amendment 144B, I would like first to take the opportunity to thank the Patchwork Foundation for its very helpful briefings on this matter. I will be brief because we have already heard that the current system of voter registration really is not working to the benefit of many people, and that voter registration rates are disproportionately low among young people and some minority groups.

There is confusion among eligible voters about how and when to register. The University of East Anglia carried out a survey in 2016 which found that two-thirds of electoral registration officers reported that citizens had complained to them about the voter registration process being bureaucratic, and that this had discouraged them from registering. Surveys of poll workers have also found that the most common problem that they encounter is citizens asking to vote when they are missing from the electoral register. Furthermore, a poll conducted by YouGov before the 2019 general election found that 16% of respondents believed that they were automatically registered to vote if they paid their council tax, and 17% believed that they were automatically registered when they turned 18. There is a lot of confusion and we belief that AVR will go a significant way in tackling the disparities and the inefficiency of the current system. It would diminish the impact of cyclical registration patterns, which can put so much pressure on voting infrastructure and the officials who are running and managing it. It would also go some way in bridging the current gaps in registration across various ethnic and social economic groups, as other noble Lords have said.

The UK is one of the few liberal democracies that does not already have some sort of system of AVR in place. Of 40 liberal democracies assessed by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the University of East Anglia, the UK came out as one of just six countries that does not have a system of either automatic or assisted voter registration. Where it is in existence, it has proved very effective at encouraging first-time voters to vote. By contrast, the UK is witnessing a fall in the number of young people registering to vote.

We have had quite a discussion on this, and I will finish by saying that this is terribly simple and straightforward. As other noble Lords have said, people are already written to ahead of their 16th birthday with their national insurance number. If we can do that, why can we not at the same time have an automatic registration to vote? We have the means to do it, so why do we not just get on with it?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Committee for the debate; it is a debate we had two years ago when we were discussing a previous Bill. If applying to vote was difficult or time-consuming, the Government might have more sympathy for this proposal, but it is not. It can be done online, by paper and post, in person, or by telephone, where the registration officer offers these services. Online, it takes five minutes and can be done anywhere, anytime, on a smartphone or a tablet; I have done this recently myself.

As a small but very positive step to encourage young people to vote, HMRC now includes additional information on registering to vote on letters issuing the national insurance numbers, and this practice has been in place since the end of September 2021.

These amendments contradict the principle that underpins individual electoral registration: that individuals should have ownership of, and responsibility for, their own registration. At this point, I say that some members of our communities do not want to register—we have all probably met people who do not want to go on the electoral register. Automatic registration would threaten the accuracy of the register and, in doing so, enable voting and political donations by those who are ineligible.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for his introduction to his amendment. I thought what he said about the opportunities that are available for new technologies to drive inclusion in our electoral process is really important if we are looking to the future. We completely support his aim to encourage the Government to invest much more in technologies in this area. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, let us catch up with many other countries which are looking to do this and looking to invest more in this in the future.

One thing we do know is that electronic voting machines are often more accessible for disabled voters. I give the example of the United States, where visually impaired voters can use an audio interface while those with paralysed limbs can select candidates from a screen using head movements. There are all sorts of different innovations that we should be looking to investigate and see how we can bring them into our own system.

I turn to my amendment. The Government’s 2019 manifesto—I go back to their manifesto—included a commitment to

“make it easier for British expats to vote in Parliamentary elections”.

I also say, as part of that, they should be looking at the Electoral Commission’s research after the elections since 2015, which has consistently found that overseas voters have experienced difficulties in voting from outside the UK. This is mainly because many did not have enough time to receive and return their postal vote before the close of the poll.

I am aware that the Government are looking at ways to improve that, but it strikes me that as the Electoral Commission also recommends that the Government explore new approaches to improve access to voting and draws on evidence from other countries, there is an opportunity here, which is why I tabled the amendment. I hope that this will encourage the Government to consider more research into digital technologies and look at what is happening in other countries in order to drive inclusion and enable a quicker and more efficient system for those voters who live outside the UK.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments both seek to improve and expedite means of voting for British citizens living overseas. My noble friend mentioned Estonia and although Estonia has e-voting, it still uses paper ballots and less than half of Estonian voters use the e-voting system, which relies on the national ID card as a credential to vote. The blockchain technology which supports its system, although advanced in security, is not foolproof and hackers are becoming more and more sophisticated.

That leads me to Amendments 144 and 209, which would require the Government to conduct research on electronic voting and technological solutions to increase the security of the electoral register. I fully understand that electronic voting and further technological solutions supporting our processes may sound attractive in the light of ongoing digital advances. However, all electronic changes are large-scale programmes and we are currently not persuaded of the need for them and are wary of the risks that they may usher. In particular, electronic voting is a double-edged sword.

The selection of elected representatives for Parliament and other public offices is regarded as requiring the highest possible level of integrity, and the introduction of electronic voting would raise a number of issues. We know that electronic voting is not seen to be suitably rigorous and secure and could be vulnerable to attack or fraud by unscrupulous hackers and hostile foreign states.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I shall certainly ask the team to go back and check. I do not know whether it was Solace or another group that has been working with the policy team on this. We will check that out for the noble Lord and see why there is a difference.

Furthermore, the Bill carefully balances the need to ensure that registers are kept accurate and that overseas electors’ contact details are up to date, which is particularly important to ensure that they receive a postal ballot. I hope the noble Lord will consider these points and not press his amendments

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. I will just make a couple of points. One is that there is quite a bit of concern about this part of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about concerns about proper checks, which is what we are very concerned about—making sure that those checks are done so that the people who are asking to come on to the register who have not been in this country for a long time are proper people to come on to the register, and the checks and balances have taken place properly and correctly. Also, if that is going to happen, what about the support for local authorities and election teams? It could be a lot of work in some areas. At some point, it would be good to return to this issue.

I completely take the Minister’s point about looking at sanctions in more detail in the debate on Monday. That is a particularly important thing that we need to spend some time on, even if the broader debate is not one that the Government want to spend time on. We need to look at that. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I have very little to say other than that it is a very interesting suggestion and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for bringing it forward and giving us food for thought. I had no idea that France had overseas constituencies until he tabled his amendment and I looked into it. It is an interesting suggestion.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I fear that at this late hour, I will disappoint the noble Lord. This amendment would require the Government to prepare a report on proposals for the creation of overseas constituencies. The Bill will allow overseas electors to continue to vote in constituencies to which they have a significant and demonstrable connection. This constituency link has always been and continues to be a cornerstone of our democracy. Creating overseas constituencies is therefore not something the Government are considering. To commission a report on the topic is unnecessary. Overseas electors will continue to register in the constituencies to which they have a significant and demonstrable connection.

As the amendment acknowledges, there are extensive and complex bureaucratic challenges to implementing overseas constituencies. There would, for example, be ongoing complexities regarding how constituency boundaries and their electorate would be determined and maintained with a constituency stretching across multiple countries and being affected by fluctuating migration. Furthermore, electoral administration for overseas constituencies would have to be done in a very different way from the current process, whereby it is undertaken by local authorities. We would need to address matters such as: who would be responsible for maintaining the register of electors and administering the polls for an overseas constituency. Overseas constituencies would not fit in with the existing arrangements for organising constituencies and delivering elections, and establishing them would require the consideration of a range of complex issues. I hope the noble Lord will feel able to reconsider this suggestion and withdraw his amendment.

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. We did debate his Amendment 118A, and we are in contact with him on the issues he raised, so I am happy with that.

Amendment 122A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, would require that the returning officers consider whether to appoint designated people to assist electors in completing their postal votes at home or at other locations for various reasons. I commend the spirit of this amendment in looking to improve the accessibility of elections for people who may struggle to mark their vote. We know that there are people who, for many reasons, do that, but I contend that it is not necessary, given the existing assistance avenues already in place.

When voting by post, it is important that the postal vote is completed by the person to whom it is given. When someone is unable to sign the postal vote, as is required, they may get a waiver of their signature. If they need help from the returning officer, they may attend a polling station where staff are empowered to assist electors to vote, or a companion can assist them in a supervised environment. If the person cannot attend a polling station, they may appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. This proxy may themselves choose to vote by post. An elector may also appoint an emergency proxy to vote on their behalf up until 5 pm on the day of the poll in certain unforeseen circumstances.

For these reasons, while I understand everything that has been said, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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As the Minister said, we had an extensive debate on this at our previous Committee sitting, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I want to move on, rather than discussing different pieces of information. I will move on to costs. My noble friend Lady Noakes is absolutely right about costs. I will come on to costs to local authorities, but the overall cost has been put at £25 per year per person. That is the estimated cost of the production of the voter card and of raising awareness of voter identification across all polls happening within 10 years. We are not expecting this to be a fixed cost; we are expecting it to reduce over time as voters become more familiar with these arrangements.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I specifically asked about education programmes, the rollout of information and how people were going to know about the changes. What is the cost that the Minister has just given us going to deliver? It does not seem very much to engage electors in a pretty enormous change.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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As I said, the Electoral Commission has agreed to do much of this. I will come to local authorities now. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Pinnock and Lady Meacher, quite rightly talked about the costs of this to local authorities. The impact assessment presented a range of costs that could be incurred by the introduction of these measures in order to ensure that local authorities and valuation joint boards are provided with the funding to implement the changes successfully. We will continue to refine our estimates of the future new burdens required to reflect the design of the secondary legislation. Government analysts are engaging with local authorities and valuation joint boards as this model is developed. Work is being done by all those involved.

Any allocation would be subject to detailed consideration of the varied pictures across local authorities and the valuation boards and would seek to allocate funding according to need. As was the case with the introduction of individual electoral registration, new-burdens funding will be provided to cover the additional costs resulting from the changes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about the different needs of different authorities. We accept that. The administrative burden will be driven by a variety of factors across local authorities, including their existing capabilities. The allocation of new-burdens funding, including for any additional staffing required, is being modelled and discussed with local authorities and other key stakeholders, working with the programme team in the department. The allocation of the new-burdens funding will take into account the different requirements and characteristics of all local authorities. We are working with local authorities and with the Local Government Association, and we are looking at all the different characteristics of those individual authorities. As a local authority person, I understand this.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I cannot tell the noble Lord whether that has been factored in. I will ask the team and come back to him. The fact that local authorities are working with the team means that those sorts of issues will come up and be dealt with.

We have also already established a business change network covering England, Scotland and Wales, specifically to support local authorities with the implementation of the policy changes arising from the Elections Bill. The network allows the regular flow of information both ways between local authorities and officials in DLUHC, acting as a local presence with knowledge of the Elections Bill and supporting and engaging with administrators during the implementation. That is where these sorts of issues need to come up and I expect them to be dealt with in that way.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, brought up training for returning officers. This will all come out of the same network. We continue to work with local authorities to understand their needs and the needs of voters in relation to training on the new electoral system. I think that deals with all the points, so I will now get on to the actual amendments.

These amendments and those in the groups just after place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish a wide range of reports, impact assessments and reviews, as well as to hold consultations on the impacts and estimated impacts of various measures in this Bill. Amendment 55 would prevent Schedule 1 coming into force until the Secretary of State has made a statement before Parliament on the estimated cost of the provisions, in addition to the potential impacts on voter turnout across different demographics.

This amendment is entirely unnecessary. A detailed estimate of costs for all the provisions in the Bill was published alongside it, as was an equality impact assessment. To suggest that the impacts of the measures in the Bill have not been considered in great detail would be a disservice to the many officials in the team who have spent considerable time modelling the various impacts and who are already working very closely with the sector to prepare for its implementation in a thorough and very considered way.

On the financial costs, we have worked extensively with the electoral sector to assess the impacts of the measures and have rightfully modelled a range of costs to account for a number of scenarios. We continue to work to refine these as the detail of implementation planning is settled. Our priority remains ensuring that local authorities have the necessary resources to continue to deliver our elections robustly and securely, and we have secured the necessary funding to deliver that goal.

As is usual for programmes of this kind, any additional funding required will be delivered to local authorities via the new burdens mechanism. Rollout of any funding will be timed to ensure that local authorities can meet the costs incurred. This is not the first time that the Government have delivered a change programme in this area. The Government have worked closely with the sector to deliver a number of national programmes, including canvass reform and the introduction of individual electoral registration, to great effect. This programme, while complex, is no different and we will continue to take the same open and collaborative approach to implementation.

When it comes to publications, the evaluation of and reporting on funding for programmes of this kind are already subject to publication requirements, particularly as this qualifies as a government major programme. Furthermore, we are developing robust evaluation plans and intend to produce a process and impact evaluation of the programme across all policy measures. Therefore, in light of the already published assessments for the Bill and the assurances that existing plans will provide ample transparency, I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, this debate has ranged rather wide of the area covered by my amendments, to say the least. Having said that, it has been very interesting. As other noble Lords have said, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, made a very important and powerful speech. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that I am sure that we would all agree that every vote should count—of course it should—and I totally understand what she is saying. The challenge for us, as parliamentarians, is how we change that—that is a debate for another day, but she raised an incredibly important issue that we have to look at very carefully. Perhaps we should look at areas where we could do something to increase empowerment and engagement—perhaps that is missing from this Bill. I would be really interested to engage more with the noble Baroness to think about how we can support her, from this side, in what she is trying to achieve and to better understand her concerns.

I will not go into the manifesto commitment debate—my noble friend Lady Lister resolved that quite adequately. But she also raised an important concern, as did—

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, as part of the registration process, political parties are not currently required to submit a declaration of their assets or liabilities. This information becomes available only in their first annual statement of accounts published on the Electoral Commission’s website. Clause 21 brings forward this important transparency to the point of registration.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, tabled a probing amendment seeking to understand why the threshold for this declaration is set at £500. I am pleased that the noble Lord has highlighted this, and I point to the fact that this measure, including the £500 threshold, was first recommended by the Electoral Commission in its 2013 report.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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If it was a 2013 report, and thinking of inflation, I wonder whether that should have been reconsidered, to come back to an earlier discussion.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The noble Baroness has now undermined the argument about going up rather than down. I have checked that, because I know the noble Baroness mentioned 2018. I have 2013, but I will clarify that. It was also more recently recommended in the CSPL’s July 2021 Regulating Election Finance report, which is more up to date. It would not be proportionate to require parties with assets below £500 to submit this declaration.

On a similar topic, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, tabled a probing amendment to understand why the clause specifies that the Electoral Commission should make this statement available for as long as it sees fit. This is simply a matter of consistency with the existing approach to assets and liabilities declarations contained in a party’s annual statement of accounts. Under Sections 45 and 46 of PPERA, the commission is able to keep documents, including the annual statement of accounts, for

“such period as they think fit.”

Therefore, this is simply a technical provision, enabling this first assets and liabilities declaration to be compared with various subsequent records provided by political parties in their annual statements of accounts.

I will write to my noble friend Lady Noakes on her very interesting question, to which I would like to know the answer as well. I will place a copy in the Library so that we are all aware of it. That said, I urge noble Lords not to press these amendments.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for her response. Like her, I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, asked an extremely interesting question that did not occur to me when I read through the Bill. It was a very thoughtful question to take forward. I am interested to see where that goes.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, made an important point about access to records and transparency of record-keeping. It is important that we all take that on board. The Minister gave a clear response on the reasoning behind this.

On my Amendment 31, which would delete the phrase

“such period as the Commission think fit”,

it is interesting to note that this is consistent with what PPERA says. I was not aware of that, so I thank the Minister for that. I wonder whether there is any guidance as to what it means—I have no idea whether it is five or 50 years. It would be interesting to know a little more about that and what happens in practice, so that there will be more information in that area as we take this forward.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I will endeavour to find out exactly what was behind that and let the noble Baroness know, and I will also address the point about transparency and access to all these figures, because that is important. It is no good keeping them unless they are easily available to any person who wants to see them. We will take that back and respond.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that clarification. I look forward to her response. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Building Safety Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Monday 28th February 2022

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to say how much we agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said about the importance of having adequate safety measures. That has to run through everything we discuss in connection with the Bill. The noble Baroness also raised the important issue of cost. My noble friend Lord Khan talked about high service charges, and the Minister said she would write about that. This debate has put a focus on ever-increasing service costs, and the fact that in many cases they are starting to become unreasonable. It is very difficult when they go up by 190%, as they have in some areas.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, asked one of the key questions that I was going to ask, about the operation of the managers. What exactly are they going to do, and how are they going to do it? Will they be paid, and if so, how much? There is not a lot of detail in the Bill. This comes back to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about accountability, and whether there will be confusion over the role. It is important that we all understand exactly what building safety managers are expected to do, how they will do it and how they will be rewarded for their work. Without that clarification, there are bound to be concerns that the cost of their work will be passed on through increased service charges, or possibly increased rent. None of that is clear. We would like more clarification about the role and the expectations.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I start by going back to where the Bill came from, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. The point of the Bill is to ensure the safety of residents, particularly, in this case, in high-risk buildings, and the building safety manager is the day-to-day eyes and ears. I do not know whether people realise, but I did two or three years’ work after the tragedy in Kensington and Chelsea. Before I did that, I spent a lot of time in high-rise buildings, not in London but elsewhere in the country, and it was quite interesting, on a day-to-day basis, when I went round with fire brigades and dealt with issues such as safety doors. People took them off and put B&Q doors on. Those things cannot be done every five years, or every year; they need somebody going in and out of that building, checking up.

There will be stairwells with stuff stuck in them that is stopping people going up and down. There will be holes between the sealed containment of flat against flat. All those sorts of things need somebody who is not at arm’s-length but is working day to day. Yes, they will need new competences, but those competences are out there, I would argue, within the community already, and we will have to work on those competences. As for cost, obviously, that depends on the building. Some of these managers will be able to do multiple buildings if it is felt, by their accountable person, that they will be able to do a good job on that. One building is not the same size or requires the same amount of work as another building.

I shall now go through the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and I thank noble Lords for their contributions. The crux of Clause 80 is the duty to appoint a building safety manager. The creation of the building safety manager role was recommended made by Dame Judith Hackitt in the independent review to ensure, I say again, that the day-to-day management of buildings is undertaken by suitably competent people. That is what she said and that is what we are delivering in the Bill. Clause 80 establishes the role and creates a duty for principal accountable persons to appoint a building safety manager and provide them with support and assistance to manage building safety risks, except where they have the capability to meet the duties without needing such support. So there will be times when principal accountable persons have the time and the competences to do it without appointing somebody else. The skills, knowledge and experience offered by building safety managers will help drive up safety standards and, we believe, deliver positive outcomes for residents.

While the building safety manager will hold responsibility for certain tasks, to be agreed in their contract, accountability for meeting the duties set out by the Bill cannot be transferred by accountable persons to the building safety manager or anybody else. I think that answers the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about who is ultimately responsible. Whether the building safety manager is an organisation or an individual, they must possess the necessary competence to deliver the role. If an organisation is appointed, it must have a nominated individual named and in place to oversee delivery, providing reassurance to residents that their safety is being maintained. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, brought up the competence issue. Work is ongoing with the British Standards Institute to establish a competency framework for the role, which will be supported by further guidance.

Moving on, Clause 81 deals with the appointment of the building safety manager where there is more than one accountable person for the building. Despite the often complex ownership structures of many high-rise residential buildings, we are committed to delivering a system that ensures a whole-building approach. This was a central tenet of the findings and recommendations of the independent review.

Where there are multiple accountable persons, the principal accountable person will be responsible for appointing the building safety manager. The building safety manager should play a key role in delivering a whole-building approach, drawing on the duty placed on all accountable persons to co-ordinate and co-operate with each other.

Before the appointment is made, the principal accountable person must consult on the proposed terms and costs with their fellow accountable persons. We expect agreements to be reached so that the scope of the building safety manager’s functions and the method of delivery of the whole-building approach are agreed by all. If an agreement cannot be reached, we are providing a process for resolution through applications to the First-tier Tribunal. This approach protects the rights of accountable persons and holds them to account for ensuring residents’ safety.

Clause 82 ensures that building safety managers hold their position through the contractual arrangements agreed with the principal accountable person. If either party wishes to end the contract, they may do so by giving notice to the other party in writing. When the contract ends, a new building safety manager must be appointed by the principal accountable person as soon as is reasonably possible. If a building is not being managed appropriately and is placed into special measures, which is the last resort for taking control of buildings with significant failings, the building safety manager’s contract will end.

I mentioned earlier that there is an exception to the principal accountable person’s duty to appoint a building safety manager. Dame Judith’s review was right to point out that many building owners already operate and successfully manage their buildings through competent in-house teams. Where the principal accountable person’s existing management arrangements deliver safe outcomes for residents and this can be demonstrated to the building safety regulator, their mode of delivery will not need to change. The competency requirements for qualifying for this exception are of course the same as those expected of any other building safety manager.

This approach is likely to be favoured by organisations such as housing associations or local authorities, which potentially have many buildings that fall under the scope of the new regime. Residents of these buildings will rightly expect to be able to identify individuals who play an important role in maintaining their safety, and the clause requires the identification of the individual responsible for overseeing delivery. This person will not be expected to carry out every task alone, but they will be required to provide oversight such that a holistic and systemic approach to managing safety is achieved.

The exception to the duty to appoint a building safety manager also applies where there are two or more accountable persons for the building. The competency requirements remain consistent. As in the case where they would appoint a building safety manager, the principal accountable person must, as I said, consult their fellow accountable persons and seek to reach agreement on the proposed arrangements. We expect the consultation process to follow the same route as already explained for appointing a building safety manager where there are two or more accountable persons.

Safety has to be our main priority and the building safety manager plays an important role in delivering this. The Government will reflect further on all the points raised today. However, at this point we maintain that Clauses 80, 81, 82, 83 and 84 should stand part of the Bill.