Debates between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham

There have been 42 exchanges between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham

1 Thu 4th July 2019 Councils: Funding
Cabinet Office
4 interactions (278 words)
2 Wed 3rd July 2019 Affordable Housing
Cabinet Office
4 interactions (334 words)
3 Wed 5th June 2019 European Parliament Elections: Non-UK EU Citizens
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (714 words)
4 Thu 23rd May 2019 Electoral Commission: Referendums and Elections Spending
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (267 words)
5 Wed 22nd May 2019 Political Parties: Donation Rules
Cabinet Office
4 interactions (299 words)
6 Mon 13th May 2019 Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [HL]
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (1,344 words)
7 Mon 18th March 2019 Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention and Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) and (Levy Account Basis of Distribution) Regulations 2019
Cabinet Office
5 interactions (361 words)
8 Thu 14th February 2019 Representation of the People (Election Expenses Exclusion) (Amendment) Order 2019
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (156 words)
9 Thu 14th February 2019 Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (Amendment) Order 2019
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (586 words)
10 Wed 13th February 2019 Election Expenditure
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (246 words)
11 Thu 31st January 2019 Social Housing
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (4,634 words)
12 Thu 13th December 2018 Constitutional Convention
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (4,321 words)
13 Mon 26th November 2018 Verify: Digital Identity System
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (220 words)
14 Tue 20th November 2018 Tenant Fees Bill
Cabinet Office
4 interactions (616 words)
15 Mon 5th November 2018 Tenant Fees Bill
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
24 interactions (3,662 words)
16 Thu 18th October 2018 Cyber Threats
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (2,570 words)
17 Thu 13th September 2018 Third-party Election Campaigning
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (4,772 words)
18 Tue 4th September 2018 Elections: Personation
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (269 words)
19 Tue 17th July 2018 Electoral Commission
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (580 words)
20 Mon 9th July 2018 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (Business Rate Supplements Functions) Order 2018
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (474 words)
21 Mon 9th July 2018 New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations 2018
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (887 words)
22 Wed 4th July 2018 European Union Referendum
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (193 words)
23 Thu 28th June 2018 Elections: Electoral Commission Recommendations
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (273 words)
24 Thu 7th June 2018 Online Material: Identification of Promoters
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (258 words)
25 Wed 23rd May 2018 Legislative Reform (Regulator of Social Housing) (England) Order 2018
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (197 words)
26 Wed 23rd May 2018 Somerset West and Taunton (Local Government Changes) Order 2018
Cabinet Office
5 interactions (1,283 words)
27 Wed 23rd May 2018 Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole (Structural Changes) Order 2018
Cabinet Office
5 interactions (1,890 words)
28 Tue 24th April 2018 Local Elections: Voter ID
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (1,111 words)
29 Tue 13th March 2018 Hate Crime
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (643 words)
30 Mon 12th March 2018 Cannabis
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (234 words)
31 Thu 8th February 2018 Housing Associations
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (295 words)
32 Fri 15th December 2017 Local Government Elections (Referendum) Bill [HL]
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (3,008 words)
33 Thu 14th December 2017 Grenfell Tower
Cabinet Office
4 interactions (615 words)
34 Wed 6th December 2017 Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (Amendment) Order 2017
Cabinet Office
7 interactions (1,964 words)
35 Wed 15th November 2017 Data Protection Bill [HL]
Home Office
2 interactions (1,099 words)
36 Fri 27th October 2017 Democratic Political Activity (Funding and Expenditure) Bill [HL]
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (4,260 words)
37 Tue 24th October 2017 Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (236 words)
38 Thu 12th October 2017 Housing: Availability and Affordability
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (5,182 words)
39 Thu 7th September 2017 Local Government Elections
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (3,436 words)
40 Wed 6th September 2017 Electoral Spending Limits: Wales
Cabinet Office
3 interactions (159 words)
41 Thu 13th July 2017 Local Government Finance
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (1,030 words)
42 Mon 26th June 2017 Boundary Reviews 2018
Cabinet Office
4 interactions (238 words)

Councils: Funding

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 4th July 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, the Government recognise the vital work that councils do to support their communities. That is why the 2019-20 settlement confirmed that councils’ core spending power will increase by 2.8% in cash terms, including an additional £650 million for social care. This is a real-terms increase in resources to support critical services. The department is preparing actively for the spending review, which is the right place to take long-term funding decisions.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, the research just published by the Conservative-led Local Government Association—referred to in my Question—shows that one-third of local authorities fear they are going to run out of funds by 2022-23, rising to two-thirds of councils by 2024-25. In the light of this disturbing and sombre news, does the Minister have any words of encouragement, hope—something—for hard-pressed local councils and their civic leaderships as they end their conference today in Bournemouth?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

Local councillors and local government officials have done remarkably well to maintain, and in some cases improve, the quality of the services they provide despite, since 2010, a reduction in grant until recently, which was necessary to balance the national accounts. I recognise that they have done that without excessive rate increases. Looking forward, I have seen the report to which the noble Lord refers and welcome the Local Government Association’s attempt to quantify the pressure on resources. That information will be used by Ministers to feed into the spending review to make the case for a proper settlement for local government.

Affordable Housing

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Wednesday 3rd July 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so refer the House to my relevant registered interest.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, it is government policy to increase the number of homes being built, including affordable homes. As far as possible, any impediments to selling government land and accelerating new house-building have been—and are being—removed. Guidance issued by the Treasury indicates that decisions should take account of wider social costs and benefits in the public interest, and it may be appropriate to choose an option that does not generate the highest Exchequer receipt.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the noble Lord for that response. Making publicly held land available for the provision of social housing, encouraging below-value sales, would go a long way towards delivering on the Government’s pledges to fix our broken housing market, and have many other benefits. Can he tell us the likelihood of that happening?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I agree. Until quite recently the policy on the disposal of government surplus land was that the best price should be secured—in the interests of the taxpayer, who is the ultimate owner. That money went into a central coffer and was then disposed of according to the Government’s priorities. There was a presumption against short-circuiting that process and disposing of land at less than best value. Two years ago that policy was amended, following a meeting of the housing implementation task force and, as I said in my reply, it is now possible to take the wider social costs and benefits and the public interest into account and to make the housing land available directly. A recent example of that was a site that was made available to the Government, initially to the homes agency—the Housing Corporation as was—and then passed on to Wolverhampton Council for £1. Now, 450 homes are being built on that land. That is a good example of what the noble Lord has asked for, and I hope that we see much more of it.

European Parliament Elections: Non-UK EU Citizens

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Wednesday 5th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question asked in the other place yesterday by my honourable friend Kevin Foster, Minister for the Constitution. The Answer is as follows:

“The Government took all the legal steps necessary to prepare for the European parliamentary elections and put in place all the necessary legislative and funding elements to enable returning officers to make their preparations. We worked with returning officers, the Electoral Commission and other agencies, such as the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers and the Association of Electoral Administrators, to support the smooth running of the polls. The Government are greatly appreciative of electoral administrators’ hard work inside and outside of election periods, which resulted in a higher turnout than for previous European parliamentary elections.

Electoral registration officers are under a statutory duty to ensure that people who are eligible to vote in elections have the opportunity to do so. For the recent European parliamentary elections—as for all previous such elections—this included making sure that EU citizens who are resident in the UK and registered to vote in local elections were made aware that they needed to complete a voter registration and declaration form, commonly referred to as a UC1 or EC6, so they could vote in the UK. The Electoral Commission supported EROs in this and encouraged them to take additional steps to raise awareness of this requirement locally, through social media channels and other means.

The UC1 form implements a requirement under EU law. EU Council Directive 93/109/EC requires all member states to send the details of any EU citizens’ declarations to the state they are a citizen of, “sufficiently in advance of polling day”, to ensure that an EU citizen does not vote twice in the same European parliamentary election. This is not a new requirement and has been in place for previous European parliamentary elections. Similar provision applies to UK citizens living in other EU member states. The UC1 form was accessible on the websites of the Electoral Commission, local authorities and Your Vote Matters.

On 5 April, the Electoral Commission published guidance for local returning officers and EROs on the upcoming European parliamentary elections. In it, the Electoral Commission reminded EROs to prepare and issue UC1 forms to EU citizens on the electoral register. On 3 May, the Electoral Commission published guidance advising EU citizens to avoid registering to vote using unofficial registration sites. The guidance further stated:

‘Any EU citizen who wants to vote in the European Parliamentary election in the UK must also print, complete and return a declaration form stating that they will only vote in the UK’.

The guidance also included a link to the Your Vote Matters website, where the form could be downloaded”.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I join the noble Lord in thanking returning officers and electoral staff for all that they do, and obviously I make my usual declaration as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Does the noble Lord accept that this is a very unsatisfactory situation where people were denied their right to vote? Is it not another example of why we urgently need to review, amend and update all the laws on elections, electoral registration, campaigning and, of course, the functions and purpose of the Electoral Commission?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his response. I am sorry if anybody who had done the right thing was thereafter denied the right to vote. As he knows, the Electoral Commission will undertake its normal inquiry into this election, as with any other election, and of course we will reflect on the results.

On the noble Lord’s general point, I repeat what I have said on an earlier occasion—probably in response to a question from him—that we have an analogue system in a digital age. We are taking some steps: for example, imprints on digital communications; and the Electoral Commission is issuing statutory guidance to distinguish between candidate expenditure and national expenditure. But I repeat my acceptance of an offer that he made earlier to have an all-party meeting with the Minister for the Constitution to see whether we can find a consensual way forward to make sure that we have an electoral system fit for the digital age and fit for purpose.

Electoral Commission: Referendums and Elections Spending

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 23rd May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

On the last point that the noble Lord raised, there was a court case relevant to this. The Electoral Commission is now in the process of issuing guidance which will give clarity to what scores against the local candidate’s expenditure and what should score against the party’s national expenditure. I hope the noble Lord welcomes that. I was relieved to hear that my party now finds it so much easier to raise money than any other party; this will come as welcome news to the party treasurer. So far as donations to the party are concerned, my party tries to stick rigorously to the rules—as I am sure all parties do. If an impermissible donation is presented, we are obliged to return it within 30 days.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for offering yesterday to speak to the Minister for the Constitution to seek another meeting to discuss these important matters further. Could the noble Lord also consider the need for a thorough review of the powers, functions and purpose of the Electoral Commission? Maybe that could be part of our future discussions.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

Following our exchange yesterday, I have been in touch with the Minister for the Constitution and he has agreed to the meeting that was discussed. It took me 24 hours to agree to that proposition; the noble Lord may think he is on a roll when it comes to the second one. So far as that is concerned, the Government have regular contact with the Electoral Commission on a range of issues, including its powers, and we keep those matters under review.

Political Parties: Donation Rules

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Wednesday 22nd May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the donation rules for political parties.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, on 5 May the Government announced a consultation on safeguarding UK elections. Recommendations for closing loopholes on foreign spending in elections and preventing shell companies sidestepping the current rules on political finance could be addressed in the consultation. The Government will take the views of interested groups such as the Parliamentary Parties Panel and the Electoral Commission to better understand the problems that we could seek to address in the consultation.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. He is highly respected in this House and, more importantly in this case, in his party. The Government often come out with consultations but we really have a problem in this country with our electoral law, with law governing political parties, with donations, loans and everything else in this area. Can he give an assurance to the House that, despite other problems, he will do everything in his power to make sure that we address this urgently?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful for the consensual approach adopted by the noble Lord. Quite recently he attended a meeting with me, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, my noble friend Lord Hayward, the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, at which we sought to see whether there was a consensus on some of the challenges facing the electoral system. Subsequently, a meeting was held with the Electoral Commission. I would be more than happy to contact the Minister for the Constitution, who was also at that meeting, to see whether it would be helpful to have another round-table discussion to identify areas of consensus and to see whether we can make progress in developing a rigid and credible electoral system.

Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [HL]

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Monday 13th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town said in her opening remarks, the Opposition welcome and support the Bill before the House. There are, however, other pressing needs that require parliamentary time, and I hope we will see a few Bills to address those matters as well.

We have had a census in a form we recognise, providing useful data for Governments, local authorities and a whole range of other organisations, for the past 200 years, collected every 10 years, except in 1941, for very understandable reasons. I understand that the 2021 census will largely be conducted online, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, referenced. That is a sensible move, but where people are unable to complete the form online, then a paper-based option should remain available for use since there are still a number of people in this country who are digitally excluded. I am sure that that is an issue of concern to the Government and I very much support the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, that the Government should look into how we can get more people to complete the form online.

The census provides a whole range of data that would be almost impossible to collect in such a comprehensive form through any other method. As my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town said, it must be accurate, complete, comprehensive, consistent, credible and provide confidence that it will be used correctly.

I very much welcome the two new categories that the Bill allows to be asked on the census. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that it is very welcome that we have made such strides in the acceptance of people’s sexual orientation. There is always more to do, but I think we have made tremendous progress in recent years.

I am also very pleased that the Government have, through this Bill, ensured that there will be no financial penalty for respondents who do not complete these questions. It is regrettable that we still have no functioning Executive or Assembly in Northern Ireland. In the absence of such institutions, it is right that the Government have legislated to ensure that the same questions are asked in Northern Ireland, and that there will be no penalty there either for anyone who does not respond.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, raised several points that I wish to support her on. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, will be able to give satisfactory replies when he responds to the debate shortly. In respect of the sex question, where an individual is asked to pick either “male” or “female”, can the noble Lord tell the House how trans people should answer that question? Is it their sex at birth, their sex now, or should they respond in a way outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker?

Can the noble Lord say something about the guidance that will accompany the gender identity question? Can he say something about how intersex births are to be recorded? On the question of publishing de-anonymised data in 100 years’ time, I understand that there is the ability, through an instrument, to extend that period further, if it is thought necessary or desirable. Can it be extended only once, or can it be done many times? Has the noble Lord's department looked at this question, and can he provide information on this matter?

It is important that we get the same data for the United Kingdom, so I am pleased that the Scottish Government are also legislating on these matters, and that a legislative consent Motion is being sought from the Welsh Assembly.

Like many other noble Lords, I received the excellent briefing from the Royal British Legion, and while the issues raised are not directly the subject of this three-clause Bill, I will refer to them—as others have done—and hope that the Minister can provide the House with some information. First, I pay tribute to the work that the Royal British Legion does generally, supporting veterans and their families. Data is invaluable for the Legion in its campaigns—as it is for the Government and for local authorities. The Armed Forces Covenant is enshrined in statute, and has also been adopted by many local authorities in the United Kingdom. The Legion calls and campaigns, and the Government have an obligation that no member of the Armed Forces is left disadvantaged because of their service. To deliver that objective, the Legion is reliant on uniform data.

I very much support the Legion’s campaign for a new topic to be included in the 2021 census that concerns military service and membership of the Armed Forces community. I look forward to the final details of the question that will form part of the census coming forward for approval in 2020, but anything that the Minister can say now is most welcome.

My noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town also raised the issue of homelessness. In terms of the census, how do we reach these people and get as accurate a picture as possible? Again, it would be welcome if the Minister could say a little about what he expects the Government will say to encourage local authorities to do everything possible to collect data from this important group who are difficult to communicate with. There are several voluntary projects that could help. In Lewisham, where I live, the 999 club could certainly help the local authority. We must find ways to get to these people. For all local authorities to go the extra mile, they have to feel that the Government really want this data to be collected and will support them in doing so.

In conclusion, I confirm that the Opposition support this Bill and will work constructively with the Government to enable its passage through this House and on to the statute book.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this relatively short debate, and particularly welcome the broad support for the legislation we have brought forward. I will try to answer the questions that have been raised, but if I do not, I will ensure that noble Lords have the answers before the Committee stage.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her support. The business managers will have noted her suggestions that there are other pieces of legislation—some of them controversial—that should be introduced. She set out why we need firm data in order for the public services to be effectively targeted. The census will be trialled later this year in a number of places, including Tower Hamlets, and there will be further consultation on the detailed questions.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked a key question about how homeless people will be counted. I agree that it is vital that those who face severe challenges in their lives are reached when we assess how public services are to be delivered. Since 2011, further research and engagement with charities have been undertaken to understand how people without a fixed place of abode can make a census response, so the ONS is planning to make forms available in night shelters and day centres, with practical help for filling them in. The ONS continues to work with these centres and other groups to ensure that people who may attend them only on a given day will also be able to take part.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, also asked about the Armed Forces and veterans. We will consult the Royal British Legion and others on the detailed question or questions, which will be determined by secondary legislation later this year. There was a question about whether the veterans’ questions should be voluntary. I do not think they raise quite the same sensitivities as the two questions that will be voluntary, so they will be part of the compulsory section. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, the only voluntary question is the one introduced in 2001 on religion and the two questions being dealt with today. All the others are voluntary.

Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention and Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) and (Levy Account Basis of Distribution) Regulations 2019

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Monday 18th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, as the Minister said, the regulations are technical and in that sense I am happy to support them as they stand. I concur with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and my noble friend Lord Beecham and I am sure the Minister will respond to the points raised.

The only issue I want to raise concerns Northamptonshire being in the list of council areas that are involved in this scheme. I know the county council is the precept authority, or the collecting authority, but equally it is a council in crisis. The local government reorganisation is happening because the county council has effectively almost gone broke. Is the Minister confident that we should be doing this in this area, in view of the problems that have been widely reported over the past year? That said, I am very happy to support the regulations.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions of all three noble Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, this is the first non-Brexit SI, although I noticed it emptied the House as I rose to my feet. He mentioned that the announcement of £180 million going back would be popular with local government. We are always seeking to court popularity with local government, although we do not always achieve it. I am grateful to hear that on this occasion, we have.

The noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Beecham, raised slightly broader issues about the pressures confronting local authorities, which I recognise. We have had to take difficult decisions on public expenditure over recent years, and they have impacted on local authorities and government departments. There will be an opportunity to discuss that.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned Northamptonshire. The change in Northamptonshire is relatively minor and switches responsibility for one service from A to B. I do not think it detracts from the more structural changes that are now having to take place in that county.

Break in Debate

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I, too, forgot to remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I was a vice-president of a preceding local government association, but I was expelled when I introduced rate capping.

Representation of the People (Election Expenses Exclusion) (Amendment) Order 2019

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 14th February 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I am very happy to give the order my full support. I was glad that the noble Lord mentioned the political parties panel, because I was going to ask him about it. There is no mention of political parties at all in the consultation referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum. I know that the noble Lord mentioned it in his contribution, because I was going to ask him about it. The bodies listed in the Explanatory Memorandum do not pay election expenses and do not fill out election returns. I am glad that he covered that point. It is important that we keep the political parties informed on all these matters. They can often inform the Government’s thinking in a positive and helpful way. Since the noble Lord answered my question, that is fine. I am very happy to support the order.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My Lords, I have had a remarkably easy time—oh, I am sorry.

Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (Amendment) Order 2019

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 14th February 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I am very happy to support the instruments we are discussing today. It is right to bring all these matters into line. The security of candidates is an important consideration, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. It is right to do this but, equally, it is regrettable that we have to balance the safety and security of candidates against the issues of openness and transparency. That is a terrible shame, but we live in times when candidates can be abused and treated improperly, so we need to give them the option of not publishing their address on the ballot paper. However, it is regrettable in many ways.

I fully support the instruments in front of us today. Of course, there is one other group of people to consider. The order says that, if you want, your address can be removed from the ballot paper. But when people get elected to the council, they often find that their name, address and telephone number get stuck on the council website. In present times, I am not convinced that we should do that. If people want to get hold of their local councillor, they should contact them at the town hall. Sometimes councils make decisions that people do not like, and making people’s personal details available may mean that we are exposing them to risks in a way we should not. Obviously that is not for today; it is a discussion for another time, but I think we should look at that as well. I am very happy to support the instruments before us.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and for their support for the Motions we are bringing forward.

As I said, the background is a recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We have already extended this facility to a large number of people who are standing for election, and the relatively modest Motions before us simply extend that facility on a voluntary basis to those standing for combined authority and local mayoral elections. As a number of noble Lords said, we do not want people to be discouraged from putting themselves forward for public office due to fear of intimidation; there has been some evidence of publicly elected people being subjected to intimidation. That is why we are doing it. However, I understand the point made in this debate that it is a matter of regret that we need to do so.

On the specific questions, as far as I am aware, we have no plans to revisit the voting procedures at local or parish council elections. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, suggested that before you stand for public office there should be some pre-election financial declaration. The Committee on Standards in Public Life might look at that in the first instance; it seems to fall within its remit, rather than being something for the Government to initiate.

On the final point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, it is for individual local authorities to decide what information they put on their websites about individual councillors. I hope that they would consult local councillors before putting their home address and telephone number on a website, and that they would not do that automatically. However, I imagine this is a matter best decided by local authorities, and I am sure they will have taken on board the point the noble Lord made. With those brief points, I commend these instruments to the House.

Election Expenditure

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Wednesday 13th February 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I entirely agree with the principle that the noble Lord has just enunciated. I was looking at the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883, which enshrined the principle to which he referred. The preamble states that,

“if its provisions are honestly carried out, the length of a man’s purse will not, as now, be such an important factor”.

I am afraid that a woman’s purse did not get a mention, it being 1883. The text continued,

“and the way will be opened for many men of talent, with small means, to take part in the government of the country, who have been hitherto deterred from seeking a seat in the House of Commons by the great expense which a contest entails”.

That principle is timeless, even if the language may not be.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while guidance, codes and statutory instruments may deliver some of the change we need, it is only through primary legislation that we will get the electoral law fit for purpose?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

That is why, in my Answer, I said that in the first instance, the code of practice will provide greater clarity for those taking part in our democratic process. At the meeting attended by the noble Lord and six other noble Lords yesterday, the point was made that there may be some inconsistency in the primary legislation, which may need addressing. What I have said does not preclude a more radical look at primary legislation, as the noble Lord suggested.

Social Housing

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 31st January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Whitty on securing the debate. I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Osamor on her excellent maiden speech; I look forward to hearing from her many more times. She brings a wealth of experience to our debates, as we heard today, and I am delighted to welcome her.

We all accept, I think, that we are in the middle of a housing crisis. Today’s debate is focused on the part of the housing crisis in which we see people in the most desperate need imaginable. You would have hoped that the Government would have focused their primary policy action there, but that is not the case and this failure is paid for by the taxpayer through increased housing benefit bills and other costs.

The Government understand that there is a problem. I accept entirely that successive Governments have not done as much as they should have. However, we have a crisis and despite all the evidence before them, the Government cannot bring themselves to take measures that would make a real difference to help those in the most desperate need and, at the same time, reduce costs and make housing more affordable for all, across all tenures. They are caught up in starter homes, pushing more right to buy with no programme for the replacement of the social homes lost, and the ridiculously named “affordable rent” model, which is totally unaffordable for many people. The result is a booming housing benefit bill and an increasing private rented sector with no real support for local authorities to deal with the rogues that operate at the bad end of the market; I am well aware that many excellent private landlords also want the rogues dealt with.

We need to hear more from the Government on a real commitment to building more social homes on proper social rents: a commitment that also involves housing associations being enabled to do the same and being encouraged to live up to and return to their founding principles—a commitment to make housing costs cheaper for everyone, whatever the tenure. The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, raised the issue of community trusts and offsite-manufactured housing. I agree with her that such initiatives can make an important contribution to housing needs. I also think that the co-operative sector could play a much bigger role in an expanded sector, providing much-needed social homes where tenants have direct and real control over their homes.

The Prime Minister deserves credit for dropping—certainly quietly forgetting about—some of the worst provisions of the dreaded Housing and Planning Act, which must be a contender for one of the worst pieces of legislation. Written on the back of a cigarette packet, it was the biggest piece of ideological rubbish brought forward by the Government in recent years. We will all be better off for a commitment from the Government. I just do not understand why the Government are so reluctant to do more of what could make a real difference. To be fair, the Government have taken a positive step with the lifting of the borrowing cap to enable councils to build more homes. I congratulate them for that, but we need local authorities to be able to keep 100% of the receipts for council homes sold under right to buy. The Government should at least do that, if they are not going to suspend right to buy, as has happened in Scotland and Wales.

I want to see a rise in home ownership but not a decline in the council homes available for rent. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was right to point out that the intent behind the right to buy policy was probably to increase home ownership, but 40 years on many of those homes have found their way into the private rented sector and, in an act of madness, councils are having to rent back the homes they sold in the first place at vastly increased prices. It is a matter of regret for us all.

As I have told the House before, like my noble friends Lord Bassam and Lady Donaghy, I grew up in council properties; in my case, in the Borough of Southwark, on the Aylesbury and Pelier estates, which are very close to where the noble Lord, Lord Hayward—he is on his place on the Government Benches—now lives. The properties I lived in as a child were warm, safe and dry; they were good for our family and helped us to thrive, as the noble Lord, Lord Porter, made reference to in his speech.

The noble Lord, Lord Bird, was absolutely right when he described council housing in the 1960s and 1970s, and my own experience was very similar. We had teachers, office workers, young families, retired people and unemployed people all living together. That is not the situation now on many of our council estates. Moving forward to today, I and all my siblings are home owners and we recognise how lucky we were as children to have a decent home to live in. My noble friend Lord Sawyer was right to say that the story now is often one of pain, misery and suffering. I think that life is very tough for people with young families trying to make ends meet while paying the market rent for a private rented property or, as I have said, the unaffordable affordable rent model. The year before last, I actually wrote an article for the Fabian Society about how living in a council home had helped my family to thrive. At this point, I should mention that I serve on the executive committee of the society.

Looking at government statistics, we have new housing completions in 2017-18 reaching 163,000, a 16% increase on the previous year, but looking at the figures in detail, only 27,410 were built by housing associations and just 1,700 by local authorities. One must ask how many of those homes that were built in the social sector will be let at truly affordable rents. I fear not enough, even among the small number of homes being built.

The noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth, made an interesting contribution, although I did not agree with very much of it. However, I agree with him that prevention is better than cure, but to deliver that we need to see more initiatives, policies and resources being targeted at prevention; otherwise, the taxpayer and society as a whole will pay many times over for this policy failure. We need to deal with the problem in the first place.

The removal of the borrowing cap is obviously welcome, but that on its own will produce around only an additional 9,000 homes each year, nowhere near the 100,000 social homes that I believe need to be built every year to deal with this problem. My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe made the point about the need for new social homes to be genuinely affordable. As I said earlier in my contribution, this is a really important point.

Can the noble Lord tell the House whether the Government will look at removing housing borrowing from contributing to public debt? What plans do they have for local authorities with no housing revenue account to enable them to access borrowing in order to build homes to meet local housing need? The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, also made a good point about looking at making more use of brownfield sites. We need to do much more of that.

One of the most shocking things we have seen in recent years is the rising number of people who are homeless. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford paid tribute to the work of churches and faith communities in supporting homeless people, and I join with him in paying my own tribute. Homelessness is of course in plain sight outside this Palace. My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe told the House about the homeless person who last year died literally feet away from this House. I think that that is absolutely tragic. Indeed, you cannot walk from a mainline station to get to the Palace without seeing homeless people sitting in doorways through these bitterly cold nights. It is a shocking and shameful scandal that has grown substantially since 2010. Despite the Homelessness Reduction Act, unless we provide realistic money to local authorities to pay for interventions and thus deliver on their new obligations, what is a well-intentioned piece of legislation will not have the impact it could have to help towards solving the tragedy of homelessness.

I also think that housing policy and good intentions are often frustrated by the work of other departments and a lack of joined-up thinking across government. This is a trap that all Governments can fall into. I think that the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions need to be looked at carefully to see the damage that they are inflicting on other government programmes and initiatives. Can the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, tell the House how the policy decisions and proposals are discussed across government in order to avoid these problems?

In conclusion, I thank my noble friend for bringing this Motion before us. It has been an excellent debate with great contributions from across the House. We all want to solve this problem and we want to support the Government in doing that.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a very constructive debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just said. In particular I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for choosing it and for introducing it with a very eloquent non rant.

It is almost 40 years since my first speech as a housing Minister in 1981. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was then working for the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union prior to running the Labour Party. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was a Newcastle city councillor keeping tabs on the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who was entering his middle period as the leader, and a youthful noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was waiting to be able to vote in his first general election. Affordable housing was a priority for the Government then and it remains a priority for the Government today.

It was during my time as a housing Minister in the 1980s that I met the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor. She was campaigning for the renovation of the Broadwater Farm estate and, as important, for the empowerment of the local community and an improvement in its relations with the local authority and with central government. I remember meeting community leaders, of whom she was one, and the charismatic Dolly Kiffin. It is good to renew her acquaintance after all those years. I commend her on her speech and look forward to her future contributions.

An occasional partisan note has crept into our debate. As noble Lords know, I am the least partisan of Ministers. Perhaps I may just put one or two statistics before your Lordships to redress the balance; this debate is about social housing. Between 1997 and 2010, the stock of social housing fell by 420,000. Since 2010, the overall stock of social housing has increased by 79,000. Some 12,440 local authority dwellings were built between 2010-11 and 2017-18, up from 2,920 over the previous 13 years. The briefing we all got from the Home Builders Federation said that housing output was up by 78% in the last five years and that the supply has risen to its fourth highest level since 1971. For the year ending March 2018, the planning system granted permission for 359,000 new homes. There is more in my brief which I will not deploy because I want to answer the debate and because we are in no way complacent about the task ahead.

I would like to make two general points about social housing. First, there has been much emphasis on the need for more housing at social rents, a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Shipley, as opposed to affordable rents. I understand the case, but there is a trade-off between rent levels on the one hand and the number of homes that can be built on the other. For the sake of argument, let us assume that an extra £1 billion became available. On average across England, we would expect either to build 12,500 homes at social rents or twice that number—25,000—at affordable rents: double the number of homes to house those in housing need. Moreover, approximately two-thirds of social housing tenants receive housing benefit to support the payment of their rent. So I understand why housing Ministers want to maximise supply, and I plead guilty to this. More recently, the Government have recognised the case for social rents in areas of high demand, a point made in this debate, and we have turned the dial back to provide a minimum of 12,500 new social rent homes. But those who call for a major reversion to traditional social rents must recognise the cost in lost output, and that is true whatever the level of investment available.

The second general point is one that has not been made at all in this debate: if you are in housing need, of course the number of new social homes built is relevant and the more the better. But someone in housing need is eight times more likely to be rehoused through a re-let of an existing social home, than through a new home. So increasing the number of re-lets is a key ingredient in helping those in need. Without changing the rules on security of tenure, I am all in favour of a dialogue between social landlords and their tenants where the tenants’ circumstances have improved substantially, partly as a result of having a decent home, so that they are now in a position to consider home ownership and explore help to buy, shared ownership, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and other home ownership options.

That is also why I have always been a keen supporter of portable discounts—basically, turning the discount that a social tenant is entitled to under right to buy into cash so that the tenant can buy a home. It has a number of benefits. It widens the choice of home that the tenant can buy beyond just the one he is in. It secures a re-let at a fraction of the cost of new build, and of course it does so more quickly. Moreover, it does not erode the stock of social houses, a point made by many noble Lords. The concept is being tested through the current voluntary right-to-buy pilot for housing association tenants in the Midlands; the discounts are funded by central government. I hope housing associations consider whether this has a greater role to play in tackling waiting lists.

On this, and in response to points made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I was interested to read in last week’s Inside Housing an article by Mark Henderson, the chief executive of Home Group, supporting voluntary right to buy. He said that 87% of his tenants wanted to own their own homes. He went on to say:

“At Home Group, for example, we want to go a step further”,

than the national federation’s offer of replacing one for one.

“We will be able to build two homes for every home sold, including at least one for social or affordable rent. This means that”,

voluntary right to buy,

“will lead to a net increase in the amount of affordable homes in an area, alongside helping customers achieve their aspirations of homeownership”.

I hope other housing associations might consider following his lead.

This brings me to right to buy and the points made by many of those who have spoken, including the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about the use of right-to-buy receipts. Since the reform of the housing revenue account and the introduction of self-financing in April 2012, a proportion of receipts is paid to the Treasury to reflect the reduction in the amount owed to the Treasury and as part of the self-financing settlement, but also to tackle the budget deficit. However, noble Lords will know that we have just undertaken a consultation on the use of right-to-buy receipts. We are considering the responses and how to take these forward. I will ensure that all the points made by noble Lords about more flexibility and the use of capital receipts are taken on board before we come to a final decision on that. Capital receipts could be used for the purposes the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, suggested, namely, regenerating existing local housing stock. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked whether local authorities that have transferred their stock can borrow. Yes, they can. They can borrow through their general fund in line with the prudential code. If they want to, they can then on-loan to a third party for housing development.

I turn to rough sleeping, a topic covered by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, the noble Baronesses, Lady Lawrence and Lady Warwick, and others. Many referred to the tragic death of a rough sleeper on our own doorstep a few weeks ago. Under the first rough sleepers initiative, which was launched in 1990 and which my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones mentioned, the number of people sleeping rough in central London fell by more than half—from an estimated more than 1,000 before the initiative began to around 420 in November 1992. The model was taken forward by the incoming Labour Government and extended to other parts of the country, but the challenge today is as acute as ever.

In response to my noble friend, there are four ingredients to a successful strategy. The first is prevention. The Homelessness Reduction Act, backed by £1.2 billion and piloted through this House by the noble Lord, Lord Best, should give people the help they need earlier and reduce homelessness. Secondly, we need outreach workers with the skills to build up confidence and trust with the rough sleepers and persuade them to abandon that lifestyle. Thirdly, we need direct access hostels with all the necessary support services such as health—mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister—and the resources to deal with the underlying problems. Fourthly, we need move-on accommodation so that people can put their lives back together and re-enter the mainstream.

I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford in praising those who do heroic work: Centrepoint, The Passage, St Mungo’s and Change Grow Live. Initiatives such as No Second Night Out are particularly important and worthy of support. I pay tribute and wish every success to my ministerial colleague in the department, Heather Wheeler, committing to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and—in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer—end it completely by 2027. It is an ambitious agenda, backed up by £100 million in funding for the first two years, and in December we published a delivery plan showing how we intend to deliver on the 61 commitments made.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his contribution outlining the consequences of ending rent control. When I bought my copy of the Big Issue today from Phil in Great Peter Street, he asked to be remembered to the noble Lord. Phil suggested that those in the Victoria area who are recruiting staff could do well to call in on the nearby hostel where Phil stays, where they would find some motivated and hard-working employees who deserve a break, like him.

Many noble Lords spoke about encouraging local authorities to build, and we want to see councils deliver a new generation of homes. We have abolished the housing revenue account cap, and my noble friend Lord Porter deserves credit for the role he has played in securing that freedom. We hope that will enable them to double delivery to around 10,000 homes per year by 2021-22.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, criticised stock transfer, when a local authority transfers its stock to a housing association. This can happen only where the tenants have voted for it. In many cases, after they voted for it, the regeneration of a stock took place at a faster rate than would have taken place under the local authority— so I do not think that is a fair criticism of housing policy.

Removing the borrowing cap will help to diversify the housebuilding market, with councils better able to take on projects and sites that private developers might consider too small. To further help councils build, we are providing a longer-term rent deal for five years from 2020 that provides local authorities with a stable investment environment to deliver the new homes.

I was struck by the phrase “long-term” in the noble Lord’s Motion—a challenge to all Administrations accused of short-termism. I agree with him that if we are to make faster progress we need to give those who supply social housing greater certainty. That is why in September the Prime Minister announced a £2 billion long-term funding pilot, starting in 2022, which will boost affordable housing by giving housing associations the long-term certainty they need and will move away from the stop/start delivery that has characterised previous approaches to funding. This funding certainty makes it more viable for the larger housing associations—many noble Lords have key roles to play in housing associations—to take risks and invest in more ambitious projects and larger sites, with the funding guaranteed beyond the current spending review.

We recognise that our commitment to increase the supply of homes requires a modern construction industry—a point raised by my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, who talked about off-site construction. The strategic partnerships we are developing with housing associations are being used to promote modern methods of construction. This is supported by our £4.5 billion home building fund providing support to builders using modern methods of construction, which will, we hope, help to address the shortage of skilled on-site construction workers in addition to encouraging custom builders and new entrants to the market.

My noble friend Lord Garel-Jones suggested that we should build up rather than along and pointed to the difference between our cities and many in Europe. It so happens that yesterday the Secretary of State for Housing announced that, as part of a fresh initiative, 78 homes will be built on London’s rooftops by the summer after Homes England agreed a £9 million funding deal with Apex Airspace Development. This follows our revised NPPF supporting opportunities to use the airspace above existing buildings. These will be built off-site then winched into position to minimise disruption to existing residents.

Many noble Lords referred to poor standards in the private rented sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked about selective licensing, which is basically a scheme to drive up standards and safety in the private rented sector, where they are known to be poor. Last year, at the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I got up very early one morning and went to Newham with the noble Lord, the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, and the police to see how selective licensing was enforced—basically, by going into premises that are as yet unlicensed but suspected of being tenanted. What struck me—and, I am sure, the noble Lord—was the appalling conditions many tenants were living in, paying extortionate rents, but also the sensitivity of the team from Newham in explaining to frightened tenants exactly what was going on and what their rights were. I was deeply impressed that morning.

Since 2015, eight schemes have been approved by the Secretary of State for Housing: one was rejected but it then successfully reapplied. In response to the noble Baroness, a review is under way: we are due to publish it in the spring and I will make sure that the chartered institute report to which she referred is fed into it before we come to any conclusions.

My noble friend Lady Bloomfield raised a number of important points on planning, investment and construction. Last year we updated the NPPF to tackle unaffordable house prices in many areas across the country. The framework sets out a new way for councils to calculate the housing needs of their local communities. We are working closely with other government departments and local authorities to identify and free up public sector land to maximise the amount of affordable housing built on it. The community trust partnership mentioned by my noble friend is one model that can help bring private sector investment alongside local authorities and provide experience to increase affordable housing.

One of the key points that has arisen during the debate—which I will certainly raise with the Secretary of State—was the cost of land and the Land Compensation Act 1961. At the moment we have the CIL, the infrastructure levy, and Section 106, both of which seek to capture the value of land. Many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lords, Lord Shipley, Lord Best and Lord Judd, said that we ought to go further and do more. We are committed to capturing increases in land values to reinvest in local infrastructure, central services and further housing. That is why we are at the moment making important changes to ensure that the existing mechanisms for securing funding for infrastructure and affordable housing work as effectively as possible. I take seriously the comments and suggestions made during the debate.

I am conscious that I will not be able to get through everything in the time available but, quickly, on public sector land, an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, the aim of the programme is to release land with a capacity for at least 160,000 homes in England from the central government estate by 1 March 2020. The noble Baroness asked what the percentage of affordable might be. The answer is, as I think she knows, that local authorities set their own percentages in their local plan. It is a matter for them, having assessed local need, to judge what should happen on new developments.

On supported housing, I was interested in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Healy. There is a need for specialist and other supportable, affordable housing for older and vulnerable members of society. We have delivered 34,000 new supported homes in England since 2011 and, together with the Department for Health and Social Care, we continue to make funding available for investment in new supported housing. Our announcement last summer that the housing costs for supported housing would continue to be made by housing benefit has been greatly reassuring to those active in the market. I hope it will be welcomed by the sector and unlock fresh investment.

I apologise for not dealing with all the questions. I have many good replies in front of me which, sadly, I do not have time to read out but which I will answer.

The Government support the case for delivering more affordable housing and are committed to doing so. We want to support the delivery of the right homes, be they for rent, ownership or supported housing in the right places. We have listened to the sector and to today’s debate. We have introduced a number of measures to create a more stable investment environment. We have abolished the HRA borrowing caps; announced longer-term funding; increased our affordable homes programme to £9 billion; announced social rent funding; and set long-term rent certainty. We are not complacent but now is the time for councils and housing associations to step and deliver the affordable housing that communities need. I thank all noble Lords again for their contributions to this debate.

Constitutional Convention

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 13th December 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock for tabling this Motion for debate today. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for his diligent and exemplary service in both Houses, totalling 54 years. I have had the privilege of benefiting from the noble Lord’s wise counsel during my eight years as a Member of your Lordships’ House. I agree with other noble Lords that he will be much missed on all sides of the House.

Despite what else is going on in the political sphere—or perhaps because of it—it is good to have this debate today. Since 1997 in particular there has been considerable constitutional change in the United Kingdom. Most of it has been very welcome and needed and has made our country better. The devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were long overdue. It is a tragedy that the Northern Ireland Assembly is presently suspended and, like other noble Lords, I hope that an agreement can be reached to get it up and running again soon.

The establishment of the Greater London Authority, the Mayor of London and the London Assembly has been very welcome. I agree with my noble friend Lord Adonis about the success of the office of the Mayor of London and the London Assembly. I pay tribute to the members of the London Assembly. They do a very good job holding the mayor—of whatever political persuasion—to account each and every day. The establishment of the Supreme Court and the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law were also welcome initiatives.

Not so welcome, in my opinion, have been the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and the English votes for English laws procedure in the House of Commons, which my noble friend Lord Foulkes also referred to. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that there has to be a holistic approach to constitutional reform and the fact that there has not been has helped create the problems we face today. The decision in 2015 to have English votes for English laws highlights that we have not completed the constitutional changes needed and have left ourselves with a particular problem in England. Most noble Lords who spoke accepted that there is an issue there. So this debate is very welcome in that context.

My noble friend Lord Foulkes spoke about the need for a constitutional convention and he makes a very powerful case. Whether it is a convention or a convocation, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, I do not really mind. We have to accept that we have a serious problem and we need to deal with it.

Our present Brexit crisis means that the Government are doing little else. That is a problem for us all. From what I can see, there is no strategic thinking about what changes are needed in the governance of the United Kingdom, no analysis of the problems, and no looking at how we can meet the challenges that we face and how can we do things in a better way that gives our citizens better engagement, understanding and ownership, and a feeling that that their views matter.

Nowhere is that more of a problem that in the present arrangements in England. I agree with my noble friend Lord Murphy about devolution in England —the lack of it, the problems that has caused and the urgent need for this to be readdressed. Many noble Lords made comments about the derisory powers of city leaders and mayors in comparison with those of their European counterparts. Boris Johnson is not a man I often agree with, but even he made the case for the additional devolution of fiscal powers to London during his term of office many years ago, although of course even he was unsuccessful in achieving that.

I also contend that the failure to deal with the issues in England has created much greater pressure on the union. I very much agree with the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, which observed that while there had been devolution of power elsewhere in the United Kingdom, England was a centralised unit, and:

“As a result, there is dissatisfaction within England with the current territorial constitution”.

I believe that a lot of our problems can be tracked back to one central issue. My noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock referred to the comments made by the Mayor of Liverpool about this being a top-down agenda. We have heard that he has left the board of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. When George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he looked at the whole question of where power is and created the northern powerhouse initiative. He sought to devolve powers—we can argue whether he was right or wrong—and to reorganise governance arrangements. I did not agree with all this but today, with his departure from government and now from the House of Commons, it has stalled. There appears to be no reforming zeal anywhere in government. There is no interest in the Treasury. There is no interest in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to move this forward. There is definitely no interest in Downing Street for this agenda. The combined authority/metro mayor model is flawed and confused and now lacks a champion in government.

I remember a contribution to a previous debate by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—he is not in his place today—in which he told us that where he lives in Cambridgeshire, there are actually five tiers of local government: the metro mayor and the combined authority, the police and crime commissioner, the county council, the district council and the parish council. That is no way to deliver services and to be accountable to the local electorate.

To be fair, there is not much thinking in my own party on this at the moment. We need to look at these things. One of the benefits of being in opposition—there are not many—is that you can look at these matters, do some thinking, bring something forward and challenge ideas. That is important and we need to do that. The Member for Oldham West and Royton in the other place, Mr Jim McMahon MP, has begun some important work looking at the devolution settlement for England. As an Opposition we need to be coming forward with ideas to meet the challenges of governance that we face today. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hain’s comments about devolution in England and how we need to develop things. He also referred to the Member for Wigan in the other place, Lisa Nandy MP, and the important work she is doing looking at towns and how they can feel isolated and not engaged.

There is also a big job to be done by think tanks and organisations such as the Fabian Society, a much-respected organisation on the left of British politics, which has been affiliated to the Labour Party since its formation. If you look at our 1997 manifesto, the society had great influence on the issues we fought and won that election on. I should also make it clear that I have been a member of the society for 30 years and serve on its executive committee.

Thinking in other political parties is important as well. We need to make sure that political parties and organisations aligned with them also think about these things. No one party or organisation is the source of all good ideas. In the 2017 general election the Labour Party supported a constitutional convention as a way forward. Getting some sort of body together to consider these very important issues is a very welcome idea. It should comprise representatives of political parties, civil society and academia. We may need a number of different organisations to consider these questions urgently, because it cannot be just a body or a group of people who are seen to be detached. The issue of real citizen engagement has to be central to the work that any convention or convocation does.

The Library briefing was very helpful. I was interested to read about the work of Professor Hazell and Dr Renwick and agree with them that,

“genuine, well-grounded deliberation does not take place spontaneously”.

To go down this route would take considerable planning but could produce recommendations that are reasoned and coherent and, most importantly, address the issues that need addressing. Their Blueprint for a UK Constitutional Convention is a good piece of work and could form the basis of how we move forward, notwithstanding the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport about how we deliver constitutional change in our country. As I said earlier, however, there also needs to be thinking within the political parties and I suspect—unless the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, surprises us all when he responds—that the Government are at present not persuaded as to the merits of these proposals from my noble friend Lord Foulkes. There is plenty of time for us in the political parties to consider these issues carefully and maybe to persuade the Government at a later date.

I thank my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock for bringing his Motion forward today. It has been a very useful debate and I look forward to the response from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on his choice of subject and its timing, this debate coming as it does in a month when a number of important constitutional issues have captured the headlines. I join all noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Higgins. I first heard him speak from my party’s Front Bench in 1974, when he was part of Ted Heath’s opposition team, and have followed his career ever since. I remember him in particular chairing the Treasury Select Committee in the 1990s. The debates here will be the poorer without him. I hope that he does not entirely absent himself from political discourse, but uses other platforms. I was touched by his genuine tribute to his successors, the fact that he has done 54 years in public service and the way that he stuck up for his beliefs at a time when they were unpopular. The children of this country are for ever grateful to him for the rebate of VAT on children’s shoes.

It has been a real pleasure for me to listen to this debate, well informed and topical as it has been, as I have a long-standing interest in constitutional issues. I was my party’s spokesman in another place on the subject at the turn of the century, when we debated what became the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, along with Lords reform. I served on a democracy taskforce, chaired by Ken Clarke, with fellow members including the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Tyrie, which promoted the policy of English votes for English laws. I shall come back to that in a moment. As the leader of the House in another place, I promoted some reforms in the coalition Government to give back to Parliament some of the powers the Executive had taken away. I have also done some time on the council of the Hansard Society and worked with my noble friend Lord Norton, when he was commissioned by the then leader of my party, now my noble friend Lord Hague, to work up his report on strengthening Parliament.

However, the pleasure of listening to and learning from this debate has been moderated by the knowledge that I am expected to wind it up. Noble Lords have given me a long frontier to patrol and while I will try to address some of the key issues raised, my remarks will mostly be a contribution to the debate rather than a summation. The wide-ranging nature of this debate highlights one of the problems with a constitutional convention—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. Noble Lords have raised so many issues that any convention looking into them would take years to do them justice. When I got the brief from the Cabinet Office for this debate, it was over 100 pages long and covered over 25 topics that could come under such a convention. Noble Lords have raised many others.

I am not averse to independent conventions looking at certain constitutional issues. Indeed, there have been many successful examples which we have heard of during this debate. We have had the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on reforms to this House; there were the Silk and Smith commissions on devolved powers; recent commissions, such as that of the UCL Constitution Unit on referendums, have added greatly to the debate and knowledge in this area. The noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord McConnell, reminded us that they were both part of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and I applaud the success of that convention in producing two reports prior to the devolution changes in 1997. I also applaud the work of the noble Lords, Lord Lisvane and Lord Hain, on the Act of Union Bill, which I understand we will now be debating early next year. But the point about all these conventions is that they were narrowly focused, rather than the wide-ranging agenda proposed by the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, reminded us of the fate of the Kilbrandon commission.

The helpful Library briefing note for this debate referenced the work undertaken by Professor Robert Hazell and Dr Alan Renwick, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on their Blueprint for A UK Constitutional Convention. However, the quote that he used was not this one. The summary to the report said:

“While some activists would like to see an overarching constitutional review, there is good reason to think this would be too complex and controversial to yield useful results. Limiting the convention to one aspect of the constitution is likely to be better”.

As this suggests, it would be worth considering how such a large topic could be disaggregated and prioritised, with the key issues being more clearly defined.

The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, helpfully does not stipulate that the Government should initiate such a convention; indeed, he implied in his opening remarks that this was something the Opposition should do. Anticipating a government response the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said that there was no way that the Government would agree to this. What struck me during the discussion about the nature of such a convention was what the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said when he spoke of the convention on which he served: that it was successful because it reflected the settled will of the people of Scotland. That convention had a purpose and that was why it succeeded. The whole argument behind this convention is, because there is no settled will or purpose, there is clear disagreement. Some noble Lords want a written constitution, including the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Dykes; others who have taken part in this debate would be firmly against a written constitution. The suggestion by the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, that we should do this quickly and urgently is not an optimistic prognosis, given the difficulties it would have to cover.

While our debate has been wide-ranging, it has not covered everything that affects democratic accountability. For example, I regret the recent erosion of collective responsibility in government and the selective briefing of exchanges in Cabinet, both of which I believe hinder good government. Another issue central to democratic accountability in this country is the role of our political parties, hardly mentioned in this debate. Half of all voters think that British politics is broken. Only one in seven thinks that the Tories and Labour represent the views of the public—I will come to the Liberal Democrats in a moment. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, rightly spoke of those who feel disfranchised and dispossessed. The noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke of alienation.

Half of those who spoke in this debate served in the other place. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, pointed out, as party membership declines, as has happened in my party, with its centre of gravity shifting to the right, or is swollen by supporters with a particular ideology, as has happened to the Labour Party in its shifts to the left, it may become more difficult for candidates in the centre of the political spectrum to get selected. Putting aside our age, how many of us who have spoken in this debate—predominantly remainers or Blairites—would be selected today?

Meanwhile, what has happened to the Liberal Democrats? For all my political life, when a Conservative Government have faced difficulties, whether that be under Macmillan in the 1960s, Heath in the 1970s, Thatcher in the early 1980s or Major in the 1990s, the third party has been a safety valve and has won by-elections, particularly when the Opposition party have also been unpopular. There was Orpington, Berwick, Crosby, Hillhead, Newbury and Christchurch among a long list, which brings back painful memories. Today, with a Government who are facing unprecedented difficulties and visibly divided, and a Labour Party led by its most left-wing leader in history—without Michael Foot’s gift of oratory and Cabinet experience—where is our third party? It is languishing in single figures. I make this point not to provoke but to underline the central importance of our parties to democratic accountability and the risk of their being seen as not relevant to voters. I reinforce the point made during this debate about the broad terms of reference of any convention on democratic accountability.

No one, except I think the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, mentioned the role of social media in our democracy. Last Saturday a former head of GCHQ said that Facebook poses a threat to democracy without tougher regulation. As I have said before, usually in response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, we have an analogue regulatory system for our elections in a digital age. During the last three decades, the internet has revolutionised not only the way we interact with each other but the way we do politics. The digital landscape poses challenges for our democratic accountability that we cannot afford to shy away from addressing, so it is incumbent on this Government to keep pace with the changes to technology. We are determined to have a system that is fit for purpose, and we will be introducing reforms once relevant court cases have been disposed of and the relevant Select Committee and Electoral Commission reports are available to achieve that objective.

As others have outlined during this debate, constitutional conventions can work in some circumstances, but it depends on the situation. Other countries which have tried have found the process challenging. The recommendations of the conventions in British Columbia and Ontario were rejected when they were put to the public in referendums. In Ireland, of the 18 recommendations made by the Irish constitutional convention, only two were put to referendum and only one passed. In Iceland, where a more wide-ranging constitutional convention was undertaken, all six of the proposals of the constitutional council were passed following a referendum. However, they have not been taken forward by subsequent Governments. That highlights one of our key concerns with proposals for a constitutional convention: that they often fail to deliver the intended result.

I shall try to touch on some of the points that were raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, touched on AV and criticised first past the post. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that he has seen the hurdles facing those who want a second vote on the referendum where the result was 52% to 48%. What hurdles will confront those who want a second referendum on the result of the referendum we had on AV, when the vote was 67.9% to 32.1%, particularly against a background of the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that we should not repeat referendums too often?

A number of noble Lords made a valid point about the potential tension between government by referendum and government by representative democracy. What would have happened 40 years ago if any of us had stood for Parliament and been elected making it quite clear that we were opposed to capital punishment but there had been a referendum and the people decided that they wanted it? Would MPs have had to respect the result of the referendum and go against what they had said in their election address? There is a potential tension there which was rightly brought out in a number of comments.

English votes for English laws came in for a little bit of criticism from one or two noble Lords. I remember sitting in another place on a Standing Committee considering the Labour Government’s proposal to ban smoking in public places. In Standing Committee, there was an amendment to extend the ban to pubs, which was opposed by the Minister in the Standing Committee. There were enough people on the Standing Committee to demand a vote and the Government were saved by a Member of Parliament from Scotland, where smoking had already been banned in pubs, voting not to ban smoking in pubs in England. From that moment I became a strong advocate of English votes for English laws. Contrary to what a number of noble Lords have said, I think it has embedded fairness and balance into Parliament’s law-making process. I think it has strengthened England’s voice, just as devolution strengthened the voices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within our union. I think it is right that elected Members of the House of Commons who represent constituencies in England have the opportunity to give their consent on domestic legislation that affects only them, simply mirroring the position in Scotland.

On the case for an English Parliament, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, cast some doubts as to whether it would work, and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out the asymmetry in the United Kingdom with such a large component of it being accounted for by one unit. If one looks at Andrew Blick’s pamphlet Federalism: The UK’s Future?, he makes the point that an English Parliament would not deliver the benefits of decentralisation associated with devolution. I think there is no consensus that an English Parliament is the way forward. I believe that English votes for English laws delivers a coherent constitutional response without the upheaval of an English Parliament.

Rather than work up the case for an English Parliament, we prefer to strengthen communities and regions within England through, in particular, the northern powerhouse and the Midlands engine and by developing a devolution framework for England, providing clarity for all English authorities about the future of English devolution. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said about the German Länder, but it seems to me that we do not have the building blocks that they have in Germany to create the structure that they have there.

A number of noble Lords mentioned regional assemblies. This was piloted in the north-west by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and did not find favour, so since the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 came into force we have taken major steps to decentralise governance in England through devolution deals and combined authorities headed by elected mayors in seven city regions, with an eighth mayor in North of Tyne to be elected in May. A number of noble Lords said that this is asymmetrical and a muddle—I think that was the expression used—but it has happened only when it was what local authorities asked the Government to do. Combined authorities are created when that is what local authorities have decided to do. Likewise, if they want elected mayors rather than the traditional local authority settlement, that is what they can have.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said about building on the success of elected mayors. Looking not just at London but at Manchester, we have arranged for particular combined authorities to assume the delivery of central government programmes such as the work and health programme and the life chances fund, and to help to develop new and innovative ways of working with local public services such as health and justice. I agree that this is a model we should build on. I think my noble friend Lord Heseltine can claim to be the champion of mayors in advance of anyone else who may make that claim.

I think elected mayors have been one of the successes in the British constitution. They chair their combined authorities and ensure strong and strategic leadership across a clear economic geography as a recognised leader who is accountable to voters in their region. They can act nationally and internationally as an ambassador for their region, boosting the area’s profile and helping to attract inward investment. Mayors also have soft powers, such as the ability to convene a range of stakeholders to tackle complex issues such as homelessness, and I applaud what Andy Burnham is doing on Manchester on that point. I think the introduction of strong mayors has been one of the most important constitutional changes in past years.

With two minutes left, I am not going to be able to do justice to the issues that were raised about Brexit and the impact on devolution, but I was struck by what two noble Lords said about having a single constitutional member in the Cabinet or, as I think was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, getting rid of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales altogether. As an English MP, I would have been worried about the potential impact on sentiment in Scotland if it no longer had a voice in a UK Cabinet but if he—

Verify: Digital Identity System

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Monday 26th November 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I would not describe the service in quite the terms that the noble Lord has just used. Progress is being made towards the target of 25 million users by 2020. It is not the case that HMRC is not using Verify. Noble Lords who want to can upload their self-assessment tax return using Verify, and if they so wish they can check their income tax account using Verify. More and more government services are now subscribing to Verify; the MoD recently added an additional service, and some 18 services are now available. It is not the case that we are abdicating the whole thing to the private sector. Verify, which is a government service, will continue to provide a digital identity service to the public sector, and it is talking to the NHS and to local government in order to continue to broaden the base.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House clearly what went wrong?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I challenge the premise on which the noble Lord based his question. Verify was launched in 2016 and, as I said in my initial reply, now has 3 million subscribers who have completed 8 million transactions. I signed up to Verify over the weekend and, if noble Lords have not, I suggest that they make themselves familiar with this new and innovative service.

Tenant Fees Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Tuesday 20th November 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Cabinet Office
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My Lords, the Countess of Lytton is clearly even more formidable than the noble Earl.

I too have a lot of sympathy with these amendments, but I believe there are already sufficient existing protections—not in this Bill but in other legislation—which address the concerns raised by noble Lords. Landlords who resell energy to their tenants for domestic use are governed by maximum resale price provisions set by Ofgem under Section 44 of the Electricity Act 1989 and Section 37 of the Gas Act 1986. This prevents landlords from overcharging tenants; they cannot charge the tenant more than the landlord has paid. If the landlord does overcharge, the tenant is entitled to have the charge lowered and overpayments refunded. The tenant can also bring a claim against their landlord to the small claims court for the amount that has been overcharged plus interest. In addition, on other utilities, landlords are prohibited from overcharging tenants for the resale of water under the maximum resale price provisions set out in the Water Resale Order 2006. If the landlord does overcharge, the tenant can take legal action through the small claims court to recover any overpayment and the tenant is eligible to recover interest at a rate of twice the average base interest rate of the Bank of England for the period they have been overcharged.

Amendment 31 would specifically require landlords to review any contract held for the provision of utilities and to consider switching provider if this would be beneficial to the tenant. In the majority of cases, tenants will be responsible for paying their own energy bills; they will pay them direct to the supplier and not to the landlord. So in most cases, tenants will already have the right to choose their own supplier. The tenancy agreement will set out who is responsible for paying these charges. Where the landlord is responsible for paying the bills, they may seek to recover these costs through the rent or directly from the tenant but, as I have already explained, they are already prevented from overcharging for this for energy and water.

Through, for example, the How to Rent guide, we encourage tenants to speak to their landlord or agent if they think their utilities payments are too high or if they want to request a change of supplier. In many cases, it may be in the interest of the landlord to move to a more competitive supplier as that may help to market their property in the future.

In addition, the Government’s Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill received Royal Assent on 19 July. This requires Ofgem to implement a price cap on standard variable and default tariffs, which will guarantee protection for the 11 million households currently on the highest energy tariffs.

Against that background, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendments.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, for his very helpful response. I will withdraw my amendment shortly, but I would like to check something. He helpfully set out the legislation which will prevent people from being overcharged by landlords, but I cannot recall off the top of my head whether this will be clearly laid out in the guidance so that people will be very much aware of their rights and obligations. That would go some way to allaying the fears that are behind these amendments.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

Before the noble Lord sits down I would like to say that that is a very helpful suggestion. We will indeed look at the guidance to see whether that suggestion can be incorporated.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

In that case, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Tenant Fees Bill

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Monday 5th November 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

As my noble friend the Minister said a few moments ago, the Bill covers assured shortholds and other lettings. It does not cover the sorts of lettings that concern my noble friend Lady Gardner and which are offered by Airbnb and other agencies. My noble friend has raised an issue that has been the subject of many exchanges in Questions. Our answer is that we believe that local authorities have enough powers to take action where a nuisance is caused by these activities. In many cases, it is up to the manging agents to enforce the terms of the lease.

As I have said on many occasions in the Chamber, many leases specifically preclude the letting of a property for periods of less than six months, and it is up to the managing agents of the block to ensure that the provisions of the lease are met. Again, I say to my noble friend that I have quoted from the action taken by one managing agent when they discovered that a flat in the block for which they were the managing agent was being advertised on Airbnb; that immediately stopped the letting of that flat and any other flats in that block. So the short answer—I fear it was a long one—is that we believe that powers are already available without giving local authorities the additional powers that my noble friend has asked for.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

Before I withdraw my amendment, can the Minister tell me something about the amount of money provided? On the face of it, £500,000 seems a lot of money but how many councils is that actually for? I do not know off the top of my head, but I think it is for at least a few hundred of them. What sum will each council get? Will it be £2,000 or £3,000 each? When it is broken down like that, it could be quite a small sum of money in terms of an overall council budget.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

About 152 trading standards offices could potentially be eligible for this. It would be wrong to assume that £500,000 would be divided among them so that they each get a small sum. There are other models for providing the initial help. For example, a team from the department could go out to help the trading standards agencies set up the necessarily skills and training to take forward the measure after year one. At the moment, we are discussing with the LGA exactly how best to spend the £500,000. Although one option would be to divide it up, that is not the only option; others are being explored. Before the Bill becomes an Act, we hope to find a way forward on how the money should be spent.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the Minister for that answer. I accept that the money may not necessarily be divided up. I am just trying to understand the number of authorities and the amount of money available. Looking at things like that, it is not a huge sum of money at all.

The Government think that this will be funded by fines and other fees, so it will be self-financing in that sense. I am conscious that local government will say, “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”. Local government often says that the Government do not provide enough funding for various things. How was this figure arrived at? Where did it come from? Did the Government use some formula or methodology, or was is just a case of, “Oh, we’ve got a spare half a million knocking around and we can make it available”? I do not know. I want to understand how that figure came about. Again, I am sure that local government will say that it is nowhere near enough, as it would say about other things. I am thinking particularly of the Homelessness Reduction Act, where there is the risk of a very good piece of legislation being affected by the amount of money provided by the Government.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I hope the noble Lord will accept that, unlike other occasions when new responsibilities have been imposed on local authorities, in this case we are actually offering to help them with some pump-priming finance before the revenue stream comes on board. I hope he will accept that this is a welcome step forward from other initiatives taken by Governments of all complexions, where local authorities have been asked to do things with no resources at all and no opportunity of self-funding downstream. I can only repeat what I read out a few moments ago: the Government estimate that local authorities will incur a new burden in respect of enforcement of £500,000. I will make detailed inquiries to see if we can shed more light on exactly where that sum came from and will write to the noble Lord, with copies to other Members who have shown an interest. I will do that before Report.

Break in Debate

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am happy to give the noble Lord the assurance that he seeks that the money will be reimbursed to the relevant section of the local authority that enforces this legislation and other related legislation dealing with rogue landlords.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the Minister for his response, and all other noble Lords who spoke in the debate. At this stage, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The Bill proposes a number of enforcement measures that offer a strong deterrent to irresponsible agents and landlords. It also makes provisions to enable tenants and other relevant people to recover unlawfully charged fees, if other attempts have failed, by going to the First-tier Tribunal, which will order reimbursement to the tenant of money that should not have been paid. Of course, tenants should get back any unlawful payments in full, whether that is direct from the landlord or agent, via their enforcement authority or through an order of the First-tier Tribunal. However, in certain instances, we think it is also appropriate for the landlord or agent to be issued with a financial penalty, as well as ensuring that the tenant receives their money back. This is to deter future non-compliance.

Amendment 6 prevents an enforcement authority imposing a financial penalty under Section 12 if the tenant has got their money back. We think that giving a power to impose financial penalties for breaches of the legislation is an important tool for enforcement authorities. Therefore, we cannot accept Amendment 6. However, the enforcement guidance will stress that enforcement authorities should take account of the landlord’s and agent’s conduct and past behaviour when considering the level of financial penalty to charge, if any. This includes whether the landlord or agent has reimbursed the tenant quickly when asked to do so.

Turning to Amendments 7 and 8, while we think it is right that agents and landlords should be issued with a financial penalty, we do not think it is appropriate for the tenant to receive further compensation in addition to repayment of the money owed. To add compensation risks penalising agents and landlords multiple times for the same breach, which we do not believe is fair; for example, it would not be right to ask a landlord who has been fined up to £5,000 for an initial breach to also pay three times the amount of a prohibited payment to a tenant. This would in effect be two financial penalties for the same breach. The deterrent effect, mentioned by the noble Baroness in her opening remarks, would of course be secured by the fines under the Act.

It is also worth noting that Clause 17 already provides further protection to tenants by preventing landlords recovering their property via the Section 21 procedure in the Housing Act 1988 until they have repaid any unlawfully charged fees. This approach is in line with legislation that already applies; for example, where the How to Rent guide has not been provided or where a landlord has not secured the required licence for a house in multiple occupation. Further, Clause 4 ensures that any clause in the tenancy seeking to charge a prohibited fee is not binding on the tenant.

We do not consider that further provision is needed along the lines proposed by Amendment 8. For example, it is not fair if a landlord who appeals against the imposition of a financial penalty, and this appeal is upheld, is then restricted from using the no-fault eviction process for six months. Under the noble Lord’s amendment, this would be the case—though that may not be what he intended. We firmly believe that our existing approach restricting a landlord’s ability to serve a Section 21 notice strikes the right balance and offers a serious deterrent to non-compliance. I hope the noble Lord will not move his amendment.

I suspect the short answer to the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Deben is: the trading standards officer. I would like to write to my noble friend setting out in more detail what is being proposed, under both this and existing legislation, to prevent misleading information appearing on websites and tenants being misled.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I was a little surprised at the Minister’s response on the question of compensation. We would have a situation where a tenant is illegally charged a prohibited payment—it is against the law, and they have been wronged. The Minister says that, in those cases, compensation would not be appropriate. I do not understand that. Surely, as we have highlighted in other areas, it is totally reasonable that, if somebody has done someone a wrong—they have committed an offence, overcharged somebody—that person should be able to seek some sort of redress and have compensation paid to them. I do not see how the Minister can say that would not be fair.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

The noble Lord has a choice. He can have either a situation where the tenant gets the compensation and there are no financial penalties imposed under the Bill, or the situation we suggest where the tenant gets his money back, the fine is imposed and the money goes to the local authority. What the noble Lord wants is for the landlord, in effect, to be penalised twice: first by paying compensation up to three times, and secondly by paying a fine up to £5,000. The Government’s position is that you can have one or the other, but doing both is not fair.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I think the Minister will find that, in other areas, people can be fined and be required to pay compensation as well, so I do not see the logic. Clearly, if it is an issue of amounts, that can be looked at. We are not going to agree on this, clearly. The principle that you can be fined and be required to pay compensation clearly is the case elsewhere. It is very unfair that the tenant—the victim, the person who has been out of pocket, ripped off and treated badly—should be thankful just to get their money back. It does not seem to be a very good place. Clearly, we are not going to agree on that at this stage.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

On my Amendment 8, if somebody has gone to a tribunal and the landlord has won then fair enough, they should be protected, but I am trying to get to an example where someone has enforced their rights. This poor tenant cannot get compensation but they get their money back, then the next day a Section 21 notice is served on them. That is the issue I want to deal with. It is really unfair for the tenants in these situations—proved right in a court of law, then given a notice to leave the next day. Without this, that could still happen.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

The defect in the noble Lord’s amendment is that, if the landlord won the appeal, he would still be banned. As I said, that may not have been the noble Lord’s intention, but it is what the amendment would do.

I say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, that I detect in the Committee enthusiasm for the two-track approach to penalties, for both the tenant and the local authorities recouping fines. That message has come through. Without giving any commitment, I will have another look at this, in view of the strength of feeling on the matter. I am happy to accept the noble Baroness’s offer.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

Clearly, this must be a result of my poor drafting, as that was not my intention, which I hope I have explained. I am worried about the people who have been proved right in a court of law. I thank the Minister for his comments, but I hope that this can be looked at, as there is an issue. Someone who has enforced their rights should have some protection, even for a limited period—they should not be able to be evicted the next day through a notice being served. I thank the Minister for his offer.

Break in Debate

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, Amendment 11 seeks to put a new clause into the Bill. If agreed, it would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament within 12 months, then every four years after that. The report would provide valuable information on the number of breaches, financial penalties levied and criminal prosecutions in each 12-month period. It must also consider the points as listed in proposed new subsection (2), which are important when looking at the impact of the Act on the sector. I suspect that the amendment will not be greeted with great enthusiasm from the Minister, but can he tell the Committee whether any of the information referred to in the amendment would be collected by the department anyway? I may have a few more questions for the Minister after listening to his response. I beg to move.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his amendment. I assure him that we plan to monitor the implementation of the Bill through continual engagement with key stakeholder groups, represented landlords, agents, tenants and those in housing need, as well as through wider intelligence from agencies such as the lead enforcement authority and trading standards, which will enforce the requirements of the Bill.

I have no difficulty with the objectives of the noble Lord’s proposed new clause. However, bits of it are impractical. We will not be able to identify all the breaches of Clauses 1 and 2 as set out in proposed new paragraph (a) because we will be encouraging tenants to challenge their landlords and agency with a view to rectifying breaches if they have been charged prohibited fees. The enforcement authorities would not be involved if the breach were resolved between the tenant and the landlord, so it would not be possible to record every time that this happens.

However, owing to the reporting requirements set out in the Bill under Clause 14, information on the number of financial penalties and criminal convictions under the ban will be captured by the lead enforcement authority. In the light of what the noble Lord suggested, we will consider how best to share this information with Parliament. Both agents and landlords that are banned from operating will be captured on the rogue landlord database; the Prime Minister made it clear that we plan to make this information public. Local housing authorities also have powers to include persons convicted of a breach of the fees ban on that database, as well as including persons who received two or more financial penalties in a year for any banning order offence committed at a time when the person was a residential landlord or a property agent.

Further, Clause 23 places a duty on the lead enforcement authority to keep under review social and commercial development relating to the letting sector and the operation of relevant letting agency legislation, as well as to advise the Secretary of State about it from time to time. I hope this reassures the noble Lord that we will track and review the effectiveness and enforcement of the ban and its impact on the private rented sector. I hope that will we achieve what his amendment wants but we do not think it necessary to prescribe further reporting requirements in the Bill. As I said, we will consider how best to make this information available in the light of the debate.

We will also, as the noble Lord may know, review the legislation within five years in line with normal practice and submit that review to the appropriate Select Committee in the other place. We do not intend to review the Bill in isolation. Recently a number of legislative changes have been made to the lettings industry with more planned related to the regulation of letting agents. These changes, along with the Bill, support and deliver on our commitment to rebalance the relationship between tenants and landlords and to make renting fairer. We will keep all of these issues under review. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the noble Lord for that response and I am pleased with some of the commitments that he has made. At this point I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful to noble Lords for taking part in the debate. They have made their impatience over the date of commencement absolutely clear. We agree that we want this legislation to come into force as soon as possible, not least to protect the tenants referred to by noble Lords.

However, we need to strike a fair balance between protecting tenants and allowing landlords and letting agents time to become compliant with the legislation. The ban is not about unfairly penalising landlords and letting agents or driving them out of business. We have said that implementation will not be before April 2019; we intend it to be as soon as possible after that. Of course, at the moment we do not know when it might get Royal Assent. I understand that but we believe that there needs to be a reasonable gap between it reaching the statute book and it being implemented.

Turning to Amendment 13, the transitional provisions in Clause 28 provide that for the period of a year, the ban will not apply to tenancies whose terms were agreed prior to commencement. Similar transitional provisions are made for agents’ agreements with tenants. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, seeks to reduce the period in which a landlord or agent could accept a payment prohibited by Clause 1 from a year to six months. We have already sought to give tenants greater clarity and protection with respect to the commencement date. Crucially, we have revised our position from that in the draft Bill, where there was no end date by which fees could be charged in pre-commencement tenancies. There has been a considerable shift towards protecting those who have already signed their contracts.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, recognised that a transition period is necessary—his amendment proposes a slightly shorter one—because although most fees are charged at the outset of a tenancy, some landlords and agents will have agreed that tenants should pay other fees, such as a check-out inventory fee, at a later stage. Tenants will have signed contracts accordingly; we need to allow time for landlords and agents to renegotiate them to ensure that the legislation does not have a significant retrospective effect.

Our view is that 12 months is fair for the transition period. Data from the English Housing Survey shows that 45% of tenants had an initial tenancy of 12 months and 36% had one of six months. Reducing the period in which a landlord or agent could accept a payment prohibited by Clause 1 would mean that more landlords and agents with pre-commencement tenancies would be at risk of not being able to renegotiate their contracts and would not receive fees that the tenant had previously agreed to pay. Again, we do not believe that this would be fair.

We recognise the importance of having a clear point where the fees ban applies to all tenancies. As drafted, the transitional provisions mean that all tenants will receive the benefits of the fees ban a year after it comes into force; as I said earlier, initially there was no such arrangement. Unlike the proposed amendment, the provisions ensure that agents and landlords will not be significantly impacted on financially and will have the opportunity to review their contracts during the transitional year. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment against the background of that explanation.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the noble Lord for responding to the debate. I suppose that we will not agree, which is disappointing. It is a shame that although there is a lot of good stuff in this legislation that we can support, things take such a long time, as I said in my introduction. That is a recurring theme with the noble Lord’s department, which I have raised many times in other consultations and discussions on this. It often seems like we are pulling teeth to get things moving along. So we are frustrated at the length of time these things take, and that is why we have taken a stand on this.

I also tabled Amendment 14, which seeks to bring the Act into force on the day on which it is passed. My frustration here is the fact that, even when it is passed, we then have to wait for an SI to be tabled to bring it into force. I have no certainty as to whether it will ever come into force; potentially, it could be left there and might never happen. I am sure that will not be the case, but the Committee will see that there is no certainty as to an agreed date. That is very frustrating, and I may come back to this point on Report. At this stage, however, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Cyber Threats

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 18th October 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, as other noble Lords have done, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on securing this debate. I thank him for giving the House the opportunity to debate issues of immense importance to the country.

I am sure everyone agrees that the threats posed and the risks involved mean that solutions have to be global to tackle the scale, the risk and the complexity of the challenge. There are no borders in cyberspace, no visas and no checkpoints. To meet the challenge, we have to work with partners locally, nationally and internationally, and government has to ensure that by working together we protect the United Kingdom and, with partners, protect the world from the real dangers that it faces.

We have heard in this debate about some of the threats to every part of our life: everything from the stealing of our own personal data to attacks on businesses through ransomware and other forms of cybercrime, terrorism, state-sponsored attacks on other countries’ interests and the threat of military capabilities being taken over, with devastating consequences.

It is good that the Government have developed the National Cyber Security Strategy, have made a commitment to invest nearly £2 billion in cybersecurity and created the National Cyber Security Centre, which has done so much to protect everyone already. However, I wonder whether this large sum of money—and it is large—will be enough to deliver all the protections we will need.

To meet the challenge, we have to work with our partners at the United Nations, NATO, Interpol, the Commonwealth, other organisations we are not members of, such as the African Union, and those we are members of, including the European Union. This further highlights the madness of Brexit when the world is getting smaller and more interdependent, with greater risks, and we risk huge damage in areas of security, as we do in every other part of our life as a progressive, free, liberal, fair-minded trading nation. The Government have identified, quite rightly, that cyber is a tier 1 threat to national security, based on both the high likelihood and the high impact of such an attack. The scope of cyber risks is part of the problem as our world relies on digital technologies in every sense to deliver almost everything we need.

The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, has huge knowledge of these issues, as the first National Security Adviser. As he said, cyber threats need a whole-society response, across the whole range of threats to the United Kingdom. The noble Lord, Lord Borwick, made important points about passwords and the basic protections we all need to be aware of in order to take proper action to protect ourselves. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, made valuable points about having the aptitude to see complex patterns and about educating the general public to spot when things go wrong. Often these are things that the general public are not aware of. Too quickly they are drawn into giving up their data, passwords and access—and have their money and data stolen, doing much harm. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, referred to the dangers posed by weaknesses in the systems and the importance of protecting SMEs from these threats. I also agree with the points he made about simple passwords and other basic security checks, which echoed those made by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick.

My first point is about the scale and complexity of the challenge faced by the world, which I fear is not understood by many. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, about the need for an international, outcomes-based approach to governance. I also agree with the points he made about the need for partnership between the public and private sectors, in addition to partnerships between states, agencies and international organisations. One of the most disappointing things we have witnessed as the internet has developed and changed our lives so completely is the attitude of so many technology platforms, which have so often failed individuals, communities and nations in not protecting people’s data through either poor security or reckless practice. People’s data is entrusted to them but so often making money from the data has been much more important than security or data protection.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made the point that there needs to be proper redress for citizens who have suffered as a result of data breaches. I agree with him. Of course, individuals have a responsibility to protect their own data and to be their own first line of defence—their own first guardians when they go online—just as people have to do when they go about their lives generally, taking simple precautions to protect themselves. But that does not excuse poor practice by technology platforms, or companies involved in information or communications not working together and not working with Governments and agencies, nationally and internationally. They need to play their full role without excuses, helping to deliver the security we all need.

With regard to allegations concerning foreign powers, it is suggested that Russia is one of the main proponents of these cyberattacks that seek to interfere with and undermine elections and referendums here and in the United States and other countries. That is totally unacceptable. The reluctance to look at the referendum on leaving the EU is staggering when you consider the enormity of the decision, and if that decision has been stolen that surely is a matter of grave concern to every democrat. We have to ensure that our elections and referendums are safe, secure and free from unwarranted interference.

There are huge risks to business and our prosperity from cyberattacks. An organisation that I am involved in recently had its whole website cloned as thieves tried to steal information. The thieves were outside the European Union. We have taken measures and boosted our protections to stop this happening again. We are a small organisation and have been able to recover from this, but for a business this can be devastating, not only in the loss of money and income but in reputational damage and potentially the complete destruction of the business as customers lose confidence in its ability to deliver products or services safely. Who will buy products and services from a company that has developed a reputation for serious lapses in security and the protection of other people’s data? The mandatory data-breach reporting under the GDPR is a very good thing and the data generated by this will help the Information Commissioner and the Government to have greater understanding of the scale of the problem.

The large hacks and breaches in companies such as TalkTalk are the ones that get the media attention but, as I said, in much smaller organisations the disruption to operations can be just as damaging. Figures I have seen suggest that cyberattacks cost UK business £34 billion in 2016. But we have to ask: how much is business putting into resilience and preparedness? Is all the effort going into building cyber defences? If you have not prepared well and built a robust structure for the day you get a breach, you have seriously weakened your operation. This leads me back to the point I made earlier about the money the Government are putting into cybersecurity. Is the Minister satisfied that the funds being made available are adequate?

The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, told us that NATO has formally recognised cyberspace as a new frontier in defence and I hope the British Government have done that as well. My noble friends Lord Browne of Ladyton and Lord West of Spithead have considerable experience in these matters from their previous roles. My noble friend Lord West made the important point about risk management: our weaknesses in basic protections are a huge risk and need to be improved. He also referred to the move to 5G and the decision about ZTE. I hope the Minister will respond to that point when he replies shortly. My noble friend Lord Browne spoke about the threat to our weapons systems and nuclear capabilities. He referred to the report from the United States. He is right to question whether we have the protections in place to ensure that our nuclear deterrent is actually a deterrent. Are we taking the military cyber threat seriously enough? My noble friend’s comments about the risk of hostile forces being able to hack into and take control of our systems deserve a specific response today but also outside the Chamber.

Will the Minister also say something about the ministerial and Cabinet-level response to these threats? Does he think that the National Security Council is nimble enough and able to provide the consideration of these important matters in a proper strategic way? Is he satisfied that we have got this right at the present time and what is the process of review to ensure that we keep up with new developments and potential new attacks? That leads me on to the issue of critical national infrastructure—not only the police and military capabilities but our NHS functions, our transport services and the delivery of food, medicines and power. Can the Minister say something about the ability to repel a cyber threat to critical infrastructure and, as with business, the resilience plans in place to deal with a successful cyberattack?

Finally, this has been an excellent debate. I thank the noble Viscount for tabling this Motion, which has enabled the House to debate an important issue, which I am sure we will return to again and again.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate and I thank all the speakers who have brought a wide range and depth of experience and expertise to it, not least the mover, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, who made a thoughtful introduction and crammed 15 helpful suggestions into three minutes at the end of his speech. A number of themes ran through the debate, in particular the need for partnership. I hope I have not misunderstood the tone of the debate when I say there has been no fundamental disagreement about the thrust of government policy, but some severe warnings and some very helpful suggestions about how we might do better. Some of them were on a highly technical front, and some were based on broad common sense.

I say to the noble Viscount that this is a very timely debate, following the second anniversary of the National Cyber Security Centre and the publication of its 2018 annual review this week, which was launched by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the director of GCHQ and the CEO of the NCSC. It is one of the best annual reports I have seen as a Minister, although I have not risen to the challenge on the last page,

“Can you find the secret codeword?”

As this debate has made clear, protecting the British people, the systems that we rely upon and our very democracy itself is a central responsibility of government. As our digitally connected world has rapidly expanded, so too has the scale of vulnerabilities and the frequency of attacks that we face—a point well made by my noble friend Lord Lucas. It is for this reason that cybersecurity remains a top priority for the Government, because it impacts on our national security and our economic prosperity. I was impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, said when he outlined the cost to the economy of lax cybersecurity.

We recognised the need for a comprehensive and active response when we launched the National Cyber Security Strategy in 2016, where we defined a cyberattack—this is in response to the request from the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for a definition —as a,

“deliberate exploitation of computer systems, digitally-dependent enterprises and networks to cause harm”.

We set out ambitious proposals to defend our people, deter our adversaries and develop the capabilities we need to ensure that the UK remains the safest place to live and do business online. Those proposals will be supported by £1.9 billion of investment over five years, which was mentioned by many noble Lords, to drive transformation. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked whether I thought that that was enough. He will know that there is a spending review for 2020 onwards, and I am sure that the concerns expressed in this debate will be taken on board as colleagues move to a decision on future spending patterns.

One of the most visible elements of the strategy was the formation of the National Cyber Security Centre to bring together our very best intelligence and technical expertise in a world-leading authority—the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, described it very aptly—that will be our single centre of excellence to innovate and create, to work in partnership with industry to block attacks on a scale of tens of millions per month, which was mentioned by several noble Lords, and to blend behavioural science with technical expertise to provide the best advice and guidance for people and organisations to protect themselves.

On our response when attacks get through, the NCSC brings everyone together to reduce the harm from significant incidents, whether that is an attack on Parliament, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Borwick, or disruption to health services. On the attack on Parliament, I understand that it is unlikely to recur. I have had a note from the chief technology and security officer in Parliament that says that the correct people now get the required detail from Parliament’s Apple account manager to make sure that such a delay does not happen again. Our response is calibrated by the severity of the attack, and the National Security Council will consider the full range of security, diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal.

How we set up the National Cyber Security Centre reflects the single, clear message that underpins our strategy, which has been echoed throughout this debate, that we need not a whole of government approach but a whole of society approach, as the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, described it. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, asked how we are delivering it. The national strategy binds all of government into delivering a set of cross-cutting objectives which require a collective response that reaches out to the private sector and beyond—and, indeed, to other countries, because while we can lead the way, we know that we cannot solve these problems alone. This point was made by nearly every noble Lord who took part in this debate.

On the key subject of skills, which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Lords, Lord Ricketts and Lord St John of Bletso, we are already developing a pipeline of talent and inspiring and developing cybersecurity experts and entrepreneurs, whether through our programmes in schools and universities, our work with industry to figure out the best way to retrain career changers with aptitude and ambition and by promoting cyberapprentices. On the specific recommendations of the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy—a question raised by the noble Viscount—the Government have recently submitted their response and we look forward to its publication.

We also are building on our world-class universities and ground-breaking research to establish a pipeline of cutting-edge cybersecurity companies with a range of interventions to incubate and accelerate and to support our innovative companies to export overseas, turning many great ideas into global businesses. This in turn will help other countries to become more secure and will boost the UK cybersecurity industry, which is now generating more than £5 billion for the economy.

Third-party Election Campaigning

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 13th September 2018

(2 years ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, first, as other noble Lords have done, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for tabling this Motion for debate today. I bring to the attention of the House that I am involved as a trustee of two charities. The first is the United St Saviour’s Charity, which works with disadvantaged communities in north Southwark and has been doing so, following a bequest, since 1541. I am also involved with the Millwall Community Trust, which has not been around for quite as long but again works with communities, with young people, young men and women, in the boroughs of Southwark and Lewisham and helps them develop important skills. It is recognised as one of the earliest and most successful football charities. Neither of those charities engages in any activities that are covered by Part 2 of the Act we are debating today.

We have had the benefit of two general elections to see how the Act has operated—to see both what was stated to be the intention of the Act and the reality of the powers contained within it being in force. That benefit can inform our debates very well today. We have also had the benefit of the review undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, which was set up by the Government and published in March 2016.

The Bill that became the Act was introduced into Parliament by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, when he was in the other place as the Leader of the House of Commons. I am reminded that we were told and Members of the other place were advised, among other things, that the Bill would assist in making transparent who is lobbying whom and for what. It is fair to say that it did not turn out quite like that. The Bill was described on various occasions as hurried, badly drafted, sinister and partisan. It had a very limited focus and effect on lobbying and, as we know, was often referred to as the gagging Bill.

The Motion before us turns our attention to Part 2 of the Act, which concerns non-party campaigning. This is an area where there can be no doubt that the Act has had a major effect on the campaigning activities of charities. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, had also told the other place:

“The Government’s clear view is that nothing in the Bill should change the basic way in which third parties campaign and register with the Electoral Commission”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/9/13; col. 181.]

I contend that that clearly is not what happened and that we now find ourselves in a most regrettable position.

There have been rules about what third parties can do in elections since the introduction of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, made clear in his remarks. I agree with his comments about how campaigning has changed and am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, has agreed with me many times that our laws governing elections are not fit for purpose. I hope that we see action soon from the Government to address these major failings since, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, life has moved on. I also agree with the suggestion about having imprints in all social media now. The world has changed dramatically; we need to know who is putting this stuff out and why, and how we can get in touch with them if we need to deal with any issues of wrongdoing. It is really important that we know who is doing what.

Part 2 of the Act reduced considerably—by approximately two-thirds—the maximum overall spending limit, while widening the range of expenditure that has to be accounted for in the spending limit. It also introduced the concepts of constituency spending and targeted spending. The regulated period is one year before the general election but, as we saw last year, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act has been shown to be a weak, flimsy and easily-got-around piece of legislation. It is ridiculous and unfair that a charity campaigning on an issue could quite easily, through no fault of its own, have spent to the legal maximum before it was aware there would be a general election. How can it possibly plan like that? It is ridiculous.

It is worth pointing out that the inclusion of staffing costs in the overall expenditure limit is particularly unfair and quickly eats it up. I am sure it is particularly galling for charities and campaigners to realise that staffing costs are omitted from the national spending limits of political parties. If those costs were included, I suspect that one or two parties would find that they had spent their national campaign budget before they had actually started campaigning. Again, that is very unfair on the charities.

Overall, the Act has made it considerably harder for charities to campaign on the very core issues which are their reason for existing in the first place. My noble friend Lord Judd was absolutely right to tell the House about the engagement and experience of charities and the important work they do. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made points about accountability and transparency, which I am happy to agree with—with the caveat that Part 2 of the Act went too far and had a damaging effect on third-party campaigning.

I also agree with the noble Lord’s comments about certain think tanks. As he said, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Institute for Economic Affairs, to name but two, are somewhat opaque about where their funding comes from. They spend considerable time giving their views in the media but are less open about where their funding comes from. The sooner that they are required to declare where they funding comes from, the better—that would be a welcome move.

It is right, normal and legitimate and should be welcomed in a healthy, democratic country that organisations will engage in the democratic process. The Act has damaged that and made it much harder. Registered charities cannot endorse or support a political party or candidate anyway; that is illegal. Many noble Lords made reference to the Sheila McKechnie Foundation report and the excellent work that it has done on the impact of the Act. It found that people’s voices go missing from debate, and that is not healthy.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when he asked the Government to think again about the effects of the Act on legitimate campaigning undertaken by the voluntary sector. The noble Lord, Lord Suri, is right that where charities, people who work for them or volunteers have done wrong they must be held to account—we would all agree with that—but, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and my noble friend Lord Judd said, campaigning for change is a perfectly legitimate role for charities to undertake.

Let us be clear that campaigns and campaigners can be irritating, especially for Governments and people in power, but that is of course part of their role. It does not mean that they should not be heard. Charities feeling that it is harder to pursue their mission, or those organisations working on politically sensitive and controversial issues being particularly at risk, is not a good place for us to be. Smaller organisations are affected by the impact on coalition working, and that again is again very concerning.

It is very hard for charities to ensure that they remain on the right side of the requirements of the Act, and that has understandably led to many of them taking a very cautious approach and, in some cases, avoiding activity where there is any question of uncertainty. This has resulted in significant resources of time and money being diverted to compliance work rather than their core activities, and in some cases campaigns have stopped completely. As I have said, I think that is all very regrettable and damaging to civil society, but it is part of a wider set of activities that the Government have embarked on in recent years.

During this debate a number of noble Lords have referred to a review conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots. This was a government commitment to review Part 2 of the Act after the 2015 general election, which was very welcome. The noble Lord spent a lot of time on his review, which was published in March 2016. When it was published, it was broadly welcomed by the charity and voluntary sector and by the Government. The House of Lords Select Committee on Charities described the recommendations as eminently sensible and recommended that the Government implement the review in full.

As we have heard, the proposed reforms sought to address the problem that the noble Lord identified with this part of the Act, which he believed—and I agree with him—failed to get the balance right. The noble Lord did not suggest that this part of the Act should be repealed but sought some sensible changes: a shorter regulatory period, from 12 months to four months, to help campaigners; clarification about what happens in the context of a snap general election—of course, a year later we had one, which we had to deal with; and clarification about joint working. The reforms sought to deal with some of the problems that have been identified as causing charities and the third sector real problems today.

In a recent speech Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said:

“I want to see civil society recover its confidence to speak into our public life. The greatest social and political changes in our history have come about because independent people formed associations to press for change. If that means respectful criticism of government, so be it. … The business of civil society is society, and within the limits of charity law, you have the right to campaign, to persuade the public, and to press for change in the systems which affect the life of this country”.

I agree with every word of that quote, but it is frustrating that Matt Hancock is saying that at the same time as the Government confirm that they are not intending to legislate for any of the reforms that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, put forward.

What is the reason given? We are told that it is pressure of time in Parliament. I have been a Member of this House for only eight years, but I can confidently say that this is one of the quieter periods for legislation that I have experienced in that time. I also think that if the Government brought a Bill forward to implement the noble Lord’s reforms, it would get a very positive reception here. It would certainly not get bogged down in lots of amendments, as the Government might fear; I think it would have a very easy passage in this House. It would actually be a very positive experience for us all to have the opportunity to get away from Brexit and talk about something else, so the Government might find that such a Bill was very welcome.

I very much endorse the noble Lord’s recommendations. I also think it is really important to remove staff costs from activity that counts towards the spending limit. As I said, political parties would be really badly affected if that applied to their national campaigns in the regulated period before a general election. It is also plainly unfair that a snap general election could cause a charity to be in breach of spending limits and be at risk of sanctions primarily because it did not have a crystal ball to anticipate the calling of a general election. It is fair to say that most of the Cabinet did not know a general election would be called last year—we heard reports of them being shocked before the Prime Minister came out to announce it to the world—so why should a poor little charity have any idea what is going to happen in terms of a general election?

I very much thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for bringing his Motion to the House today and enabling us to have this important debate.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, on his choice of subject and on the speech that he made in introducing it. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part; they have brought to the debate not just their experience of when the legislation went through but their experience in many voluntary sectors. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned his experience at Nacro and Oxfam as well as some of the umbrella bodies that speak for the voluntary organisations. Many other noble Lords drew on their own experience of working in the voluntary sector. I cannot hold a candle to what some noble Lords have done in this field, although I chaired a housing association for some seven years before I became an MP.

I also thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his significant contribution to the development of third-party campaigning rules, including as chair of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, which closely monitored the changes to third-party campaigning and published a series of useful reports before and after the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 was passed.

We have heard much today about the important role that third-party organisations play in society. The Government recognise the invaluable contribution of third-party organisations and will continue to provide support and guidance to ensure that such organisations can meet their charitable aims. As a number of noble Lords rightly pointed out, the charitable aims include not just meeting the direct needs of the group that they seek to help but raising the profile and seeking to change the law. As the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Ramsbotham, and others have said, that is absolutely in line with their charitable objectives.

The Government published the Civil Society Strategy on 9 August, setting out how they will support charities and social enterprises. This includes plans to create a cross-government group to work with civil society and a renewal of the Government’s commitment to the compact principles. These are the principles that govern the relationship between the social sector and the Government. We are committed to embedding open policy-making across departments, giving civil society significant opportunities to achieve policy change, and are currently developing a commitment to this as part of the UK’s next national action plan for open government. We have also provided additional funding for third-party organisations. In 2018 the Government have doubled charitable donations through the UK’s Aid Match scheme, which pledges £1 for every £1 donated. Twenty-five charities across the UK will have their charitable appeals for 2017 and 2018 boosted, raising a total of £66 million.

When preparing for this debate, I read all four reports from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. I found them highly informative, providing a comprehensive insight into the key concerns around third-party campaigning. I also reread the significant contributions by my noble friend Lord Hodgson, which I will come to in a moment. I also read the contributions which both of them have made to our debate on the subject, including when the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, tabled amendments to the Act.

I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for his significant contribution to the third-party campaigning rules. His report has been referred to by many speakers, and I reread it last night. I understand that my noble friend has been in regular correspondence on third-party campaigning rules with Cabinet Office Ministers and will shortly be meeting the Minister for the Constitution to further discuss his report.

Third-party campaigners play an important part in the political process. Our democracy is strengthened by people campaigning for what they believe in, whether or not they are a candidate or political party. Voluntary organisations, charities, civil society and trade unions all play their part. I say that as someone who fought 10 general elections which were informed and enlivened by third-party campaigners. I recall, in particular, the campaign against the Newbury bypass, when I was Secretary of State for Transport and the candidate for North-West Hants. Digging a small bypass across my lawn was, I think, taking enthusiastic campaigning a little too far.

Much of the campaigning undertaken by such third parties is conveying their views about policies and issues. Under charity law, charities have the right to undertake campaigning and political activity where it supports their charitable aim, where trustees consider it to be an effective use of charitable resources, and provided that they do not engage in party politics. Electoral law does not change this. I listened with interest to the speech of my noble friend Lord Suri, but it is of course for the Charity Commission to act if there is a breach of charity law in the way that he implied.

The rules on third-party campaigning apply only to expenditure undertaken for electoral purposes. These rules exist to give the public more confidence in the way third parties interact with the political system. They ensure that campaigning is transparent and prevents any individual, company or organisation exerting undue influence on an election. Without these rules, our political system would be open to unknown groups spending unknown amounts of money on unknown activities to influence an election. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said: that it was not difficult to see where the line should be drawn. I am grateful for his broad support for the legislation which he helped to put on the statute book.

The Electoral Commission has a duty to provide advice and guidance to third-party campaigners to ensure that they understand the rules and are confident about campaigning. The commission has a series of guidance documents for third-party campaigners on its website. This includes information on registering as a third-party campaigners and guidance on reporting expenses to the commission.

The commission is currently working on a new guidance document with the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, the NCVO and Bond, the UK network for international development organisations. That guidance will cover areas of particular concern to smaller, issues-based campaigners. This includes the application of the purpose test to issue-based campaigns and the application of the third-party campaigner rules at an unscheduled UK parliamentary general election. The commission aims to publish this guidance early next year, and I can tell noble Lords who have taken part in this debate that I will ensure that all the contributions and suggestions they made during this debate are taken on board by the Electoral Commission.

Regulation of third-party campaigning at the constituency level has existed for a long time. The Representation of the People Act 1983 brought together in one place the legislation regulating third-party expenditure in parliamentary and local government election campaigns in individual constituencies.

The regulation of expenditure on campaigning activities by third parties on a national level has been a more recent occurrence. In 1998, the Committee on Standards in Public Life was tasked with reviewing the funding system and recommended reforms to political funding and spending. These recommendations were introduced by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

PPERA contains provisions on the regulated activity and registration of third-party campaigners, the spending rules for third-party campaigners, the rules on donations to third-party campaigners and the reporting of third-party campaign spending to the Electoral Commission. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace said, that provided the framework for Part II of the 2014 Act, which was introduced in response to a 2013 Electoral Commission review of political parties and election finance law. I do not think that any noble Lord has suggested that Part II should be repealed. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said: that a lot of thought went into the construction of that Act, although they may not have got everything spot on.

The review suggested that the rules on third-party campaigning should be changed to reflect the scope of rules for political parties. It also called for a review of the implications of the campaign spending limits set by PPERA. These proposals become Part II of the 2014 Act.

The Bill’s passage through this House was paused for six weeks between Second Reading and Committee, to enable further consultation on the Bill. The Government made a number of amendments on Report—including, significantly, raising the threshold for registration, and therefore taking a number of smaller organisations outwith its scope, and requiring a review to examine the functioning of the whole system of regulating non-party campaigning. Subsequently, my noble friend Lord Hodgson was called upon to produce his review on third-party campaigning regulation, published, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in March 2016.

The 2014 Act brought greater transparency to when third parties campaign in an election. It required relevant expenditure on such campaigns to be recorded and disclosed more fully. A number of reports evaluated the effects of the 2014 Act on third-party campaigning. In September 2015, the Commission for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement published its report, Non-Party Campaigning Ahead of Elections. In his report, my noble friend reviewed the campaigning rules and found that it was,

“far from clear the extent to which it was the reality of the legislation’s provisions rather than the perception of what restrictions they imposed, which affected organisations’ behaviour”.

This makes sense. Nothing within the 2014 Act was intended to change the basic way in which third parties campaign and register with the Electoral Commission. In its briefing for this debate the Electoral Commission said:

“We continue to work with the charity and voluntary sectors and other campaigners to ensure that they understand the rules and are confident about campaigning. In particular we are working on addressing the misplaced perceptions about the rules that might cause a ‘chilling effect’ amongst campaigners”.

The Electoral Commission commented on the rules in one of its reports on the 2017 election. In November last year it published its report, Political Finance Regulation at the June 2017 UK General Election. The Electoral Commission said:

“For the most part, we are pleased to observe that parties and other campaigners intended to, and did, comply with election spending and funding rules”.

I shall try to deal with some of the points made during our debate. The rules for joint campaigning were raised. Working together with other organisations on common causes is a well-established feature for most civil society organisations, charities and trade unions, and it is important that when it happens at an election, the rules on third-party campaigning capture this activity.

The rules on joint campaigning prevent undue influence by ensuring that spending limits are respected and that they cannot be evaded by a joint campaign falsely claiming to be separate campaigns. My noble friend Lord Hodgson spoke about those who were not angels and what he called outliers, who are all too ready to abuse the spending rules. Joint campaigning rules are important to ensure transparency about which groups are campaigning together on a particular issue and what they are collectively expending.

The issue of snap elections was raised. Whether we will have more snap elections after the result of the most recent one, I am not sure. The regulated periods for elections are clearly set out in PPERA. Also, with the passing of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the start date of regulated periods in advance of scheduled general elections should be known with greater certainty than was the case before, so unexpected general elections—it says here—should be less frequent.

I was also asked whether the regulatory period should be changed from 12 months to four months. The regulated period for third parties is the same as for political parties, and having any difference between the two is likely to increase the complexity of election law. If one did that, one would need an amendment to require an anti-avoidance provision to prevent third parties being used as fronts for a political party or campaigner during any period where third-party campaigners were not regulated but political parties were.

The noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Kennedy, raised the issue of transparency of income for campaigning charities. Your Lordships’ Select Committee on Charities published a report in March 2017 called, Stronger Charities for a Stronger Society. It stated:

“We do not believe that significant additional regulation of the sector through increased mandatory reporting requirements would be desirable, as this would be a substantial bureaucratic burden on smaller charities”.

Of course, the Charity Commission has done much in recent years to improve the information publicly available about charities and is now consulting on changes to its annual return, which would further increase charities’ transparency.

In a nutshell, the 2014 Act did not target charities and has never prevented charities or other organisations from campaigning in line with the law. In the 2017 general election, 68 charities registered as third parties with the Electoral Commission, which was an increase from 2005, when 25 charities registered. The Act, piloted so capably by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is about giving the public more confidence in the way third parties interact with the political system. It makes the political system more accountable and prevents opaque and unaccountable groups spending large sums of money attempting to influence the political system.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson suggested a number of changes to the 2014 Act. I am happy to say that we are making progress with one of them: the suggestion that imprints should be required for electronic material as well as on printed material for third parties. We recognise the growing number of campaigners using social media to convey their message to the public—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. On 29 July this year, the Cabinet Office launched an open consultation, Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence, and Information, which seeks views on proposed changes to electoral law, including the inclusion of imprints on digital campaign materials. The consultation will close at midnight on 22 October. We have doubts about implementing my noble friend’s package of recommendations and we have made it clear—I understand my noble friend’s disappointment—that we will not legislate on this. During our debate, a number of noble Lords have suggested that we need to further revisit the legislation in the light of the experience in recent elections. My noble friend was keen that his recommendations be taken forward as a single package.

To take one of those recommendations, a principal one, perhaps—to amend the definition of “regulated activity”—the Government agree with the Electoral Commission that no amendment to this definition is required. The commission believes that the current definition works well. It covers spending which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success. I say to my noble friend that I have made detailed inquiries about this and I am advised—and I am bound to say that I agree—that moving to a test of actual intention would be difficult to regulate and enforce. He made the point that this phrase occurs within the Representation of the People Act 1983 and asked why it could not simply be moved across. The intention test in that Act is appropriate for candidate spending and referendum campaigning since, in those cases, it is obvious that the candidate or campaigner has that intention. It is not suitable, however, in the case of third-party campaigners, who have a different background. Their campaigning may be issue-based and one cannot simply transpose that provision across.

A number of general points were made by the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Kennedy, about broader confidence in the electoral system. I say to both of them and to the House that the Government will be working towards a comprehensive programme of reform over the next few months and years to ensure that our electoral system is fit for purpose and enhances confidence in our democratic institutions. Finally, I assure noble Lords that we are committed to ensuring that third-party campaigners can continue to play a meaningful role in the democratic process. We need to strike a balance between, on one hand, the rights of people and organisations to campaign and, on the other, maintaining the integrity of the electoral process by having transparency of expenditure. We believe that the current legislation does this, but we will continue to work with the Electoral Commission, voluntary organisations and charities to ensure that the legislation is fully understood and clarified, where necessary, so that the crucial balance that I referred to is maintained.

Elections: Personation

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Tuesday 4th September 2018

(2 years ago)

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My Lords, the House is grateful for my noble friend’s report, Securing the Ballot, which included some 50 recommendations, nearly all of which are being pursued by the Government, including some that go directly to the issue that he raises: namely, the probity of local government. My noble friend will know better than anyone else that, if the level of corruption in a local authority reaches an unsustainable, unacceptable level, the Government can put in commissioners—which is exactly what my noble friend did with Tower Hamlets.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, why does the Minister think that so few cases have been investigated and so few prosecutions brought? Is there some failure on the part of the authorities, or is it the case that, while we must always remain vigilant and a greater police presence at polling stations is one way to do that, this crime is committed on very few occasions?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

The noble Lord is quite correct to say that there are relatively few convictions. According to the Electoral Commission report for the past year there were 200 allegations of personation in the past four years. He asks the good question: why it is difficult to prosecute? If you think about it, if you go to a polling station and try to vote and you find that somebody else has already voted in your name and you are disfranchised, it is quite difficult to find out who voted in your place. That may be one reason why there are relatively few prosecutions in the case of personation. The introduction of voter ID would of course reduce the risk to a minimum.

Electoral Commission

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Tuesday 17th July 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question given in the other place earlier today. The Answer is as follows:

“I am proud to say that the UK has a clear and robust electoral system, and we should all be proud of the democracy in which we live and work. I would like to place on record my thanks to all those involved in the electoral community who work hard at every poll to deliver it within the law, such that we can be proud of our democracy.

The Electoral Commission is the independent body that oversees the conduct of elections and referendums and regulates political finance. The commission reports regularly on the running of elections and referendums, and conducts thorough investigations into allegations that rules have been breached.

Electoral law exists to ensure fair campaigning, and the Electoral Commission has determined that those rules have been broken. Both Vote Leave and BeLeave have been fined and referred to the police. It would not be appropriate for the Government to comment on ongoing police investigations.

That electoral rules have been breached is rightly a cause for concern, but that does not mean that the rules themselves were flawed. The Government will continue to work closely with the Electoral Commission, along with many other stakeholders in the electoral system, to protect the integrity, security and effectiveness of referendums and elections.

Let me make it clear for the record that we will continue to implement the referendum’s result and to make a success of it”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, on 28 June and on previous occasions in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, agreed with me that our legislation on elections and referendums was not fit for purpose. But today the Minister has repeated the Answer given in the other place by the Minister for the Constitution. In the fourth paragraph, he said:

“That electoral rules have been breached is rightly a cause for concern, but that does not mean that the rules themselves were flawed”.

Are the Minister and I correct—and I think we are—or is his honourable friend the Member for Norwich North in the other place correct? We cannot both be.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

On several occasions, I have repeated a statement that my party made just over a year ago:

“There is a broad consensus that election law is fragmented, confused and unclear, with two different sets of legislation and poor guidance from the Electoral Commission”.—[Official Report, 7/6/18; col. 1403.]

As the noble Lord knows, a number of inquiries are under way that I do think we need to wait for before we decide how best to legislate. I am aware of the strong views of the Electoral Commission that the current level of sanctions is too low.

There are the DCMS inquiry into fake news, which we need to wait for, and the Intelligence and Security Committee’s inquiry into the activity of the Russians in the referendum and recent elections. There are ongoing investigations by the Electoral Commission into the referendum, and a court case is still pending. We have just had a very interesting report on referendums from UCL. I am not in favour of delay, but it makes sense to have the reports of the various inquiries that I have just referred to before we decide how best to proceed. I make it clear that the Government take extremely seriously what has been reported in the investigation out today.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (Business Rate Supplements Functions) Order 2018

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Monday 9th July 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I also draw the attention of the House to the fact that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I am generally happy to support the orders before the House, but there is a point to be made about business rates. I accept that this is a supplement and in that sense it could be subject to a referendum, a plan and stuff, but there is the point about business rates in general and what business has to pay in an area. We have many questions here about the cost to business of further taxation. In the West Midlands, for example, if a further £35 million is raised, what does that do to the economy? Is that the best use of that money?

That then comes back to the whole issue of combined authorities. Where they are established, the funding provided by government is relatively small. I am sure the noble Lord will not agree, but I have made the point before to his noble friend Lord Bourne that we have this rather confusing patchwork of local government emerging in England. We need a clear structure that we will get to. I am all in favour of devolution, but I would like to understand what the plan is. Certain places will potentially have four, five or maybe six authorities, whereas in another place there will be just one. That does not seem to be very good government at all. I am all in favour of devolution, but I am not convinced that the combined authority model is the best way forward.

I am happy to support the orders, as I said. I welcome the fact that the supplementary rates will have to be subject to a ballot. That is good news, but generally there is the whole issue of business rates and the effect on businesses, particularly on the high street.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their support for the measures before the House. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that the average increase, if we go ahead with 2p in the pound, is 4% on the business rate bill, but I would like to write to the noble Lord—a generous suggestion that he made—setting out what the highest amount might be in the highest rateable-value property in a particular area.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his broad support. I know that he finds these differing structures untidy and has complained about them before, but the Government are responding to what local people want, which varies in different parts of the country so different patterns emerge. I am not sure that I can take the debate any further today. Doubtless, when we have future debates on combined authorities, I will make the same point. In the meantime, I commend the orders.

New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations 2018

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Monday 9th July 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I am happy to support the regulations before the House and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, on securing this change to the legislation when the Bill was going through the House. I am very happy that we will provide local authorities with the option of being able to lead on new town developments. That is a good thing and, as other noble Lords said, will allow a level of independence so that they can go forward. Given that, I am happy to support the regulations as they are.

I was pleased that the Government listened to the responses to the consultation on the financial limits; that is very good news. However, the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee talks about the length of the consultation. I have mentioned a number of times the question of consultations from the department. This appears to be truncated down to four weeks, whereas ideally it should be six weeks and perhaps even longer. There is also a general point to be made about the consultation itself, in that, whether it produces negative or positive responses, the level of those responses is actually very low. The Government should look at ways of trying to get more people to engage with what they are doing.

I agree strongly with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, about the construction of new towns and bringing the process up to date. Indeed, it is a good intention on the part of the Government to deliver on this. A number of noble Lords observed that new homes must be of sufficient quality, which is extremely important. They must be properly energy efficient, built using the best techniques and set within the right infrastructure. In that way we will have homes in new towns and elsewhere that will be there for many years. If we do not get this right, we will simply create housing problems for future generations. I am conscious that in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, while Governments of all persuasions built a lot of housing, in the end a good deal of it turned out to be of very poor quality. For all the promises, those houses failed the families who had to live in them. Of course, some of the properties are still here today. So it is important that, whatever is built, be it in new towns or elsewhere, quality should underpin it. Hopefully, having a local element in new towns, with local people being fully involved, will help with that. Again, I am happy to support the regulations.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, for his continuing support and for putting these proposals into an historical context. As the Minister responsible for new towns in the 1980s, I found it rather nostalgic to be taken through the history of the new towns. As he and other noble Lords said, the climate has changed since then. There is more of an appetite for local engagement, and indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, we now have the proven competence of local authorities to undertake major developments.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that the introduction of the regulations was a necessary and important step in helping to increase the country’s housing supply. Indeed, I think that there is general agreement on all sides of the House that localising new town development corporation powers will provide local authorities with a new and powerful vehicle for driving forward high-quality new communities at scale. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy said about quality. That is why we have written that into the regulations. The Government want the initiative to be a success and we recognise that the change that we have made, with the slightly lighter touch of the Treasury, makes it a more appetising proposition for local authorities.

I shall pick up some of the points that were made. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked about the relationship between the oversight authority and the new town development corporation. Prior to agreeing to the establishment of a locally led development corporation, we would expect to see a proposal for governance arrangements that provided appropriate oversight of and independence for the new town development corporation.

On the membership of the development corporation, we want it to have operational independence to get on with the job, but we have required that the board should have a majority of independent members. In response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, the appointment of the chair, the deputy chair and the independent board members should be through an open, transparent and publicly advertised process in line with the broader principles for local authority appointments. There has already been some indication of an appetite for these new regulations. The four local authorities that lead the North Essex Garden Communities project have expressed an interest in setting up a locally led new town development corporation.

The regulations provide a vital lever for delivering the transformational housing growth that we need while ensuring that surrounding existing communities will also benefit from well-planned infrastructure and community amenities. I beg to move.

European Union Referendum

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Wednesday 4th July 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

Noble Lords had an opportunity to debate and vote on that in the recent EU withdrawal Bill. The notion of a second referendum was not one that found favour in either House. On the rest of the noble Baroness’s question, since the referendum, Parliament has voted to trigger Article 50 and we have passed the EU withdrawal Bill. That gives us a democratic mandate.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I know the noble Lord agrees that our laws on elections and referendums are not fit for purpose. Will he give an assurance to the House that the Government will act when all these inquiries and investigations are over?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

Yes. On one of the many occasions that we have debated this, I think I quoted a comment made by my party before the last election about the fitness for purpose of the current legislation. It makes sense to await the outcome of the court case, the EC inquiries into the referendum and the elections, and other inquiries. Then we can stand back and look at how the electoral law can best be brought up to date so that we have a digital framework for a digital age.

Elections: Electoral Commission Recommendations

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 28th June 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My noble friend will know that the Electoral Commission has made requests for legislation, particularly to increase the sanctions that are available to it. He referred to some commission inquiries. Last month, the commission published an inquiry into the activities of Vote Leave during the referendum campaign. He is quite right that there are two outstanding inquiries: one into Better for the Country Ltd and Arron Banks, and one into Vote Leave, Darren Grimes and Veterans for Britain, which commenced in November last year and, as I understand it, will be completed later this year. The Electoral Commission is an independent body so I need to be careful with what I say, but I am sure that Sir John Holmes will read my noble friend’s comments.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, does the Minister agree that our legislation on elections and referendums has not kept pace with technological advances, risks interference from abroad and is generally not fit for purpose?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

Yes; and I refer to the reply that I gave the noble Lord when he asked me the same question a few weeks ago. We have an analogue legislative process in a digital age and we do need to bring it up to date. I think it makes sense to wait for the outstanding court cases that are currently before the courts, the outcome of the DCMS inquiry into the impact of fake news on modern democracy and the reports to which my noble friend just referred into the referendum campaign. Once we have those, we can step back and look at the legislative framework and see how it will best be brought up to date.

Online Material: Identification of Promoters

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Thursday 7th June 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

The noble Lord is quite right that this was a recommendation by the Electoral Commission some time ago. During the Scottish referendum these requirements were introduced and the commission said that the rules,

“caused some confusion amongst campaigners and the public”.

The commission recommended further consideration on how to make the imprint requirement on online material proportionate and relevant. That is exactly what we are doing with our proposed consultation. In Scotland there was some debate as to whether Facebook and Twitter exchanges needed the imprint if they related to the referendum.

On the noble Lord’s second point, if we did go ahead it would not require primary legislation; it could be done by statutory instrument. On his third point, I am looking forward to the Committee stage of his Bill, which contains an ambitious programme of electoral reform, not all of which may reach the statute book.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, raises a very important issue. Does the Minister agree that the Question highlights that our laws around elections are woefully out of date and unable to provide the necessary framework, and that we urgently need to review, amend and update the legislation to meet the challenges of the digital world?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

Yes, I do agree. The Electoral Commission is currently conducting some inquiries into campaigning irregularities, and the results of those inquiries will be published in the next few months. When we have disposed of current cases before the courts, we will then be in a position to address the important issues raised by the noble Lord.

Legislative Reform (Regulator of Social Housing) (England) Order 2018

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Wednesday 23rd May 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The order before the House is one I support. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for reminding us of the history of this and of the bonfire of the quangos—I remember the debates we had in the House about that. Clearly, the phoenix has now risen from the fire and we are back where we started. I am very happy with that and with the explanation that the noble Lord has given us. I am happy to support the order.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

My Lords, I will respond very briefly. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his nostalgic journey through the history of social housing, its regulation and funding. I pay tribute to the key role he has played in a variety of ways in the development of social housing and the role that he still plays today. If I may say so, he made the case for what is before the House even better than I did. I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for their support.

Somerset West and Taunton (Local Government Changes) Order 2018

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Wednesday 23rd May 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I again refer the House to my entry in the register of interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

This is another set of proposals that seems fraught with local difficulty and, as I said before, the lack of clarity from the Government on their plan for local government in England as a whole is not helping matters. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House has brought these two statutory instruments to the special attention of the House, on the grounds that there appear to be inadequacies in the consultation which relates to these instruments. Inadequacy in these sort of consultations is a matter that I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer on what the department will do to improve the situation.

I am very much in agreement that, for a consultation exercise to carry any credibility, those who organise it must be open-minded about its results, otherwise there is no point in the exercise. I also have some sympathy with the residents of Taunton Deane in respect of their concerns about this merger, as the independent auditor considers West Somerset District Council to be financially unsustainable. The merger may be the answer, but that has not been established to the satisfaction of many people locally. We then have various other individuals giving their views, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said. The leader of Somerset County Council, the Conservative councillor David Fothergill, who lives in Taunton, wants a countywide unitary, which he claims will save the council £28 million. Marcus Fysh, the MP for Yeovil, who is a former county councillor, also wants the county unitary model. James Heappey, the Member for Wells, also wants a county unitary, but Rebecca Pow, the Tory MP for Taunton Deane, is firmly sitting on the fence, saying that she will wait to hear more proposals before she makes her mind up.

It is all a bit of a shambles again, which is not helped by the general approach from the Government, with no clear vision how local democracy should be delivered in England. It just makes matters even more difficult to get right, although I accept that these things are very difficult. It would in my opinion be better, as we were saying, to see unitary local government in England, and we will work with local councillors and local communities to come up with the best options in each county to deliver that with full consultation.

I wonder whether the Minister can help me, because I am getting a little confused by all these mergers, and how it all works. I think that he said in our previous debate that when we have districts coming together in mergers, any one district can oppose that. Then he said that any unitary proposals are decided in the round, so a council cannot oppose it. But what happens if you get a county district wanting to merge with a unitary? Is that done in the round again, as well, or is there a third option? I am thinking of somewhere like Oxford City Council, which is a unitary and does not want to merge with Oxfordshire. Has it got a veto? I do not know. It all seems very confused to me, and we need to be clear because I think that the Government are very muddled on this.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. May I just address one point that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has raised in both debates? What he describes as a muddle is a reflection of the Government’s approach—which we think is the right one—which is to respect what local communities want. We are responding to locally led proposals. Both the statutory instruments we have just agreed, and this one, are proposals that local people have asked the Government to approve. The alternative, which may be the option that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, prefers, is a top-down approach whereby government states its desired structure and then imposes that uniformly throughout the country. So I reject his description of our policy as a muddle: we think it is locally responsive. We considered the proposals in the round and we think this is a more satisfactory approach to local democracy than the alternative.

Let me deal with some of the points that were raised during our debate. Rebecca Pow is on record as supporting the proposed merger. On the electoral arrangements, the proposals in the order are a back-up option put together by the local authorities. The Local Government Boundary Commission will re-ward the whole area into appropriate wards. Once the number of councillors is reduced, the number of electors to each councillor will remain approximately 1,900, which is the average for the United Kingdom.

So far as support for the proposals before us is concerned, Taunton Deane Borough Council voted in support of progressing the merger at its full council meeting on 26 July 2016: 32 voted in favour, 16 against, and two abstained. Somerset County Council supports the merger, and there is no proposal from the county council or any of the districts for further unitary councils in Somerset. Should, in time, any locally led proposals come forward, we would of course consider them, but there are none on the table.

Looking at the parish councils, the majority of parishes supported the proposition: 10 were supportive and five were against. A strong majority of businesses and voluntary sector organisations—18—were supportive, and four raised no objections.

The thrust of the noble Baroness’s case was that the merger would be to the detriment of Taunton Deane residents. I do not want to go through all the arguments that I rehearsed when I introduced the instruments, but we do understand that, should the merger not be implemented, the financial unsustainability of West Somerset Council is considered to jeopardise the financial benefits of the current partnership, thus forcing Taunton Deane Borough Council to remove itself from the partnership agreement, which for both councils would risk the savings already generated. As I said, the independent auditor notes that,

“if the ‘One Council’ was not to go ahead and TDBC sought to unwind the collaboration the financial gap would be exacerbated”.

The two councils are clear that the merger will safeguard annual savings of £3.1 million—£2.6 million from transformation and £0.5 million from the governance changes.

I have listened with respect to the arguments put forward, but I think there is a strong case for agreeing to the proposition put to us by the two borough councils concerned.

Break in Debate

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

That would be an average, dividing the number of electors by the number of councillors. I have not drilled it down to an individual ward basis.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the Minister for his contribution. I mentioned Scotland and Wales in the previous debate. I think the Minister was in the Cabinet when the Major Government introduced unitary government to both Scotland and Wales in 1996, producing 32 councils in Scotland and 22 in Wales. That has largely stood the test of time. It seems strange, if that was the right thing to do then—it seemed to work well then and carries on to this day—that in England, it is very confused. I accept that the noble Lord has said that is what the policy is, but when we have a unitary council in one place and a district council in another, it all just appears to be a muddle. I recall a discussion with, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who described that he had five councils potentially levying council tax and other demands in Cambridgeshire, but in Cornwall there was only one. It certainly seems to me to be very confused.

Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole (Structural Changes) Order 2018

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Wednesday 23rd May 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The order and regulations before the House bring into effect proposals to create two new unitary authorities covering Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole. Generally, I am in favour of the establishment of unitary local government in England. I think that the local government structures in Scotland and Wales are generally more fit for purpose than the patchwork that we have developed in England. In those countries the two-tier approach was abolished at the end of the John Major Government, with 32 unitary authorities in Scotland and 22 unitary authorities in Wales.

On numerous occasions I have raised in this House the issue of how local government reform is evolving in England. Generally, it is confused, with little clarity on the objective, the purpose and how it is right to have four tiers of local government in one area while in a neighbouring county the view is that a unitary authority is best. This lack of clarity does not strike me as very strategic, nor mindful of the council tax payer or the delivery of efficient services.

There is also the issue of consent. Clearly, Christchurch Borough Council has not consented. It has gone further and held a referendum on the issue, where 84% of the borough’s residents—on a 54% turnout—rejected what is being proposed here today. The matter went before the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which highlighted that Ministers will apply the criteria in the round rather than considering whether the criteria should be met in relation to each individual council area. This is all very strange. Perhaps the Minister can clarify what happened during Third Reading of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill in the other place. Did the Secretary of State provide assurance that the council would not be abolished without its consent? I do not know the answer, so perhaps he can tell me.

On 9 May, in Grand Committee in the Moses Room, we discussed local government changes in Suffolk. Having at first been quite complimentary about me, the Minister’s noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth went on to suggest that I was a Stalinist when all I asked for was clarity, certainty and value for money for the council tax payer. He said:

“We have a broad policy of saying these things have got to be locally led … local democracy is the key point”.

I then moved on to Oxfordshire. I was well aware that certain councils there are pushing for a unitary Oxfordshire, which Oxford City Council is opposed to—as I believe are the majority of the citizens who live in that area. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Bourne:

“Do I take it from what the Minister said that if councils do not want things to happen, they will not happen?”

His response was:

“That is essentially true. These have to be locally led. If they have not got local support, they will not happen … That does not mean that there has to be 100% support”.

He then clarified further:

“Well, for district mergers, there has to be 100% support from the councils. What I am saying is that there does not necessarily have to be 100% support from the local MPs, for example, and that has not been the case”.—[Official Report, 9/5/18; cols. GC 22-23.]

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and his department are in some difficulty on this one. His noble friend Lord Bourne made it clear in Grand Committee on 9 May that there has to be 100% support from district councils for mergers to go ahead. Christchurch Borough Council does not agree. Furthermore, it held a referendum and, as I told the House, 84% of the residents of the borough, on a very respectable 54% turnout, did not agree either.

Then we have the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House advising us that Ministers decide these things “in the round”, which it is at complete odds with what the Minister’s noble friend Lord Bourne told us on 9 May. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is well aware and has told the House, the Conservative leader of Christchurch Borough Council, Councillor David Flagg, has begun a judicial review of the actions of the Secretary of State and his department. I think that there are fairly good questions that have to be answered before a judge, because this seems to be a little confused. I respectfully suggest that this is a mess, and the wisest option for the noble Lord’s department would be to withdraw these two statutory instruments, sort it out and get the lines clear in the department to avoid a possible court battle and a waste of public money.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I commend the persistence of my former colleague Sir Christopher Chope in garnering support from unlikely quarters to continue his campaign against this merger. I recognise the locus in the area of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. Indeed, I remember taking part in the campaign to ensure that she was not elected in the by-election—a campaign in which I and others failed.

Perhaps I may deal with the important issues which the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, raised. She mentioned that Christchurch was debt free—which it is, as are a number of the other local authorities. However, that is only part of the story, because many services provided to Christchurch are provided by the county council, which does have debt. So the people of Christchurch pay council tax on local authority debt, which is at the level of more than £500 per head.

I have just had news from the front. There was a deferred Division in the other place on these statutory instruments. Had the votes gone the other way, I am not sure that there would have been a lot of purpose in continuing our discussions, but I am happy to say that the ayes were 293 against 19 and 294 against 19 on the other instrument, so we can proceed, the other place having done its duty.

On council tax levels, I think that I am right in saying that Christchurch benefits from harmonisation, as its average level of council tax is higher. Therefore, with harmonisation that level will come down.

I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that there is a difference between the rules for mergers and those for unitarisation. He is quite right that, where we are talking about a merger, there has to be agreement from the councils being merged. But this is not a merger; it is unitarisation, and the rules for unitarisation are different. I read them out. Proposals have to be judged in the round as commanding a good deal of local support in the area. I quoted from what my noble friend Lady Williams said when the relevant legislation was being debated, which made it clear that there was not a right of veto of any one particular council within the proposed unitary; we had to look at the issues in the round.

The noble Baroness mentioned the poll conducted in Christchurch. There have been some criticisms of the conduct of that poll. Dorset County Council referred in its representations to,

“misleading and inaccurate information being circulated, not validated by the County Council or indeed Christchurch Borough Council. This was both before and while the poll was open and must introduce the question of bias in the process and undermine the validity of the findings”.

Poole Borough Council in its representation stated that the advisory poll in Christchurch,

“was supported by privately promoted information which was factually inaccurate and misleading”.

The borough council asserted that in its view the poll was “wholly unreliable” and asked the Secretary of State to “disregard” it.

None the less, we did have careful regard to the poll and its circumstances—but it did involve only 6% of the population of the whole area and we do not see this poll, for all these reasons, as casting doubt on the evidence that, in the round, across the whole area, the proposition has support. This proposal was locally led, developed and consulted on, and submitted jointly by the Dorset councils. The evidence is that nearly 80% of councillors across the whole area are in favour of the proposal, businesses and key public sector partners overwhelmingly support it, and the representative household survey showed that 65% of the public support it. Seven local Members of Parliament also support the proposal.

I have listened to the objections of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I hope that I have addressed them and also dealt with some of the points raised by the noble Baroness. I beg to move.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

That was a very helpful explanation and I thank the Minister, but will he explain a bit further why it is that if you merge two or three district councils, one council can object and veto it, whereas when you have a bigger reorganisation involving the unitarisation of a county, no one has a veto? Potentially, that involves many more services, a bigger area and bigger budgets, yet apparently no one has to be involved in that. Will he explain further, please?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

We made it quite clear that where an area wants to move from where it is now two-tier to unitary, we want to look at the proposal as a whole, and we do not believe it is right for any one component to have a veto. That is different from where two local authorities, as we are about to debate in a moment, want to get together and merge. We think that where they are going to merge—in other words, there is not going to be a wholesale reorganisation—it would be wrong to compel people to merge if they do not want to.

So, locally led proposals for district council mergers are to be assessed against criteria which we announced to Parliament on 7 November 2017, which include both the criterion that to be implemented a proposal should command a good deal of local support in the area and the criterion that the merger is proposed by all the councils to be merged. Locally led proposals for unitarisation are to be assessed against different criteria, announced to the Commons on 28 February 2017, which include the criterion that to be implemented a proposal for an area should, when judged in the round, be assessed as commanding a good deal of local support in the area.

Unlike in the case of mergers, unitarising an area does not need to be proposed by all the councils involved, since that area necessarily includes two tiers of councils, so that even if some councils in the area do not support the proposal, the area of those that do may cover the whole area. I may not have convinced the noble Lord—in fact, I can see that I have not convinced him—but he asked me what the criteria were and I have explained them.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I appreciate that, and I thank the noble Lord for it. I am not convinced, but I will leave it there. All I will say is that, as I have said many times before, I think that the local government reorganisation in England is confused, and I respectfully suggest that the noble Lord’s explanation highlights that.

Local Elections: Voter ID

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Tuesday 24th April 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question given in the other place yesterday by the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office. I apologise in advance if it is somewhat longer than it would normally have been. The Answer is as follows:

“The British public deserve to have confidence in our democracy. There is clearly the potential for electoral fraud in our system, and that undermines confidence and promotes perceptions of vulnerability. When fraud is committed in elections, it is not a victimless crime. People’s votes are stolen, or someone is elected who should not have been elected.

Earlier this year the Government announced that they would be conducting pilots for voter identification at the local elections in May this year in line with our manifesto commitment to legislate to ensure that a form of ID must be presented before voting.

Voter ID is part of the Government’s commitment to improve the security and the resilience of the electoral system that underpins our democracy and will promote greater confidence in our democratic processes. In making these changes, we will bring our electoral system in line with others, such as that in Northern Ireland or Canada, which operate successful programs and recognise that there is an increasing expectation that someone’s vote should be protected and carefully guarded.

We already ask that people prove who they are in order to claim benefits, to rent a car or even to collect a parcel from the post office, so this is a proportionate and reasonable approach. Democracy is precious, and it is right to take that more robust approach to protect the integrity of the electoral process.

Since 2014, the independent Electoral Commission has pushed for the introduction of ID to strengthen the system, and it has welcomed the voter ID pilots as a positive first step towards implementing its own recommendation that an accessible, proportionate voter identification scheme be introduced in Great Britain. In a recent report for Democratic Audit UK, academic Stuart Wilks-Heeg stated that after the scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland there was no evidence to suggest a fall in turnout but that there was plenty of evidence that fraud declined sharply.

Indeed, it was the previous Labour Government who introduced photo ID at polling stations across Northern Ireland in 2003. As I have said, it has not affected turnout there and it has helped to prevent election fraud. The Labour Minister at the time said:

‘The measures will tackle electoral abuse effectively without disadvantaging honest voters’,

ensuring that,

‘no one is disfranchised’.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/01; col. 739.]

The opportunity to pilot voter ID in May 2018 was offered to all local authorities in Great Britain, and five—Woking, Gosport, Bromley, Watford and Swindon —have committed to do so. Proxy voters in Peterborough will also be required to show ID before they can vote on 3 May 2018. The Minister for the Constitution has taken the opportunity to speak to each local authority about the design of their pilots and the methods that they have applied to ensure that their electors are aware of voter identification and that each elector’s needs are understood. Local authorities will notify every eligible voter by including information of the ID requirement on their poll card.

No one will need to buy ID documents to be able to vote, and the ID requirements will not be limited to a passport or driving licence. In the pilots, voters can use a wide variety of ID, from marriage certificates and passports to bus passes and bank cards, depending on where they live. If voters do not have the required ID, local authorities are providing alternative or replacement methods to ensure that no one is disenfranchised. Everybody eligible to vote will have the chance to do so.

The pilots will help to identify the best way of implementing voter ID, and we look forward to each authority’s findings. The Minister for the Constitution has responded to the recent letter from the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and a copy has been made available in the Library of both Houses. All the local authorities involved have completed equality impact assessments, and the Electoral Commission will independently evaluate the pilots, with results published this summer.

We want to ensure that our elections are as accessible as possible and that there are no barriers to democratic participation. We have recognised that, for example, people with a disability face different issues when registering and voting. We have run a call for evidence to hear directly about their experiences to enhance the Government’s understanding so that we can help those people to register and cast their vote. We have also recently made it easier for survivors of domestic abuse to register to vote anonymously for fear of revealing their address to an ex-partner, as there were fears that that was preventing survivors registering to vote.

The aim of the pilots is to protect voting rights, and it comes in the context of protecting and improving our democracy. Pilots are important in order to find out what works best. Electoral fraud is unacceptable on any level, and its impact on voters can be significant. It takes away an elector’s right to vote as they want, whether through intimidation, bribery or impersonating someone in order to cast their vote. The Cabinet Office, in partnership with the Electoral Commission and Crimestoppers, launched the Your Vote is Yours Alone campaign only last month to encourage people to report electoral fraud if they see it.

The impact of electoral fraud is real and it is criminal. It steals something precious from a person and undermines the entire system for everyone. I do not want to see our democracy dumbed down; it is rather a shame that the Labour Party appears to”.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

Ensuring our elections are safe and secure is an important duty, and one which I fully support. Will the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, say a bit more about the evaluation process? I hope that he can confirm that a speedy decision will be taken by the Government after the pilots have been evaluated, as we need simple but effective measures to ensure the integrity of the electoral process and to ensure that we do not get in the way of enabling people to cast their vote, which is the other side of the same coin and an important part of their playing their role as citizens of the UK.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham - Hansard

I am grateful to the noble Lord. There will be an independent statutory evaluation of the pilots conducted by the Electoral Commission. That will be published by the end of July, and it will inform the ensuing debate.

Hate Crime

Debate between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
Tuesday 13th March 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question given by Victoria Atkins in the other place yesterday.

“As you will appreciate, the letters described in the Question are part of an ongoing investigation, and as such I am not in a position to comment on them. However, the Government condemn the content of these letters as clearly abhorrent, with no place in decent society. The Government take hate crime and Islamophobia extremely seriously, and the UK has a robust legislative framework to respond to it.

Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law and equal rights define us as a society. The Government are determined to promote these values actively, working in partnership with and alongside Muslim and indeed all faith communities to demonstrate that what we have in common is the best defence against extremists who would seek to divide us.

Our hate crime action plan, published in 2016, sets out our comprehensive approach to tackling hate crime. We have a strong legislative framework to tackle hate crime, including offences of inciting racial and religious hatred, and racial and religiously aggravated offences. The legislation provides equal protection under the law for all ethnic and religious groups. We have sources of expert advice on the nature and causes of hate crime through the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group and the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime.

We have committed £2.4 million over three years to help protect places of worship that have been subject to, or are vulnerable to, a hate crime attack. We also committed a further £1 million, following the terrible Finsbury Park terror attack in June last year, to help protect places of worship and associated community centres that are vulnerable to attack on racial, religious or ideological grounds. So far we have funded 45 mosques under both schemes.

We have also funded Tell MAMA to record anti-Muslim hatred incidents and to support victims. From this year, we have made it mandatory for police forces to disaggregate religious hate crime data held by the police to reveal the true scale and nature of the problem, which we are determined to tackle”.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, these disgusting letters have, quite righty, caused revulsion in our communities and been condemned. I pay tribute to community and faith leaders, charities and others for what they have done. They and others will not let us be divided. Domestic extremism needs to be dealt with. Can the noble Lord reassure us that the Anderson review recommendations to the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre will start to produce the threat assessments for domestic extremism? Can he reassure the House that the police have the resources they need? He will of course be aware that the police got less than half of what they asked for to deal with terrorism.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham -