There have been 42 exchanges between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham
|1||Thu 4th July 2019||
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|2||Wed 3rd July 2019||
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|3||Wed 5th June 2019||
European Parliament Elections: Non-UK EU Citizens
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|4||Thu 23rd May 2019||
Electoral Commission: Referendums and Elections Spending
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|5||Wed 22nd May 2019||
Political Parties: Donation Rules
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|6||Mon 13th May 2019||
Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [HL]
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|7||Mon 18th March 2019||
Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention and Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) and (Levy Account Basis of Distribution) Regulations 2019
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|8||Thu 14th February 2019||
Representation of the People (Election Expenses Exclusion) (Amendment) Order 2019
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Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (Amendment) Order 2019
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|10||Wed 13th February 2019||
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|11||Thu 31st January 2019||
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|12||Thu 13th December 2018||
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|13||Mon 26th November 2018||
Verify: Digital Identity System
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|14||Tue 20th November 2018||
Tenant Fees Bill
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|15||Mon 5th November 2018||
Tenant Fees Bill
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
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|16||Thu 18th October 2018||
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|17||Thu 13th September 2018||
Third-party Election Campaigning
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|18||Tue 4th September 2018||
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|19||Tue 17th July 2018||
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Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (Business Rate Supplements Functions) Order 2018
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|21||Mon 9th July 2018||
New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations 2018
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European Union Referendum
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|23||Thu 28th June 2018||
Elections: Electoral Commission Recommendations
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Online Material: Identification of Promoters
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|25||Wed 23rd May 2018||
Legislative Reform (Regulator of Social Housing) (England) Order 2018
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Somerset West and Taunton (Local Government Changes) Order 2018
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Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole (Structural Changes) Order 2018
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|28||Tue 24th April 2018||
Local Elections: Voter ID
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|29||Tue 13th March 2018||
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|30||Mon 12th March 2018||
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|31||Thu 8th February 2018||
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Local Government Elections (Referendum) Bill [HL]
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Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (Amendment) Order 2017
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|35||Wed 15th November 2017||
Data Protection Bill [HL]
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|36||Fri 27th October 2017||
Democratic Political Activity (Funding and Expenditure) Bill [HL]
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|37||Tue 24th October 2017||
Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011
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|38||Thu 12th October 2017||
Housing: Availability and Affordability
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|39||Thu 7th September 2017||
Local Government Elections
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|40||Wed 6th September 2017||
Electoral Spending Limits: Wales
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|41||Thu 13th July 2017||
Local Government Finance
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|42||Mon 26th June 2017||
Boundary Reviews 2018
|4 interactions (238 words)|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(1 year, 6 months ago)Lords Chamber
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
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.
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.
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.
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.
(1 year, 11 months ago)Grand Committee
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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’,
‘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”.
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”.