Lord Murphy of Torfaen debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 6th Apr 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Report stage: Part 2
Wed 23rd Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1

Elections Bill

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Excerpts
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and to agree with the case she has so clearly outlined for Amendment 44A. However, I will speak briefly to Amendment 44 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, to which I have attached my name. He has already presented this very clearly; I just want to stress that it is talking about local government elections. It is talking about decisions about how your bins are collected and by whom; what happens with the local social care that you or your relatives might need to use; a local library that you and your children might rely on; or, where you are still lucky enough to have local democratic control, a local school. Surely if you have made yourself part of that community and you are relying on those services and contributing to that community, you should have a say over it. That is the case here.

There is also a practical case at this time. There will be a huge level of difficulty and confusion for voters, canvassers and people campaigning for local officials with the cut-off date of the end of the transition period, settled status and different situations for different EU member countries. It will all get very complicated and messy.

I have one final observation for tonight, while expressing my opposition to Amendment 43 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. If you look at the debates as we have progressed through Report today, it is really striking that there is a clear division in this House that runs around the Government Benches, with everyone else, including the Cross-Benchers, on the other side. Every measure defended or promoted from the Government Benches, whether by Front-Benchers or Back-Benchers, seeks to see or will have the impact of fewer people voting. All the amendments moved from this side try to get more people involved and voting. That is a really interesting division to see in your Lordships’ House.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise extremely briefly to support my noble friend Lady Ritchie’s amendment, to which I have added my name.

Constitutional issues are never easy in Northern Ireland—nothing is ever simple—and this lies in that category too. We live, as it happens, in very troubled times in Northern Ireland. We are but weeks away from a complicated and difficult election for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Issues which might to us seem relatively unimportant are magnified a dozen times when we cross the Irish Sea.

I add my plea to the Minister: can he persuade his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office, or himself—whoever decides to go—to meet the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission? They have jointly put forward a submission. Both those bodies were set up 25 years ago at the time of the Good Friday agreement—for obvious reasons, because they were major planks in that agreement. Therefore, if they say that this is going to cause a problem, there is a very strong case for the Government to meet them.

In Scotland and in Wales, local government elections are devolved, so they take their own decisions on this. I am not quite sure why this has not been devolved in Northern Ireland, but it is not, and it lies in the purview of the United Kingdom Government. As it happens, of course—given that this relates to European Union citizens—the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. But that is not the main issue.

The main issue is that there is a problem with regard to the Good Friday agreement and Article 2.1 of the protocol—all difficult issues. But I think that a meeting would be absolutely final, in the sense that it would mean being able to talk to the two commissions about the issues which my noble friend has raised—at least, I hope it would be final. We will know in a second what the Minister will say, and whether he will go ahead with this proposal or could delay it a little until he has met with the two commissions. But I repeat: this is a difficult issue in difficult times. We look forward to what he has to say.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, I shall make a brief comment in support of Amendment 44. In Committee I proposed an amendment to give those liable to pay council tax the right to vote in local elections. The Government said no, but I still believe that to be right in principle. I see it in part as an issue of consumer right—in other words, the principle is, “No taxation without representation”.

We are now in a position, it seems, where the Government have decided to extend the franchise to long-term emigrants from the UK, so that they can vote in parliamentary elections, but they have so far denied the right to vote to those nationals of other countries who live and pay tax here. I think that is a very serious anomaly. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to

“the tangle of voting rights left by imperial history”,—[Official Report, 28/3/22; col. 1284.]

which gives the franchise to some but not others. I find it regrettable that the opportunity has not been taken by the Bill to correct the many anomalies that still exist. I hope the Minister and the Government will be prepared to reflect on that.

Elections Bill

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Wednesday 23rd March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle (Lab)
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I have no doubt about that; that is why we would not have mentioned it to my noble friend. I am trying to make the point that there is an argument for something that opens up politics a bit more.

In the case of mayors, it is not like voting for an MP, where you are basically voting for who you want to be Prime Minister or which political party you support. It is very much about who you want to govern your local area, and they should have the widest possible base of support.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure always to follow my noble friend Lord Liddle, even though I would not agree with an awful lot of what he said; it is a great pleasure to follow him, nevertheless.

I absolutely think that there is no case at the moment for changing the electoral system for police commissioners. We have no directly elected mayors in Wales but we have police commissioners. There is a very strong case for trying to increase the turnout and the interest in elections for police commissioners. I am reminded of the fact that, in the very first election for police commissioners in Gwent, my own county, there was one notorious ward in the city of Newport where not a single person turned up to vote—no one at all. We are deluded if we think that changing the electoral system will improve interest. We look forward with great interest to the Minister telling us why we need to change the system.

I refer now to Amendment 136, and the very interesting debate we have had on first past the post versus proportional representation. This is not a wide debate—it would take days, weeks and months to do that—but rather one on the nature of the amendment we have been asked to consider. The amendment says that the House of Commons should be elected by PR, full stop. My noble friend Lord Grocott, in a fine speech, referred to the fact that these things cannot be changed unless there is a referendum on them. It is a rather unusual argument to suggest that because we had one in 2011 it is no longer relevant. Of course it is relevant, in the sense that we should have another referendum if that is required and should not change things unless the people are asked.

In my political lifetime, I have fought 11 elections. I served as an elected representative for 49 years, 28 of them in the other place. The great advantage of our system is that there is a marvellous link between the elected representative and the people whom he or she represents. It is unique. I was always referred to as “my MP” or “our MP” in the possessive case because they thought that. The contrast, for example, with the change that took place when we altered our electoral system for the European Parliament was immense.

Of course, the constituencies for Europe were very large—grotesquely large in some senses—but I bet your bottom dollar that people knew who their Member of the European Parliament was. I bet your bottom dollar, too, that they did not when the new system came in. I did not know who mine was, and I was an MP for the area towards the end of that system. We completely lost that link between the elected representatives and the people whom they represented. That is the greatest aspect of our system, which we must not do away with.

Of course, we have different systems in different parts of the United Kingdom. I was partly instrumental in bringing about the system in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, was right. He was very advanced and forward-looking when he made that change all those years ago. The only way that the partisanship in Northern Ireland could be destroyed was to have that system changed. It is very different there from the rest of the United Kingdom. It is not the same as Wales or Scotland or England because, by voting the way they do in Northern Ireland, they express a very different view from that expressed by the rest of the United Kingdom. That was a very significant change indeed. The Assembly is elected by STV; local government is elected by STV, but, of course, the MPs in the United Kingdom Parliament are elected by first past the post.

Scotland and Wales are different. They have top- up systems, known as AMSs. They are entirely incomprehensible to the voter. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moore, that if the voter cannot understand what they are voting for, it is a very poor system. Indeed, in Wales, a commission has been set up to investigate changing to a different system, although I do not think they will change completely to first past the post. There is some merit in having different systems in different parts of the country—in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for their own assemblies—but they have to be comprehensible to the voters who use them. At the moment, that is not the case.

The biggest flaw, of course, in this amendment is that it does not seek proper legitimacy for the change. It is not just the 2011 referendum, but in every case—in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland—referendums were held for the new systems of government, and that included the way those Governments and Assemblies were elected in every single case. In Wales, of course, when they wanted extra powers some years ago, they went for another referendum to get that legitimacy which lies behind every change. So, for me, the great weakness of this amendment is not just that I do not agree with PR, but rather my belief that the way in which the change would be introduced has to be done by asking the people. If you ask the people, you must also say to them: “Do you understand what it is you are voting for?”

UK Government Union Capability

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Excerpts
Thursday 1st July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. It addresses very important issues and makes serious recommendations, including on the need to improve intergovernmental relations in the United Kingdom. Your Lordships’ committee dealing with common frameworks, of which I am a member, has recommended improvements to the IGR system, and the Government themselves, as we just heard, are making certain changes, but we need much more radical change to the way in which the Governments in Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh and London work together.

We now live in a very different constitutional world. The British political landscape has changed dramatically and, during the past year, having to deal with Covid, more and more people are now conscious of devolution in our country. The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has this week spoken of the need to reform the union. He is right. There must be British Government recognition of the new picture.

When I was a territorial Secretary of State, many in Whitehall adhered to the maxim “devolve and forget”. This will no longer work. There must be mutual respect between the partnership of nations in our country. We should have an independent system to deal with disputes between those Administrations. Your Lordships’ House could play a significant role in representing the different parts of our country.

Flags and United Kingdom Government offices in Cardiff and Edinburgh will not strengthen the union. Only a wholly new approach will work. I want the union to survive and prosper. It will remain only if we seriously reform it.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Excerpts
Thursday 27th May 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, we looked very closely, obviously, at the report from Marks and Spencer earlier this week and the costs that it has identified as being connected to the protocol. It is important to note that, although it is sometimes said that we are not trying to implement the protocol, in fact both companies and this Government have shouldered very considerable costs trying to do so—both in the private sector and, for us, in the trader support scheme, movement assistance scheme and so on. All of that is having a chilling effect on the ability to move goods across the whole of the UK, which is causing so much difficulty, so we need to find a realistic and lower-cost, risk-based approach to doing this. That is what we hoped to see and we continue to hope that we can agree with the European Union.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, dialogue is always better than legal writs and newspaper articles, so I welcome the Minister’s recent visit to Northern Ireland to meet businesses and communities. Can he now tell us if he has any immediate plans to meet officials of the European Union, the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and the leaders of all the political parties in Northern Ireland to discuss these difficult issues around the Northern Ireland protocol?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, I remain in contact with all those whom the noble Lord has suggested that I should be in contact with. I talk to my European Union opposite numbers frequently—in fact, I had a meeting with the EU ambassador this morning. I remain in close touch, as does my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, with all ranges of opinion in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland and Great Britain: Trade

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Thursday 25th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, the downside to a Swiss-style SPS or veterinary agreement is that it would require our food and drink sector to accept not laws that were made in this country but the laws of the European Union. As far as this Government are concerned, that is quite a considerable downside to such an agreement. It is why we cannot accept one that is based on dynamic alignment.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, for over 20 years, discussion and dialogue have been at the heart of the Northern Ireland peace process and the protocol should be no exception to this. Will the Minister talk to the European Union through the joint committee, and to the Irish Government through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which was set up by the Good Friday agreement, and, above all, talk to all the political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Executive and their leaders? Only by talking will we ultimately resolve these issues.

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, I very much agree that dialogue is extremely important. I and my team are in constant touch with Vice-President Šefčovič and his teams, and of course my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland also has many contacts in Northern Ireland. I am pleased to say that there will be a specialised committee tomorrow, 26 March, within the joint committee framework to consider all the issues related to implementing the protocol. We continue to pursue dialogue in that framework.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Border Controls

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Thursday 4th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, while condemning the intimidation aimed at border control staff and deeply regretting the European Commission’s attempt to invoke Article 16 or, indeed, any attempt to do so, does the Minister agree that what is now needed is calm negotiation between the Commission and the Government and, above all else, between the political parties and their respective leaders in Northern Ireland itself?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I strongly agree with the tone of the noble Lord’s remarks and recognise his experience and wisdom in this area.

Northern Ireland Protocol: Implementation Proposals

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Excerpts
Thursday 19th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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We are working to ensure that UK internal freight is not subject to tariffs, and to remove export declarations from Northern Ireland to GB trade. We continue to pursue specific solutions for supermarket trade, noting the huge social and economic importance of avoiding disruption. That essential work will continue at pace in the coming days but, of course, I cannot give a running commentary on discussions with the European Union.”
Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, yesterday Northern Ireland business leaders told Members of Parliament that the Government have left them without clarity, details or time to deal with the huge change that is coming. The president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union said they are being asked to prepare with both arms tied behind their back and a blindfold on. So what are the contingency plans for business if the customs declaration service is not available by 1 January? Why have businesses had no information on how a tariff rebate system would work? As noble Lords know, businesses always need certainty, and certainty here is absolutely lacking.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that businesses and communities are ready for the end of the transition period. I am sorry to hear of the remarks reported by the noble Lord, but our intensive programme of engagement with industry continues at pace. The Business Engagement Forum has now met 20 times since May, and this month the Chancellor of the Duchy formed a UK-wide business readiness task force. We have also made considerable progress on the provision of guidance, publishing over 25 pieces of sectoral guidance for businesses moving goods between Northern Ireland and GB in recent weeks.