Representation of the People (Variation of Election Expenses and Exclusions) Regulations 2024

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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At end insert “but this House regrets the Government’s decision to lay the draft Regulations, given the large scale of the proposed increases, the proximity of elections on 2 May, the lack of evidence of parties and candidates being constrained in their ability to reach voters by current expense limits, and the effect of increasing reporting thresholds on reducing transparency of funding for elections.”

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by welcoming the clarification in election law that necessary security costs for candidates must not be constrained by being included as part of their campaign spending that is set against election expense limits. On 28 January 2000, a friend of mine, Andrew Pennington, was working for an MP when he was murdered by an attacker who came to the advice centre of my late friend Lord Jones of Cheltenham when he serving as the town’s MP. In the 1980s, well before there were any funds for security at MPs’ offices, I used to run the campaign HQ for my friend the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, which was where he held many advice centres as an MP. Anyone could walk in at any time. It was not safe. We need to protect Members of Parliament and all their staff, in this place and wherever they work, and we are thankful to all those who help to protect us in these dangerous times.

I also acknowledge that there is a case for uprating the mayoral election expense limits, and those for candidates for the Greater London Authority. But no case has been made for doing so by 81%, thereby increasing the unhealthy influence of big donors that has caused such problems and been so clearly exposed in recent weeks. Inflation, as measured by CPI, in the three years since the last London mayoral election has been about 18%. If we go back to the last London mayoral election in 2021, the three leading candidates each spent around £400,000, or 95% of the available election expense limit at the time. An increase now from £420,000 to £760,000 must be considered to be excessive. This is especially so when it means that the candidates are suddenly being allowed to spend an additional £340,000 in just the last six weeks of the campaign. Many of us here have experience of election planning and will know that parties will have budgeted perhaps a year ago to spend no more than the £420,000 limit in place until now.

It is not, however, just an extra £340,000 that is suddenly being pumped in for each of the London mayoral candidates. There are 14 constituency members of the Greater London Authority and, as the Minister said, the expense limit for each of those 14 candidates is suddenly being increased by the sum of £28,360. This means that each party with 14 candidates can now legally spend an extra £397,000 supporting them.

Then there are the party list candidates. A party will now be able to spend an extra £267,000 supporting its list. What does this mean for a party with a mayoral candidate and a full slate of candidates for the Greater London Assembly? It means that the total permitted expenditure for those parties will rise, at the drop of a hat, from £1,240,000 to £2,244,080. In London alone, a party will now be able to spend more than £1million extra in just six weeks before polling day on 2 May.

The expense limits are being raised not just for the London elections but for 11 more metro mayor elections across England covering almost half the country. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us what the combined increase will be in election expense limits for a party with a candidate in each of these 11 metro mayoral elections. What is the combined total of permitted election expenditure for these candidates under the present rules, and what will it be under these new ones? Perhaps the combined increase may be more than £1million, and this comes in all of a sudden, long after campaign budgets will have been set. A party with sufficient funds will be able to spend an extra £1million in London, and, if the figure is £1 million elsewhere, it will be spending over the next six weeks at the rate of a third of a million pounds per week, over and above existing plans. To be able to spend to the maximum of these new limits, it appears that the Conservative Party needs the donations of its disgraced donor, Frank Hester. Or are these increases simply being made because it has his donations? I think we should be told.

Last December, the Times reported that the Conservative Party is well on track to raise £50 million in a year. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in the very same month the Conservatives dramatically raised the expenditure limit for national parties in general elections from around £19.5 million to around £36 million. Is it not the truth of all these huge increases in election expense limits that the Conservative Party is feeling desperate? It lacks support, but it has money. It thinks that it needs to spend the £15 million believed to have been given by Frank Hester, the £5 million from Mohamed Mansour and all of the money from billionaire tax exiles whom it has just allowed to donate, and with as little scrutiny as possible, even if they have not lived here for several decades?

This is all about desperate spending to seek re-election, and not about the democratic principle of a level playing field in politics, which was established in law during Gladstone’s time. This principle was also agreed by all the parties in the legislation governing party expenditure in 2000. More recently, it has been supported by the words of the noble Lord, Lord True, in our debates on the Elections Act. However, action speaks louder than words, as they say, and it seems a very long time since the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, became Prime Minister, and pledged to “take the big money out of politics”.



It is most regrettable that the excellent report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life of 2011, when my noble friend Lord Alderdice served on the CSPL, was not implemented by the coalition Government. This report proposed a cap of £10,000 on all donations. These new, extremely high election expense limits mean that, more than ever, all parties must go begging to major donors.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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At different times, different parties have raised large sums of money from different places over many years. I look at the party opposite, which has been funded by the unions over the years; I believe that I have seen quite large donations given to the Liberal Democrats too. On party donors, I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who asked why anybody would want to give money. Some people feel very strongly and passionately about the policies of some parties—I am not talking about just ours—and that is how politics works. The level playing field is the fact that no party can spend more on one candidate in any election than the other party.

Asking why we have waited so long, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, did, is a reasonable question. As intended by Parliament, it is for the Government of the day to review the limits and update them when they consider that to be necessary. The fact that we had low inflation for so many years probably meant that there was no real necessity to change them as quickly as perhaps we should have done. But, as we have heard, inflation has increased in recent years and the Government decided that uprating these sums was now necessary to ensure that we get that communication out to our electorate.

I think that I have answered everything, unless anybody has something that they want to repeat. I will look at Hansard to make sure, but I think the only thing that I need to respond on is the disabled allowance question.

These regulations are essential to ensure that campaigners can continue to communicate their views to voters and, importantly, that candidates and other campaigners can feel confident in procuring the security they need at any UK elections. I hope noble Lords will join me in supporting this instrument.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this statutory instrument before us. We have shown in this short debate that it was worthy of greater consideration than the 16 minutes which it attracted in a committee in the House of Commons. There are many important issues here and I congratulate her on single-handedly defending the Government’s position in the face of all the opposition parties this evening, which suggests that the arguments are not quite so straightforward as she might suggest.

The principal argument which the Minister made, that this instrument had to be brought forward now with such huge increases in election expenses, was not about election expenses at all. The argument here and in the other place was on the urgency of clarifying election law about security arrangements for candidates and their teams. As an experienced election agent, I would never have allowed security considerations to be part of the election expense return which I was making.

If this was necessary, it could of course be done simply on its own and with all-party agreement, but there is not all-party agreement on such huge increases and on them being made at the last minute. No satisfactory explanation is given as to why they are so large or have been made so suddenly before polling day. On all these issues where the Government are clearly changing the rules in their favour, they are abandoning the principles of the level playing field. A level playing field requires not just the same maximum limit for everyone but equal resources on each side. An army with 100 tanks against an army with one tank is not an even competition, so we do not have a level playing field of the kind which the law provided for in the 1880s and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act tried to provide for in 2000.

I do not feel the need to test the opinion of the House again, when I feel that its opinion on all these issues was well tested when the noble Lord, Lord Khan, did so a few weeks ago. I note that 90% of the Cross- Bench Peers voted in support of his Motion and against the Government, so as we know the opinion of the House on this issue, I will not test it further. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Electoral Commission Strategy and Policy Statement

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Tuesday 6th February 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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In light of the scathing consultation responses and feedback in relation to this statement, I hope that the Minister and the Government will think again. I ask all noble Lords to support our amendment to the Motion to help the Government to think again.
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I too apologise for my slightly late arrival in the Chamber; earlier business finished more rapidly than might have been expected.

I thank the Minister for her briefing meeting with me and others last week to discuss these measures. In response to her points now and then, I say that “substantive” is a subjective word. She says that substantive changes have been made to the policy and strategy statement being imposed on the Electoral Commission, but nobody outside the Government agrees with that description. The Electoral Commission itself certainly does not; its briefing to us sets out the commission’s clear view:

“The introduction of a mechanism such as a strategy and policy statement—by which a government can guide an electoral commission’s work—is inconsistent with this independent role”


of the Electoral Commission.

Our Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee highlighted the fact that the Speaker’s Committee—the body responsible for holding the commission to account on behalf of Parliament—objects to the draft statement as being

“not fit for purpose and inconsistent with the Commission’s role as an independent regulator”.

The Electoral Commission is not like other regulators, such as those for the utility industries. Its role includes advising on the framing of election laws and it helps to police them. It is not appropriate, therefore, for the party in power to set the commission’s policy and strategy. Putting the governing party in charge of this is like letting GB News set the strategy and policy for Ofcom; Southern Water to set if for Ofwat; or Eton College to set it for Ofsted.

I led for my party during the 11 days of debate in this Chamber on what became the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. All parties were agreed throughout this process on the essential need for the Electoral Commission to be independent of government or party. Its creation was proposed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life—a body created by Sir John Major to try to clean up the reputation of politics. It was legislated for on the basis that it

“must be as independent of the Government of the day as our constitutional arrangements allow”.

The late and greatly respected Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish led for the Conservative Benches, in opposition on this occasion, during all those debates. He defended the principle of the Electoral Commission’s independence. He argued that our election laws should not be subject to control by what he called “Tony’s cronies”. So I say now that the Electoral Commission should not be subject to control by Michael Gove and his cronies.

I will give four examples of how this Government have history in seeking to change the rules of elections to favour themselves. The first is the introduction of very specific forms of photo ID in order to vote at a polling station. This made it far harder to vote than anything required by any evidence of fraud in Great Britain. The introduction was defended by the Government on the basis that ID is required to collect a parcel from a post office. Surely, then, forms of ID acceptable at a post office should be acceptable at a polling station—but they are not. Despite evidence of people being turned away from polling stations and many more failing to attend because of specific ID requirements, the Government refused to act on the advice of the Electoral Commission to allow wider forms of safe and reliable voter ID to be used.

The Electoral Commission’s chair, Mr John Pullinger, was interviewed recently in the Financial Times. The article stated:

“Conservative ministers have ‘opened themselves’ up to the charge that a new voter identification scheme is designed to benefit the Tory party, according to the head of the UK elections watchdog”.


This fact was admitted by no less a person than Jacob Rees-Mogg. This Government are imposing classic voter suppression techniques taken from the Trump Republican playbook.

Secondly, this Government have a history of seeking to undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission. This is the seventh Government since the commission was created, and none of the previous six Governments sought to control it in the way that is now set out. The excellent previous chair of the commission, Sir John Holmes, found that his term of office was not renewed by the Government after he and the commission pursued illegal activity by the Conservative Party. This resulted in a senior Conservative Party official escaping jail only on compassionate grounds, but after a damning judgment by Mr Justice Edis.

Conservative MPs wanted revenge. This series of investigations was followed by the then Conservative Party co-chair, Amanda Milling MP, writing in the Daily Telegraph in August 2020 to say that, if the Electoral Commission failed to make the changes that the Government wanted,

“the only option would be to abolish it”.

An independent election watchdog should not operate under such threats in a democracy.

Thirdly, this Government have, in effect, ended the principle of the level playing field that was first established to provide fair elections in Gladstone’s day. As a funding arms race developed, in 2000, a national limit for political parties to spend in a general election was established. Since then, six different Governments have not seen any need to raise this limit and only one political party has generally come close to spending the legal maximum—the Conservative Party. Increasing the national party expense limit from around £19.5 million to around £36 million is clearly designed to benefit one party only—the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission said that the Government had provided no evidence of the need for this increase. When I questioned this most significant change to our election laws, I was told that it was an exercise that had been performed by successive Governments of all political colours. It is not, therefore, an unusual law. But this is simply and absolutely not the case: no previous Government of any party or colour have sought to raise this limit. All my questions about national party spending have been met with answers relevant only to local candidate spending, which of course is quite different. This Government have changed the national spending limits unilaterally and without a vote in Parliament.

My fourth and final example is the ban, in 2022, on the distribution of political literature by party volunteers in the approach to major local elections, when no such ban was imposed on the distribution of political literature by pre-existing commercial operators. It cannot conceivably be a coincidence that the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats rely mainly on volunteer activists to deliver their leaflets, while the Conservative Party generally relies on paying commercial delivery companies to distribute its leaflets. So I asked why one form of delivery was banned when exactly the same activity by employees of commercial firms used by the Conservatives was not banned. I was frequently told that this was because of scientific, health and medical advice. I asked repeatedly for some of this purported evidence to be made available, but it never was.

Representation of the People (Postal and Proxy Voting etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Penn Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Penn) (Con)
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My Lords, this instrument makes changes to correct minor errors in the Representation of the People (Postal and Proxy Voting etc) (Amendment) Regulations 2023—or the 2023 regulations, as I will refer to them—in relation to how the transitional arrangements for the new rules concerning proxy voting are displayed on poll cards.

The Elections Act 2022 set out a wide range of changes to numerous aspects of the electoral system. This included changes to the rules surrounding the number of people for whom an individual can act as a proxy when voting. The changes were implemented by the 2023 regulations that I have just referred to and are supported by new offences. They came into force on 31 October 2023.

The new arrangements limit the number of electors for whom a person may act as a proxy to four, of which no more than two can be domestic electors—that is, an elector who is not registered as an overseas or service voter. The 2023 regulations also updated all relevant prescribed forms, for example poll cards, to make sure that the new limits are clearly explained to electors.

To ensure a smooth change of rules, the 2023 regulations set out a transition period, which would allow proxy arrangements that had been set up prior to the new rules coming into force to continue until 31 January 2024, and longer if a poll were already under way on that date. This was to avoid a cliff edge where all pre-existing proxy arrangements were cancelled simultaneously, which could create administrative issues and could leave insufficient time for electors to reapply for new proxy arrangements.

The change in proxy rules also needed to be reflected in the information provided on elections forms, such as poll cards, and these needed to be updated for polls held during the transition period as well as for polls held after it. The 2023 regulations provided the necessary updates for the forms used for any polls for which notice was given prior to 31 January 2024—that is, until the end of the transition period. The forms for postal poll cards and proxy postal poll cards for any polls held after the transition period are set out in a different set of regulations: the Representation of the People (Postal Vote Handling and Secrecy) (Amendment) Regulations 2023. However, these forms do not come into force for any polls where the day of the poll is prior to 1 May 2024. There is therefore a gap in the transitional provisions for any polls for which notice is given on or after 31 January 2024 and the day of poll is on or before 1 May 2024 where no transitional provision has been given. Any polls taking place during this time would have to use the postal poll cards and proxy postal poll cards used prior to the 2023 regulations coming into force, which would provide incorrect information on the rules and offences surrounding proxy voting.

The same gap applies in respect of postal signing petition notices and proxy postal signing petition notices for any recall petition for which the Speaker’s notice is given on or after 31 January 2024 and for which the beginning of the petition signing period is on or before 1 May 2024.

This instrument will correct the error in the 2023 regulations by adding updated information about the new voting offences for persons voting by proxy to postal poll cards and proxy postal poll cards for polls that are commenced and held during this gap. This will ensure that the proxy voting changes are clearly explained to electors and so avoid any confusion.

The instrument also amends two minor typographical errors in the 2023 regulations. I beg to move.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister need not fear that I will ask any particularly difficult, tricky or awkward questions on this legislation. There is a simple explanation for that: I could not think of any. I looked at the proceedings in Committee in the other place, and nor could anyone there, so I will confine my remarks simply to a question and an observation. The observation is that we seem to have had a lot of changes to election law in the year before a general election. Does the Minister accept that there may be a greater risk of an error in the conduct of our elections as a result of the large number of changes to election law being made in the year before a general election, and with local elections in May? Could she tell us—perhaps she will write to us in due course—how many pages of legislation are in the secondary legislation instruments brought before us in the last 12 months? It seems a lot of pages.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. It corrects very minor errors in a previous statutory instrument. We are pleased that the Government are correcting the errors and understand why this instrument must be introduced. The Minister outlined the huge task as a result of the changes made in the Elections Act. I have sympathy with her in the task of introducing so many complex changes in electoral statutes. If there are other mistakes in the Elections Act that the Government want to rectify, we are happy to support them.

I have a few questions for the Minister. Is the department now examining instruments relating to the Elections Act to ensure that all other transitional arrangements are correct? Do the Government plan to lay any further regulations relating to the Elections Act prior to the elections in May? Has the Minister discussed the regulations with those responsible for implementing them?

Another concern on these Benches is that we have already stretched electoral administrators up and down the country, who are getting their heads around the changes that the Government are making, sometimes rectifying errors. This is deeply concerning. Will those electoral officers be further resourced? How will they be strengthened to deal with the impacts and changes that have been outlined today? The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, spoke about this. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Representation of the People (Overseas Electors etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Tuesday 12th December 2023

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction. These regulations implement the provisions of the Elections Act to remove restrictions on overseas electors. Overseas voting provides an important link for British citizens across the world. On these Benches, we are clear that those who have a strong connection to this country and their community should still have a say in how they are run. We do not oppose the principle of overseas voting and giving citizens who still have a strong connection to the UK a voice in our elections. That includes people who still have a strong connection to our local services and communities. But we need to consider this carefully and look at the potential impact on our democracy.

By repealing the 15-year residency limit, former residents who are now living abroad will be able to vote regardless of how long ago they left the UK. I am proud to have represented the community and region I grew up in as a Member of the European Parliament. Like many honourable Members in the other place, I know how important it is that those who live in our area, pay their taxes and are part of the community feel represented. As much as we support the rights of overseas voters, it would be wrong if people with little connection to this country—who may have moved a long time ago and not used any services or paid any taxes in decades—diminished the voices of constituents across the United Kingdom. We must consider how we strike a balance in our rules. There are voters who still feel a connection to the UK despite moving away 30, 40 or more years ago. But the policy of removing the cap on this important principle will undermine the balance between enfranchising those people and maintaining integrity in our democracy.

Although we do not think that there is a moral disagreement about some of the issues with votes for life, I fear that the risk of abuse of the system proposed by the Government is far too great. The registration rules proposed mean that some overseas voters require only the attestation of the identity and past location of another overseas voter. We understand that it may be difficult for legitimate overseas voters to verify their identity, but there seems to be a risk of manipulation of the system to allow those eligible for the scheme to have their pick of which seats they want to vote in.

As Florence Eshalomi MP outlined in the other place, some 30 seats were decided by fewer than 1,000 votes at the last general election. While I am sure that very few will attempt to abuse the system in that way, it could have a large impact on marginal seats when votes are added up around the world. Can the Minister assure me that there will be additional safeguards to prevent fraud? I understand that there is a tight limit on attestation and that those attesting for another voter will need to sign a declaration of their truthfulness, which is right—but those measures may not be enough to prevent people trying to abuse the system in a way that could impact the next general election.

Can the Minister stipulate what robust processes will be in place to verify an applicant’s identity and establish their eligibility to register at their qualifying United Kingdom address? What support are the Government putting in place to enable electoral registration officers in Great Britain and the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland to determine their eligibility under these new criteria? The Government should also be more open about how much this change will cost, given that they confirmed to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee that there will be additional funding to cover the costs of registering new electors.

The new rules create a huge loophole in our donation laws. The current rules on UK donations mean that those who donate more than £500 must be on the electoral register. We must be honest and say that we cannot pretend that the current system is perfect, but it is an important safeguard against money flooding into our political system from foreign and hostile states. The Labour Front Bench first raised these concerns during the passage of the Elections Act, when my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock pointed out that the removal of the 15-year limit could create a loophole in donation law.

Furthermore, during debates on the National Security Bill, my noble friend Lord Coaker called for greater restrictions on political donations from overseas. In our current system, those on the register have a clear and recent link to the UK. We think that opening the electoral register as widely as the Government are doing today goes far beyond what our current donation rules were set up to do. It will allow those with tenuous links to the UK, who have spent most of their lives in states that may even be openly hostile to our aims, the right to massively influence our system. The reality is that it will be impossible to ensure that the huge numbers of potential donors in our system are not vulnerable to manipulation by hostile actors. There is already clear evidence of attempts by these actors to influence UK democracy, as we have seen in recent days. It will also make enforcement of our rules much harder, given the difficulties that we may face in challenging those who fall foul of donation laws while living in another jurisdiction. The Government know the risks that those hostile actors pose to the UK and our allies. Just this year, we saw the attack on Britain’s Electoral Commission. Has the Minister met with it following this incident?

This Government should instead look to proposals made by the Electoral Commission, which recommended introducing new duties on parties to enhance due diligence and the risk assessment of donations. Louise Edwards, a director at the Electoral Commission, recently commented that the current levels of transparency around donations are “not enough”. The Electoral Commission has called for more laws to help protect parties from those who seek to evade the law, as well as more checks on the identity of donors. It is beyond belief that the Government are seeking to risk opening our system at such a critical time for our world. What would a political party do if, for instance, it were offered a donation of £50,000 by somebody who lives and works in Moscow today? Will the Government introduce a new requirement on political parties to do proper checks on the source of funds?

Changes to the Electoral Commission’s powers under the Elections Act 2022 have left the UK without any body responsible for criminal enforcement of election finance laws. I particularly press the Minister on the fact that no one agency now has enforcement powers over electoral law. Do the Government consider it appropriate for the National Crime Agency to take these powers? If so, will they implement that without further delay? If not, is a department fulfilling this role?

I know that there are British citizens who still feel a connection to the UK, and they will welcome this rule change, but it will also be welcomed by those who want to undermine our democracy and funnel money into our politics. We must not allow that to happen. We must strike the right balance to empower voters without enabling undue influence, but I am afraid that these regulations go nowhere near far enough to do that. Unfortunately, the Government have refused to implement any effective safeguards and have instead brought forward these regulations. I further probe the Minister on how the Government propose to monitor the impact of these new rules. Will they publish regular reviews or statements on the number of new overseas voters? If so, will this include how many have used the attestation route to register? How will we get notified of the number and value of donations made by overseas voters?

The ability to make political donations is dependent on the right to vote, so the change would allow substantially more overseas donations, particularly where the attestation of identity is open to more abuse. We express concern that the changes could dangerously weaken the restrictions on overseas political donations and allow foreign money to enter British democracy. We have therefore tabled this amendment to register our concerns, as this entirely unnecessary risk creates problems for our elections and our democracy. At a time of global instability and significant evidence of hostile states seeking to interfere in UK politics, as well as a lack of public confidence in our political institutions, now is the time to enhance our safeguards, not dismantle them. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, and the department will think again, and that all noble Lords will support our amendment to the Motion today. I beg to move.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, there are real concerns about these measures. They include the security of our electoral processes, the risk of undermining confidence in them and, above all, our elections being bought by dark money and illegitimate foreign interference. That is why we support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley.

All parties agree on the principle of UK citizens living overseas being able to vote for representatives in our Parliament, but these statutory instruments do not do much to help them. In the absence of a fixed-term Parliament, there is a very short timescale in our system for conducting a general election. It is really too short to enable many people living overseas to be able to return postal votes. We could have better addressed the issue of UK citizens living overseas through the creation of overseas constituencies, dedicated to representing their interests. They do this in many other countries, including France, Italy and Portugal. Countries such as the US and Australia allow a longer period, of up to a fortnight after polling stations have closed, for postal votes to be returned, enabling many more of their citizens living overseas to participate in their elections. When I raised such issues during the passage of the Elections Bill, the Government lacked interest. This failure means, for example, that members of our Armed Forces serving overseas, or British diplomats working in our embassies, will often remain unable to cast their votes in general elections.

What the Government are interested in is allowing many more donations to come from abroad, without any organisation in this country having any real capacity to verify the original sources of those donations. The absence of any cap on the size of donations will no doubt encourage more donations of, say, £5 million-plus to come from people whose real interests are not in this country. Why should a billionaire tax exile be able to fund a political party in the UK, and who knows where their money really comes from? The Government have clipped the wings of the previously independent Electoral Commission and made criminal enforcement of election finance laws significantly harder. I wonder why. I think perhaps we should be told.

Political parties themselves have very little capacity to scrutinise overseas bank accounts, or to inspect the accounts of companies operating overseas, even if they want to. Earlier this year, the Government rejected an amendment to the then National Security Bill which would have insisted on greater scrutiny of the original sources of donations to parties. I wonder why. The chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Julian Lewis, supported such an amendment, saying that

“the UK has clearly welcomed Russian money, including in the political sphere … We must protect against covert, foreign state-backed financial donations if we are to defend our democratic institutions from harmful interference and influence”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/5/23; col. 132.]

But this Government did not want our democracy to have that protection. I wonder why. I think perhaps we should be told.

General Elections: Party-political Spending

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Wednesday 29th November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for increasing the maximum limit for political parties to spend at general elections.

Baroness Penn Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Penn) (Con)
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It has been a long time since campaign spending limits were last adjusted for inflation—some have not changed since 2000. This means that as prices rise over time the limits are, in effect, reduced. Parliament anticipated this when the limits were set, which is why the legislation allows for them to be adjusted to account for inflation. The Government have now begun making these adjustments to ensure spending limits are restored in real terms.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, none of the last five Governments has seen fit to increase these spending limits for political parties, so I wonder what was different about this Government? In the last five elections, only one party—the Conservative Party—has come close to spending towards the election expense limit, so why does it now have to be increased by 80%? Which party will benefit? Boris Johnson managed to win the last general election spending £16 million, so why do this Government seem to think that they need to spend up to £36 million to try to be re-elected? What will their donors expect in return for this cash?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, this is not an unusual exercise. In fact, uprating has been done under successive Administrations of all political colours and is done regularly for other matters too. It is provided for in the original legislation passed by this Parliament. By using those powers, we are simply restoring the levels of spending limits that were provided for by Parliament.

Voter ID

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Just to let my noble friend know, the Government have no intention of looking again at identity cards, as I said to him yesterday.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, allowing for postal votes, there will be more than 1 million people legally entitled to vote tomorrow who will not be able to do so because of the new requirements. The number of people who do not go to the polling station because of them will never be known; nor will the number of people turned away at the entrance to polling stations ever be known. If the Electoral Commission’s review suggests that wider forms of ID could be accepted, such as the items on the Post Office list for collecting a parcel, will such a change be made before elections in 2024? The cost saving would be substantial. Will the Minister undertake to tell us what that saving would be? She said yesterday that the government scheme would cost £2.42 per elector. There are about 48 million electors, so that would be a cost of £116 million. Which party is this expenditure most likely to benefit?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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As I have said before, we will look at whether there need to be any changes after the Electoral Commission and the Government have collected the data they require from returning officers. We said that we would do that; there will be a review by both Houses of Parliament at the end of this year, and the Electoral Commission will review it as well. We expect its interim report in early summer. That is when we will need to look at whether any changes need to be made.

Voter Authority Certificates

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd May 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Asked by
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the number of registered electors who have acquired Voter Authority Certificates, and (2) the effectiveness of the scheme in practice.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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My Lords, over 89,500 applications have been received for voter authority certificates. The Government have never had a target for applications and are pleased with the initial rollout. A three-stage evaluation will begin after May’s elections, seeking to understand how the policy measures are implemented and their impact on electors and election staff. Publication of the first review is expected in November 2023, with further reviews after each of the next UK general elections.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, the Government estimated that around 2 million people who are on the electoral register do not have one of the forms of photo ID required this year. Around 1.6 million of those people have elections on Thursday—but the figures show that more than 1.5 million do not have the local authority certificate and will be unable to vote on Thursday, unless by any chance they have acquired another form of photo ID in the meantime. So perhaps 1.5 million people could be denied their vote. Is the spending of £180 million of taxpayers’ money over 10 years a successful investment for the Conservatives if it blocks this many people from voting?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, there are multiple reasons why voters have chosen not to apply for a voter authority certificate at this time. Not everyone will have elections in their area, for a start, and not everyone will choose to vote in a polling station. Those who vote by post or by proxy will not need voter identification and therefore have no need to apply for a VAC. While we would not seek to predict turnout on 4 May, in previous local elections over the past decade a significant proportion of votes have been cast by post. For example, in the May 2022 local elections, postal votes comprised 38% of overall turnout and proxy votes a further 1%. We also have to accept that, while we hope that every elector takes part in the democratic process, this is simply never going to be the case and many will choose not to vote. The cost of this is £2.42 per elector over a 10-year period.

UK Citizens Resident Overseas: Verification

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I cannot give the noble Baroness an answer on how many have joined in that time or who has been declined, but we are looking at about 1.1 million people. That is what we think, but it is difficult to tell how many people could register overseas; how many will register is a different matter.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, political parties and organisations monitoring the situation, such as the Electoral Commission, can find it hard to check the original source of donations made, as we saw from those made in the EU referendum campaign donated via the Isle of Man. But some checks can be made, through credit reference agencies et cetera. How will the parties and the Electoral Commission be able to make such checks on residents overseas who are now registering to vote?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The rules are the same for all electors making donations, whether they live in the UK or overseas. Political parties and other regulated campaigners will continue to have to take all reasonable steps to verify that individuals making donations are registered electors. Parties can use the electoral register to do this and the removal of the 15-year limit, which is one of the things we did in the Bill, will make no change whatever to this requirement.

Voter Identification Regulations 2022

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Tuesday 13th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row Portrait Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row (Con)
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My Lords, I will be brief. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, who was in her place a moment ago, and others, this year I sat on a Select Committee of post-legislative scrutiny for the Children and Families Act 2014. One of our findings was that it was quite inadequate to be doing that review eight years after the legislation was implemented. While I support the SIs today—and I have some sympathy with the initial comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—I urge the Minister and the Government to stick to the timetable of the review that was outlined in her opening statement.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for this debate, which will give me the opportunity to remind him and the House of some of his experiences when he was the Leader of the Opposition in this House. I shall do so shortly, but first, I will quote his report considering the position of statutory instruments, as published in 2015. The executive summary began:

“Since 1968, a convention has existed that the House of Lords should not reject statutory instruments (or should do so only rarely).”


I suggest that this is one of those rare occasions. I will address issues of principle concerning fatal Motions, costs and practicalities. The question being asked is whether the House of Lords can be justified in approving the fatal Motion put down today by my noble friend Lady Pinnock. I accept that such a Motion should be approved only on rare occasions, but I make two points.

First, there have been several times since I joined the House in 1999 when it has carried fatal Motions. I was very involved with two of them, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was Leader of the Opposition at the time. In any event, both the fatal Motions which were carried were at the instigation of the then Conservative Opposition Front Bench while Labour was in power. It was the time when Tony Blair’s Government were criticised for introducing unfair election rules, aimed at favouring the official Labour candidate in the first London mayoral elections. This was by denying the candidates any form of election address.

As a result of the passing by this House of the fatal Motions, which I and the Conservative Benches supported, I was then involved in cross-party negotiations including senior government officials. They resulted in us agreeing new rules that were fairer, cost effective and formed the basis of all future mayoral elections. This House now, and all Members of it, should note that the Conservatives did not have a problem with fatal Motions on such issues when they faced a Labour Government allegedly manipulating election rules in their favour.

Secondly, I turn to consideration of what was in the last Conservative manifesto. Again, the noble Lord seems not to be aware of the lengthy debates we had in the early proceedings on the Bill, in which his noble friend Lord True accepted that this was not in the manifesto. That document did not prescribe “photo ID”, as distinct from “some form of voter identification”. This very important point was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, on the “Today” programme this morning.

So, even if you subscribe to the principles of the Salisbury convention, which was a gentlemen’s agreement —perhaps I should emphasise that—made to deal with the immediate circumstances following the 1945 general election, you cannot feel bound to support this statutory instrument on that basis. It is being rushed through in a costly manner, and in ways that will cause much confusion and effectively deny many people the right to vote. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee looked at the powers it gives to the Government and said in its March report that they should not be determined in this way:

“We consider that, in the absence of a convincing explanation, the powers are inappropriate in leaving it to regulations to determine the circumstances in which electoral identity documents are to be issued.”


There are very big issues facing the country, with the cost of living crisis being the most important for many people. The Government say, for example, that they cannot afford to pay more to the nurses who they urged us to clap for at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, they propose a costly and bureaucratic system with significant additional costs to the taxpayer for training and communications, new styles of poll cards and the supposedly free new forms of voter identification for the 1.9 million people currently without it.

The Government’s own impact assessment for introducing compulsory photo ID shows that they estimate they will spend £180 million or more on this over the next decade. I wonder how many of the people who think that photo ID is a good idea would spend £180 million on it. If there is a significant problem with impersonation—and this has never been shown—we can save a lot of money by using other forms of ID, at no cost to the taxpayer.

We may not all consider ourselves experts on the detail of election law. It is local authorities that have to conduct the elections, so we should consider properly the view of the chair of the Local Government Association, which represents all local authorities across England and Wales. A Conservative councillor, he said on behalf of local authorities last week:

“While we accept that voter ID has now been legislated for, electoral administrators and returning officers should be given the appropriate time, resource, clarity and detailed guidance to implement any changes to the electoral process without risking access to the vote … We are concerned that there is insufficient time to do this ahead of the May 2023 elections and for this reason are calling for the introduction of voter ID requirements to be delayed.”


I hope that full statement is of assistance to the Minister.

The Association of Electoral Administrators represents the returning officers, whom many noble Lords will have thanked for their efforts in previous elections. It says:

“It is good to see the LGA speaking out about the challenges facing Returning Officers and electoral administrators. Their concerns around voter ID reflect ours and those of the wider electoral community … The timescales to introduce voter ID in May 2023 are incredibly tight. The proposed timetable brings huge risks and jeopardises our members’ ability to ensure every elector can cast their vote without issue … We would support a government decision to delay voter ID … until after May’s elections”.


If noble Lords have ever thanked a returning officer, as many here will have done, they can do so again by supporting my noble friend Lady Pinnock’s amendment on the basis of principle, costs and practicalities.

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Baroness Meyer Portrait Baroness Meyer (Con)
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They can show an ID card, or a passport, or there is a whole list of identification with a photograph that can be used.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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Does the noble Baroness accept that there is a fundamental difference if, as in most of western Europe, you are issued with a national ID card and that is a legal requirement? Then everybody has it and can vote, but in the UK we do not have national ID cards, and therefore at the moment there are 2 million people without the requisite form of ID who have to apply. An extra barrier is created, unnecessarily and at great cost.

Baroness Meyer Portrait Baroness Meyer (Con)
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As far as I know, in England there is a photograph on a driving licence. In France, your driving licence with a photograph is acceptable for voting. There must be a way forward. In my opinion we are complicating this rather simple issue.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions and say that I do not intend to rerun the arguments for voter identification. That argument has been won and it is now in legislation. But I will take a little time to further detail some of the points raised by noble Lords on the actual implementation, which is the important thing this evening.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Belmont and Lord Weir of Ballyholme, for saying what it is like on the ground. These two noble Lords have lived with this over the last 20 years. They have seen it introduced. They have seen how it works for local authority and general elections and I thank them for that. I think the rest of us who are not living in Northern Ireland can never have that knowledge of how it works and how we can make it work in this country.

There was quite a lot of talk from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and others on support for local authorities to deliver this. Of course, we are aware of the pressures faced by local authorities—and the concerns that the Local Government Association brought up, I think, only yesterday—and their ability to deliver these changes. But we have been working very closely with them and, as I think my noble friend Lord Hayward said, this is not the beginning of it; this has been going on for a good seven months with the legislation there and they knew that this was coming along the line. We have been working with the sector. We have been planning the implementation of this policy and not only that we have been giving additional funds to local authorities so that they can carry out the new duties. The Government remain confident in their ability to successfully deliver these changes.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Fox, and many others, said that the Electoral Commission’s budget would be inadequate for communications. The Electoral Commission’s budget for the January communications campaign is over £5 million, which will be supplemented by £4.75 million in funding for local communications—for local authorities to communicate in their own areas.

If this legislation goes through, the Electoral Commission will start its campaign in the middle of January. It will be national and across all types of national media, but local authorities will also have the money to do local campaigns. Along with national government, they do local campaigns very well to get voters to register for voting. This will be added to those campaigns, and I have every confidence that with the money they have, local government and the Electoral Commission will be able to deliver that.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde is absolutely right. As I said, these arguments have all been had, but, as it came up again, I will repeat the point about the manifesto commitment. Voter identification was in the manifesto, and photo identification became a government discussion because it was found in our pilots to be the only approach that increased voter trust and confidence, which are key aims for this policy. We talked about it a lot during the discussions on the Bill, and I reiterate it now in case noble Lords think that we got it wrong again. We know what we said, and we know why we put in photo ID.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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If it was clear what was in the Conservative manifesto and that voter identification meant photo identification, why did the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, who conducted a review of election law on behalf of the Conservative Government, conclude that photo ID was unnecessary and that voter ID in different forms, such as council tax bills or utility bills, would be acceptable? He said there was no need for the photo ID.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not think my noble friend is in his place, but when I next see him, I will ask him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned people in poverty finding it more difficult. I remember that discussion and I know that my noble friend Lord True wrote to her. I am afraid I do not know what the outcome was so, again, with apologies, I will write to her about that because I know that it was an important issue for her then.

Digital exclusion is a different thing. Noble Lords would be surprised how many people—even those we consider to be in poverty—have phones. You can go to many libraries in this country and get access online. We also know that it can be done over the phone and by going to your local council. Wherever you can get registered to vote, you can also get your identity. If people are managing to get registered to vote, they can get identity as well. However, I will come back to the noble Baroness on who we are consulting as we go forward.

Ballot Secrecy Bill [HL]

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I spoke from these Benches in support of the principles of this Bill last July, and I do so again. Once again, I pay tribute to the great tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, in pursuing this serious and important matter.

Like him, I would like to pay tribute briefly to the late David Butler. When I was an undergraduate student of politics and economics at Liverpool University 44 years ago, the standard textbook was Butler and Stokes, from which I learned, although I have devoted most of the years since to trying to overcome his conclusion in that book that a candidate’s personal vote was worth only about 500 votes. I discussed this with him on a number of occasions and as a result of elections since then, he revised his opinion considerably. We very much miss his contribution to politics and are sorry that we cannot be with his family and friends this afternoon.

I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, for the work of her department in support of these measures. I must admit that in considering these amendments and discussing them with the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, I thought the Government were perhaps being overcautious, as is often the case when lawyers are involved. However, sometimes they help provide necessary clarification. Clarity is what we need on these issues if the proper principles behind the Bill are to be enforced. I hope we will proceed very speedily with this Bill becoming law.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, like other noble Lords, I spoke in the debate in July. I very much support the Bill.

I want to make my own tribute to Sir David. I met him many times. He was a wonderful man and will be missed by all of us. He shaped elections and was an absolute giant in this area.

I was very supportive of the Bill when the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, brought it forward in July, and I remain so. I congratulate him on getting government support, which is no mean feat for a Private Member’s Bill. These amendments improve the Bill and I support all of them. They bring the Bill together and make it much more workable. I am sure that all in this Chamber want to ensure that our elections are free and fair, and that when people go into the polling booth they are not intimidated, coerced or made to do anything they do not want to do. At the same time, if people need help to vote, perhaps because they are disabled, this ensures that that help can be there. In that sense, the government amendments really help to shape the Bill.

As I say, I fully support the amendments and the Bill, and I am so pleased that the Government are behind it. If I may go slightly off-piste, I point out that loads of other wonderful Private Member’s Bills have been tabled. I note that the Government Chief Whip is here; I hope she and others will see that there may be others—I have one down—the Government could look at in the same light. I live in hope. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her amendments and the noble Lord on his Bill. I look forward to it becoming law.