Lord Rennard debates involving the Leader of the House during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 16th Mar 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard _ Part 1 & Report stage: _ Part 1
Fri 4th Feb 2022
Mon 20th Jul 2020
Business and Planning Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage
Fri 13th Mar 2020
House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Fri 7th Feb 2020
Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Elections Bill

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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My Lords, I am sure we all hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, lasts for a long time in this House. She is a great asset to this place, particularly given the brevity and pointedness of her speeches. I have to say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack, because there is no doubt that he is constitutionally absolutely correct—and he has the better argument.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, hit firmly on one point in his speech: in the registration document which we all have to fill in to vote in local elections and so forth, often, there is no category for “Lord”, “Lady” or “Baroness”. I do not know what other Members’ experience has been, but I had some difficulty, living in Hammersmith and Fulham, filling this in. I rang up the registration office and said, “I can’t vote in national elections—are you aware of this?” They said, “There is no category on the computer that allows for this, so we will have to put you down and just rely on your native honesty that you do not actually vote”. Well, I can assure the House that I am an honest person, as are all its Members. None the less, there is a discrepancy and a difficulty here, and I hope the Minister can draw it to the attention of others.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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In the six general elections since I have been a Member of this House, I have always found people to be very surprised that I was unable to cast a vote in them, even though I campaigned in all of them. They find it ironic that I have been campaigning for my party, and its predecessor the Liberal Party, for some 49 years, but I now no longer have a say on who will be the Prime Minister of the country.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am not an opponent of piecemeal reform of this House; I am actually rather in favour of radical reform, and quickly. However, if we had objected to piecemeal reform, this place would be the same as it was in the 19th century. All the progress on reform of your Lordships’ House has been piecemeal, and this amendment would also be an example of piecemeal reform. The principle of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was debated extensively when it formed the basis of two recent Private Members’ Bills, and there was a clear logic to the proposition. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 ensured that Peers lost the power of an absolute veto on legislation, or to determine any financial measure. As Peers, we have no opportunity to vote at a general election to help decide who becomes Prime Minister. Therefore, in those debates on the Private Members’ Bills, I supported the principle of Peers being able to vote in general elections, but I also emphasised that it is not my party’s immediate priority. There are many measures in this Bill which may have considerable impact on future elections, but this is not one of them. As the noble Lord, Lord Horam, pointed out, if membership of the House were evenly distributed across 650 constituencies, there would, on average, be one extra voter on top of some 73,000 others. Therefore, it would be unlikely to make a great deal of difference to the election outcome—although it was of course Churchill who said that “one vote is enough”.

The issue we are debating is really one of principle. As an issue of principle, it is ironic, in my view and that of my party, for any Peer to argue for their right to vote in general elections without also arguing for the right of our country’s voters to have a say in who becomes a Member of this House. There are other priorities. Before we argue for our right to vote in general elections, we must address the problem of 9 million people being missing from or incorrectly recorded on the electoral registers. Our last debate showed that there is a real need to address major inconsistences in the right to be included in our electoral registers. For these reasons, we support this amendment but, while it is logical, it is not our priority.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, one of the things which today’s debate has proved is that logic has never been the basis of enfranchisement in this country or of its constitution. The constitution is what it is because of the way it has developed. As far as the logic is concerned, let me try this. The weight of my vote to elect someone to the House of Commons may, theoretically, be one in 73,000, but in rejecting government legislation it is one in 800—or, given how many noble Lords are present, one in 400. When I was asked to come here, I had a choice. I could have said, “No, I am not coming to this place because I would lose my right to vote”. I chose to come here and that is a very big sacrifice because, as noble Lords have said, we are here for life. Of the 193 upper Houses to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred, not one is unelected, although maybe a few people in them are unelected. However, we are unelected and, therefore, we are here.

Elections Bill

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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My Lords, I put my name to the amendment that has just been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, because this is an important subject. The disinterested recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life need to be taken seriously, and this is probably the last opportunity to do so before the general election. By the way, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for missing the first few sentences of her speech.

The amendments in this group seem to have three common themes. The first and most important is integrity. Political parties need finance to support their operations, but money should be given to meet their expenses because the donor believes in our electoral system and in the principles of a particular party, not because he or she has an ulterior motive of self-interest. The second theme is transparency. The integrity of a donation can be judged only if its source is known. If its source is unknown—and, more especially, if it is disguised—it is very likely that the motive for the donation is an ulterior one. The third theme is to ensure that the money is clean and does not derive from activities contrary to the public interest or even criminal—what is often called dirty money. Those themes are interwoven. Dirty money can be detected only if there is transparency so that the source of the donation is known, and dirty money will almost always have an ulterior motive.

Some of the previous amendments spoken to in this group have been concerned with transparency, and in general I support them. Amendment 212G, to which I have put my name, is principally concerned with the third theme, the detection and prevention of dirty money discrediting our electoral politics. The amendment, which is very long—I did not draft it myself; I owe it to the organisation Spotlight on Corruption—can be best summed up by its opening words: it would impose a duty on political parties to

“develop and publish a reasonable and proportionate risk-based policy for identifying the true source of donations”

above £7,500.

The point that I want to emphasise is that this amendment should be pushing at an open door. All political parties want and need financial support for their activities, but all political parties are discredited if it turns out that in one way or another the money is tainted. The amendment might be described as helping political parties to protect themselves—not least to prevent the embarrassment that comes later, on a scale that very often entirely undoes the benefit of the donations that they have received.

All parties have fallen on their faces over this issue. A great deal of reference has been made to the Conservative Party but I remember, as will many noble Lords, the fuss in the early days of the 1997 Labour Government about a donation of £1 million that the party had received from Bernie Ecclestone. He had a vested interest in the use of tobacco advertising on Formula 1 cars, while the Government were thinking of banning such advertisements. Mr Ecclestone had given the Labour Party one substantial donation and was offering a further one.

Prime Minister Blair asked Sir Patrick Neill, then chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, whether the party could accept the further donation. Sir Patrick Neill advised that, not only should the party decline the further donation, but that it should give back the earlier one. To his credit, I believe Mr Blair accepted that. Nevertheless, there was a great fuss and Tony Blair was severely embarrassed. Some may remember that he had to give a television interview in which he defended himself by saying that most people thought that he was a “pretty straight guy”. I think most people did think that. I am sure he wished he had not been put in that position.

I can see no conceivable reason why political parties should be opposed to having a protective machinery of the sort proposed in Amendment 212G. It implements, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has said, three specific recommendations in the July 2021 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It reduces the risk of damage to the reputations of all political parties. Above all, it helps to protect our country’s electoral system and safeguard the integrity of our political life.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, Amendment 212E, in my name, seeks to draw attention to a principle Parliament has previously agreed and that should now be brought into force. The Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 was discussed, and agreed, in much more consensual debates than is the case with the current Elections Bill. Parliament then agreed that donations and loans from an individual that are worth over £7,500—either individually or in aggregate over a calendar year—would have to be accompanied by a new declaration confirming that the donor is resident and domiciled in the UK for income tax purposes.

The Electoral Commission explained that donors would have to make the new declarations, and that those it regulates would have to ensure that they receive a declaration in respect of each relevant donation and add up donations they receive below £7,500 to check whether a declaration is needed. But this provision was not subsequently introduced. The consequences of this failure, and the real reasons for it, soon became clear. All the main parties have received donations from people who are not domiciled here and do not pay taxes here. The scale of the funding involved seriously distorts our democracy. After the 2015 general election, the Guardian reported:

“The Conservatives have raised more than £18m from wealthy donors who were domiciled abroad for tax purposes, research shows. Labour have also benefited from non-dom donors and accepted gifts of at least £8.55m. The family that controls the Lib Dem’s biggest corporate donor is also domiciled abroad”.


The provisions of the 2009 legislation should probably have been brought in before the 2010 general election, because the relative sums raised indicate why Governments since 2010 have not seen it as being in their interest to introduce these provisions. Ministers since then have tried to maintain that that the 2009 legislation approved by Parliament is unworkable, which is very convenient. But this is not the case as the Electoral Commission produced proposals nine years ago to make it workable. It is time that we insisted that all the parties—and simultaneously—are unable to take donations from those who are abroad simply to avoid paying taxes here. Only when no party can accept donations from people who may be tax exiles can all parties be expected to adhere to this principle. This amendment would bring that 2009 legislation into effect. We should not have a political system which might be described as “the best that money can buy”.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, I agree with much of what has been said so far, although I think an obvious connection—an obvious debate that we still need to have—between this question of donations from overseas and the massive extension of the electorate living overseas has been missing. The two issues are related and they raise matters of very similar principle. This extension of the franchise would be a massive change: it is an increase in the potential electorate of around 2.5 million people over a couple of years.

Of course, it will be argued that, in practice, most of those who could register as electors would not. In 2019, when the rule was that only people who had been domiciled abroad for 15 years could vote, I think about 204,000 people actually voted, which represents a turnout of about 17%, but there is absolutely no guarantee that that low turnout will persist. I say this particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who argued about the importance of connecting different aspects of the Bill, which I agree with. If we move to a system of automatic voter registration—which I am personally in favour of, but I do not expect it to come about as a result of this Bill—you have a potential additional electorate of 2.5 million people.

Once you concede the argument that it is okay for people with virtually no practical connection with this country who have lived abroad for 40, 50 or 60 years to get on the register by “attestation”—that is the word—if there is no way in which you can establish as a matter of fact that they once lived or voted in a particular constituency, albeit 50 years ago, they can get on the register by means of someone else who does qualify attesting on their behalf that they are in fact the person who lived there and they are entitled to vote. It is much easier to get on the electoral register from abroad in many respects than it is at home, particularly when we have voter ID established in the way being proposed.

But, to me, the principle at stake is about individual constituencies. To remind the House, at the last election the figures for the proportion of overseas electors in some constituencies were small. The figures are small at the moment. For example, in London and Westminster it was 2.43%, in Hammersmith it was 2.12%, and in Islington it was 2.36%. They are relatively low figures, but, of course, if you increase the electorate by potentially 2 million, even if the turnout is low, you could end up with 5,000 or 6,000 people in individual constituencies who have no connection with the area worth speaking of at all being able to vote. This could result in particular decisions being made, as they can be at elections, of crucial importance to the people living there. The most dramatic example would be a proposed hospital closure, involving very strong views on either side of the debate. The 5,000 or 6,000 people who have never lived in the constituency and who will never have to cope with the circumstance of the hospital closing could be the determining factor in the election. I am opposed to that; I just think it is wrong. It damages our democracy if there is no residence, no contact and, in truth, no responsibility for the decisions that are made.

I think what is true of voting is also true of money: if you have a situation where people who are on the register are also permitted donors, there can be a totally distorting effect—I am not going to go into the various figures that have already been given—possibly on the outcome of the election itself. If huge sums of money come from a potentially very large number of overseas electors—or even someone who is not particularly interested in voting but thinks “Well, as soon as I become someone on the electoral register, I’ll be able to donate with impunity and I’ve only got get someone to attest that I once lived in a particular area and away we go”—you have a situation where it is now money that might determine the outcome of an election. This is money from people with nothing but a slender and tenuous connection with the country, in this case, in which they are not going to be living with the consequences of their money having a significant effect on the outcome of a general election.

Health and Care Bill

Lord Rennard Excerpts
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lords Lord Crisp and Lord Faulkner in support of these amendments, which replicate the amendment I moved in Committee. They set out proposals for a statutory smoke-free 2030 fund, based on the polluter pays principles, to pay for measures to end smoking. We are grateful to both Ministers for the time that they spent with us on a Zoom call last week, when we sought to persuade them of the merits of these amendments, and time alone will tell whether those representations bore fruit.

In Committee, my noble friend Lord Naseby, whom I see in his place, suggested that these proposals had been consulted on in 2015, and that the Government had concluded they were not workable, a conclusion which he said had been reiterated by the Exchequer Secretary on 10 January 2022. While my noble friend was right to say that the Government consulted on the levy in 2015, they did not consult on the proposals before us today. What was consulted on then was an additional tax, and the decision was taken not to proceed because tobacco manufacturers and importers would pass the costs of a levy on to consumers; the Statement by the Treasury in January merely reiterated that conclusion. Back in 2015, the regulation of tobacco prices to prevent the costs of a levy being passed on to consumers was prohibited by the rules of the European Union. That is no longer the case, so the 2015 objection to the levy no longer holds true. The Government can now put the financial burden firmly where it belongs, on the polluter—the tobacco manufacturer— and not the polluted—the smoker.

Our scheme enables the Government to limit the ability of manufacturers to profit from smokers, while protecting government excise tax revenues, which is a win-win for the Government and for smokers. The scheme is modelled on the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme, the PPRS, which has been in operation for over 40 years and is overseen by the Department of Health and Social Care. It has teams of analysts who already have the skills to administer a scheme for cigarettes, a much simpler product to administer than pharmaceutical medicines.

Unlike corporate taxes, which are based on reported profits and can be—and indeed are—evaded, the levy would be based on sales volumes, as is the case in America, where a similar scheme already operates. Sales volumes are much easier for the Government to monitor and much harder for companies to misrepresent. Implementing a levy would not require a new quango to be set up, as the Department of Health and Social Care has all the expertise needed both to supervise the scheme and to allocate the funds raised. We would not be averse to the consultation mentioned in the amendment including other options, as long as it included careful consideration of our proposals.

The Government have said that they accept the polluter pays principle. My party has form in implementing that proposal through the landfill levy, the tax on sugar in soft drinks and requiring developers to pay for the costs of remediating building safety defects. Indeed, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, the Government promised to consider this approach to funding tobacco control nearly three years ago in the prevention Green Paper. Surely they should now welcome this opportunity to consider how it can be put into practice.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I speak in support of these amendments, to which I have added my name, and which are in accordance with my party’s policy.

In Committee, there was almost universal support for dealing with health inequality issues, and there was widespread recognition that, as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest people in this country is caused by smoking. There are many ways in which we can further reduce the prevalence of smoking, and those of us who are members of the APPG on Smoking and Health set them out during the course of our debates.

However, we are concentrating today on just one key principle which is necessary if the Government’s target of reducing the prevalence of smoking to 5% or below is to be achieved by 2030. That principle is finding the funds to support smoking cessation and tobacco control measures through a levy on the tobacco companies. This would help to ameliorate the terrible damage done by their products, which includes shortening the lives of half the people who use them.

The funding for local authorities to pursue tobacco control policies such as smoking cessation services and enforcement and for national mass media campaigns has been cut significantly. Without the proposed levy, the NHS will face greater costs in future in dealing with the many issues, such as lung cancer and heart disease, which arise in part because of smoking tobacco.

Last month, together with other officers of the APPG on Smoking and Health, I had the pleasure of meeting Javed Khan, chair of the Government’s independent review into smoking. He listened carefully to all our proposals, particularly on the levy, and certainly understood the necessity of funding being found. The Government have asked him to say what the most impactful interventions that could be taken forward in the new tobacco control plan would be. He told us that if nothing different is done, the Government’s smoke-free target will not be met. He promised that his recommendations would be “bold and brave”, as I hope they will.

I expect that we will soon get some soothing words from the Minister. But before he replies to this debate, I ask him to consider how, in “Hamlet”, King Claudius has to admit that

“words without thoughts never to heaven go”.

I hope the Minister will give us not just warm words about tobacco control but confirm that the Government have thought about the tobacco levy and will undertake a formal consultation on it.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I hasten to say to your Lordships that I do not smoke and have never smoked. In considering the amendments before us this afternoon, it is worth giving some of the official statistics rather than the aspirational ones. Smoking rates in England continue to decline year on year and that has been a trend for the last 30 years. According to the Office for National Statistics in 2021, smoking rates in England have declined significantly, from 20% in 2011 to 12% in 2020. The decline in the number of smokers has resulted in a reduction in the cost to the NHS of treating the impact of smoking. In 2015, Public Health England estimated that the total smoking-related cost to NHS England was £2.6 billion a year, when 18% of the population smoked. This figure and the corresponding cost to NHS England over the last five years have declined further, given the 12% smoking rate in England in 2020. According to NHS data published in 2019 on smoking, drinking and drug use among young people, the number of young people aged 11 to 15 smoking has declined dramatically, from 16% to just 5% in 2018. According to the Office for National Statistics in 2021, only 12% of 18 to 24 year-olds in Great Britain smoke, a major reduction from 26% in 2011 and the lowest smoking rate across all age groups except the over-65s.

By way of background, according to the most recent HMRC tax gap data, illegal smuggling and consumption of illicit tobacco cost Her Majesty’s Government £2.3 billion in lost revenue in 2019-20, a figure that remains unchanged from the fiscal year 2016-17, which reinforces the fact that the Government’s anti-illicit tobacco strategy is not working. It ought to be working, when you have a situation where a group of companies is working with the Department for Health and has done over many years. Frankly, it is a sad reflection on the status of HMRC that this illicit tobacco importation is increasing. You have only to look at what is happening in Dover or any of our other ports today to see why it is increasing. It is a pathetic and embarrassing performance at Dover at the moment, the net result being not just tobacco but illegal alcohol and so on coming in.

Now we look at the idea of a levy, something that has never been in the manifesto of a Conservative Government to the best of my knowledge. A levy on any company prescribed by government, even companies trading locally, certainly does not fit into the basic elements of our financial and economic strategy. If it was just a levy on cigarettes, there might be half a case, but this is on anything to do with tobacco. Most of all those other products have no effect on people’s health—they are a matter of enjoyment—but this idea goes across the whole lot. It has not been thought through.

It is all very well my noble friend Lord Young on the Back Benches saying that there was a consultation in 2015 on a levy on tobacco manufacturers’ profits and the Government concluded that it would be unworkable, but that was because we were in the EU so it has all changed now. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench: I would have thought he had enough on his hands without introducing a complicated levy, but that is my personal view. There was an exchange between the Exchequer Secretary and the then shadow Exchequer Secretary, confirming

“that our position regarding the 2015 consultation stands. A levy would be a complex”—

this is not going to change—

“and costly way of raising money to fund tobacco control measures and would be unlikely to provide a stable revenue stream.”

I say to my noble friends on all sides of the House that tobacco manufacturers already invest hundreds of millions of pounds every year in R&D and highly skilled jobs to bring to market alternative smoke-free nicotine products. Some of your Lordships may use e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches or heated tobacco products. Further tax increases on manufacturers as a whole will have the effect of reducing that investment, which is not a very clever way forward.

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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Well, good. I have got a few “hear, hears”.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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Does the noble Baroness accept that a crucial difference is that organisations such as ASH are funded by organisations concerned with public health, including Cancer Research UK and people who deal with trying to save lives, while FOREST is funded by the tobacco industry, which kills half its customers?

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I was coming on to that point. I would really appreciate a dose of honesty in this House. If those people who are so hostile to smoking a legal product believe that it is the killer they allege, they should call for smoking to be made illegal and be done with it. At the moment, tobacco companies are legal companies. People talk about them with such distaste, as though they should be abolished. It would be better and more heartfelt if they argued that tobacco should be illegal; then we would have a different debate. Public health is not always neutral when you talk about public health lobbyists, in my opinion. The freedom to choose to do something that is bad for your health is still allowed in a free society, despite some people wishing it was not.

We have an industry that, along with other industries, is harmful to people to some degree, but we are talking about adults. In our society, adults can choose what they do. I do not gamble, but I am quite sure that some Members of this House do. That is equally addictive and is taxed. We should tread very carefully in treating our adults of 18 as if they were young children.
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, for decades, all the various weak arguments associated with the tobacco industry, opposing tobacco regulation, have been comprehensively and completely disproved by the effectiveness of that regulation at reducing the prevalence of smoking rates. Tonight, we will argue why we need to go further with measures of tobacco regulation to further reduce the prevalence of tobacco smoking. I will speak briefly on Amendments 276, 277 and 278.

It is topical that, this week, mission seven of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper committed

“to narrowing the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy … between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030”.

As Ministers regularly acknowledge, half of that gap is down to smoking, so real commitment to levelling up means that immediate action must be taken on these issues.

The tobacco-related amendments in this group will assist the Government in their stated aim to reduce the prevalence of tobacco smoking to below 5% by 2030. Amendment 276 requires the Secretary of State to introduce health warnings on cigarette sticks and rolling papers, in addition to the existing pack warnings. The claim that there is not yet sufficient evidence to justify the policy is a very weak excuse for inaction, and similar claims were made before the introduction of health warnings on cigarette packs. That is why the tobacco industry opposed them so strongly. These warnings on the packs are proven to be effective in reducing the prevalence of smoking tobacco, saving the lives of some of the people who were addicted to tobacco.

What is effective on the pack must be effective on the product, and 29 different studies have concluded that this would be the case. Other countries are considering this measure, and there is no reason why this country should not again lead the way.

Amendment 277 requires the Secretary of State to mandate pack inserts advising smokers about how to quit, and we know that very many smokers do want to quit. When the Government announced their smoke-free ambition in 2019, they said they believed that there was a “positive role” for such inserts, which they would consider as part of their review of regulations on exiting the EU. But the Government have inexcusably held back so far, making the lame excuse that

“further research”

is supposedly required to

“establish the public health benefit”—[Official Report, Commons, Health and Care Bill Committee, 28/10/21; col. 813.]

before proceeding.

The best research would be to introduce the inserts—at worst a harmless policy and something the tobacco companies could easily pay for from the huge profits they make from shortening the lives of half their customers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said, pack inserts have been mandatory in Canada for two decades. They have been shown to enhance motivation to quit, increase quit attempts and sustain quitting tobacco.

Amendment 278 would close a loophole in current legislation. In May 2020, it was rightly recognised that menthol can hide the harsh taste of tobacco and make cigarettes easier to smoke and more appealing to children; that is why it was banned. However, a massive loophole allowed flavouring to continue. The Government’s response on this issue in the other place was that

“it is not clear how a ban on flavours would be enforced in practice, as it would include a ban on flavours that do not give a noticeable flavour to the product.”––[Official Report, Commons, Health and Care Bill Committee, 28/10/21; col. 815.]

However, this has not been a problem in either the Canadian provinces or our European neighbours, such as Germany and Finland, which have successfully implemented a complete ban on flavourings.

In the year after the ban on menthol cigarettes came into force, Japan Tobacco made more than £90 million in profits from selling 100 million packs of its so-called “menthol reimagined” brands, which, it argued, were entirely legal. The loophole must be closed. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government plan urgently to step up a gear on tobacco regulation and support the tobacco-related amendments in this group.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, I am aware that, in your Lordships’ House, any lack of zeal for persecuting smokers marks one out as an aberration, but some realism has to be brought to this debate. It is my understanding that the Government will rightly resist these amendments so, in the interest of brevity, I will leave it to my noble friend the Minister to give a detailed rebuttal of each of them. However, I have a few things to say.

Unless smoking tobacco is made illegal, which would only bring with it all the organised-crime consequences associated with illegal drugs, the UK will not be smoke-free by 2030 or any other foreseeable date. There is likely to be an irreducible demand for smoking among both a small core of regular smokers and a wider population of people who enjoy the occasional cigarette. A sensible policy would recognise this and seek to accommodate it. There are widely understood risks to health associated with smoking, of course, but, as we have heard in this Committee, so there are with fat, salt, sugar and even fluoride. Despite all that, we have the constant efforts of well-funded zealots to bully and humiliate smokers and place burdens in the path of businesses engaged in the manufacture and distribution of this lawful leisure product.

Each of these amendments falls into one of those categories in one way or another, despite the smoothly expressed words of those who tabled them about increasing public information and the like. The public are already better informed about the risks of smoking than about almost any other topic. The UK is already highly regarded globally for its success in reducing the number of smokers. Those who wish to give up smoking deserve some modest help from public authorities, I agree, but they can be helped in other ways—for example, by diverting into products with much lower health risks. However, the campaigners against smoking cigarettes have been almost as determined to kill vaping as an alternative—although, as was indicated by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, even public health officials are now beginning to question whether the initial blanket opposition to vaping is preventing some people making the transition from smoking cigarettes.

A similar question arises now as non-combustible tobacco products increasingly come on to the market. These contain tobacco but it is not heated to the point of combustion, although they still deliver nicotine to the user. Most of the harmful effects of smoking come not from the nicotine as such but from the smoke. Non-combustible tobacco products do not give rise to any smoke. The Government should be able to say, and make clear in their tobacco control policy, whether there should not be distinct regulations covering, separately, combustible and non-combustible tobacco products. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to assure me that this will be so on sound public health grounds.

Business and Planning Bill

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, possibly the most surprising thing about Amendment 15 as drafted is that the signatories are predominantly Liberal Democrats; it is not a particularly libertarian policy that they have come up with. Also, it seeks to unravel the compromise reached when the smoking ban was introduced. What I regret most about Amendment 15 is that it does not recognise the heavy investment that pubs, bars and restaurants have made in the outdoor facilities that they hope to open more of. For that reason, I regret that I shall be unable to support Amendment 15.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Howe, who, through my chairmanship of PASS, I know has spent a great deal of time with the hospitality industry; obviously, I have had dealings with the hospitality industry as well. It is keen to recognise—and I welcome—the compromise offered by the government Amendment 13: there will be a smoke-free seating element. Had Amendment 15 not been tabled, perhaps we would not have got to the position we are now in. I note that a number of noble Lords have expressed the wish that the Government should go further, but the beauty of Amendment 13 is that it has regard to the heavy challenges currently facing the hospitality and leisure sectors during the ongoing Covid crisis and the way they are seeking to reopen. I very much welcome the work that has gone into Amendment 13; I will be delighted to support it if we have to later this evening.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD) [V]
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My Lords, earlier today, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, congratulated the million people who have given up smoking during the lockdown, permanently we hope, to protect their health. Sadly, the government amendments today fail to do enough to protect them and others, including staff and families with children, from the dangers of second-hand smoke, which does not respect social distancing rules. We do not want non-smokers to be encouraged to return to habits they have struggled to give up. The connection between the consumption of alcohol and the smell of tobacco smoke is well known as a significant problem for people trying to give up smoking. The cross-party Amendment 15 is about minimising that problem by making newly created pavement areas smoke-free.

As is to be expected, tobacco company representations on this issue are disingenuous and, sadly, their views are too close to what is set out in the government amendments this afternoon. Today’s letter from the noble Lord, Earl Howe, to Members of the House repeats a fallacy about the cross-party amendment. It wrongly suggests that, in the event of making new areas non-smoking, there would be confusion with existing outside areas which would not be subject to the new rules. There need be no such confusion. Existing outdoor areas will maintain their current designation and provision for smokers, while newly created areas should be clearly signposted as being smoke-free, with something placed on the tables instead of ashtrays. The distinction should be very clear.

The cross-party Amendment 15 is not about banning smoking outdoors. As the Minister’s letter says, existing outside areas would not be subject to the new rules and nor would other open spaces. The proposal for new areas outside pubs and restaurants to be smoke-free is in line with the present provisions banning smoking in areas such as railway station concourses, which often have many different cafés and restaurants within them. Making new outdoor seating areas smoke-free will make them more attractive to the 86% of adults who do not smoke, especially families who do not want their children exposed to greater risk of second-hand smoke. The avoidance of smoking will make these places more attractive to potential customers, which is why local authorities support Amendment 15.

Finally, this amendment does not go nearly as far as the Welsh Government are going. With Labour support today, this amendment will be carried. Perhaps the Government will agree to think again before Third Reading.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe [V]
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My Lords, it is good to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and to hear of the progress that has been made with so many people giving up smoking during lockdown. I rise, however, simply to lend my voice to those who applaud the care being taken in this difficult area by my noble friend the Deputy Leader. I could not support Amendment 15—or the introduction, in emergency legislation, of what amounts to a new smoking ban. This would be a real slap in the face to the hospitality sector, which is already on its knees. The measure could also displace customers into other trading areas, blocking access and achieving the near opposite of what is desired. The government amendment, which I support, requires proper provision for non-smoking seating. This will allow customers to sit outside whether they want to smoke or not and aid the observance of social distancing. We should not delay the Bill by trying to work the issue further. The government compromise should be agreed to forthwith.

House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill [HL]

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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, makes a powerful case for fundamental reform of the House of Lords, which has been the objective of my party since at least 1911. But today, and on other occasions, listening to our debates on this subject gives a feeling akin to being made to watch “Groundhog Day” repeatedly. We see the same pattern of events and hear the same dialogue every time we discuss what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred to correctly as ending the farcical process of by-elections to elect more hereditary Peers. This simple principle has clearly been shown several times to have overwhelming support from the House, but the passage of such a measure has been continuously frustrated by a small minority of Members, acting to defy the clear will of the majority of the House and to prevent the other place considering again what it has also approved overwhelmingly in the past.

Several noble Lords have suggested today that we should be discussing other things, which they consider more important. Perhaps they might have words with two of their noble colleagues who, during previous attempts to pass such a Bill, have tabled hundreds of amendments. Almost a year ago, I highlighted how the time of the House was being wasted, as we had at that stage,

“spent five days considering a one-page Bill consisting of just 231 words, which takes less than two minutes to read”.—[Official Report, 15/3/19; col. 1228.]

In Committee on the last identical Bill, 11 pages of mostly repetitive and irrelevant amendments were tabled. They were mostly never moved, but any that were suffered overwhelming defeats whenever our opinion was tested. On Report, we were then subjected to 23 pages of amendments of the same kind, and with the same outcomes.

This House wants the Bill to pass and to let the Commons consider it. We have again heard some nonsense today about a gentlemen’s agreement in 1999 on a short-term measure, conceded under duress, made to avoid a veto being exercised by a largely hereditary House over a first stage of reform in this place. This was the year I came into the House. I remember how life Peers were sometimes referred to then as the “day boys”, while hereditary Peers were termed “boarders”. Times have changed, and so should we.

As has been said several times, no agreement or decision of any Parliament can bind future Parliaments. If it could, there would be little point in holding elections as previous Parliaments would have decided all the major issues. It is the so-called Weatherill amendment that we are debating getting rid of. He himself later sought to change what was only ever seen as a temporary arrangement. More than 20 years must be considered too long to be temporary.

Many noble Lords have rightly said today that some very good Members of the House have come here after these by-elections, but others have pointed out that in the absence of elections such Members could still have been appointed by the parties or on the recommendation of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. The principle must be that their ancestry should never have played any part in the process. As we have emphasised in previous debates, no current Member of this House loses out as a result of this modest measure.

The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, referred to the anachronism in a democratic society of the hereditary monarchy, but the fundamental difference must be that even with a hereditary monarchy we do not have monarchs speaking, voting and deciding on the legislature, yet hereditary Peers are able to decide on these things in this way. This should not be the case in future. Phasing out is a gentle way of reforming things.

There is no democratic case to be made for a system of government in which you can inherit your chance to be part of a legislature, perhaps based on the whim of a monarch many centuries ago putting you in a pool of people eligible to stand for these farcical by-elections—a pool that is 99% male, as other noble Lords have said. Let us show that we can move beyond the 19th century. If noble Lords are against the Bill, vote against it—but do not try to filibuster it to prevent the House being able to express its will.

Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL]

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2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard)
Friday 7th February 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury, whose forensic examination of the case was quite flawless. However, I shall argue that this should not, perhaps, be seen as our highest priority.

The Bill proposes a very modest measure of constitutional reform. It is at the opposite end of the scale from the Great Reform Act 1832, the second Reform Act 1867, the third reform Act 1884 and the Representation of the People Acts of 1918, 1928 and 1969. Over 150 years, those Acts extended the franchise for elections from about 214,000 people—about 3% of the population—to the 47.6 million people who were registered to vote in the general election last December. That figure did not include the approximately 800 Members of the House of Lords, which is why we are here today.

In moving the Second Reading of an identical Bill here last July, the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, made much of the fact that the House of Commons has primacy in legislation, has total control over financial matters, and that its membership effectively decides who forms the Government. If Members of this House have no say in the membership of the House of Commons, then we have no say in who forms the Government of the country, and that cannot be right.

The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, also said, and repeated today, that out of nearly 200 countries with second Chambers, ours is the only one in the world that does not allow its Members to vote at general elections. Recent legislation has confirmed that we are disfranchised in this way, and in replying to the debate last July the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, cited the House of Lords Act 1999 in particular. But when I voted as a new Member of this House for that Act, it was on the basis that it was to be only an interim measure before a second and more fundamental phase of reform. That reform did not happen under Tony Blair and we are still waiting for it because of the failure of the other place to agree a timetable Motion for the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012. That was despite that Bill achieving its Second Reading by a massive 462 to 124 votes of MPs. The process of reform is therefore very frustrating.

It is 109 years since Asquith was Prime Minister and the Parliament Act 1911 promised to replace the hereditary principle with the popular one. It has not happened yet, so those of us who believe in the value added by a second Chamber and that lawmakers would have greater legitimacy if they were chosen by voters must argue for piecemeal reform until we can get what we consider to be real reform.

What this Bill proposes would be a tiny step in a process of incremental reform, but it is not one that we should be making our priority. People will say that it would be inconsistent if we were to demand the right for us to vote for MPs, while voters have no right to elect Members of this House.

There are also other more important issues of democratic legitimacy to address and which must have greater priority than this proposal to add Peers to the voting registers for electing MPs. There are, for example, around 9 million people not on the electoral registers who should be included or who are not correctly registered. The failure properly to include such a large number of people distorts election results and constituency boundaries. We should also be giving more consideration to the uncertain fate of the 3 million EU citizens presently living in the UK. There would be no better way of guaranteeing the promises made to respect their rights than to give them the right to elect MPs in the same way that they have been able to vote for local councillors and members of the devolved Assemblies. You do not need to be a UK citizen to vote in our general elections. More than 300,000 Irish citizens and nearly 1.2 million qualifying Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK are eligible to vote in our general elections. As we continue to debate our future relationship in Europe, we should ensure that the 3 million EU citizens resident here should be able to help choose our MPs.

The Bill addresses an inconsistency in electoral law, but before we think about our own voting rights while we are already Members of this Parliament, we should consider properly the growing inconsistency in the age for inclusion on the voting registers. In Scotland, you can now vote in Scottish Parliament and local elections at the first election after your 16th birthday. In Wales you can now vote from 16 for the Welsh Assembly, and you will soon also be able to vote in local elections there. At the very least we must consider all these issues before we consider letting us vote in a general election which is not due until May 2025.

Finally, I refer, as other noble Lords have, to the excellent speech by the excellent former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I am sorry he is no longer in his place. In response to the gracious Speech on January 8 he spoke about the proposed commission on the constitution, democracy and rights and how it is supposed to examine the broader aspects of the constitution in depth and develop proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates. He said that

“it will have to sit for a very long time and cover a wide range of subjects, including the royal prerogative, judicial review, party funding, the voting system, the future of the union, the ECHR, the role of House of Lords, the freedom of the press, franchise for 16 year-olds and appointments to the judiciary, to mention but a few.”—[Official Report, 8/1/20; col. 217.]

I suggest that the proposal in this Bill should be considered together with those issues. I hope that in his reply to the debate the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will tell us more about how this commission will be established, its timescale and whether it will consider the issue in this Bill.