Debates between Lord Rennard and Lord True during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 25th Apr 2022
Wed 6th Apr 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage & Report stage: Part 1
Thu 8th Oct 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 8th Sep 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 30th Jun 2020

Elections Bill

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as noble Lords will know, Clause 19 is there to clarify the law on benefits in kind and make it clear that candidates need to report only benefits in kind that they have actually used or which they or their election agent have directed, authorised or encouraged someone else to use on their behalf. We had some discussion on this in Committee, as the noble Lord acknowledges. This was already widely understood to be true, prior to the Supreme Court judgment in R v Mackinlay and others. The Supreme Court judgment has led to concerns that candidates and agents could be responsible for spending they had not consented to or were unaware of or not involved in. This is an unacceptable situation and risks a chilling effect on people willing to put themselves forward as candidates and agents.

The noble Lord has been so kind as to refer to the positive engagement we had and I thank him for his continued interest in and engagement on the topic. In response to some of the concerns he raised, including those raised again today, I am happy to provide clarity on the government position. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, asked two specific questions and I can say to him that the Government are absolutely committed to the long-standing principle of a level playing field for general election campaigns, whether in campaigning being carried out at constituency level or nationally. The noble Lord referred to a statement made by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham in 2019 when agreeing with the importance of the principle of a level playing field in relation to spending at elections. The Government maintain the commitment my noble friend gave; nothing in the Bill seeks to undermine that principle.

The proposals in the Bill will not change the fundamental principle that party spending in support of a particular candidate in a local area falls to be recorded as candidate spending against the local limit. Instead, the clauses bring forward changes seeking to maintain the level playing field by ensuring that all candidates and agents across the political spectrum are clear and confident in their legal responsibilities. Clause 19 also makes an equivalent amendment to the same rules for other types of campaigners, such as political parties and third-party campaigners, to ensure that the rules are consistent. We believe that these changes will bring much-needed reassurance and clarity to candidates and their agents on the rules which apply to notional expenditure for reserved elections. In combination with expanded statutory guidance—which we will discuss shortly—from the Electoral Commission on this matter provided for in Clause 20, this measure will support compliance with the rules and ensure that those wishing to participate in public life can feel confident doing so, clear in their obligations.

The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, asked a further and very specific question. I can say to him that the Government are not acting in response to the judgment of Southwark Crown Court in 2019 in relation to campaigning in South Thanet in 2015. However, the Supreme Court’s judgment in 2018 related specifically to the consideration of a particular point of law and concluded that there was no requirement for authorisation in Section 90(3) of the 2000 Act, which was contrary to the understanding of many and led to concerns about what expenses could potentially be incurred on a candidate’s behalf even without their knowledge. As a result, there have been calls from across the political spectrum for clarification of those rules. A cross-party committee of MPs, PACAC and the Law Commission have called for clarity on the rules in recent reports. The changes enacted by the Bill will only clarify the law so that it can be commonly understood. As I said, any uncertainty could lead to a democratic chilling effect, with candidates and election agents, who are often volunteers and fearful of their personal circumstances, unwilling to expose themselves to risk.

Finally, it is important to note that Section 75 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 already prohibits “local” third-party spending over £700 which has not been “authorised in writing”; therefore, it requires specific authorisation. Where such spending is authorised by a candidate, the candidate must also report on the spending incurred by the third party. If a third party, which could include a political party, spends over that threshold without authorisation, an offence has been committed. The Elections Bill does not alter this. Where a third party, including a political party, has provided property, goods and services free of charge or at a discount, or has made use of property, this must be recorded as a notional expense.

I can assure the noble Lord on those points that we are absolutely committed to the assurance my noble friend gave and that we are not acting in response to the judgment of Southwark Crown Court in 2019 in relation to 2015 and the issues of uncertainty that have arisen. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will accept those assurances and be ready to withdraw his amendment that would remove this clause from the Bill.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for those warm words and his reassurance, and for his engagement and that of his officials on this important issue of election law. We have certainly made great progress on the issue since we began discussing what may happen in relation to notional expenditure and the original Private Member’s Bill, but I take from everything that he says, when he refers to clarification following the Supreme Court judgment, that any court in future would say that nothing in this clause should be taken as a change in the law.

I remain unconvinced that it is necessary but I am pleased that the Minister, in his correspondence, particularly that to all Members of the House on 4 April—if I may paraphrase slightly what he said—made it clear that there is no get out of jail free card for a candidate or agent who encourages excessive spending in a constituency and simply relies on the claim not to have authorised it. The word “encouraging” is quite significant in how that may be taken in a court in future should there be controversy over election expenses. It means that there cannot be a nod and a wink to expenditure in the cause of winning a constituency without accepting that such expenditure must be specifically authorised, to a £700 limit, for a third party. An election agent who told their HQ that they were delivering a leaflet with the local volunteers over the weekend so it would be convenient if two coachloads of paid activists could come on Wednesday and Thursday would certainly be encouraging illegal spending, as would providing them with maps and assisting them with their dining and hotel arrangements when they came to canvass or deliver in the constituency.

In my view, it remains a loophole that we must examine at another time that parties can post huge quantities of direct mail to a constituency aimed at influencing the vote there but claim that it is nothing to do with the local candidate. However, given that the Electoral Commission should retain its independence to advise on such matters, and that such advice could again be evidence in court, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, elections and donations are about choice. People who have non-dom status choose not to pay their tax here and, while they have this status, they live abroad for more than nine months of the year. The fundamental question raised by this amendment is: should they be able to donate the perhaps millions of pounds which they save in taxes by being non-doms to a political party, for example, which might want to preserve that beneficial tax status for them? In other words, we might connect the two principles of being able to give millions to a party and benefit by not paying millions which other people might consider are owed in taxes.

There are a number of occasions in our debates when we say that what we are doing is asking the other place to think again. However, we are not, on this principle, asking the other place or even this House to think again. The legislation which said that non-doms should not be able to donate to political parties was passed by both Houses in 2009. So we are not asking anyone to think again; we are simply asking for the legislation, passed with the approval of both Houses, to be implemented. Since 2010, various excuses have been put forward as to why this has been supposedly difficult or impractical, even though it was approved by Parliament. Essentially, the excuse provided is that the HMRC says, “Well, all tax issues are confidential, so you can’t implement this”. However, a form of declaration accompanying any donation, saying, “I am not a non-dom, so I am entitled to donate”, might well suffice and fit the bill. If you were making a false declaration, that could be an offence.

However, I do not really accept the HMRC’s argument—or rather, the Government’s argument put forward on behalf of the HMRC. For example, when Parliament said that if you are a higher-rate taxpayer, you should not benefit from child benefit—which I think was a fair measure—you needed to sign a declaration to the HMRC saying, “Someone in this household pays a higher rate of tax, so I can’t receive child benefit”. Why, therefore, can you not sign a declaration saying, “Someone in this household is a non-dom and therefore cannot donate to a political party”?

This debate is really about some of the fundamental parts of the Bill. The extension of the right to vote beyond 15 years is not really going to extend voting rights for very many people. For the reasons I outlined at Second Reading and will not go through again, the postal vote system, needed by most people who vote overseas, is so slow that very few votes would count in a general election. However, through this Bill the ability to donate unlimited amounts of money is being extended to a lot of people, including non-doms. A little earlier today, when discussing a technical aspect of the Bill, the Minister kindly confirmed that the Government’s position is very much to maintain a level playing field at local constituency level and nationally. However, I do not believe that this is happening. This extension of the right to vote is more about the right to donate, and should not be applied to non-doms.

In December 2020, the Government said that they wanted to increase the national expenditure limits for political parties in a general election “in line with inflation”. In 2000, Parliament agreed that there should be a level playing field between the main parties in elections. The principle was very much that it had to be a level playing field, not that each of the parties should be able to spend up to £20 million. If we increase that £20 million limit, or thereabouts, by the rate of inflation since 2000, that is a 79% increase. Therefore, the national expenditure limit, if increased in line with inflation since 2000, would go up for the Conservative Party, for example, from almost £20 million to almost £36 million. Where is that extra £16 million going to come from? Much of it will come from overseas donors, many of whom are non-doms. I do not think that this appeals to the British sense of fair play, and it should not happen.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I fear that I am not going to be able to allow the noble Baroness to remain in her seat for the rest of the evening. The Government cannot agree to these provisions, which seek to bring into practice a provision from the 2009 Act regarding donations from non-resident donors. Noble Lords will recall that in Committee, my noble friend Lord Howe replied to the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, on this same uncommenced provision.

The Government’s position on the matter remains unchanged, but it is important briefly to place on record the reasons why. The Government have no current plans to bring into force the uncommenced provision, Section 10, regarding donations from non-resident donors. It would be extremely difficult to make the provision work, as the Electoral Commission warned in 2009 when the Bill was going through Parliament. The coalition Government, in which the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, was influential, did not implement it between 2010 and 2015. The fundamental issue is that it is not workable, given that an individual’s tax status is subject legally to confidentiality. It would therefore be difficult or even impossible for the Electoral Commission, political parties, which would face fines for this, and other campaigners accurately to determine whether a donor met the test set out in Section 10.

I acknowledge that the Labour Party has come forward. I do not wish to get into a debate about the Labour Party’s fiscal proposals—that is slightly outside the scope of the Bill—but I know that Sir Keir will send a thank you letter to the noble Baroness for having raised this issue. Our principle, basically, is that taxation is not the basis of enfranchisement in the UK. As a British citizen is able to vote in an election for a political party, they should be able to donate, subject to requirements for transparency in donations, which we have discussed. There is also a precedent whereby those who do not pay income tax rightly remain entitled to vote. A lot of low-paid people do not pay income tax, but they have a legitimate right to vote. I know that perceptions differ on this issue. I remind the House that on two occasions, in 2009 and 2013, the Electoral Commission warned about the practical implications of the policy. For these reasons, and because of the duty of confidentiality in taxation, which would have to be overridden by other legislation, the Government cannot support the noble Baroness’s amendment.

Elections Bill

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No. As the House knows, nothing distresses me more in life than disappointing my erstwhile colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches, but I am afraid that I must. This is a simple disagreement. The Government’s view is that the first past the post system is simple, clear and effective. Reference has been made to our manifesto. It said:

“We will continue to support the first past the post system of voting … both locally and nationally.”


Clause 12 supports the first past the post system for local elections—for elections of police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, and for the Mayor of London, combined authority and local authority mayors. It moves these to the simple majority voting system. In 1998, the referendum question in London was simply:

“Are you in favour of the Government’s proposals for a Greater London Authority, made up of an elected mayor and a separately elected assembly?”


There was no great ringing endorsement of proportional representation.

We had a thorough and invigorating debate in Committee on this matter. I did not agree with all of it and I suspect some of your Lordships did not agree with me. We want to move on. We have a difference of opinion. It is clear that using the first past the post voting system for these elections will displease some Members of your Lordships’ House but we are committed to supporting it. I regret to remind people that, in 2011, the public expressed a clear preference when two-thirds voted in favour of retaining first past the post. I am afraid that I will again disappoint the Green group, but that was a fact. There was support for PR in only 10 of 440 voting areas or, to put it the other way, 430 of 440 voting areas supported first past the post. As such, I do not believe there is any merit in holding—

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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It is so often said that PR was defeated in 2011. The simple fact is that PR was not on the ballot paper. We must not repeat that falsehood about our electoral systems. That was, of course, a vote about Members of Parliament and not about mayoral systems. In relation to the London mayoral system in particular, there was a consultation which showed that most people were against first past the post. The results of that consultation were made known before the referendum vote.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I have not read as many volumes on proportional voting systems as the noble Lord. I simply repeat that 430 out of 440 voting areas supported first past the post in 2011.

It is clear from points brought forward in our debate that alternative voting methods can be confusing and not easily understood. In September 2021, the Government responded to the Electoral Commission’s report on the London mayoral elections. The figures are that 114,201 first ballots were rejected and, of second preferences, 265,353 were invalidated. We have heard that this was all because the form was difficult, badly designed and so on and so forth. This is not a system which it is easy for the electorate to understand. We have heard that only 4.3% of votes were rejected—that is one in 23.

First past the post reduces complexity for voters and for electoral administrators. It makes it easier for the public to express a clear preference, providing strong local accountability. It is also cheaper. For example, the complex system in London requires e-counting—a devastatingly boring count that, last time, cost £9 million.

In our contention, these voting systems are a recipe for confusion and for legislative and administrative complexity. We intend to pursue our manifesto commitment to support first past the post both locally and nationally. I acknowledge that there is disagreement on the matter. I do not believe we need to debate it further now. I respectfully urge that the amendments be withdrawn and that this clause to bring simplicity and clarity to these elections should stand part of the Bill.

National Insurance Numbers: Electoral Register

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in ensuring that details on how to join the electoral register are included with the notices informing young people of their National Insurance numbers.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con) [V]
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My Lords, Cabinet Office officials have continued to work with colleagues in HMRC on the inclusion of additional information on registering to vote in letters issuing national insurance numbers. I am assured that this change will be implemented by HMRC shortly—at the very latest, in October.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I am delighted if progress is being made, but I remind the Minister that, on 8 October last year, the House voted overwhelmingly for the Government to consider further action to get more young people registered to vote. On 26 November last year, he said that this was happening, but it has taken eight months since then. Why has it taken so long for the Government to consider adding perhaps a dozen words to a form in order to encourage more young people to register to vote?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the Government are committed to making registration as easy as possible, and we encourage everyone eligible to register to do so. I stand by those earlier statements. Due to internal processes, there have been delays in implementing the changes to the letter. There are HMRC processes in place to implement change that involve HMRC’s IT partners, but I repeat that HMRC has assured us that this matter will be implemented by October.

House of Lords Reform

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Wednesday 30th June 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I will not repeat the answer I have just given. The commission is an independent, advisory, non-departmental body. It has an important role, but the sovereign, on the advice of the Prime Minister, formally confers all peerages. It is the Prime Minister who must advise on that. Ultimately, the Prime Minister is responsible for the way in which he conducts that duty.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, further to his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, the Minister will be aware that the reason the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, put forward by Lord Steel, did not include the abolition of by-elections for hereditary Peers was the threat of filibuster and of the tabling of hundreds of irrelevant and repetitive amendments to avoid this House being able to express its wish on the issue and allow the vote to go to the other place to consider it. Does the Minister consider that a legitimate tactic?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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The noble Lord writes his own history. I observe that, given your Lordships’ interest in the Burns committee recommendations, perhaps the Liberal Democrats should do something about their own numbers.

Covid-19: May Elections

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Thursday 25th February 2021

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I strongly agree with my noble friend’s final comments about electoral services officers. I am also grateful for the interventions he and others made. The Government are always willing to engage with noble Lords on these and other matters. There is a collective will across the House to make sure that elections can go ahead safely.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, the easing of lockdown restrictions in general is obviously welcome in the run-up to the scheduled elections but does the Minister accept that if, for any reason, the easing has to be halted or reversed, there may be a case for seeking all-party agreement for the postponement of the elections? In the meantime, in relation to the advice about what is appropriate for campaigning in those elections, does he accept that the only way in which to reassure people that the decision is based on scientific, health and medical advice, not simply the interests of his party, is to publish that advice?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have published a delivery plan. I am sorry that the noble Lord suggested that there was a party advantage here. Our hope is to assist all people of all parties and none to fight an election and record their democratic wishes. The Government believe that these elections can be delivered safely. We co-operate with, and will talk to, other political parties, and I can assure the House that the medical officers have advised Ministers in drawing up the delivery plan.

Political Parties: Expenditure Limits

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Monday 22nd February 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Ministerial Statement by Lord True on 3 December 2020 (HLWS610), what representations they have received in support of their plans to increase the permitted expenditure limits for political parties at general elections; and what will be the uprating in line with inflation for national spending limits.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government engaged with political parties on spending limits last year. A range of views were received and, following that engagement, we uprated candidate spending limits at local elections in England. We have committed to reviewing candidate and party spending limits at reserved polls this year with a view to uprating them in line with inflation. We will not comment on specific figures until after this planned review has been carried out.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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The Minister knows that this Question does not relate to candidate spending or to local election spending. It relates specifically to national election spending. Perhaps I can help him. The figure for inflation since 2000 is approximately 69%. The figures published by the Electoral Commission show that increasing national party expenditure limits would benefit only the Conservative Party across Great Britain. Taking these together with other proposals under consideration, but not widely known, to allow national party spending to be targeted more easily at marginal constituencies, are the Government not now ending any concept of the level playing field in elections?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No, my Lords. I am not certain whether the noble Lord speaks for his party in his Question or in the rather intemperate letter that he sent to the Minister for the Constitution on this matter. Spending limits have been unchanged for national elections since 2000. Failing to update them is actually changing policy by steadily reducing spending limits in real terms.

House of Lords: Size

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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Absolutely not, my Lords. The perception of the House depends on the behaviour and conduct of the House. I am not going to follow, as I refused to before, any kind of ad hominem attack on any new Member—I welcome them all. As for the comment on Brexiteers, I did not notice a surfeit of those before the last election.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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The Prime Minister has clearly reneged on the agreement of his predecessor to help curb the size of the House of Lords. He recently overruled the Appointments Commission over a major donor to his party. What does the Minister estimate to be the effect on the House of Lords of the recently announced plans to increase the maximum permitted expenditure by political parties in general elections by a massive 69%?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I may be a little obtuse but I do not see the direct connection between general election expenditure and the House of Lords. The House of Lords, for which I have great reverence, is, contrary to many of the things said publicly, extremely good value for the outstanding service that it gives to the country.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, in 2013 and 2018 plans for revisions to constituency boundaries were published. They did not find favour with MPs, the Government dare not even produce the 2018 report before Parliament for it to be considered, and these plans were never implemented. The plans themselves clearly demonstrated how much more massively disruptive all future boundaries will be compared with anything that has ever happened previously, when the boundary commissioners worked to their old rules, if they are now given very limited flexibility.

MPs on the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee looked at the issue in the light of having seen the 2013 proposals. There was cross-party agreement then that there must be greater flexibility in the numerical quota for each constituency than 5% either way. That cross-party group of MPs examined the issues in detail and concluded that in order to avoid large numbers of anomalies in drawing up new boundaries, and major disruption with every review in future, a variation in constituency electorates of up to 10% is really required. The amendments now being considered are a compromise between that conclusion and the position of the Government, who seek only a 5% variation.

Amendment 13, the position of the Labour Party, provides for a variation of 7.5%, which is exactly half way between the position of the Commons Select Committee in 2015 and that of the Government now. Amendment 14, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tyler, provides for 7.5% variation, but also allows the Boundary Commission flexibility of 10% in exceptional cases.

A short while ago the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, suggested that there was a political conspiracy in these amendments, but the academic experts studying the issues have proved beyond reasonable doubt that there is no party advantage at all in permitting greater variation. I draw noble Lords’ attention in particular to a Private Member’s Bill currently before the House of Commons, which proposes a 7.5% variation, with 10-yearly reviews. The sponsors of the Bill are Mr Peter Bone and Sir Christopher Chope. These two Conservative MPs can hardly be described as champions of liberal democracy or as socialist conspirators. They may be accused of disloyalty to Boris Johnson, but I have checked, and there was nothing in the last Conservative Party manifesto about a 5% variation from the average electorate.

The aim of roughly equal-sized constituencies is one that we all share. There are international standards that can be applied to the creation of constituencies of roughly equal size. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe says that

“in a majority voting system, the size of the electorate should not vary by more than approximately ten percent from constituency to constituency.”

The Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters produced by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission states:

“The maximum admissible departure from the distribution criterion … should seldom exceed 10%”.


The additional variations proposed in these amendments are within these guidelines. Sadly, the time for deliberation about the consequences of allowing only a 5% variation was extremely limited among MPs when they debated the issues.

In Committee, the Members present heard the expert testimony of Dr David Rossiter. He explained how the Boundary Commissions must work within the boundaries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, very significantly, also within the nine recognised regions of England. With the likely population changes over the eight-year period between each review, there would be changes to the quota of constituencies to be created in eight of these states or regions. Four of them would gain a seat and see new constituencies created; four of them would lose a seat and see constituencies abolished. This would trigger major changes, in at least two-thirds of these states or regions, in constituency boundaries.

The movement of local government wards, to redistribute those voters, would trigger large-scale changes across the entire state or English region. With an abolished seat, over 60,000 voters would have to be redistributed. When added to neighbouring seats, nearly all of those would then be over quota. These surplus voters would then have to be redistributed to other seats, in turn sending many of them over quota, and so on. Similarly, with the newly created seats, around 60,000 voters must come from somewhere. Taking them from other existing constituencies will put those constituencies under the quota. The knock-on consequences of putting those voters elsewhere will also stretch across the entire state or region. Unless we change the rules, a small population shift in Kent could, for example, require major changes not just across Kent but in East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey and involve the creation of illogical seats that cross those county boundaries. In every region or state it will be the same.

Splitting local government wards may ameliorate some disruption, but for many reasons it is not generally possible to do that. Many MPs have clearly not appreciated the fact that a constituency within quota is not safe from change. Moving one ward from a constituency to the next one will not be the end of the matter. The upshot of all this is that there will be major changes to the boundaries of half or more constituencies every review. Only about one in five constituencies is likely to be unaffected by boundary changes.

Earlier in the debate, the Minister praised those who have previously served the Boundary Commissions. Let us look at what some of them have said. As the then secretary to the Boundary Commission for England told the Commons Select Committee in 2015,

“the smaller you make the tolerance level from the actual quota, the harder it becomes to take into account properly the other factors that are mentioned in the Act, such as not breaking local ties, respecting local authority boundaries, and minimising change.”

It is clear that 5% is too small a variation. It means that we will have many illogical constituencies that will ignore local ties, local authority boundaries, communities and basic geographic considerations. More importantly, perhaps, they will not last for very long because every time there is a review, there will again be massive disruption to the boundaries, with at least half the constituencies having major boundary changes. That is why we need to give the boundary commissioners a little more flexibility.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, it has been another long and interesting debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. As some noble Lords have said—I recall the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, giving a notable speech—we have to be careful about seeing it top-down. A great deal has been said about the disaster for local communities if their MP changes. That can be exaggerated. The important thing is that the political system delivers good service from elected representatives.

I remember being absolutely horrified when I lost my best polling district—it was part of East Sheen and I thought it could not be moved out by a Local Government Boundary Commission into another ward. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, said, I am sure that nobody really noticed, for all my efforts over many years. I do not think we should exaggerate the sense that it is a disaster for a community if its elected representative changes.

The other thing I would say is that 5% tolerance either way is the existing position. It is not as if the Government have suddenly come out of the blue and said we must do this. Prior to 2011 there was no standard, but the coalition Government set in train the existing arrangements.

I thank those noble Lords who have put forward amendments similar to those in Committee. The arguments were much the same and I fear the response will be much the same. Amendment 12 is for a 12.5% difference, Amendment 13 is for a 15% tolerance, Amendment 14 is for a combination of 15% and 20%, and Amendment 18 is for up to 30% in the case of Wales. As I have clarified throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government believe that the current tolerance range of 10%—which is set out in existing legislation and agreed cross-party—remains the right one. This range allows the Boundary Commissions to propose constituencies up to 5% larger or smaller than the average UK constituency size. It is what we know as the electoral quota.

The Government are determined to ensure that all votes carry the same weight regardless of where an elector resides. I have been surprised that so many noble Lords are concerned at how equal the size of constituencies in this country might be. I can think of many things about which your Lordships might get exercised, but the idea that, in a democracy, the size of constituencies might be too equal seems an odd thing to get so excited about. Maintaining the current 10% tolerance is critical to delivering the Government’s 2019 manifesto pledge of retaining the status quo. It would be contradictory and counterproductive to wind back the current reasonable and practical 10% range.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, and again today, we have heard heartfelt and enriching anecdotes—I have enjoyed them—in efforts to emphasise the importance of community ties, local government boundaries and physical geography. The Government and the Boundary Commissions do not overlook these factors of importance. However, I repeat that the concept of equal votes—the simple idea that each constituency weight should count the same—is an equal, if not more powerful, factor. The Boundary Commission retains other criteria, and this is the cornerstone of our democracy. The only tool we have to ensure that equality—applying the electoral quota on a universal basis without introducing significant variability in constituency size—is to make the kind of provision in this Bill to sustain the current position, while simultaneously allowing an appropriate degree of flexibility to the Boundary Commissions so they can take account of some of the other important factors your Lordships have raised.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, might also refer to what happened when he left in 1992, when the then Conservative Government more or less doubled expenditure on the Boundary Commissions in order to expedite the process and to try to bring forward a review earlier than might otherwise have been the case in an attempt to save their skins. People might say that it did them a fat lot of good in 1997 but it was an attempt by a then Conservative Government to alter the process.

I am inclined to disagree with these amendments in principle, but I may be willing to support them if the same kinds of flaws remain in the Bill as were contained in the previous legislation from 2011. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that it was with the aim of preventing gerrymandering and because of these flaws that I was one of the movers of the crucial amendment in the House of Lords that halted the boundary review in 2013. A cross-party group in the House won approval for our amendment and this then achieved a clear majority in the Commons, which had the effect of blocking the implementation of that review. I have no regrets at all about that.

The Bill before us now is better in many respects than the one introduced at the beginning of the coalition. The plan for 600 MPs was a bad one when the so-called payroll vote remained so large. Reducing the number of MPs, while maintaining the same number of Ministers, Whips and PPSs, would have given greater power to the Executive and weakened the legislature when we should be moving in the opposite direction. That problem is addressed by retaining the number of MPs at 650. This change will also reduce—at least marginally —the disruption involved with boundary reorganisation and which is proposed to be every eight years, as opposed to every five, although perhaps 10 would be better.

However, two significant problems remain with the Bill and they are relevant to these amendments. If not addressed, I think that Parliament should still be given the final say over implementation. The first problem relates to electoral registration. The Electoral Commission has reported that 9 million people may be missing from, or inaccurately included on, the electoral registers. This is a very high proportion given that the registers contain around 47 million names. The potential figure of perhaps 6 million people completely missing from the registers is far higher than was suggested to Parliament when it approved the 2011 legislation, and the missing millions obviously greatly distort the work of drawing up boundaries properly. I await with interest the Government’s response to the discussion on Amendments 11 and 24 relating to automatic voter registration.

The second major flaw with the process proposed is that it is unnecessarily disruptive. Whether inadvertently or otherwise, it will allow for small population changes in one constituency to trigger massive changes in many others throughout the remainder of the relevant English region, or in Scotland, or Wales, not just in neighbouring constituencies. This problem can be addressed, as the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee concluded in its excellent report in March 2015, by allowing perhaps 7.5% or 8% flexibility. A little more flexibility in the 5% margin allowed for variation to the quota for each constituency would enable more natural constituencies with sensible boundaries to be created, with fewer constituencies proposed that cross county boundaries, for example. Perhaps more importantly, more flexibility would help ensure that the entire map of constituencies is not ripped up whenever a review takes place. The Government should note that the Liberal Democrats are not under the same constraints as in 2011 to support aspects of the Bill such as the principle of 5%—which was very nearly changed to 10% to secure the passage of the Bill, but the compromise was not made.

A good process, with fair rules, using independent commissioners, should not be halted, varied, or expedited according to the whim of the party which can control a parliamentary majority. However, when so many people are not included properly in the electoral registers and there is the likelihood that the process will be unnecessarily disruptive in a way that would particularly disappoint many good constituency MPs, the case remains for Parliament having the final say.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on automaticity. It has been a very interesting debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord Grocott, for tabling the amendments that have helped us have this debate.

I need not remind the Committee of the shape and purpose of the amendments—it is well aware of those. It has been explicitly stated that the amendments seek to retain the present position where Parliament can intervene and frustrate the intention of the Government and, indeed, the intention of the House of Commons, as resolved on examination of this legislation, to go for automaticity.

I note that most noble Lords who spoke against the proposals were from the Opposition. I was not persuaded by many of the reasons that they put forward. I note and welcome the support of the Liberal Democrats who spoke in favour of automaticity, although I note—as I was asked to by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard—that this is conditional. They support this principle now, but they might change their minds by Report. I will be interested to understand how they turn on its head the fundamental principle that there should not be political interference with the electoral process. I hope—I am sure—that they will continue to support the principle of automaticity.

Noble Lords have raised other important issues in this debate, some of which we will discuss later today and some on subsequent occasions. I assure the Committee that I will be listening carefully to all the points that come forward.

I support the principle of automaticity. I hope it is recognised that I am a staunch supporter of Parliament and its role—and your Lordships’ role—in scrutinising and agreeing the laws by which we live. I suppose my gut instinct is that Parliament gives up so much. Some have said, “Is it not a good thing that Parliament should be involved?”, that we parliamentarians always have a right to reject. While it perhaps goes against my instinctive grain to let go of that opportunity, in this instance I believe that we should not follow those instincts and that there is more to be gained for the citizen by us letting go, as was movingly expounded by my noble friend Lady Seccombe.

House of Lords and Machinery of Government: Consultation on Changes

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I said yesterday, in a straight- forward fashion, that the location of this House is ultimately a matter of its exclusive cognisance. The Government are putting forward a series of ideas—they have done and are continuing to do so—about the relocation of aspects of government outside London. This is ongoing and will continue.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD) [V]
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My Lords, there are 79 bi- cameral parliaments in the world. All but one of them have chambers co-located in the capital city, often in the same building. Why does the Minister think that this is the case?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I can only repeat what I said yesterday: that in any decision about the future operation of Parliament, the convenience of parliamentary procedure is obviously one of the factors that would have to be taken into account.

David Frost

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in the Times today, Rachel Sylvester quotes a former Permanent Secretary saying of this Government that

“basic propriety and ethics have gone out the window, and the decision-making is a shambles.”

Does not giving someone with no expert knowledge of terrorism, intelligence or defence responsibility for national security, as well as for the Brexit negotiations, confirm this?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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No, my Lords. Mr Frost has extensive diplomatic experience, and the previous four incumbents as National Security Adviser also emerged from a diplomatic career.

Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Amendment) Order

Debate between Lord Rennard and Lord True
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, in coming to the Dispatch Box for the first time to answer for the Cabinet Office, if the House will allow me, I want to place on record my appreciation of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. His charm, urbanity and liberal mind won the affection of everyone in the House, and in doing business his openness, intelligence and sense of duty won the respect of the House. If I can do half as good a job as he did, I will have tried to serve the House well.

The health of our democracy depends on elections being accessible and fair for voters and those seeking election. Last February, an important step forward was taken towards ensuring disabled candidates standing elections share a level playing field and are treated fairly. The election expenses exclusion order made sure that expenses incurred as a result of a candidate’s disability would no longer count towards their limit on election spending when taking part in UK-wide elections, including parliamentary general elections.

This instrument will prevent disability-related expenses having to be counted as part of a disabled candidate’s election spending limit in a police and crime commissioner election. PCCs should be as reflective as possible of the diverse communities that they serve and to whom they are accountable. We must make sure that the process of standing in any election does not itself unfairly impact upon disabled people and make them less likely to stand for election.

That is why, through this instrument, we are seeking to help remove one potential barrier that might prevent disabled people running to be a police and crime commissioner and represent their community. The instrument will insert disability-related expenses into Part 2 of Schedule 7 to the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012, which set out the general exclusions from the spending limits of candidates standing at PCC elections. The result will be that reasonably incurred disability-related expenditure will not form part of a disabled candidate’s expenses and will therefore not contribute to their spending limits.

The instrument also brings forward changes to election forms so that they are clearer to voters about when a PCC has been given the power to undertake fire and rescue authority functions, which currently applies in only four authorities. This will make sure that, in most places, all relevant election forms better inform voters about the scope of the functions of the PCC being elected.

We have consulted on this instrument with the Electoral Commission, there has been cross-government collaboration between the departments involved and all the consulted stakeholders have been supportive of the proposals. The Parliamentary Parties Panel has also been informed that the changes are being brought forward. It is a panel that, as noble Lords will know, meets on a quarterly basis to discuss electoral issues, consisting of representatives of each of the parties that have two or more MPs. We believe it is vital that the instrument is in place as soon as possible so that these changes are effective during the preparations for and the build-up to the PCC elections, which next come on 7 May. That is why the instrument will come into force the day after it is made.

The Electoral Commission released guidance in January of this year for the upcoming May PCC elections that included information on the exemption being brought forward today. This should ensure that candidates can take note of the exemption in reasonable time before the election.

By providing a more level playing field for disabled people standing for PCC elections, and giving voters clearer information about what powers they are voting a PCC candidate to take on, this instrument builds on the wider work the Government are undertaking to support our democracy and make elections more accessible to voters and candidates alike. The changes may seem a little administrative and technical in nature, but I am sure noble Lords will agree that their application in the real world for local democracy will be actual and tangible, and I know that they will be appreciated by some people. I commend this instrument to the House.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord True, to his position as Minister. I am sure we will have some humorous debates. I am sure they will be lively and I fear that some of them will be very controversial, but this evening’s debate is not really a controversial one, because I am sure that nobody in this House will think that anyone who is disadvantaged by disability should have to bear the additional costs of personal expenses arising from their disability counting against any limit on campaign expenditure.

I am not sure it is really enough to say that, if they have these additional costs, they should not count against the limit if they have the funds. The question really is: how could they be helped to have the funds to make sure that they can compete on a level playing field? My first question to the Minister in his new position is: what is the Government’s current attitude towards helping disabled candidates stand for election? We have experience of the Access to Elected Office Fund and the EnAble Fund, but I understand that, after 31 March, there will be no funding from a government source to help disabled people to stand in these or any future elections.

Overall, as the Minister outlined, the changes proposed to election regulations are really common sense, but the need to make these minor changes highlights the way that we need to codify and modernise all our election laws, as recommended by the Law Commissions some years ago. What can he tell us about the Government’s current attitude towards codifying and modernising the whole range of election laws? The Law Commissions have done much of the work on this; they say that there are so many different pieces of legislation and there have been so many new elections since that legislation was drafted that we need to look at this issue as a whole, instead of, as I fear we will, looking at each individual bit of legislation. The danger will be that, as we look at each individual bit of legislation and potential reforms, the accusation may be made in this House that legislation is brought forward for particular parts of election law that favour a particular party that is in government and not parties that are not in government. Surely it would be better to follow the advice of the Law Commissions and look at all our election law in the round, codify it properly, modernise it and make sure we proceed on a fair basis.