Lord True debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 27th Apr 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 25th Apr 2022
Mon 25th Apr 2022
Wed 6th Apr 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage
Wed 6th Apr 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Wed 23rd Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1

House of Lords: Appointments

Lord True Excerpts
Wednesday 18th May 2022

(5 days, 3 hours ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to reform the current system of appointments to the House of Lords.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, there are no plans to make changes to the current system of appointments.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, on Monday, at Questions, the Minister gave a clear indication that there might be. He said that because of the number of government defeats in the Lords there might well be some more Tory Peers on the way, even more than at present. Can he confirm at least the facts, which are as follows: that the number of Tory Peers today as a proportion of the whole House is 33%, which is far higher than when the last Labour Government were in power, and that the Government now have an absolute majority of the political parties over Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined, something we could only dream about when a Labour Government were in power? So if despite all these advantages that this Tory Government have got the Prime Minister is worrying about losing votes, is it not clear that the problem is not the shortage of Tory Peers but a Government who simply cannot get their act together?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there are a lot of questions there. The original Question, which I answered, was whether there are plans to reform the current system of appointments to this House, and I repeat that there are not. So far as numbers are concerned, I did not notice the noble Lord being reticent when he was advising Mr Tony Blair on appointing Labour Peers.

Lord Fowler Portrait Lord Fowler (CB)
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My Lords, I would like to ask a question about hereditary by-elections. Can it be right that membership of this House can be by an exclusive back door marked “hereditary Peers only”? Why will the Government not introduce the kind of legislation that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was talking about? Reforming legislation to remove anomalies like that would be widely welcomed, not least by this House.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend refers to a back door. The back door is actually the law of the land, a statute passed by Parliament. Hereditary Peers continue to contribute to the work of your Lordships’ House through committee memberships and in debates in the Chamber, and I think they do so in an outstanding manner.

Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith (LD)
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The Minister said that there were no plans. There are of course plans and they have had the general approval of this House. They were plans put forward by the Burns committee to enable an orderly system of retirement and replacement on a one-for-two basis, with a proper arrangement for representation of the various parties and groups in the House. Why does the Minister still set his face against those plans?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the previous Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister have made it clear that they do not accept the principle that a cap should be placed on the size of your Lordships’ House. Such an event with an appointed House would mean that the appointed House was impervious to any response from the House of Commons in a constitutional crisis.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I wonder if the Minister can help the House. On 18 November, in talking about the Appointments Commission, he said he was happy with the current procedure whereby the commission is able to recommend non-party-political appointments as well as advising on propriety. Could he tell us in what circumstances a recommendation of the Appointments Commission can be rejected by the Prime Minister and what justification there is for that?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the commission’s role is an advisory one. The Prime Minister continues to place great weight on the commission’s careful and considered advice. We believe that the commission plays an important role and performs it well. Noble Lords keep returning to an individual case. The Prime Minister said he saw the case of my noble friend as a clear and rare exception, and we have no plans to change the status of HOLAC.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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Has my noble friend noticed that our noble friend Lord Norton is introducing a Private Member’s Bill that would put the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis? Would he at least agree to talk with my noble friend Lord Norton with a view to the Government accepting this eminently sensible, modest measure?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, it is my habit and pleasure always to talk to Members of your Lordships’ House, and that would certainly include my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. If his Bill comes forward then I will certainly respond to it, but the Government have no plans to change the status of HOLAC. We do not agree that it should be placed on a statutory basis. It is an independent committee, and we consider its advice carefully.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, in his carefully-worded reply earlier, the Minister suggested that the present Prime Minister and the previous one were absolutely at one about not imposing a cap on the size of the House. However, is it not true that in fact they take diametrically different positions on reducing the size of the House, and that the previous Prime Minister, implementing the policy set out in the Conservative Party manifesto to reduce the size of the House, took a self-denying ordinance and helped to take forward the Burns review proposals, which has absolutely been turned on its head by the present Prime Minister?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, with respect, I do not agree that if one looks at the historical record one finds that this Prime Minister has appointed Peers at a rate that is, say, faster than that of Mr Tony Blair. I think it is agreed in this House, and it is implicit in some of the comments made by your Lordships with which I agree, that retirement has a place in your Lordships’ House. The corollary of that is that the House also needs refreshment, and that must continue.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is rather sinister that the Prime Minister refuses to publish the security evidence given to him when he wanted, and proceeded, to appoint the son of a KGB agent as a Member of this House?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No, my Lords. The noble Lord knows that I have the greatest esteem for him, and that normally disclosures relating to national security matters are not made. Generally, for any appointment, from the lowest in the land to the highest, data protection and freedom of information applies. But in this case, information has been provided separately to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which illustrates that the Government are acting in good faith in responding to Parliament’s requests.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, during lockdown, there were all sorts of laws of the land about gatherings and yet No. 10—the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues—broke those laws. Why are there some laws that they respect and some they feel free to break?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, that is rather wide of the Question. The law of the land is something that we should all respect and that includes, if I may say so, extreme campaigners for green issues.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister keeps on citing Tony Blair. The big difference is that Tony Blair put Peers in this House from all parties, and that this Prime Minister almost exclusively puts Conservatives in.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, we could have a debate about that particular record. The principle of refreshing the House is an important one and it applies not only to Government Benches, but I do not notice the Benches over there being understocked at the moment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, on the point that the Minister has just made, can he remind the House how much refreshing has been done of the Government Benches during the last two, or perhaps two-and-a-half, years, as compared with the refreshing that has been done of other groups?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, if I may express an opinion, as I have already said, I am very aware of the feelings on the Benches of Her Majesty’s Opposition about the case for refreshment of those Benches. I will say no more than that, but I think it is a strong case.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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Can I make a very unpopular suggestion? There is one way that we could really sort this out: that it does not matter how you get into the House; we should base it on what you do in the House. To me, that is the most important thing, and I think we have a lot of people in this House who do not actually engage. Why do we not ask them to move on, so that the other people who want to do something with this mighty House and this mighty democracy can get on with it?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the whole House has great affection for the noble Lord, Lord Bird, but I would say that there are many Members of your Lordships’ House who may not come frequently but, when they do, your Lordships listen very carefully to their voice.

Restoration and Renewal: Location of House of Lords Chamber

Lord True Excerpts
Monday 16th May 2022

(1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to the location of the House of Lords Chamber during the restoration and renewal programme.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, restoration and renewal is a parliamentary programme and decisions on how to proceed are for Parliament. Both Houses are reviewing the programme’s shape and the commissions will jointly consider options and seek a revised mandate from both Houses. Further decisions, including on decant and location, would need to be considered by both Houses and debates are currently planned for before the Summer Recess. I repeat: the Government are clear that these decisions are a matter for Parliament.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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I am most grateful to my noble friend, so can we take it that Mr Gove was off doing his own thing at the weekend when he wrote to the Speaker on Friday evening to indicate that the Queen Elizabeth II Centre would not be available for us? Would the Government be kind enough to ask him to put in the Library the analysis of how he thought this would enable Parliament to function, if one House was sent to Stoke or somewhere else? Will my noble friend indicate what consultation Mr Gove carried out before he made this statement and just remind the Secretary of State, as he did in his Answer, that the location of this House is a matter for this House and not for the Executive?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I will not be tempted to follow speculation about what might have been the motives of a colleague in the Government in relation to a particular letter. The Secretary of State is always inventive, but I will repeat what I have said: that these are matters for Parliament.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the simple fact is that the noble Lord answered a similar Question just over two years ago and that this is another recycled announcement from a Government who talked about this two-and-a-half years ago. For all the gimmicks, slogans and press releases, on every measure of levelling up we are going backwards. Instead of making such announcements, this Government should get on with helping families facing the worst cost of living crisis in a generation and use a windfall tax on energy grants to fund up to £600 of help for families. That is what this Government should be doing.

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is inventive in slipping the Labour windfall tax into a Question about the location of the House of Lords. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not favour that proposition. This is not an announcement; the position remains, as I have previously stated, that the decisions on how to proceed are a matter for Parliament.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, will the Minister take back to his friends in government that, if they are going to come out with rather bizarre statements like this with no notice or consultation, they should at least try to be a little more original? We have heard this all before. Dozens of us are waiting to give suggestions of our home cities, where it would be lovely to be. Might I make a recommendation for Norwich? Any city that boasts proudly that it used to have a pub for every day of the year would probably be a good environment for suggestions such as this.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am very fond of Norwich personally, but I would not encourage further speculation in this area. I will only say from my personal experience that I was in York last week on a ministerial visit and I did not look at any alternative site for your Lordships’ House.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, I declare the interest of having been brought up in Burnley. Would the noble Lord care to remind Mr Gove that we are one Parliament and not two, and therefore dividing the two Houses would be a very adverse and unconstitutional act? Therefore, if he wants Parliament to be in Burnley, it should be both Houses and not one.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, again, I am not going to speak for my right honourable friend, but the noble Lord makes a cogent point which would need to be considered by all of us within Parliament in respect of its future operation. Those of us who have had experience of a Parliament by Zoom know the importance of personal contact within and across the Houses to the good operation of government and Parliament.

Lord Bishop of London Portrait The Lord Bishop of London
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My Lords, can the Minister reassure both this House and the public that a full cost-benefit analysis is being undertaken to ensure the good and proper use of public funds?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as far as the R&R scheme is concerned, that is a matter for both Houses. As far as government property is concerned, obviously that is a matter for the Secretary of State. The right reverend Prelate makes a cogent point.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend is playing an admirable straight bat, on which I congratulate him. But on whose authority did Mr Gove contact the Lord Speaker, the Speaker or anyone else? Was he speaking for the Government? If so, does he not realise that this is not a matter for the Government, as my noble friend has told us? Was this just another freelance exercise by an intellectual flibbertigibbet?

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I could not possibly comment on that. The Secretary of State obviously has a standing in DLUHC in the sense that the QEII Centre is an executive agency for which DLUHC is responsible. No doubt he was addressing the matter from that perspective.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister really does have to speak on behalf of the whole Government. It was a government letter so I do not think he can wriggle out of it like that. These are really important constitutional issues. The Queen opens Parliament, and she is not allowed into the Commons; she does it from here but with the Commoners present to hear her statement. I am quite sure those issues have to be high up in the Government’s mind as well as this House’s mind. We also need Ministers by us. I do not know whether they were all planning to stay in London so that they could not answer our questions. From their way of dealing with this, maybe that is exactly the plan.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No—I take it as the highest duty that I have to come before your Lordships and answer questions and explain things. I repeat: decisions on how to proceed in this are a matter for Parliament, and the Government do not wish to prejudge Parliament’s decisions on it. However, following what was said by the noble Baroness, whom I greatly respect, I say that it makes sense for government and Parliament to work together to support the decisions of Parliament on this matter and, yes, secure outcomes that deliver for the public and taxpayers.

Lord Vaux of Harrowden Portrait Lord Vaux of Harrowden (CB)
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My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the restoration of Parliament and making this iconic building safe will succeed only with real collaboration between the Lords, the Commons and the Government? Could he please answer the question that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asked earlier—namely, which Members of this House were contacted or consulted in advance of the letter sent on Friday?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot answer that specific point. No doubt the Secretary of State could explain. The noble Lord takes the very point that I made in my previous answer—that it makes sense for government and both Houses of Parliament to work together, as he said, to create and support decisions on this matter.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, although I agree with much of what has been said, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, does the Minister not agree that even the prospect, or the suggestion, that the House of Lords might move out of London might make those Members who live in London, particularly those on the Front Bench, realise the practical difficulties and problems of those of us who do not live in London?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, in a sense, that is a House of Lords point, but I understand what the noble Lord said. I have lived some of my life outside London and some of it in it. Of course those are matters to consider.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, will Mr Gove be successful in saying that we cannot use the Queen Elizabeth II Centre?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as I have said, the QEII conference centre is a commercially run trading fund, and it is an executive agency of DLUHC. The noble and learned Baroness asks a hypothetical question, and I will clearly not pre-empt, even in this, how Parliament might decide to proceed. Each House of Parliament has the right to regulate its own proceedings and internal affairs, and we shall see what might happen.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, the QEII Centre is probably one of the worst buildings in London, so I am totally in tune with the Secretary of State when he says that the Government do not want us there. But the reality is that this building’s problem is services, not access or modernisation; it is about dealing with the fire risk that exists in the basement of this building. If that is dealt with and it is stripped back to that, the costs and timescales are dramatically reduced and the options of the northern estate become viable. There are alternatives where we can stay on this site, but it needs a little more imagination and the costs have to be dramatically cut back.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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As a Member of your Lordships’ House, my noble friend obviously makes an important point. As I have said more than once at this Dispatch Box, the questions of the future of the R&R programme and any decant location are decisions for Parliament. I have indicated that I understand that the commissions are currently seeking to have debates in both Houses, so your Lordships will be able to express further opinions before the Summer Recess.

Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister has been admirably clear—as mud—about the constitutional position so far as this is concerned. I think that he accepted the point of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that both Houses should be together. What representations has the Leader of the House made on this question, both to Mr Gove and to her government colleagues? Will she reinforce the importance of the constitutional position that both Houses should be together, wherever in the country that might be, and that it is a matter for Parliament to decide this?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House is alongside me here as a courtesy, listening to your Lordships’ points of view, and I am sure that she will have heard what the noble Lord said. There are many questions about what disagreements there might be, but I would be surprised if there were any disagreements between me and my noble friend on things I have said to your Lordships today.

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Lord Austin of Dudley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the UK is the most centralised country in the world. Congestion in London is a nightmare and property prices are ridiculous. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has struggled to attract new investment and jobs to replace the industries that it has lost. There is a case for looking at whether Parliament’s deliberations can take place elsewhere in the country and for moving large parts of government to the regions, so I certainly do not think that these ideas should be dismissed out of hand.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are seeking to move parts of government out of London for precisely the kind of reasons that the noble Lord has given. However, this is a parliamentary matter. There will be debates and discussions in your Lordships’ House, and I am certain that he will put his view—and we will see whether he is able to carry your Lordships with him.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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Will the Minister make a clear recognition of what my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister said about the services? When I was Chairman of Ways and Means, an inspection was held on the key issue of the fire risk. Will the Minister look at the case history of terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport, which was renovated between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am over a period of well over a year?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, again, I am being invited to stray into questions of parliamentary management, which is not appropriate for a government Minister. However, as always, my noble friend makes a very sensible point on these matters. There are always ways of arranging necessary work.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister would be kind enough to suggest to the Secretary of State, if he is interested in the public response to your Lordships’ House and its work, that he might be better directed at looking at a programme that reduced the size of this House and at a statutory Appointments Commission, putting a rein on the use by the current Prime Minister of patronage in appointments.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, again, the noble Baroness strays slightly from the Question. On the last point, I only say that in a Session following the Session in which there was a record number of defeats for Her Majesty’s Government, it would be surprising if the Government did not reflect on the significance of that.

Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That this House do not insist on its Amendments 22 and 23 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 22A to 22I to the words restored to the Bill by the Commons disagreement to Lords Amendment 22 and in their Amendments 23A to 23K in lieu of Lords Amendments 22 and 23.

22A: Page 21, line 13, at end insert—
“(3A) The statement must not include provision in relation to elections, referendums and other matters so far as the provision would relate to the Commission’s devolved Scottish functions or the Commission’s devolved Welsh functions.”
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23K: Page 25, line 29, leave out “4C(3)(b)” and insert “4C(3D)(a)”
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motion B.

On Motion A, the Government have listened with respect to your Lordships’ concerns but they consider the measures in these clauses necessary and to take a reasonable approach to reforming the accountability of the Electoral Commission, while respecting their operational independence. Much concern has been expressed about the duty to have regard. The Government’s firm view is that this duty will not allow the Government to direct the commission’s decision-making, nor will it undermine the commission’s other statutory duties. However, while the other place has by a large majority reinstated Clauses 14 and 15, we have listened carefully and respectfully to the concerns expressed. I have also had the pleasure of meeting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and others, and consulted colleagues in government. As a result of these conversations, and in a sincere effort to address the concerns raised by your Lordships, my colleague in the other place, Minister Badenoch, also tabled government Amendments 23A to 23K in lieu, which were accepted by the House of Commons. I will briefly outline them.

Amendment 23 underscores the independence of the commission by requiring the Secretary of State, when preparing a statement, to have regard to the duty placed on the commission by Section 145(1) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, to monitor and ensure compliance with the rules set out in that Act. Further, this amendment would prohibit the statement from including any provision about specific investigatory or enforcement activity.

Amendments 23C to 23H, 23J and 23K provide for enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of a statement—another thing your Lordships have asked for—that has been subject to statutory consultation by providing both Houses with a supplementary opportunity to consider the draft statement and make representations before it is laid for approval. The amendments also make consequential changes to Clause 14.

Furthermore, Amendments 23B and 23I would require the Secretary of State to publish a response to the statutory consultation on the statement, and to respond publicly to a request for the statement to be revised that comes from the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission.

Taken together, the Government believe that our amendments, in addition to provisions already built into Clause 14—but which I accept failed totally to persuade your Lordships—should now put beyond doubt the question of whether the Statement could be used to unduly influence the commission to take a particular course of action in its investigatory or enforcement activity.

Turning to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Judge, the Government do not, respectfully, share the view that it is necessary to clarify in the law how the duty to have regard to the statement will be interpreted. I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear the noble and learned Lord’s views, and I know he has discussed those also with officials. The Government do not agree with the proposal to amend the provisions to expressly state that the commission would not be bound to follow the statement when carrying out its duty to have regard to it. The duty to have regard works in similar ways to other existing statutory duties without the need for such language as proposed in the noble and learned Lord’s amendment to be included. Any further elaboration of this duty might have unwanted implications for how the many other duties to have regard that appear on our statute book should be interpreted. For these reasons, it is simply not a proposal that the Government can accept and I urge the House to reject it.

The Government do not agree either with the proposals from noble Lords which would require Ministers on the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission to recuse themselves when the committee considers how the commission has discharged its duty to have regard to the statement. Executive representatives have always had a role in the parliamentary oversight of the commission via the committee, which, set in the context of the overall framework, is entirely appropriate. Furthermore, the Speaker’s Committee, not the Government, determines its own procedures. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to impose legislative constraints on the operation of the committee in this way. This is rightly left to Members of the other place to consider. For these reasons, the Government also oppose this amendment and respectfully urge the House to reject it.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, in his opening remarks, the Minister talked about the post-legislative scrutiny that is going to be on the face of the Bill and said that this would include reviewing and monitoring further forms of acceptable ID. He mentioned that the Bill includes the provision to add further acceptable forms. We welcome that. I hold the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, in the highest regard and thank him for pressing the Government in his previous amendment on the importance of furthering the number of IDs that can be used.

Having said all that, we believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said in introducing his amendment, that the Government have simply got it wrong on requiring voter ID to be presented at polling stations. We are disappointed and unhappy that there has been absolutely no movement whatever from the Government on this and that they have not wished to include any further accepted forms of ID in the Bill. If the Bill moves forward on ID as it stands, will the Minister provide assurances as to how the requirements for photo voter ID will be introduced, how local government will be supported, and what mitigations will be put in place to ensure that no elector will be disfranchised as a result of the Bill?

We very much welcome the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on the Electoral Commission. There is clear concern, right across this House, about the undermining of the independence of the Electoral Commission. I will not go into any detail because we need to move on. The noble and learned Lord clearly laid out why there are still deep concerns in this House. The small amendments that he has offered would resolve these issues and greatly strengthen the Bill before it reaches the statute book. We agree wholeheartedly with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is trying to achieve and support his decision to ask the other place to think once again on what is a matter of extreme constitutional importance.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, for the convenience of the House—I know it is late and I have made my arguments and placed them before your Lordships—but I was asked a couple of specific questions.

In response to the queries of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, there has been correspondence with her and officials through the list of organisations that we consulted. We have affirmed that there is and will be ongoing consultation as part of the implementation programme. I can certainly say in the House that we will undertake to continue to consult the organisations that have been discussed as we go forward. I can give her that assurance.

One thing raised in the debate was that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, said that we were doing this because of Prorogation. That was something injected into the debate by another Member of your Lordships’ House. I remain at the disposal of your Lordships. If noble Lords wish to be here again and again on this matter, I will rise to respond. The matter referred to is immaterial.

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Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 86, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 86A.

86A: Because the Commons consider the requirement to provide adequate photographic identification to be the most effective means of securing the integrity of the electoral system.
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have already spoken to Motion B, so I beg to move.

Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)

Moved by

Global Positioning System

Lord True Excerpts
Tuesday 26th April 2022

(3 weeks, 6 days ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the United Kingdom’s fallback should Global Positioning System (GPS) services be (1) disrupted by an enemy, or (2) damaged at the peak of the solar cycle in 2025.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I think I would back the noble Lord to get me home safely using dead reckoning. But he is absolutely right to raise the issues of precision and resilience in relation to the importance of position, navigation and timing to the UK’s prosperity and security, including the real risk of disruption. We are actively examining the critical dependencies we have on GPS to inform the measures needed to defend our critical national infrastructure.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. It does not really help in terms of what I actually asked but there is no doubt whatever that the impact of the loss of PNT is almost existential. Banking, trade transactions and all areas of transport and food supply would all be affected and in complete chaos. The signals from GPS and Galileo are very vulnerable. The strength of those signals is less than some of the cosmic signals coming from the stars. They can therefore be intercepted and adjusted very easily; the Chinese and Russians have already done this. It is absolutely essential that the national PNT strategy, which is being worked on, is brought forward as a matter of urgency. There will be a real risk to this nation if we do not do that. Is there any thought in that strategy of having a terrestrial, high-strength power system to be a fallback should we lose the satellite systems because of satellites either being knocked out, which our enemies can do, or being interrupted by other electronic means?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I did try to answer the Question, and I agree with the noble Lord in his original Question that this is important. The review to which he referred has concluded, and it identified overreliance on GPS and other space-based systems. It looked at numerous use cases across the economy and recommended a system-of-systems approach as being the best fit for the UK, which would obviously include examination of ground or lower-level alternatives. The review concluded that the Government should support resilience by exploring new systems, and a whole-of-government effort is necessary to do this. That is under way and will be led by BEIS.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my interest as director of reserves at UK Strategic Command. The UK Government have invested some $500 million in OneWeb, which was viewed by some as a very expensive insurance policy as part of the Brexit negotiations. However, because of its low-orbit technology and its second-tier satellites, does this not present a potential opportunity to solve the problem that the noble Lord, Lord West, has put before the House today and also provide a return on investment for UK taxpayers?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, we have always been clear that the possible provisioning of PNT services was not actually the rationale for our investment in OneWeb. The spaced-based positioning, navigation and timing programme analysed a number of ideas for concepts in low-earth orbit, and OneWeb was one of the many companies contributing to that. It is primarily a telecoms operation and that is where its primary focus is. However, we are not ruling out that low orbit and so on may play a role in future services.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the United States’ space-based PNT policy suggests that:

“GPS users must plan for potential signal loss and take reasonable steps to verify or authenticate the integrity of the received GPS data and ranging signal, especially in applications where even small degradations can result in loss of life.”


What advice do Her Majesty’s Government give to GPS users in this country?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, users in this country certainly need to be aware of the potential difficulties, including space weather. The year 2025 is expected to have quite a high level of solar activity. Overall responsibility for providing facilities and back-up falls on the Government, which is why we conducted the review and are taking some of the measures that I have intimated to the House.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the 2025 solar cycle is a serious issue. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government are in regular touch with the Royal Astronomical Society, which embodies an enormous amount of expertise in this and other areas related to astronomy and the sun?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have referred to space weather and the solar cycle, and I agree with the noble Viscount that it is important because at the height of the solar cycle it can disrupt or block access to GPS. We are expanding our space weather monitoring capability, and this will contribute to active correction of GPS as the authorities improve their accuracy. We are also undertaking the other measures that I have mentioned to allow back-up resilience.

Lord Bowness Portrait Lord Bowness (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in a Written Answer in January 2022, the Government stated that they were “considering the findings” of the space-based positioning, navigation and timing programme

“to determine the next steps as part of the business planning process.”

Is the Minister able to tell us what they have decided, or when they expect to decide on the next steps? Regarding the noble Lord’s question about OneWeb, am I to assume that we do not expect OneWeb to play any part in this important decision, particularly since our shareholding, as I understand it, has now been reduced from the proclaimed 45% when we bought it to 17% now?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there were several questions there. I referred to the position on OneWeb earlier. I also said that the Cabinet Office review had now concluded and that we were working towards a system-of-systems approach. The UK has a range of PNT-related programmes in development across a number of departments: the National Timing Centre at BEIS; a robust global navigation solution that MoD is working on; and the space-based augmentation service for aviation and maritime safety, which DfT is working on. There are a number of other science and technology investments, but I do not wish to take too much of your Lordships’ time.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the House of Lords special inquiry which reported in December 2021, Preparing for Extreme Risks: Building A Resilient Society, which examined the very issue raised by my noble friend Lord West. At the heart of this is how the Government prepare for risk across a range of issues. Will he look at the risk register and how it is used by government? At the moment, the risk register considers the probability of an event that is regarded as a risk happening within the next two years. We are aware that, in preparing for risks, you have to look at a much longer time span than the next two years. If we look back at preparation for the pandemic, for example, we see that we did not look far enough ahead. Will he take back to government and perhaps report back to your Lordships’ House and respond to the committee report on horizon scanning over a 10 or 20-year period, rather than the two-year period that is currently undertaken?

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness makes some fair observations and, as I said, the noble Lord raises an important question, which the Government do not underestimate. We are currently updating our risk assessment on the critical dependencies that we have on GPS and other positional, navigation and time data sources. This will inform the measures we are taking under the various programmes I mentioned to the House. These potential threats need consideration; resilience is vital, and the Government will seek to address it.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, in an earlier answer, the Minister set out a variety of different programmes and initiatives. Where is the guiding hand, and what is the guiding hand for this? How often are these many and various programmes assessed against each other, and when might we see how they move forward?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for BEIS wrote to the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons on 25 March setting out the position and saying that his department would be leading the co-ordination—subject, obviously, to continuing resourcing. As the noble Lord acknowledges, the matter involves other departments, but the authoritative letter on the record from my right honourable friend sets out the position on co-ordination.

Lord Sterling of Plaistow Portrait Lord Sterling of Plaistow (Con)
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My Lords, is my noble friend aware that for some 10 years Trinity House, London has had a specialist unit on this subject? It is unquestionably true—exactly as the noble Lord, Lord West, stated—that the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese are streets ahead of us. I am only surprised that nothing has happened as yet. As for what might happen and choosing ideas, it could happen at any time.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I think the whole House recognises the expertise of the first questioner and the last speaker. Yes, hostile threats are potential and potentially real, and the Government take that very much into consideration. We know that China and Russia are actively pursuing hostile space capabilities, and that is very much part of our thinking.

Elections Bill

Lord True Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, we very much welcome these amendments. We thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for tabling them and for his excellent and clear introduction on his concerns about the implications of leaving these clauses in the Bill. I will be brief, as he and many other noble Lords made excellent speeches today.

We have made it extremely clear on previous stages of the Bill’s consideration that we are extremely concerned about its intention to make provisions for a power to designate a strategy and policy statement for the Electoral Commission, drafted by government. As other noble Lords have said, this would allow political interference in the regulation of our elections and calls into question the independence of the Electoral Commission from government and political control. This simply cannot be allowed to happen. It is a dangerous precedent. If we look at similar democracies such as Canada, New Zealand or Australia, there is always a complete separation between government and the electoral commission. It is essential that our regulatory framework strikes the right balance between upholding the independence of the Electoral Commission and ensuring it is properly scrutinised and held to account. The noble Lord, Lord Hayward, made some good points about the fact that we need to look at how it operates, but this is absolutely not the way to go about it.

I remind those noble Lords who have said that this is not of any concern that new Section 4B(2) in Clause 15 says that:

“The Commission must have regard to the statement when carrying out their functions”—


“must”, not “may”. That is what really concerns us. We have had many excellent speeches, so I urge the Minister to listen very carefully to what has been said in the defence of our democracy. That is what we are talking about. We fully support these amendments and urge other noble Lords to do the same when this is put to the House.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I have not detected universal enthusiasm for these clauses in the debate, but I will seek to persuade your Lordships that they should remain. Of course, in remaining, one of the things they do is provide a basis for further discussion.

Your Lordships’ House is a revising Chamber, but we do not have here amendments to revise. These amendments would simply remove clauses on the basis of arguments which, in my submission, are exaggerated in their concerns, although I understand and share the concerns for democratic responsibility and respect. We have even heard several threats to kill the whole Bill. I must remind noble Lords that this is a Bill that prevents election fraud and abuse; introduces the first controls on digital campaigning; cracks down in many ways on foreign spending; and improves the integrity of postal voting. These are matters which have wide assent across the Chamber and across both Houses. It would not be wise or proportionate for your Lordships to consider killing those proposals on the basis of this particular issue.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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Would my noble friend accept that if the Government withdraw these clauses, on which there is a great deal of opposition, the Bill will go through? Several of us have said that it has many excellent features. We do not want to kill the Bill, but we do want to remove this anti-democratic element from it.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I can only respond to the language I heard in the debate and, of course, that will lie in Hansard. Of course I listen to the range of concerns set out by your Lordships. The main concern that I hear, and understand, is about the potential impact on the independence of the Electoral Commission.

I stated in Committee, and I do so again now, that the Government’s proposals take a proportionate approach to reforming the accountability of the commission to Parliament, which some who have spoken have admitted could be reviewed, while respecting its operational independence. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and others that it is vital we have an independent regulator that commands trust across the political spectrum.

By the way, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked would I worry if the Labour Party had such powers on the statute book. I remind your Lordships that the Labour Party is a great constitutional party, and I would trust it to use the responsibilities and powers that it had in an appropriate manner.

In previous debates, parliamentarians across both Houses identified areas of concern with the commission’s work. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts spoke to this. Under the existing accountability framework, in practice, parliamentarians are limited in their ability to scrutinise and hold the commission effectively accountable. The report by my noble friend Lord Pickles, whom I am pleased to see in his place, obviously alluded to certain issues that he felt had not been fully addressed. These measures will seek to remedy this by providing guidance, as approved by Parliament, for the commission to consider in the exercise of its functions, and by giving the Speaker’s Committee an enhanced role in holding the commission to account in how it has performed its duties in relation to the proposed statement.

It has been suggested, several times, that the “duty to have regard” to the strategy and policy statement placed on the commission in Clause 15 will weaken its independence and give Ministers the power to direct it. The Government strongly reject this characterisation of the measures. The Electoral Commission will remain operationally independent and governed by its Electoral Commissioners as a result of this measure, after as before. This duty does not allow the Government to direct the work of the commission, nor does it undermine the commission’s other statutory duties.

Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB)
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I wonder, given what the Minister has just said, whether he could explain the purpose of new Section 13ZA, on the examination of the duty to have regard to the strategy and policy statement, which states:

“The Speaker’s Committee may examine the performance by the Commission of the Commission’s duty under section 4B(2) (duty to have regard to strategy and policy statement).”


What is the purpose of having the ability to examine the commitment to the policy statement? What would the Government do if it found that “have regard” had not been sufficient?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I say to the noble Baroness that it is not a power to direct. The Speaker’s Committee is not a government institution; it is part of the architecture that is there, and has been there, to oversee the work of the commission. That was inherent in previous legislation; this legislation seeks to improve its ability to do so. What the legislation means is that when carrying out its functions, yes, the commission will be asked to consider the statement, but weigh it up against any other relative considerations.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, knows the respect I have for him. I have enjoyed discussing this matter with him and no doubt may again if he has his way in your Lordships’ House today, which I hope he will not, but our contention is that there are a number of safeguarding provisions around parliamentary approval and consultation built into Clause 15. I outlined that at length in previous debates and will not repeat it here. I believe, notwithstanding the noble and learned Lord’s remarks, that those safeguarding provisions should reassure those who have expressed concerns about strategy and policy statements being drafted by future Governments that may have ill intent.

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Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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Can the Minister list which Select Committees have Ministers as members?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the Speaker’s Committee is sui generis. Obviously, it has senior representation from political parties in the House of Commons. I have enormous respect and affection for the noble Lord. It is not reasonable to impugn the integrity of a Speaker’s Committee and I do not think that he was doing so—

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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I was not, in any way, impugning the Speaker’s Committee. I was picking up the point that the Minister had just made about the corollary of a Select Committee.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord rose. I had started to make it clear that I was not making any such proposal. The analogy I was using is just a mechanism in terms of the way that the committee will be able to conduct its reviews, effectively holding the commission accountable on a broader range of its activities than is currently allowed in law. As I sought to explain to your Lordships, that remit is currently narrowly restricted.

For the reasons that I have set out, I urge that my noble friends and noble Lords across the House oppose the amendments put forward by the noble and learned Lord, and that Clauses 15 and 16 stand part of the Bill.

Lord Judge Portrait Lord Judge (CB)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has participated, including those Members of the House who do not agree with me. It is fun to listen to alternative arguments.

I have just a couple of points to make. The problem with these clauses is that they were inserted without any kind of discussion. When constitutional issues are being addressed, and when, in particular, the independence of the Electoral Commission and its performance are being addressed, surely, of all things, that is something for cross-party discussion, and it is for the cross-parties to make up their minds how to make the Electoral Commission do its job and perform its function better than it has. That is a matter for Parliament: I am not going to advance different solutions to this, but the problem is that nobody has asked anybody else. That is why I describe this proposal as “new minted”. It is “new minted”, and that is one of its problems.

The other problem is with the phrase “must have regard to”. I “must have regard” to everything the Minister says. I am going to listen to it; I am going to be influenced by it. I might not feel quite as strongly as I did against him—I do not know—but the point is that you have to have regard to the statement by the Minister of the Government’s strategies, priorities and guidance, and that would influence any body of people, however independent-minded they are and wish to be. That, surely, is the point of this legislation. The Government want the commission to be influenced by the strategy and priorities paper.

If the Electoral Commission says, “Well, we have seen what the Minister has to say. We have read the statement and we think it’s a load of rubbish”, what happens then? Apart from anything else, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, will be briefed on a judicial review by the Government that the Electoral Commission was not exercising its powers correctly, and he would probably win. As I have told noble Lords before, he never won a single case in front of me; and as I have also told noble Lords before, on every occasion when he appealed, he won.

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Moved by
47: Clause 19, page 29, line 24, leave out “a local government election in Scotland or Wales” and insert “an election in Scotland or Wales under the local government Act”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.
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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I do not have much to add to the noble Lord’s contribution. We support his contention that this is an unnecessary clause. I agree that the principle is one that we should completely reaffirm, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, did in a previous debate. We need the assurances from the Minister. If he is unable to give the assurances that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, seeks, we will support him if he decides to divide the House.

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 Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to welcome and support the noble Lord. Throughout the stages of the Bill, I have repeatedly welcomed some of his contributions, particularly in relation to third-party campaigning and creating the certainty and clarity that they need to ensure that the chilling effect does not have a huge impact on our democracy. I very much welcome this, and I welcome the principle that the code of practice provides that necessary parliamentary scrutiny. We welcome these amendments.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, one of the charming aspects of your Lordships’ House is that when a Minister is being chided for not listening to the House it is rammed to the gills but when the Government make a concession there are not quite so many here. None the less, I thank not only my noble friend Lord Hodgson but colleagues in other parts of the House who have made this case, including the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who is not in his place for perfectly understandable reasons.

The amendment would create a new clause in the Bill which would remove a permissive power that allowed the Electoral Commission to prepare a code of practice, and instead, as your Lordships have asked, replace it with a requirement on the Electoral Commission to produce such a code of conduct. It also specifies the scope of the code, sets out the consultation process and procedure for the code, and creates a defence for third parties who are charged with offences under Part 6 of PPERA. It also makes the necessary consequential amendments to Clauses 20 and 25.

As my noble friend kindly acknowledged, in Committee I promised to consider his suggestions on a code of practice for third-party campaigners. He made his arguments in good faith, on the basis of great experience and genuinely reflecting the opinions of the sector. As he acknowledged, my officials and I have since met him and concluded that these changes are necessary and important for third-party campaigners.

The new statutory guidance—I do not know whether it will come to be called “the Hodgson guidance”—will provide certainty for third-party campaigners on how to comply with the rules relating to third-party campaigning. The amendment provides for the guidance to be comprehensive, and I say to my noble friend that it is our hope that this will address the term “the public” used in Part 1 of Schedule 8A on qualifying expenses.

The amendment requires the commission to consult the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission and the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, as in our earlier proposals on the strategy document. It also requires the commission to consult such other persons as the commission considers appropriate. As part of the statutory consultation, the Government would certainly expect a cross-section of civil society groups to be consulted; I can give my noble friend that assurance.

I am pleased to confirm that the Government are fully supportive of these three amendments, and I very much hope that your Lordships will support my noble friend.

Amendment 49 agreed.
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Moved by
50: Clause 21, page 31, line 30, leave out “a local government election in Wales” and insert “an election in Wales under the local government Act”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.
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Moved by
55: Clause 26, page 36, line 34, at end insert—
“(10) An order under subsection (9)(b) or (c) may be made only where the order gives effect to a recommendation of the Commission.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes the power to remove or vary entries in the list of categories of third party that may be recognised for the purposes of Part 6 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 exercisable only on the recommendation of the Electoral Commission.
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, Clause 26 allows the Secretary of State to lay legislation before Parliament to amend the list of eligible categories of third-party campaigners in PPERA 2000. As we discussed at earlier stages, this is necessary in instances where, for example, legitimate categories not currently on the list emerge in the future. Without it, they would be significantly restricted in their ability to campaign if they could not be added to the list quickly. We consider the power to remove and vary entries equally as necessary in ensuring that the list of categories remains accurate. Any order, regardless of whether it adds, varies or removes categories, will be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny by both Houses, via the affirmative resolution procedure.

However, the Government have listened carefully to, and taken note of, concerns raised by noble Lords during debates, by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its recent report and by representatives from civil society organisations in recent meetings. In recognition of the strength of feeling on this issue, which I understand, I have therefore tabled an amendment that would mean that any order to remove or vary the description of a category of third-party campaigner can only—I emphasise “only”—be made where it gives effect to a recommendation of the Electoral Commission. This Electoral Commission lock will provide the necessary safeguard against any future Government potentially seeking to misuse this clause. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that the Government are earnestly seeking to reassure those concerned by this clause, and that they will support this amendment.

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Moved by
57: Clause 28, leave out Clause 28
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would leave out Clause 28 (joint campaigning by registered parties and third parties).
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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, we had a lengthy debate on this in Committee and I accepted what the noble Baroness the Minister said at the time, that actually the requirements in the current law will be strong enough to ensure that the principle that we all want—greater transparency—will be applied. Certainly, I accepted that and understood it, because I think we all shared the concern that “reasonably practicable to comply” could be a huge loophole and she assured us that that would not be the case. We also discussed in Committee the fact that the industry itself, the online industry, had produced the means to ensure greater transparency. I made reference to the Adobe briefing, which I think is really important. I think we are all at one in terms of what is required.

On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, I agree with him completely that it is again providing the means to ensure greater transparency. Certainly, from these Benches, we support his amendment and if he decides to divide the House, we will support him.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Elections Bill, let us not forget, will introduce one of the most comprehensive digital imprint regimes operating in the world today and I submit to your Lordships that whatever shortcomings they may feel, or however much further they want to o’erleap the ambitions of the Government, these proposals are about increasing transparency for voters and empowering them to make informed decisions about the material they see online. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, there is much agreement on that point, but we cannot, I fear, support Amendments 58, 60 and 62 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, because they do not, in our submission, strike the right balance between increasing transparency and proportionate regulation of campaigning, while Amendments 61 and 65 would be highly difficult to enforce and would risk unduly stifling online campaigning and free speech, although I concede to the noble Lord that this matter will be further debated in the Online Safety Bill.

Regarding Amendment 58, it will not always be practical to display the imprint as part of the digital material itself; for example, as noble Lords have said, in a text-based tweet, where there is a strict character limit. This amendment would not give campaigners the limited, yet crucial, level of flexibility afforded by the Government’s regime and would thus risk unreasonably hampering their ability to campaign on some digital platforms. The above reflects the carefully considered and pragmatic approach we have sought to adopt. I know the noble Lord’s concerns; I appreciated the discussion we had and I understood where he was coming from. The perceived permissiveness of the guidance surrounding the Scottish digital imprints regime, in so far as it created a perceived loophole, was worrying him. I am pleased to confirm on the record here, as I said privately, that our regime will not operate in the same way.

The digital imprint regime that applies at elections in Scotland does not specify requirements regarding the location of the imprint, which is why the Electoral Commission’s guidance in Scotland was not prescriptive in this respect. However, our new regime does provide the necessary specifics on the rules regarding the location of the imprint. Campaigners will be required to ensure that their imprints are displayed as part of the material. Only when this is not reasonably practicable—this touches on my noble friend’s amendment—may the imprint be located elsewhere, but it must still be directly accessible from the campaigning material. Those who do not comply will be committing an offence. Furthermore, the statutory guidance we are proposing as part of our regime will provide practical directions to campaigners on how to follow the rules, including regarding the location of the imprint. This guidance will be subject to parliamentary approval, meaning that parliamentarians will be able to ensure that it provides sufficient clarity for campaigners to comply with the rules. I hope the noble Lord will be reassured by those points.

On Amendment 60, candidates and registered campaigners already have to detail their election spending in their returns and provide invoices for payments over a certain amount, including in relation to digital campaigning. These are then made available for public scrutiny. The Government have explained that this requirement on campaigners to submit more detailed invoices or receipts about digital activity would need to be looked at carefully, as the detail provided is determined by the suppliers themselves, not the recipient. It could therefore prove difficult and burdensome for campaigners to comply with these additional requirements.

Similarly, Amendment 62 would require all campaigners promoting paid political advertising, and not the online platforms, to maintain a library of those advertisements, with specified information, for at least 10 years. I understand where the noble Lord is coming from, but we have explained that in our view this risks adding an unreasonable burden on campaigners, particularly smaller groups that rely on volunteers, or groups that are established only for the lifetime of a particular campaign. It is also not clear that there is a sufficient case for regulation in relation to political advert libraries, given, as the noble Lord acknowledged, that major platforms such as Facebook, Google and YouTube already make available libraries of political advertising that they host.

My response to Amendment 61 will focus on paid-for political advertising, as defined by Clauses 41 and 42, rather than other electronic material, as defined by Clauses 43 and 44, given that other electronic material is relevant only to UK-based entities anyway, with the exception of registered overseas electors who have also registered as third-party campaigners. The Government agree with the principle that there should be strict limitations on ineligible entities overseas spending money campaigning during UK elections, including on digital advertising.

Clause 25 will already remove the scope for any legal spending by foreign or otherwise ineligible third-party campaigners above a £700 de minimis limit. This is a huge reduction, given that those same actors can currently spend up to £20,000 legally during the regulated period in England, or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Further to this, by requiring an imprint on all paid-for electronic campaigning material, regardless of where in the world it comes from, the digital imprint regime will already greatly improve transparency of political advertising from overseas actors. For any material that is published in breach of the imprint rules, the enforcement authorities are able to require the relevant social media platform to take down the material.

Strict controls on spending and clear transparency about origin are essential. But I cannot agree to a fast-considered and potentially disproportionate blanket ban on all political material from foreign actors within scope of the digital imprint regime. We would need again to examine carefully the implications and practicalities of enforcement and restrictions on freedom of speech to avoid any risk of unintended consequences.

I turn to Amendment 65. The Government remain concerned that this amendment includes no reference to intent and that the proposed new clause, as drafted, could criminalise unintentionally false statements. It could, therefore, be very broadly applied. It could also discourage people from raising any legitimate concerns for fear of a statement being considered false. This offence could potentially provide broad powers to clamp down on anyone who expresses genuine concerns about the process of an election. Overall, we believe that this clause could have unintended but potentially severe implications for freedom of speech.

I reassure the noble Lord that the Government take electoral disinformation and misinformation very seriously, but we believe that these are best addressed through non-legislative measures, such as the counter-disinformation unit to which the noble Lord referred and which was explained during our debate in Committee. Any regulation must be balanced with the need to protect freedom of expression and the legitimate public debate which is crucial to a thriving democracy.

The response on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is one of disappointment, but I thank him for his amendments. I hope that I have brought some clarity to the questions raised. I hope he feels able to withdraw Amendment 58, although I acknowledge that he will pursue certain matters on another Bill.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 59, tabled by my noble friend Lord Hodgson. The Government entirely agree that it is right that third-party groups campaigning at elections should be transparent and clearly identifiable. This is why the digital imprints regime will require recognised third-party campaigners to declare who they are when promoting relevant online campaigning material to the public, including but not limited to their websites. Where third-party campaigners use their websites to campaign, as defined by Clause 43, an imprint will be required. Promoters will be required to ensure that the imprint—or access to it—is retained as part of the material, if it is moved on. Where promoters comply with the digital imprint rules by adding an imprint in material displayed on their website, the imprint will be visible for as long as the material is available to the public online and remains in scope of the rules.

I know that my noble friend is not convinced that it is sufficient that third-party campaigners are already publicly listed on the Electoral Commission’s website. We believe that the current rules, supplemented by the new digital imprint rules, will provide increased transparency and identify recognised third parties. There are specific problems about the construction of this amendment, which I have discussed with my noble friend. As currently drafted, the amendment would create a new offence but does not specify a penalty for its commission or any statutory defences against the charge. Further, and I am sure this is entirely inadvertent, the amendment is drafted such that any website owned and operated by a recognised third-party campaigner—for example, a large charity which might have many different websites—would be captured, even if it were unrelated to the campaigning activities for which the third party is registered. It could lead to a disproportionate application of criminal liability. These proposals would need further discussion with third-party campaigners and potential enforcement authorities. Digital regulation is a complex area. Few have thought about it more than either the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, or my noble friend. But these digital imprint provisions were consulted on publicly—twice.

My noble friend is not entirely enamoured of the letter I wrote to him recently to assure him that the Government will continue to keep the transparency of digital campaigning under review. I underline this commitment. I assure my noble friend and the House that I will ask my officials to engage with the Electoral Commission to consider whether my noble friend’s proposal could be included as best practice for third-party campaigners, which the House has agreed to secure, in the commission’s guidance.

With these assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will feel reassured to some degree by the clarifications that I have been able to give and withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I really need to add very little to what he has said. It is very difficult to see why there should be opposition to a requirement that political parties should have

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

The Government’s answer to this, which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, gave in Committee, is that there has to be a balance. It is clear, however, that where the balance is now is not satisfactory, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, there have been a series of donations to all political parties that have been not to the credit of the parties, not good for their reputations and not good for the reputation for cleanliness of our politics.

As I understand the position, the Government have not ruled out acting on the recommendations of the Electoral Commission and the Committee on Standards in Public Life, but regard this as a complicated matter—perhaps it is—and need more time to work on it. If the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, seeks to test the opinion of the House, I will support him. I would be gratefully comforted, however, if not only the Minister but the spokespeople for the other political parties said tonight that they duly take this issue seriously and regard donations from foreign sources and people who want to influence our politics in an unhealthy way as a growing danger to our politics. If the spokespeople for the parties and the Government will say that they take this seriously, and the Government do not rule out acting on the recommendations of the Electoral Commission and the Committee on Standards in Public Life in due course, I will be very comforted.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I was thinking that others would wish to intervene, but that does not appear to be the case.

These are important amendments, but I shall not encourage anyone to think that the Government will accept them. The context is a shared concern about dirty money, a phrase that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, used. I do not think any Government have been stronger in response to the Russian invasion, or in bearing down on oligarchs, than this Government. However, following our robust debate in Committee, I am pleased that we are again returning to this important issue of political donations. I do listen to contributions of noble Lords and these debates will certainly serve as a key reference point for the Government as they keep rules on political donations under review, to ensure that they continue to provide an effective safeguard that protects the integrity of our political system. In that context, the Bill bears down very heavily on foreign donations and makes them much harder.

Turing to the specific amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, Amendment 63 would remove the rights of overseas electors to make political donations. Amendment 69B would place a £7,500 limit on any donation or series of donations from overseas electors. I fear that many will not be surprised when I reiterate that the Government cannot support these amendments, as we intend to uphold the long-standing principle, first introduced by the Committee on Standards in Public Life itself in 1998, that if you are eligible to vote for a party, you are also eligible to donate to that party. These amendments would overturn that principle by removing the right of overseas electors to donate. Overseas electors are British citizens who have the right to vote and, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, the Labour Party has acknowledged that for many years. They are reasonable participants in our democracy. Furthermore, due to the interaction of Amendment 69B and the existing legislation, there would be no provision for either the return of donations exceeding the £7,500 threshold or the reporting of such donations to the Electoral Commission. This leaves a significant gap, which means that the amendment would simply not have the intended impact.

The Government do not support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, to which I listened carefully. It was fair for him to set out his case because he wishes to establish an independent committee to report on the creation of a foundation for democracy. The concept here, however, which is where agreement falls away, is that he submits that this body should be responsible for collecting all donations made to registered political parties and mandatorily allocating them based on membership and vote share at certain elections. The Government can find no justification for this amendment and believe it would place unreasonable restrictions on an individual’s freedom to donate to the political party of their choosing. It would go against the fundamental principle of allowing members of the public to get involved in our democracy by giving their support, be it at the ballot box, via a cup of coffee or via donations, to any party or parties that they choose.

Moreover, this proposal would risk disproportionately penalising smaller parties, which may not have such high levels of membership and vote share as the larger parties, but form an integral part of our democracy. Indeed, it is not clear to me how any new parties would emerge under the noble Lord’s system, as they would not be able to fundraise for themselves and would therefore struggle to get their message out to the public to encourage members to join and voters to support them in the future. The Government are therefore simply not convinced that there is a demand or evidence to support the noble Lord’s radical idea; nor do we think it necessary to establish an independent committee to come to this conclusion. Should other parliamentarians share the noble Lord’s view, the existing framework of parliamentary committees obviously provides an ideal place to consider the proposal further, so I urge the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Next, I turn to Amendments 66 and 68, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, which address a similar theme. Amendment 66 would seek to cap donations that any one individual or organisation can make to a political party to 5% of that party’s maximum campaign expenditure limit at the preceding election. This cap would apply to all donors, whether individuals or organisations, such as trade unions for example. What effect would it have on a large trade union donation?

Amendment 68 would require the Government to publish a report on proposals to establish state funding of political parties and limitations on private donations. In essence, the noble Baroness and the noble Lord are seeking the Government’s views on these two fundamental principles. I will underline our position.

First, fundraising is a legitimate part of the democratic process. Consequently, there is no cap on political donations to parties, candidates and other types of campaigner but, instead, strict limits on what they can spend on regulated campaign activity during elections. These maintain a level playing field in elections. In particular, the noble Baroness’s amendment has the potential to create a very uneven and complicated playing field. Under the proposal, each political party will have different amounts it can fundraise, given that spending limits are calculated according to the number of constituencies it contests. New political parties in particular, again, would be affected and this change could encourage quite unnatural growth, whereby new parties are incentivised to contest seats they have no intention of winning to give them a more competitive funding limit in the next cycle. I will not be drawn on what percentage of a party’s overall donation might be permitted because the Government simply do not accept that there should be such a percentage figure.

Secondly, there is absolutely no public support for expanding the level of public funding already available to political parties. The Government are not going to go down that road.

Finally, I wish to address Amendment 69, retabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. This would introduce requirements, as he said, for registered parties to carry out risk assessments and due-diligence checks on donations. Only those with a legitimate interest in UK elections can make political donations and there are strict rules requiring companies making donations to be both incorporated and carrying out business in the UK. Parties must check that companies meet these criteria. It is also an offence to circumvent the rules through proxy donors—for example, an impermissible donor seeking to make a donation through a company that is itself a permissible donor. Political parties must already report all donations over a certain value to the Electoral Commission, which are then published online for public scrutiny.

The Government have heard the concerns that donors may seek to evade the rules and, in principle, the point of strengthening the system to provide greater levels of assurance on the sources of donations to ensure they are permissible and legitimate is important. Indeed, the Government recently published, ahead of introducing necessary legislation, the Corporate Transparency and Register Reform White Paper.

Reforms to Companies House will deliver more reliably accurate information on the companies register by introducing mandatory identity verification for people who manage or control companies and other UK-registered entities, providing greater powers for Companies House to query and challenge the information it receives, and introducing more effective investigation and enforcement powers for Companies House. This, in combination with a new power for the Companies House registrar proactively to pass on relevant information to law enforcement and other public and regulatory bodies, including the Electoral Commission, will indirectly support the enforcement of the rules on donations by providing greater confidence in the accuracy of the data held at Companies House, including when seeking information on UK-registered companies and other UK-registered entities that have made political donations.

The Government have not dismissed the fact that this is a significant area, which is why we are instituting these reforms to corporate transparency, but for the reasons I have outlined to the House on various amendments, I urge that noble Lords consider not pressing their amendments.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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Before the Minister sits down, may I confirm what he said? I wrote down his words: “The Government do not accept that there should be a percentage limit.” On the percentage of contribution from one person or organisation to a political party’s campaign, would the Minister confirm that the Government believe it appropriate for 100% of the funding for a political party’s campaign to come from one source or organisation?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, again, I think that is a false question. In our democracy an independent person is entitled to stand in a constituency, for a cause that he or she believes in, and may choose to fund that campaign. Nobody else may want to give any money. That would be an example of 100% funding of a campaign by a small campaign or individual. There are complexities here, and the fundamental position to stand on is that in free democracy, people should be able to make a contribution of whatever sort they choose, provided it is permissible and legal.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been very clear from the debate we have just had and the other amendments that have been discussed, as well as my Amendment 63, that there are some really broad concerns about political donations, electoral finance and the procedures and systems that underpin and manage this. I urge the Government to take away those concerns more broadly and consider how they may be addressed in the future.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, I thought I had made it really clear, both in Committee and in my opening remarks today, that we are very concerned about the potential for dirty money infiltrating and influencing our political system. If I was not clear, I am very happy to confirm that we do have those very deep concerns.

I thank the Minister for his very detailed response, but I disagree with him that the Bill makes it harder to make overseas donations. Instead, our concern is that part of removing the 15-year limit actually makes it easier for people from foreign locations to donate to our political system. We are concerned that often it allows very wealthy donors unlimited access to our democracy, through what we could see to be unprecedentedly large donations. That is our big concern with this and why we have put this amendment forward. To avoid that kind of outside influence in our democracy, the right to make those kinds of donations should be reserved for citizens actually living in this country.

As I say, I thank the Minister for his detailed response, but do not believe he has addressed the real concerns expressed by us and other Members who have taken part in the debate. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House on my Amendment 63.

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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.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for his support and for his excellent speech. I thank the Minister for his response, although I am sure he will not be surprised to hear that it is not a response that I am particularly happy with or happy to accept. This issue has concerned a lot of people in recent weeks and months, and the Government need to take the position of non-dom status very seriously and look at it again. On that basis, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

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Moved by
69C: Before Clause 61, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of operation of Act
(1) The Secretary of State must, within the review period—(a) prepare a report on the operation of this Act,(b) publish the report, and(c) lay a copy of the report before Parliament.(2) In subsection (1), “the review period” is the period—(a) beginning with the fourth anniversary of the day on which this Act is passed, and(b) ending with the fifth anniversary of that day.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a review of the operation of this legislation, not less than 4 and not more than 5 years after it receives Royal Assent.
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 69D. I believe both amendments are significant to the House and I hope it will reflect on their importance, because I know there are aspects of the Bill that have concerned Members on all sides of the House. The amendment establishes a statutory duty for post-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, something that has been asked for, certainly by the noble Baroness opposite.

We had believed, and I maintain, that it is standard practice to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of Acts following Royal Assent, but we have listened to the strength of interest in guaranteeing that scrutiny takes place which will go across the Bill and we have tabled this amendment requiring the Secretary of State to prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a review of the operation of this legislation, not less than four and not more than five years after it receives Royal Assent—in other words, in good time. We judge that this amendment supports the commonly shared aim of this House, and answers the recommendation made by PACAC, that the impact of the measures be assessed following implementation of the Bill.

The amendment also sets out that a report by the Secretary of State will need to be set before Parliament to allow debate and scrutiny of the operation of the Act, as your Lordships have asked. Amendment 69D is a minor and technical amendment necessary to state the territorial extent of paragraphs 25 and 26 of Schedule 1. I hope the House will understand that I wish to place on record in Hansard that I think this is a significant proposal from the Government which will allow and ensure statutory consideration and examination of the Bill as a whole if it is given Royal Assent. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, in Committee I tabled Amendment 205 to ask the Government to include in the Bill a statutory commitment to post-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, as recommended by PACAC. I want to say very briefly how much I welcome the amendments that the Minister has just introduced and to thank him very much for listening to my concerns and the concerns of other Members of this House about the lack of pre-legislative consultation or scrutiny. The fact that this has been included in the Bill is extremely welcome.

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Moved by
69D: Clause 64, page 67, line 18, after “24” insert “, 27”
Member’s explanatory statement
This minor and technical amendment ensures that the territorial extent of amendments to Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 made by Schedule 1 to the Bill is correctly stated.
Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I will first make a statement on the legislative consent process in relation to the Elections Bill. The provisions in the Bill will considerably strengthen the delivery of UK parliamentary general elections and other reserved polls. There has been open and positive engagement between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations in the development of the measures in the Bill. For a number of measures, coherence and consistency across both devolved and reserved polls was considered beneficial to providing electors with clarity and ensuring operability for electoral administrators and those regulated by electoral law.

To deliver those benefits, we sought legislative consent from the Scottish and Welsh Governments. Given that both the Scottish and Welsh Governments expressed support in principle for a number of areas within the Bill, we are disappointed by their request to remove all aspects that relate to devolved matters. Nevertheless, we respected that request and tabled ahead of Committee the necessary amendments to ensure that the Bill as a whole applies only to reserved—and excepted, as it relates to Northern Ireland—matters. This affects measures relating to the Electoral Commission, intimidation, clarification of undue influence and political finance.

I note that the Welsh Government have subsequently laid a supplementary LCM in which they disagree with the devolution analysis for the digital imprints and intimidation proposals. The UK Government’s position is that our legislation on these issues is reserved and does not engage the legislative consent process. Nevertheless, we note that the Welsh Government are supportive in principle of our proposals in these areas.

While divergence is a natural consequence of devolution, the Government welcome the indication given by both the Scottish and Welsh Governments that they will consider legislating comparably across a number of areas. UK Ministers remain committed to working closely with their counterparts as they develop their legislative proposals to deliver the best outcome for voters, the electoral sector and those regulated by electoral law.

In moving that the Bill do now pass, it may be helpful if I make a couple of remarks at this point, although I do not know whether it is conventional to do so at the start or the finish. I know that all of us on all sides of this House, as has been evident in our debates, share a common desire to keep our elections secure, fair, transparent and up to date so that our democracy can continue to thrive. That, in essence, is what the Bill has been about.

I am grateful to all noble Lords across the House who have engaged in debating the substance of the Bill for their most robust scrutiny, which has gone up to the very last seconds. I thank both opposition Benches for their sustained interest and engagement, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Stunell, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Scriven, who is not here. I am never quite sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is a sub or actually on the Front Bench, but anyway he has played a challenging and useful role.

Obviously, I particularly thank Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and the Front Bench opposite: the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Khan, who is coming back into the Chamber just in time for his ears to burn, if they can burn in—it is Burnley, is it not?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I thought it was. I thank those noble Lords for their constructive interest in and engagement with these measures. We have not always agreed—sometimes we have—but I have been grateful for their willingness to work with this side and our Bill team on these matters. As a result of this willingness to reach compromises around the House, the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House improved and strengthened.

On our Benches, I thank my noble friends Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Hayward and Lady Noakes for their input, which has led to amendments that I also believe have enhanced the legislation. I am astonishingly grateful to my noble friend Lady Scott, who seems to step into every breach when I fall or, if you like, am not sufficient. She has such an impressive capacity to pick up the technical issues and work at pace, and I have been so grateful to her for her good humour and tireless work. It is much appreciated. I also thank my noble friend Lord Howe, who is not here, for stepping into the breach when I unfortunately had my lights punched out by a Covid headache and worse. I fell short then of a promise to all noble Lords that I would be here every hour of every debate. Of course, that could not be helped, but I assure your Lordships, as someone who likes to live up to his word, that it will be a source of annoyance when I look back on this.

Finally, we all want to go, but I cannot let anyone go—I know that people on all sides of the House understand this—without mentioning the extraordinary hard work of the Bill team and the policy officials behind the Bill, many of whom have worked for what may seem like half a lifetime to them on preparing it and putting it together. There are so many of them that it would be invidious to name them all, but many of your Lordships have had direct personal contact with them. They have been enormously professional, good humoured and patient—which you have to be if you work with me—and have lived up to the very highest standards of the UK Civil Service and the quality of public service that we all admire. So, my final thanks are to them.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, perhaps I may remark to my noble friend Lord Rennard and the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, that in the process of this Bill I have appreciated that it is possible to be quite astonishingly, nerdishly expert on the details of elections to the degree to which the two of them and one or two of our colleagues on the Labour Benches are. That goes far beyond my limited experience, having fought only five elections in my life. They really understand the details in all sorts of ways. I have done some of my electioneering in some of the more difficult parts of the United Kingdom.

I thank the many pro-democracy organisations that have helped and advised us and lobbied about the Bill as it has gone through: Best for Britain, Unlock Democracy, the Electoral Reform Society, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Democracy Defence Coalition. I particularly thank Elizabeth Plummer in our Whips’ Office, who has done superb work with others around the House to make sure that the amendments are there on time.

It is difficult to welcome this Bill. It came to the House accompanied by a number of very critical reports, including one from the constitutional affairs committee of the House of Commons, which said that the Bill in its current form was not fit for purpose. We have improved it a little—we now face ping-pong on some of those improvements—but it is still not entirely what is needed.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, rather powerfully, this is a constitutional Bill on which there was an absence of cross-party consultation or consensus on the fundamentals of our constitutional democracy—that is a worry. We will have to return to this. The next Parliament, whenever it comes, will have to undertake the job of simplifying and clarifying electoral law, which is what we should have been doing—and have failed to do—with this Bill. Perhaps there are some improvements, and there are certainly some necessary changes in this Bill. There are a number of other areas which we on these Benches bitterly regret and, for that, I can make only moderate thanks to the Minister and the Bill team for what has been achieved.

We believe that my Amendment 6 and Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, are compatible with Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. I commend the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts; if he tests the opinion of the House, we will support it.
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to those who have spoken. In case I forget it, I will take up right at the start the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about post-legislative scrutiny; she has made it before. As I have said from the Dispatch Box and in our engagement, it is something on which the Government are reflecting.

If the proposition put by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to leave out Clause 1 and Schedule 1 is accepted, your Lordships’ House will be saying to the other place, in striking out the whole proposition, that noble Lords find it perfectly reasonable for photographic identification to be required in our society for travelling, picking up a parcel and being allowed to drive but not for choosing Members of another place. That is the message your Lordships would send to another place, which has sent us this Bill with its approval.

As has been said by a number of those who have spoken, this topic has been discussed exhaustively in both Houses at almost every single stage of the passage of the Bill. This is not the first time that we have seen these amendments so I will keep my speech on the main points short; however, I will answer the detailed amendments that have been put forward.

The Government’s position on this debate has not changed. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, acknowledged, introducing a requirement to show identification to vote in polling stations was a manifesto commitment, was discussed during the election and is an issue in which the Government believe strongly. In our submission, voter identification is part of a series of measures that will help to prevent fraud and abuse taking place at polling stations.

There are issues of climate and balance, both of which were spoken to wisely by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. We have thought carefully about these matters and believe that this is a reasonable and proportionate measure. I want to reassure the Chamber again that everyone who is eligible to vote will continue to have the opportunity to vote.

In an impressive speech that should give food for thought to a number of us, my noble friend Lady Verma asked whether the voter card was only for people without other accepted forms of identification. It is certainly in the interests of accessibility and helping people to vote and intended for those without other accepted ID, but there is no restriction on anyone applying for the free voter card, as long as they are registered or have applied to be. Cards will be available free of charge from each elector’s local authority for any elector who does not have one of the wide range of accepted forms of identification that the Government are already proposing—not unrecognisable identification, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, claimed, but yes, expired identification if it is recognisable.

Similar measures have been in place across the world and in this country; Northern Ireland has had photographic voter identification since 2003, when it was brought in by the Labour Government of the time. As I have said before, we submit that this is part of an essential suite of measures to ensure that our democracy continues to be effectively protected from fraud. The Government therefore cannot support an amendment to remove these propositions.

I will address specifically the various amendments that fall short of the total rejection of the proposition of photo identification. I think the noble Lord, Lord Desai, would fairly acknowledge that his speech was not entirely welcome to some in the House, but he spoke one truth that was picked up by my noble friend Lady Verma. He said he saw no reason why anyone should be put off by having to show photographic identification, and we agree with him on that.

The noble Lord’s Amendment 2 would provide that the Electoral Commission should be responsible for issuing voter cards, rather than individual EROs. Amendment 3 would say that voter cards should be issued automatically to all eligible electors rather than just those who apply for them, and Amendment 4 has specific details that should be on the cards. Collectively, they would make a significant change to our voter identification policy. By including significantly more personal information and mandating that they be issued unilaterally to the entire electorate for relevant elections, the noble Lord’s proposition would in effect become tantamount to a national identity card. He is very happy about that, as indeed is the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, but this is not something that the Government intend in any way in these propositions or have plans to introduce, and therefore—I regret to tell the noble Lord, Lord Desai—not something we can support.

I now turn to Amendments 5 to 7, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, regarding alternative options for voters to prove their identity at polling stations. The Government cannot support these amendments either, as they would open the way to use of documents that are less secure than those in the list we have put before your Lordships.

The first suggestion, in Amendment 6, is that an elector could prove their identity by showing any document issued to them by their local authority or returning officer that shows their name and address, or their poll card. This is not something we can support. Few, if any, such documents will show a photograph of the elector, so they cannot be used simply and easily to prove at the polling station that the bearer of the document is who they say they are. Such documents could easily be intercepted—particularly in places of multiple occupation, for example—and could give false legitimacy to a potential personator.

Allowing any documents issued by local authorities or returning officers would also open significant avenues for forgery, for a forger would simply need to copy the letterhead from correspondence, which would be straightforward to extract from an electronic version emailed to them by their local authority.

Similarly—and I know the noble Baroness feels strongly about this, and I understand her feelings about it—permitting attestation at polling stations is not something this Government can support. Again, all attestation would leave open an avenue for electoral fraud, and potentially expose legitimate electors to a situation which I know from our previous debates everyone in this House wishes to prevent, where an elector could be intimidated or coerced into breaking the law to falsely vouch for a person.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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The Minister mentions attestation, but this Bill specifically introduces at a later stage the allowing of attestation for overseas voters to get on the electoral roll, so I cannot see why he is quite so concerned about this.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am explaining to the House why we are concerned in this particular context. I would have thought the noble Lord, having listened to the speech by my noble friend Lady Verma, might feel there is something in what she said.

I wish to reassure your Lordships that our intention remains to realise our ambition that the last possible point at which electors can apply for a voter card will be 5pm the day ahead of a poll. We consider that this too should reduce the need for attestation. Up to 5pm the day before a poll, the card will be available.

I now turn to Amendment 8 laid by my noble friend Lord Willetts—others have supported it. It suggests an even wider number of new documents that could be used as a form of identification at the polling station. This too is a topic debated at length in both Houses, and the other place settled on the propositions we have before us.

As I have already discussed, the majority of these suggestions do not show a photograph of the elector and so cannot provide the appropriate level of proof that the bearer is who they say they are. Looking further down the list in Amendment 8 at some of the suggestions which do display photographs, I wish to reassure noble Lords that the list of identification was developed with both security and accessibility in mind—this point was addressed by my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts in his thoughtful speech. Unfortunately, some of the forms of identity listed in my noble friend’s amendment are not sufficiently secure for this purpose.

We cannot permit any workplace ID or student ID card, as we cannot be sure of how rigorous the process is to issue these documents. The 18+ student Oyster photocard and the National Rail card have also been suggested before—unfortunately, currently, the process for applying for these documents is insufficiently secure for the purposes of voting. The final suggestion on the list is the Young Scot National Entitlement Card. This card is accredited by PASS, the National Proof of Age Standards Scheme, and so will already be accepted as proof of identity under the current proposed legislation.

Should further forms of photo identification become available and—I stress this—be sufficiently secure, I reassure the House that the Bill already makes provision, in paragraph 18(4)(1Q) of Schedule 1, for the list to be amended so that additional identification can be added or removed as necessary without the need for further primary legislation.

In summary, taken together, these amendments would weaken the security of our elections and the propositions that we have put before your Lordships. Therefore, they are not something we can support. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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I apologise for intervening again, as we are trying to get on with this, but I did ask a specific question. What, if any, estimate have the Government made of the effect of these proposals on turnout in elections? If they have not made any estimate of that, why not?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Government’s objective—as indeed is the objective of anybody who practices the art of politics—is to achieve the highest number going to the polling station. The noble Lord knows well that turnout is not affected by any specific institution or object; turnout varies according to the electors’ very broad perceptions of the state of politics. If the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, were standing as a candidate in the constituency in which I was living, I would flock—if an individual can flock—to the poll to vote for him; I might not for others. Turnout is contingent, but the Government’s desire is to see as many people as possible voting. That is why the photo ID card will be free and why the Electoral Commission will operate a major national publicity campaign from next year to ensure that people are fully aware of it.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I will be very brief, because we need to make progress. I just say that, clearly, we are aware that there have been issues with postal vote fraud, and it is important the Government do everything they can to tackle this. However, I understand the concerns so clearly laid out by my noble friend Lady Quin, who makes some good points about potential unintended consequences of these changes. I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s response and his reassurance on these matters.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for her kind remarks, and I apologise that she did not get a response. I assure her that I was horrified when I went into my office this morning and found her letter there, but I did not have a forwarding arrangement to my sick bed, I am afraid. I understand that the purpose of the clause that she wants to remove is to seek to strengthen the current arrangements for applying for a postal vote. It is not intended to in any way attack the principle of the postal vote.

The noble Baroness asked about evidence. The Electoral Commission winter tracker for 2021 found that 21% of people who were asked thought that postal voting was unsafe compared to 68% who thought it was safe. There has been evidence of postal voting fraud reported in Tower Hamlets, Slough, Birmingham and Peterborough among other places, but that does not invalidate the case for postal voting itself. What the Government are proposing is to facilitate online application, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said we are doing. Our intention, as with other elements in this Bill, is to improve safeguards against potential abuse.

As the noble Baroness acknowledged, the set of measures implements recommendations in the report by my noble friend Lord Pickles—he has appeared behind me—into electoral fraud that address weaknesses in the current absent voting arrangements. Also, a 2019 report by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee gave support to the proposed voting reforms. The proposal is to require an elector to reapply at least every three years, and that will enable the electoral registration officer to regularly assess the application and confirm that they are still an eligible elector. Also, it gives an opportunity, as I said at an earlier stage of the Bill, for someone caught in a cycle of coercion, or who is coerced into having a postal vote to enable their vote to be influenced on an ongoing basis, to break out of that situation. It makes it harder to maintain ongoing coercion.

Keeping details more up to date will reduce wasted costs of postal votes being sent to out-of-date addresses where, again, there may be risk of abuse. Under the Bill, there will also be transitional provisions for existing long-term postal voters, and we intend to phase in the measure for them so that they will have advanced notice to enable them to prepare for the administrative change. EROs will be required to send a reminder to existing postal voters in advance of the date they cease to have a postal vote and provide information to them on how to reapply for it, including online. We believe this is an important measure that could strengthen the integrity of postal voting and not undermine it in any way.

I will of course reflect on the points the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, made in the debate. I was surprised to hear him accepting responsibility; I thought he accepted responsibility only for defeating Conservative candidates at elections. But I will take that admission as well.

Postal voting remains an important part of our electoral system. We do not believe that moving from five to three years, for reasons including those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, would invalidate the position, and I hope the reassurance I have given, and the supporting evidence, plus the reports and recommendations I have cited, will enable the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Quin Portrait Baroness Quin (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am still somewhat concerned about the possible effects of these measures, but I am encouraged by the Minister’s words that the Government in no way want to discourage postal voting and they see it as an important part of our electoral processes. I just hope that the Government will look at the evidence as the situation progresses. In the light of what has been said, and in the interests of making progress, I wish to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
10: Clause 7, page 10, line 33, leave out “a local government election in Scotland or Wales” and insert “an election in Scotland or Wales under the local government Act”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment fixes a minor drafting issue in relation to references to local government elections.
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 10 to 18, 20 to 25, 47 and 50 tabled in my name. Apart from Amendments 20 to 25, these are all technical amendments to ensure consistency with the way in which local government elections are currently referred to in the Representation of the People Act 1983. The relevant provisions under Part 2 of the 1983 Act refer to

“an election under the local government Act”

rather than using the term “local government election”, and these proposed amendments therefore reflect the more appropriate terminology to use. They will also ensure that earlier amendments applying these matters to reserved elections only meet that stated aim.

Finally, due to earlier amendments to ensure that the modernised undue influence offence applies only to reserved and excepted elections, amendments in Schedule 5 which currently cross-refer to Section 115 of the 1983 Act should instead refer to the new Section 114A. Technical Amendments 20 to 25 will correct this to ensure that the amendments made by the schedule function as intended. I hope that noble Lords will be able to support those amendments. I beg to move.

Amendment 10 agreed.
Moved by
11: Clause 7, page 10, line 38, leave out “a local government election in England” and insert “an election in England under the local government Act”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.
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Moved by
12: Clause 8, page 11, line 10, leave out “is guilty of undue influence if the person” and insert “(“P”) is guilty of undue influence if P”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes a minor change to the terminology used in new section 114A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (undue influence), consequent on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.
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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I, too, have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. Certainly, this is a matter of concern. I will stress a point he has made: the law is clear, and there is no ambiguity about that. So, if there is an issue, I think it is a matter that the Minister should raise with the Electoral Commission.

Over the many years that I have been campaigning, I have been in no doubt about the authority of the police who patrol around polling stations. It is absolutely clear. One of the things that worries me about the amendment is that it is not necessarily going to clarify something which I think is clear in law. I think it is the responsibility of the Minister to make this clear to the Electoral Commission. The police should have that responsibility; they do not need the advice of the Electoral Commission to apply the law, which, as the noble Lord said, has been there for hundreds of years.

So I hope that the Minister, when he responds, will be very clear that the law needs to be applied and that there is no doubt about it. If there is ambiguity from the Electoral Commission, I hope that the Minister will point it out to it.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this subject forward again. I know he strikes a chord with all of us on all sides of the House. It is an important issue. There is an important principle which underpins these concerns, and I agree with the noble Lord opposite that the law is clear. Indeed, in the material sent out for the Tower Hamlets elections in May 2022, the guidance to electors states:

“Under no circumstances are family members and/or friends permitted to assist each other when casting their vote in the polling booth”.


That is clearly the position.

A person’s vote is theirs and theirs alone. I have said before in this House that it is completely unacceptable in the 21st century that women—and it is normally women—experience pressures from family members in the way that we have seen. The Government fully share the feelings of Members who have spoken about the importance of ensuring that this is firmly stamped out from our elections. Secrecy of the ballot is fundamental, and I state unequivocally that the current law requires that voters should not be accompanied by another person at a polling booth except in specific circumstances, such as being a formal companion or a member of staff.

The Electoral Commission issues guidance to returning officers and their staff to support them in upholding the integrity of the process. The Electoral Commission guidance specifically advises polling station staff that they should make sure that voters go to polling booths individually, so that their right to a secret vote is protected. The Electoral Commission will update its existing guidance as necessary, in light of new Clause 8 in the Bill, which extends secrecy protections to postal and proxy voting.

As my noble friend asked when we last discussed this, given the important concerns that have been raised on voting secrecy, Minister Badenoch wrote to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police, as my noble friend acknowledged, to confirm our common understanding of the position in law that the only people who should provide assistance at a polling booth are polling station staff and companions who are doing so only for the purposes of supporting an elector with health and/or accessibility issues which need such support. That is the position.

My noble friend spoke about the concerns he still has on the ongoing integrity of elections in Tower Hamlets. However, I hope that having seen the swift commitment of my honourable friend Minister Badenoch to take this issue up, he will be assured that there is and will be a concerted effort to ensure that the integrity of those elections can be upheld and that the law can be upheld everywhere. I know that my noble friend was not satisfied with elements of the Electoral Commission’s response, but I hope very much that the commission will examine what has been said in your Lordships’ House today and reflect on the points put forward. In that light, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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Moved by
20: Schedule 5, page 113, line 14, leave out “115” and insert “114A”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment updates a reference to the provision in the Representation of the People Act 1983 relating to undue influence in parliamentary elections, in consequence of amendments made to Clause 8 during Committee stage.
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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, we very much welcome and support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and thank him for so clearly laying out their importance in his introduction. I also congratulate him and my noble friend Lord Blunkett on their continued work and persistence on this matter.

We welcome that these amendments will mean that, for the first time, the Electoral Commission would be tasked by law to create specific guidance to address the needs of blind and partially sighted and other disabled voters at the ballot box. This is long overdue. We strongly urge the Minister to accept these amendments and hope that he will look on them favourably.

However, as other noble Lords have mentioned, the RNIB has raised concerns with some of us, so I would be grateful if the Minister could provide clarification and reassurance on some issues that have not been raised so far. The first question it asks is this: how do the Government anticipate

“such equipment as it is reasonable to provide for the purposes of enabling, or making it easier for, relevant persons to vote”

independently being interpreted? How do they see the interpretation of that phrase? The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, mentioned that the RNIB is concerned that we must not go backwards. Its concern on this is that “making it easier” to vote is still weaker than the right to vote “without any assistance”, as in the current wording.

It would also be helpful if the Minister could look at how this would be managed going forward, including availability and the cost of the provision of equipment for returning officers and how that would be supported at local government level. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm the body that he anticipates will fund individual items of equipment provided in polling stations. I am not sure whether the Government currently provide the funding for the tactile template—I am sure other noble Lords know. Again, it would be helpful to know if that is currently the case. Obviously, we need to have certainty in these areas, because the last thing we want to see is a legal challenge if the expected equipment is not provided.

In summary, we welcome these amendments and urge the Minister to accept them. We thank all noble Lords for an important debate and, again, thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for pushing this and bringing it to this stage.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for their general welcome and support for the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Holmes. I can tell the House that the Government are very pleased to be able to accept these amendments. I pay tribute to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for their hard endeavours in helping us to improve accessibility measures in the Bill. It has been quite a pleasant operation for me to return to my old office, which I used to share with my noble friend Lord Holmes, and see a couple of my pictures still hanging on the wall—I had forgotten about those. I thank those who have spoken and am grateful for the kind words said by many, including the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. There was one slightly discordant note from the Green group, but a great effort has been put into working together to find a solution that works for all parties.

We have been clear from the outset that the Government’s intention with these changes is to improve the accessibility of elections. My noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, have understood our policy intentions and introduced welcome changes that complement and improve them. These amendments will introduce specific reference to supporting disabled voters to vote independently and secretly through the provision of assistive equipment by returning officers. While the existing drafting of the duty to support disabled voters would undoubtedly have facilitated the provision of suitable equipment for this purpose, this amendment will underline the importance of equipment to enable or make it easier for voters to vote independently and secretly, where that is practicable.

My noble friend specifically asked me—as, I gather, did the RNIB, which I took great pleasure in meeting in the course of these discussions—to clarify “enable” and “make it easier” in practice. His understanding is precisely right in terms of what the people who drafted this are seeking to achieve. The Government see it as fundamental that we recognise the variations in what people need in order to be able to vote, so that they may access the most appropriate support for each of them. The use of both the terms—“enable” and “make it easier”—reflects the fact that the duty relates to the provision of equipment for those who find it impossible to vote under rule 37 and for those who can do so but find it difficult due to their disability, as per the definition of “relevant person”, which covers both. For those who would otherwise find it impossible to vote independently, appropriate equipment might enable them to do so, but for those who are able but find it difficult to vote due to their disabilities, we also want them to be supported by provision of equipment that would mitigate the difficulties, making it easier. As such, having “make it easier” in the clause does not result in an either/or situation or a dilution. If the amendment said only “enable”, there would be no duty to assist those who find it difficult; if the amendment said only “make it easier”, there would be no duty to assist those who simply find it impossible. The amendment is designed to ensure the widest possible assistance support, greater innovation and accessibility.

As my noble friend has said—this was something on which he was understandably insistent, and I hope it has pleased all those involved—his amendments will put on a strong statutory footing the role that the Electoral Commission will play in providing guidance about meeting this duty, which returning officers will have to have regard to. While these are things that we are confident both the commission and returning officers would have done as a matter of good practice, we welcome that these will be put on a strong and permanent statutory basis. That is why the Government have acceded to these proposals.

As I said, I recently met the RNIB and heard its concerns—which were echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister—including around the risk that guidance might not be as strong as statute and might represent the end of a conversation on accessibility that may not have disabled voters at its centre. I can say only that that conversation will continue; that is why the amendments will in fact require the Electoral Commission to consult with relevant organisations, such as the RNIB and other disability charities, in the production of the guidance and to report on the steps that returning officers have taken to assist disabled voters. This will promote accountability in the policy.

I will respond to the concerns that, without a minimum standard, there will be uncertainty about how individual returning officers decide what they deem to be reasonable. First, in requiring provision for what is reasonable, the clause imposes an objective standard rather than a subjective one. Secondly, the role and purpose of the Electoral Commission guidance will be to set out a clear framework, and therefore to promote consistency. Returning officers will have to have regard to this but the guidance will, of course, be more flexible than legislation—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—with a much more responsive capability for adding new equipment that has been developed and identified over time, without having to bring forward primary or secondary legislation each time.

The amendments make provision for a suite of duties that I hope will reassure those with concerns. I am confident that the changes represent a good move away from the limited, prescriptive approach towards more flexibility and innovation. We will look to the Electoral Commission to do its duty in consulting with organisations representing disabled voters, such as the RNIB, in producing its guidance.

I cannot specifically answer the noble Baroness’s point on funding, which, in a sense, is related to what will come out of the ongoing discussions, but I will communicate to her what I am able to on that.

I believe that this has been good work by your Lordships’ House, working in a consensual manner for a common purpose. I hope this will lead us towards a more accessible future for our elections. Again, I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes for tabling these amendments, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. The Government support them and urge the House to do so as well.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister sits down, can he say something about what the RNIB has asked for in respect of driving forward trials for innovation? I do not think he mentioned that in his speech. The RNIB is looking for an assurance from the Minister that that will stay on the table.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I infer from the debate that the RNIB has been spreading quite a lot of correspondence around your Lordships’ Chamber on these issues. I have not seen that specific letter myself, but we are acting in good faith here. The RNIB is a trusted and respected partner. I have told the House that there is a duty on the Electoral Commission to consult with it, and I said in my speech that we should move towards a future of more innovation. This was something that we were challenged on, quite rightly, by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond in his first speech on this matter. That remains the Government’s hope and expectation. This is a conversation that is going to be carried forward, not by me at this Dispatch Box or by your Lordships but under the duties set out in the amendments, hopefully to produce a better and more accessible future for all voters. I repeat that I urge the House to accept these amendments.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who participated in this evening’s debate, and particularly my noble friend the Minister for the way in which he has responded to the nine amendments set down in my name.

I believe that legislation is important. Why would we be here if it were not? These amendments put forward a transformation for inclusion, independence and secret voting for blind and partially sighted and all disabled and non-disabled people. But as with all legislation, though it is important to pass it, this is but one step on a journey. If we pass the Bill post the Easter Recess, it will be incumbent upon the Government, the Electoral Commission, the association of EROs and civil society to come together to work to make this not only compliant or of a minimum standard but a positive experience for everybody at the polling booths.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

He has had a Covid revelation.

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.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, what really struck me from the Minister’s responses was that, if the Government felt so strongly about this, why was it not in the Bill originally? If the London elections in particular caused so much of a problem, why was it not a priority? The fundamental issue is not about the principle of PR or the supplementary vote—which is not PR. It does not undermine the position of first past the post. Our concern is that this has been introduced at a late stage without any proper consultation with those most affected. This undermines the Government’s position, especially as they inserted it into the Bill at such a late stage. I beg to test the opinion of the House.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I made quite a lengthy contribution in Committee and I have no intention of repeating it—although I think there are some points that are worth emphasising.

This is not a matter of principle. In fact, the Government and Opposition are agreed that people under the settled status scheme should retain the vote they had under the EU membership we had previously. It is just that new entry to the country will stop on 1 January 2022. That is the real issue. What we have been arguing about is the fact that those who put down their roots in this country and have lived here for 25 years—or even 15 years, to use the comparison with others who are going to get the vote—have made their home here, pay their tax here, and in the main pay their council tax here are not going to have the vote if they come here and achieve settled status.

Of course, one of the things about settled status, ILR and ILE is that they all require five years of continuous residence in the UK. Is that not a good basis for offering the vote? Is that not the connection that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, mentioned? I am hesitant to quote him, because he says that I sometimes get it wrong, but I heard him say “close connection”. We should surely afford someone who has lived here continuously, made their home here and paid their tax here the right to vote and be part of the local community they live in.

I can hear the Minister say, “They can become British citizens” but, as I said in Committee, there are people who make their home here who may not wish, for many reasons, to take out British citizenship. For some, like my husband, it is because they do not want to give up their Spanish citizenship, for example, where other countries do not afford the right to dual nationality. This country does, but there are many others that do not. These people do not want to break that relationship, particularly if they have family or parents there.

This is not a matter of principle that divides us. It is something that I fear this Government have done on many occasions, which is to say, “We’re not going to give the vote to people who make their home here unless the Governments from the countries they came from give our nationals the vote”. It becomes a bargaining issue. Again, I do not think that is right. It should be a matter of principle, which we have already conceded; under the agreements that we have, EU nationals with settled status will continue to have the vote. If the Government can agree to that, why can they not agree to this amendment?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I regret that we will not be able to agree to these amendments, but I preface my remarks by sending my very best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Green. He ploughs sometimes a lonely furrow in this Chamber, but he is somebody of the most outstanding integrity and is greatly respected in your Lordships’ House. I very much hope that my good wishes are passed on to him. The engagement meeting I had with him when I had Covid was over Zoom, so I do not claim responsibility—but I offer the profoundest sympathy to him.

Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green, would require the Government to consult each Commonwealth country and produce a report on how we might confine the voting rights of Commonwealth citizens to citizens of those countries that grant British citizens the right to vote. Each country has the right to determine its own franchise, and the United Kingdom has done this. Qualifying Commonwealth citizens—that is, those persons who have leave to remain in this country or who have status such that they do not require such leave—are entitled to the parliamentary franchise. The rights of Commonwealth citizens are long-standing, and they reflect our unique historic ties to the family of Commonwealth nations and with Her Majesty the Queen.

Historically, while the Commonwealth countries were part of the British Empire, their nationals were subjects of the British Crown, and they were governed directly by the British Parliament. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act provided that only British subjects could register as electors. The term “British subject” then included any person who owed allegiance to the Crown, regardless of the Crown territory in which he or she was born. This recognised in part the contribution of servicemen of so many nations who fought in the Great War.

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Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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Before the Minister sits down, will he take on board the request I made that an appropriate Minister—I see a Minister in the margins of the Chamber from the Northern Ireland Office—from either the Cabinet Office or the Northern Ireland Office meet both commissions to deal with their specific issues? The written correspondence has not resolved the issues for them. A meeting either via Zoom or face-to-face would assist in this particular process because of the delicate issues to do with Article 2.1 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which puts them and this particular issue into a different category.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I said that officials had and will continue to have engagement. I also said that I would make sure the noble Baroness’s comments and the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, were referred to colleagues. I hope the noble Baroness will understand that, as I am not a departmental Minister with direct responsibility for the Northern Ireland protocol, I cannot make a specific commitment beyond that which I gave in my speech and I repeat in response to her intervention. I assure her that her comments will be relayed to my appropriate colleagues.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, before I thank my noble friend, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that to characterise the work of Members of my party on these Benches as seeking only to restrict the right of people to vote is an outrageous accusation. All we wish to do—all I wish to do—is to ensure we get the maximum participation in a framework that gives our fellow citizens confidence that the system is well organised, properly disciplined and free from corruption and misdemeanour. That is all.

That having been said, I thank my noble friend. I am disappointed, but I am not surprised either. The takeaway I have from this short debate is that there are quite a lot of loose ends. The noble Lords, Lord Stunell, Lord Shipley, Lord Collins and Lord Green, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, all have loose ends. My noble friend can say, “Well, yes, it’s too difficult; let’s put it in a drawer, lock it and come back to it in 10 years when we go around this track again” or he could take it away, think about it and say, “Let’s have —outside this Bill—a proper debate about the nature of British citizenship and the rights and responsibilities as they pertain to 2022.” I hope he can find time in his department to do that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Civil Servants: Reduction of Numbers

Lord True Excerpts
Thursday 24th March 2022

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the proposals set out by the Minister for Government Efficiency to reduce the number of civil servants by 65,000 will require either (1) a reduction in government functions, or (2) the increased use of outsourcing companies and consultants.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, there was a significant increase in the number of civil servants employed to manage the temporary requirements of Covid-19 and preparations for leaving the EU. Given that the spending review committed departments to reducing Civil Service numbers to pre-pandemic levels, work is under way to ensure that the functions are working as efficiently as possible, to reduce the use of consultants and to manage the use of outsourcing companies.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is a little surreal to have made Jacob Rees-Mogg Minister for Government Efficiency, and that his explicit view that civil servants are time wasters who do not work hard enough does not help morale in the Civil Service or, indeed, Civil Service efficiency? Does he recognise that one of the major areas of government waste over the last three or four years has been the excessive employment of outside consultants? Is there now also a target for a reduction in the use of outside consultants, who cost twice as much or more per head as civil servants?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I reject the first part of the question. I am absolutely delighted that my right honourable friend is bringing his insight to the Cabinet Office and I look forward to working with him. As far as consultants are concerned, yes, the Government are seeking to reduce consultancy spend. Central government and arm’s-length bodies spent approximately £1.5 billion on consultancy in 2021; that is why the consulting hub was set up last year to lead the consultancy reform programme. I can certainly assure the noble Lord and others that much attention will be given to that.

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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My Lords, if the Government wish the central Civil Service to be as effective as possible, whatever size it is, might they give a higher priority to reducing churn through appointments and postings, perhaps leading to greater stability, a retention of expertise and a greater and more effective corporate memory?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I think the noble Lord makes a very important point. There is a great deal of churn in the Civil Service and that reflects one of the things that the Government wish to address in order to give greater job satisfaction, to invest in quality training and to enable civil servants to deliver a modern work programme. One of the reasons to seek to squeeze out efficiencies is to enable us to invest in more front-line service and in exactly the kind of support referred to by the noble Lord.

Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury Portrait Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury (Con)
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My Lords, could I ask the Minister if he will ask his right honourable friend Jacob Rees-Mogg to direct his efforts to the DVLA where, we read, people are not returning to their desks in sufficient numbers, with terrible economic effects in terms of people having to wait a long time for their driving licences? Being at their desks rather than watching Netflix or on bicycles would be a great contribution to the economy.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I am delighted that I am not in a department where I have to defend the DVLA. I take note of what my noble friend says, and I think people will have heard the sentiment on that subject across the House.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, has the Minister noted reports that the number of Russian speakers in the Foreign Office staff has been reduced quite drastically over the past few years? Is he satisfied that the reductions in funding and staff for the Foreign Office, particularly in eastern Europe, have prepared it for the huge challenges that it now faces?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot claim to be an expert on the linguistic training policies of the foreign service. I would say that we wish to have a Civil Service that is adaptable, nimble and responds to challenge, and that should involve a better awareness of future as well as present challenges, and that is certainly one of the things that the efficiency programme will look at.

Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, have the Government made any assessment of the relationship between efficiency, effectiveness and efficacy?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I would say to the right reverend Prelate that there are two sides to this coin. One is an efficient service that is more capable of delivering quality public service—we all believe profoundly in the ideal of public service—in a satisfying, effective way. The answer is yes, but I would say that that is not only measured in numbers.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the great gifts of 19th century Liberalism to the present day was a Civil Service selected on merit and politically neutral? Is that still the central pillar of the Government’s approach to the Civil Service recruitment, and would such recruitment benefit from a real attempt at greater diversity, backed up by a strengthened Freedom of Information Act which would increase public confidence in governance?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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There are a lot of questions there. I have great sympathy for the noble Lord’s first sentiment, which is the loss of Gladstonian Liberalism, which I think needs to be rediscovered a little on those Benches. As far as his other points are concerned, independence must be fundamental, and diversity in all its forms is one of the reason the places programme is intended to take the Civil Service into other parts of the country. Thinking outside the Westminster, Whitehall and London bubble is very important, because there are many insights further than a mile from this building.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, is it intended that there will, in the future, be monitoring set up by the efficiency organisation looking at the Civil Service?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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It is intended that there will be ministerial accountability for the development and progress of the Civil Service. Each department is responsible for managing its employees, but overall central government functions will continue, and there will be central government awareness of the development of the programme, and ministerial attention will be given to it.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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Can the Minister tell us of any work under way to assess what impact such an efficiency review would have on the Civil Service workforce in our nations and regions? One would hope that this whole review is not just a euphemism to reduce headcount, which may have unforeseen negative consequences for places beyond Whitehall, including those very same places being courted as part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Perhaps the Minister can reassure your Lordships’ House on this point.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, indeed, I am delighted to do so. Devolved Administrations have their own responsibilities, but as I said in response to the good and challenging question from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, we do need to go out into the regions, and we are taking the Civil Service to the north-east, to York—perhaps I should not have mentioned the word “York” in your Lordships’ House—and to various places across the country for precisely the sort of reasons the noble Baroness rightly said. We must have a diverse and national service.

Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row Portrait Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row (Con)
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My Lords, as we strive to get value for money for the taxpayer and we move on from the pandemic and exiting the European Union, can my noble friend indicate to the House if there is a cost differential between the peak and the target?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there is not a specific target; there are overall financial targets, but as far as numbers are concerned, we are seeking obviously to reduce from what we have now. I think noble Lords need to understand that there are currently 475,020 full-time equivalent civil servants, as of December 2021. That is an increase of 2,350 even on the previous quarter. We now have over half a million civil servants on headcount, and I contend that in those circumstances it is possible to make reductions.

Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, given the Prime Minister’s emphasis on the importance of science and technology, as proved by his establishment of the new Council for Science and Technology, chaired by the Prime Minister, what is being done to increase the number of people with a scientific background in the Civil Service? We need an informed customer.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I think that is another important challenge from those Benches. We do need to raise the quality of specialism within the Civil Service—though that is not to disparage the traditional humanities-led approach—and not only in the scientific area but in the business of handling data and other modern approaches. This is inherent in the programme, and I can assure the noble Baroness that I will take away her point on science.

Moved by
121: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Addresses of candidates at parliamentary electionsHome address form: statement of local authority area
(1) Schedule 1 to RPA 1983 (Parliamentary elections rules) is amended as follows.(2) In rule 6 (nomination of candidates)—(a) in paragraph (5)(b), for the words from “state” to the end substitute “—(i) where the candidate’s home address is in the United Kingdom, state the constituency or the relevant area within which that address is situated;(ii) where the candidate’s home address is outside the United Kingdom, state the country within which that address is situated.”;(b) after paragraph (5) insert—“(6) In paragraph (5)(b)(i), “relevant area” means—(a) in relation to a home address in England— (i) if the address is within a district for which there is a district council, that district; (ii) if the address is within a county in which there are no districts with councils, that county;(iii) if the address is within a London borough, that London borough;(iv) if the address is within the City of London (including the Inner and Middle Temples), the City of London;(v) if the address is within the Isles of Scilly, the Isles of Scilly;(b) in relation to a home address in Wales—(i) if the address is within a county, that county;(ii) if the address is within a county borough, that county borough;(c) in relation to a home address in Scotland, the local government area in which the address is situated;(d) in relation to a home address in Northern Ireland, the local government district in which the address is situated.”(3) In the Appendix of forms, in the Form of Front of Ballot Paper, for the address after “Catherine Angelina Smith” substitute “(address in [relevant area])”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment amends Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 to give candidates at parliamentary elections the option of stating the name of the local authority area in which their home address is located on the home address form required by rule 6(4) of that Schedule.
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, government Amendment 121 concerns the details about candidates that appear on ballot papers at parliamentary elections. We are bringing forward this amendment in response to concerns raised by Members in the other place.

Currently, candidates at parliamentary elections are required to disclose on the ballot paper either their home address in full or the name of the constituency in which the home address is located. The original purpose of requiring candidates to provide information about their address was so that electors could identify them as specific individuals. Given that MPs are elected on an individual basis, they need to be identifiable, even if many electors may make choices by party affiliation. The current requirements were introduced by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 and give candidates the option of having just the constituency they reside in recited on the ballot paper instead of their home address. This was intended to provide security and privacy for candidates, while still ensuring electors can see if a candidate has a local connection to where they are standing.

We have listened to concerns raised in the other House that there should be a further option for candidates who wish to indicate in a more commonly understood description where they live, without sharing their full address, so that their security can be better protected. The amendment intends to enable candidates to use the local authority area in which their home address is located as the address they give. We consider that the local authority will be a familiar and comprehensible indication of locality to most people. I beg to move.

Amendment 121A (to Amendment 121)

Moved by
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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I am grateful to those who have spoken, and I will think about the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Khan. This is a balanced proposal which has come from concerns from Members in another place; we all know of recent sad events. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, says about people seeking to pass off where they live. This is a democracy, and I have been in politics for quite a long time, and if someone does not live very close to their ward or constituency, a leaflet comes pretty fast through the door—usually from the Liberal Democrats—with lots of big arrows over it, claiming, not always correctly, that they live somewhere on Mars. I think that democratic challenge would offer a control. The Government hope that there would not be unintended consequences.

We are suggesting a further option and, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, said, sometimes the local authority’s name is closer to people’s understanding than the name of the constituency. While I understand what the noble Lords are saying, one would not want this to be abused in any way to deceive electors. I point out to your Lordships that it is an option already available to candidates at local and mayoral elections, so we consider it appropriate to extend the option to candidates at parliamentary elections. Although I listened carefully to what was said by both noble Lords, the Government believe on balance that this is an appropriate move to make in present circumstances, and in light of this I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, will withdraw his amendment and the House will be able to support this very small change, which brings parliamentary elections into line with local and mayoral elections.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I thank the Minister for that response. I am now perplexed but not confused, so at least he has helped with the confusion. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Khan, for reiterating the issue of unintended consequences. Having listened to the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
123: Schedule 6, page 116, line 30, leave out from “to” to end of line 40 and insert “a relevant provision.
(1A) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(b), “relevant provision” means—(a) where the person is or will be registered in a register of local electors in Northern Ireland, section 10(4A)(b), 10A(1A)(b) or 13A(2A)(b) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as applied by Schedule 1 to the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989), and(b) where the person is or will be registered in a register of local government electors in Great Britain and does not also fall within sub-paragraph (a), paragraph 9(1) of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the requirement relating to preparation of date of birth lists for polling stations in Northern Ireland, so far as that requirement relates to date of birth lists for proxy voters.
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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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How very wise the noble Lord was to miss that particular commitment, is all I can say. A number of his colleagues were blessed by that promise.

To return to the substance of Clause 11 and the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord True, I remind the Committee that the Law Commission said that there should be a comprehensive overhaul of election legislation brought forward in a proper Bill. The Committee on Standards in Public Life produced 47 recommendations for change. Both those ideas have been rejected by the Government on the grounds that there has not been enough time, it needs more consideration and there would have to be wide consultation before they could be brought in. Finding that this proposition has been dumped into the Bill is inconsistent with that view against having a comprehensive reform of electoral law, along the basis that independent sources strongly recommend.

I was impressed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about the views of the Mayor of Greater Manchester and his reasoning. That struck me, as someone who lives in the area over which the mayor casts his eye, more powerfully than it probably did other noble Lords. There is no element of self-interest in what the Mayor of Greater Manchester said. It grieves me to say that in the May mayoral election, Andy Burnham, the mayor, won a plurality of votes in every ward in every borough in Greater Manchester, including all those which at the same time returned Tory, Liberal Democrat and, in one or two cases, independent councillors. There was a clear view from the electorate that they wanted this personality as the Mayor of Greater Manchester. Whether we like to believe it or not, it clearly transcended people’s normal political convictions to say, “In this case, I am voting for this person.” That characteristic of the mayoral election frankly surprised me, because I am not a supporter of mayoral systems, but I must admit there was a powerful advert for it in that election.

There is also a powerful advert there for the retention of a first and second choice. It was not called into play in Greater Manchester so we do not know what the figures would have been, but we know the result in those places where it has been called into play, and people have quite easily adopted the idea that they have a preferred candidate but, if it cannot be that one, there is another who would do as their second best. That development of an overall mandate is a powerful benefit of the present system, whatever its authorship might be. It might well be the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and I have been on the same side of any discussion.

I strongly support the view that we should delete Clause 11 and retain the current system of electing our mayors in the big cities.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, it has been a lengthy debate. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that I have not presented any amendment. I am presenting to your Lordships’ House a Bill which has been passed by the elected House, and your Lordships are expressing opinions on it. It is certainly not the Government who have sought to Christmas-tree the Bill with a generalised debate on proportional representation. The actors in that are elsewhere than at the Dispatch Box.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the amendment which was introduced in the Commons and is now Clause 11 was a Christmas-tree addition to the Bill by the Government.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I will come to that, my Lords. If the Committee will be indulgent, I think it has heard quite a lot of debate on this subject and I will try to come to the point. As I see it, this very lengthy debate boiled down to two things. First, do we like first past the post? Regrettably, a lot of your Lordships who spoke do not seem to like it, although, like the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, having fought a few elections myself, it seems pretty simple and clear for electors to stick a cross on a piece of paper and get a result. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, was not impressed by that, but the simplicity and clarity of first past the post has a lot to say for it. The second issue in the debate was: should we do this now, in this Bill and in these particular elections? I shall seek to address both of them.

It is irresistible to contemplate the thought of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, poring over his opinion polls about how popular PR is. I remind him that, before the referendum in 2011—you can look it up on Wikipedia if you like—the opinion polls said how rapturously enthusiastic the majority of the British public were about PR. When the actual argument came along and it was put, they voted for first past the post by—I cannot remember the figure, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said it was 68%. I would not advise the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, to put too much faith in his opinion polls, although it is a characteristic of that party.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I just make one point of clarification. It is not an opinion poll but a tracker of opinion over time. If the public should be asked about changing the system, will the Government ask the people in the areas with police and crime commissioners and metro mayors to have a referendum to see whether we want to change the system that we already have?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, whether it is a poll or a tracker, the noble Lord is welcome to look at it. I will persist with my remarks, which will address the point he just made.

Another argument put by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, was that new parties could not arise. A very great new party arose under the present system: it is called the Labour Party. It supplanted the other party, and it did so because it was popular. As we will see on a later group, one problem is that the parties that want to make the change are those that are not popular, or generally less popular.

That is what the debate was about. I listened with great respect and persistence to the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake —he spoke for nearly 20 minutes. It could have boiled down to one sentence: he did not like first past the post and he wanted your Lordships to stop this proposition. I will now try to address both those points.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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If I may say so, the noble Lord had a good go. I will give him one go.

Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB)
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If you make a comment about what somebody said, you need them to be able to come back and say you have got it wrong. The precise point I was making in my speech was not that I favoured PR—although I happen to—but that, irrespective of whether you support PR, the way the Government are doing this and what they are doing is wrong. That is exactly the argument I am making. It is really important not to distort what people are saying in their speeches.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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One might have thought, listening to the noble Lord, that he was talking about his liking for PR, but I will read very carefully what he said in those 17 minutes.

There is one specific amendment that I should like to address, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, spoke on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Mann. Although he is not in his place, a specific question was asked on Amendment 144D. That amendment would allow returning officers to establish polling stations for five days ahead of the day of a poll. Although advance in-person voting is not available in the UK, voters are already able to cast their vote in advance of the poll by post. The amendment would pose significant logistical challenges for returning officers, including the need to prevent double voting, and could create an inconsistency across the country as to when and where people were able to vote in person, so I would not be able to accept that amendment in this group.

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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The noble Lord is characterising my vote. It was against the alternative vote system and not for first past the post. We voted on an alternative vote system. That is not what the Minister is suggesting the vote was on.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord has been here all through the debate, but I maintain the position that the Electoral Commission has reported. I have given the facts to the Committee on the problems that arose under the supplementary vote system.

Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB)
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My Lords, with respect, the Minister partially reported what the Electoral Commission said. It pointed to the fact that the level of rejections in the 2016 election was 1.9%. It said the single biggest issue in the 2021 election was the design of the form. Those are critical factors in forming a judgment about the voting system.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord says let us have a look at 2016. The noble Lord also said not to pay any attention to the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto which is explicit on this point before the Committee. He wants to go back to 2016 for one thing and not back to 2017 for another. I think the noble Lord is rather picking and choosing his arguments. I wish to make progress—

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle (Lab)
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The Minister made an important point in his argument about the 2011 referendum. That was on first past the post for Westminster elections. Is the Government’s contention that they want to see first past the post for all elections in the UK, including the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the London Assembly? If that is so, why have they not introduced that in this Bill? Why pick on this particular electoral choice?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am speaking to what is before the Committee at the moment. As far as the Scottish and Welsh elections are concerned, the noble Lord knows very well that there is devolution, which this Government respect.

I will respond to what the noble Lord said about the London Assembly. It involves rather more complex issues in terms of the Assembly’s potential make-up. We will be considering further how these principles could be applied to the London Assembly and perhaps promoting the use of first past the post, but we are open to representations on how that could be implemented. For the moment, the proposition is on these specific elections, against the background I have described: the Government committed to first past the post, the Elections Bill and the evidence of problems in 2021.

I turn to the broader amendments—which I must because they are before the Committee—from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. It is always the less popular parties which clamour for PR. They want to introduce a new clause abolishing the use of first past the post at parliamentary general elections held more than six months after the passage of the Bill. For the reasons I have already discussed, we cannot accept that. First past the post ensures a clear link between elected representatives and constituents in a manner that other voting systems do not. The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, was compelling on that point.

The new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is not clear even on what sort of electoral system he wants to introduce—that is the most bizarre thing about the amendment that he is asking your Lordships to agree with. He wants to get rid of the present system within two years, but he does not say what would happen if an election came along before that or in the period where there was uncertainty because a new system would require further primary legislation to enact it. There is a real risk, if we went down the road proposed by the noble Lord, that we might not have an established legal method as to how Members of the other place were elected. To be confronted with this question mark of an amendment when the Government are charged with being frivolous—I think the proponents of this amendment are frivolous. All we know from the noble Lord’s amendment is that he wants a system that would have had, over the past five parliamentary general elections, a mean average Gallagher proportionality index of less than 10—that will get them jumping around in the pubs in Saltaire and Moulsecoomb, I am sure.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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I am sure that the Minister knows that this is copied from the SNP amendment in the Commons. One may talk about umpteen different proportional systems—and no electoral system is perfect, of course—but there is a choice to be made, putting it simply, between the Irish and the Scottish and Welsh systems. I prefer the Irish, but I think it would be appropriate to have some consultation among parties before a decision was finally taken. The point that a number of us have been making throughout the Bill is that, on constitutional matters such as this, it would be appropriate to aim for some consensus among the parties, rather than have each party—as in our aggressive two-party system—changing the rules to favour itself.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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The noble Lord has completely failed to answer the core question. He has thought about this amendment and tabled it, it is here on the list and in it he says:

“The simple majority system must not be used for any Parliamentary general election after the end of the period of six months beginning on the day on which this Act is passed.”


Who knows when the end of the Session will be, but let us say that this Act is fortunate enough to get on to the statute book, that means that for any election in 2023 or 2024, we would not be allowed to use first past the post—if your Lordships agreed to the amendment that the Liberal Democrats have put before the Committee, supported by the Green group—but would have to flounder around to find some other system, which the noble Lord will not specify, which would have a mean average Gallagher proportionality index of less than 10.

I am accused—the Government are accused—of coming to this Dispatch Box arguing for first past the post, which people understand, while the people on the other side come forward with a kind of canard of nonsense, such as in the noble Lord’s amendment. We are also asked for citizens’ assemblies, but I can only repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott said, with much greater eloquence than mine, that we did have a big citizens’ assembly of nearly 20 million people who decided this in 2011.

I am not convinced by the arguments that I have heard on proportional representation; I do not believe that this is the appropriate Bill in which to try to change our system from first past the post within six months, as is proposed. But, returning to the core of the question, I do believe that it is reasonable to have a simpler system than the system that proved so confusing and led to so many wasted votes in the London elections and that we should go for first past the post, as the Government have maintained very clearly. I ask the House to reject the amendments that have been tabled.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not want to get into any discussion at all about what sort of electoral system is best because, to me, that is not what this clause is about. It is about changing the system without any consultation at all. Much of this Bill has had no consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny. Our concern—my big concern—is that lack of consultation, working with local people about the proposals. With the changes to the mayoral system and the PCCs, but the mayoral system in particular, it is extremely disappointing that the Government decided to bring these in—very, very late and after they had been told originally that it was out of scope. That, to me, is the big problem with Clause 11. I am disappointed that the Minister did not address my concerns around the fact that it was disrespectful to the House and that an Elections Bill should have more consideration.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I am sorry that the noble Baroness—for whom I have the greatest possible respect, as she knows—feels that way. The House of Commons did not seem to regard it as disrespectful. I have submitted that there is nothing novel or unusual about first past the post. It is not one of the kinds of systems that is suggested. The Government have made it clear to the electorate that they wish to maintain and support first past the post. We have an Elections Bill, we have the evidence of the difficulties caused in the London mayoral elections, and I think it is reasonable for the Government to seek to address that. Others may have different opinions, but I think Parliament would be remiss in not considering whether there is a better system than that which led to hundreds of thousands of wasted votes in the London elections last spring.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I have the greatest respect for the Minister but—with the greatest respect—that really did not address the issue. However, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Well, there you go. I am still below the average age—just. The important point is that they are not mutually exclusive. This is about how we encourage people to participate in democracy and, as the noble Lord said, participation is not simply about voting. We want people to properly engage in civic society. That includes other groups which campaign and organise, because that is what influences our politics. Young people are certainly doing that, which is why we are very strongly in favour of this.

Of course, we have the evidence. Scotland and Wales now have a lower voting age, but they are not the only places. The Isle of Man and Jersey have it, as do Guernsey, Brazil and Austria, and it applies to some elections in Germany, Malta and Norway. There is strong evidence of how it can encourage participation and build this in, because when people start voting at a young age, they continue to vote. That is a really important point.

Picking up the point that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made, the noble Baroness, Lady Davidson of Lundin Links, changed her mind through her experience in the referendum campaign. I read an article that she wrote for the Tory Reform Group as a consequence of that experience in 2016. She said:

“Those in favour of the status quo argue that while the referendum offered a clear, unambiguous choice, parliamentary elections present a more muddied, multi-layered decision which require a more mature electorate.


But having watched and debated in front of 16 and 17-year-olds throughout the referendum, I have found myself unable to agree. My position has changed. We deem 16-year-olds adult enough to join the army, to have sex, get married, leave home and work full-time. The evidence of the referendum suggests that, clearly, they are old enough to vote too.”


I agree with her. We should do this.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I fear I cannot accept these amendments, although, having been mildly disobliging on the previous group about those against first past the post, I will open with an area of agreement. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, my noble friend Lord Lexden and the party opposite that we must do more—as much as we can—to engage young people in civic education and understanding what it is to be a future citizen. We are also having other discussions on trying, we hope, to persuade more young people to vote. There is strong agreement there.

We cannot accept these amendments because the Government, having reflected on the matter, simply do not believe that a reduction to 16 is the correct course. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts made a very strong speech on this. There are many difficult questions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, about what constitutes full adulthood, which society has to wrestle with. We think, in common with most countries in the world—although not, I acknowledge, the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales—that the current position is correct.

We made that very clear to the electorate; we were not trying to hide it, because it was and is a subject of discussion between the parties. We have been criticised for our manifesto not being clear, but it was absolutely clear on this point:

“We will maintain the voting age at 18—the age at which one gains full citizenship.”


That was very explicitly stated. You may not agree with that, but it is the position. I hope the Committee will respect that. Eighteen is widely recognised in the vast majority of democratic countries as the right age at which to enfranchise young people.

There are difficulties. For example, the very radical proposal by the Liberal Democrats to legalise cannabis was not for people below 18 because they were not mature before that age. In 2010, the party opposite raised the age for using sunbeds to 18. Other examples have been given on some more fundamental and difficult questions of peace and war. With respect to the arguments I have heard, the Government believe that the settled, present position is correct, in common with most other democratic countries.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond’s amendment seeks to lower the voting age to 16 and 17 year-olds by linking the franchise to taxation. I fear I must disappoint him; taxation has never been the basis of democratic representation in this country. For example, an American citizen of voting age who works and pays taxes in the United Kingdom does not have the right to vote in parliamentary elections simply by virtue of tax. However, a British citizen of voting age who pays no income tax, such as a student, rightly retains the right to vote, as do those earning less than the tax-free allowance. In council tax there is a class S exemption—I think it is called that; it was in my day—for households of 16 and 17 year-olds precisely so that they should not pay council tax. The mixing of taxation and voting rights raises difficult problems. It would also potentially disfranchise people who could, for a range of reasons, be unable to work or find work or who may be working but not earning enough to pay taxes.

With respect to those who have a different opinion, the Government have reflected on this. Engagement is important; I was very proud when I was leader of a local authority—I know many other local authorities do the same—of the UK Youth Parliament and youth engagement through schools. I have similar recollections to the noble Lord opposite. These things are important. Let us work together across parties to try to do that, but I cannot recommend that the House adopts this principle in the Bill. I forecast to the Committee that, if it were proposed, because it was a manifesto commitment by the Government to maintain the present position, it would not find favour in the other place. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, in withdrawing this amendment, I point out that, if we are saying that there is a problem—which the Minister has admitted, but has said that this is not the answer—then the question of how we manage to get more young people on the register, which we will come to on automatic voter registration, is important. The very near collapse of citizenship education in our state schools is an urgent matter, which we should all address on a cross-party basis. I look forward to the Minister returning to that. I hope he will take back to his colleagues in the Department for Education how important many of us feel this to be.

I merely remark to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that the extensive coverage in this Bill of the extension of overseas voting is there because Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservatives Abroad and the Conservative Party’s international office decided that this would be to the Conservatives’ advantage. Surveys in the mid-2000s suggested that 68% of those voting overseas were voting for the Conservative Party. I was suggesting earlier that a little bit of balance and cross-party agreement on how one extends the electorate might be desirable. Sadly, I do not think this Government are in the mood for that. That is one of the many things I regret about the way this Bill has been introduced and is being handled. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.