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Grand Committee

Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2013

Grand Committee

Tuesday, 4 June 2013.

My Lords, if there is a Division in the House, which I suggest is extremely likely—I would take a flyer at some time around 6 pm—the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

Elections (Fresh Signatures for Absent Voters) Regulations 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Elections (Fresh Signatures for Absent Voters) Regulations 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

I congratulate the Lord Chairman on his optimism in estimating the timing. In moving the Elections (Fresh Signatures for Absent Voters) Regulations 2013, I shall speak also to the National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) (Fresh Signatures for Absent Voters) Order 2013. These measures arise from consultation with electoral registration officers and others on timing and the most convenient way to handle the transition from the current system to individual electoral registration.

The fresh signatures regulations amend provisions concerning the requirement for absent voters to provide a fresh signature at five-yearly intervals for the purposes of UK parliamentary, local government and European parliamentary elections in England, Wales and Scotland. The order concerning the National Assembly for Wales makes similar provision in relation to elections to the National Assembly for Wales. The purpose of the instruments is to move the timing of the absent voter signature refresh due in January 2014 in Great Britain, and that due in Scotland in January 2015, so that both are held in August 2013. This will avoid the refreshes that are scheduled to take place during the transition to individual electoral registration taking place at the same time as canvass activity by electoral registration officers, which could result in confusion for electors.

The Electoral Administration Act 2006 provided for the use of personal identifiers by absent voters to strengthen the security of absent voting. Under the Act, applicants for a postal or proxy vote must provide personal identifiers—their date of birth and signature—which are retained by EROs. Postal voters are required to provide these personal identifiers when voting by post at subsequent elections. Returning officers will carry out checks on the personal identifiers provided at elections, and if they do not match with those originally given the postal vote is deemed invalid.

Under electoral law, electoral registration officers are required by 31 January every year to write to absent voters whose signature is more than five years old—in other words, long-term absent voters—to request a fresh signature to ensure that up-to-date signatures for absent voters are kept by EROs. Long-term absent voters, I suspect, include a number of people in this Room, certainly me, as I am never quite sure whether I will be in Yorkshire or London when it comes to voting. Many of us will be affected by this. This is important, given that a person’s signature may change over time and a postal vote cast at an election may be declared invalid if the signature on the postal voting statement does not match that held by the ERO on the personal identifiers record. Dates of birth do not change or degrade, so those are not required to be refreshed.

The Government have discussed with electoral stakeholders the timing of absent voter signature refreshes in Great Britain in 2014 and 2015 during the transition to IER. As noble Lords will know, we have provided that the 2013 annual household canvass period, which would otherwise have taken place between July and December 2013, will now run from 1 October 2013 and result in a revised register being published by 17 February 2014 in England and by 10 March 2014 in Scotland and Wales. Noble Lords will remember that we discussed this previously. Thereafter, the Government’s plan is for the transition to IER to begin in the summer of 2014 in England and Wales, with the first transitional canvass published at the usual time for revised registers—by 1 December 2014. Following confirmation that the referendum in Scotland will be held on 18 September 2014, the Government intend that the transition to IER there will take place after that poll. The 2014 canvass period in Scotland will be postponed to begin on or around 1 October 2014 and finish with the publication of the first transitional canvass there early in 2015.

There was a general concern among electoral stakeholders that combining an absent vote signature refresh with canvass activity during this period could be confusing for electors. Electors, for example, could receive from their ERO a letter that confirms their registration and explains that no action is needed to remain registered and to retain their absent vote but at the same time be asked to provide a fresh signature for absent voting purposes, where failure to respond means the loss of the absent vote. Therefore, having the refresh before these letters go out will provide a more logical and understandable sequence. The Government have listened to the views expressed by the EROs and agree that the interests of voters would be better served by moving the signature refresh scheduled for January 2014 in Great Britain to take place before the 2013-14 household canvass.

After discussions with the Scottish Assessors Association, we propose that the signature refresh scheduled for January 2015 in Scotland should also be moved to 2013 to avoid the possibility of it occurring at the same time as IER activity by EROs there in January 2015. The signature refresh in January 2015 in England and Wales is to be left unchanged as this issue only arises only for Scotland. The instruments we are considering today make the necessary amendments to electoral law to provide for the signature refreshes to be moved as I have outlined above. It may be helpful if I briefly explain the changes made by the regulations.

Regulation 2 amends the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 to provide that absent voters for UK parliamentary and local elections in England and Wales who would otherwise be requested by the electoral registration officer to provide a fresh signature in January 2014 will instead be requested to do so between 1 and 19 August 2013. Regulation 3 similarly amends the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001 in relation to absent voters for UK parliamentary and local elections in Scotland, although it applies to such absent voters who are due a signature refresh in 2014 or 2015. Regulation 4 makes provision for these changes in relation to absent voters in Great Britain and Gibraltar by amending the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 2004.

The National Assembly for Wales order follows very similar purposes. I hope that noble Lords will accept that it may not be necessary to go into similar detail on the National Assembly for Wales. I fear that on one or two occasions I did not check in my notes when I should refer to England, England and Wales or Great Britain and Scotland. From my notes, I think there is at least one occasion when I referred to Great Britain when I should have referred to England or England and Wales, for which I apologise. Nevertheless, I hope that noble Lords have followed me through the intricacy of these regulations.

These instruments make sensible and appropriate changes to avoid any potential confusion for absent voters in the transition to individual electoral registration, and to ensure that signatures are updated for absent voters ahead of the polls in 2014 and 2015 across the whole of Great Britain—and in this case, it does mean the whole of Great Britain. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to talk briefly about this order and then I will ask my noble friend one or two questions. The Electoral Commission has asked us to ask for certain assurances from the Government. The explanation given by my noble friend covers what it has said but others may refer to that. The proposals as set out seem entirely sensible as a practical way of getting to grips with the very complex and quite large number of processes that local electoral registration officers have to carry out to introduce individual registration. Moving the date of the five-yearly renewal of postal voters’ signatures seems sensible.

While we are talking about postal voters and signatures, it seems a reasonable opportunity to ask my noble friend where the Government stand on a number of related issues. I hope that he will bear with me on this. First, what was the result of the first round of getting fresh signatures after five years, which I think started earlier this year, in January, and took place in the spring before this year’s local elections? I am interested in the proportion of people throughout the country who have postal votes. My noble friend can define “country” as he wishes. I am interested in England but also in knowing what happens in other parts of the United Kingdom. What proportion of the people who previously had postal votes submitted new signatures, and so maintained their registration, and what proportion fell out for whatever reason? I am interested in whether that information is available at the level of electoral registration authorities—that is, local authorities and district councils.

Secondly, to what use are the signatures put when people send in their postal votes? Is the information available, or will it be available, on how many postal votes are not counted due to the information on the postal vote statements, which are submitted with the postal votes, not matching? That is, if the signatures on the application for postal votes, whether it is the original application or the refresher we are talking about today, do not match the signature that is submitted with the postal vote; or, indeed, if the dates of birth or the electoral numbers do not match, which is quite possible. Is that information known? In other words, do we know for each election that takes place how many postal votes are not rejected or even counted but are put to one side and not put into the count? Clearly, that is an indication of people losing their vote, either because they have made a mistake or because of electoral fraud. Given that this is the basic reason why signatures were introduced for postal votes, it seems to me that having that information would be very useful.

Thirdly, if the returning officer in an election is concerned that discrepancies of the kind I have just been talking about could be a result of electoral fraud, is the Government’s advice to him to investigate those further, to refer them to the police or just to put them to one side and ignore them?

One of the things that I have been going on about in your Lordships’ House for some time is the need for a system to inform electors if, for any of the reasons we have been talking about, particularly discrepancies regarding signatures, their vote is not being counted. If an elector does not know this is happening—for example, if there is fraud they may not know that they are being defrauded, or if there has simply been a mistake—they are being deprived of their vote for reasons that might technically be their fault but are certainly not deliberate on their part. That does not seem very fair. I understand that the Government intend to give advice to returning officers on this matter. Can my noble friend tell me when that might be done?

To put this in context, in the county council elections this year in my own borough of Pendle, which is part of Lancashire where there are six county council seats, the operation of the elections and the counting of the votes took place at borough level. In total, 302 postal votes were returned but not counted because either the signatures or the dates of birth did not match. My noble friend said that dates of birth do not degrade or change. I am not sure what “degrade” means in this context, but it is a nice word. However, it is not entirely true because people born in third-world countries, including Pakistan, may not know their date of birth, so what they put down may be a bit arbitrary. Often they write 1 January of the year in which they think they were born, but they might not even give that date. Dates of birth may not be known and people do not get them right all the time.

There can be a mismatch of signature, a mismatch of the date of birth, or both, or the ballot paper may have been returned in an envelope whose number did not match. As noble Lords will know, it is a complicated system. There is a little envelope and a big envelope and they must both have the same number on them. No fewer than 61 postal votes were rejected because they were wrong. In fact, quite a lot of votes come back in the wrong envelope because, for example, an elderly couple might mix up the envelopes and ballot papers. People on the ground will keep those to one side and try to match them up as best they can. Even so, some are not counted. It worked out at around 4% of all the postal votes that came in. That was the position in just one recent election.

These are important and interesting issues that need to be tackled if the exercise we are considering in these regulations is to work as efficiently as it might. I look forward to what the Minister has to say. He may not have all the information to answer all these questions today, although I did submit them to him earlier. However, I would be grateful for a letter and for him to place a copy in the Library of the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction. His speech provided dignity, if not poetry, to the bureaucratic vocabulary and procedure. Refreshing signatures means that we wish to avoid fraud. I would say to the Minister that if we put Wales into a statutory instrument, would we not expect, for the sake of accountability, to be given the full details concerning Wales in the debate in this Committee? The Minister attempted to gain an alibi of the best kind in what he said. I picked that up and I make my protest as gently, honourably and courteously as I can, knowing that he always brings nobility and dignity to our procedures.

I want to raise a point of detail concerning the refreshment and checking of signatures. What is the process here? Does an employee of a local authority literally match the signatures, or is it done by mechanical means? Is it possible for us to be given an explanation of how the signatures are handled? After all, that is the basis of what the Minister has brought before the Committee. I am sure that his department will have spotted such a question coming from noble Lords, and I think it is a reasonable request. In order to make progress, I shall sit down.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the indulgence of the Committee in order to congratulate the Minister not only on having sung at the Queen’s Coronation 60 years ago, but on his role in the Abbey today to commemorate that occasion. I am sorry that we are not seeing him in all his glory this afternoon. When I was a student, we used to move that the minister “do now sing”; maybe I should not do that.

On the two statutory instruments, including the one for Wales, one of the questions is quite similar to one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves: how many absent votes does the Minister estimate are covered by each of these two SIs? In other words, how many that would normally be written out in Wales and England are covered by this?

Related to that, what is the Government’s assessment of the number of likely renewals, particularly given that these are going out in the August holiday period? That has been a worry for the Electoral Commission, and is a worry as, not only is your Lordships’ House on holiday during the first two weeks of August, but so are many other people.

Although the word “stakeholders” was used by the Minister, what is the view of the political parties of this proposal? As I mentioned before in Committee, they are rather expert on all of this, as has been evidenced by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, this afternoon.

In the form that will go out on the mere matter of the refreshment of the signatures, will there be any advance notice about the move to individual electoral registration? In other words, is it part of the preparation that is being made? I know that the Electoral Commission still has some concerns over the October 2013 annual canvass date and what impact it might have on absent voters. We would be interested to know what the Government’s response to the issue raised by the Electoral Commission has been. In general, however, we support the regulations and the order.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her compliment, although the compliment I have really liked over the past two or three weeks has been from those who have said that they find it difficult to believe that I could have sung at the coronation because I look far too young. I am sorry that she missed that one.

These regulations are important because we are all concerned to get the transition to individual electoral registration right. We will in time bring some further regulations back to the Committee. While many of them seem incredibly technical and complex, it is important that we manage to end up with a new register that is as complete and as accurate as possible. The integrity of the electoral register is also an important matter.

I remember many years ago my noble friend Lord Greaves raising in the House the question of postal vote fraud in open elections and getting a very dusty response from almost all Benches on the grounds that this was not considered a serious problem. It is now a good deal better understood that this has, in a number of highly localised areas, been quite a serious problem that was not fully picked up and has not attracted the level of prosecution that one really ought to have seen. However, it is one that these identifiers are intended to pick up.

I will try to answer some of these difficult questions. On dates, and when one does the write-around and the canvass, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, will recall that we had a discussion as to when it was most useful to do the house-to-house canvass, and I wrote to her in the spring to point out that I had in some ways misled the Committee by suggesting that March was a good time to go around house by house, because there was deep snow in Saltaire past Easter Day. Whatever we do, there is never a perfect answer, but we are trying to do our best on all of this.

I will try to answer some of my noble friend Lord Greaves’s questions, and then promise that I will write to him on others. He will of course know that many of these statistics are not collected centrally. Electoral registration officers are local appointees and the administration of voting is still a local authority matter.

I am told by my local electoral registration officer that there is something called a Form K, which I have never seen, which is submitted after an election. She is in the process of doing it now for the county elections, I think, and it does include a lot of this information. I presume it goes to the Electoral Commission.

I hope that it does. I will do my best to investigate and come back to the noble Lord on that.

I am told that approximately 150,000 postal votes have been rejected at each recent national poll across Great Britain—I hope that does mean across Great Britain—because one or more of the personal identifiers on the postal voting statement did not match those originally submitted or because one or more of the identifier fields had been left blank. Statistics on rejection rates are recorded by returning officers and are submitted, perhaps on Form K, to the Electoral Commission for collation. Although figures for the May 2013 local elections are not yet available, I understand that the Electoral Commission plans to publish information on turnout once all these data have been received and collated.

On the question of getting fresh signatures after five years, we do not hold this information centrally. I hope it will be considered helpful that, according to my team, one ERO spoken to has told us that in his or her area in 2012, out of nearly 22,000 electors sent a postal vote refresh notification, some 1,800 did not respond and 565 said that they no longer wanted one. That gives noble Lords a level of the turnover in 2012, for which there are many reasons. In 2013, of 21,000 electors sent a postal vote refresh notification, some 4,355 did not respond and 934 said that they no longer wanted one.

That was very useful. However, the Minister said the first figure, 22,000, was from one ERO. He may not be able to tell us now, but is that from one whole constituency? I am trying to work out the percentage each January who would be likely to come up for signatures. The response rate is very useful but it would also be useful, if not now then later, to know what the 22,000 figure is as a proportion of the voters.

I understand that. The noble Baroness will know that the proportion of postal voters varies quite radically from one area to another. It is not a uniform pattern across the country. We will see what we can do to provide some more comparative statistics.

On the third of the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, it is for individual returning officers to judge whether a mismatched date of birth or signature gives them grounds to report the matter to the police. The Electoral Commission and the Association of Chief Police Officers produce joint guidance for electoral administrators on electoral integrity, which includes such matters. Electoral administrators and the Electoral Commission have noted in recent years that the majority of mismatches appear to arise from inadvertent errors such as a deteriorated signature or the accidental completion of the date of birth field with today’s date.

The Government intend introduce a system to inform electors if ballot papers have not been counted. We introduced a provision in the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, which will allow regulations to be made setting out the circumstances in which electoral registration officers must inform electors, after a poll, where their postal vote identifiers failed to match. EROs will have discretion not to write to individual electors where malpractice is suspected. This will not include situations where ballot paper numbers do not match those on the postal voting statement as electoral administrators already have the facility to unite ballot papers with the proper postal voting statements for them to be checked and counted where these are returned separately, for example where two people in a household inadvertently swap their ballot papers. We intend to introduce this provision for the polls in 2014.

I have just been advised that Form K includes various statistics but does not include refresh figures and goes to the Electoral Commission.

I hope I have managed to answer most of the questions. I am told that the area I cited was a whole local authority—thus several constituencies—so it is not an enormous proportion. The noble Baroness will be aware that, on the whole, postal votes account for about 15% of the electorate at the moment, so turning over every five years indicates that we are dealing with 3% to 4% a year on the whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, asked about the process. It is IT-based. The original postal voter identifiers from the applications are scanned into a system designed for this. When a postal vote is sent in, the postal vote statement with it has space for a signature and a date of birth. It is scanned and the signature and date of birth are electronically matched or not matched. If they are not matched, a person then checks them manually to confirm whether there is a mismatch, and by “manually” I do not mean, as Peter Sellers once said, once a year.

The noble Lord’s speech is coming to a conclusion, but I mentioned Wales to him. Has he had any consultation with the Government in Cardiff about how they would respond to this debate?

My Lords, we have regular consultation with the authorities in Cardiff, and I am sure that we will continue to interact with them and, indeed, with the Scottish authorities in a rather different capacity. I discovered over the course of dealing with the Bill, and now the Act, that there is a very tight sub-community of electoral administrators who love talking to each other, who love talking to visitors at some length about the work they do and who work extremely hard, which means that interaction with them is very easy because they are very willing to help and explain.

I thank the noble Lord. There were a number of questions and some of the answers are coming at me from the Box faster than I can absorb them. I was asked whether it would be inconvenient for the signature refresh to be run during August. We recognise that it is not ideal, but it is essential that absent voter signatures are refreshed before the earliest time that EROs may start the 2013 annual canvass, which we have previously agreed will be from 1 October. For reasons that I have explained, the Electoral Commission has indicated that it is content with the policy objective and the drafting of the signature refresh regulations. We will, of course, monitor very carefully how this goes through, and if there is too much difficulty or too much failure to respond, we may have to adapt and try again. I rehearsed previously the reasons why we wish to start the household canvass earlier.

We are managing this transition very carefully and actively. I stress again that we see this as an all-party concern. We all want to achieve a new register that is as accurate and complete as possible in England, Scotland and Wales.

Will my noble friend confirm that if an elector gets a form before 19 August but returns it after 19 August because they have gone on holiday or for whatever other reason that will not debar them from continuing to have a postal vote and the form will be dealt with properly if they return it at the end of August or in September?

My Lords, under the instruments, EROs will have the flexibility to write out absent voters in the period from 1 to 19 August 2013. In line with the existing provisions for signature refreshes, EROs will give absent voters six weeks to respond from the date they are written to, with a reminder sent if necessary after three weeks. That seems to me to cover most of the people who are likely to be written to, although I have promised my wife that after the 2015 election I might take her on an eight-week cruise around the world.

Motion agreed.

National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) (Fresh Signatures for Absent Voters) Order 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

The Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) (Fresh Signatures for Absent Voters) Order 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Motion agreed.

Planning Act 2008 (Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects) (Electric Lines) Order 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Planning Act 2008 (Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects) (Electric Lines) Order 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, the Government are today bringing before the Committee amendments to the Planning Act 2008 to transfer applications for development consent for minor works to electric lines above ground from the Planning Act 2008 back to the Electricity Act 1989.

The Planning Act regime provides fast, transparent consideration of applications for development consent for major infrastructure. However, for minor works—that is, proposals for works to overhead lines of 132 kilovolts or greater nominal capacity that are less than two kilometres in length—it is, we consider, disproportionate to use this regime. Such works may have a total project value of around £100,000 to £200,000 and be completed, if consent is given, in three to six months. The pre-application process under the Planning Act 2008 may take 18 months to two years to complete. Examination and determination of an application takes another nine to 16 months. The costs of this process may run into many thousands of pounds, with application fees alone costing at least £30,000.

The statutory instrument I am introducing will change how a nationally significant infrastructure project is defined in the Planning Act 2008 by extending the exemption in Section 16 to include overhead lines of less than two kilometres in length and projects to increase the nominal voltage capacity of existing lines where there is no substantial change to physical infrastructure. This means that determination of applications for such minor works will in future be made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, under Section 37 of the Electricity Act 1989. We are, in practice, reintroducing the consenting regime that applied to such applications before the Planning Act 2008 came into force in March 2010.

The effect of this statutory instrument will not be to exempt these projects from development consent requirements altogether. They will still require consent from the Secretary of State and be subject to rigorous scrutiny. However, we consider it more proportionate to apply the regime under the Electricity Act 1989 to applications for development consent for minor works. This is because these regulations under the Electricity Act 1989 are not prescriptive, so the Secretary of State may exercise his discretion as to the form of local consultation and what information is necessary to decide whether to grant an application for development consent.

This does not mean, however, that there are less stringent requirements. Consents under both the Planning Act and the Electricity Act are determined by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Under both regimes, the public will be consulted. The Electricity Act regime requires applicants to notify local authorities of applications for consent under Section 37 and publication of proposals in local newspapers for applications for consent of lines with a nominal voltage of not less than 132 kilovolts. If a local authority objects to any proposal submitted under the Electricity Act, it will go to public inquiry; and the Secretary of State may determine that, even if there are no objections by the local authority, the application should be the subject of a public inquiry. In determining whether to hold a public inquiry, my right honourable friend will consider any objections from persons other than the relevant local authority.

However, it is important that we make a clear distinction between projects that are nationally significant and those that are not. This is why we are transferring only applications for proposals for works to overhead lines of less than two kilometres in length or those which would increase the nominal voltage on an existing line without significant changes in that line’s infrastructure. These are projects that are unlikely to contribute significantly to national electricity network infrastructure. I estimate, based on applications over the past six years and notifications of potential projects to the Planning Inspectorate, that approximately 15 applications annually will be returned to the Electricity Act regime.

This amendment resolves a situation whereby works to overhead lines with no national significance have to comply with the Planning Act regime intended to apply to consideration of major projects such as a new nuclear power station or a major rail project. I commend this statutory instrument to the House and beg to move.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for presenting this order in such a lucid way to the Grand Committee. I have scrutinised it carefully in the hope that I could find some holes in it and things to complain about. I have to report that I have failed completely in this endeavour, and the proposal seems to be entirely sensible. It is a little ironic for those of us who fondly remember grappling with the detail of the Planning Act 2008 when it went through this House, particularly the new planning regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects. We were told that the main reason why the regime had to happen was that such projects were all taking too long, the system was all too bureaucratic and difficult, and we needed a new streamlined regime that would be a lot quicker, less bureaucratic and less expensive. It is slightly ironic that in this instance at least, it has turned out not to be the case and we have to revert to the status quo ante. Perhaps we will find some other matters on which we will have to do the same thing. However, I am very happy to support this order.

I thank the Minister for her explanation of the order. I may be on safe ground when I say to her that I will not contest it. I agree with her explanation that the order is merely a fine-tuning of the planning process for overground lines of 132 kilovolts or greater which are less than two kilometres in length. Underground electricity lines are not required to have development consent.

Furthermore, the order does not remove any lines from planning; it merely transfers installations from falling within the Planning Act 2008 to being assessed under Section 37 of the Electricity Act 1989. The Explanatory Memorandum states that approximately 21 applications for consent for electric lines at 132 kilovolts or greater and 17%, or 15 in number, are for projects of lengths of under two kilometres. The Minister’s department considers that lines of under two kilometres should not normally be considered to be national infrastructure projects. The memorandum then speaks admirably concerning the disproportionate nature of the provisions that then fall due. However, is the Minister confident that simply assessing projects on the basis of length is enough to assess whether significant, albeit nationally significant, issues will not come into play? I realise that a number of respondents to the consultation argued for excluding any line under 15 kilometres in length. Can the Minister clarify whether among the responses to the consultation there were any environmental implications, bearing in mind that Article 2(b) of the order inserts new subsection (3A), which provides that subsection (3)(ab)(ii) does not apply where part of the line is in a SSSI or a European site?

The Explanatory Memorandum is comprehensive and clarifies excellently that there will be no transitional costs as both of the regimes are familiar to developers who, following this order, will be far more willing to undertake improvement projects as a result of the reduction in time and costs consequential on the transfer to Section 37. I agree that the level of 132 kilovolts is intended to facilitate local consultation where electric lines might well have a significant impact and is not intended to determine whether an electric line is nationally significant. Is the Minister extending this argument to the question of length, as mentioned previously?

I would welcome the Minister’s clarification on the matter of developers beginning to seek options that avoid having to make an application under the Planning Act, even where that option may be considerably more expensive or delay investment in infrastructure projects. Can she clarify the reasoning set out in the letter dated 21 February 2011 from the Electricity Networks Association to the Minister of State? The Explanatory Memorandum also mentions that the Minister’s department is consulting separately on a proposed revision of the fees payable under Section 37 with the intention of moving to full cost recovery. Can the Minister give the Committee an update on this?

Finally, I agree that the under the coalition Government’s policy of “one in, one out” regarding regulation containment, this order neither removes nor adds any regulation. It does not change the implementation of either the Planning Act 2008 or the Electricity Act 1989. The number will not change. However, there is a significant reduction in costs from the provisions of this order transferring from the Planning Act to the Electricity Act. Will the Government include the cost savings of this change in the sum of the benefits they may well consider claiming from their policy of “one in, one out”? Perhaps I can tempt the Minister to allocate a sum that will be claimed for this order.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for any further comments that she may wish to make and I am content to confirm my consent to the order.

My Lords, I am pleased to have received such strong support from my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for what I think is a very common-sense statutory instrument. My noble friend did not raise any questions, for which I am extremely grateful because he is known for his microscopic and forensic approach to legislation. However, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has asked some questions. I will try to answer as many of them as I can and, where I fail to do so, I shall ensure that Members of the Committee receive the response in writing.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked about environmental impacts. The provision in relation to areas of specific scientific interest in paragraph (3)(a) means that all applications in such areas will be considered under the Electricity Act since they are not subject to exemption regulations applying to other lines. The noble Lord mentioned the treatment of the SSSIs, and whether they would be covered in overhead lines. The different treatment for project in nationally designated areas is to ensure that applications in these areas have the appropriate scrutiny. I am sure that the noble Lord, like me, would be content with such an approach, where similar projects outside nationally designated areas would be exempt from development consent under existing regulations.

The noble Lord asked about the reasoning behind the length of 2 kilometres. We find that proposals for works over 2 kilometres for 132 kilovolts or greater voltages are more likely to be nationally significant, because they generally contribute to the national network to help provide electricity to everyone. Minor works are not nationally significant and will probably amount to routine maintenance or to work on the existing networks.

The noble Lord also asked whether there would be a cost saving to be brought in with the “one in, one out” policy. Yes, it will reduce the cost to companies of complying with the regulations and will reduce the cost of application fees with total benefits to companies of around £1.2 million, which is a significant sum to those companies. He also asked about the linkage of new subsection 3A, on developers avoiding costs, to the letter to the Minister of State at DECC from the Energy Networks Association. The impact assessment indicates that two applications for 132 kilovolt lines were withdrawn, and one project was subsequently undergrounded at an additional cost estimated at around £1 million so that it could be completed within six months. There would have been an extension of time had it involved overhead lines. The other project was re-engineered to fall within existing exemptions, but it meant that that additional work had to be carried out at additional cost. It is safe to say that there are difficult ways of getting around it unless you incur those extra costs.

Finally, the noble Lord asked about simply assessing lines by length. I think that I dealt with that earlier by saying that it is clear in the response to the SI that it is covered through not being a significant infrastructure project. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Accession of Croatia (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) Regulations 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Accession of Croatia (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) Regulations 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, these regulations will apply transitional labour market restrictions to nationals of Croatia when that country joins the European Union on 1 July. The Government have been clear that they will apply the toughest possible transitional restrictions to any country joining the European Union in the future. We are implementing transitional restrictions because it is sensible to do so.

Free movement rights are a fundamental aspect of membership of the European Union and the internal market. However, the accession treaty makes provision for member states to apply transitional controls on labour market access for up to seven years to ensure an orderly transition to the enjoyment of full free movement rights. The restrictions that these regulations apply are similar to those which the UK already applies to nationals of Bulgaria and Romania.

The Government have not made an estimate of the number of Croatians who may migrate to the United Kingdom. Given the variables, including the economic situation and the decisions of other member states, a reliable forecast is not possible. Croatia is a small country and not traditionally a source of migrants to the United Kingdom. There is little reason to expect a large influx after 1 July. However, in the light of previous experience, it would be rash not to take the precaution of applying restrictions, particularly if other member states do so. Germany and the Netherlands have confirmed that they will apply restrictions to Croatian nationals after 1 July.

The transitional restrictions that these regulations put in place are as restrictive as the terms of Croatia’s accession to the EU permit them to be. Under the accession treaty, we cannot apply restrictions that are more restrictive than those which applied to Croatian nationals under the Immigration Rules in force when the treaty was signed in December 2011.

The effect of the regulations is that Croatian nationals will generally have a right to reside in the UK as workers only if they have obtained permission to work from the Home Office in the form of an accession worker registration certificate. They will have no right to reside by virtue of being a jobseeker. In line with our obligations, there are some exceptions to the requirement to obtain permission to work—for example, those who have worked legally and continuously in the United Kingdom for 12 months, and certain family members, will have free access to the labour market. The regulations also provide for the most highly skilled to be granted free access to the labour market from the outset.

Where permission is required, a Croatian national will need to obtain this before they commence employment. In order to obtain an accession worker registration certificate, a Croatian national will, as now, normally need to be sponsored by an employer who has been licensed by the Home Office under the points-based system arrangements. Points-based system criteria will apply, which means that Croatian nationals will normally obtain permission to work under tier 2 of the points-based system only when they are offered a job that is skilled to National Qualifications Framework level 4, meets minimum salary criteria and for which resident labour is not available.

These controls will not prevent Croatian workers obtaining permission to work where they have skills that are in short supply and will benefit the UK economy. However, they will reduce the risk of uncontrolled flows of workers coming to undertake low-skilled work or to take work for which British workers are available. The regulations do not place an upper limit on numbers but the requirement that a Croatian national must have an offer of employment that meets strict criteria will restrict numbers. To put this in context, only 90 Croatian nationals were admitted to the United Kingdom in 2012 for the purpose of work under the points-based system criteria.

It is necessary that these transitional measures are backed up by proportionate enforcement powers. As with the measures applied to prevent the illegal employment of non-EU nationals, the regulations will make it an offence to employ a Croatian national where the worker requires permission to work but does not have it and will provide the Secretary of State with the option of imposing a civil penalty as an alternative to prosecution. They will also make it an offence for a Croatian national to take employment in breach of the regulations. In such cases, liability to prosecution will be discharged by payment of a penalty.

These measures are proportionate and, since their effect is essentially to continue the existing framework of controls on the employment of Croatian workers into the transitional period, they do not impose any new burden on business, a subject which noble Lords will know is close to my heart as I am the Minister in the Home Office responsible for better regulation.

While these regulations apply transitional controls until 30 June 2018, the need to maintain these restrictions will be kept under review. We are required to notify the Commission about whether we intend to maintain the restrictions beyond the first two years, and we will review the case for their continued application at that point. In addition, the regulations can be extended for a further two years beyond 30 June 2018 if to do otherwise would cause, or risk, serious disturbance of the labour market. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, which answered a few of my questions, which I know he is always pleased to do. I wish to clarify a couple of points by asking a few questions. The Minister mentioned a seven-year transition period, yet the order refers to a five-year transition period and 2018. I assume he referred to seven years because there is a possibility of extending the transition period for a further two years at another date, but this order is for only five years. In case I have misunderstood, will the Minister clarify that?

I am interested in the enforcement regime regarding those who come from another country and try to work. Is it the same as the regime for other employment visa requirements or will there be something different in place for transitional arrangements? Can the Minister say anything about how this will be monitored? I would be interested to know the details, and if he wants to write to me I would be happy for him to do so.

Obviously, we support transitional arrangements. As the Minister acknowledged in his comments, we brought them in for Bulgaria and Romania. I fully understand why it is not possible to get an accurate assessment of the numbers involved, but the Minister said that this order is being brought forward today because of the fear of uncontrolled flows of workers from Croatia to the UK. He also said that there is no anticipation of large numbers coming to the UK. That seems somewhat contradictory. Has there been any assessment of the numbers involved, or was the assessment that it was not a large number and the order is just to minimise the risk in case that is wrong? It is not quite clear as the Minister’s comments were contradictory. If there has been some assessment, I am interested in the flows in the other direction. How many people from the UK want to go to work in Croatia?

On the more general points, from what has been said today and from comments made by other Ministers in the past, is the Minister able to clarify the Government’s longer-term position on free movement within the EU and say whether there are any plans to change the rules on it? I noted the Minister’s comments about unskilled workers from Croatia or, indeed, any other country when local workers are available. On that point, which is slightly tangential but very relevant to this discussion, how can we ensure that unscrupulous employers do not illegally employ those who are not entitled to work in this country and exploit them by doing so? I am thinking of things such as ensuring that the minimum wage is paid and that health and safety regulations are taken note of because cutting back on those issues is one way that unscrupulous employers exploit foreign workers and therefore undercut and undermine the local workers to whom the Minister referred. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Government will not weaken those protections, and that when they are not upheld they will take action?

I know that the Government have been very slow in enforcement. There has been a lax approach to the minimum wage legislation. I was very pleased to hear this weekend that HMRC has recently brought a swathe of prosecutions on this, because it had fallen by the wayside. I am pleased that it is picking up now. An assurance from the Minister on those particular issues would be very welcome. I appreciate that that is slightly tangential but it is an important issue. This is the point he is making; we must ensure that people who are not legally allowed to work in this country do not do so.

We are broadly content with the order before us today, but if the Minister is able to address the questions I have raised it would be helpful.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her contributions. As usual, she sets me a high standard if I am to avoid writing in detail, although I certainly would not hesitate to do so if I felt I was not able to answer satisfactorily.

I should like to reiterate that these regulations implement the commitment contained in the Government’s programme for government to apply the toughest possible transitional restrictions to any future member state in the EU. That is why we are presenting them. We do not expect levels of migration from Croatia to be significant, however. I made that clear in introducing these regulations.

It was interesting that the Baroness said that she was concerned that we had not given an actual estimate of these figures. We know there could have been considerable numbers from other countries if we had not set these restrictions in place in the past, so we feel that the policy that we arrived at in the coalition agreement was the right one.

I will first explain the business of the five years. I did so in introducing the speech when I explained that these regulations go up to June 2018 but provide for a further extension of two years; they can go up to 2020. They put in place the mechanism whereby the Government can indeed have a seven-year transitional regime.

The noble Baroness asks, “Why apply transitional regimes?” and, “Is it contradictory?”. I hope the noble Baroness supports that.

I thought I made it clear that I did support transitional regimes. I never asked, “Why transitional arrangements?”. My query is about the Minister’s contradictory comments. I recognise that it is difficult to make an accurate assessment of the numbers involved, but the Minister used the term “uncontrolled flows” when he was talking about the need for this and then said he did not expect large numbers. That was the point I was making. The two comments seemed contradictory. I was trying to square the circle on that. I hope I was clear that we support transitional arrangements—indeed, we brought them in previously for Romania and Bulgaria. So that was not the point I was making. I want to be clear on that.

I am grateful for that explanation. As a result, I now understand the position of the noble Baroness. Thank you.

She asked me about the details of how these figures would be monitored. Obviously, where transitional permits are actually applied for, we know how many people are coming from Croatia to this country. As to how they will be enforced, the noble Baroness will know that we now have within the Home Office an immigration enforcement unit that ensures that illegal workers—and, indeed, illegal employers—can be prosecuted. These matters can be dealt with much more forcefully than before.

I am pleased that the noble Baroness noted HMRC’s assault on minimum wages. There has been a lot of cross-departmental working on these issues as the Department for Work and Pensions has an interest in them as well as the Home Office and HMRC. The rather amusingly entitled Operation Pheasant was designed to seek out exactly this problem in the part of the world in which I live, and successfully identified weaknesses that we do not want to see. After all, an exploiting employer is also an unfair employer who presents unfair competition to those who respect the law. The enforcement of the law is an important aspect of making sure that business in this country is conducted on a level playing field.

The noble Baroness also asked whether we would seek to reopen the free movement directive and what our approach to that was. We are examining the scope and consequence of the free movement of people across the EU as part of the general balance of competences review. We monitor enforcement issues and publish the outcomes on the Home Office website. All details of instances where employers have been discovered to be illegally employing individuals are published on that website. I hope that that satisfies the noble Baroness and that she will approve the regulations.

Motion agreed.

Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, we are concerned here with further secondary legislation required to amend the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 1 Territories) Order 2003 and the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Territories) Order 2003.

The background to this order is that it is necessary given the accession of the Republic of Korea to the European Convention on Extradition and the accession of Croatia to the European Union on 1 July 2013, from which time it will operate the European arrest warrant procedure. In addition, this order amends the time allowed for India to provide the necessary documentation following a person’s provisional arrest to reflect the terms of the bilateral extradition treaty in place between the UK and India. Therefore, three separate countries are the focus of this order.

To take these matters in sequence: first, the Republic of Korea is now a party to the European Convention on Extradition. This requires that extradition requests from the Republic of Korea be dealt with under Part 2 of the Extradition Act 2003, which in turn requires that the Republic of Korea be designated for the purposes of that part. That is what this order does. In addition, in line with the provisions of the ECE, this order ensures that when the Republic of Korea sends an extradition request to the UK, the request need be accompanied only with information—not evidence—which would justify the issue of an arrest warrant in a comparable domestic case.

The second country involved is Croatia, which, as we have already debated, will on 1 July accede to the European Union. We have considered the particular aspects relating to transitional arrangements. From 1 July, EU extraditions to and from Croatia will cease to take place under the ECE and will instead fall under the European arrest warrant procedure, the EAW. It is therefore necessary to redesignate Croatia as a Part 1 territory to ensure that we comply with our obligations under the framework decision on the EAW.

The third amendment relates to our extradition relations with India. The Extradition Act 2003 provides for a procedure known as a provisional arrest, whereby in urgent cases a state can ask for a person to be arrested in advance of sending the full papers making up the extradition request. Section 74 of the Act states that following a person’s provisional arrest, the extradition request must be received by the judge within 45 days, unless a longer period is designated by order. This allows the Secretary of State to provide for a longer period, where necessary, to reflect the terms of a bilateral treaty.

The UK concluded a bilateral extradition treaty with India in 1992, which has been in operation since 1993. Article 12 of the treaty specifies that following a provisional arrest the request should be received within 60 days. The UK considered that extradition with India was governed by the London Scheme for Extradition within the Commonwealth. Accordingly, India was not included in the list of territories in Article 4(2) of SI 2003/3334. However, we subsequently learnt that the Indian authorities regard the bilateral treaty as the vehicle for extradition between our two countries. This order ensures that this is reflected in our legislation by setting out that in the case of India the judge must receive the papers within 65 days of the person’s provisional arrest. This allows for India to provide the request to the Secretary of State within 60 days, as the treaty provides for, and for the Secretary of State to have five days to certify the request and send it to the appropriate judge.

I hope that noble Lords will understand the background to this collection of separate provisions within a single statutory instrument. The various amendments to the order are necessary to ensure that the United Kingdom can comply with its particular obligations under the relevant international extradition arrangements. I hope that, given my explanation, the Grand Committee will consider the order favourably.

My Lords, again I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation, which was helpful. I wish to raise only two points, one of which is a probing question. I listened carefully to what he said on India. I do not think that I am dumb, but I struggled to follow some of the reasons for the provisions. Perhaps it will be easier when I read Hansard.

The justification given in the Explanatory Notes is the one the Minister just gave, which is that the time limit regarding the extradition arrangements with India requires that country,

“to provide these documents to the Secretary of State within 60 days, and then provides a further five days in order to enable the Secretary of State to provide these documents to the appropriate judge”.

My understanding is that the Government are equalising the time allowed for the extradition procedure in the UK with that in India, but I am not clear why it is necessary. The Minister said that the Indian Government understood that to be the position. Are we changing it because there was a misunderstanding in 2003 when it came through? I would have thought that we would want to move to extradition as quickly as possible, and I am not clear whether this is extending or reducing the time made available, because nowhere in the order or the Explanatory Notes could I find what the time was before it was 60 days. Obviously it has been changed to 60 days from something, but I do not know from what. If it is in the Explanatory Notes, I apologise, but I could not find it when I was looking through them. It would be helpful to have that information on why it is coming through now. Has the current timescale, whatever it is, been in place since 2003 or did it exist before that?

I was very pleased to hear the Minister give such a positive explanation for and account of the European arrest warrant, which is something he and I have discussed before. I know the Government are reconsidering this issue, which has caused enormous concern to others in Europe as we extradite through the European arrest warrant and apply for extradition through the European arrest warrant. Can the Minister tell me how many times the UK has used the European arrest warrant for extradition to and from the UK? As the Government are bringing this order forward today, they clearly regard the order and the extension of the European arrest warrant to Croatia as helpful and desirable. Croatia will be subject to the European arrest warrant but, on the other hand, the Government are now considering withdrawing from all the police and justice measures, which include the European arrest warrant.

I welcome the comments the Minister has made today, and I am sure we will come back to those issues. However, it would be helpful if he can give me some background on the numbers—I am happy for him to write to me on that as I would not expect him to have that figure to hand—and also on the position of India and what the number has changed from to 60.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her willingness to support this statutory instrument. If the noble Baroness reads Hansard, she will see that I covered this point but I will repeat it. Section 74 of the 2003 Act, under which we were operating but the Indians were not, states that extradition requests must be received by the judge within 45 days. That is why we have had to change the timings to the original arrangement we had with India under our bilateral treaty.

If the misunderstanding is between 45 and 60 days, why has it been changed to 60 rather than remained at 45? It would seem more advantageous to the Government if extradition proceedings took place as quickly as possible.

It is because the bilateral treaty overrides the Commonwealth agreement of 2003. That is the sole reason. The Indian Government have asserted that the Commonwealth treaty does not apply to India as we already had a bilateral treaty in place, which was not overridden. We are not disagreeing with them because it is, after all, a matter of mutual consent, and we wish to see it as such.

In answer to the question about numbers, the Home Secretary said that she would write to Parliament when the figures are available. I will chase this matter with the Home Secretary so that the figures are made available as soon as possible. I hope I have answered the questions. I think that if the noble Baroness reads Hansard, she will see the background of the Indian case.

Motion agreed.

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Application to immigration officers and designated customs officials in England and Wales) Order 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Application to immigration officers and designated customs officials in England and Wales) Order 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, the order before us today will apply certain provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, commonly known as PACE, to criminal investigations conducted by immigration officers. The direct application of these powers to immigration officers for the first time reflects the increasing incidence of immigration officers taking on criminal investigations. It does not affect existing administrative powers of detention, which will continue to be used for the vast majority of immigration operations under the Immigration Act 1971, so criminal investigations are the focus.

The order will also apply to designated customs officials and to persons detained by designated customs officials. This includes powers of arrest, search of premises and seizure of evidence as well as obligations in respect of persons detained on suspicion of having committed customs offences. It will also repeal part of Section 22 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, which provided for the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Application to Revenue and Customs) Order 2007 to apply to designated customs officials undertaking criminal investigations in England and Wales. This was the legislative vehicle that afforded PACE powers to customs officials who transferred from HMRC to the Home Office in 2009.

At that time, the commitment made to Parliament was that this was to be a temporary measure pending the coming into force of one order that applied to both immigration officers and customs officials within the Home Office. This is the order before noble Lords today which will fulfil that undertaking made to Parliament. The reason that, to date, these powers have applied only to customs officials undertaking criminal investigations and detention derives from the time when customs work was an integral part of HMRC. The increasing incidence of immigration officers taking on criminal investigations as part of the focus on tackling immigration crime has made it necessary to extend some of the criminal investigation powers that currently apply to police and designated customs officials to immigration officers. These criminal investigation powers will be used only where the criminal prosecution of an individual is realistic. It is normally in the public interest to use administrative immigration powers to remove an illegal entrant. Removal from the UK will take precedence over a criminal prosecution.

The application of PACE provisions to immigration officers will deliver both operational and resource benefits. At present, police and immigration officers on immigration enforcement teams often work in tandem and deploy jointly on operations where they are forced to use different sets of powers, derived from PACE for the police or the Immigration Acts for immigration officers. This dual approach causes confusion and accountability problems as well as having a negative impact on operations by, for example, requiring separate briefing for different officers.

Noble Lords will be aware of the Home Secretary’s recent announcement of the creation of a separate immigration enforcement arm of the Home Office whose remit is to tackle any abuse of our immigration laws and to encourage compliance. It is individuals within this new entity who investigate immigration crime alongside their colleagues in Border Force, who deal with customs crime, who will benefit from this order. For the first time, it will place all appropriately trained criminal investigators on the same legislative footing regardless of their background and remove any confusion about the legal basis of their actions. In addition to simplifying the operational landscape, the application of PACE to immigration investigators will deliver direct benefits in the form of added powers to tackle crime. Specifically, these will be the ability to seize evidence under Section 19 of PACE and the ability to apply for search warrants in respect of special procedure material under Schedule 1. Powers of search under Sections 18 and 32 are also much simpler in application than their equivalents in Part 3 of the Immigration Act 1971, which is currently the only legal basis on which search powers are available to immigration enforcement investigators.

In the longer term, the application of PACE provisions to immigration officers will provide operational flexibility and build capability within immigration enforcement through their professionalising investigation programme, thereby reducing their reliance on the police. Designated customs officials in Border Force will continue to have access to PACE powers as a result of this order but will now do so under the same legislative vehicle as their immigration officer counterparts. Not only will this reduce possible confusion in circumstances where officers are dual-qualified to act as both an immigration officer and a designated customs official, but it should also negate any need to seek any further enabling or provisional powers in the event of future structural change.

In summary, the application of PACE powers to custom officials in the former UKBA, subsequently Border Force, via Section 22 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, was only ever intended as a temporary measure. Furthermore, there is a clear operational need for immigration officers to have access to the same set of criminal investigations powers as their law enforcement counterparts. I therefore commend the order to the Grand Committee, and I beg to move.

My Lords, again, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. As I understand it, the order before us extends the powers of arrest, search and seizure to immigration officers and customs officials. The Minister will be aware that, in the interests of effective policing, we have called for these measures to be introduced. Clearly, given the kind of investigative work, particularly on issues such as human trafficking and facilitating illegal immigration, it is appropriate, as the order states, that officers should act within a PACE-compliant framework. That will now include customs and immigration officers. We support that.

The Minister would be disappointed if I did not ask him a couple of questions. Paragraph 7.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to mixed investigative teams with the National Crime Agency, which makes sense if they are looking into serious organised crime relating to immigration issues or human trafficking. Does that mean, for example, that all customs or immigration officers acting in a joint team on an NCA investigation would have the same powers as the police officers in that team and that they would retain those powers? If it does not, can the Minister say anything about the differences? I assume that additional training would be required for the officers to ensure that they know the additional powers that they have and how they can properly use them.

On the joint teams, the NCA—as the Minister will know—will not apply fully to Northern Ireland because of a difficult situation which has arisen, which the Government could have done more to resolve early on, if I am honest. I am curious whether these powers and this order will also apply to customs and immigration officers in Northern Ireland, given that the NCA will not operate in that way in Northern Ireland. If the Minister could given me an answer on that, it would be very helpful. I notice our Northern Ireland spokespeople are here today and would be grateful if the point could be clarified. I see puzzled faces behind the Minister and, if it is not clarified today, I am happy for somebody to write to me about it.

It is also my understanding that, while police officers are members of the Police Federation, the new officers who will be subject to and have these powers—those employed by the border agency, for example, or Border Force—are members of a different trade union. Over the years, they will have had different rights at work and different terms and conditions of employment. The order makes no mention of any changes to those at all, so I have assumed that no changes are planned to their terms and conditions of employment or their rights at work and that no changes are expected. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that for me.

I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. The people working together on mixed teams will have those PACE powers only in relation to their particular function within that team. They will all derive their PACE powers from PACE, so there will be a common source, but it is not correct to assume that, for example, a police constable or an immigration officer will be exercising a customs officer’s powers.

As for Northern Ireland, officers of the National Crime Agency are not included in this particular order because the National Crime Agency has not been set up. The noble Baroness will know that the difficulty in Northern Ireland was occasioned not so much by the customs and immigration issues but by the general powers that exist. The noble Baroness will understand that there is only a partial transfer of responsibility and that National Crime Agency functions will still be exercised in Northern Ireland through powers secured through SOCA. I cannot give her an absolute answer on the extension of this particular attribute in Northern Ireland, but if I can write to the noble Baroness, that will enable me to put this particular change, which is largely designed for England and Wales, into context rather than complicating the matter by trying to answer the question on Northern Ireland.

Designated customs officials are already trained to exercise PACE powers and those immigration officers who carry out criminal investigations will receive equivalent training, relevant to the set of PACE powers to which they have access. The noble Baroness will be aware that the changes that have occurred within UKBA have been made without affecting any terms and conditions of employment of any of the individuals involved.

Will the Minister be kind enough to copy his letter to the noble Baroness to those of us who are in the Committee?

I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Empey, in his place. I would be very happy to make sure that he is involved, as I recognise his interest in the particular relationship of Northern Ireland to these changes within the statutory instrument.

I would be grateful if the Minister clarified one further point and perhaps agreed to write to me. He said something that I tried to jot down quickly—I am not sure that I got it right—about police officers having the powers of immigration officers and customs officers. I thought that it was the other way round regarding immigration officers and customs officers. Would they have those powers only when they are involved in a joint investigation with the NCA or will they have those powers independently when investigating such cases?

I am sorry if I have confused the noble Baroness. I had it clear in my mind if it was not clear in my exposition. Each of these specialist elements—police, customs and immigration—are enforcement agencies operating in their particular way. Immigration officers hold their powers totally independently of these other powers. Each agency derives its powers from PACE in an independent fashion. However, it clearly makes it a lot easier, when they are working together, to have powers deriving from the same source, which they do not have at present. The noble Baroness was gracious enough to admit that the 2009 Act needed to put that right at some point in the future. This is the moment at which we have been able to do so.

Motion agreed.

Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, the regulations were laid before the House on 8 May and make changes in four areas. They prescribe a canvass form, allow the names of those who have not returned their canvass form to be retained on the register for a period of two years following a canvass in certain circumstances, allow the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland to share certain data with the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, and permit the chief electoral officer to require information from the Northern Ireland Office in relation to registration activity.

Noble Lords may be aware that the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 abolished the annual canvass in Northern Ireland. That Act introduced instead a process of continuous registration, under which the chief electoral officer uses information from other public bodies to identify those individuals who need to be registered on the electoral register or who need to amend their existing entry on it.

Following a report by the Electoral Commission highlighting a fall in the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register, the chief electoral officer has recommended that a canvass be held in 2013. This will ensure that the electoral register is in the best possible shape in advance of elections in 2014 and 2015. These regulations prescribe a canvass form, which is required in order for the canvass to be conducted in 2013.

The regulations also introduce changes which will improve the way the canvass operates, in line with recommendations in the Electoral Commission’s report. The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland will be able to retain existing entries on the electoral register where those persons have not returned the canvass form, as long as the circumstances make it likely that they are still resident at the address and their information is still accurate. For example, where a person has made an application to be registered in the previous 12 months, the chief electoral officer might be satisfied that it is likely that the person’s information has not changed since then.

The regulations also make two changes in relation to information sharing. First, they put the passing of information about new British citizens in Northern Ireland from the Northern Ireland Office to the chief electoral officer on a statutory footing. Previously that information was passed using common law powers. Secondly, the regulations permit certain information about electors that is collected by the chief electoral officer to be passed to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, both to assist the chief electoral officer in meeting his registration objectives and for statistical purposes.

Noble Lords may be aware that further changes to the canvass form have been brought forward in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which has recently had its First Reading in the other place. Those changes will provide more flexibility in setting the canvass form in future, as well as the possibility of giving the Electoral Commission responsibility for designing the form, in line with the position in Great Britain.

The Electoral Commission, the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, the Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and the Information Commissioner’s Office were all consulted on the detail of these regulations. A letter was also sent to all Northern Ireland parties represented in Parliament and the Assembly setting out the Government’s proposed changes to registration activity.

Recommendations for amending the regulations made by the Chief Electoral Officer and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency have been included. The Electoral Commission recommended a number of drafting amendments to the regulations, as well as changes to the prescribed canvass form. Where possible these recommendations have been incorporated.

I hope noble Lords can agree this piece of legislation which improves the electoral registration process in Northern Ireland and enables a canvass of electors to take place in Northern Ireland later this year. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, I have a number of issues that I would like to raise with the Minister. She refers to the high number of inaccurate entries on the current register. In her wind up can she give the Committee some up-to-date figures as to what in her opinion the accuracy level of the register is at present? It is a continuous process but people perhaps become less exercised by it and do not follow through; if they move house and move around and so on, it is definitely an issue.

With regards to the reference that you are going to support research by NISRA into alternatives to the 2021 census, I think many people felt that the census was an extremely costly process. The information also decays very rapidly with time. Ten years is a long time in public policy and needs change. If it is possible to have a more accurate and running figure when one is making public policy and spending decisions, there is merit in that. Quite frequently we had to make decisions on the basis of previous censuses which obviously were very inaccurate by the time we got to them.

The Northern Ireland Electoral Commission also recommended changes to the way the canvass form is set, which would require primary legislation. The Government are considering this recommendation. Can the noble Baroness tell us where that thought process is at and whether the Government have decided to accept this recommendation? Will a law come forward?

The one issue to which I want to draw the Committee’s attention is that of confidentiality. We all know about the Census (Confidentiality)(Northern Ireland) Order 1991 but I have to tell noble Lords that there is considerable anxiety among many people that the spread of information—the number of agencies from which the information is both drawn from and goes to—means that a very large number of people have access to it. No matter what is said, given that lip service is always paid to confidentiality, I am not clear about what is actually being done about this, so I would be grateful for an indication of what processes and decisions to implement it are in place. The fact is that people are still being targeted and, sadly, we have seen evidence of that over the past six months. A number of people are nervous about having their names appear on the electoral register, and yet they are under a legal obligation to provide information for electoral purposes. That information will be spread around a large number of public bodies whether they want it or not. In the past, I have listened to Ministers say that it is an issue and they are looking at it but I am unclear as what has ever been done about it. It is an extremely difficult problem to solve. Once information is passed to public bodies, it is in the system where loads of people have access to it, and it is not clear to me how that information is controlled.

I would be grateful if the noble Baroness could address these issues in her response to the Committee.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her clear outline of the regulations. It is extremely important, particularly in Northern Ireland, that there is a continual process of encouraging people to register, despite the obvious difficulties quite rightly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Empey. The issue of confidentiality is the only point I wish to raise.

Paragraph 8.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum explains that the Information Commissioner’s office made,

“recommendations in relation to the contents of the data arrangements between”,

various organisations and bodies in Northern Ireland. Is the noble Baroness able to share with us what those recommendations were, or at the very least at this stage say what the issues were that led the Government to further consider these recommendations? If she cannot do so today, perhaps she will write to me and the noble Lord, Lord Empey.

The Opposition Front Bench supports what the Government are doing here and would encourage them to make sure as best they can that people register and take part in the democratic process in Northern Ireland. I know that I have sprung a question on her, but if the information regarding the Information Commissioner’s Office is available and it is possible share it, I would be grateful.

I thank both noble Lords who have spoken for their contributions and those noble Lords who have attended and shown interest in this debate. I will do my best to answer the questions posed and, as ever, I will review the record afterwards and write to noble Lords who are here if I have any further information to add.

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, asked about the completeness of the register and its accuracy. The parliamentary register is considered to be 73% complete and the local government register is considered to be 71% complete. The accuracy for both registers is considered to be 78%. That gives us 22% inaccuracy. It is in the interests of democracy that we make the register as accurate as possible because inaccurate names will not increase the turnout; in fact, they would probably do the reverse. Therefore, it is important that we have a very accurate register in Northern Ireland.

I am pleased that the noble Lord welcomed using NISRA for the census and approaching the census information in a different way. The recommended changes to the canvass form that he referred to are in the primary legislation currently before the other place: the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. They will allow very broad parameters to be set by government. The form will be designed by the Electoral Commission. In my view and that of the Government, that is very much more satisfactory because, after all, the Electoral Commission has a wealth of experience and its approach has been honed in other parts of Britain.

I shall go back to the census and the issue about confidentiality raised by both noble Lords. Part of the benefit of information sharing with NISRA is improving its ability to obtain information relevant to the census. Confidentiality is a difficult issue, as the Northern Ireland Office is very aware. There was a public consultation on anonymous registration, and provisions on it are currently being considered. It is important to bear in mind that people do not have to have their address advertised on the register in order to have the right to vote. They have a legal obligation to register to vote but do not have to have their address advertised. I emphasise that NISRA deals with census material under conditions of secrecy and confidentiality. Its staff are trained to a very high standard in this and are under considerable regulation in the way in which they handle that data, for the reasons that noble Lords outlined in their concern about confidentiality. The concern about sharing data is not new. It has existed for some time and therefore is not associated with these regulations.

Finally, I shall correct a slip that I made when talking about the Electoral Commission designing the form. It may design the form but will not necessarily do so. The legislation before the other place would permit it to do so.

I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of non-jury trial provisions) Order 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of non-jury trial provisions) Order 2013.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, this order extends for a further two years the period during which trials without a jury can take place in certain circumstances in Northern Ireland. Without this order, the system allowing for non-jury trials would lapse on 31 July this year.

It is with regret that I propose that this system be renewed for a further two years, but I do so with the knowledge that there remains in Northern Ireland a serious threat from a small but dangerous minority. They have no mandate but seek to drag Northern Ireland back into the past. Their targets are police officers, soldiers and prison officers, but their attacks are felt by the wider community, many of whom face disruption on a daily basis.

The reckless murder of prison officer David Black, in November 2012, by a group referred to as the “new IRA” was an unwelcome reminder of the continuing threat posed by dissident republican terrorists. This new grouping primarily consists of members of the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs, which conducts brutal shootings against nationalist members of the community, and a number of unaffiliated individuals, who we believe have connections to the fatal attack against Massereene barracks in 2009.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland and its counterpart in the Republic of Ireland, the AGS, continue to thwart the efforts of such groups. Across the island of Ireland, 173 arrests and 64 charges were made during 2012. There were also 18 convictions of individuals involved in planning and participating in attacks. So far this year, there have been 63 arrests, 32 charges and 18 seizures. Many more attacks have been thwarted and disrupted.

It is therefore vital that there are means available within the criminal justice system to allow the perpetrators of these attacks to be brought before the law. We must recognise that Northern Ireland is still unfortunately in a unique situation, and the non-jury trial provisions provide a unique solution to a small number of cases. Noble Lords will know that jury trials in Northern Ireland are not safe from disruption by those involved in terrorist activity. Public galleries are at times crowded with members of the public. The close-knit nature of society in Northern Ireland means that jurors are vulnerable to intimidation. This can result in, at best, a partisan verdict.

I thought it would be helpful if I outlined the processes involved in order to obtain a non-jury trial. The Director of Public Prosecutions issues a certificate which allows for one. The DPP can issue a certificate for a non-jury trial only if he believes that one or more of four statutory conditions, which are laid out in Section 1 of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007, are met. Condition 1 is that the defendant is, or is an associate of, a member of a proscribed organisation. Condition 2 is that the offence was committed on behalf of a proscribed organisation or that a proscribed organisation was involved. Condition 3 is that an attempt has been made by or on behalf of a proscribed organisation to prejudice the investigation or prosecution. Condition 4 is that the offence was committed as a result of, or in connection with, religious or political hostility.

Noble Lords will be aware that a proscribed organisation is one that is concerned with terrorism. It can also be seen that the four conditions relate specifically to the circumstances of the offence and the defendant. Furthermore, the DPP must be satisfied that there is a risk that the administration of justice might be impaired if a jury trial were to be held. There is a clear distinction here between this system and the previous Diplock court arrangements which were in place prior to the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. The Diplock system saw all scheduled offences tried by a judge alone. Today, there is a clear presumption that jury trial will take place in all cases. Certificates are issued only when absolutely necessary in the interests of the administration of justice and where the particular statutory tests are met.

Noble Lords will also wish to be aware that not all cases proceed to a non-jury trial. The PSNI holds no right to stipulate that a non-jury trial takes place, and the Director of Public Prosecutions acts with discretion and independence in deciding whether to issue a certificate. Hence the number of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland remains relatively low. So far, in 2013, the DPP has issued just eight certificates for non-jury trials and one request has been refused. In 2012, 25 certificates were issued and three were refused. However, while they are low, these figures are still significant and show the ongoing need for non-jury trial.

I know that this is now the third such renewal of these provisions and there is some concern about that. I am also aware that during the last renewal in 2011, noble Lords expressed concern about the limited consultation that was held at the time. I can, however, inform noble Lords that prior to taking a decision on the renewal of the provisions this time around, the Northern Ireland Office canvassed opinion from the main stakeholders linked to the operation of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland. This included the PSNI, the Department of Justice, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, the PPS in Northern Ireland and the Office of the Lord Chief Justice. The consensus among all of those stakeholders was that the present threat environment is not dissimilar to that surrounding the previous renewal and, as such, all were in favour of renewing the provisions as they currently stand.

The canvassing exercise did, however, inform the Secretary of State’s decision to hold a limited consultation again for the 2013 review. In reaching her final decision on whether to seek the renewal of the provisions, the Secretary of State then formally consulted with those who have direct involvement in the operation of the system, including members of the judiciary, the security forces, human rights groups and political representatives.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland, who has previously scrutinised the non-jury trial system, concluded that trials are not safe from disruption and recommended renewal of the provisions for a further two years. The Attorney-General, in his capacity as Advocate-General for Northern Ireland, also agreed that in view of the current circumstances a further two-year extension should be sought.

Although there was some limited opposition to renewal, the overwhelming response from the consultation acknowledged that the security situation in Northern Ireland rendered the provisions necessary, at least for a further two years. I can assure noble Lords that the Government do want to see a return to full jury trial in all cases in Northern Ireland, but this should happen only when the security situation permits and your Lordships will know that we are not there yet. Given the current severe threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism and its bearing on criminal trials, now is not the time. The renewal of these provisions for a further two years is, regretfully, the only way forward at present.

The Government remain fully committed to tackling the threat from terrorism and keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure. It is with this responsibility in mind that the Government seek to renew the non-jury trial provisions. I commend the order to the Grand Committee.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for introducing the order, which I reluctantly support. I have only one question. At one point the noble Baroness said that all stakeholders who were consulted accepted the need for the continuation of these arrangements. The document actually says that the majority of respondents to the consultation accepted the need for the continuation of these arrangements. Is it possible to be told a little more about the arguments of the minority and how strongly they were stated, even, if possible, where they came from and, indeed, if this represents any difference of view among the political parties? However, as I said in my opening remarks, I regretfully agree absolutely with the Government that the situation in Northern Ireland at the moment is such that it is necessary to continue with these arrangements. I hope very much that it will not be too long before the Minister can come to the Dispatch Box and give us better news, but she has had no alternative than to make the announcement that she has today.

My Lords, I reluctantly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bew. We are considering a two-year renewal. Given the length of time that would have to elapse before what any of us would consider normality could resume, it seems to me inevitable that this measure will have to be renewed, at least for the proposed period. The fact is that while the number of trials is not large, it is significant, and it is the nature of the trials that is really the issue. I do not see any grounds for believing that we are at a point where a renewal of this provision could be refused in the foreseeable future. That is most unfortunate but I think the reality on the ground speaks for itself.

The noble Baroness referred to the murder of Mr Black towards the end of last year. Perhaps the Committee is not aware of the number of terrorist attempts that have been made since then, to say nothing of what was done in the year or two years before the death of Mr Black. We should put on record our thanks to the security services for the number of terrorist attempts that have been interdicted. We also should thank the Irish police for the co-operation that we are receiving from them and for the very effective actions that they have taken. Their contribution has saved the lives of many people, not only within their own jurisdiction but within ours.

It is a fact that a significant number of people are daily continuing to attempt to kill and bomb, and the Minister will be aware that even within the past few weeks there have been a number of very significant attempts. Within the past few days there was an attempt to kill police officers in Belfast. It is inconceivable that if those people were apprehended, you could conduct a trial as if we were in the Home Counties. I have to say with regret that, in view of some events that have taken place on this side of the water, one can see how quickly a situation could become corrupted and people could be intimidated.

We therefore owe the judiciary in Northern Ireland a debt of gratitude for consistency over many decades because it has kept civilisation and the rule of law together. It is not perfect and is not the way that we would like it to be but, unfortunately, I do not see any short to medium-term alternative but to continue to renew this measure. However, I ask the noble Baroness to consider this: if the intention of the initial legislation in 2007 was that it should be short-term, and we continue to renew it in two-year bites, is someone going to judicially review this whole thing and say, “That was not the original intention of Parliament. It was short-term, what you are doing is continuing to renew and renew. You are actually carrying out a purpose for which the original legislation was never intended”? The department should bear that in mind.

My Lords, again I thank the Minister for her clear outline of the order. For the purpose of this discussion, I thank my two friends, the noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Empey, for bringing as usual to these discussions weight, knowledge and a firm understanding of what is at stake in Northern Ireland. They have long experience there, which we are lucky to have brought to this Room. I share with all noble Lords and noble Baronesses the reluctance, but nevertheless acceptance of the need, to proceed with the renewal of the order. It is entirely necessary but none of us likes it. There is merit in what the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said about a review at some point and we would all be delighted to have that review and for it to recommend the discontinuation of the legislation. However, we are not there yet.

In the interests of information and getting a clear picture of what is happening on the ground regarding these issues, the Minister outlined the number of cases. She mentioned only one terrorist-based organisation, which was republican. Does that mean that there were no instances of charges involving, for want of a better description, the loyalist/militant unionist community? Perhaps that is a bit of a misnomer. That is not to say that we are in some sort of competition to see who is causing more trouble than anyone else; it is for the sake of giving noble Lords here a grasp of the situation. That would inform us and enable us to get a better picture.

However, it is quite clear that we are all in agreement and the Labour Front Bench strongly supports this move and joins everyone in this Room in hoping that this is near enough the last continuation of these provisions.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I agree wholeheartedly with the last sentiment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy. We would all agree that we very much hope that this will be the last time that this order has to be renewed.

I shall start with the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Bew. I was perhaps not clear in what I said. There was a two-stage process in the consultation. The Secretary of State canvassed opinion among stakeholders and, having taken those initial soundings, she decided to hold a formal consultation. It was formal but limited in the number of organisations that were consulted and the response rate did not indicate that there was any burning concern in a number of organisations. Three of the responses from the organisations did not agree with the renewal, although one of them was a group of academics in Australia which was not a formal part of the consultation. The reasons given by the people who live in the community directly affected by this were largely to do with there being a lack of evidence of intimidation. Of course, one is struck by the fact that if this system is working well, it prevents intimidation, and therefore, it if has worked successfully, there will be little evidence of intimidation. For example, the director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice expressed frustration at the lack of available evidence of juror intimidation and questioned the degree of discretion afforded to the Director of Public Prosecutions in issuing the certificate. The tenor of the reply was concern that there was no evidence.

I share the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, about the current violence. It is worth pointing out that there is a large number of unsuccessful attempts at violence and terrorism. I shall give some examples. So far this year, in relation to national security attacks, there have been 68 arrests, 32 charges and 19 seizures. That is a sign of the success of the PSNI operation. The noble Lord raised the possibility of judicial review. It is always a possibility, and the Northern Ireland Office is aware of it. I will ensure that the point is made to the Secretary of State and that she is aware of the noble Lord’s comments.

The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, asked about loyalist attacks. The concern about terrorism is primarily about dissident republicans but, of course, there is another issue about loyalist unrest, the nature of which we saw during the flag protests, which became violent on a number of occasions. There were death threats and violence against the police, and a considerable number of police were injured in the early days of those protests. We need to be aware of the issue, in that there is a different face to concern in both those communities.

Finally, we have to bear in mind that in Northern Ireland people are particularly vulnerable to paramilitary intimidation. It is greater than it is in the rest of the UK because, as noble Lords know very well from their own experience, people live in small, close-knit communities. It is particularly easy to identify those called for jury service, which is at the heart of the problem. We have to be concerned about the intimidation or potential intimidation of jurors by people representing both sides of the community. I commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.56 pm.