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Lords Chamber

Volume 820: debated on Monday 28 March 2022

House of Lords

Monday 28 March 2022

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

NHS: Gambling Treatment Services


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcements that the NHS (1) will no longer accept money from GambleAware, and (2) is establishing two additional NHS gambling clinics to meet demand, what plans they have to agree a long-term independent funding settlement for NHS gambling treatment services.

In 2019, the NHS committed to establishing 15 specialist gambling clinics by 2023-24. Five clinics are now operational across England, with a further two to open by May. This rollout carries a budget of £15 million, including £6 million allocated for 2023-24. After this, NHS England will provide recurrent annual funding of £6 million. The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England and NHS Improvement are currently undertaking a review to ensure there is a coherent pathway of advice and treatment for those experiencing gambling-related harm.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is quite extraordinary that, at a time when the NHS is in such dire straits, with such financial pressures, we are picking up the costs incurred by an industry. This announcement has shown that far more resources are needed to deal with the outcome of problem gambling, and that the current voluntary levy is simply inadequate to provide the level of independent research, education and treatment that we need. Will the Government commit to introducing a compulsory levy of, say, 1% of gross gambling yield on the polluter pays principle, so that taxpayers are not picking up the huge bills being created by this problem that exists right across society?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his follow-up question and for raising the issue in the first place. He is absolutely right that we must think about this across government; DCMS leads the policy, but the Department of Health and Social Care is co-operating with it to look at the health issues. Gambling used to be considered a syndrome, but it is now recognised as an addiction. We are committing resources to it through our long-term plan, and will open 15 NHS specialist gambling clinics by 2023-24, with £15 million of funding over the period.

My Lords, do we not need a mandatory levy now? The Government should be setting up a body made up of independent experts, charities and the NHS to decide what services are required and where they should be provided.

The former Public Health England, now the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, works closely with us, particularly on this issue. We understand the call for a compulsory levy. Indeed, as I am sure many noble Lords will be aware, DCMS recently conducted a review of the Gambling Act 2005. The DHSC was part of that, looking at the impact of gambling on health. Gambling is now recognised as an addiction, as opposed to any other issue. We are looking at this and considering all options. The Government received 16,000 responses to the consultation; we are looking at that and will publish the White Paper soon.

My Lords, with respect, the Minister did not really answer the question about the financing of these services. Does he accept, or understand, that those who treat and research gambling conditions are reluctant to accept funds that are voluntarily provided by the gambling industry?

I completely recognise the noble Lord’s point, which is why we welcome the fact that GambleAware will no longer fund the two clinics in London and Leeds. NHS England has stepped forward on that, but we are reviewing this overall, in a holistic way. When we have an issue that is considered across government, we must make sure that it is all joined up. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been leading the review into the Gambling Act 2005, and has asked the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and the Department of Health and Social Care to feed into it, along with all the other stakeholders.

My Lords, Public Health England says that around 246,000 people are likely to have some form of gambling addiction, but last year, only 668 people—with the most severe addiction issues—were referred to the gambling clinics because of a lack of resources. Even with the extra clinics over the next three years, will this number of clinics be able to treat the top 10% of patients, which is 24,000 people? If not, when will the service expand to help them too?

The noble Baroness makes an important point and there is recognition that we must do far more on this. That is why we held a review of the Gambling Act in the first place. As noble Lords will be aware, when the work is cross-government, the Department of Health cannot lead in this area; it can contribute when it comes to the health and addiction impacts of gambling but we are doing this in a joined-up way. The White Paper will be published soon and we are continuing to have conversations with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on this issue.

My Lords, I echo the point made by the right reverend Prelate. The polluter pays principle is really important, particularly when we think that the gambling industry continues to offer customers VIP packages and streams live sport, which are equally damaging. This badly affect the lives of families and has an impact on individuals’ struggles. I welcome the NHS clinics but we always seem to tackle issues once the horse has bolted. I want my noble friend the Minister to address the issues of prevention and working much more closely with the gambling industry and others in government.

I am very happy to take two questions at once; I will even take three, if noble Lords want, and try to answer them.

The important point that a number of noble Lords are making is that many want to see a polluter pays principle. In economics, this goes back to negative externalities, where you tax things that are considered bad. Some people call them bad; others call them negative externalities. However, when you say that the polluter should pay, who is that? People sometimes say that it should be users but, if you do that, users will end up paying more. Others say that it should be the industry, but will the industry then pass on those costs to users and put those people into even more distress? This is why we want to look at this issue in a joined-up way. Yes, it is about the gambling industry, and this may well be the option we land on, but we want to make sure that we tackle the issue in a completely holistic way.

My Lords, I welcome the Government saying that there needs to be a range of treatment and not just the hard-end clinics. I declare my interest, as in the register, having recently become a trustee of GambleAware; I did that because I want those people who are scared of going for treatment and frightened of the stigma to be able to access early intervention, which means much more work for the voluntary sector. Can the Minister commit to the Department of Health ensuring that the pathway is very clear and will involve early intervention, particularly for women, so that they do not have to end up in heavy-end treatment?

The noble Baroness makes a very important point: people must be treated as individuals—they will have come to addiction from different pathways. We have been engaging with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on a number of issues. Additionally, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities regularly engages with NHS England working-level counterparts, including recently on the establishment of a joint task and finish group on integrating the gambling treatment pathway. Referring directly to the question asked by the noble Baroness, there is no one simple pathway into gambling, and there is a stigma. By putting it at the forefront of some NHS services, we are showing that we are taking it seriously, and that it is not just an affliction but an addiction. We recognise that we must do more to tackle that.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Peers for Gambling Reform. The Minister has talked a lot about treatment, but does he accept that by adopting a public health approach, we would reduce harm in the first instance? Can he give us an absolute assurance that his department is co-operating on all aspects of the gambling review that is currently taking place and that it will be involved in the writing of the White Paper that will, I hope, come before us very soon?

We take the public health aspect very seriously. Public Health England did some work with the DCMS on looking at gambling from a public health perspective, and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities continues to do that work. While the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is looking at the gambling industry, we are also looking at this as a public health issue via the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. I see that the seconds are running out, so I will give the Labour Front Bench time to ask a question.

I thank the Minister for that.

GambleAware recently announced a new major public health campaign to raise awareness of the gambling harms that women experience and to highlight the warning signs and the support that is available. It is particularly focusing on women between the ages of 25 and 55 who gamble online. Can the Minister reassure the House that such vital campaigns will continue to be supported through the long-term funding settlement for NHS gambling treatment and support services?

I am afraid that I cannot answer on the specific initiative that the noble Baroness refers to, but I know we take very seriously that this is a public health issue that we must tackle in a holistic way. We are looking at how we can allocate funding in the NHS long-term plan to tackle gambling addiction and to ensure that we focus more on prevention rather than simply dealing with people once they have a problem.

Police and Crime Commissioners: Budget


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decisions of Police and Crime Commissioners who have (1) cut the number of police officers in their police force area in their 2022/23 budget, and (2) applied for a grant from year 3 of the Police Uplift Programme.

My Lords, through the police uplift programme, police forces in England and Wales have recruited over 11,000 additional officers. Police and crime commissioners can also fund the recruitment of officers on top of the uplift allocations from local funding such as precept outside of the uplift grant. We collect data annually on local ambitions to recruit additional officers, to ensure that growth is tracked accurately.

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a former police and crime commissioner and I thank the Minister for her Answer. According to the Prime Minister himself, the Government are committed, as a priority, to increasing the number of police officers. How do they not see the need to criticise those PCCs, such as the new police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire, who even though they have the resources through government grant and maximum council tax, have chosen in their 2022-23 budgets to cut the number of police officers rather than increase it? Surely the Government have the courage to tell them that they are wrong.

First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, whom I saw first-hand doing an excellent job as a PCC for Leicestershire. Secondly, how PCCs allocate their funding and their officers is obviously a decision for local areas. Thirdly, if that PCC does not perform in line with the public’s expectations, they have the remedy at the ballot box.

My Lords, is it not outrageous that the PCC for Leicestershire and Rutland, who describes himself as a Conservative, is cutting police numbers while paying £100,000 plus expenses to Mike Veale, a man facing severe misconduct proceedings who, as chief constable for Wiltshire, besmirched the reputation of Sir Edward Heath—a wicked deed for which he has still not been called to account? Should not this dishonourable PCC be thrown out of the Conservative Party and the proceedings against Mr Veale started as soon as possible?

My Lords, his membership of the Conservative Party is clearly a matter for the Conservative Party. Whether he should continue as PCC, as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is entirely a matter for the electorate.

My Lords, what power does the Home Secretary have to overrule police and crime commissioners—for example, if they refused to increase police numbers to achieve the Government’s planned 20,000 uplift, or when the Mayor of London forced the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to resign? If the Home Secretary did not agree that Dame Cressida Dick should go, why did she not intervene at the time, rather than commission an inquiry after the event?

Clearly, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service has given notice of the end of her tenure. It appeared to be quite short notice, although she has yet to depart. I understand she will be departing in April and I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to her work. I say to the noble Lord that the police are operationally independent and the PCC sets the direction for the local area. If the public in that area are not happy, they have the remedy at the ballot box.

Is it not the reality that the new PCC for Leicestershire has, from the third tranche of the Government’s police uplift programme and the maximum permitted increase in council tax of £10 per year per dwelling, the resources for another 100 officers in 2022-23, as previously budgeted for and agreed? He has decided not to use the money for that purpose, even in part. The number of officers there will remain under 2010 levels in 2022-23, despite the Government saying that the overall 20,000 additional officers nationally are to restore the cuts in numbers since 2010. Does the Answer to my noble friend Lord Bach mean that the Government condone what the new PCC for Leicestershire is doing in using money intended to increase police officer numbers for other purposes in 2022-23?

My Lords, the Government have been absolutely clear on the police uplift programme: we expect that funding to go towards the 20,000 police officers. That is not in any doubt. What is in debate this afternoon is whether the precept should be used on top of that to fund police officers. Whether a local PCC decides to do that is down to that local PCC. Should local areas need to invest in additional police officers, they have the funding to do so through either the police uplift programme or indeed the precept.

My Lords, in welcoming the increase in police numbers that the Government have achieved, will my noble friend assure me that police and crime commissioners will have the flexibility to best respond to local circumstances? We are seeing that cybercrime does not necessarily need a uniformed officer to investigate it; police and crime commissioners may decide there are better ways to do it, and surely that is the point of having them.

My noble friend is absolutely right: local circumstances will dictate different needs in different places. He is absolutely correct to say that cyber and other types of crime—county lines, for example—may necessitate different solutions in different areas.

My Lords, following that specific question and the implication that somehow this money was being spent on cybercrime, the principal cybercrime in this country is fraud. Some 42% of reported crime is fraud—despite the fact that the Government regularly drop off this figure when they talk about crime. Some 1% of police resources are used in policing fraud—so it clearly cannot be the case that these resources are being used for other policing purposes; they must be being used for something else.

I return to the point made by my noble friend: it is down to local elected PCCs to decide. Also, cyber is not just about fraud; it can be about all sorts of things, such as disruption et cetera. There are other bodies that deal with fraud as well, but, frankly, we deal with fraud and other types of crime across several agencies.

My Lords, I declare that I have met several PCCs during my long interest in policing. It is true that Conservatives have a propensity to cut—they cut figures, costs and budgets all the time. It is exactly what the Conservatives did back in 2010, which caused chaos in policing, because the budget was cut so savagely and so quickly. So perhaps this PCC did not get the memo that the Government are now recruiting.

My Lords, I think all PCCs got the memo. The funding and the precept capability are there for police to not just get the numbers through the police uplift programme but to add to them through the precept, if they see fit in their area.

My Lords, there is serious concern about the recruitment of police officers from the diverse communities in this country. If the number is cut, how will we improve on this record?

My Lords, the numbers will not be cut; they are going up quite significantly—I think they went up 9% in the last year. On the point about diversity, the noble Lord is absolutely right; we talked about this last year in relation to the HMICFRS report on the back of the Daniel Morgan inquiry. Over the last four years, numbers have gone steadily up in terms of BME representation in the Metropolitan Police.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. Of course, it is to be commended that the Government are putting more resources into police numbers, but that is only to reverse the cuts that they themselves made. Can the Minister tell us how many of those who are being recruited as part of the uplift programme have actually completed their training and not dropped out or been found not to have met the necessary requirements? What are the Government doing about the chronic shortage of detectives, which is now apparent partly because of the loss of police officers over the last 12 years?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point about how many officers have taken up their posts. The total number of officers recruited is nearly 140,000, which is an increase of nearly 10%, as I said. I do not know the dropout number. I suspect that 140,000 is the overall number, but if there are any dropouts I will let the noble Lord know.

Schools: Extremism and Intolerance


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reporting in “The Trojan Horse Affair” podcast, published by the New York Times on 4 February; and what steps they are taking to prevent extremism and intolerance from gaining a foothold in schools in England.

My Lords, we remain absolutely committed to keeping children safe from extremism. We provide online resources and fund networks of practitioners to support schools to promote shared values and build resilience to extremism. We also take action against those in the sector who express extremist views. The Government’s response at the time of “Trojan horse” rightly focused on whether the alleged events and behaviours actually happened. A number of independent reports confirmed that they did.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer and pay tribute to her great diligence in having subjected herself to listening to all eight hours of the New York Times podcast on this subject. I did not intend to subject her to a cruel and unusual punishment when I originally decided to ask the Question. Will she join me in paying tribute to the whistleblowers of all communities in Birmingham who played their part in bringing these most important allegations to public attention? Many of these people have been harassed by the New York Times in the years since the revelation of these allegations. Connected to that, will she give some sense to the House of the progress made on the independent report undertaken by Peter Clarke, former head of the counterterrorism command on the Trojan horse affair at the time, and the progress made on his 15 recommendations in this regard?

The Government recognise the very important contribution that whistleblowers make. We have had anonymous reporting lines since 2015 and established an online reporting system in 2021, which is available to those working in the sector and to the general public. I hope I can reassure my noble friend that we have made good progress on implementing Peter Clarke’s recommendations. To give the House some examples, we have strengthened the Ofsted inspection framework so that its inspectors are now required to assess how well schools protect pupils from the risks of extremism and radicalisation, and to promote fundamental British values. We have pursued action against those who may have breached teacher standards and taken action against those involved in the management of schools. We continue to assess whether other areas of the country could be similarly vulnerable, and we have a dedicated counterextremism function in the department to consider allegations.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that extremism arises from claims that the one God of us all has human prejudices and is more favourably disposed to our particular faith, as opposed to others’, no matter how we behave towards others? Does she further agree that the teaching of RE in schools should emphasise ethical commonalities, which are much greater than the smaller area of conflict-producing differences?

The noble Lord asks a rather profound first question, which I might need a bit more time to think about. On his second point, the principles that underpin fundamental British values, which are now taught in every school, include diversity, tolerance, mutual respect and the rule of law.

My Lords, the report by the independent review of the Prevent extremism strategy was due to be submitted to the Home Office in September. It was then put back to 31 December, and it still has not been published. Will the Government tell us whether they have received the report and whether they will commit to releasing the strategy before the summer Recess to ensure that the UK’s counterterrorism strategy is fit for purpose?

My understanding is that the independent review of Prevent is ongoing, and we will consider its findings in due course.

My Lords, at least 6,000 children are being educated in unregistered illegal schools where they are exposed to extremist, intolerant, homophobic and sexist literature. As the Government indicated, can the Minister confirm that legislation will be included in the May Queen’s Speech to increase powers for Ofsted to bring illegal schools into registration, and to introduce a register of home-educated children, so many of whom attend illegal schools? If not in May, then when?

The noble Baroness will understand that I cannot anticipate the Queen’s Speech, but I absolutely share her deep concern about the risks faced by children who are in unregistered schools. The Government have said that at the next legislative opportunity, we will seek to address some of those weaknesses. I can confirm that the Government are committed to a register for home-educated children.

My Lords, do the Government recall that one of the schools in the Trojan horse scandal is actually called the Al-Hijrah School, thus extolling not only Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to his takeover of Medina, but his massacre there of 600 Jews in one afternoon, after which his religion went on to conquer most of the known world. Does not the name say it all?

My Lords, the safety of children is paramount and whistleblowers often provide a very important service, but it is known that the then Secretary of State for Education had been informed that counterterrorism police had determined that the Trojan horse letter was bogus. None the less, he went ahead by citing the letter when instituting major reforms in Birmingham, through which teachers lost their jobs and schools were closed, and changes in national education policy resulted as well. Can the Minister say whether the Minister in question—who is now, of course, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up—has faced any consequences of those actions and whether the changes he instituted as a result will be revisited?

I do not think that the then Secretary of State or any subsequent Secretary of State should in any way apologise for their relentless focus on safeguarding children and the safety of those children. The alleged events and behaviours were confirmed in a number of independent reviews and an independent tribunal.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that what was subsequently uncovered by several Ofsted reports, two separate inquiries by the Department for Education, Birmingham council and multiple court judgments was that there was no organised plot but that a small cluster of Birmingham schools, including three run by an academy trust, suffered from a range of issues—poor governance, a lack of child protection safeguards and a failure of leadership? Does the Minister agree that what millions of Muslim families in this country want most of all is for their children to have a good education, to be integrated and not to suffer the consequences of this incident?

I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness that the vast majority of Muslim families in this country want exactly what she described. I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of excellent faith schools of all faiths, including Muslim schools, which comply with promoting fundamental British values, as all in your Lordships’ House would agree.

My Lords, will the Minister commend the people of Birmingham for their extraordinary efforts since 2014 on cohesion and attempting to learn lessons from this very complicated event, as we have heard in your Lordships’ House today? Will she particularly commend them for the United Nations rights reporting school award, which has been applied for every year and is now awarded to 51% of primary and secondary schools in Birmingham, compared with only 18% across the country? Will she commend these actions and others, and ask for them to be replicated around the country so that we might live as one people?

I thank the right revered Prelate for his question and for pointing out the success of integration in primary schools; I am happy to share in his welcome of that.

As the right reverend Prelate said, it is a complicated situation, but the podcast itself—the reporting as per the original Question—was at times quite worryingly skewed. Does my noble friend think that schools are doing enough to challenge extremism, or, as a result of this podcast, are they afraid of being labelled racist?

My noble friend is right that these are very sensitive issues, but challenging intolerant, racist or discriminatory views should be seen as part of a school’s wider anti-bullying and safeguarding duties. Actively promoting British values means that any opinions or behaviours that contradict them need to be challenged. I hope my noble friend will be reassured that a survey in 2021 showed that 87% of school leaders reported feeling confident that their school could facilitate conversations around extremism and radicalisation.

COP 26


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards establishing the processes necessary to implement the ‘side deals’ made at COP26 on (1) coal, (2) methane, (3) forests, and (4) finance; and what discussions they have had with international partners about their implementation.

My Lords, we are implementing progress in a number of ways, including through, first, the Powering Past Coal Alliance, the COP26 Energy Transition Council and the Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa; secondly, the global methane pledge, working closely with the US and the EU; thirdly, the Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use; and, fourthly, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, whose work is being taken forward in dialogue with the Government, businesses and civil society organisations.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. A number of pledges for funding were made at COP 26 and, as I am sure he is fully aware, 141 countries signed up to the Glasgow declaration on forest and land use to halt land loss and deforestation by 2030. In these circumstances, are the Government taking steps to stop financial institutions operating in the UK funding businesses that are linked to deforestation? The due diligence processes proposed by the Government are of course very welcome, but could more be done to stop the flow of money going to harmful deforestation?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I am sure there is always more that can be done but we have made considerable strides in terms of green finances, as I am sure she is aware. We are working closely with the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, now representing more than 450 financial firms with £130 trillion in assets, to make sure that private finance goes towards green policies.

My Lords, while all these deals are desirable—as are the main COP 26 aims, the net-zero aims and the Paris targets, if we can get anywhere near them—is not the real need now, the urgent deal, to restore some balance in all energy markets to avoid the kind of super volatility of prices, appalling inflation, considerable suffering for many households and the general economic disruption that we face now and which, if it persists, means that we will never get anywhere near the long-term aim of decarbonisation at all?

My noble friend makes a powerful point. We are seeing unprecedented turbulence in the energy markets, with massive rises in the prices of fossil fuels in particular. Ultimately, the best solution to high prices in fossil fuels is to use less of them, which is what we are trying to do.

My Lords, despite being a signatory to the Glasgow declaration on forests, Brazil shows no sign of respecting its Glasgow commitments. It recorded the most deforestation ever in the Amazon rainforest in the month of January 2022, with 430 square kilometres of forest destroyed. What actions do the Government think will be effective for signatories that fail to make progress, and what reporting is required?

Clearly, Brazil signed up to the declaration at COP 26 along with 140 other countries covering over 90% of the world’s forest. It is important for us to continue working with Brazil and countries representing some 75% of trade in agricultural commodities to try to move those countries’ trade towards more sustainable means.

My Lords, the IPCC estimates that spending on adaptation needs to reach $127 billion per year for developing countries by 2030, but at the moment adaptation spend accounts for just a fraction of that, and for just 4.8% of tracked climate finance. Do the Government accept that spending on adaptation and mitigation needs to be equal? If so, is that something which will be achieved during our year of the COP presidency?

Clearly, we are working with other like-minded countries to try to deliver the maximum resources possible for developing countries to help them to adapt to the effects. I am very proud of our contribution of £11.6 billion of international climate finance over this five-year period.

My Lords, methane, which the Minister mentioned, is 80 times as potent as CO2 in the near term and cutting it fast is crucial. Since the Industrial Revolution it has been responsible for 40% of heating, and a staggering 47% of it comes from agriculture. The good news—if there is good news—is that it dissipates quickly, in 12 years, so if we can have rapid reduction of methane, we can make a really big difference to the CO2 in the atmosphere. There are two stumbling blocks. First, what are the Government doing, and is it enough? Secondly, public information is very low about the effect of methane. For instance, one-third of farmers say they do not understand it or know how to deal with it, so I ask the Government what they are doing about that.

We were one of the first countries to sign up to the methane pledge. Now over 110 countries have signed up to it, including 15 of the major emitters. We continue to explore policies to reduce methane and all greenhouse gas emissions as we strive to reach net zero.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the effect of all the bombing in Ukraine on the COP 26 agreement and our net-zero aim?

My noble friend makes a powerful point—clearly, it will have a detrimental effect. We need to work with Ukraine to help it in the future to rebuild its nation and make sure that Putin does not succeed in his aim.

My Lords, going back to methane and the global pledge the Minister referred to, he may be aware of an article in Environmental Science & Technology on Wednesday. Stanford University researchers found using aerial data that New Mexico’s Permian Basin is leaking six times as much methane as the US Environmental Protection Agency has estimated. That global pledge was utterly focused on stopping leaks and flaring. Surely the amount of fugitive methane that fossil fuel operations create means that to keep under the 1.5 degrees warming target we have to end exploration and new production of oil and gas.

I have not seen the article to which the noble Baroness refers. It will probably come as a shock to her that I am not responsible for New Mexico; that is part of the United States’ commitment. All we can be responsible for are our own emissions and our own policies. We are striving to reduce our fossil fuel production and use in the UK, but it is a gradual phase-out. Rather than using imported LNG from the likes of the areas she mentioned, it makes more sense to use our own domestic production during that transition period.

My Lords, do the Government consult with any of the many serious scientists who say that net zero is a colossal mistake?

We consult with lots of scientists. Of course, there are always ongoing debates about these matters. Irrespective of the opinions of particular scientists, there is now a legal commitment, and it is the job of the Government to work towards what Parliament has legislated for.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and hope the Minister will keep listening to the IPCC and the overwhelming scientific advice on this issue. In an earlier reply, the Minister referred to GFANZ and the importance of financial flows into green projects. Does he agree with me that for those flows to be effective and genuinely go into green projects, we need an international green taxonomy that is respected? Can he give any more information on the working party on green taxonomy?

I agree with the noble Baroness; it is important that we get a green taxonomy right, and the products and services that will form part of it. We are working hard towards getting it finalised in the UK. I cannot give her a precise timescale at the moment, but we are determined to be a world leader in green finance.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us how much of the palm oil we import comes from the process of deforestation in countries such as Brazil? Should we not be aiming to reduce the amount of palm oil we import from these sources?

Deforestation is clearly a problem. I suspect most of the palm oil we import does not come from Brazil. It is more likely to be from Malaysia or Indonesia, as I think they are our largest sources. Obviously, it needs to be sustainable. Palm oil can be a very useful product—it can form foodstuffs and be part of a whole range of consumer goods, but we must make sure it comes from sustainable sources.

Homes for Ukraine Scheme

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many applications for visas under the Homes for Ukraine scheme have been received and provided to Ukrainian refugees, and how many refugees have entered the UK since the scheme opened.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, and declare an interest as I applied with my husband on the day the scheme opened to welcome and support a family into our home.

I thank the noble Baroness for the Question. I can confirm that more than 20,000 applications have been received for the Homes for Ukraine scheme and we will be providing further information in due course.

My Lords, the lack of information is extremely worrying. We have an ethical obligation of non-abandonment, having given a commitment to stand with Ukraine and offer sanctuary. Do the Government recognise that the visa process is causing great distress to already-traumatised Ukrainians who have experienced cumulative losses, pervasive existential terror and mass bereavements and are now increasingly at risk? The process is also increasingly frustrating for the tens of thousands of Britons who want to welcome them into their homes and will provide a long-term commitment. Will the Government heed the call from major charities in the Times today to introduce a simplified emergency humanitarian process immediately?

I agree with much of the sentiment of what the noble Baroness said. As far as the visa process is concerned, the only purpose is to provide security checks for this country. As I have said on the record before, when I was given the job to do by the Prime Minister, that was the only constraint. It is my job to make sure that the visa process is speeded up, and in the last two weeks we have gone on to a system where those with Ukrainian passports can fill out the form and download the visa without having to go to a visa centre, which they did only two weeks ago.

My Lords, the Minister said there were 20,000 applications for visas. Can he say how many Ukrainians have actually arrived in this country under this scheme? It is heartening to see how full-hearted the response from the British public has been to it, but what is the position with very young children, newly born babies and those soon to be born? Will their parents need similar visa arrangements for them to come to this country?

The answer to the question on the babies is that children under five do not have passports or visas. The reason why there still have to be visits to visa application centres is our fear that very young children will be used to be trafficked over here, and we need evidence that typically the mother—but sometimes the father—in question is in fact the rightful parent. We really do that as quickly and easily as we can. We cannot ignore the fact that there are people traffickers operating, and we have to do some due diligence.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that today, following meetings with British universities, eight rectors of medical universities in Ukraine—and I have the letter in my hand—have written to the Secretary of State asking that where a British university has invited an academic or a student over, entry into this country be expedited?

I thank my noble friend for that question. I was not aware of the letter and I look forward to receiving it from him personally, because it might be quicker than via the system, and I will answer it very quickly.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the Minister for the enormous amount that he has done in a very short space of time. At the same time, however, I acknowledge the frustration that is felt and expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on the part of so many people. We have tried locally to convene people in the community, and enormous support is forthcoming, but there seems to be a problem with the process. One acknowledges the need for security checks, but I have heard a lot of times, anecdotally, about the complexity of the visa process and how difficult it is. Local government is waiting for guidance from the Government here.

It should not be my job always to agree with the questions that are asked but, in this case, I totally believe in the sentiment that the right reverend Prelate expressed. I am looking at every aspect of the visa process to speed it up. The Home Secretary and I have personally spent hours with officials, including at weekends, looking at ways that we can speed this up because, if the security checks are put in place—which they are—it seems to me that there is no reason why people applying on the internet, or indeed at a visa centre in the countries adjacent to Ukraine, should not be able to get a response really quickly to allow them to come here. I cannot stand here for a long time using the excuse that I am new to the job, but I promise the right reverend Prelate and noble Lords that this is an absolute top priority.

My Lords, whatever their advice, the security services advise Ministers, but it is Ministers who decide. Why is almost every other European country—Ireland, for example—content to allow Ukrainian refugees to enter visa-free while the UK is demanding a visa before entry? Do our security services not liaise with our allies? Instead of security, is it because such an approach would contradict the proposed inhumane treatment of refugees in the Nationality and Borders Bill?

I cannot comment to the noble Lord about the security services, except to say that I have not seen the advice that they have given to the Prime Minister. However, my instructions are to speed up this process as quickly as possible to move an uncapped number of people here in a humanitarian and decent way. It is my intention to deliver that promise.

My Lords, could the Minister be kind enough to tell us whether we or the Government have had any contact with all the other European countries that are admitting people without security checks, to discuss whether the security problems being caused by our policy are disproportionate, or whether the contrary is perhaps true?

I promise the noble Lord that I will engage in that process—in the two weeks that I have been in the job, I have not done so. It is something that we must do.

I also welcome the noble Lord to his role. I have heard only good things about him, and I wish him well in what he is doing—it is so important. First, I will ask something that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay: how many Ukrainians have arrived in this country under the system that has been created? We have not heard the answer to that question. Secondly, why cannot women with young children be allowed in—and, if there is any concern, a centre for DNA testing be created immediately? That can be done so simply nowadays; honestly, it is not complex any more. That is a route for dealing with this problem. My other point is that people are applying using their mobile phones, but it is very difficult to do so with young children when you do not have access to a computer. Like others, I say that the simplification of this system is absolutely imperative.

I thank the noble Baroness for her good wishes, although I may not receive them after I answer this question because, for the moment, I cannot give her the answer that she wants, which is the number of visas that have been successfully submitted. The scheme is new—

If noble Lords will bear with me, we will be able to give those numbers in the next few days. I reiterate that it is my intention and that of the Home Secretary to make the visa process as rapid as possible, and literally all my time at the moment is spent trying to deliver that.

I draw to the Minister’s attention the experience of a Ukrainian refugee known to me who, on Monday of last week, went to a UK embassy in a central European state to make a visa application. They were told they did not deal with them on Mondays, only on Wednesdays and to come back then. Is that a reflection of the urgency the UK Government are giving to this matter?

I ask the noble Lord to give me the details of that person—that is unacceptable and there is no visa centre to my knowledge that would say, “We don’t do it on Mondays, we do it on Wednesdays”. We have broken such things as the European working time directive with permissions of Governments to get embassies, such as in Warsaw, open seven days a week. It is certainly not our intention to stop people with excuses like that. I would be grateful for that example.

Are the Bank of England and the Treasury working with the ECB to help Ukrainian refugees convert their currency into either euros or pounds? In asking this question, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my entry in the register.

I shall write to my noble friend with the answer to that question because I am not party to that information.

Will the Minister meet me, because I am really struggling to get a family that I am trying to sponsor to fill in the paperwork. They are all women and children—three generations. They are struggling to fill in the application forms and upload the documents: they have to use Google Translate, their internet keeps failing and each time they have to start from the beginning as the page is not saved. That process has to be done for each and every person. Why is there no one on the ground in the Home Office to help them? Honestly, it looks as though the Home Office has designed a system that is programmed to fail. That just does not reflect the generosity of the British people.

I do not accept the statement of the noble Baroness that the system is built to fail—it is not. But there are problems with it. I would be delighted to sit down with her and discuss it. She did make one error in what she said—and perhaps she does not realise it—in that though the forms are in English, there is a drop-down section for each one translating into Ukrainian. But I would be very pleased to meet her.

My Lords, it is a simple question: how many Ukrainians have been admitted to the United Kingdom under this scheme? It is quite simple—or is the Minister telling us he does not know?

My Lords, I understand that a private provider is involved in the visa application process. I wonder whether the Minister could tell the House who that is?

I have another question, which is about health workers who come to this country from Ukraine. Will they be allowed to continue working immediately? They need to. It would mean their qualifications being recognised and, for those still in training, it would mean them being accepted into the medical, nursing and other training institutes as soon as possible so that they can contribute not only to the NHS but to the health of their own nationals who are settling here.

The noble Baroness asked two questions—the first one about an outside provider. As far as I know, the Home Office uses some agency staff to boost up staff; for example, with the night shifts we are doing. I do not know whether there is one general provider. There is not to my knowledge, but if there is, I will drop her a line and say so.

In answer to the question about health workers, we have a section in the welcome pack for Ukrainian refugees about recognising overseas qualifications and we have people who are doing that. Quite as to the specific healthcare qualifications that she mentions, I do not know—I think it depends on the nature of the qualification. But if we are not doing it, we should be, and I will do my best to make sure that happens.

My Lords, I have every sympathy with the Minister in trying to defend the indefensible, but I would be very grateful if he would go back to the department and ask three questions. First, is there any overriding reason why we have to have a visa requirement and none of our European neighbours do? Secondly, if there is a requirement for a visa, could we not initiate—as suggested in debates on the borders Bill—a temporary provisional humanitarian visa for issue on demand? Thirdly, would the Minister please consider whether the security case is still as strong as was put to him? Would he please have a look at this personally? I find it very hard to see these desperate, destitute Ukrainian mothers and children as a plausible security risk compared to, say, Russian oligarchs with strong KGB or FSB connections.

I could not really dispute the rationale of what the noble Lord said last; I do not think we can compare oligarchs who are not allowed here to refugees who are. We want to expedite them coming here as quickly as possible. I will look at the security advice. To reiterate, at the moment, our policy is that we need the security advice. A visa is needed, but it is done as quickly as possible. As the days and weeks go on, I intend to make sure that that happens faster and faster.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Wednesday 30 March to allow the National Insurance Contributions (Increase of Thresholds) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day and that therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 47 (Amendments on Third reading), amendments shall not be moved on Third Reading.

Motion agreed.

Down Syndrome Bill

Order of Commitment

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill

Order of Commitment

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Subsidy Control Bill

Third Reading

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Subsidy Control Bill, has consented to place her interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

For the benefit of noble Lords, I will first make a statement on legislative consent. As promised to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on Report and as I have sought to do throughout passage, I would like to update your Lordships’ House on the legislative consent process.

Your Lordships will understand that there remain differences of opinion between the devolved Administrations and the Government. This includes the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ retained in-principle objection to subsidy control being a reserved matter, and their objection to the inclusion of agriculture in the scope of the Bill. It is therefore with regret that I inform your Lordships that we have not been able to convince the devolved Administrations of the need for the UK Government to act in this key area. This is, of course, not the end of our engagement with the devolved Administrations. It is our intention to continue to work closely with them on the future regime, and accordingly our next steps will focus on agreements at working level to support the operation of the Act, including a memorandum of understanding in two parts.

I want to reassure noble Lords that it has never been our intention to proceed without consent in place. Our preferred approach throughout has always been to secure legislative consent Motions. I want to reassure the House that the Government remain fully committed to the Sewel convention and the associated practices for seeking consent. We will of course continue to seek legislative consent from the devolved legislatures when applicable.

I am grateful to the Minister for fulfilling his commitment and producing the report for which I asked. It is disappointing, but I am reassured by the latter part of his statement—that engagement with the devolved Administrations will continue. I very much hope that that will produce a more fruitful result than has been achieved so far.

My Lords, I also express concern that it has not been possible to get agreement. Quite clearly, it is in everybody’s interest that the devolved Administrations and the UK Government should be working in harmony on these matters. There are issues, concerning agriculture in particular, that are causing concern. Could the Minister therefore give an assurance that, as his discussions go on with the Governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh, he will keep the House informed and give us an opportunity to debate, discuss, or at least put questions forward to him on, the outcome of any such deliberations?

My Lords, could the Minister outline the position as far as the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland is concerned? He mentioned Scotland and Wales, but perhaps he could touch on what the situation is as far as any legislative consent from the Northern Ireland Assembly—before it was dissolved at the start of this week for the Assembly elections. He is aware—this was raised in Committee—of the grave concerns that there is there now a dual subsidy control system: the EU system in Northern Ireland and the GB system now applying to England, Scotland and Wales. This could, as he said in his own letter to the chair of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee on 22 March, cause real problems and confusion for Northern Ireland.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions. In response to concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, of course I understand the points he is making. He will be aware that negotiations continue on the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. The noble Lord and I have discussed this a number of times. The Northern Ireland Executive have not been able to respond formally to our request for a legislative consent Motion, given their current status. We will, of course, continue to work closely, as far as possible, with the Executive and with the officials. I will be certain to update the noble Lord when I am able to do so.


Moved by

I am delighted to open the debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the many debates that we have had across Your Lordships’ House, to create a new domestic regime that will deliver on our international obligations but, crucially, will enable central government, the devolved Administrations and public authorities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom to deliver for their people and their communities.

It is my great pleasure to thank all those who have supported the progress of this Bill. First, I thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield; it is always a great pleasure to work alongside her. I express my thanks for the considerable contributions that have been made on the Floor of this House in relation to this Bill. I thank, particularly, the Opposition—the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake—for their constructive challenge and the discussions we have had on the Bill, most notably on the issue of transparency, where we have been able to move a lot in response to the concerns raised in particular by the Opposition. It is also worth paying tribute to noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his engagement, and to his Liberal Democrat colleagues for their role in improving this legislation, particularly with regard to devolved powers—and for his personal forbearance with me in my illness during the latter stages of Report. I thank the noble Lord, in particular, for bearing with me.

I would also like to thank some of the Back-Bench colleagues who have contributed. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for his diligent work on issues pertaining to areas of local and regional disadvantage; the Bill is better for that consideration. I thank my noble friend Lord Lamont, who is not in his place, for his constructive challenge, notably in relation to the role of the CMA. In that vein, we made improvements to the Bill to ensure that the CMA reviews the operation of the regime earlier than it otherwise would have done, ensuring that issues such as upload thresholds and deadlines, limitation periods and routes to challenge remain appropriate. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, who made significant contributions to our debates and proposed well-reasoned amendments on this Bill. His contributions, made in his calm, deliberate and thoughtful style, have considerably raised the quality of the debate. Many other Front-Bench and Back-Bench colleagues contributed; they are too numerous to mention, but I thank them all.

I shall say a brief word on the excellent team of officials who have made this Bill possible. Again, there are far too many to mention today, but I shall single out one or two in particular: my private secretary, Ruth Kaufmann Wolfe; the Bill manager, Thomas Bingham, and the wider Bill team; and the policy lead, Matilda Curtis, and her team of officials. I thank them for their joint work over a long period of up to 18 months to make this Bill what it is today. I also pay tribute to some of the legal colleagues—Michael Brannagan, Giovanna Amodeo, Edd Williams and Tom Davis—as well as the wider subsidy control team and colleagues across government, who have been fundamental to making this Bill work and become a success. Today marks the culmination of almost two years of work on their part. I also recognise once again the exemplary work of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in both drafting this Bill and supporting its progress at so many points during its passage so far. The House authorities, parliamentary staff, clerks and doorkeepers, as always, did their work excellently and competently.

We will continue to gather feedback as the regime is developed ahead of implementation. I am happy to report that our subsidies of particular interest regulations consultation is now live and will run until 6 May, for any colleagues who wish to participate. I am grateful once again for your Lordships’ House’s scrutiny and the improvements to the Bill that have resulted from it, and I look forward to the Bill receiving Royal Assent.

I will start by sharing our concern at the information the Minister gave regarding the devolved authorities. We look forward to being involved in ongoing consultation and discussions as time goes forward. I echo the comments already made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Dodds, on this issue.

I think it is fair to say that this Bill might not have been noticed by as many people as the more high-profile Bills that are going through the House at the moment, but everyone who has been involved in it recognises the significance of the work undertaken and just how deep the implications are for how public money will be spent for years to come. As we made clear from the outset, we agreed with the Government’s core principles in this area, including introducing greater flexibility through the removal of pre-notification requirements. However, as we have stressed throughout the debates on this Bill, with power comes responsibility. It is for this reason that we have focused on increasing the transparency obligations on public authorities, as the Minister just outlined. We are talking about large sums of public money, which must be easily accounted for and deliver real value for money. Unfortunately, we have had too many examples recently where we cannot claim that that is the case.

However, we are very grateful to the Minister and to the Whip, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for their genuine engagement on these matters. Although we did not achieve everything that we would have liked, we believe the Bill is much improved as a result of the substantial package of concessions brought forward on Report.

I would like to echo our profound thanks to everyone involved through the Bill team. Our access to officials has been particularly helpful; they have been very open. It has enabled us to delve into the detail and discuss potential ways forward, whether legislative or non-legislative.

Despite good progress being made in most areas, there are significant concerns in others—particularly, as we have already highlighted, in relation to the involvement or otherwise of the devolved Administrations and the substantial financial and practical barriers imposed on SMEs and others if they wish to challenge individual subsidies. A particular concern of the business community is the lack of clarity in the guidance around the decision-making on when subsidies will be awarded.

We will have a review, as is outlined in the Bill, of some of these matters in three years’ time, and we hope the Government will act quickly in response to the findings. Until then, we hope public authorities will make the most of this new framework. In particular, I am appreciative that the Government listened to all the arguments about focusing and directing money towards areas with economic deprivation. This is a welcome shift from the Government across this area.

Another regret is failing—just—to pass the amendment to improve the Bill’s green credentials. We hope all levels of Government will continue to have regard to the fight against climate change. Pursuing a net-zero strategy is not just a statutory duty but a moral one. I firmly believe we have missed a trick by not more firmly linking net-zero obligations to the awarding of subsidies.

All that remains is to thank all colleagues who took part during the Bill’s various stages—particularly, as has been highlighted, the noble Lords, Lord Fox, Lord Lamont, Lord Ravensdale and Lord Wigley, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. I would like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord McNicol. Unfortunately, he cannot be with us today, but I think we all recognise the amount of work he put in. I would like also to add my thanks to all the staff, clerks and doorkeepers in the normal manner. I end by thanking sincerely Dan Stevens, the officer in our office, for his unfailing patience, support, and clarity of thought and purpose, and for helping us to put down the improvements sought.

My Lords, it is genuinely pleasing to see the Minister looking in a substantially better state than he did at the end of Report. I am pleased that he is back up and at the Dispatch Box.

As the Minister has repeatedly told us throughout the process, this Subsidy Control Bill is a consequence of the TCA. The Minister also claimed that it was rare for such controls to exist in other countries around the world, and said it would be a permissive regime, the antithesis of the regime it is replacing. So it is something of a legislative experiment as it goes forward.

Since its introduction, as has been stated, improvements have been made, and the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House much improved. My noble friends, Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition and some important voices from the Cross Benches and Conservative Benches have helped to make these improvements, along with the work of the Minister and his colleagues.

But noble Lords would expect me to say that it remains a flawed Bill. As was highlighted, it is more transparent—but a £99,999 subsidy need not be reported, and that remains a very large sum of money that can be passed from government to business without a report. It invests some powers to the CMA, but insufficient authority. I align myself with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, on the subject of the burden on SMEs and the absence of any net-zero quantity.

The biggest uncertainty hanging over the Bill, as far as we can see, is this: if it is permissive, what will it permit? True to the nature of this Government, they have delivered a Bill that is not designed to deliver a strategy—almost the opposite. By permitting authorities to deliver subsidies or subsidy schemes in their area of control, essentially independent of schemes in adjacent areas, they are creating the potential for huge confusion and conflict, with money flowing from the richest areas back into their own communities to ensure that they remain the richest areas. The failure to grasp the need to map deprivation systematically could well render this system very divisive.

My noble friend Lord German used the Welsh example, but I will use an English one, because the Minister is the English Minister. As we know, EU funding in Cornwall over the seven years from 2014 to 2020 was nearly €600 million. This was based on a realistic assessment of the relative poverty of that county. The proof of this Government’s subsidy scheme, system or control, and of their promises, will be how much UK money flows into Cornwall.

As the Minister mentioned, there was the whole devolution issue. I will not repeat all the arguments, but the Government’s mantra of repeating over and again “It is a reserved issue” does not represent negotiation, nor is it designed to win the hearts and minds of those who sit on the edge of the unionist/separatist divide—quite the opposite; to then include agriculture, which is a devolved issue, in the Bill made matters substantially worse. We heard from the Minister that these were the issues driving the absence of legislative consent. Despite the many improvements we have seen, we on these Benches remain very concerned about the effect this Act will have on the union, but I will pass from this critique and move on to the Oscars ceremony part—the Minister can be assured that I do not mean that part of it.

I again thank the Minister. He showed remarkable fortitude during the Bill’s passage, along with his Whip, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, who showed the customary availability and relatively good humour. Those in Bill team itself were, as usual, authoritative and helpful. I thank them, as set out by the Minister.

During the debates, the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Hope, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, made significant contributions that helped to shape the Bill. On these Benches, my noble friends Lady Sheehan, Lady Randerson, Lady Humphreys, Lord German, Lord Bruce and Lord Purvis offered wisdom and experience. In the office, making sure that the whole thing held together, we must once again thank Sarah Pughe, along with Dan in the Labour office, who helped to drive us along.

So the Minister will have his Act. Whether it is indeed a subsidy control regime remains to be seen. I think many of us still suspect that it is actually a mechanism for central government to parachute schemes into areas of its choice, unchallengeable by devolved authorities, local authorities or indeed the CMA.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Elections Bill

Committee (6th Day)

Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Constitution Committee, 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 21st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Amendment 152

Moved by

152: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—

“Voting by EU nationals

In section 1(1) (entitlement to vote in parliamentary elections) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, for paragraph (c) substitute—“(c) is a Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a relevant citizen of the Union; and”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause would allow EU citizens to vote in UK parliamentary elections.

My Lords, I regret that the noble Lord, Lord True, is unable to be with us. I gather he is down with Covid, and I send him sympathies. I hope I have not caught it from him—we shall press on. This creates some further difficulties in completing the Bill, on which I hope I may briefly remark. We need to have some discussions between Committee and Report. I hope there will be some—time is short and they need to be fixed up very quickly. As many of us have remarked, the state of the Bill is unsatisfactory. We know that the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said that the Bill was unfit for purpose as presented to the Lords. We have explored many areas already in Committee, such as overseas voting, which we debated late at night in our previous sitting, when it was quite clear that the Government did not have answers to a number of our questions. How that will be implemented if the Bill is passed is, to put it mildly, extremely unclear and probably very messy.

We all regret the missed opportunity of this Bill. It is clear that there will have to be another elections Bill within the next two to three years to achieve what the Law Commission proposed, which is a simplification and rationalisation of our electoral law. This Bill is not that.

This group of amendments deals with the tangle of voting rights left by imperial history and various other things, which the Government appear not to be concerned to rationalise. We have rights for Commonwealth citizens. We have had rights for EU citizens. We have no rights for long-term residents from the United States, which is extraordinary given the Conservative Party’s long feeling that we were closer to the United States than any other country.

My Amendment 152 is a probing one to spark a discussion on how we might think about rationalising the system. EU citizens resident in this country for a very long time—there are 100,000 French citizens in the London area alone, for example—have had the right to vote in British elections. Some would say that they should no longer have the right to vote in British parliamentary elections, but the case for the right to vote in British local elections for those who are resident here, pay council tax and contribute to other British taxes seems to me strong. As far as I am aware, the Government have no particular clear ideas on any of this.

Amendment 155 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, takes us to a recommendation of a number of reports that preceded the Bill: that we should move towards a residency requirement. That seems a rational suggestion. It has a clear principle, unlike the present situation. A residency requirement, at least for voting rights in local elections, would be a very sensible way forward. I am very sorry that it is not in the Bill as drafted.

The rationale for extending rights to overseas voters does not seem to go along with a refusal to recognise that the argument for extending the rights of residents to local voting ought to be considered in the same context, but, sadly, the Bill leaves that as tangled as before. Part of the problem is that the concept of UK citizenship is also a tangle of historical legacies and anomalies.

I find it odd that the Government are happy with this. Do they not consider that a wider reform with a clearer rationale for the changes proposed is now needed? Why is it not in the Bill? The passage of this Bill in its current form will require a successor Bill as soon as possible by this Government or their successor. I beg to move.

My Lords, I speak on this amendment because, when I arrived here in 1965, I had an Indian passport and I was surprised when, during the 1966 election, someone said to me, “Have you voted yet?” I said that I did not know I had voting rights in this country. He said, “Get on with it and get yourself registered.” This explained to me that, in the UK, we were subjects, not citizens. It was as subjects of the monarch that we qualified. Since the monarch also ruled over the Empire, all subjects of the Empire were equally qualified to vote in the election.

As far as I remember, the notion of citizenship only came with our membership of the European Union. We began to talk of ourselves as citizens, and we had differently coloured passports and things like that. However, the muddle that the noble Lord referred to in moving his amendment is that we are not clear as to what entitles us to vote. Is it our status as subjects of an empire? Is it our status as local taxpayers, as used to be the case before the universal franchise came in? Is it residency? If there is ever another, better version of this Bill, perhaps the first part of it should clarify the status of an individual under which he or she is qualified to be a voter. Until the muddle is clarified, we will have to proceed with a compromised mish-mash of rights.

My Lords, I also pass on my best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord True, for a speedy recovery. Having had it myself fairly recently, I can say that it is a horrible illness.

I want to move on to the question of Northern Ireland and speak in favour of Amendment 156 in my name, which the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, has signed. It would ensure that EU citizens lawfully resident in Northern Ireland can continue to stand for election and vote in Northern Ireland district elections after the end of the Brexit transition period. It is primarily a probing amendment, however.

In the EU-UK withdrawal agreement, the UK Government committed, under Article 2.1 of the Northern Ireland protocol, to ensuring that certain equalities and human rights in Northern Ireland would continue to be protected after Brexit. Does the Minister—I appreciate that he is filling in at rather late notice—agree with the assessment of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland that the Bill as it stands risks stepping back from those commitments and may in fact be in breach of the UK’s obligations under Article 2.1 of the protocol? Will he undertake to set out, either in response to this amendment or in writing following this debate, the Government’s assessment of the relevant provisions of the Elections Bill in the context of their conformity with our commitments under Article 2.1 of the Northern Ireland protocol?

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, in support of Amendment 156. I also pass on my good wishes to the noble Lord, Lord True, for a speedy recovery. I agree with the thrust of the amendments in this group; as a democrat, I believe in a fully functioning democracy in which all residents are allowed to register to vote, exercise their mandate at elections and be candidates in elections. That is what a functioning democracy is about. Universal franchise is vital in a liberal democracy and should be one of the hallmarks of the UK—free, fair and unencumbered elections.

Amendment 156, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, deals with that specific Northern Ireland situation. It is a probing amendment. We seek to delete paragraphs 7 to 9 from Schedule 8, which would ensure that all EU citizens lawfully resident in Northern Ireland continue to be able to stand as candidates and vote in district council elections in Northern Ireland.

I was a councillor in Northern Ireland for many years, as was the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, across the Chamber. We valued our time in local government as a learning curve. Many of those who participated in those elections and many new residents in Northern Ireland would also value that participatory part of democracy, in voting in district council elections and having the ability to be a candidate. I can think of a colleague in Derry and Strabane District Council, who is originally from Kenya, and is now a serving councillor.

This section does not apply to British and Irish citizens; it applies to EU citizens who have arrived to reside in Northern Ireland since January 2021 and whose country does not have a reciprocal agreement with the UK. I remind your Lordships, and particularly the Minister, that this is in some ways reminiscent of the “I” voter situation in Northern Ireland, which was removed by the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, when everybody in Northern Ireland was granted universal franchise. I remind the Minister that elections and the right to exercise one’s franchise are very emotive issues in Northern Ireland. Please do not go down this road and create further problems with other EU nationalities and create barriers on the island of Ireland. It is highly important that that does not happen, because this is an emotive and politically charged issue, as it deals with EU citizens and excludes them; it could be perceived as a discriminatory provision.

The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, referred to the equality and human rights commissions in Northern Ireland, which are concerned that this provision of the Elections Bill could contravene Article 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, which states that there must be

“no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity”

provisions, as set out in the Good Friday agreement, resulting from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. It could be perceived that this provision, within paragraphs 7 to 9 of Schedule 8 to the Bill, could contravene those rights under Article 2 of the protocol. If passed into law, this provision would create two new types of EU citizenship for the purposes of UK elections law—a qualifying EU citizen and an EU citizen with retained rights—in addition to the EU citizens who do not fall into either of these categories.

The right of EU citizens to vote in local district council elections in Northern Ireland was underpinned by EU law until the end of the transition period. I declare an interest as a member of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee in your Lordships’ House. We have engaged with Minister Burns, a Minister for the Northern Ireland Office in the other place, on this issue and we have received a response. An identical response was received by the equality and human rights commissions.

In my humble view, so far in those responses the Government have still not set out in full their assessment of the relevant provisions of the Bill in terms of compliance with Article 2. Will the Minister do that today? If that is not possible, will he write? It is most important that that is done to satisfy the concerns of both commissions.

Further, will the Minister and his colleagues commit to meet both commissions in Northern Ireland, either via the Cabinet or the Northern Ireland Office, to discuss Article 2 provisions under the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol and how this contravention and these issues can be addressed to ensure that there is a full, participatory democracy that excludes nobody and includes all?

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 155A in my name, which would give the right to vote in local elections to all those liable to pay council tax to that authority. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, who spoke last week on an amendment concerning the right to vote in parliamentary elections for 16 year-olds who pay income tax. As he pointed out, there is an important principle: there is a connection between a requirement to pay tax and the right to vote. Mine is a probing amendment. Taken as a whole, this group raises the question of whether the key factor for the right to vote should be nationality, residence or liability for taxation—issues which the Bill does little to address.

The Minister will not need to be reminded of the events that took place 3,269 miles to the west of here on 16 December 1773, when a large number of tea chests were thrown into Boston Harbor in protest against the imposition of taxation without representation. Because my aim with Amendment 155A is to secure the right to vote in local elections for all those with an obligation to pay council tax, that would mean taxation with representation. The amendment takes as its starting point the position of those who are required to pay council tax but who cannot vote in the local elections that will decide how the money they pay is spent. There is a principle at stake here: it becomes almost an issue of consumer rights.

In some cases, notably that of EU citizens, a resident here before 31 December 2020 will keep their local vote. However, the right of EU citizens to vote in local elections following our withdrawal from the EU is being denied to those arriving after 31 December 2020, except where reciprocal arrangements or agreements are in place. The implication of this is that citizens of Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Poland, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta will be able to vote in local elections, but citizens of other EU countries or non-EU countries will not. Except that, if citizens of those other EU countries lived in Wales or Scotland, they would be able to vote in local elections, and indeed for elections to the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments.

Am I alone in finding all these differences very hard to justify? The decisions in Scotland and Wales seem to me to be eminently sensible, although they should go even further and extend the right to vote to non-EU citizens who are paying council tax in those countries.

I want to see the franchise widened and a connection clearly made between taxation and the right to vote. I hope the Minister will be willing to think further about the complications that the Bill will introduce across the United Kingdom. I wish that we were still a United Kingdom, but with so many different rules in different places, with different categories of the right to vote, it is getting far too complicated. My amendment might well solve the problem.

I shall contribute briefly, following the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in support of Amendment 155A. I too fully support the principle of “no taxation without representation”. If the Minister is unable to support this amendment, I wonder whether he could explain to the House why the Government do not accept this incredibly reasonable principle. How can they not agree to that? I do not get it.

The complexity and confusion referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will inevitably be caused by introducing different voting rights for EU citizens who arrived in the UK before 2021 and those who arrived in or after 2021, and for those have arrived from one EU country rather than from another. It seems that Scotland and Wales are extremely sensible, as they have managed to adopt residence-based voting rights. The case for a UK-wide approach on this issue is incredibly strong and the Government will need a powerful argument to deny it. I hope they are able to make a sensible decision and accept the amendment.

My Lords, I add my name to those who have expressed their regret that the noble Lord, Lord True, is not in his place to respond to today’s debate. All I can say is that I wish him a good recovery. If he is watching us online, I do not know whether that will aid his recovery or delay it.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and other Members, including my noble friend Lord Desai, have all identified that this is an important part of the Bill but it is a mess. It is really difficult to encapsulate what we are trying to talk about, but I wanted to intervene to make one point. One of the general principles that we should apply is that if you have the right to vote, however that is defined, then you should also have the right to be a candidate. You may say that that is a rather simple and obvious thing to say, but I shall give the Committee an example: between 1969 and 2006 we had a period where there were people with the right to vote but not to be a candidate. It is remarkable, really, that it was only in 2006 that the law was changed to allow people from the age of 18 to 21 to be a candidate as well as being an elector. I have good personal reasons for being very well aware of that fact. I wanted to introduce the principle that there is a good case for having a system whereby, if you have the right to vote, you can also be a candidate in the election in question.

My Lords, I also wish to speak in this part of the debate in Committee on these amendments.

I have to be totally honest with the Committee: when I was asked to be part of the team on this Bill, I was not an expert on elections other than that I had been a candidate and I had been the leader of a council and seen election officers’ work close up. As we have progressed through the Bill, some issues have become clearer but some have confused me even more as we have debated them. This is a part of the Bill that really confuses me. What is the basis of the electoral franchise in the UK? What is the platform that is easily understood by a citizen? This is an example of why electoral law needs to be simplified.

I want to deconstruct what that means in the terms of my noble friend Lord Shipley’s Amendment 155A. Let us take it down to ordinary citizens. In a local authority area, you could have someone who owns a holiday home, and so has an address there, but they never live there. They rent that accommodation out for 52 weeks a year, yet they have a right to vote there. They do not use the services and do not contribute other than in council tax. Another person lives there for 365 days a year, works in the local area and pays taxes, volunteers at the local food bank, is an upstanding member of the community and gets involved in litter picks, is an active citizen in the community, uses the bin service, wants to get involved in planning and is affected by planning policy, has friends who use social care, wishes to use the library—and library services are starting to charge—and uses all the local services but, because of either where they came from or when they came to the UK, they do not have a vote. Yet someone in that area who has no connection other than that they can purchase a holiday home can vote.

I very much agree with the thrust of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. In the light of that, would he apply a similar argument to the extension of the franchise, contained in a different part of this Bill, to some 2 million overseas electors who have not been in the country for 40, 50 or 60 years and do not pay taxes here? Does he agree that that is an oddity in our electoral system as well?

The noble Lord is just slightly ahead of me, because I was going to come on to that. I will answer his question, but I was just pointing out very clearly the inconsistencies in what happens at local level. I will then answer his question on the other issue with what I was going to say, because if the Bill passes in this form, we will have to consider that. Will the Minister explain in very simple terms, to somebody who is not an expert in elections but just an ordinary citizen, how that can be justified? There must be a sense of fairness as the basis for people voting at local elections.

On national issues, if the Bill passes, we could also be in the situation referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. Take somebody who has not been in this country for 50 or 60 years: they have no family here; they do not pay taxes here; they left when they were 18 and have never worked here. They will be able to vote. At the same time, there are some people who have been here for 20 or 30 years, who pay their taxes and work here, but because of their status, they cannot vote. Can the Minister explain how that would be perceived as fair and a good platform for our electoral process? It seems to me that this is an important matter. This is the whole basis on which people not just pay tax and are citizens but actually influence services and taxes that affect their very life by being resident here. But as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, if the Bill passes, people who have not lived here for 50 years will have the right to vote and influence government policy, even though it does not directly affect them.

My Lords, I wish to send my good wishes to my noble friend Lord True. I hope that if he has got Covid at all, he has it very mildly—he might think that preferable to another day on this Elections Bill Committee. I certainly wish him well, as I am sure we all do.

I made common cause with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on various occasions in the past, and I shall do so again when we get to Amendment 197 in group 6 on donations. However, I am afraid that I part company with him on this occasion, and I take a rather different—some might say old-fashioned—view.

I go back again to my Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement and some of the evidence that we got and lessons that we learned while going through that episode. As good citizens, we all have rights, but we have an equal and opposite number of responsibilities. Unless each of us understands the balance between those two things, our society might become fractured.

One of the things that most obsesses me about our modern society is the increasingly widely held view that to compromise is to show yourself as weak. Modern social media shows us with reinforcing messages that we are right—and we all want to be proved right—and has fed that view in a very bad way. But compromise is the oil that makes our society work, and without it, as I said, it will become fractured and tense. I am spending a few seconds on this because it shows what a highly complex matter it is to be involved in the detail of a country—the balance that needs to be struck and for which, for younger people, good citizenship education is really key and important.

Although I will support the Government if they are going to reject the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I have to say that, after all the work that we have done and all the good words we have heard about citizenship education, today’s White Paper of 60 pages has only one mention of citizenship education in the whole thing. How will we get people to connect with what it means to be a citizen if we do not get that properly taught? I regard this as a very sad and sorry miss by the Government; I hope that something can be done about it as we develop the White Paper and the proposals in it.

I accept that the rights that come with citizenship in this country include a right to vote and, of course, it is absolutely essential that we encourage people to use that right. However, it is also a privilege for which earlier generations have strived, fought and occasionally, unfortunately, died. Having the right to vote is not like getting a driving licence or even a passport. The act of voting goes to the very heart of how our country is run, the philosophy and practices that we follow and the values that we endorse. Put simply, to be entitled to vote, you need to show pretty irrevocably that you intend to make this country your home, by becoming a citizen; then, of course, you are welcome to join the rest of us in deciding how the country is run.

Reading through some papers for this debate, I noticed that this country was described by a US commentator on a final dispatch before she returned to the United States as

“complex, incorrigible, often infuriating, endlessly perplexing, stroppy, ironic and fiercely disputatious”.

We are trying to decide how our Government are to deal with a society that can be described in that way. I am afraid I cannot accept that someone who pops over from, say, France should be able to vote in our elections any more than I should be able to vote if the situation were reversed. In short, the privilege of voting requires a combination of long-term commitment, physical presence and an understanding of current British life and how it is lived therein. I note that Amendment 155 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, seems to be groping towards some further developments in that area and I have some sympathy with what she is trying to achieve, particularly for those resident in a country where there are reciprocal voting arrangements, but I fear that her approach is probably too complex or possibly too open to abuse of this great privilege.

I have two final points to make. First, as I said, I can see the arguments for widening the franchise in cases of reciprocal rights being given by another country. That is an argument to which we shall come in more detail in Amendment 154 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, in support of which I expect to speak. Finally, some noble Lord—probably the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, or the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—will say that my remarks run completely counter to the provisions of Clause 12 extending the right of British citizens anywhere in the world indefinitely to vote in UK elections. Such an accusation would be correct. I think the Government have misjudged this issue, to put it no higher, and that our manifesto commitment was a plain mistake. For someone to be able to emigrate to Australia or retire to Jamaica and have continued participation in UK elections over tens of years seems plain wrong, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said. What can a person know about life in Britain after an absence of 20 or more years? Why should they have an equal say to a person who has lived here and contributed to the life of this country throughout that period? However, the fact that this is an ill-advised policy does not mean that we should add another ill-advised policy to it, and I am afraid that I regard the policy proposed in Amendment 152 as just that.

My Lords, I offer Green support for the general trend of these amendments. I also join the rest of the House in wishing the noble Lord, Lord True, a quick recovery. I very much agree with the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. If someone is here contributing to society and is a part of this community—maybe that is only for 20 or 30 years and maybe they will eventually go back to the country they came from, to care for their elderly parents or another reason—they should have a say. They have chosen to make this their home and we should recognise that with the vote.

It is really interesting if we look at the overall context of the Bill—and I very much agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, about the general sense of confusion and the lack of a real sense of clear direction—that where there is a sense of direction, it is utterly the wrong direction. As we were talking about with voter ID and offering a positive alternative of automatic voter registration, we have seen a trend over centuries for more and more people to have the right to vote. Yet, what we have done right now with the Brexit situation and with the rules as they currently are with the Bill without these amendments is that fewer and fewer people are having the right to have a say. That is a diminution of what democracy we actually have.

I very much agree with the comment from the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, that if you are able to vote, you should be able to stand. There is a really interesting case study related to that of the kind of tangles that electoral law can get itself into. Between 1918 and 1928, there were certain groups of women who could stand but not vote. The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918—with 27 words, it is the shortest law on the statute book—created a rather strange tangle where women were able to stand, and indeed some women did stand, when they could not vote for themselves. That really is an illustration of how you can get yourself into a mess when things are not properly thought through.

I have some very specific questions. I am aware that the Minister has kind of been landed with this, so I entirely understand if he might wish to write to me later. One of the things that perhaps many of us in your Lordships’ House do not think about very much is that there is another reason to be on the electoral roll beyond voting: being on the electoral roll is good for your credit rating and improves your access to credit. I will confess, it is something I have used many times on the doorstep to encourage people to go on the electoral roll. One of the things we will do with this current change is to make access to credit more difficult for some people, such as EU citizens who do not qualify for the vote. As we are seeing with all these complications, I wonder whether the Government have really looked at this situation and considered whether it is appropriate to allow that to continue when we are randomly taking that right away from people.

We have already heard very clearly laid out from a range of noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, all the complicating factors about whether you are allowed to be on the electoral roll or not. Are the Government confident that they have given full and clear instructions to all the local authorities in the land to ensure that they are able to implement this effectively? Are people on the roll rightly when they should be? With local elections coming up, I am sure all of us, except perhaps the Cross-Benchers, know people who are out now knocking on doors and talking to voters and potential voters. Is there a place where the Government have set this all out very clearly so political campaigners out encouraging people to get involved can find out who is eligible to vote and who is not? That would be a very useful practical resource to have.

This is something that has just occurred to me as we have been going through the debate: I imagine that to vote when you do not have the right to vote is an offence. Are the Government going to provide directions to acknowledge that some people, with the best will in the world and no ill intention, will end up voting in this coming and future elections when they do not have the right? I think people in that situation should be protected, given the complexities that we have all just heard outlined.

I will briefly make two other specific points. On an earlier group, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I think, noted how Scotland has given refugees the right to vote. Given the situation that we see in a world with more and more refugees, and as we will, I hope, welcome more refugees here, I wonder whether the Government have considered that.

I declare my position as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. Of course, BNO passport holders have the right to vote, but their children will not—so it could literally be that someone who was born in Hong Kong on a certain day has the right to vote, but a person born there one day later does not. So have the Government considered the situation of the children of BNO passport holders who have come here with their parents now? The Government have said that they are looking to allow, from September, the children of BNO passport holders to come on their own—so might that not be another group to consider?

Since I have just introduced several other layers of complexity, is not the obvious situation to base this right to vote on residence? If people have made themselves part of the community and contributed to it, that should be the basis of the right to vote.

My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 156 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I too extend my best wishes to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, for a speedy recovery.

This amendment is specifically to do with Northern Ireland, and its basis rests on an interpretation of Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement. The ability to stand for election and vote of EU citizens who were resident at the end of the transition period—or the implementation period, as it was called—on 31 December 2020 is clearly preserved. There is no argument about that; it is set out and is the legal position. So we are talking here about EU citizens who arrived in the UK—or Northern Ireland—after that. I understand that this is a probing amendment, but it is worth pointing out that EU citizens who have arrived since 1 January 2021 will move to a position whereby voting and candidacy rights are granted where there is an agreement with the European Union member state that they came from—they are preserved on a bilateral basis. That is the normal accepted position.

There has been a reliance on an interpretation of Article 2 of the protocol, and a lot of claims are made, appealing to not just the letter but the spirit of the Northern Ireland protocol, with all sorts of extravagant positions that would otherwise not be deemed to be rational or even democratic. People talk about taxation with no representation, and laws are now made over vast swathes of the economy of Northern Ireland, despite no Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, for which elections will take place on 5 May, or of this or the other House being able to have any say or vote on them. People are running for election to the Assembly in Northern Ireland to make laws for Northern Ireland, yet, in vast swathes of the economy, they have no powers whatever—those laws are imposed on them by the European Union on a dynamic basis, in over 300 areas of law. In a modern 21st-century democracy, that raises severe problems about the democratic deficit.

I return to this particular amendment. Article 2 of the protocol confers no right on Northern Ireland citizens to have voting rights in an EU member state in which they choose to reside. Therefore, it would seem bizarre to argue that it confers rights on EU citizens to vote in Northern Ireland district elections—that seems totally incongruous and spurious, and it is a wrong-headed argument. For that reason, I would obviously oppose that amendment if it is pressed.

My Lords, I too wish the noble Lord, Lord True, a speedy recovery and a quick return to duty, hopefully in time for Report. I am sure that the noble Earl would be pleased by that.

This has been a very good debate, because it has focused on broader issues of principle which we need to probe the Government on. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is absolutely right, as we have said at a number of stages, that this Bill represents missed opportunities. It is not so much what is in it as what is not in it that has been a problem. I am sure that the amendments which we have tabled will be considered. If they are not in this legislation, we will return to these broader issues of principle. The one thing that we would have all hoped for in terms of that right to vote is clarity, which we do not get here for all kinds of reasons, not least legacy reasons. Noble Lords have spoken about the complications that we will now face which we had not faced previously, not least that we will have some EU citizens with the right to vote and some without the right to vote, based on when they arrived—an arbitrary date as far as they are concerned.

Of course, the principle that we have sought to highlight in our amendment is what sort of qualification would make sense, would be clear and would be easily understood. We bandy terms such as “no taxation without representation” around, but lots of people who should be perfectly entitled to vote do not pay tax, particularly council tax. Residency is an important principle and perhaps the missed opportunity that this Bill could have addressed more properly, not least because of that legacy. I am not arguing at all for a change in what happened in the Brexit vote. We have left the EU. However, there is a legacy that we must consider there, particularly on people who have made their home here.

I must declare an interest, not least because in my household, with every general election that comes around, we are denied the right to vote. I wish we could vote but we cannot. My husband has lived here for 27 years; he has been a taxpayer, a national insurance payer and a council tax payer. He is a member of the Labour Party, has campaigned for candidates and has voted in every local election that he has been permitted to. The legacy of that will continue. The complication is that it will not apply to other EU citizens who establish the right of residency, who work here and who pay tax here. After a certain date they will not have that right to vote. It causes unnecessary complication.

Throughout this Bill I have readily agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, particularly on citizenship education—and by the way, citizenship education should not be limited to citizens of the United Kingdom. The rights and responsibilities of living in this country should be understood by all who live in this country, and we would create a much safer society if we undertook that responsibility. That is why we should consider a right to vote based on the clear principle of residency. Maybe we will not have the opportunity in this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said that people who just pop over here should not have the right to vote. However, because of our legacy as an empire and our legacy in terms of the Commonwealth, it is a bit ironic that a student from Australia on an overseas experience visa can land in this country and get the right to vote, but my husband, who has been here for 27 years and paid tax, does not. It does not really make sense.

This is, sadly, a missed opportunity. Amendment 156, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and my noble friend, deals with precisely that issue: instead of clarity we end up with confusion, with some people having the right to vote and others not, but both having the right of residency and to work and pay tax and national insurance. This country will have to consider that at some stage, if not now. I hope the Minister will understand why we have tabled our amendment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that this is a missed opportunity. I am sure none of these amendments will be agreed to, but I hope that the principle we are trying to establish will be considered in the future.

My Lords, I begin by conveying the regret of my noble friend Lord True that he is unable to be in his place today because of illness. As a result of his indisposition, the Committee finds itself with a deputy Minister in the shape of me. That is a privilege for me, but I am only glad that I am so ably supported by my noble friend Lady Scott in this endeavour.

My Lords, this group of amendments deals from various perspectives with the voting franchise in the context of UK national elections. I hope that I can be of help to noble Lords in setting out the Government’s approach to this issue and the logic that lies behind it. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for what he said in connection with Amendment 152, which I shall begin with.

The purpose of Amendment 152 is to require the Government to allow EU citizens to vote in UK parliamentary elections. It may be helpful if I explain our policy position on this. Our policy has always been that after our exit from the EU there should not be a continued automatic right to vote and stand in local elections solely by virtue of being an EU citizen. The provisions in this Bill are based on two main planks: first, to respect the existing rights of those who chose to make their homes in the UK before the end of the implementation period; secondly, to look to retain rights on a bilateral basis where possible.

Amendment 152 would extend the parliamentary franchise to EU citizens where no such rights previously existed. In a similar vein, Amendment 156 seeks to allow EU citizens to continue to vote and stand in local elections in Northern Ireland. Those who are nationals of an EU member state have never been able to vote in UK parliamentary elections by virtue of their EU citizenship. If an EU citizen becomes a British citizen, they will be eligible for the parliamentary franchise from that point.

The Government stand by their commitment to EU citizens resident before EU exit, and the Bill ensures that any EU citizen who was a resident before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 and who has retained lawful immigration status will retain their voting and candidacy rights in England and Northern Ireland. This goes beyond our obligations in the withdrawal agreement. EU citizens who arrived after the end of the transition period will move to a position whereby local voting and candidacy rights rest on the principle of a mutual grant of rights through voting and candidacy rights agreements with individual EU member states.

On Amendment 156, the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referred to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. As was rightly said, both those commissions have sought clarification on EU voting and candidacy rights in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK Government’s position is very clear and has been explained to both commissions. Removing voting and candidacy rights from EU citizens arriving in Northern Ireland after the implementation date does not run counter to article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Article 22 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union confers a right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal elections only in respect of EU nationals who are resident in another member state, having exercised their rights of free movement and residence. As the UK is no longer a member state, EU citizens self-evidently no longer enjoy the right to reside here, so the ancillary article 22 right to vote and participate in municipal elections is no longer applicable to it in this context. This is entirely consistent with part 2 of the withdrawal agreement, “Citizens’ rights”. I hope that is helpful.

I submit to your Lordships that the Government’s approach is a sensible and fair one, whereby established rights are recognised while moving to new bilateral agreements with individual nation states in the EU. I am afraid, therefore, that the Government cannot accept either of these amendments.

Amendment 155 is intended to extend the parliamentary franchise to foreign nationals with certain types of immigration status in the UK. The right to choose the next UK Government is rightly restricted to British citizens and those with the closest historical links to our country. In this respect, the UK is in line with international norms. Citizenship is the normal criterion for participating in national elections in most democracies, including the UK.

Amendment 155A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, proposes to enfranchise all who pay council tax in the relevant local authority area. Taxation has never been the basis for representation in the UK in modern times. There is a long-standing principle in the UK, as originally recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1998, that those who do not pay income tax, such as those earning less than the tax-free personal allowance, rightly remain entitled to vote. Similarly, full-time students are legally exempt from paying council tax but still have the right to vote in local elections. So, I submit that that connection between taxation and voting does not exist. The Government hold to that principle and therefore cannot support Amendment 155A.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked me a number of questions. I will arrange for a letter to be sent to her, but I will comment on her point about credit scoring and being on the electoral roll. The noble Baroness is, of course, not wrong in pointing out that credit reference agencies use the electoral roll to enable lenders and other service providers to confirm someone’s identity. However, it is true to say that lenders look at the entirety of the information on a person’s credit side, as well as other factors, to decide whether to lend to somebody. Lenders and other providers of financial services can ask for other forms of identity and confirmation.

The noble Baroness also asked whether we were taking steps to inform local authorities about the measures being taken. The Government are very conscious of the competing priorities that local authorities have and, particularly, electoral registration offices, both in relation to their business as usual activity and in the new activity that will be conferred by the Elections Bill. We are committed to working closely with the electoral community throughout the development of secondary legislation and implementation planning. We will commit to funding all new burdens incurred by EROs as a result of implementing this policy, as is customary.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, raised an issue from his personal experience. I believe that it is one that we will reach when we come to consider Amendment 154 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, so perhaps we can come to it at that point.

In summary, the Government have no plans to extend the parliamentary franchise in this way, either to EU citizens or to foreign nationals, and in consequence I am afraid that I cannot support these amendments.

Before the Minister sits down, he rightly said that taxation has not historically been used as a justification for the right to vote, but have the Government actually looked at it? In the context of a Bill that will supposedly rationalise and make sense out of our electoral system, have the Government looked at the idea that taxation would be a good, sensible rationale for the right to vote—at least at local elections, where it would be a lot more straightforward than national elections?

My Lords, I understand where the noble Baroness is on this. I think one has to distinguish national elections from local elections, and the rules do so in respect of the various categories of individuals who live in this country. To answer her question directly: the Government have looked at this issue and we do not believe that a change is warranted. As I say, we do not deny the vote to those who happen not to be earning. Equally, we do not grant the vote, in general elections, to foreign nationals who happen to pay council tax. I think there are good reasons for that.

Before the Minister sits down, can I clarify what he has said about liability for payment? My Amendment 155A relates to the liability to pay council tax. Where people are excused, they might otherwise be liable to pay council tax but, because of government legislation, they have been excused the need to do so. I make the point that although I planned this as a probing amendment, I now realise we have a much bigger issue to address, and we will need to discuss this further on Report.

My Lords, may I point out one other anomaly? I imagine everyone in this House pays tax, and yet we do not have the vote. I think that is really rather unfair and hope to see that rectified.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, is, of course, quite correct and we will be looking at the question of voting rights for noble Lords in a subsequent group of amendments.

My Lords, this has been a very useful debate, which has yet again exposed how unco-ordinated and ill thought through this Bill is. I strongly agree with what the Minister said: local elections are different from national elections. Indeed, in the late-night debate we had last week on overseas voting, it was pointed out that overseas electors are allowed to vote in our national elections but not in our local elections. If there is a good, rational argument for that, then there is an equally strong argument why long-term residents in Britain should be allowed to vote in local elections but not in national elections. If one were to think these things through, and clearly the Government have not, we would be moving in that sort of direction.

Similarly, if we had automatic voter registration, the complexities of residents and non-residents would be clearer. Incidentally, the logic that says overseas electors are not allowed to vote in local elections because they no longer have any connection with the local area goes completely against the logic that they should be allocated to constituencies, which they have lost touch with over the decades since they were in Britain. That is why I put down the amendment on the creation of overseas constituencies, but that has not been thought through either.

We all understand, as someone said to me at the weekend, that the Bill is driven by staff in No. 10 who are above all concerned with increasing the chances that the Conservatives win the next election. One of the strongest arguments for prioritising overseas voter registration over other categories is that they are thought to be more likely to vote Conservative.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. As I understood it, it was official Liberal Democrat party policy to scrap the 15-year rule that has existed up to now on overseas voters. Can he confirm that that is the case, because that is what the Bill does.

Yes, and to create overseas constituencies. I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, who was deeply shocked to be told by the noble Lord, Lord True, in a meeting a few weeks ago when he recommended the creation of overseas constituencies on the French model that that was Liberal Democrat policy. I hope he has now recovered from the shock.

There are tremendous problems with the Bill and the failure to connect all these dimensions. We will come in the sixth group to one of the other reasons why the Conservatives want to push ahead with extending the rights to overseas voting without thinking through the other dimensions of it, which the Liberal Democrats have thought through—the expectation that, once overseas voters are on register, they will be able to increase the systemic advantages—

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for talking about people thinking through the consequences of legislation, and of amendments. I remain puzzled by the Liberal Democrat policy that these 2.5 million additional people, who have never lived in this country, other than maybe for a very short time when they were very young, and who do not pay taxes into or own property in this country—not that that should be a qualification to vote, of course—must now be given the right to vote, should they choose to do so, in British general elections. There are lots of ramifications that the noble Lord has not thought through.

There are lots of ramifications that we have discussed extensively. I am happy to discuss them with the noble Lord off the Floor. What I am objecting to is dashing ahead with this without the creation of special constituencies and a number of other things that would begin to match the demand for them to come in.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, might be disappointed to hear me say that we do not disagree on very much. I strongly agree with his emphasis on citizenship. The badge of a liberal democracy is active citizenship. One of the things that most concerns me about the drift of politics and legislation in this country is that we are heading towards a much more passive model of citizenship and a much more populist model of democracy. That is another thing to which, in broader terms, we must at some point return.

For the moment, having recognised that the Government have not worked out what they want on all this, and that they have inherited a tangle of historical rights to vote and denials of the right to vote, I am happy to withdraw my amendment. I hope this might just possibly be one of the issues we will discuss between Committee and Report.

Amendment 152 withdrawn.

Amendment 153

Moved by

153: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—

“Members of the House of Lords: voting at elections to the House of Commons

(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a member of the House of Lords is not disqualified by virtue of that position from voting at elections to the House of Commons.(2) This section comes into force 24 months after the day on which this Act is passed.(3) This section extends to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I speak to Amendment 153 standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. On his behalf, I express his regret that he is not able to be here today. He is away on urgent matters, but I am sure he will be here at later stages of the Bill if we need to debate this again.

There is a very simple proposition in this amendment: that Members of this House should be entitled to vote. That is an argument that has gone on for many years. Indeed, I traced it back to 1699, thanks to the excellent report from the House of Lords Library, but it may have started even earlier. They have done a good job. They produced that report when I put forward a Private Member’s Bill on this subject. It passed this House, but I will come on to what happened to it when it got to the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, also put forward a Bill, but his was talked out. He and I are united in our wish to see progress on this matter.

The situation is anomalous. Part of the debate on this amendment has been covered in that on the previous amendments. I could have extracted some quotations in support of this if I had been quick enough to write them down. Members of this House can vote in local elections. We can vote for the devolved Administrations. We can vote in referenda. Previously, we could vote in European elections. It seems anomalous that there is one election in which we cannot vote. It is quite difficult for local government returning officers to know that we are not entitled to vote when they prepare the electoral list, as we are there for other things. I have never quite understood how they discover that we are Members of this House—they are clever people. At any rate, mistakes are sometimes made. Historically, Members of this House have voted and then there has been a bit of a row about it, because they were on the voting list and were not excluded from voting in parliamentary elections. It is an anomaly.

It is also an anomaly that Members on the Bishops’ Benches can vote. Though they may not exercise their right to vote for other reasons, they certainly have it. If we look abroad, United States Senators can vote for Congress, which seems fairly parallel to the position we are in. Indeed, according to that excellent House of Lords Library report, of the 189 countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Kingdom is the only country in which members of the second chamber cannot vote in general elections for the first chamber. We are the only country, yet some of the arguments against must apply elsewhere.

I agree that most of the British population are not aware of this. Indeed, when I talk to friends, I have to remind them that I am not allowed to vote when it comes up in conversation. I am fully aware that the masses who sometimes demonstrate in Parliament Square are not going to assemble there to support our right to vote. However, not every change in this country has to be the subject of enormous demos, much as I enjoy some of the demos and have been on them—that was a debate we had on the police Bill, and it is not appropriate today. The fact is that this is still an anomaly.

In preparing for today’s debate, I had to remind myself of some of the arguments against. There was a debate in 1936. It was introduced by a predecessor of a Member of this House, Lord Hailsham, and the proposal for reform was put forward by Lord Ponsonby, whose son is now in this House, so there is a tradition in this. They had a much longer debate than we will have today, I trust, for the sake of the Front Benches on both sides. The then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, said in talking about reform that

“it is not a wise thing to attempt to deal with a problem of this character piecemeal because, inevitably, you would get questions the answers to which might affect the attitude which your Lordships would take with regard to one particular proposal and the attitude you were going presently to take with regard to some other proposal on the other side of the picture.”

That is quite a complicated sentence, but I think it means he is against piecemeal reform. It is arguments against piecemeal reform that have bedevilled discussion on this.

I do not understand the argument why opposing piecemeal reform is a good thing. In our British tradition, pretty well all reforms are piecemeal, even from people who are on the political extremes. We normally progress piecemeal; we do things stage by stage. The argument that everything should be done in one go seems rather weak. I cannot resist quoting from the reply by the previous Lord Ponsonby. Admittedly, the proposition at that time was twofold: that we should have the right to vote; and that Members of this House should be entitled to stand in House of Commons elections. I would not suggest that at all, and most of the debate was about that second point: Members of the Lords being able to stand in House of Commons elections. Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede made this comment:

“It is perfectly absurd to say that this is a matter of the reform of the House of Lords or reform of the House of Commons. It is, if I may respectfully say so, an old trick of the noble and learned Viscount”—

that is, Lord Hailsham—

“to use a magnifying glass in order to make a mole-heap into a mountain and then all the more easily to destroy it.”—[Official Report, 12/2/1936; cols. 568-73.]

I liked that phrase, so I had to bring it in somewhere into our debate today.

The point is that the actual arguments against have been mainly opposition to piecemeal reform, the argument that we should not cherry pick, as if cherry picking was some reprehensible human activity. The second argument is that we already have influence on legislation. Of course we do; so do American Senators. The point in an election is to influence who are to be the Government of the day. Legislation comes later. It is because we do not have the right to influence who will be the Government of the day that I propose this amendment. The Joint Committee on Human Rights wrote some time ago, when there was a coalition Government, to the then Deputy Prime Minister, who again used the piecemeal argument as one reason not to do it.

I shall be brief. I remember that one or two people sitting here today objected to my Private Member’s Bill that passed this House. I know who they are, and I can see them, but perhaps they have changed their minds. I speak like a right reverend Prelate: I like repenting sinners, and perhaps they are repenting sinners by now. My Private Member’s Bill passed here about nine years ago, but it then had to go to the House of Commons. There is a procedure in the House of Commons—not a very healthy one; most of your Lordships will know it. If a Bill from here goes to the Commons and is called, if one voice says “Object!”, it kills it. No argument needs to be put forward; indeed, the identity of the objector is kept secret, it is not revealed.

I wrote to several MPs who I knew tended to object as a matter of course and asked them not to. I was in the Gallery watching, and I do not know who shouted “Object!”, but somebody did. I have reason to believe that the objection was not Back-Bench but government-inspired, on the argument that the coalition Government did not want piecemeal reform, they wanted to wait until there was reform to everything.

This is such a basic proposition that nobody in their right mind can really object to it. The constitution will not be undermined. We will not change the structure or powers of the Lords. All we are doing is giving us as individuals the right to vote. Many of us canvass and campaign in elections but then, come election day, I have asked people to vote but we are not able to vote.

As a token of my seriousness, the original version of my amendment said that it should be enacted within 12 months. I thought that was pretty difficult for returning officers and local government to get the voting lists right, so I have made one change and it now says that it should be brought into being in 24 months. This is a serious proposition; I urge your Lordships to support it.

My Lords, I generally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. He makes some extremely powerful speeches in this House and when he is talking about refugees, I am generally 100% behind him. But I do oppose this amendment, and I oppose it for one simple reason that I will put before your Lordships very briefly: we do not have the vote because we are permanent Members of Parliament. It is as simple as that. United States Senators are not permanent members of the Senate: they come up for re-election on a rotating basis every six years. We do not.

There is another argument to be had. I am personally—and your Lordships know this—in favour of a non-elected second Chamber. I am in favour of that for many reasons, including the gridlock that would inevitably emerge if there were two elected Chambers. But that is not what we are debating this afternoon. We are permanent Members, we are here, and it is for that reason and that reason only that we do not vote for the other House: because we have this permanent responsibility. Whatever the result of the next general election—in 2024, 2023 or whenever it happens—we will still come back here. That is the reason why it is illogical and unnecessary to argue that we should have a vote in general elections. It would make absolutely no difference to the result, because even if everybody in your Lordships’ House cast a vote around the country, you are talking about significantly fewer than 1,000 votes—I wish we were talking of no more than 600 but that, again, is another issue.

So, I hope we can move on quickly and stick with the Bill in this particular phase as it is. Like others, I send my warm good wishes for the speedy recovery of my noble friend Lord True, and I assure my noble friend Lord Howe that he has my total support on this issue.

My Lords, I came into this Chamber absolutely not caring about the outcome of this—I was waiting for subsequent groups. But actually, having heard both speeches, I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In spite of all the respect and affection I have for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I cannot see that what he said makes any difference at all. So what if we are permanent? We come and go, we do not always survive very long here, we can retire or die, so I do not see the relevance of what he is saying. And, of course, he pointed out that if we all voted it would not make any difference. We all have our views and we all vote in other ways in other elections, so I salute the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for his thorough examination of this problem and I completely support him. I had never given it a thought before—I had not minded about not voting, but now I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They follow us, which is quite nice; they are part of the Empire. I would rather that we be removed from here and replaced by elected Members—this is the futile movement for which I have fought all these years. However, the privilege of being legislators for life is so great that we must make a small sacrifice for it. Not being able to vote at a general election is one such small sacrifice.

My Lords, I did not speak on the Bill on Second Reading, because I was not able to be present, although I have followed debates very closely on a number of issues. I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions on this issue. My noble friend Lord Dubs, in his persuasive speech, certainly convinced me that it needs to be looked at in the light of two things in particular. First, he mentioned that Bishops were able to vote, which I was surprised at. That means Bishops who are Members of this House can vote in parliamentary elections.

Bishops are here for only a brief period. Some of them are here for five, six or seven years. One came in a few months ago and will be gone by the end of this year. They are not permanent legislators.

None the less, while they are Members of this House, it seems rather odd that they are allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, leads me on to the second point, which is that we are able these days to take retirement from the House of Lords, and many people have done that. I am sorry that I do not know the answer to this, but is it possible for those who are no longer active Members, and are not able to speak or vote in the House, to vote in parliamentary elections? If not, that is surely an anomaly that needs correcting. The Government should look at this issue again, in the light not only of the speech by my noble friend Lord Dubs but of the anomalies that exist and seem odd in the current situation.

My Lords, I support the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Rennard. I am not going to repeat the arguments; I support them, and the House has heard them. This anomaly can be dealt with without opening the Pandora’s box of reform of the House of Lords. I spoke in support of the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and I heard the then Minister’s answer. I do not want to be too presumptuous, but I think I can hear the Minister’s response already, with all the same arguments rolled out. I simply ask him one question: what is the practical downside of accepting this amendment? What is the danger? What is the risk?

My Lords, I also apologise for not speaking on Second Reading; I was unable to. I was not planning on speaking in this debate, but the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, raised the point of some of us being here permanently. I have been here a mere 30 years, but I cannot actually see the fact that I have been here 30 years as a legislator making that much difference to the country. I would love to say that being a Back-Bench Liberal Democrat is the bedrock of our whole system, but I cannot really put that forward. When I came here, it was the mantra that only Lords, lunatics and criminals could not vote, but that is no longer the case—though it depends on what bracket you put us in.

I have one question for the Minister. I am standing as a candidate in the local election, and my wife is standing as the agent for the Liberal Democrats in Islington. The complexity of the forms you have to fill in, with the understanding of the minutiae and detail, is incredibly difficult. What is the cost to the country of us being taken off the electoral register? Everybody has to be trained; it has to go through the whole system; it has to be part of the process. The cost is not insignificant for 800 people to be treated in a different category. Of course, it goes into a number of different areas. If the Minister could give us an indication of just how much our privilege of being taken off the register, so we can carry on with this view that we are a permanent part of the process, would cost, and whether that is worth it, I would be very interested.

My Lords, I have a question—and I did not come in to speak either. Since I have been a Member of this House, which is 20 years, there is at least one Member—I think only one—who was here when I arrived, subsequently got elected to the other place and is now back here. Yes, he is here today. At the time that he left this place and got elected to the other place, was he able to vote in the election he stood in? I am not sure what his status would have been.

My Lords, we talk about piecemeal reform, and changes to this House have not necessarily been a result of legislative change or even reform. I have mentioned in previous debates the excellent book by Antonia Fraser about the debate on the Great Reform Act 1832. What I found most fascinating was that most Members of the House of Commons were sons of aristocrats and were put there by their fathers to have proper training to come into the House of Lords. Of course that was in the days when the powers of this House were great, as noble Lords have mentioned.

What recently shocked me even more—and I have cited this too—were the diaries of “Chips” Channon, who, when he was writing pre-war, leading up to the 1938 Munich debacle, mentioned that most of his friends in the House of Commons were sons of aristocrats who eventually ended up in this House. I hope things have changed. Constitutionally, things have radically changed, quite rightly, in the powers of this House, which can no longer challenge the democratic mandate of the House of Commons. The question is not simply about whether we are here for life or not; it is about what we do here. Even where we have particular circumstances of power, I am one of those people who would not use it to challenge the democratically elected House of Commons.

My noble friend made a very powerful case, and the point that struck me was that not many people in the public out there are aware that we have not got the vote. I remember campaigning in the 2017 election and a young, radical activist stopped me and asked if I had voted yet. When I explained I could not vote for Jeremy Corbyn, she nearly issued an internal disciplinary notice. Once I had explained, I was eventually forgiven. But I think it is a point worth making that most people assume that everyone in this country has a free and fair democratic right to vote, and it just seems ridiculous that we do not.

My Lords, this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is joined on the Marshalled List by my noble friend Lord Naseby, brings us to a topic on which each of them has tested government policy on a number of occasions in the past, including, as I recall and as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned, through my noble friend’s Private Member’s Bill in 2019. On the latter occasion, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham set out the Government’s response, and I therefore hope it will not come as a shock to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that my response today bears an uncanny resemblance to the one given to the House previously.

I understand and respect the case that noble Lords have articulated on this issue. However, I am afraid it is not a case I can accept, and the reason is clear and straightforward and was well articulated by my noble friend Lord Cormack. Noble Lords will be aware that although, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly said, the role of this House has changed over time, our place in Parliament still gives us a position of influence not held by other citizens. My noble friend Lord Sherbourne asked what the downside would be of accepting the amendment. Enfranchising noble Lords to vote in general elections would give Peers two ways of being represented in Parliament. Members of this House have an opportunity to debate and vote on legislation. To provide a vote for Peers in UK parliamentary elections would undermine the principle that all citizens are equally represented in politics.

When Parliament is prorogued for a general election, MPs cease to be Members of Parliament. They therefore become ordinary voters, if I can put it that way.

In our democracy, everyone should have a voice, but the Government’s view is that Peers who are Members of this House have that by virtue of their participation in this Chamber. That principle has been upheld for more than 300 years, including by the courts. It has not altered over successive Governments: in fact, in the debate on his Private Member’s Bill nearly three years ago, my noble friend Lord Young reminded the House that, as recently as 1999, Section 3 of the House of Lords Act explicitly enfranchised hereditary Peers who are not Members of this House and disfranchised Peers who are.

The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, asked whether Peers who have retired from this House have the right to vote. My understanding is that they do, because they ceased to be parliamentary Peers at that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about the cost of taking parliamentary Peers off the register. I doubt that that cost has been computed by anybody—of course, there must be a cost—but it is a very considerable privilege that we as Peers have, and I for one would argue that it is not unreasonable for that privilege to carry a public cost.

Of course, we are on the register and can vote in every other election, including local government elections, referenda—the lot.

I think the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was that a distinction must be made on the register between different types of election, and that that carries a cost; he can correct me if I am wrong in assuming that.

This House is a respected voice that adds depth and, I hope, wisdom to our legislative process. It allows us, as its Members, full participation in the life of the nation. The Government therefore have considerable reservations about this proposed new clause, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I never thought that so many different sorts of opinions would come out of the woodwork. It has been absolutely fascinating. The arguments have been somewhat different from the last two or three times we debated this issue. I just want to comment on them briefly.

As regards the voting list—this is a technical point—my understand is that there is no obvious way in which when we register we can declare that we are Members of this House. Somehow, in some local authorities, the polling clerks are aware of it but, in others, they are not. I am always mystified by that; it is not clear. I have known of people who have not been debarred from voting and could have gone to vote—they did not do so but they could have—simply because it was not obvious to the polling clerks that they were Members of this House.

On my noble friend Lady Quin’s comment about Members of Parliament, again, it is purely a technicality that they cease to be Members of Parliament during the period of an election campaign. Nobody knows about it except for a few nerds like us—sorry, nerds like me. It just means that they are technically not MPs. However, for all practical purposes, of course they are; they still get representations made to them, constituency casework and so on. Even during the election campaign, they cannot just say, “No, I’m not prepared to do it.”

The noble Lord cannot get away with that. When Parliament is dissolved, as distinct from being prorogued, the House of Commons does not exist and everyone must seek election or re-election to it. As the noble Lord knows only too well, there are occasions when Members of Parliament lose their seats—so of course it is right that they should have a vote for somebody in Parliament when there is no House of Commons. He is really not giving the argument the justice it deserves.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has just informed me that MPs are paid during Prorogation. So even when they vote in a general election, they are in fact still being paid as MPs.

I just want to say to my noble friend Lord Cormack that, if a Member of Parliament is in a constituency that they do not represent but is on the register, they can vote for that constituency in a by-election even though they are still an MP.

Well, we are getting into the realm of pub quiz questions. I am perfectly aware of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made. My argument is that the public are not aware of it. It is a distinction that I did not know about until the first time I was trying to get re-elected in the Commons; I had no idea. I bet that 99.9% of the public would think that this is an amazing anomaly and would not attach very much weight to the argument, although I am perfectly aware of it. All I am saying is that, sometimes, these are very technical points. They do not take away from the fact that this is an anomaly where we, as individuals who in every other respect are members of a democracy and can vote, cannot vote in general elections.

This may have been the case for 300 years, but we unearth a lot of issues that we have had for hundreds of years and do not necessarily always go along with them. We change them from time to time. Women used not to have the right to vote. It was a tremendous victory when the suffragettes won the right to vote. So I would not use the argument that it has been like this for 300 years and therefore we are not going to change it.

I would like to come back to this on Report but, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 153 withdrawn.

Amendment 154

Moved by

154: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—

“Commonwealth citizens: reciprocal franchise

(1) The Representation of the People Act 1983 is amended as follows.(2) In section 1 (parliamentary electors)—(a) in subsection (1)(c), for “a Commonwealth citizen” substitute “a citizen of a Commonwealth country in which British citizens are entitled to vote in general elections”, and(b) at the end insert—“(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c), a country is deemed to be “a Commonwealth country in which British citizens are entitled to vote in general elections” if it is specified as such in regulations made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State. (4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (3) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”(3) In section 4 (entitlement to be registered as a parliamentary or local government elector), in subsection (1)(c) after “Commonwealth citizen” insert “of a Commonwealth country specified in regulations under section 1(3)”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment will ensure that the right of Commonwealth citizens to vote in UK general elections will in future be confined to citizens of those Commonwealth countries that grant to British citizens the right to vote in their own general elections. The amendment will not affect Irish citizens with whom the United Kingdom has had reciprocal voting arrangements since 1922.

My Lords, I gave notice at Second Reading that it was my intention to bring forward an amendment on votes for Commonwealth citizens in general elections—and I repeat that. We have had a very good debate on local elections and got into a lot of technicalities, but this is now about general elections.

My suggestion is that, to vote in general elections, the basic requirement should be citizenship of the UK. That is clear, simple and logical, and I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, agrees. In the wider context, however, it would be a pity to take an action that might be perceived as unfriendly to the Commonwealth. We should therefore introduce the principle of reciprocity; I will come back to that point.

At present, all Commonwealth citizens have the right to vote in not only our local elections but our general elections without becoming British citizens. That is the case whether or not their countries of origin permit British citizens to vote in their general elections; as I will explain, most of them do not. In practice, as things stand now, Commonwealth citizens in the UK can simply put their names on the electoral register. Indeed, now that the register is reviewed every month, they could acquire the right to vote very shortly after their arrival. By contrast, foreign nationals in the UK must first obtain British citizenship—a process that takes five years or so.

A word about the background—as I mentioned at Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, a Labour former Attorney-General, recommended in 2008 that this virtually automatic right for Commonwealth citizens should be phased out. He made three points, which briefly were that: first, most countries do not permit non-citizens to vote in national or even local elections; secondly, the UK does not have the same clarity around citizenship as other countries do, which is quite important; and thirdly, it is right in principle not to give the vote to citizens of other countries living in the UK until they become citizens of the UK. All that makes perfect sense. It is just a pity that it was not listened to at the time.

I just mentioned reciprocity and I am grateful to the House of Lords Library for its research into this. Only about 10 of the 53 Commonwealth countries grant British citizens the right to vote in their general elections, and nearly all those countries are small Caribbean islands. It would be wrong to remove the vote from nationals of those countries that continue to grant it to British citizens, so my amendment therefore makes that one small group of exceptions.

Sadly, no action was taken on this matter by the Labour Government at the time, nor by subsequent coalition or Conservative Governments. However, this Bill provides an opportunity to deal with it quickly and, I hope, quietly.

The effect of my amendment would be to put virtually all those coming legally to live in Britain on the same footing—namely, they would be entitled to vote when they had achieved British citizenship and not before.

On the numbers potentially involved, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of Commonwealth citizens has increased by about 100,000 a year in the past five years. At this rate, very generally, about half a million would be able to vote in a general election without having acquired citizenship.

As a further point, and not an unimportant one, the present law is expressed in what one might call Home Office speak. That is picked up by the Electoral Commission, the website of which says:

“Any type of leave to enter or remain is acceptable, whether indefinite, time limited or conditional.”

That is absolutely extraordinary. In practice, it means that any Commonwealth student or work permit holder can register to vote before an approaching general election and so could their adult dependants. This right could even be extended to visitors, as most get six months’ leave when they arrive, as noble Lords know. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, this makes no sense. I would be grateful if the noble Earl, Lord Howe, would confirm that I have correctly explained the meaning of these words on the Electoral Commission website, which corresponds to the Home Office website. Could he also confirm that British nationals overseas are Commonwealth citizens for the purpose of voting? I believe they are.

Migration Watch, of which I am president, has made a rough estimate of the numbers involved. If one takes just the top 10 Commonwealth nationalities, the number of entry clearances granted in 2021 was about 360,000. If visitor visas are included, the total is over 500,000. If Hong Kong is included, it would add those who are adults among the 100,000 who have already arrived. I realise that may sound a little techie, and these numbers are not exact, but they are certainly not insignificant. I leave it to noble Lords to consider whether election agents in the relevant constituencies would be able to work it out. I suspect that they might.

It is important to be clear that my amendment would not take the vote away from anyone who now has it, only from future arrivals until they became British citizens. I add a final note on Irish citizens in the UK. As most Members know, they have had the right to vote in general elections since 1922, and vice versa. These arrangements would not be affected by my amendment and nor should they be.

To sum up, this amendment is about four matters: first, the simplification and rationalisation of the system, as the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, pointed out and which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, called for; secondly, reciprocity and therefore fairness; thirdly, a basic requirement of citizenship; and fourthly and perhaps most importantly, maintaining confidence in the electoral system. There can no longer be any justification for this anomaly. My amendment makes a simple and sensible change, and this Bill is an opportunity to get it done.

Before the noble Lord sits down, could I ask a question? He referenced my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith. If he recalls, this issue came up during the debate on voting rights in the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Green, referenced this as the second issue that my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith raised in his report: what is a British citizen? Does he think that fundamental question has been properly addressed for this purpose?

A lot has changed in 14 years, but the thrust of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said is absolutely right. We now have a system that has developed somewhat in defining what a UK citizen is—I accept that—but it is not too difficult, is quite well known and has been discussed recently. I do not think that undermines his recommendation or the logic of saying that the clear thing, if you want to vote in this country, is to become a citizen, and you know how to do that.

My Lords, I have great sympathy with the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington; I am sorry he looks so surprised. We need to sort out what we mean by UK citizenship. I cannot now remember which election it was when I was canvassing in Southwark and I came to a block that had a large number of Congolese-born people and a large number of Tanzanian-born people. The latter had the right to vote; the former did not, although I deeply suspected that some of them had got themselves on the register, somehow or other, because the local people were not quite sure who was what. This is at least as much a legacy of empire and our great-grandparents’ day as the sacking and pencils in polling stations, which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, was talking about. Both need to be modernised and it is high time we did so.

I ask the Minister whether he can tell us when Mozambique joined the Commonwealth and whether that meant that all Mozambiquans in Britain immediately gained the right to vote. I think I am right in saying that Rwanda joined the Commonwealth and that must have given them the vote, as well. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, if he were in his place, would remind us that he has campaigned for Algeria to become a member of the Commonwealth. The hypothetical question of how many voters we would be adding each time a new country became a member of the Commonwealth is interesting.

Of course, we should be sorting out the categories of our voting. We have been saying that all afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Green, is entirely right on this and I hope that the Government take some notice, but I suspect that they will not act on this unfortunately illogical and messy Bill.

I declare an interest as a former electoral commissioner. First, I agree with the remarks made on the previous amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that this Bill should have included the findings of the Law Commission, which have cleared up a lot of the complexity of language involved in legislation. It sometimes goes back to the Victorian times and is really a wholesale mess, frankly. I was glad that the Law Commission came to such clear conclusions.

Of course, the noble Lord will appreciate that the Law Commission by itself cannot alter anything and does not alter the law as it stands. None the less, I agree with him that it is a missed opportunity that we have an Elections Bill of this kind but are not able to take into account the views of the Law Commission. When I was on the Electoral Commission, it would have wanted the Law Commission’s findings to be taken into account as soon as practically possible, as it certainly would now.

I will speak briefly on Amendment 154. I am sure we are all wondering what my noble friend Lord Howe, who has nobly stepped into the situation, has in his brief. I am afraid to say that he probably has a note from the FCO saying, “No, old chap, don’t agree to this because it might upset the Commonwealth”. That is the sort of line that I suspect he has there; he is nodding, so maybe I have hit the nail on the head. The noble Lord, Lord Green, made the point in his argument about reciprocity that there is a simple point here —if people from particular countries wish to vote, they can have a reciprocal arrangement. A few do, but not many. That deals with the Commonwealth point.

The wider point, which has been made several times during the discussion on this series of amendments, is that citizenship is an important issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, the Goldsmith report made this point very well in 2008; it is a wonderful report. The issue was also covered by this House, by my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who is not in his place at the moment, in the report of the committee on citizenship that he chaired in 2017-19. It concluded that

“it strikes us from our research that what is missing is any clear, coherent or ambitious vision of why citizenship should matter in the UK in the 21st century”.

In other words, on two separate occasions, widely spread and backed by different parties, this House has made it clear that it is unhappy with the role of citizenship and the way it is decided in our voting system. Therefore, we need some clarity on this issue, and it is a pity that the Bill does not go into that as much as it should.

To allow people who are not citizens of this country to vote in our elections seems to me to simply devalue the whole idea of citizenship. Why should people who are not citizens vote in our elections? People should qualify for citizenship, as they can in the appropriate way, and then be allowed to vote. That treats citizenship as a valuable thing, which I believe it to be. Therefore, as the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Collins, have argued, we should look at this and give clarity to the whole idea of citizenship, which is what the amendment does. The noble Lord, Lord Green, has therefore performed a public service in moving this amendment, and I hope the Government will listen to what he says.

My Lords, this is the third occasion on which I have had to say that, given the way our constitution is, it is obviously not an exercise in logic. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is right that the Bill should have been an occasion to sort out in a clear, straightforward, logical way what the qualifications are that give somebody a right to vote in this country. The right to vote in this country has been based on the principle of the Empire. In 1858, Queen Victoria’s declaration for the Indian empire, a very important document, said that she would treat all subjects of her Empire as equal. She meant that the people in this country were the same part of the Empire as people in India. One of the leading Indian nationalists in the 1870s described that as a Magna Carta for India.

Mahatma Gandhi fought in South Africa for the rights of indentured labourers on the grounds that, being Indian subjects of Queen Victoria, they had the same rights as the white settlers in South Africa. He did not get very much, but that was the principle on which he fought.

I shall come to that; this is the beginning of a lecture that will take some time.

When I arrived here, I was the holder of an Indian passport. India had become a republic in 1950. Just as we recently saw in the exercise of persuading the Jamaicans not to become a republic, becoming a republic takes a Commonwealth country out of the reciprocity relationship because the country can then choose whether to give reciprocal rights. That is Jamaica’s choice, not ours.

We have to be aware that our original right to vote was as subjects—we are still subjects—of the Crown, and the whole notion that we are citizens is an entirely European import. We became citizens only when we joined the EU; we ceased to be citizens when we left. The notion of citizenship is not relevant. We are not a democracy: the Crown in Parliament is sovereign; people are not sovereign. That is the constitutional position. Noble Lords can challenge me if they wish.

I am not disputing the principle of what the noble Lord is proposing, because he has explained very clearly and patiently that there ought to be reciprocity or symmetry. The Commonwealth itself is an anomaly because it is not a symmetrical association of equal states. Her Majesty the Queen heads the Commonwealth because of her position as the Crown and she has asked the Commonwealth Heads of Government to agree that His Royal Highness Prince Charles will head the Commonwealth when he succeeds her. So the Head of the Commonwealth will always be the British monarch. The Commonwealth is not a society of equal nations; there is an asymmetry there.

We are not French; we are British. We do not believe in logic; we believe in convention, tradition and evolution, and therefore there is an anomaly. If the Government want to have a logical structure, let them bring a Bill that in the first clause defines who has the right to vote in this country and why, and who does not have the right to vote, despite being a resident, taxpayer or whatever. That exercise has not been carried out, and so we have an anomalous position. That is the beauty of the constitution—it is not a logical construct.