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Lords Chamber

Volume 826: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2022

House of Lords

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Introduction: Lord Prentis of Leeds

David Prentis, having been created Lord Prentis of Leeds, of Harehills in the City of Leeds, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Wheeler and Lord Lennie, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Death of a Member: Baroness Couttie


My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, yesterday. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to her family and friends.

Renewable Energy: Generation Licences


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to increase the number of renewable energy generation licences.

My Lords, the acceleration in renewable deployment will be supported by the UK’s main renewable energy scheme, contracts for difference. The latest round delivered almost 11 gigawatts of new renewable projects, almost double that achieved in the previous round. The next CfD round will be brought forward to March 2023, and future rounds will run annually to further drive deployment of renewable power. The majority of CfD applicants are exempt from the requirement to hold a generation licence.

So far, it has been much more difficult to get renewable licences. One thing that might help, as well as the Government’s investment, is if the Minister could go back to his government colleagues and ask them to stop taking party donations from fossil fuel companies. That might give renewables a fair chance.

I thank the noble Baroness for that, which is totally unrelated to the Question she tabled. There have been almost 1,000 generation licences issued. It is a demand-driven process. All generators below 50 megawatts are exempt from having a licence in the first place.

My Lords, could my noble friend the Minister indicate what has happened in recent days, as temperatures have fallen so low and there being no wind, to the cost of electricity as a result?

My noble friend makes an important point. I suspect that he knows the answer to his own question: because it has been relatively still, there have been relatively small amounts of wind in the power sector, so the other sources of power—nuclear, imports, gas, et cetera—have moved in to fill the gap. That is how a diverse system should work.

My Lords, getting a grid connection, never mind a generation licence, for any kind of generation is increasingly difficult, and indeed is even beginning to restrict housing developments. Will the Government instruct Ofgem to increase the pace of grid investment to avoid a literal energy gridlock?

The noble Baroness raises a good point. We are seeing a total reconfiguration of the grid away from large nodes, such as coal-fired power stations, to a much more diversified system of generators. That requires massive configuration of the grid, which is extremely expensive and, I might add, politically controversial. Many people do not want new pylons, et cetera, going through their neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, work is ongoing to reconfigure it. Considerable sums are being invested, but clearly we need to do more in that area.

My Lords, I have asked my noble friend this question before, and to an extent it follows up the question from my noble friend Lord Forsyth. Where are we with tidal power?

Tidal power is an interesting technology. A number of schemes are being rolled out. For the first time ever, in the last CfD round a number of schemes were awarded licences. We need to continue supporting and developing it, but we must not run away with the idea that this will be a long-term, sustainable solution for large amounts of power. At the moment, it is on a relatively small scale. We need to continue supporting it, and we will.

My Lords, the biggest tidal power project is, of course, the Severn barrage. Will the Minister receive a delegation to brief him on the potential for that? It is equivalent to two nuclear power stations, and it is lunar, and therefore generates predictable baseload energy. Frankly, it is a no-brainer.

I understand the point the noble Lord makes. A Severn barrage scheme has been talked about since I was an electrical engineering student, way back in the 1980s; it is not a new scheme. It all comes down to the cost and the environmental damage that would result from implementing it. We continue to keep all these things under review. I assure the noble Lord that both I and the department know all about the details of the scheme.

My Lords, I add my comments to those made in relation to both tidal and wave power. We have the second-largest tidal range in the world. Some 40 years ago, I lobbied the Government on the Severn barrage, but there are many alternatives. They are not small power generators but potentially very substantial generating powers, particularly wave power.

The barrage schemes are potentially large-scale schemes. I meant that some of the bottom tidal schemes are on a relatively small scale. It all comes down to cost. The costs of these schemes fall on bill payers. The Government’s general approach is to support forms of renewable power that offer the best value for money for taxpayers—principally solar and wind, but we are starting to support some of the other tidal schemes as well. The barrage schemes are extremely expensive and very long term, and there are a lot of environmental implications.

My Lords, we note the increase in the frequency of contracts for difference allocation rounds every year. Can the Minister expand what impact this will have on deploying more energy regeneration? Why is the process so prescriptive? It has “lack of ambition” written all over it. Surely more flexibility is the key to encouraging more investment in zero-carbon technologies. Are any plans coming forward to make Britain the clean energy superpower it deserves to be?

I disagree with the premise of the noble Baroness’s question. We are already a renewable energy superpower. She talks about lack of ambition. In the last auction, round 4, we delivered more than 11 gigawatts and 93 renewable power projects—enough to power 12 million homes. We have the largest offshore wind capacity in the whole of Europe and the second largest in the world. We want to scale-up that ambition and deliver more, but I think the noble Baroness should give us some credit for what we have already achieved.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests in the register. Now that the feed-in tariff has ended, there is not much incentive for people to install more capacity on their homes than they use themselves. The smart export guarantee pays typically between only 1p and 5p per kilowatt-hour, which is not enough to encourage people to install excess generating capacity. Does the Minister agree that a peer-to-peer trading facility that allows people to sell their excess power to their neighbours might increase returns to generators and improve the incentive, and also reduce the cost of power to neighbours?

It is an interesting concept. As the noble Lord knows, the smart export guarantee is a market-driven mechanism, and it is for suppliers to determine the value of the exported electricity to them, taking account of their administrative costs. There are a number of schemes, such as the one mentioned by the noble Lord, and I am certainly very happy to look at it. However, we always have to bear in mind that any subsidy offered to certain generators is paid for by every other customer on the network.

My Lords, all this talk of tidal power makes one think of ships. Noble Lords will be glad to hear that I am not going to ask a question about ships. There is going to be a huge growth in demand for electrical power. The only certain way of providing electrical power, no matter what the weather and completely green, is nuclear. What is the actual percentage that we are looking for in the provision of nuclear power, looking to the future of electrical supply within this country?

The noble Lord is right: we need to expand our nuclear production. We have just agreed the contract for Sizewell, only a couple of weeks ago, and other developments are planned. We have not set a specific target for nuclear production, but we will need to replace a lot of the aging plants that will come offline in the next 10 or 15 years or so.

My Lords, the Minister, in reply to several questions, has said that it comes down to cost. Could he assure us that the full cost of continuing to invest in fossil fuels is factored in when that equation is calculated? Fossil fuels come at a cost to the environment and certainly to our climate change ambitions. Can he assure us that this is fully taken into account when those balanced decisions are taken?

There are of course no subsidies given to fossil fuel generation. In fact, it is the opposite: they are paying into the system record levels of taxation. This is a gradual transition. To all those who want to get rid of fossil fuels, I say great, but 80% of our heating is gas heating at the moment; are we going to turn off people’s gas boilers overnight? I suspect that the answer to the noble Baroness’s question is no. Of course we want to roll out renewable generation, which is what we are doing, but it is intermittent, as the question from my noble friend Lord Forsyth intimated earlier. We need back-up generation for that; that could take a number of different forms, and nuclear is one of the possible options. In the short term, as we move to a more renewable system, we will need fossil fuel generation.

My Lords, I want to ask my noble friend the Minister about the long-term thinking in the department. Looking at the developments in technology, particularly in storage capacity and micro- generation, might there be a day when there really is no incentive for people to feed into a grid, and they can generate all their energy locally? What sort of long- term thinking has there been on the impact on the grid of more local generation and storage?

My noble friend makes an important point. There will be, and has been, an increasing amount of microgeneration. I am told by the suppliers that there are record demands at the moment for things such as solar panels and PV generation, as people respond to high electricity costs. Many people will want to install systems that will save them money in the long term. Of course, the higher electricity prices are, then the pay-back period for microgeneration schemes becomes less and less. It comes down to the question that was asked earlier about the reconfiguration of the grid. There would be much more small-scale generation rather than the big node operators that we are used to. A considerable investment is going into the grid to bring that about. We also have schemes such as smart metres; 50% of the country is now connected to a smart meter, and they enable better charging regimes, demand-management schemes, et cetera, all of which will contribute to what the noble Lord suggests.

Railway Station Ticket Offices


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from (1) rail passenger groups, and (2) other stakeholders, about the proposed closure of railway station ticket offices.

My Lords, the Government regularly hold meetings with rail passenger groups and other stakeholders, including the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. Retail and workforce modernisation, including industry plans for ticket offices, forms part of those discussions. To propose any changes to the opening hours or the closure of ticket offices, train operating companies must follow the process set out in the ticketing and settlement agreement.

Would the Minister be relaxed about catching a late-night train—operated only by a driver with no other staff on it—from an unstaffed station and then leaving the train at an unstaffed station at her destination? Does she think that ticket machines would come to her assistance in the event of any problems? If something unfortunate happened and she had to use a wheelchair, how would she consider travelling in those circumstances? Bearing in mind that, in the Greater London area, the London Overground, the Underground and the Elizabeth line all have stations staffed from the first to the last train, why cannot the rest of the country be treated in the same way?

My Lords, driver-only operations have been around since about the 1980s. It is certainly not a new concept. Over half of passengers who use the railways are on trains where driver-only operations are in place and have been accepted by train drivers. If we are able to change arrangements at ticket offices in some locations, that will mean that more people will be out and about in stations, providing the eyes and ears that we need to keep passengers safe. The Government are very conscious of more vulnerable adults and how they travel. We work very closely with the police and the Rail Delivery Group.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the fact that, in 2015-16, Transport for London closed all ticket offices on the Underground to free staff to be available for helping passengers and providing information? Why has it taken Network Rail all these years to get round to this particular modernisation? Indeed, what is happening with all the other modernisations? After all, this is fairly low-hanging fruit.

It is up to the train operating companies, which operate the ticket offices, to think about the best way to manage their resources—including people—to serve customers better. I accept that TfL is often ahead of the game in many areas. Noble Lords will recall a time when you could pay by cash for a bus ticket in London; that is the case no longer. There are ticket offices across the country where less than one ticket an hour is sold. I put it to noble Lords that the person behind that glass screen could be doing other things.

My Lords, many of the stations that I use have not had ticket offices for years, but my main concern is not just how and where you buy the ticket but how much it costs. We already have the most expensive railway in Europe. Are the Government committed to ensuring that fare increases are frozen next year to help with the cost of living in these difficult times, and to reflect the dire service that passengers have received in recent months from many train operating companies?

When it comes to the railway, DfT Ministers have front of mind the impact on passengers of recent disruption, and value for money for all taxpayers. The railway has lost 20% of its passengers since the pandemic, which means that it has also lost between £125 million and £175 million a month in revenues. Nobody wants to see fares go higher but the reality is that we need to ensure a good deal for taxpayers. Part of that involves being able to modernise the railways such that they can offer the sort of service, at the sort of fares, that people want.

My Lords, is it not the case that ticket offices are providers not just of tickets but, frequently, of essential information for travellers? Given the huge complexity of ticketing systems across the country and lack of knowledge, perhaps, about the cheapest or quickest route, does the Minister not agree that ticket offices need to remain open for that reason in addition to those pointed out by my noble friend Lord Snape?

I think the noble Lord sort of makes my point for me. I agree with him that people need help, but it may not just be about buying a ticket and that person does not necessarily have to be sitting behind glass. Some customers need all types of help, particularly if they have reduced mobility. Our view is that there may be circumstances where it is appropriate to make sure that people are out and about helping customers to learn to use ticket machines and answering questions on the platform and not downstairs at the ticket office. It is all about flexibility.

My Lords, am I not right in saying to my noble friend the Minister that we now have a new Minister for Railways in another place who will focus entirely on updating the so-called antiquated systems of ticketing and the way that the railways are managed and run?

My noble friend is quite right. Huw Merriman MP has taken over as the new Rail Minister. If I may, I will just plug the meeting I have arranged with the Rail Minister tomorrow at 5.30 pm for any noble Lord who wishes to attend to ask him questions about current services, industrial action or, indeed, the critical modernisation that he is focused on.

My Lords, the Minister has talked about driver-only trains, but the key surely is to have people on the station who can help people who are in wheelchairs or disabled in some way—my wife uses a wheelchair all the time—to get on and off the trains. Whether they are behind a ticket barrier or in an office, it does not really matter. Can she assure the House that there will be no reduction in the number of people who are on the platforms—whether they are from the train or the platform—to help people who need mobility assistance?

I can reassure the noble Lord that we are absolutely focused on making sure that every single passenger, whether they have reduced mobility or not, gets the service that they need at the place they need it. That may not be the ticket office; it may be on the platform. I am really pleased that the Government have worked closely with the Rail Delivery Group on developing the app for passengers with reduced mobility. That has proved very successful. It is but one step and there are many more things that we can do.

My Lords, yesterday morning when there was significant snowfall, I stood on the platform at my local station and watched the person who is often behind the glass—as the noble Baroness put it—in the ticket office clearing the snow from the platform and helping people, other than me, who needed help. Why is the noble Baroness making a distinction between people who are behind the glass and people who are helping other people? They are the same people now and we need them all.

That is exactly what we want to see. We want people who are multiskilled and able to clear the platform of snow, help passengers with reduced mobility and sell tickets. I am not entirely sure that I understand that there is such a differentiation.

My Lords, will the Minister take back to her department that it is extremely difficult ever to find anyone on any platform in the West Country?

A voice behind me said, “Including passengers”, but let us not go there. I will take that back to my department.

My Lords, the person who sold me my ticket yesterday certainly made her views clear. She said, “What’s all this nonsense about doing away with the House of Lords? They can’t do that, can they?”

My Lords, at the Conservative Party conference in October, the previous Transport Secretary, when saying that she was asking industry to launch consultations on reforming ticket office provision, suggested the move was about putting passengers first. Have the Government set out the terms of those consultations and can the Minister confirm that it will include thorough consideration of the impact on passengers with accessibility needs?

I can absolutely confirm all those things. This is not one central consultation. The train operating company that operates a ticket office will engage with passenger groups and, indeed, with passengers at the ticket office where they propose to make changes. It is all set out in the ticketing and settlement agreement, which all train operating companies must abide by. If there are any concerns, they should be registered and notified to the relevant body, which is either Transport Focus or London TravelWatch. They will then raise it with the Secretary of State, who will take that into consideration, plus various other elements, if there are concerns.

School Meals: Funding


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government which government departments share responsibility for (1) the funding of, and (2) and decisions about, school meals in (a) term times, and (b) vacations.

My Lords, free school meals are intended to support children in term time while they are being educated in school. They are funded by the Department for Education. The department also provides the holiday activities and food programme during the longer school holidays. The policy regarding eligibility for free school meals is also set by the Department for Education. School food standards are set in secondary legislation and are the responsibility of schools to implement.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. Given the depth and spread of need in a whole generation of our children, does the Minister agree that a senior Minister—preferably at Cabinet level—should be appointed to oversee, co-ordinate, prioritise and extend free school meals for children immediately, thereby also providing a powerful voice for children at the heart of government?

The noble Baroness will be aware that this Government have extended the reach of free school meals in many important ways, including the provision of universal infant free school meals and further education free school meals. In relation to a Cabinet-level position, the House will be aware that in his independent review of children’s social care, Josh MacAlister recommended a Cabinet-level post of Minister for Children and his recommendations are currently under consideration.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that during a cost of living crisis, free school meals are essential during term time. However, at short notice during the cold weather there can be the closure of schools or a failure in the building. So can my noble friend confirm that there is resilience within the system to stand up vouchers very quickly for those children? The lack of a meal for one, two or three days can be essential.

I commend my noble friend for the work she did during the pandemic when she was standing up very flexible responses. We continue to work very closely with schools to ensure that children get the support they need.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware from reports from various charities that there are children going to school who have not had a proper breakfast. She will be aware that children do not always get proper meals. This is not acceptable. She will recall that the coalition Government brought in free meals for all children in key stage 1. When asked about this, she always says that the benefit system is the way we provide support. If that money is not going directly to provide these meals, what is the Minister’s answer?

The Minister’s answer is the same as when the noble Lord, understandably, challenged the Government on this quite recently. There are essentially two choices one can make. One is to give multiple smaller, specific handouts for particular issues. The other is to give funding to parents and allow the parents to choose how they wish to spend it. The Government believe in the latter.

My Lords, building on the question the noble Lord has just asked, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that out of 3.9 million children living in relative poverty in the UK, only 2.3 million receive free school meals. Can the Minister say whether the Government intend to extend free school meals to all children from families receiving universal credit?

As I said in answer to an earlier question, the percentage of children receiving free school meals is at an all-time high. If one takes benefit-related free school meals and universal infant free school meals, over one-third of all pupils in this country—37.5% of pupils in state-funded schools—receive free school meals. The Government keep this policy under review at all times, but there are no current plans to extend free school meals to all those receiving universal credit.

My Lords, to pursue the point on the advantages to children’s education of being well fed, this has been known for many years. Does that not lead inexorably to the conclusion that all children require a decent education, so we need to ensure that all children are well fed? It is not just about poverty relief; it is not just about nutritional standards; it is about ensuring that all children get a decent education.

This Government are absolutely committed to all children getting a decent education—but, as I said in response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, we believe that parents also understand that very well.

Can I ask the noble Baroness whether there has been any examination by the Government of the approach taken to free school meals, and particularly schemes tackling holiday hunger, of the devolved regions, particularly in Northern Ireland by the Department of Education, which have proved successful in being able to provide a much more coherent approach to being able to assist children.

The Government obviously look at what happens in relation to these issues across all the devolved Administrations. We have a very targeted approach to supporting children during the holidays which addresses the longer school holidays when the pressure on families is greatest.

Given that we now have the world-leading position of having the earliest onset of type 2 diabetes among our children, leading all countries in the world, whether you are having a free meal or not, what is the Government going to do about the quality of the meals being served, which are abysmal?

I would be interested if the noble Lord has specific examples of where he thinks schools are serving abysmal meals. I would be delighted if he shared that with the department, because the regulations are very clear and specific on quality. There is an element of flexibility for schools as to how they implement that, but the responsibility is clear, and my understanding is that it is being upheld.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea to concentrate on the content of these meals? In particular, could she use her influence to ensure that the meals contain the right kind of fat? When fat goes into the duodenum, it releases hormones that delay the emptying of the stomach and make one feel full earlier on, hence reducing the tendency to obesity—which is rather important in view of the fact that half the children in this country are obese.

My influence may not extend to duodenal fat levels, but I will do my best to support my noble friend. I would like to ask the House to share my impression of what is going on in many of our schools. I visited a primary school on Friday where they are bringing the kitchen into the classroom and are preparing healthy meals with children, building their awareness of both the content and cost of their meals; that is something that is very important for their futures.

My Lords, of course that is very important, but is the Minister not ashamed that more families than ever cannot afford to feed their children properly—that family incomes, even where parents are working, are no longer enough to pay the bills? The Minister referred earlier to the holiday activities and food scheme. Last summer, 27 local authorities had only between 6% and 15% of their free school meal children going to one of these programmes. So what more is she going to do to make sure that the schemes that are up and running are taken up and reaching the people who need them?

Well, it is up to parents whether they want to send their children to free activities in the holidays—so, if they are not taking them up, that perhaps begs a slightly different question. Secondly—if the noble Baroness would bear with me—local authorities have the flexibility to offer the provision to up to 15% of children whom they know to be in need but may not be eligible for free school meals. But I remind the House that the Government have directed an overall package of £37 billion of support, of which £12 billion has been direct support in 2023-24 for the most vulnerable households in the UK.

Albanian Asylum Seekers


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how many Albanian asylum seekers are currently waiting for a decision about their claim; how many applications have been accepted in the last 12 months and how many have been refused.

As of 30 September 2022, there were 19,897 Albanian asylum cases pending an initial decision. In the year ending September 2022, 334 decisions on asylum claims from Albanian nationals were grants and 318 were refusals.

I am grateful to the Minister for those figures. He will be aware that I tabled my Question long before I knew that the Prime Minister would make a Statement on this issue this morning. His Statement suggested to me that the Conservatives must have been in opposition for the past 12 years, but I will let that one go. I have two questions. Will the Minister confirm that, even if we are going to move to a fast-track approach for Albanians, which the Labour Party has already supported, that does not mean that an individual claimant will not have his or her claim properly considered? Secondly, will the Minister confirm that referring to asylum seekers as “illegal immigrants” is totally the wrong term? An asylum seeker cannot be illegal, even if he or she flees for safety to another country.

I thank the noble Lord for his question. As ever, he is very à la mode and clearly foresaw that there would be a Statement by the Prime Minster. I will answer his two questions. First, on the fast-track removal of Albanians, as the Prime Minister made clear in the other place, the new deal with Albania will allow us to return people with confidence that necessary protections will be provided for genuine modern slavery claims, in line with our international obligations. Of course, Albania is already a scheduled safe country under the 2002 Act, passed under Mr Blair’s Administration. On the noble Lord’s second question, on the term “illegal immigrant”, that nomenclature derives from the provisions in Nationality and Borders Act, which make it an offence to enter illegally.

My Lords, it is reported that there has been a big rise in online advertisements offering transfers from Albania to the UK by boat or lorry for a price—in other words, smuggling. If this is openly advertised, is it not possible to track down the smugglers and prosecute them?

The noble Baroness is exactly right: the gangs involved in people smuggling do advertise in Albania, usually on social media platforms—I understand that TikTok is particularly favoured. The Home Office has an intelligence unit that considers all these sources and, working with the National Crime Agency, steps are taken to prevent this sort of criminal activity. As the noble Baroness will have seen, the Prime Minister’s announcement increases the NCA’s funding to tackle organised crime within Europe, which will achieve greater control of this type of criminality.

My Lords, when will the new policy announced by the Prime Minister this morning be fully implemented? Is it proposed that there be any element of retrospectivity—looking back to those who are already here—in the scheme?

Certainly, the deal with Albania will take effect as soon as it is agreed, which should be in the near future. The asylum backlogs will be dealt with by the end of next year. A new permanent small boats operational command will be set up, with more or less immediate effect, and enforcement activity will be boosted in the near future. As noble Lords will have heard the Prime Minister say, we plan to bring forward legislation in early January next year.

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that people who have been involved in people smuggling or cocaine trafficking will be brought to justice, but also that a distinction will be made where women and children, for instance, are involved and are clearly victims of the criminal gangs that have been identified? Will he also update the House as to the total number of outstanding claims by refugees and asylum seekers? When I last looked it was 143,000, which was a 180% increase since 2019. What are the Government doing to ensure that those claims are processed more expeditiously?

As of the end of September, there were 117,400 cases, which related to 143,377 people awaiting an initial decision. On enforcement and the penalisation of those engaging in people smuggling, as the noble Lord will know, it is a criminal offence to be the criminal mastermind—if you like—behind a smuggling operation, and the maximum penalty for those types of offences is life. I have no doubt that a sentencing court would bear in mind, as the noble Lord anticipates, that it is an aggravating factor if women and children are involved.

My Lords, asylum seekers coming here from Hong Kong have a very different experience from British national (overseas) visa arrivals. They are not given the same freedom as BNO holders to study, work or live, and that is very impactful on their mental health. Nearly one in four Hong Kongers who fled the crackdown of the ruling Chinese Communist Party says that they still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, linked to the violent crackdown on the 2019 protests and the subsequent fear engendered by the national security law. What assessment have the Government made to identify those suffering from PTSD?

On the BNO Hong Kong cohort, I do not have the answer, and I will write to the noble Lord in relation to it.

My Lords, I am very pleased that the Government have reached an agreement with Albania about the large number of Albanians arriving in this country. However, I dispute slightly what my noble friend said about the legality or illegality of asylum seekers. Under the 1951 convention, it is perfectly clear that merely seeking asylum cannot in itself be an act of illegality. It is, however, obvious to all of us, I think, that the illegality about which we are so concerned lies with the people traffickers, smugglers and those forcing often very poor people to come to this country. I urge my noble friend that we must take further action to alleviate that problem.

I entirely agree with my noble friend: the 1951 convention prohibits the penalisation of asylum seekers. It is the illegal entry—entry without leave—that renders it unlawful under the Act.

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, the Labour Party supports the fast-track approach, but I would like to ask about an appeals process. The Minister quoted the Prime Minister saying that there will be protection for modern slavery claims. What about people who are fleeing domestic violence? Will youths be treated the same way as adults through this appeals process?

The Home Office is increasing the number of staff making asylum decisions in relation to these areas. We have increased the number of asylum case workers by 112%, from 597 staff in 2019 to 1,276 as of this month, and we propose to increase that again next year with a further 500 in March 2023, up to 1,800 by the summer. In terms of the appeal mechanism, as the noble Lord will be aware, Albania is a certified safe country and the mechanism for inadmissibility will apply. Plainly, there is an appeal right out of country and judicial review opportunities in relation to certification decisions.

My Lords, I will step back from the subject of Albania. Is it not a fact that the large, underlining trend of asylum seekers or illegal refugees—whatever term one wants to use—still comes from Iraq and Afghanistan, countries in which we went to war, with the promise that we would make them safe parliamentary democracies? Will the Minister remind his colleagues constantly that military adventures of the sort that Mr Blair and others pursued, rather than solving the problems, have only made them very much worse?

Obviously, I agree with my noble friend that the consequences of conflict have led to greater migration. As the Prime Minister observed, that problem is not going to go away; we have to address it head-on.

Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Merchant Shipping (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 31 October be approved.

Considered in Grand Committee on 6 December.

Motion agreed.

Procurement Bill [HL]

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, before the Procurement Bill is read a third time, I will deal with the legislative consent aspects. Most of the provisions apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only, and a few also apply to Scotland. Throughout the preparation and passage of the Bill, we have been working closely with each of the devolved Administrations. As noble Lords will know, there are provisions in the Bill which engage the legislative consent process in the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Currently, the devolved Administrations have not granted a legislative consent Motion; however, we are engaging constructively with officials and Ministers on addressing outstanding points, and I reassure noble Lords that the Government will continue with this engagement as the Bill is introduced into the House of Commons. I beg to move.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 110: Definitions relating to procurement arrangements


Moved by

Clause 110, page 72, line 35, leave out “11([subsection removed])” and insert “1(4)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would correct the cross-reference so it refers to the definition of “centralised procurement authority”.

My Lords, I will move a minor technical amendment to Clause 110 in my name. I know how keenly noble Lords have scrutinised the Bill, and I am therefore confident that they will have noticed that, in the definition of “equivalent body” in Clause 110(6), the very incongruous words, “[subsection removed]”, appear in square brackets. I am informed that this cannot be amended administratively to make the appropriate cross-reference. Therefore, in the interests of sending the Bill to the other place in a form which can be understood, I have tabled an amendment to insert the missing cross-reference, which is to Clause 1(4). I beg to move.

I thank the Minister because I have been worrying myself to death about this issue and clearly welcome her amendment.

Amendment agreed.

A privilege amendment was made.


Moved by

My Lords, having taken over this crucial Bill from the now Leader of the House, I have had the pleasure of hearing a range of informed contributions from across the House on it. Noble Lords have offered a rich and stimulating debate in Committee and on Report, and I thank them for engaging constructively with what has at times been a challenging piece of legislation. As ever, I thank noble Lords for their forbearance with what I fear may be a record number of government amendments tabled in the Lords to help the Bill function optimally.

My objective in leading this Bill has been to ensure that it encourages a more open, effective and transparent public procurement while encouraging economic growth. One in every £3 of public money—some £300 billion a year—is spent on public procurement, yet at present we must wrestle with over 350 different procurement regulations across four different regimes. Noble Lords know my passion for paring back needless bureaucracy, in particular removing barriers for SMEs, and I know they have welcomed the new provisions I instigated to require contracting authorities to think about SMEs routinely. We have also put provisions in the Bill for the new single central online platform, which will underpin the new system and achieve a real step change in transparency.

This simplification of regulations is not at the expense of stringent, well-thought-out measures ensuring that procurement is done safely and appropriately in the relevant sector. Noble Lords will be aware of the national procurement policy statement, the procurement review unit and the debarment list. All these measures will make public procurement safe and ethical and take into account wider factors that I know many noble Lords right across the House care deeply about. These reforms are intended to provide a shift towards a modern and flexible procurement regime and deliver better outcomes for taxpayers, service users and the businesses and social enterprises involved.

Before I conclude, I would like to make noble Lords aware of an error on my part during the second day of Report, which I must correct. Amid the highly technical debate, I wrongly said that the national security exclusion ground was mandatory. In fact, it is discretionary. This is because it is desirable to have flexibility for contracting authorities considering exclusion on this ground, depending on the specific circumstances involved—for example, the nature of the threat to national security and/or the risk to the contract being tendered.

In concluding, I thank my noble friends Lady Bloomfield and Lady Goldie for their support on this Bill. I also extend particular thanks to my noble friends on the Back Benches for their contributions, challenge and support. I am very grateful to noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite and on the Cross Benches for their time and constructive engagement from the day I took the Bill over from my noble friend the Leader of the House. Finally, I thank the officials who have worked on the Bill, particularly Sam Rowbury, Ed Green, the previous Bill manager Phillip Dunkley and the current Bill manager Katrina Gajewska, as well as the wider official team, others supporting noble Lords across the House and my private office. I wish the Bill a safe passage through the other place.

My Lords, as the Minister pointed out, this is a really important Bill. It will guide an estimated £300 billion of public procurement, hopefully making it safe while driving some of the things we want to happen. I thank the Minister. She had an interesting start on this Bill; she too was a Back-Bencher and tabled several critical amendments early on, and was then suddenly propelled to the Front Bench. I think we benefited from that change of perspective—that is not to criticise her predecessor.

It is appropriate that we should bookend this Bill with another amendment, because it has been a story of amendments. We should thank the Bill team, who worked through the night at the start of this in Committee in July, explaining and setting out what the hundreds of amendments were there to do. But because there were so many amendments and clearly there was so much work to do, the Bill leaves us with still more work and scrutiny required, if it is going to achieve the things that we all want it to achieve—that is, to have a transparent process that helps our small, medium and social enterprises to flourish in the public procurement system. When it goes to the other place, I hope that those further changes can be made to make sure that it delivers that, and in an ethical way.

I thank the Minister, her predecessor and her Whips in this. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for what has been a very constructive and co-operative process. I also thank my colleagues. I will name them, because they have worked very hard: my noble friends Lady Brinton, Lady Humphreys, Lady Northover, Lady Parminter, Lord Purvis, Lord Scriven, Lady Smith, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Wallace. That list reflects the fact that the Bill touches so much of public life. Finally, I thank Elizabeth Plummer in our Whips’ office, without whom life would have been extraordinarily confusing for us on these Benches. That said, we wish the Bill well and beg that the MPs continue to work on it on our behalf.

My Lords, I have something to add before the thanks are completed. The Minister was good enough to express her thanks to the Cross Benches, and I draw the attention of the House to the all-party amendments which were included in the Bill. I begin by thanking her. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, just said, it was unusual for a poacher to be turned gamekeeper in the course of the proceedings of the Bill and she did it with great aplomb and showed all the characteristics that we have come to associate with her, in the way that she dealt with constructive attempts to improve the Bill as it proceeded through Committee and Report.

As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, the Bill has enjoyed support from around the entire House and, of course, whatever form a Bill is in, we will all always want to try to add to it, if we are able to do so. I was therefore very grateful to the House for including the cross-party amendment I moved on the removal of surveillance equipment. I also supported the all-party amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who is here, on the use of forced organ harvesting. Those two amendments are now in the Bill as it goes to another place. Unlike on ping-pong, this is a pristine Bill going to the other place. I hope that Ministers will engage with those amendments and not simply try to remove them.

There were two other amendments. The Minister will recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, moved an all-party amendment which was not taken to a vote. We had a discussion during Report about how that could be taken to the Minister who might deal with the Bill when it reached the House of Commons. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, will be able to draw that to the attention of the House of Commons Minister and suggest that such a meeting should now take place.

With those remarks, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and his noble friends, but also the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and her noble friends—the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in particular—and those on the Cross Benches who supported the amendments that we brought forward.

My Lords, I think I am the sole surviving Member of the Committee here today who contributed. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister and the Bill team on getting the Bill thus far. I am obviously immensely disappointed not to have succeeded in my attempt to source more local food in our procurement contracts, but I hope that this can be redressed in the other place.

My noble friend alluded to something that is a source of great concern to me. I have in my possession the memorandum from the Scottish Government, which expressed their concern and inability to add their consent to the Bill. Does she not share my concern that it would be very regrettable if the Scottish Government felt obliged to carry out their own Bill in this area, because of their concern about the continued ability to carry out cross-border procurement? Could this still be addressed in the other place before the Bill reaches Royal Assent?

My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will be very surprised to know that I thank my noble friend Lord Coaker for supporting me and sticking with the Bill all the way through. It has been a long haul, and I think we are all pleased we are at Third Reading.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord True. At the beginning of the Bill, he gave me an awful lot of time, as did his officials, when we had some serious concerns. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, mentioned, we had a bit of a sticky start. The officials worked incredibly hard to get us to a position where we could properly debate the issues in Committee; at the beginning, we were not in that position, unfortunately. We all congratulated the noble Lord, Lord True, on his promotion, but we were also delighted as a Committee when the noble Baroness took over this Bill, because she was genuinely interested in what we were debating and genuinely understood what we were trying to achieve. I think she worked very hard and brought in some important improvements to the Bill, having listened to Committee. I thank her for her time, efforts and energy in helping us all to come out with a Bill that was better than what we had at the start.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and other Members who took part for the constructive work we did going forward on the Bill. It is much appreciated. I think all Members of the Committee would agree that the Bill we have sent to the other place is in a much better state than it was when we received it. I thank everybody very much for their hard work. I hope the other place considers our amendments seriously—I think they make the Bill better—and perhaps brings some further improvements that we can look at when it arrives back. It has been a pleasure to work on the Bill, but I am pleased we are now moving on.

I would like to briefly thank all those who have spoken. I agree with them on almost everything, and I also agree that we should commend my noble friend Lord True, now the Leader of the House, perhaps partly because of his achievements in this area. It has been a great pleasure to become a gamekeeper for the Government rather than be a poacher for the Back Benches. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering raised the devolved issues; of course, we hope that these things can be amicably resolved in the other place. Procurement is a devolved issue—the Scottish Government have not joined the UK Government’s Bill and will be maintaining their own legislation. Contracting authorities in Scotland will therefore not be bound by the Bill other than to enable their use of frameworks, dynamic markets and joint procurement. They are operating their own regulations, having transposed the EU directives into their own statute book. There are some outstanding issues, particularly with the Scottish Government. We are pursuing those, and I hope they will be resolved before we see the Bill again.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, let me begin by thanking noble Lords for their important contributions during all stages of the Bill’s passage through this House. As we have debated, freedom of speech is critical to modern society and is the lifeblood of our higher education sector. This Bill will establish new mechanisms for ensuring that freedom of speech is properly protected.

The discussions we have had since the Bill was introduced in this House have resulted in important clarifications, which we debated on Report last week. For example, we discussed the very definition of freedom of speech. I am pleased that we have introduced amendments which make clearer what we mean by that term, referring to Article 10(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights as it has effect in the UK. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for spearheading the discussions on this point.

We have also addressed drafting problems to which noble Lords drew our attention. We have avoided inadvertently giving alumni the same protections as current students. We have also clarified that the new power given to the Office for Students to give guidance on supporting freedom of speech is not related to the duty on higher education providers and their constituent colleges to promote the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and my noble friend Lord Willetts for their amendments in Committee that brought these issues to light.

We have also made a breakthrough on an important issue. Building on the progress made in the other place, we have agreed to ban the use of non-disclosure agreements by providers and colleges in cases of sexual misconduct, abuse or harassment, or other forms of bullying and harassment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for tabling this amendment, which the Government supported. Significant progress has been made in this area in the last year, with many institutions signing up to the voluntary pledge not to use NDAs launched by the previous Minister for Higher and Further Education, my right honourable friend Michelle Donelan, in conjunction with Can’t Buy My Silence. I am sure this amendment will be celebrated when this Bill is brought back for consideration by Members of the other place.

I turn now to the provision which has generated the most discussion: the tort. Last week, the House decided to remove the relevant clause from the Bill. The Government will naturally reflect on this verdict and the arguments advanced to support it very carefully indeed. Of course, I am disappointed that noble Lords were not persuaded by the government amendments, which we tabled to ensure that a person could bring a claim only if they had suffered a loss and that claims could be brought only after a complaint scheme had been used. I will not repeat the arguments in favour of retaining the tort, subject to those amendments, as they have already been rehearsed at some length. However, Ministers continue to believe that those arguments have genuine force and validity.

On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, raised some remaining concerns about the new powers of the Office for Students and how they might impact on commercial partnerships of higher education institutions, in particular university presses. I hope the noble Baroness has received my letter. If it would be helpful, I would be more than happy to meet with noble Lords who remain concerned to clarify those points, as needed. The noble Baroness also asked whether the Office for Students could refuse to give evidence to, for example, the Education Select Committee. We have spoken to the Office for Students, which has reassured us that it would co-operate fully with requests from Select Committees.

As a latecomer to this Bill, I have been struck by the level of engagement with it. That means there is a long list of people to thank—perhaps too many to mention by name. There has been an extraordinary number of constructive and helpful contributions, both during our debates in the Chamber and in discussions outside it.

These have included the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton, Lady Smith of Newnham, Lady Garden, Lady Morris of Yardley, and Lady Chakrabarti; the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Triesman, and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath; my noble friends Lord Willetts, Lord Johnson, Lord Moylan, and Lord Sandhurst; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry; and, last but definitely not least, the noble, and noble and learned, Lords on the Cross Benches: the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Etherton; the noble Lords, Lord Grabiner and Lord Macdonald of River Glaven; and the noble Baronesses, Lady Shafik, Lady Deech, Lady Falkner, and Lady Fox of Buckley.

There are many other noble Lords on all Benches whose speeches in debate have lent weight to our proceedings. While we may not have been in agreement on all these issues, I am heartened that the constructive debate heard in Committee and on Report has fostered a consensus in this House on the need for this Bill. I thank all of your Lordships for your engagement.

Lastly, I would like to express my profound gratitude to the stalwart members of the Bill team: Sophie Cahill, Jamie Burton, Vicki Stewart, Zoe Forbes, Samer Almanasfi, and last but definitely not least, Suki Lehrer. Throughout the last six months, they have provided nothing short of superlative support to me and to my ministerial colleagues, my noble friends Lord Howe and Lady Penn, and who have worked long hours, never without a smile on their faces—sometimes virtual, on Teams. Ministers, and indeed the House, are in their debt. I also express my personal thanks to my noble friend Lord Howe. In my words, he has definitely done the heavy lifting on this Bill with his professionalism, concern and extraordinary attention to detail, which are all well known in this House.

We send this Bill back to another place with, I hope, the same ambitions as when it reached your Lordships’ House. We need to support a higher education sector in which students and staff are free to speak their minds and engage in contentious debates. I believe that this Bill has the potential to make a crucial contribution to that aim, and I wish it well.

My Lords, I thank the Minister. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the way in which he handled Committee and Report on the Bill, and the various consultations. It was a model of how Ministers should engage. We had a very constructive process with the Bill, for which I am, and all of us are, very grateful.

This Bill was drafted by the last Secretary of State but five. It was eventually inherited by the current team in the Department for Education, with what I dare say was an element of surprise as well as interest: it was, after all, initially drafted almost entirely by Policy Exchange through a range of papers, and Policy Exchange had based its analysis very heavily on American as much as British sources. There were therefore oddities in the Bill, which I hope we have ironed out as we have gone through.

Many of us were very much concerned about the potential for this Bill to damage university autonomy and extend state authority, including Members on the Conservative Benches and others. There are a number of areas in which we have made considerable progress on the defence of freedom of speech. For many of us, there is the removal of civil tort, not simply the reduction of the weight of the civil tort on universities. That remains to be sorted out in the Commons. I hope that the current ministerial team will reflect very deeply on whether to insist on its own amendment or to accept the amendment which a substantial majority in this House produced.

There is also the outstanding issue of the appointment of the new free speech champion. I very much hope that the Government will take particular care in finding a candidate for that position who will be accepted—possibly even welcomed—by the sector he or she sets out to regulate.

Still outstanding is the question of the degree of overlap between what is set out in this Bill, the recent National Security and Investment Act and the current National Security Bill. All of them impose new duties and new reporting requirements on universities, some of which have not yet entirely been ironed out, particularly for the National Security Bill—I hope we will be able to do that as it proceeds through the House.

I thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, who took the burden when I was away for part of Committee, as well as our team, including Sarah Pugh in our Whips’ Office. I know that the Bill team must have worked extremely hard throughout this. One recognises that civil servants are often not thanked enough for the criticisms they accept and the burdens they undertake.

Our universities are a huge national asset. They are an important part of our soft power in the world and a major source of our international income. We all need to be sure, as we have done in considering the Bill and as we look now at the National Security Bill, that we do not damage our universities in dealing with some of the problems and threats which they face, sometimes from their students, sometimes from visiting speakers, and sometimes from foreign powers, because they are such a large part of what makes this country very special.

My Lords, I thank both the Ministers, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and also the Bill team for their accessibility and friendliness throughout the whole of this process. I also congratulate the noble Baroness on her list of commendations of noble Lords who have participated, and wish to second that. Obviously, I need to thank my noble friend Lord Collins, who is probably on his feet in the Grand Committee, which is why he is not here. He did most of the heavy lifting around the Bill, particularly around the—for our part—unlamented Clause 4 and the non-disclosure amendment, which the Government accepted and for which we are very grateful indeed. I also thank Liz Cronin in the Lords office and our team in the Commons, Jonny Rutherford, Vicky Salt and Tim Waters, who provided us an enormous amount of support, which, as the Ministers will know, you need when you are in opposition and dealing with complex pieces of legislation. The stakeholders have also provided us with great briefings; of course, some of them are serving vice-chancellors and heads of colleges here in this Chamber.

The question at the outset was whether the Bill was necessary at all. The answer is that the jury is still out, but probably not quite as out as it was at the beginning of the process. I think we can say with some confidence that we are sending back to the Commons a piece of legislation that is much improved from the one we started out with. The reason for that is twofold. The Ministers and the Bill team engaged seriously all the way through this but this House also engaged in a non-partisan, cross-party examination of the Bill, and I congratulate noble Lords on that.

There are still some outstanding matters which will need further attention, such as the role of the students union, but also the issue that the noble Baroness referred to, which is Clause 8, previously Clause 9. I and my noble friend Lady Royall, the noble Lords, Lord Patten and Lord Wallace, and others raised the risk of duplicating security regulations and the risk that the Bill might pose to the business community, the commercial relations and the trading futures in which our universities have been successful.

I definitely welcome the Minister’s invitation to have a meeting, because I think the Russell group and others need to further discuss this whole matter, particularly when draft statutory instruments and guidance are under consideration. I am grateful to her for saying that. We were still being approached about this as late as last night, because there are still serious concerns among some of our academic community.

I add my thanks for what has been a really interesting Bill. It is slightly outside my normal remit of health and equalities, but I have very much enjoyed being the number two to my noble friend Lord Collins and working with noble Lords on the Bill.

My Lords, while I hope the Commons will look again and restore some version of Clause 4 and material remedies for victims of cancel culture on campus, I am still really glad that we have passed the Bill. I think our deliberations have been worth while and even now are having an impact, so I thank all involved.

A highlight for me was when the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, made his “confession” last week that he had originally thought the Bill “not necessary”, but

“during the process of Committee and the dialogue and discussions … I was persuaded that there is an issue to address.”—[Official Report, 7/12/22; col. 222.]

That is a win, in my book. Credit, then, to those who have spoken so articulately on threats to academic freedom, but also to those who have been open-minded and listened. Does that not remind us of the gains of hearing all sides of a debate, the importance of free speech and why it is so valuable?

In another instance, I have a confession. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, was keen to correct any impression I had given that the University of Oxford was creating a hostile environment to academics who might oppose moves to decolonise classical music. I apologise if I was too sweeping, but I am in touch with music scholars who are extremely worried about the dogmatic atmosphere surrounding the classical music canon, disparagingly dubbed

“white European music from the slave period”.

They claim that the debate on the topic is toxic and mired in accusations of racism, so I enthusiastically welcome the University of Oxford’s insistence that this is just not true. Perhaps this shows that university authorities can be sensitised to the reputational damage of not defending academic freedom or their own academic staff’s reputation if they disagree with critical theory orthodoxies. That is a shift away from worrying only about the reputational damage of being mislabelled as bigots by campus activists, and I think the Bill has helped.

A final positive note: I was shocked last week when the UCU, the trade union of Edinburgh University, shamefully demanded that the university cancel the screening of “Adult Human Female” organised by their own colleagues, Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom and—not a good example of collegiate atmosphere. I was nervous that Edinburgh University would succumb. After all, it had only recently given into pressure to cancel the titan of Scottish Enlightenment philosophy, David Hume. But no, the university stood firm. The documentary will be shown at the university’s theatre tomorrow night, despite transphobic accusations—

I do not know. I apologise; I am trying to be gracious.

Perhaps the debate we have had has already given authorities a bit more backbone, and therefore I congratulate and thank everyone concerned for allowing a freer spirit and discussion around academic freedom to take place, at least outside this place.

My Lords, in the interests of balance I will speak very briefly. It is important to say that there is not conviction in all parts of your Lordships’ House that the Bill is, in its current form, in any way necessary. Attempts to address some of the attacks on freedom of speech—including the influence of commercial sponsors and funders in universities, the impacts of casualisation, and low pay and insecurity for academics—were not allowed into the Bill, so not everyone is convinced that the Bill should go forward.

My Lords, perhaps I can acknowledge that, in the spirit of free speech, we have heard different perspectives in our final remarks. I pick up on the description by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, of the collaborative spirit and cross-party working, which make us all so privileged to work in your Lordships’ House.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Voter Identification Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 3 November be approved.

Relevant document: 18th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, this statutory instrument is a key part of how we will implement the voter identification policy agreed in the Elections Act 2022. This area was debated extensively during the passage of the Act earlier this year. The Act was passed by both Houses and delivers on a government manifesto commitment.

Through this statutory instrument, we will be fulfilling a major manifesto commitment to

“protect the integrity of our democracy, by introducing identification to vote at polling stations”.

Gaps in our current legislation leave open the potential for someone to cast another’s vote at a polling station. Our priority is adopting legislation that ensures the public can have absolute confidence in the integrity of our elections and certainty that their vote belongs to them and them alone.

The introduction of a voter identification policy is the best solution to this problem and has long been called for by the independent Electoral Commission, as well as by international organisations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which regularly monitors and reports on our national polls.

The statutory instrument sets out further detail on the new processes that will be put in place to help us implement this policy. First, it sets out the updated polling station conduct rules for a range of elections and referendums. It details exactly how photographic identification documents will be checked and how data will be recorded by polling station staff.

Secondly, it sets out a series of updates to the election forms. As you would expect, a number of existing forms such as poll cards have been updated to inform electors of the new requirement to show identification and the types of document that will be accepted. On top of these changes, there are some new forms, such as those polling station staff will use to record data that will help our planned reviews of the policy.

Lastly, the policy sets out details of the new electoral identity documents which can be obtained if someone does not already have an accepted document: the voter authority certificate and/or the anonymous elector’s document. These forms of photographic identification will be available to voters free of charge from their electoral registration officer and will ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote will continue to have the opportunity to do so.

My Lords, on that specific point, can the Minister explain why younger people are treated differently to older people in terms of which documents will be accepted? Is that not a form of age discrimination?

I assume the noble Baroness is speaking about railcards, et cetera. We had that debate very clearly when the Bill went through. We have discussed it and I do not think there is any need to discuss it further.

My Lords, my noble friend has asked a reasonable question. Perhaps the Minister could give the House the courtesy of a reply?

I have given a reply. The details of why we would not accept young people’s railcards were well discussed and debated at the time of the Bill. We are now discussing the statutory instrument to deliver that legislation that has already been discussed.

I will now move on. Showing photo identification is a part of day-to-day life for people in all walks of life and it is a perfectly reasonable and proportionate way to confirm that a person is who they say they are when it comes to voting. Indeed, it has already been a requirement to show photographic identification to vote in person since 2003 in Northern Ireland.

I must also speak to the two amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Pinnock. I thank them both for having met me in the past week to share their concerns and suggestions for this statutory instrument. On the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, we disagree strongly with the views that she has set out. We are aware of concerns that have been raised in the sector about the pressures that election teams may face, but the Government remain confident that the electoral administrators will be able to deliver this important measure to protect our democratic system from fraud. We have worked extensively with stakeholders across the sector to develop implementation plans, and extensive funding has been made available to local authorities to deliver the new processes and to the Electoral Commission for its national awareness campaign.

The Government also disagree with the suggestion that electors will be prevented from voting. As we have said on a number of occasions, everyone who is eligible to vote will continue to have the opportunity to do so. Any elector who does not have a suitable form of photographic identification will be able to apply for a voter authority certificate from their local electoral registration officer, free of charge. It will be possible to apply online or on paper, just as for registration to vote; indeed, it will be possible to register to vote and to apply for a certificate at the same time. We are working hard to make the application system as accessible and user-friendly as possible, and testing with both electors and electoral administrators is receiving very positive feedback.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again but, if everything is as well prepared and clear as she suggests, why is the Conservative chair of the Local Government Association calling for a delay?

I am aware that he is calling for a delay. I have not spoken to him, and I do not know why he is doing so, because the electoral officers—

No. The electoral officers, who are independent in local government, say that they know it will be challenging, but they are confident that they will be able to deliver.

While I cannot agree with the substance of the noble Baroness’s amendment, I also note in passing my concerns about the form that it takes. It is not the usual practice of this House to decline to approve regulations giving effect to primary legislation that has already been passed—for sound constitutional reasons. It is also worth noting that the Liberal Democrats supported the introduction of photographic identification in Northern Ireland elections. The Liberal Democrat Front Bench told Parliament that

“we accept the need for a Bill ... The Liberal Democrats also welcome the Government’s intention to introduce an electoral identity card.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/01; cols. 705-07.]

The legislation passed Second Reading without a vote. I would therefore urge noble Lords to join me in opposing this amendment.

On the regret amendment to the Motion tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, we fully support a review being held rapidly following the May 2023 elections. Scrutiny is essential to ensure that we can refine and improve the delivery of this policy for future polls. We have already committed to a review that will take place after the May elections. I can confirm our intention that the results of that review should be published no later than November 2023. Work is already under way with a research agency on gathering evidence to support the planned evaluation of voter identification after the May polls, alongside our in-house team of analytical professionals. However, to give the House comfort on the independence from government of the review, we are happy to increase the role of the external research agency to include the drafting of the final report, which we will of course publish in full. However, this is conditional on the amendment before us not being pushed.

We would also very much welcome further detailed parliamentary scrutiny of the results. However, we do not believe that a new specific Select Committee is the appropriate method to facilitate this scrutiny or to undertake the evaluation itself. It is the long-established practice of this House that the Liaison Committee considers and directs committee resource.

It is right that we consider where there is potential for duplication and existing routes that could facilitate scrutiny. We believe that there are committees in this House and the other place, with considerable depth of understanding and breadth of expertise, that could consider these subjects, and we would welcome further scrutiny through these routes if the committees felt able. We have already contacted both the Constitution Committee and the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee about whether they would be willing to provide further scrutiny. Of course, it will be up to those committees to consider whether they are able to and want to conduct any inquiry that they see fit. My colleagues in the other place and I are very happy to provide evidence to Select Committees once the review has been completed.

In addition to the specific request for a swift and independent review, the noble Baroness reiterated her concerns on the potential impacts this policy might have on the turnout at elections. I believe that the best evidence we have to show that there will not be a significant impact on participation is the existing example of Northern Ireland, where a near-identical requirement to show photographic identification has existed for almost 20 years—it was introduced by the Labour Government of the time. The policy has been a clear success: voters’ confidence that elections are well run in Northern Ireland is consistently higher than in Great Britain, and there are extremely limited allegations of electoral fraud at polling stations. The policy has quickly become readily accepted by the Northern Irish electorate: Electoral Commission opinion research shows that voters in Northern Ireland were more likely to have found it very easy to participate in elections, with 83% there finding it very easy, compared to 78% in Great Britain. More tellingly, in the commission’s recent 2021 public opinion tracker, not a single respondent reported that they did not have identification and found themselves unable to vote.

Furthermore, when that Labour Government legislated for voter ID, the Lords Minister, the late Baroness Farrington, told this House:

“the Government have no intention of taking away people’s democratic right to vote. If we believed that thousands of voters would not be able to vote because of this measure, we would not be introducing it at this time.”—[Official Report, 1/4/03; col. 1248.]

This Government today repeat and reinforce those sentiments.

None the less, I understand and appreciate the noble Baroness’s concerns. I hope I can provide reassurance that the impact on participation will be one of the key focuses of the post-election reviews that will be conducted following the upcoming May 2023 council elections and following the next two parliamentary general elections, as required by legislation. The Electoral Commission also undertakes its own evaluations into the conduct and administration of local elections, and it has a statutory requirement to do so in relation to general elections.

The review will be informed by data collected by polling station staff, who will report to us if and when they are required to turn away an elector, their reasons for doing so, and whether the elector subsequently returned and was then able to vote. This will allow us to base our evaluation on data collected comprehensively and consistently across all local authorities holding polls in Great Britain next year. Further research via public surveys and other such means will also be in place to supplement this data.

It is not possible to directly attribute the reasons for change in turnout from election to election, as it could be for any number or combination of reasons: electors’ interest, the strength of the candidates and even the weather. However, I am confident that, with the scale and detail of the data that we will be able to gather, the review will be able to clearly demonstrate any impacts that this policy might have on electors’ ability to vote at the polling station, if any, and the reasons for such impacts.

I hope this will provide reassurance to the noble Baroness that we will take this review seriously and ensure the most rigorous scrutiny is made of this policy, in order to ensure that we are able to continue to refine and improve our electoral processes. As we have consistently said, our aim is emphatically not to disfranchise eligible voters but to deter and prevent those who would take their vote from them through fraud. I hope that the noble Baroness is satisfied by these proposals and will consider not pressing her amendment. However, I must stress that the above assurances are made on the basis that this amendment is not pressed.

We are rightly proud of our long history of democracy, but we should never take it for granted. An essential part of how we keep our system functioning is by keeping the right structures in place, through measures such as this statutory instrument, that stop our elections being undermined. This statutory instrument will strengthen the integrity of our elections, and I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting these measures. I beg to move.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

Leave out from “that” to the end and insert “this House declines to approve the draft Voter Identification Regulations 2022 as they will prevent legitimate electors from voting in elections and disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to this statutory instrument but point out to her that this fatal amendment in my name is not an attempt to subvert the decisions made during the passage of the Elections Bill, where the principle of photo ID for electors was approved. Furthermore, I have been advised that, in 1994, the principle of moving fatal amendments in this House was debated and agreed, and the principle was accepted on such legislation.

The amendment in my name is to demonstrate to the Government that their implementation plan is fatally flawed, for reasons on which I will elaborate. I have a direct interest, in that I am still a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I have practical knowledge of the election process, having been involved in elections for the last 30 years.

This is a very major change to the way we vote. Its implementation must reflect that complexity, and currently it is being unduly rushed, which will put in jeopardy the integrity of the ballot. The first major flaw in the regulations is that the start date is the May elections next year, as the Minister has reminded us. The Electoral Commission states that six months are needed for the introduction of changes in voting practice. That is the accepted convention as well for local authorities. There will not be anything like six months before the first week in May. Time is needed to make sure that every voter knows about the change. That should mean direct communication to every elector. That is not the Government’s intention. The Electoral Commission is responsible for the communications and has an inadequate budget, and time, to make sure all voters know about this change.

Then there are the practical demands of election administrators. More polling clerks are needed to check ID. The Government are providing funding for an additional polling clerk in every polling station. This is not just to help to reduce queuing but for the security of staff, who may refuse to provide an elector with a ballot paper if they do not comply. There may well be angry and disillusioned voters as a result.

The information I have received from across the country is that regular polling clerks appear unwilling to continue, due to the additional pressures put on them. Experienced polling clerks are a huge asset. We need them, especially when there is such a major change.

There are further basic problems associated with these regulations. Some cultures and faiths require women to be very discreet and wear a face or head covering. Further, some will not enter a polling station unless a female clerk is present and will definitely not remove their face covering unless they are in a private place. Special privacy booths have to be bought, along with mirrors, to ensure that such voters feel able to vote in person.

Funding, or lack of it, is also an issue. There is some direct funding, as the Minister has pointed out, but for some essentials it is subject to a bidding process. Cash-strapped councils cannot be expected to fund government requirements.

The key issue, of course, is the list of acceptable photo ID. It is extremely restrictive. Voters who do not have a passport or driving licence will have difficulty. About 2 million voters are thought not to have access to any of the prescribed ID. The right to vote in a democracy is our birthright. The focus should be on encouraging voting, not deterring it as these measures do. Why does the list of acceptable photo ID in the regulations not include ID that young people can use, such as a railcard or an Oyster pass, both of which have photographic identification?

Electors from minority communities find it more difficult to have ID that is on the list. The Government’s own analysis shows that 13% of people who are poorer, who are often on council housing estates, will not have any of the ID on the list. Older people in care may also not have access to that sort of ID. It makes me wonder whether the list is devised to restrict rather than enable voting.

Voters, of course, can apply for a certificate from their election office. They need a national insurance number and a photo to do so, and not everyone has an NI number. One council estimates that it will have 14,000 such applications to process, and most of those will come towards the end of the period before May. It cannot guarantee to process them in time, so some of those voters would not be able to vote.

The Minister argues that compulsory photo ID will make elections more secure. Yet overseas voters do not have any checks to verify their authenticity. Further, why then is obtaining a postal vote so easy? All that is required is a date of birth and a signature. There is no check as to whether the two identifiers are from the same person. Yet postal vote fraud cases have been well documented. I know where I would look for security in the ballot.

The integrity of the ballot is important and that is precisely the reason for my opposing the regulations set out in this SI. It is about whether the inalienable right to vote can be refused because of the failure to produce an acceptable form of photo ID, especially when many voters will go the polls in May and not know about the changes, or will simply have forgotten about them.

In conclusion, this is an ill-thought set of regulations. There is insufficient time for a fair implementation, it is expensive, it will undoubtedly result in some voters being refused a ballot at polling stations, it may affect the result of an election, and it is unnecessary and divisive.

Those who run elections are opposed to the timetable. The Local Government Association leader, a Conservative councillor, supported by all political parties, has stated very strong opposition. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee also raised fundamental concerns in its report to the House. All these expert voices are being brushed aside by the Minister.

The introduction of photo ID was not in the Conservative manifesto. It is the birthright of every individual in a democracy to vote. If many thousands are deterred, or refused that right, our democracy is failing. I call on the Minister to withdraw these regulations and resubmit them for a future set of elections. I beg to move.

My Lords, I inform the House that if this amendment is agreed to, I will be unable to call the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, by reason of pre-emption.

My Lords, from the moment that the Government’s plan for voter ID was first introduced, these Benches have made it clear that we see it as unnecessary. We believe that voting in Britain is both safe and secure, yet this policy is being introduced at a cost of many millions of pounds and, more importantly, could prevent millions of people exercising their right to vote.

On this basis, we opposed the proposal in the Elections Bill and, just yesterday, Labour Members of Parliament voted against these regulations in the other place. So I will not focus my contribution today on the principle of voter ID, and I will not rehash arguments already made—but I will reiterate our opposition to the policy as a whole.

I want the House to consider what happens next, if the concerns of the Electoral Commission and the Association of Electoral Administrators are realised. There is now a strong possibility that the lack of awareness and preparation will mean that many of the 2 million voters without the right ID will lose their right to vote. The impact of that on our democracy could be extremely dangerous.

It is on this basis that I have tabled a Motion to establish a new Select Committee to consider the impact of the regulations on the May elections. The committee would be tasked with conducting a post-implementation assessment of the policy, based on an impartial examination of evidence. An evidence-based approach to policy-making is all that we are asking for, so I welcome the fact that the Minister has now agreed to commission an independent report to consider the implementation of the policy and I extend my thanks to the Minister and her office for their approach to the negotiations we have had.

This builds on further concessions the Minister made during the passage of what became the Elections Act, which bound the Government to review the relevant sections. I am pleased that the Minister will now go further and ensure that the report is drafted independently. I welcome the further fact that the Minister has approached the Constitution Committee and that colleagues have approached the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, with a view that they will consider the evidence.

However, notwithstanding these significant concessions made by the Minister, I want to reiterate the strength of feeling on these Benches, and I hope that the Minister can provide clarification on a number of further points. If she is able to offer these assurances in her response to this debate, I will consider not pressing our Motion.

On voter cards and other ID, it is now less than six months until this policy is introduced in May, when people across most of England will have the opportunity to vote. Yet there has still been no public awareness campaign launched, and there is no reason to believe that all those who do not own the necessary ID will be aware that they cannot vote without it. Just yesterday, the Financial Times reported that the Cabinet Office has found that 42% of people with no photo ID are unlikely to apply for one. Given that we are in a cost of living crisis, this is hardly surprising; after all, a passport costs £85 and a driving licence is £43. Will the Minister remain open to expanding the list of ID if the independent report provides evidence to support this?

The proposal for a free voter card was of course intended to help address this, but the application process has not materialised, and even at the best of times, many people struggle to access local authorities because of their limited opening hours. As a result, it is likely that many people who may not have the time or capacity to travel to a local authority and deal with the lengthy application process may just not bother, and therefore lose their vote. Can I therefore ask the Minister to commit to work with local authorities to ensure that the voter card is open to applications as soon as reasonably possible, and that it operates as swiftly and smoothly as possible? Can I also ask the Minister to assure me that the Government will take steps, together with local authorities, to monitor applications and any relevant issues, and also ensure that voters are aware that the document is free?

In addition, the Association of Electoral Administrators —the body that represents local authority electoral registration officers responsible for delivering elections—is now raising serious concerns about the huge administrative burden that will be placed on already overstretched local authorities. With the new responsibilities placed on the staff of polling stations, there is also a possibility of long queues and overburdened staff. Will the Minister commit to engaging with representatives of those working at polling stations to ensure they are fully prepared for the rollout? Specifically, will the Government monitor any instances of polling stations closing prematurely when there are still electors in the queue?

The Minister will recall that, when the Government piloted mandatory voter ID in a handful of local authorities during the 2018 local elections in England, more than 1,000 voters were turned away for not having the correct form of ID; of these, around 350 voters did not return to vote. Then in 2019, about 2,000 people were initially refused a ballot paper, of which roughly 750 did not return with ID and therefore did not partake in the election.

I do understand the points that the Minister has made regarding Northern Ireland, but I am sure she will also accept that the scale across England creates much more of a challenge. Without any real public awareness, guidance, and time for preparation, I am not confident that this challenge will be met before May. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that the Minister has agreed to an independent report into the impact that this may have on the upcoming local elections. I hope the Minister can now provide the additional clarification necessary to avoid a Division on this Motion.

I also want to make it clear that our concerns remain over the implementation of this policy, and we will return to this during, and after, the rollout of the May elections. I look forward to seeing the independent report, and I truly hope that it will not be possible to find evidence of widespread disenfranchisement in May, but if these concerns are indeed realised, then the Minister should expect that we will be calling for the policy to then be withdrawn.

My Lords, it was very interesting to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, pray in aid the Motion passed by this House in 1994 on the application of fatal Motions in this House. Of course, this House has a power to use fatal Motions, but, as with so many powers of this House, it is not used by convention. I cannot think, off the top of my head, of an occasion when it should be used. I am convinced that the noble Baroness did not really make the case for it, because all the arguments she used—which were perfectly valid arguments—should have been used, and probably were used, during the passage of the Bill earlier this year. That was the time when your Lordships’ House should have stopped that part of the legislation coming into force, rather than dealing with it now. As I understand it, it was a manifesto commitment. Even if it were not, we have been discussing it in both Houses of Parliament for the last seven or eight years, going back to when my noble friend Lord Pickles was Secretary of State; he launched a review and an investigation in 2015 into how local government held elections.

Furthermore, the regulations, while they are only coming into force now, have been discussed for many months, and good local authorities will no doubt have taken steps to organise themselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, spoke very reasonably in her speech, and, if it does not embarrass her for me to say this, I agreed with much of it. However, I also felt that my noble friend the Minister had dealt with a lot of the arguments earlier, and perhaps she can go a little further now.

The point I want to raise with the noble Baroness is on the suggestion in her regret amendment to the Motion that there should be a Select Committee of this House to examine these regulations post legislation. I wanted to confirm my understanding with both the noble Baroness and my noble friend the Minister that there is nothing to stop the House from conducting such an inquiry, but, rather than putting it in a regret amendment to the Motion before the House today, it would be entirely right to make a case to the Liaison Committee, which I have no doubt would be supported by the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

My Lords, during the passage of the Bill, I raised the likely impact of the photo identification requirement on people living in poverty. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the word “photo” was not in the manifesto.

While I welcome the Government’s focus on those with protected characteristics, the Bill is not sufficient to assess adequately the impact on all marginalised groups, given the Government’s refusal to enact the socioeconomic duty in the Equality Act. I will not repeat the arguments I made previously, but my fears, far from being allayed, are all the greater given how little time there is between the laying of the regulations and the May local elections, the inadequacy of which has been underlined by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the Electoral Commission, the Local Government Association and others.

I will raise just two main issues, the first of which concerns consultation. The Explanatory Memorandum states:

“Significant consultation has been carried out with … stakeholders”,

including “civil society organisations”. Both in Committee and on Report, I asked specifically about consultation with organisations working with people in poverty and with those who can bring the expertise of their experience of poverty to bear on the matter.

The private office of the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, wrote to me subsequently, which I appreciate. The list of civil society organisations it gave me included some which had poverty within their remit but no anti-poverty organisations as such and no groups with direct experience of poverty. The email said that Ministers had asked officials to consider opportunities for such engagement. I therefore ask whether such engagement has taken place or is due to take place, with reference to the introduction of the voter authority certificate. I mentioned Poverty2Solutions in the debate, but I would also suggest the APLE—that is, the Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience—Collective, which recently met the APPG on Poverty, which I co-chair and, at its request, focused on digital exclusion.

This brings me to the second issue I want to raise. The impact assessment explains that it is anticipated that most electors will apply for the VAC online. In doing so, it totally ignores the extent of digital exclusion in various forms among people living in poverty and the damaging impact that digital-by-default approaches often have on them. Of course, I accept that it will be possible to apply in person or by post, but as the impact assessment acknowledges,

“there may be a cost associated with completing an application”

and there will be a “time cost” for those completing the application online or in person. There may also be a “travel cost” for those applying in person. It does not attempt to quantify those costs, but in any case, not all of them can be quantified. There may also be psychological costs in engaging with officialdom whom voters who need a VAC may not trust to treat them with dignity and respect. For those who are time-poor as well as financially poor, applying for a VAC, even if they are aware of the need to do so, may be just too much. This is especially so over the coming months, as people in poverty struggle on inadequate incomes in the face of the cost of living crisis, which is hitting them particularly hard.

I ask the Minister to put herself in the shoes of, let us say, a lone mother in low-paid, part-time work, claiming universal credit, whose energy is already depleted by the struggle to get by as food and fuel bills rocket and she attempts to combine paid work with the care of her children. Research by social psychologists indicates that poverty taxes the mind, reducing the bandwidth available for decision-making and action. It may simply be unrealistic to expect that people with too little money and no photo identification will claim a VAC, however good the publicity campaign. It is therefore all the more important that officials engage with people who have experience of poverty in drawing up plans for implementing the regulations and their evaluation.

On the evaluation, the impact assessment talks about the collection of public opinion data. Will that include the most marginalised groups—those in poverty and others—who, if the data collection is online, may be excluded? The Minister mentioned the staff in polling offices, but what about those who do not even go to the polling office because they realise too late that there is no point in doing so because they do not have the requisite identification? That could be a real issue, because those who are hard-pressed are, I suspect, among those most likely to miss the deadline for applications, which I understand has been brought forward from one to six working days before polling day. The Electoral Commission points out that the effect of this crucial accessibility provision will be reduced, whereas allowing applications to be made up to the day before polling day would help to maximise access and minimise the risk that voters will be turned away from polling stations. Could the Minister explain this decision to go from one day to six days and ensure that its impact is properly monitored?

According to openDemocracy, Ministers told the Electoral Commission that introducing photo ID in next year’s local elections has the advantage of providing a learning exercise. Certainly, it is to be hoped that the Government will be open to learning from the exercise. In that context, I welcome what the Minister said about independent review of the exercise in May, as far as it goes, and I hope that she can answer my noble friend’s questions adequately. However, the implication seems to be that, because only some authorities have elections next year—including my own authority of Nottingham—it is okay if some electors, particularly the most marginalised in those authorities, lose the right to vote because of the rushed implementation of voter photo ID. It is not okay, and I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will think again.

My Lords, the noble Lord opposite—he is not a Minister, I think he used to be something in the Government—has got a real cheek to talk to this House about honouring conventions when his Government colleagues have trampled over dozens of them. They put in a masquerade of a Budget, which then tanked the economy. They have introduced a new Prime Minister every few weeks—another incompetent Prime Minister, I might point out—and have generally behaved like savages at a feast with taxpayers’ money. He should really not stand up and defend the sort of thing he just has when his Government colleagues do not do it anyway. This House, to some extent, is self-regulating and can make its own decisions.

My Lords, it might be worth saying that I was only commenting on the passage of the Motion that the House had carried in 1994 and I certainly do not oppose that position. I then explained the conventions by which we exist when we look at fatal Motions—none of the stuff mentioned by the noble Baroness.

My Lords, I will be brief. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, who was in her place a moment ago, and others, this year I sat on a Select Committee of post-legislative scrutiny for the Children and Families Act 2014. One of our findings was that it was quite inadequate to be doing that review eight years after the legislation was implemented. While I support the SIs today—and I have some sympathy with the initial comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—I urge the Minister and the Government to stick to the timetable of the review that was outlined in her opening statement.

My Lords, I welcome the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for this debate, which will give me the opportunity to remind him and the House of some of his experiences when he was the Leader of the Opposition in this House. I shall do so shortly, but first, I will quote his report considering the position of statutory instruments, as published in 2015. The executive summary began:

“Since 1968, a convention has existed that the House of Lords should not reject statutory instruments (or should do so only rarely).”

I suggest that this is one of those rare occasions. I will address issues of principle concerning fatal Motions, costs and practicalities. The question being asked is whether the House of Lords can be justified in approving the fatal Motion put down today by my noble friend Lady Pinnock. I accept that such a Motion should be approved only on rare occasions, but I make two points.

First, there have been several times since I joined the House in 1999 when it has carried fatal Motions. I was very involved with two of them, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was Leader of the Opposition at the time. In any event, both the fatal Motions which were carried were at the instigation of the then Conservative Opposition Front Bench while Labour was in power. It was the time when Tony Blair’s Government were criticised for introducing unfair election rules, aimed at favouring the official Labour candidate in the first London mayoral elections. This was by denying the candidates any form of election address.

As a result of the passing by this House of the fatal Motions, which I and the Conservative Benches supported, I was then involved in cross-party negotiations including senior government officials. They resulted in us agreeing new rules that were fairer, cost effective and formed the basis of all future mayoral elections. This House now, and all Members of it, should note that the Conservatives did not have a problem with fatal Motions on such issues when they faced a Labour Government allegedly manipulating election rules in their favour.

Secondly, I turn to consideration of what was in the last Conservative manifesto. Again, the noble Lord seems not to be aware of the lengthy debates we had in the early proceedings on the Bill, in which his noble friend Lord True accepted that this was not in the manifesto. That document did not prescribe “photo ID”, as distinct from “some form of voter identification”. This very important point was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, on the “Today” programme this morning.

So, even if you subscribe to the principles of the Salisbury convention, which was a gentlemen’s agreement —perhaps I should emphasise that—made to deal with the immediate circumstances following the 1945 general election, you cannot feel bound to support this statutory instrument on that basis. It is being rushed through in a costly manner, and in ways that will cause much confusion and effectively deny many people the right to vote. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee looked at the powers it gives to the Government and said in its March report that they should not be determined in this way:

“We consider that, in the absence of a convincing explanation, the powers are inappropriate in leaving it to regulations to determine the circumstances in which electoral identity documents are to be issued.”

There are very big issues facing the country, with the cost of living crisis being the most important for many people. The Government say, for example, that they cannot afford to pay more to the nurses who they urged us to clap for at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, they propose a costly and bureaucratic system with significant additional costs to the taxpayer for training and communications, new styles of poll cards and the supposedly free new forms of voter identification for the 1.9 million people currently without it.

The Government’s own impact assessment for introducing compulsory photo ID shows that they estimate they will spend £180 million or more on this over the next decade. I wonder how many of the people who think that photo ID is a good idea would spend £180 million on it. If there is a significant problem with impersonation—and this has never been shown—we can save a lot of money by using other forms of ID, at no cost to the taxpayer.

We may not all consider ourselves experts on the detail of election law. It is local authorities that have to conduct the elections, so we should consider properly the view of the chair of the Local Government Association, which represents all local authorities across England and Wales. A Conservative councillor, he said on behalf of local authorities last week:

“While we accept that voter ID has now been legislated for, electoral administrators and returning officers should be given the appropriate time, resource, clarity and detailed guidance to implement any changes to the electoral process without risking access to the vote … We are concerned that there is insufficient time to do this ahead of the May 2023 elections and for this reason are calling for the introduction of voter ID requirements to be delayed.”

I hope that full statement is of assistance to the Minister.

The Association of Electoral Administrators represents the returning officers, whom many noble Lords will have thanked for their efforts in previous elections. It says:

“It is good to see the LGA speaking out about the challenges facing Returning Officers and electoral administrators. Their concerns around voter ID reflect ours and those of the wider electoral community … The timescales to introduce voter ID in May 2023 are incredibly tight. The proposed timetable brings huge risks and jeopardises our members’ ability to ensure every elector can cast their vote without issue … We would support a government decision to delay voter ID … until after May’s elections”.

If noble Lords have ever thanked a returning officer, as many here will have done, they can do so again by supporting my noble friend Lady Pinnock’s amendment on the basis of principle, costs and practicalities.

I conclude where I began: on the issue of principle. If Conservative Peers in opposition can vote down secondary legislation that changes election law in favour of the governing party, so can Labour Peers when they are in opposition. If the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association calls for the introduction of this scheme to be postponed, so can Conservative Peers. If this House, with the experience, expertise and judgment of its Members, can ensure that we get a better, more workable and more cost-effective solution to any perceived problem, we will all have done our democracy a big favour. Nothing in the regret amendment will help to do that; only my noble friend Lady Pinnock’s amendment can achieve it.

My Lords, I spoke in Committee on the Elections Bill on this issue because I was offended then, and am still offended today, by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, saying that black and ethnic minority communities will be marginalised and will not want to be part of this process. I have spoken to lots of people from my community and not one has said that they would be offended by having a voter ID card. To be quite frank, I agree with the Opposition Benches that a review to see how it works would be great, but I take offence at the point continuously being raised in this House that minority communities will somehow feel disenfranchised. We do not. Please take that away. We are citizens of this country and we will use our right, just like every other citizen.

My Lords, my local politics are in Bradford, where elections are often quite boisterous affairs, and in some cases threatening. I do not entirely accept the classification that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, has made of what happens in elections; we have a very large community of Kashmiri origin, now in its third or fourth generation, in Bradford. Some are now extremely prosperous and others are still marginalised. We also have a very poor and marginalised white community in Bradford in a similar position, so it is a question of not just ethnic minorities but the poorest and most marginal council tenants in our society.

I also come from a very mixed community: the city of Leicester. We have very boisterous elections there too, but that does not stop people wanting to have something that will make it easier for them not to have those boisterous discussions.

I wanted briefly to make one other point. I am holding the National Security Bill, which we will discuss in Committee next week. Clause 14 and Schedule 1 are on foreign interference in British elections, and the Bill lists a number of offences that need to be considered in terms of foreign interference, including personation, proxy voting, postal voting fraud, sources of donations and others. Yet, in the Elections Act, we have extended overseas voting rights for British citizens from 15 years to a lifetime, without any serious checks on or verification of identity either for those who will give donations once they are on the register or for those who will use postal and proxy voting, which they of course have to do. I hope that, in Committee on the National Security Bill, the Minister will engage fully on the changes to the Elections Act that this will make necessary, because the gap between this emphasis on much greater verification and checks for voters who vote in person and the almost total absence of verification or checks for overseas voters is astonishing, is too wide and needs to be addressed.

My Lords, the purpose of this regulation is to prevent election fraud, and the Minister quite rightly referred to the success in a similar situation in Northern Ireland. Before 2002, there was considerable fraud in elections there, and the election Act was therefore introduced. It was a challenge at the time, but, after a lot of discussion, there was agreement between all the parties to introduce the election fraud Act, which has proved very successful.

In Northern Ireland, the law requires electors to produce one of seven photographic identifications, including, for example, passports, driving licences and senior transport passes. But, in the argument today, some people say that this will exclude many people—but, in Northern Ireland, we have the electoral identity card, which is produced free of charge by the Electoral Office. This form of identification is acceptable to a very high proportion of the electorate in Northern Ireland. It excludes no one, and it is free. Before the election, vans go out to housing estates and different parts of society in Northern Ireland, producing this so that people can get it for free. It does not exclude people, so I do not accept the argument that people, perhaps from lower sections of the community, are excluded. This has been extremely successful in Northern Ireland, and the Minister referred to this success. So we should think very carefully, and we should introduce these regulations.

My Lords, I doubt this was the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, but he made a powerful case for the amendment to the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. He set out just how extensive the efforts are in Northern Ireland to make sure that people are aware of what is happening, and how large the education campaign is. We will not have the time to see that, and that is the whole basis of the fatal amendment, for which I offer the Green group’s support. This is a call not to go away for ever but to delay.

I ask your Lordships’ House to think back to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who is an expert both on the procedures of this House and on elections. He made the point that positions on fatal amendments tend to shift with party politics, depending on who is sitting on which side. So I will address my remarks particularly to those who do not have a party politics: the Cross-Benchers. It is greatly to their credit that their Benches are so full today; it is great to see this level of interest and concern.

I therefore refer back—we keep getting away from this—to the fact that the Electoral Commission expressed concern about the timeframe. It said that the introduction of voter ID needs to be “accessible, secure and workable” and that those important considerations

“may not be fully met”

when this new principle is operated. If we think about very cautious bureaucratic language, the official regulator saying that it is concerned that the rules it has set may not be met should be of very grave concern.

Many have referred to this. The chair of the Local Government Association, who is a Tory councillor—I should declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association—has said that there is insufficient time and is calling for a delay. Again, that is clearly not someone taking a party-political position, but speaking as the chair of the Local Government Association in a non-party way to say that this is not deliverable.

I want to put two, direct, specific questions to the Minister about implementation and what the Government are planning to do. I think the Minister referred to the fact that the alternative identity card to be delivered by councils in such a tight timeframe is to be free. We all know these days that, as soon as there is some government thing that people are confused and uncertain about, there will be many fake websites on the internet. They will be paying for adverts and telling people to pay £10 or £20; criminals will take advantage of this confusion and uncertainty. Are the Government planning to watch this very closely and stamp down on it as soon as possible? I am afraid we can guarantee it will happen.

The other question is also about the publicity scheme. Most noble Lords, with very good cause, have spoken about the at least 2 million people who do not own the relevant ID needed to vote. Of course, many people will have the ID but will not necessarily have it with them on voting day. Think about the obvious example of students. At some of the universities I know, the relevant student term will start in February. People will very likely leave their passport at home because student accommodation is not necessarily the greatest place to keep a passport. In May, they will need to vote, but their passport would be at the other end of the country. Will the publicity campaign start very soon to catch those students and give them the opportunity to know that this is happening? This could also be the case with driving licences. Some people may have a driving licence but not own a car. They are not necessarily going to carry it with them regularly. We should count not just those who do not own ID but also the people who do not necessarily have it on them.

I will make one final point, particularly addressed to the noble Lords on the Cross Benches. Many Members of your Lordships’ House, particularly Cross-Benchers, go to other countries to observe elections and assist the spread of democracy around the world. Here we are trying to defend democracy at home and make sure that our elections are conducted properly. I was in Brussels last week and happened to be speaking on a panel which had a speaker from Belarus and a speaker from Hungary. The chair, who was not from any of our three countries, said “These are three countries in Europe which have problems with—or falling apart—democracy.” That is how this country is being regarded overseas. Voter ID is one more step in that process.

My Lords, I speak in favour of the Government’s position, drawing from experience of 35 years of elections in Northern Ireland. Some were prior to the 2002 legislation, and some were after that; in some I was a candidate. On each occasion I was someone involved in electoral politics. I also draw from experience as former president and vice-president of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association. I have seen this operate within a local government context.

I can understand, for those who are moving into a new situation, that there are genuine concerns and those need to be addressed. There is a point around trying to ensure that publicity is maximised in the run-up to this. Therefore, I have some sympathy for that point. It is also the case that, no matter how well thought through any scheme is—I take reassurance from what the Government have said—there will be a review of the situation after the elections. It is important that whatever lessons that arise from that are learned.

I will make a number of points, relatively quickly, from my experience in Northern Ireland. First, fears have been raised from the Northern Ireland experience, but they are fears that do not materialise in practical terms. For example, there has been an argument that there is widespread marginalisation of the electorate—that many people are turned away or unable to cope with the system, from whatever socioeconomic or ethnic background—but that has not been the practice in Northern Ireland over a 20-year period, which would seem a relatively lengthy period in which to test this out.

Secondly, I appreciate the point about the timeframe for introduction, but grasping this concept is not rocket science; this is simply about ensuring that we have fair elections where people come with photographic electoral ID. To our pride, we have had great success in education in Northern Ireland; we tend to lead the nation when it comes to examination results. However, I will say in the spirit of generosity that I have enough faith in the sagacity of my fellow citizens from England that I believe, even within this timeframe, that this is something that may be able to be grasped across the water as well.

Thirdly, a point has been made on the distinction drawn between identification and photographic identification. Prior to 2002, there was for a period of time a mixed economy as regards the identification needed in Northern Ireland. Some identification considered acceptable was photographic and some was non-photographic. I warn the House that it was the worst of all worlds. The non-photographic ID was a vehicle and opportunity for massive electoral fraud and abuse; that is why the changes were made in 2002. I urge the House that, if we are going in this direction, we go not for half measures but for something fully in the way of an electoral ID system.

Finally, I can understand the anxieties of, for example, electoral officers or those working in polling stations; but, again, the experience from across different communities in Northern Ireland has been that, while people will sometimes dispute whether someone has brought the right form of electoral ID, there has not been any experience of violence or disputes in counting centres or, indeed, polling stations. I think it would be fair comment to say that politics in Northern Ireland is occasionally quite boisterous—perhaps the word of the day as regards this debate. Indeed, if at times we could row it back to being boisterous, I think we would find that acceptable. However, the experience in Northern Ireland has not been that this has led to a level of conflict.

As a result, I urge the House to take what I think is a forward-looking step by supporting the proposal put forward today by the Government. If you were to quiz anybody involved in electoral politics in Northern Ireland, from any party, whether they are an elected Member, a canvasser, a voter, or working directly within the electoral system as a polling agent, I challenge you to find a single person in any of those categories who would say that we should go back to the old system and remove photographic electoral identification. This is the way forward. Let us grasp that today and support the Government’s position.

My Lords, I can say the same about what is happening in Europe. In France and, as far as I know, in most European countries, you need a photo ID to vote. You have to be over 18, and I think the only instance when you do not need a photo ID is if you vote in a municipality of fewer than 1,000 people. I do not think there is a complication, and I have not seen, in France or in other European countries, people in uproar because they have to show a photo ID to prove who they are.

They can show an ID card, or a passport, or there is a whole list of identification with a photograph that can be used.

Does the noble Baroness accept that there is a fundamental difference if, as in most of western Europe, you are issued with a national ID card and that is a legal requirement? Then everybody has it and can vote, but in the UK we do not have national ID cards, and therefore at the moment there are 2 million people without the requisite form of ID who have to apply. An extra barrier is created, unnecessarily and at great cost.

As far as I know, in England there is a photograph on a driving licence. In France, your driving licence with a photograph is acceptable for voting. There must be a way forward. In my opinion we are complicating this rather simple issue.

My Lords, I will pick up on a number of points in relation to comments made during this debate, particularly by our two Northern Ireland colleagues. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and I have sat on virtually every committee, if not every committee, related to voting and voting legislation since I have been a Member of this House. At no point in any debate has any contribution we have received from any person from Northern Ireland said, “Do not go for photo ID”. There has been no such representation, nor any to say that we should revert to a position without photo ID, as was indicated previously. If there were problems in Northern Ireland, clearly we would have had representation from students, some civil community groups or whatever, saying, “Revert to the position we were at before”. But in the seven years I have served in this House—and I believe I have served on every single review of electoral law—we have never had such a submission from Northern Ireland.

I move on to the observation by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in relation to students. Oh, I feel so sorry for them. After all is said and done, we will have elections in May and there is the Easter holiday between now and then. In my former life I was chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association. Noble Lords may wonder what on earth that has to do with this debate. My members operated late-night licensed locations. All people who attended were required to produce proof of ID. Ask any pub company how many managers are holding passports, driving licences and other forms of photo ID every Monday morning because clientele in pubs and bars have left them there. The reality is that students carry their ID with them on a regular basis, because they are used to producing them in very regular circumstances.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said that the introduction was being rushed. In recent years we have moved from a rigid electoral roll system whereby the new election rolls were registered sometime between August and October to a system in which people can now register on a very rapid basis. I think the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, will agree that I have been a regular supporter of reducing the workloads of returning officers. As an event at elections, we now get a surge in registration by people who think they are not registered. Actually, two-thirds of them are registered and that workload could be removed with read-only access. That surge is because people are suddenly conscious of the upcoming election.

If you ask the relevant organisations—the AEA, the Electoral Commission—when they are going to launch their advertising campaigns in relation to the May elections, no sane marketer would say, “We are going to launch the advertising campaign in November or December”, because people’s minds are on Christmas and other similar arrangements. You launch an advertising campaign to make people aware that they need some form of ID—whatever it may happen to be—in January or February, which is what is actually going to happen. You do not spend millions in November or December. Therefore, it is not rushed to say that you are going to launch that campaign in a few weeks’ time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, quoted from the Electoral Commission’s comments. I would take a quote from the second paragraph rather than the first. Referring to the statutory instrument, it says:

“This detail has enabled us to start developing the guidance that electoral administrators will need.”

Start? We have had the example in Northern Ireland for 20 years, and there is barely a difference between the two in England and in Northern Ireland. Start? Even the difference of interpretation of the Tory party manifesto—whether it is an ID or a photo ID—indicates that it has been a policy of this Government for the last three years. Start? We passed the Elections Act some seven months ago, so in fact there is no reason why the vast majority of the paperwork—in preparation for distribution to everybody—to be used in the marketing campaigns that will be launched in January or February next year should not already be prepared.

This statutory instrument gives effect to something that was debated at length months ago. Many of the contributions that I have listened to this afternoon have repeated some of the arguments that were made then. In conclusion, I am going to cause embarrassment to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, by saying that I found many of her comments as constructive as some of my colleagues did. As far as I am concerned, for the reasons I have identified, on this occasion I am going to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. There is no reason for a fatal amendment at this stage; it is not justified—as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde identified—and we should be supporting the statutory instrument and vote for it this evening.

My Lords, I entirely agree with what my noble friend just said. Almost every word that has been uttered during this interesting debate underlines the feeling that I have had for a long time that it would be a really sensible thing for us to go back and re-examine the case for an identity card. It would have many other uses. We are bedevilled by immigration problems. An identity card would be one document that everyone could carry, and I commend it most warmly to the House.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, may well have done his side a disservice, in view of the fact that those of us who are opposed to voter ID warned that it was a slippery slope to the bringing in of national ID cards. I personally will oppose that. I actually did oppose, throughout the whole of Committee and Report stages, the introduction of voter ID. That side lost, and the policy is as such.

The one thing that I want to pick up on is that, after I argued and spoke many times on that issue, I was castigated by a lot of people outside of the House who told me that speaking on behalf of ordinary voters who might well be excluded from the franchise by having to show voter ID was patronising and that it treated those people as hapless and hopeless. Some of the comments about poor marginalised communities not being able to get access to photo IDs and the way that we have discussed the members of the BAME communities being unable to access or being unfairly discriminated against by photo IDs is in danger of being patronising.

But the most important thing at this stage, it seems to me, is that I do not think the Government have done enough—and this is what I would like—to reassure us that there will be huge publicity so that this is known about. That seems reasonable. I liked the anecdotes from Northern Ireland of vans going round. We know that this Government are not shy when it comes to nudging, nannying and telling everybody what to do on other issues, so I would not mind them doing it on this one to mitigate any possibility that anyone anywhere in the country would not know that they need ID. Helping them get it would be a great help.

My Lords, I spent probably the last 30 years organising election monitoring missions around the world. At the Brexit vote, which some noble Lords may remember, I had a group of young Europeans from right across new and old Europe come to look at how we did that vote. When I asked them afterwards what they thought could be improved, unanimously they said that they could not believe that people could go and vote without some form of identification as to who they were.

I do not think that is the problem we are trying to solve. I think we should have to produce identification; the problem to solve is how we make sure that everybody has it. The Northern Ireland example has been extremely instructive in that regard, and I hope that the Front Bench and the Government will be listening to some of the things said about the need for advertising and the need for ensuring that there is no excuse for people not having an ID card.

If I may finish, I remember many years ago saying to some students I was talking to who had come from Greece—I was a student myself—that I was not sure that I was going to bother to vote. They had grown up with the memory of the colonels, with a military dictatorship running their country, and gave me hell for saying that I was thinking of not going to vote. Now, if we can get that sort of mentality, the thing of “Oh dear, I can’t find my ID card,”—provided you had got one—would be a pretty lame excuse.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions and say that I do not intend to rerun the arguments for voter identification. That argument has been won and it is now in legislation. But I will take a little time to further detail some of the points raised by noble Lords on the actual implementation, which is the important thing this evening.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Belmont and Lord Weir of Ballyholme, for saying what it is like on the ground. These two noble Lords have lived with this over the last 20 years. They have seen it introduced. They have seen how it works for local authority and general elections and I thank them for that. I think the rest of us who are not living in Northern Ireland can never have that knowledge of how it works and how we can make it work in this country.

There was quite a lot of talk from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and others on support for local authorities to deliver this. Of course, we are aware of the pressures faced by local authorities—and the concerns that the Local Government Association brought up, I think, only yesterday—and their ability to deliver these changes. But we have been working very closely with them and, as I think my noble friend Lord Hayward said, this is not the beginning of it; this has been going on for a good seven months with the legislation there and they knew that this was coming along the line. We have been working with the sector. We have been planning the implementation of this policy and not only that we have been giving additional funds to local authorities so that they can carry out the new duties. The Government remain confident in their ability to successfully deliver these changes.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Fox, and many others, said that the Electoral Commission’s budget would be inadequate for communications. The Electoral Commission’s budget for the January communications campaign is over £5 million, which will be supplemented by £4.75 million in funding for local communications—for local authorities to communicate in their own areas.

If this legislation goes through, the Electoral Commission will start its campaign in the middle of January. It will be national and across all types of national media, but local authorities will also have the money to do local campaigns. Along with national government, they do local campaigns very well to get voters to register for voting. This will be added to those campaigns, and I have every confidence that with the money they have, local government and the Electoral Commission will be able to deliver that.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde is absolutely right. As I said, these arguments have all been had, but, as it came up again, I will repeat the point about the manifesto commitment. Voter identification was in the manifesto, and photo identification became a government discussion because it was found in our pilots to be the only approach that increased voter trust and confidence, which are key aims for this policy. We talked about it a lot during the discussions on the Bill, and I reiterate it now in case noble Lords think that we got it wrong again. We know what we said, and we know why we put in photo ID.

If it was clear what was in the Conservative manifesto and that voter identification meant photo identification, why did the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, who conducted a review of election law on behalf of the Conservative Government, conclude that photo ID was unnecessary and that voter ID in different forms, such as council tax bills or utility bills, would be acceptable? He said there was no need for the photo ID.

I do not think my noble friend is in his place, but when I next see him, I will ask him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned people in poverty finding it more difficult. I remember that discussion and I know that my noble friend Lord True wrote to her. I am afraid I do not know what the outcome was so, again, with apologies, I will write to her about that because I know that it was an important issue for her then.

Digital exclusion is a different thing. Noble Lords would be surprised how many people—even those we consider to be in poverty—have phones. You can go to many libraries in this country and get access online. We also know that it can be done over the phone and by going to your local council. Wherever you can get registered to vote, you can also get your identity. If people are managing to get registered to vote, they can get identity as well. However, I will come back to the noble Baroness on who we are consulting as we go forward.

If registration is so important—I agree that it is—why did the Government not start this process when they started the campaigns for registration in September, rather than starting it in January?

If the noble Lord remembers, we had the death of Her Majesty, and that put things back slightly, but we are doing it now, and people register continually, so that issue is not terribly important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, also brought up the deadline for applying for the certificate. She is right that it has gone to six days before the poll; I remember that we talked about it being the day before. We have been working with stakeholders in the electoral sector. We are mindful of the impact on administrators during a busy period and, on balance, have decided that six days strikes an appropriate balance between accessibility and certainty for not only the elector but the electoral officers.

One noble Lord said that a national insurance number was required, but actually individuals do not need a national insurance number to vote. They will be able to apply using other documents or attestations where they can provide an explanation for why they do not have a national insurance number. Some people have lost it or cannot find it, so there are other ways of doing that to make sure that they can get those documents.

There was quite a lot of talk about putting it back to the next election. After May 2023, there is a possibility that the next election will be a general election. In May 2023, only about two-thirds of authorities will hold polls. That means there will be more opportunity for authorities to learn from and support each other if necessary. If we have a local authority that is not holding an election next to a local authority that is, if it needs extra help in this first period, that is a possibility. The system is not at full stretch, as it always is during a general election. This is not about testing or devaluing local politics. It is a sensible way to run any new process in a system, rather than running it when we are at full capacity.

My noble friend Lady Verma got involved in the Bill; I thank her very much for her support. Again, she is somebody who talks to people on the ground, as we all do, and who has an understanding of how people in all communities feel about the importance of a fair voting system that they can trust.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, raised overseas voters. I will take that back to the department, but if he does not mind, I do not intend to talk about that today. My noble friend Lord Cormack raised identity cards, but I will not get into that debate today either.

Publicity is absolutely critical. I do not think I have talked about this, but once the legislation goes through, we will start this in mid-January, so there will be four to five months of clear publicity. That is important.

I thank my noble friend Lord Hayward. He and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, are the ones in the House who talk and know the most about elections and associated matters. He is absolutely right about students. They will be home for Easter and, by then, they will have seen the campaign over two to three months. They will get their driving licence or passport, or will go to get the identity documents required. As he said, the launch in January is the launch of the big national campaign, but this has been going on for a long time.

I will look at Hansard, but I think I have answered most of the issues that were raised. I return to the fatal amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I have already made it clear that we disagree with its substance. We are confident of electoral administrators’ ability to deliver this important policy for the May 2023 elections. We have been working hard alongside them to refine and develop these processes and are at present conducting extensive testing of the digital systems that will support them.

I also cannot agree with the assertions made that the policy will prevent electors from voting. The overwhelming majority of electors already hold an appropriate form of ID, and the small proportion who do not will be able to apply for a voter authority certificate from their local authority free of charge. That will ensure that everyone eligible to vote will continue to have the opportunity to do so. I therefore again urge noble Lords across the House not to support this amendment.

I turn now to the regret amendment to the Motion, which the Opposition have indicated that they will not press. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for bringing her concerns to me last week, and I am pleased that we have been able to agree on an excellent solution to them. We will ensure that the review of the policy, which will take place following the May 2023 local elections, involves an independent research agency and analysis of any impacts on voter turnout. We have requested that the review be scrutinised subsequently by parliamentary Select Committees—to whose chairmen I have already written. That will ensure a highly effective review and enable us to refine and improve the delivery of those vital new processes.

The noble Baroness raised some additional questions to which I will also respond. On expanding the list of accepted identification documents, the legislation was intentionally drafted to allow for that to be done via secondary legislation. We intend to monitor the list and will consider amending it in future if appropriate.

I have already said a bit about working closely with local authorities. To ensure that the voter card application process is launched as soon as possible and that we support local authorities as they implement those processes, I can confirm that we fully intend to work closely with them. We are currently carrying out considerable engagement with local authorities and other stakeholders to support implementation. The engagement will not stop; it will continue as we go live with the policy.

On ensuring that we make voters aware of the free voter authority certificate, the Electoral Commission, as I said, will lead the national communications campaign early in the new year—we think in mid-January, providing that we can pass the legislation. In addition to highlighting the need to show identification, the campaign will also inform the electorate of the free identification documents that will be available to them. Furthermore, as I said, we have also given £4.75 million to local government across Great Britain to support local communications campaigns.

On the noble Baroness’s concern about polling station staff, we will of course work closely with local authorities to support them in ensuring that their polling stations are appropriately staffed. If there is a queue outside a polling station when it should close, legislation already provides that the polling station should remain open until those electors are able to vote. I know that there were issues with that, but that is the legislation, and we need to ensure that it continues to be implemented.

More broadly, the policy has a critical role to play in maintaining public confidence in our electoral system and reassuring people that their vote is theirs and theirs alone. It is also a natural and considered way of modernising our voting structures, and one that protects us all against the threat of impersonation. I hope that noble Lords will therefore join me in supporting the regulations.

My Lords, I thank everyone for the very constructive debate we have had. I start by reminding noble Lords of my opening remarks: the fatal amendment to the Motion in my name is not about subverting or undermining photo ID; that decision, rightly or wrongly, has been made. The argument I am putting to the House today is about the implementation of those regulations.

There are 240 pages of regulations in this statutory instrument. They must have plenty of time to be introduced and understood so that, when it comes to elections, they can be done fairly. This is not just about communications to electors. It is about the training of the staff: how do you determine whether the likeness of a photo is acceptable? Those are decisions that polling staff will have to make, and they need to be trained properly so that there is consistency across the country. There is a lot more to it than communications.

I remind the House that those who do the practical delivery of elections are very anxious and concerned, and some of them are opposed to the implementation of these regulations for the May elections. The Electoral Commission has grave concerns: it wants six months and will get under four. The Association of Electoral Administrators—the returning officers and elections officers—is very anxious that it will not have time to properly prepare for delivery in May. From local councils, as we have heard, the Conservative chair of the Local Government Association gave a very strongly worded statement, unusually so, expressing grave concerns about the delivery of this measure fairly and equitably across the piece.

Other options were open to the Government for the introduction of photo ID. They could have chosen to introduce it in a by-election to test it out and see whether it works, or asked local authorities to be pilots, instead of trying to introduce it across a whole set of elections.

The example and argument that we have had from Northern Ireland is instructive. However, we perhaps ought to remind ourselves that the years following the initial introduction showed a fall in the number of voters. This was because they lacked the appropriate identification documents. It took a number of years before that number rose back to the same level. That underlines the argument that I am making.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, spoke about having a close election review. That is already in the regulations. My concern is about the election itself. Yes, I am totally in favour of reviews and learning from experience, but I and many Members across the House are concerned that no elector should be turned away and denied the ability to vote—that is their birth- right —because of the implementation of these regulations in a rushed manner. That is the point.

Unfortunately, I have not heard anything from the Minister today to assure me that every voter will be able to vote in a fair way in the May elections. I will therefore test the opinion of the House.

Amendment to the Motion

Tabled by

At end insert “but that this House (1) regrets that the draft Regulations will be implemented for the Local Elections in May 2023 despite insufficient public awareness, guidance and time for preparation, which risks electors being wrongly refused their right to vote, (2) calls on His Majesty’s Government to take an evidence-based approach to the implementation of voter identification, noting concerns raised by the Electoral Commission, Association of Electoral Administrators and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and (3) resolves that a select committee should be appointed to conduct a post implementation assessment of the impact of the Regulations on turnout in the Local Elections in May 2023.”

My Lords, following the Minister’s clarifications to the questions that I asked, her constructive approach to a review and the concessions given, I do not propose to move my amendment. However, I will be keeping a close eye.

Amendment to the Motion not moved.

Motion agreed.

NHS Industrial Action: Government Preparations

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 12 December.

“I am grateful to the honourable Member for his Question, which I am taking on behalf of the department as the Secretary of State is attending a COBRA meeting on contingency planning for industrial action in the NHS. He also came before the House on the subject twice last week: at departmental Questions and for the Opposition Day debate.

We are all hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff, so we deeply regret that some union members have voted for industrial action. Our priority must be to keep patients safe. That begins with keeping the door open. The Secretary of State wrote to the Royal College of Nursing on Saturday asking for further discussions as a matter of urgency. At the same time, we are working with the NHS to minimise the disruption to patients if the strikes do go ahead. We are engaged with providers, professional bodies and trade unions to agree safe levels of cover should any action take place.

In addition, this afternoon, Ministers—including the Secretary of State—are attending a COBRA meeting focused on our contingency plans. Our plans draw on extra support from a range of places, including service personnel and the private sector. While we aim to minimise disruption, with the NHS already under significant pressure from the Covid pandemic and winter pressures, we remain deeply concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients.

I want to be clear that, even at this moment of uncertainty, people must keep coming forward to get the care that they need. People should continue to use NHS 111 if they need medical help and dial 999 in the event of an emergency. For more routine treatment, hospitals will do everything they can to ensure that planned procedures go ahead, but it is inevitable that any strike would mean some patients would have their treatment delayed. People will be contacted if their appointments need to be changed.

It is our hope that patients can be spared unnecessary and unjustified strikes. Industrial action is in no one’s best interests, especially in this difficult winter. We have had constructive meetings with the leadership of several unions, including the RCN, UNISON, Unite and the GMB, and we look forward to further discussions to find a way forward together that is in the best interests of the patients we all serve.”

My Lords, the Royal College of Nursing and UNISON have said that they are prepared to call off strikes if the Government will negotiate with them seriously regarding pay. So the key question to the Minister is whether his Government will confirm whether they are prepared to do this in order to avoid disruption to patients in the NHS. As today’s devastating King’s Fund report on the state of the NHS, which was commissioned by the Government, so clearly shows, these strikes are not just about pay. Can the Minister give his view on the wider factors that have led to the strikes and give some commentary as to why the Government have not taken preventive action?

I thank the noble Baroness. On the other actions, so to speak, we have already met a couple of times with the union and are very happy to meet to talk about other things we can do on terms and conditions. As regards the main element around pay, we are following the results of the independent pay review body, which, as the House will be aware, has been in existence since 1984. Parties from each side have taken its expert advice and followed it, and that is what the Government have done in this situation.

My Lords, patients will naturally feel very anxious whenever there is disruption to services that they need, but this anxiety can be mitigated by effective communication. Many of us will have had experiences of great communication by the NHS, such as during the Covid-19 vaccination programme, but also of frustrations, where letters are lost or delayed or we are playing telephone tag with hospital administrative staff. What steps will the Government be taking to ensure that patients receive clear, timely and relevant information during the forth- coming industrial actions?

I thank the noble Lord for the question. Clearly, we want to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible, and appointments will go on as normal where possible. The general advice is that, if you have not been communicated with, you should turn up to your appointment as normal. As ever, there is a bit of fluidity in the situation, because, as I am sure noble Lords are aware, a nurse does not have to give notice of whether they are going to be attending work that day, so there needs to be some fluidity. But the expectation is that, if you have not heard from us already, you should turn up to your appointment and, in all likelihood, you will receive your planned treatment .

My Lords, if the military personnel are going to drive ambulances, for which they are paid less than the ambulance drivers and paramedics, will my noble friend ensure that all military personnel get paid a bonus for the work they do?

First, I will take the opportunity to thank the Armed Forces and anyone else who will be helping at this difficult time. I appreciate that that might cut into some of their plans for Christmas and I appreciate what they are doing in the circumstances. I cannot speak beyond that in terms of any financial support that they might be given, but they will definitely have our undoubted thanks.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many working families are much worse off because of inflation? The image given by the Government is that they have no coherent strategy. We seem to be in a sort of playground situation of shouting at each other, whereas what we need is understanding from the Government as to how they are going to tackle the inevitable fall in the standard of living caused by the excesses that happened during Covid. Will the Government try to get their act together, because the sympathy of the general public is not with the Government? It is not against the strikers. At best it is neutral and at worst it is moving the other way as we get nearer to Christmas.

We appreciate of course that these are difficult times. Unprecedented circumstances have caused the current inflationary environment, which we appreciate provides challenges to many people. We are trying our best to help them navigate through that. Obviously, the energy support package was a good example of where we are trying to make sure that probably the biggest component of inflation—the increased energy bills—is covered. We will seek to act and do what we can in all circumstances to help people through the crisis.

My Lords, even prior to the strikes, agency nurses were being brought in to ensure that shifts were safely staffed. I should be grateful if the Minister would set out what assessment the Government have made of the cost to the NHS of employing agency staff, compared with that of a pay rise that would work towards an arguably better and more stable workforce?

I do not have those figures to hand, but I believe there is a Question on this subject tomorrow, when we will be talking very much about the use of agency staff and bank staff. From memory—the right reverend Prelate will get the exact figures when I have done a bit more swotting up overnight—I think the cost of agency and bank staff work this year is around £3 billion. Clearly, the workforce strategy will be all about making sure we can recruit staff to minimise that.

My noble friend referred to the NHS Pay Review Body. As Secretary of State, I thought it was rather important that I did not determine the pay of nurses, for example; the pay review body made recommendations and I adhered to them. Will the Government continue to explain that they are not refusing to negotiate on pay with the trade unions but adhering to a long-established principle? The trade unions appear to be seeking somehow to overturn last April’s pay award, when they should be providing evidence to the pay review body on what the pay award should be next April, with the remit letter already published.

I thank my noble friend for his question. He is quite right. As mentioned before, this body was set up in 1984 and extended to other areas of the health service in 2007. Since then, Governments of all colours have followed its recommendations because, after all, it is the expert in this field. We have honoured that in full because it is right that the experts determine it. Working towards making sure that the next settlement in April—which, let us face it, is only three or four months away—covers the latest situation would be a good way ahead.

Is not the total silence of all members of the pay review body since it delivered its report to the Government remarkable? Has anyone asked them, bearing in mind that they delivered their report when inflation was about 3% or 4%, whether they believe the figures in their report are still relevant today? Forget last April or next April—we are talking about today. The pay review body has been loaded up with a responsibility by the Government which in a way is not solely its responsibility. The Government do not have to accept its recommendations, as the Scottish Government have not. Has anybody asked it whether, in the present circumstances and with inflation so high, it still stands by the report it delivered in the middle of last year?

My understanding, based on the long time that this has been in place, is that this is an annual review. April is now quite close; for that April review, it can take into account all the factors, including what happened to inflation during the year. I expect it will take all that into account, quite rightly, in what it comes up with for that next pay review. It is a long-established principle that it is there to do this. I trust it to get the right answer in time for April.

Will my noble friend be very careful to stick by the case being put forward? We know that those arguing it want to hide behind some discussion of the mechanisms in order not to say what they really think about the pay rises. The Government have a responsibility to stick by the system. If we lose that, it will be the Minister who makes decisions always, which is what we have tried to avoid since the 1980s.

I agree. Clearly, there are difficult choices; if we changed the position, we would have to take money away from other parts of the system, such as the elective care fund and other front-line services, which we clearly do not want to do. It is absolutely right that we let the experts guide us in this, as all Governments have done for more than 30 years.

Public Order Bill

Committee (3rd Day)

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, we told the Government Whips that I was going to intervene at this stage.

I wish to put on record the apology I gave in person and in writing to the Minister for suggesting at col. 1345 on 22 November that what he had said about the stop and search powers in the Bill not being exercisable unless an officer is in uniform was not true. I have read the Official Report, and it appears I became somewhat confused—probably after three hours on buffer zones.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, expressed concerns about the new offence of obstructing a police officer in the exercise of the new stop and search powers in the Bill, with reference to the Sarah Everard murder and police advice to challenge any officer who detained a lone woman, and whether such advice would amount to an offence under the Bill. In answer, the Minister said the power extends only to police officers in uniform, which I mistakenly took to mean both suspicion-led and suspicionless stop and search powers in the Bill. At that point the Minister was talking about the stop and search power without suspicion, which is restricted to uniformed officers only.

Although I was correct in my assertion that the suspicion-led power could be carried out by officers in plain clothes, the new offence of obstructing an officer applies only when the officer is exercising the proposed new suspicionless power to stop and search, for which he has to be in uniform. Nevertheless, my understanding is that Sarah Everard’s murderer was in police uniform when he detained her, so the concerns that other noble Lords had about a lone woman resisting an officer exercising the new power to stop and search without suspicion, following police advice in the wake of Sarah Everard, remains.

However, I undertook to apologise to the Committee if I had misled noble Lords by suggesting that what the Minister said about officers having to be in uniform to exercise stop and search powers under the Bill was not true. When, in relation to the power the Minister was speaking about at that moment, he said:

“This power only extends to those in uniform”,—[Official Report, 22/11/22; col. 1342.]

it was true. I therefore apologise for unintentionally misleading the Committee.

Amendment 117

Moved by

117: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—

“Protection for journalists and others monitoring protestsA constable may not exercise any police power for the principal purpose of preventing a person from observing, recording, or otherwise reporting on the exercise of police powers in relation to—(a) a protest-related offence,(b) a protest-related breach of an injunction, or(c) activities related to a protest.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause would protect journalists, legal observers, academics, and bystanders who monitor or record the police’s use of powers related to protests.

I am delighted to move Amendment 117 and very grateful to be standing alongside the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I will also speak to the revised Amendment 127A in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I thank the lawyers at Justice for their technical help with this speech, particularly Tyrone Steele.

These amendments seek to grant fuller protections to all those covering protests and reporting on the exercise of police powers in that context. I am completely confident that all noble Lords recognise the vital importance of journalists, legal observers and indeed the general public in being able to observe, report on and scrutinise what happens at protests and the actions of not only the protesters but, possibly, the police.

As many noble Lords will know, I have deep and vested interests in these amendments. I became a journalist more or less by accident at the age of 19. My first piece was on the left-handed shop in Beak Street for Time Out and was all of 189 words long. It was hardly earth shattering, but it did tell left-handed people where to buy a pair of scissors.

Trying to report stories and find out things that many people do not want known has been the whole obsession of my life. My second and third jobs were on an alternative newspaper and then on Spare Rib. Indeed, my second-ever piece was a report on an anti-Vietnam demonstration in the capital. I can confess quite freely that I was totally terrified to be in the middle of that demonstration, but I was not displeased to be part of it and I was very pleased to be able to go back and write about it. On Spare Rib we both marched and wrote about marching. We protested for equal pay, rights to abortion and rights to childcare, but we reported it; we were allowed to be there and to write about it.

In my long journalistic career, I have edited many magazines and written for more. I have edited three national newspapers and, again, written for many more. I have publicised protests, including many that I vehemently do not agree with, because they are not only important events; they are about people doing something that matters a great deal to them and worth taking to the streets for—or even trying to climb Nelson’s Column. People are on the streets because they do not know what else to do to make their voice heard and they have exhausted such routes as writing letters to MPs, Members of the House of Lords or, indeed, newspapers such as mine.

I have also sent reporters to countries where repressive regimes lock up journalists who are covering protests—think of the Arab spring, Myanmar and Hong Kong. As my friend and mentor, the late war reporter Martha Gellhorn, said, journalism is about bearing witness. We go to bring back the news, whether it is happening on the streets of Cairo or on the M25, to tell all of us, through words, images and sounds, what we have seen, what people are doing and what they care about. Journalists risk life and limb to do so. But, over my half-century in this profession, I have always believed that, at least in this country, we were able to go to a demonstration and then go back to our office and write about it. I also knew that, if a protest got too out of hand, plenty of laws were in place to deal with this—but never was a journalist told that they could not report on a story.

The arrest of Charlotte Lynch, the woman from LBC held for five hours for reporting on a Just Stop Oil protest —more about her later—has been referred to many times in this debate, but her story is extremely important. For me, it was as though one of the pillars of our democratic society had been kicked out from under my feet. She was held in a cell for five hours for reporting on a protest. It was peaceful, however bloody annoying people might find Just Stop Oil. Quite frankly, if a protest does not annoy someone, what is the point of it?

Sadly, I was wrong: this was not the first, and there had been previous attempts to curtail the reporting of protests. At 3.40 am on 30 November 1983, during strikes at the Messenger printers in Warrington, the police demanded that the television crews covering the dispute turned off the lights. After they complied, the police proceeded to charge at the picketers under the cover of darkness. In the words of Colin Bourne, the NUJ’s northern organiser,

“police were running up to them and kicking them and hitting them with their batons”.

It was reported that two police Range Rovers drove into the pickets. Today, with the vast majority of the public possessing smartphones equipped with high-quality cameras, it is thankfully much harder for abuse like that to go uncovered.

Last year, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport held a call for evidence on journalists’ safety, and there were masses of respondents. One said that the police themselves contributed to threats or abuse towards journalists, which included physically restricting access to spaces and arresting journalists. As I said, many noble Lords have referred to Charlotte Lynch, who was arrested while reporting on Just Stop Oil. But, that very same day, two others, Rich Felgate and Tom Bowles, were also detained. Again, they peacefully asserted their status as journalists—they had press cards—but they were held for 13 hours.

Back in August, another journalist, Peter Macdiarmid, was also arrested and taken in a police van to Redhill police station. He has notably covered several historic, monumental events, such as the Arab spring, refugees fleeing Iraq during the first Gulf War, Black Lives Matter and the London riots. The award-winning reporter told the Evening Standard:

“It’s the first time I’ve been in cuffs in the 35 years I have covered protests.”

Something is fundamentally wrong with our justice system if police feel so empowered, under the vast array of existing legislation, to arrest and detain journalists first and ask the questions—or worse—later, ignoring the fact that they are from the press. Last week, the Minister said that the issue lies with the training of the police. I am afraid that that is an inadequate solution for the current situation, and it is no remedy for what the Government propose, in terms of expanding the powers in the Bill.

The Bill contains a vast array of measures that could severely and detrimentally impact journalists just doing their jobs. The offence of being “equipped for locking on” is so broad in its ingredients that an individual would only have to be carrying an object with the intention that it may be used. Taking a photo of someone who is locking on could inadvertently fall foul of this because the camera could feasibly constitute such an object.

Journalists are no safer with respect to offences covering the obstruction of “key national infrastructure” and “transport works” or

“causing serious disruption by being present in a tunnel”.

On the latter, the BBC has reported from the tunnelling sites and even filmed the equipment and protesters inside the tunnels dug to disrupt the construction of HS2. The offence is engaged if you are “reckless” as to whether your presence will have the consequence of causing serious disruption.

Moreover, there is no explicit exemption for journalists. The only protection is the reasonable excuse. But as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said in Committee, since a defence is available only after arrest, journalists

“are still faced with the possibility of being arrested and detained for five hours by the police … It seems an onerous experience for a completely innocent person to go through”—[Official Report, 16/11/22; col. 948.]

The proposed, highly expansive stop and search powers would also offer journalists no relief from obstruction in performing their work. An officer who reasonably believes that an individual is carrying a prohibited object can conduct a suspicionless search. What worries me is the number of things—cameras, clipboards, microphones —that could conceivably constitute a prohibited object for use in connection with a protest. This would stifle the legitimate work of journalists and observers who monitor police powers.

Finally, I should mention the most invidious new tool that the Bill proposes—that of serious disruption prevention orders, which many have dubbed the protest banning orders. Under Clause 20, the police could apply to a magistrates’ court to impose one of these orders on an individual without a conviction, including journalists, where they have, on two occasions in the past, I hear, merely

“contributed to the carrying out by any other person of activities related to a protest that resulted in, or were likely to result in, serious disruption to two or more individuals”.

A court could use the civil standard of proof, and if a journalist has been to cover a protest, they will inevitably have racked up more than two events in five years. They might rack up two events in a week at the moment. If a journalist covers a protest, it is foreseeable that this coverage itself could contribute to protest-related activities. If imposed, a protest banning order could last for up to two years, be renewed and result in journalists being banned from attending protests, restrictions on their internet usage, potential ankle-tagging and, of course, if in breach, imprisonment.

We have established two important truths. First, the existing legal framework does not adequately protect journalists and others observing protests from spurious or speculative arrest. Secondly, the Bill’s new offences and powers would make the situation all the more perilous. So I urge the Government to support this amendment, which would protect journalists, legal observers, academics and bystanders. Without this clause, this Bill could lead to a further increase in the arrests of those who cover or happen upon live protest sites. The enormous chilling effect on reporters and observers as a whole, who may consequently be afraid to continue their work, cannot be discounted. This is because there is no explicit provision in the Bill where existing legislation protects them prior to arrest. A reasonable excuse defence, absent from protest banning orders and available with respect to the other offences only once the individual has been arrested and detained and charged, simply does not cut it.

I strongly urge the Government to accept this amendment, which provides holistic protections to ensure that journalists, observers and bystanders continue to have access to protest sites in order to report on what happens and to monitor police powers. It is an essential part of our democracy. I beg to move.

The Committee will imagine the daunting privilege of attempting to follow that speech from one of the most senior journalists—and indeed one of the greatest environmentalists—in the Committee and your Lordships’ House. I want to speak briefly to explain why we have Amendments 117 and 127A. The reason is my poor draftsmanship when we conceived Amendment 117, for which I apologise. Amendment 127A is an improvement on Amendment 117 because of a defect that was pointed out to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Amendment 117 had protected journalists who were covering the policing of protests only, and, of course, we need to protect journalists who are covering protests as well as the policing thereof.

I would also like to take this opportunity to reassure the Minister that, notwithstanding my fundamental concerns about the Bill as a whole, and significant provisions within it, this journalistic protection in Amendment 127A—I am grateful to the other co-signatories and supporters across the House for understanding this too—notwithstanding our fundamental objections to various provisions that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, referred to, would not in any way wreck those provisions, objectionable though they may be for my part. All Amendment 127A would do is protect journalists where any police power, not just the police powers in this Bill but police powers more generally, are being used for the principal purpose of preventing their reporting.

I know that it is very hard in Committee to persuade a Minister to think again, but this is not a request to think again about the Bill in sum or in part; this is requesting a protection for journalists that is required in relation to even the police powers that currently stand. In the case of Charlotte Lynch, and other cases to which the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, referred, journalists were arrested and detained under public order powers as they currently stand—not even the broader, blank-cheque powers to come.

So I hope that, in this Committee, those in the Box, and noble Lords and Ministers, will take pause for thought and think about whether we need a protection against current public order powers, and any to come, to ensure that the police are not using them to arrest journalists because they think that the reporting of protests per se gives the oxygen of publicity to protest and so on. Day after day, at Question Time in particular, Foreign Office Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and—rightly and sincerely, in my view—criticise attacks on journalistic freedom across the globe. I think something like Amendment 127A would be a very important statement, putting that sincerity of Foreign Office Ministers into law in the home department.

So, I hope that noble Lords, Ministers, and Members of the whole Committee will really reflect on the noble Baroness’s speech.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee. I want to ask the Government to listen very carefully to this discussion. We have a very real issue when really serious matters, which threaten all of us, do not appear to some of us to be properly addressed. That is a very serious matter for any democracy, and those of us who are democrats do have to stand up for the rule of law and do have to say that extreme actions cannot be accepted.

But it has a second effect too, and that is that we have to be extremely careful about the way in which we deal with those extreme actions. I do beg the Government to take very seriously the fact that these extreme actions will continue, because people are more and more worried about the existential threat of climate change. The Climate Change Committee spends a great deal of its time trying to ensure that there is a democratic and sensible programme to reach an end that will protect us from the immediate effects of climate change, which we cannot change, and, in the longer term, begin to turn the tables on what we as human beings have caused.

It is not always easy to do that in the light of others who are desperate that we should move faster and that we should do more; who are desperate because they are seriously frightened and are not sure that those who are in charge have really got the urgency of the situation.

It is very difficult to imagine that we are not going to have to cope with the uprising of real anger on this subject. As a democrat, I want us to cope. As a parliamentarian, I want us to be able to deal with these issues and ensure that the public are not threatened. I echo the Deputy Chancellor of Germany, a Green Member of Parliament, who makes it absolutely clear that the kinds of actions we have seen in this country from Extinction Rebellion and similar things in Germany are not acceptable in a democracy.

The other side of that argument is that we have got to be extremely careful about the way in which we enforce the law and how we deal with this issue. Journalists play the key part in this. They must be there to report on what happens. It is in our interest as democrats that that happens. If they are not there and cannot say what needs to be said without fear or favour, none of us can stand up and deal with the arguments of those who argue that democracy does not work and that somehow they have to impose their will.

I want the Government to recognise the importance of this. In this country, a journalist must have access without fear or favour. The police must not treat them in a way that has happened again and again, and which must stop happening. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, it is not happening because of what is in this Bill, which in general I do not have an objection to; it is what happens in any case. The fact that the police could hold a journalist for five hours knowing that they were a journalist is utterly unacceptable. You cannot do that in a democracy—and nor can we talk to other countries about these things if that happens here and we do not do something to enshrine in law the fact that it should not.

Earlier, I had to deal with the question of not opening coal mines in order to be able to stand up in the world and show that we too will carry out what we ask other countries to do. This is another, even more serious, case of that. We cannot talk about repression if we in this country can be shown not to have protected journalists in these circumstances.

It is a terribly simple matter. We must put on the face of the Bill, referring to all actions, that journalists should be in the position that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, suggests. It may be that her amendments could be better done; it may be that the Government have a different way of doing it. The only thing that I ask, in order to protect democracy and ourselves—those of us who are moderates and believe in the rule of law—is that we need to have this assertion.

What great speeches; I am almost embarrassed to follow them. I support Amendments 117 and 127A. I wish I had signed Amendment 127A. I speak as the mother of a journalist and as somebody who had misfortune to be on a panel with the PCC for Herts Police—the force that arrested the journalist and the cameraman. His name is David Lloyd. He was saying “Yes, yes, yes, I’m all in favour of free speech, but the media have to be careful that they are not inciting these protests”. I pointed out that that was free speech on his terms, which is not actually free speech.

These amendments are crucial. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that if the Government do not want to accept any of them, they could probably accept Amendment 127A without too much pain. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, said that you cannot do this in a democracy, but actually the police did do it. They thought that perhaps they could get away with it, and that has happened before. So we really have to send out a signal that this must not happen.

It is crucial for people to be able to observe protests and see that the police and protesters are behaving properly and not inciting violence. Legal observers from organisations such as Green and Black Cross document police actions against protesters and provide support during any legal proceedings that follow. That is an incredibly important role. We need statutory protections to prevent police from harassing and arresting journalists, legal observers and others. This is extremely important.

My Lords, if I had to choose between the two amendments, I would choose Amendment 127A. It is quite important to understand why it is the better version. It is because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, it not only covers the way the police exercise their powers, which is the main target of Amendment 117, but extends to people who are observing the protest itself. That is a very important and significant extension. The way the protest is proceeding is all part of the background against which the other part of the amendment has to be judged, so the broadening in Amendment 127A is rather important.

Another point worth noting is that neither of these amendments uses the word “journalist” in the main text. That is important too: protection is extended to allow other people, for whatever reason, to carry out the exercises referred to. To narrow this down to journalists, which neither amendment seeks to do, would be a mistake. It has to broadened out in the way that both do.

As I have said, however, my main reason for intervening was to explain why I would choose Amendment 127A if I had to choose between the two amendments.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a series producer making a television series on Ukraine.

I was very moved by the speech of my noble friend Lady Boycott and the dedication to journalism that she has shown. I support both Amendment 117 and Amendment 127A. As a television journalist who has reported on protests across the country and the world, I have experienced protesters being suspicious of journalists for fear that their footage would be used by the police to identify and arrest people at a later date. As a result, I have been attacked by protesters and my cameramen have had their cameras grabbed and attempts made to take the tapes or cards.

In many of these cases, particularly in this country, the police have been there to protect us journalists and allow us to do our work reporting on demonstrations, so I am appalled and surprised to hear from my noble friend Lady Boycott that, in recent years, the police in this country have been arresting journalists for doing their job: filming protests. I thought that ECHR Article 10 on the right to freedom of speech would be incentive enough for the police to leave them alone, but clearly not.

This amendment therefore seems necessary to protect journalists going about their business, reporting on protests and the disruptions that they may cause. The problem is that the powers in Clause 2 on locking on seem to be so broadly drawn. It is one thing to arrest people for locking on, but to arrest someone for carrying an object

“with the intention that it may be used”

in connection with that offence seems to give the police power that cannot be right in a democracy. I fear that the words will give them leeway to stop a journalist who is carrying a camera to film the lock-on. Surely even the threat of this happening cannot be allowed. It will have a chilling effect on free speech.

I understand that the police want to be able to arrest protesters who are locking on and filming themselves while doing it, but the wording in this amendment, that

“A constable may not exercise any police power for the principal purpose of preventing … reporting”,

may be an important protection for camera people and journalists covering protests. It protects bona fide journalists.

Clause 11, allowing

“stop and search without suspicion”

in an area near a protest seems to stand against everything I thought Conservatives represented. I always thought it was a driving force behind Conservatism that they wanted to take the state off the backs of individuals. This clause does the opposite. When I talk to people about the possibility of their being stopped without suspicion just because they unwittingly wandered near to a protest, they are aghast. When this possibility is extended to journalists being stopped for going about their business, the threat against free speech posed by this Bill is compounded.

The Government are usually eager to protect journalists and journalism. I suggest to the Minister that, by accepting this amendment he will be striking an important blow for freedom of speech, which is so sorely missing in much of the Bill.

My Lords, I had no intention of speaking on this amendment, but I feel I must, because my late husband, Philip Bassett, was an industrial journalist who covered many strikes, most significantly, I suppose, given what we are discussing, the miners’ strike, which the whole team of industrial journalists on the Financial Times covered. If this legislation stands the way the Government have drafted it, people like my late husband, and indeed the team with whom he worked, which included the very eminent journalist, John Lloyd, would have been open to prosecution. As it is, for their coverage of the miners’ strike they won journalist of the year.

My Lords, the speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, really was excellent, and I hope it gets a wide hearing beyond this place and the numbers here.

When I have discussed this, I always hear the argument from people who are opposed to Just Stop Oil that the people we are talking about are not real journalists. There is something about the concentration on Charlotte Lynch from LBC that somehow says that the other people who were arrested on the same day did not really count, and I want to address that briefly.

There is no doubt that, when the protests that we are seeing at the moment are so performative, activists may well film what is going on, often because they want records of what they are doing to put out on social media. It is tempting, therefore, to treat them differently from journalists. However, I would urge against that and have argued against that. In the end, who decides who is the journalist and who is not? As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, the whole act of bearing witness and truth has nothing to do with views on the protest. Whether you are enthusiastic about the protest or hostile about it is irrelevant to those of us who want to know what has happened on the protest. Sometimes, even activists with a film camera are valuable for truth. The argument that it will incite more protest is misguided, because it treats those who are viewing these films as though they are just automatons who will see them and immediately rush out and protest. You might well see the film intended to illicit your support and think what idiots they are. That is not the point. The truth is what we should be concerned with.

I just say to the Government that I am concerned in particular about the serious disruption prevention orders. I have said throughout the discussions on the Bill that there are so many unintended consequences. I have no doubt that the Government are not intending to use serious disruption prevention orders to stop journalism in its tracks. I think the orders are a terrible blight, by the way, and should be removed from the Bill, but that is not the point I am making. The consequences of them could well be that they thwart journalism. That is the point. I urge the Government to consider that they can support their own Bill and accept these amendments in good faith—I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, explained this well—because they are trying to ensure that what they do not intend to happen, which is that journalistic freedom is compromised, will not happen and that journalists will not get caught up in this. We know that they will. That is the reality. It is a danger and a threat that the Government should get rid of.

My Lords, I have been following this Bill carefully but have not been able to take an active part in it so far. It is difficult not to agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said about the importance of journalism, and I am sure the whole House agrees. I declare an interest as the chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Of course, a good and accurate record or recording of what takes place at a demonstration is important for all parties, whether they be demonstrators, the police or the public. What concerns me a bit about the amendment is what it actually does, apart from sending a very important message. That may be enough; I do not know. It seems to me that in fact it would not be lawful for a constable to arrest anybody anyway for observing, recording or reporting a protest, and nor would the exercise of police powers in relation to those matters or indeed any other matter, but I will listen carefully to what the Minister says.

I would also be grateful for some clarification of how this might interrelate to the reasonable excuse defence that exists in various parts of the Bill. I know that there is some uncertainty at the moment about its scope, where it features in terms of the definition of the offence and whether simply saying—understandably, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said—that this an incredibly serious cause, ie, climate change, and therefore justifies all the potential offences here. This is a fascinating and important amendment, and I seek clarification in due course from the Minister as to its scope.

My Lords, we wholeheartedly support Amendment 117 in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and signed by me for the reason so effectively introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.

We have seen some very worrying developments. I remember that when I was serving, the police, following criticism, made strenuous efforts to work with journalists, in particular photographers, to ensure that their work was facilitated during protests. A colleague of mine who became chief constable of British Transport Police, Andy Trotter, made great strides in building a good rapport between journalists and the police. Recently, however, there is evidence of disregard for press cards—for example in a briefing from the National Union of Journalists on the arrests of journalists by Hertfordshire Police and other police forces. This seems to be going completely in the opposite direction to the progress made when I was serving.

As others have said, if journalists and photographers are afraid to do their jobs of being at protests and reporting on them, that is very dangerous for our democracy and the right to protest, having a chilling effect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, put it, on journalism in relation to protests.

As other noble Lords, such as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, said, it points to the overly wide offences in the other parts of the Bill, for example,

“being present in a tunnel”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, journalists have reported from inside these tunnels and could be guilty of those offences. It points not only to the importance of these amendments in protecting journalists but to the overreach of the offences in other parts of the Bill.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said, Amendment 127A is an important extension of the original Amendment 117, extending the protections beyond journalists to legal observers, academics and even innocent members of the public watching what is happening and recording it on their smartphones.

However, other noble Lords have not mentioned that it is also damaging to the police. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, talked about a dispute where the police asked journalists to turn off their lights and, under cover of the darkness that ensued, engaged in violence towards the protesters. In the situation the police service now faces of ever-diminishing public trust and confidence in it, stories of the police arresting journalists at protests could easily be hijacked and used by anti-police activists further to undermine public trust and confidence in the police.

These are very important amendments, which should give reassurance to journalists and observers of protests. This points out just how bad the Bill is as far as journalists are concerned, as opposed to how bad it is for everybody else who might be subjected to these offences. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, talked about the reasonable excuse defence. All the reasonable excuse defences in this Bill are post-charge defences and would not prevent journalists and others who have a reasonable excuse being arrested and detained for five hours, as the LBC reporter was. This really highlights the debate we have had today. The dangers this over- reaching, overbroad legislation poses for journalists shine a light on the dangers it poses for protesters generally.

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak to these important amendments in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Jones, my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The way they spoke to the amendments, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, was not only moving but challenging. I want to say something more generally, as other noble Lords have, about what happened to Charlotte Lynch.

Every now and again, something occurs in our society and our democracy which should act as a wake-up call. We all speak here and say that we are proud of our democracy and of our freed