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Grand Committee

Volume 833: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2023

Grand Committee

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, there is unlikely to be a Division in the Chamber today but if there is, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.

Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

My Lords, these regulations were laid in draft before this House on 4 September 2023. Fluorinated greenhouse gases, also known as F-gases, are powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, as well as for other uses such as medical inhalers. The most commonly used F-gases are known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

The purpose of this instrument is to correct a technical error in Regulation 517 of 2014, on fluorinated greenhouse gases, known as the F-gas regulation, which is retained EU law. The correction will ensure that annual quotas, which limit the quantity of HFCs that can be placed on the market in Great Britain each year, are calculated as intended. Pursuant to the Windsor Framework, separate EU F-gas legislation and systems apply in Northern Ireland.

For Great Britain, the F-gas regulation has provisions to phase down the amount of HFCs placed on the market for the first time. This is implemented using a quota system. Importers and producers may place on the market only up to the amount of the quota they hold. The regulation sets out a phase-down schedule, with the starting point being 2015. Every three years, the amount of quota issued to businesses is reduced, thereby driving a move to lower carbon options, while giving industry time and flexibility to choose how to transition to them.

The F-gas regulation provides for a 79% reduction of HFCs placed on the market by 2030. We have already reduced HFC levels by 55% since 2015 through quota limits. Annual quota amounts allocated to businesses are calculated based on reference values. Article 16(3) provides for recalculation of the reference values by the appropriate regulator, based on the annual average of HFCs placed on the market by a business from a specified start date.

This statutory instrument corrects a technical error made in previous amending legislation relating to that start date. The start date should have been January 2015 but was erroneously changed to January 2021. If the error is not corrected, it will result in too little quota being issued to businesses. This was not the intended outcome when the F-gas regulation was retained and amended as part of the UK’s exit from the European Union. The intention was to retain the substance of the regulation, including the calculation of reference values and pace of phase-down of HFCs. Issuing too little quota to businesses would cause significant problems for HFC supply into Great Britain, disrupting sectors across the economy and business confidence.

The territorial application of this instrument is England, Wales and Scotland. The Environment Agency performs the functions set out in Article 16 of the F-gas regulation as the appropriate regulator for England and, under directions from Scottish and Welsh Governments, for Scotland and Wales. A GB-wide F-gas regime currently operates under the regulation. There is an F-gas common framework in place through which the UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Administrations collaborate, including on the application of the GB-wide F-gas regime. Using the common framework working arrangements, devolved Administrations were engaged throughout the development of this instrument, and agreement between officials on its provisions was reached. I am pleased to say that ministerial consent has been provided by the Welsh and Scottish Governments. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee considered this instrument and cleared it without reporting it to the House at its meeting on 12 September.

In conclusion, making this correction is essential to ensure that our ambitious and world-leading phase-down is not undermined. We have already reduced HFC levels by 55% since 2015, through the F-gas regulation. To meet our international obligations, we also remain committed to reducing HFC consumption by 85% by 2036. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to these regulations. At first glance, this seems like a very minor matter, a mistake having been made in the date of implementation of the regulations, 2021 having been substituted for 2015. That technical error does not appear to have been picked up quickly, despite annual quotas for HFCs being set and their importance to a range of essential products, including refrigeration, air conditioning, medical inhalers and fire extinguishers.

HFCs are regulated by quota, which, had the original date of 2021 been adhered to, would have resulted in businesses receiving too little quota. However, levels of HFCs have been reducing since 2015 by 55%, as the Minister has said, so progress is being made towards the 79% reduction required by 2030. I assume that the error was picked up only when the phase-down and three-year recalculation took place. The next recalculation is due in January 2024, and the deadline for its submission is 31 October, so it is a very tight timeline to correct the calculation error.

Although the recalculation does not affect technical operability, not having a consultation is interesting. The businesses that would have been adversely affected had this error not been identified and corrected would, presumably, have suffered at least a disadvantage to their operation, and I would have expected them to have a view on this and to have been consulted. There is also no impact assessment; it has been deemed unnecessary as the instrument corrects a technical error, but that error relates directly to the level of HFCs that can be used in the various products dependent on them.

Should the other place and this Committee refuse to endorse these regulations, there would be an impact on a number of particularly important businesses. However, I understand completely that, at the time of Brexit, the sheer number of SIs passing through Defra was enormous and some errors were unfortunately made. My only surprise was that this one took a while to surface. Nevertheless, I accept the importance of this SI and am content to support it as it stands.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his overview of the regulations before us. As has been stated, this is an unusually straightforward statutory instrument as it seeks solely to correct a date error in a piece of retained EU law relating to fluorinated greenhouse gases. Therefore, I plan to keep my contribution short.

However, to reiterate the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, it is clear that the technical error, as outlined in Paragraph 6.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which changed the baseline date for the annual quota system from 2015 to 2021, would have a detrimental impact on the businesses affected and make compliance challenging. It is also contrary to the policy intent. However, it is concerning that the SI is before us only today, when the deadline for recalculating the underlying reference values is 31 October. In other words, the dataset needs to be calculated next week, yet His Majesty’s Government have put this before us only seven days before the deadline. When was the error identified? Could the department have brought forward the instrument earlier to give assurance and clarity to business? Can the Minister also confirm that this is the last example of this error, and that we should not expect to see any more SIs of a similar nature in the coming weeks?

While I have the Minister’s attention, Paragraph 14.1 of the EM notes that a wider review of the F-gas regulation is under way. Can he update your Lordships’ House on the timelines for the review? I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

I thank noble Lords for their interest in this matter and their contributions to the debate. I reiterate that the amendment made by this instrument relates to the correction of a technical error in the F-gas regulation. The amendment will meet the original intended objective of retaining the substance and phasedown set out in the EU regulation when that regulation was domesticated following our EU exit. This correction will ensure that the Environment Agency recalculates the reference values correctly by the statutory deadline date of 31 October, as noble Lords have pointed out.

On why this has been laid so close to the 31 October deadline, the instrument uses the power in Section 14(2) of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023. The Act received Royal Assent only on 29 June, meaning that there was no time to lay the instrument until now.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked how this technical issue arose. The error occurred when we implemented the amending legislation to retain the EU regulation in UK law during the EU exit. Consequently, the error was identified after that period had passed. We did not consult, although we have consulted industry informally and we are responding to what is demanded by these companies. Devolved Administrations were also engaged throughout the development of this instrument and agreement between officials on this provision has been reached. Ministerial consent has been provided by Wales and Scotland. Wider consultation was not deemed necessary, as the amendments introduced by this instrument relate to technical operability and there is no change in related existing policy.

A full impact assessment has not been prepared for this instrument because there is no impact as a result of its implementation. The instrument corrects a technical error that occurred when direct EU legislation was retained and amended as part of EU exit. The changes that it makes will meet the objective of retaining the substance and phasedown pace of the EU F-gas regulation and there is no change in the related existing policy. I think that noble Lords’ points have been covered and I commend the instrument.

Motion agreed.

Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Risk of Being Drawn into Terrorism) (Revised Guidance) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Risk of Being Drawn into Terrorism) (Revised Guidance) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 52nd Report from Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, this instrument, which was laid before Parliament on 7 September 2023, relates to Prevent. Prevent is one of the pillars of Contest, the United Kingdom’s counterterrorism strategy. The aim of Prevent is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It also extends to supporting the rehabilitation and disengagement of those already involved in terrorism. These aims could scarcely be more important.

Put simply, Prevent is an early intervention programme to keep all of us safe. To do so effectively, it requires front-line sectors across society, including education, healthcare, local authorities, criminal justice agencies and the police, to support this mission. This is why we have the Prevent duty, set out in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. It sits alongside long-established duties on professionals to protect people from a range of other harms, such as involvement in gangs or physical and sexual exploitation. The Prevent duty helps to ensure that people who are susceptible to radicalisation are offered timely interventions before it becomes too late.

We cannot pretend that this is easy. Radicalisation is complex and there is no single track to a person becoming radicalised. There are many factors that can, either alone or combined, lead someone to subscribe to extremist ideology and, in some cases, terrorism. These factors often include exposure to radicalising influences, real and perceived grievances and an individual’s own susceptibility.

The Prevent guidance exists to support and provide reassurance to those working in front-line sectors on how to navigate these challenging situations. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act requires specified authorities to have regard to this guidance. It is challenging, but we must always strive for excellence.

The Government are committed to ensuring that Prevent is effective. The Independent Review of Prevent—the IRP—was published on 8 February 2023. In it, Sir William Shawcross made 34 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Home Secretary in the Government’s response. The Government are working at pace to drive improvements. We expect to have implemented at least 29 of the 34 recommendations within a year of publication and the rest shortly thereafter.

We introduced the new security threat check to ensure that decision-making is always informed by a proper consideration of the current threat picture. Updated training has been provided for public sector staff subject to the Prevent duty. The updated guidance, which is the subject of this statutory instrument, was published on 7 September and responds to several of Sir William’s recommendations. The guidance has updated Prevent’s objectives to make it clear that Prevent should

“tackle the ideological causes of terrorism”.

It sets out requirements more clearly, articulating the need for high-quality training so that risk can be identified and managed. It provides an updated threat picture and gives details of the strategic security threat check, which helps Prevent to recognise and respond to the greatest threats. This will ensure that Prevent is well-equipped to counter the threats that we face and the ideologies underpinning them.

As well as responding to the Independent Review of Prevent’s recommendations, the guidance reflects current best practice. It supports and exemplifies the excellent work that we know takes place across the country to keep us safe and to help to prevent people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. The guidance will assist statutory partners to understand how best to comply with the duty. It includes details of the capabilities that they should have to be able to identify and manage risk. It also advises on how they can help to create an environment where the ideologies that are used to radicalise people into terrorism are challenged and not permitted to flourish.

People with Prevent responsibilities were consulted on the guidance. A range of key governmental partners were engaged throughout the development of the updated guidance and their feedback has been positive. The Government have been working closely with these partners to roll out the guidance and support its implementation.

Subject to the approval of the House, this statutory instrument will bring the new guidance into effect on 31 December 2023, replacing the outdated guidance from 2015. It will strengthen the Prevent system and help to keep us safe, which is why I commend it to the Committee and beg to move.

My Lords, I pay tribute once again to the work of the police, security and intelligence services. It is difficult but it saves lives and, as I know the Minister will agree, it helps to keep us safe. Extremism is a stain on our society. It feeds on fear, which seeks to drive us apart, and is perpetuated in the name of one extreme ideology or another. All of us on this Committee and beyond are opposed to that.

We have seen a terrorist attack on Fishmongers’ Hall, close to London Bridge, the awful attack at a concert in Manchester and the brutal murders of Jo Cox and Sir David Amess, among other shocking events, such as the bomb attack at the Dover Border Force centre. Was it not a bad mistake for the Shawcross review not to include that last incident as one of the examples of attacks listed in that report, given that it was not Islamist? It could have been included, because it took place months before the publication of the original review. The Minister will know that one of the criticisms of the review and worries about it is its supposed bias.

Ongoing threats are thwarted and ongoing action is taken by the police and security services. Can the Minister outline their view of these guidelines, as well as those of others who have to implement them, such as local authorities or education providers—schools and so on?

Prevent is extremely important, as is its purpose of early intervention to prevent radicalisation, extremism and, ultimately, terror. We, like others, support its actions in that regard. However, the strategy is seen by some as contentious and many feel that it is one-sided. How are the Government going to restore confidence and trust across the community in their work on Prevent and the broader counterterrorism strategy?

For example, we have seen the criticisms from the former head of counterterrorism police, Neil Basu, as well as others such as Amnesty International, of the Shawcross review. Is public confidence not increasingly important, given the current awful international situation in the Middle East and the domestic challenges it gives rise to in the UK? Have the Government reflected on these current events? Given the horror we all feel at what we have seen, is the guidance as up to date as it needs to be to reflect the current situation? Might further amendments be required in due course? Is anything planned?

As the Minister pointed out in his helpful introductory remarks, the independent review of Prevent contained 34 recommendations. Last month the Secretary of State announced that the Government had completed 10 of these, and we learned from the Minister today that 29 of them will be completed within a year. Have I understood that correctly? Does that mean the calendar year, or the end of 2024? It would be helpful to have clarification on that. That leaves five that are not going to be ready by the end of the year. Can the Minister tell us which five they are and why they will not be done over the same timeframe as the others?

One in five people arrested for terrorist offences in 2022 was aged under 18—a fourfold increase in just three years. How will the guidance contribute to combating this rapid growth in child terrorist suspects? Beyond the guidance, what else are the Government doing? Will they join us in committing to placing mental health practitioners in schools to help combat vulnerabilities that can make young people more susceptible to extremist narratives? What assessment have the Government made of Jonathan Hall’s recommendation on legislation regarding young terror suspects? How is the Home Office working with other departments to combat, for example, the terrorist threat posed by artificial intelligence, which is new but an increasing threat to us all, as we know?

Four of the nine declared terrorist attacks in the UK since 2018 were perpetrated by serving or newly released prisoners, but the review found that

“there have been delays to staff beginning Prevent training and to extremist prisoners beginning rehabilitative programmes. These delays are attributed to staffing and resourcing issues”.

Given the seriousness with which we should regard four out of nine of the declared terrorist offences having been committed by serving or recently released prisoners, what action has the Secretary of State taken since the independent review to address this and combat radicalisation in prisons?

The Minister will probably agree that Prevent is obviously just one part of a wider counterterrorism and counterextremism strategy. It is just one pillar, as the Minister mentioned, of the Contest strategy. None the less, the review and the Government’s response focus at points on targeting those most likely to commit terrorist acts, but also on wider non-violent extremism. Given that there is some confusion about the central objectives of Prevent, as outlined in this guidance, that could also lead to confusion among those implementing the guidance on what the true focus needs to be. Does the guidance make this clearer than the independent review and the government response earlier in the year—is the focus on individuals who may commit terrorist acts, or on combating wider non-violent extremism? Can the Government clarify where their emphasis and the balance lies? The counterextremism strategy as a whole has not been updated since 2015. Will the Government now confirm that this will take place? What else are the Government going to do to look beyond Prevent to combat extremism?

In February of this year, the Government stated that the ministerial Prevent oversight board would be “refreshed”, having not met since 2018. Has this refresh happened and has the board now met, or are we still waiting for it to meet?

The building of consensus is crucial, particularly around a voluntary engagement programme. The scourge of extremism, as we have seen, whether it be anti-Semitism, Islamism, or the extreme right—whatever it is—is one we all wish to see tackled. There are still very real questions to be asked and challenges for any Government to meet. But the defeat of terrorism and extremism, in whatever form they take, and doing all we can to prevent individuals and communities becoming involved in terrorism or suffering from the threat of terrorism or extremism, is in all our interests and something we all want our Government to succeed in—whichever Government we have.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his contribution. He has asked a number of questions and I will do my best to answer to them all.

Before I do that, I join the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in applauding the work of the security services and the various agencies that keep us all safe, and thank them for it. I include in that the officials in the Home Office, who are often rather overlooked when we are handing out praise to our security services, but who do a considerable amount of work and of thinking about how best to apply these rules in an operational situation. I re-assert that the core objective here is to strengthen the Prevent system, which is a vital component of the counterterrorism apparatus, and in giving my answers I will endeavour to explain why.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me about public confidence and trust in the system and raised the issue of the Dover attack. Of course, the Independent Review of Prevent was led by Sir William Shawcross. He was an independent reviewer, so he decided on the content of the report. I am unable to comment on why he made that decision or what prompted it.

It is perhaps worth digressing and looking at the state of play regarding the extreme right-wing threat we face, because that does feed into this subject. We have accepted the Independent Review of Prevent’s recommendation to ensure that a consistent and proportionate threshold is in place across all the Prevent workstreams. Prevent is now guided by the principles of the new security threat check, which is recommended in the IRP. This series of principles informs our strategic approach, which asks us to consider whether actions are proportionate against the UK’s current terrorism and extremism threat picture. That means that the Home Office approaches and products clearly show how they are relevant to meeting Prevent’s objectives and responding to the threat of terrorism.

We are also rolling out updated training so that practitioners can better understand the threat and in particular the ideological causes of terrorism. The Home Office has undertaken research on Prevent referrals to better under understand them and to improve how they are recorded. Better understanding of the threat, strengthened training and improved processes ensure that we tackle disparities.

However, the primary domestic terrorist threat comes from Islamist terrorism, which accounts for approximately 67% of attacks since 2018, about three-quarters of the MI5 case load and 64% of those in custody for terrorism-related offences. The remainder of the UK domestic terrorist threat is driven almost exclusively by extreme right-wing terrorism, which amounts to approximately 22% of attacks since 2018, about one-quarter of the MI5 case load and 28% of those in custody for terrorism-connected offences.

Interestingly, left-wing, anarchist and single-issue terrorism currently represents a significantly smaller terrorist threat to the UK than Islamist or extreme right-wing terrorism and is not currently present in the UK on any significant scale, although some activity has met a terrorist threshold in recent years and MI5 investigations continue into those cases.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the current situation and the state of security as influenced by what we are seeing in Israel with Hamas. Of course, as noble Lords will be aware, the UK condemns the terrorist acts by Hamas against Israeli and international citizens. It needs to be restated that Hamas alone is responsible for this conflict. As the Foreign Secretary tweeted,

“The death of any civilian is a tragedy. Palestinian or Israeli—Hamas is the cause of this loss”.

We support Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and take action against terrorism.

Sadly, experience indicates that whenever Israel is attacked, legitimate Israeli defensive measures are used by some as a pretext to stir up hatred against British Jews. Following hostilities between Hamas and Israel in 2021 and other flare-ups in recent years, multiple incidents were targeted at and designed to increase fear within the Jewish community. They included vandalism of Jewish businesses, desecration of memorials and religious sites, physical and verbal abuse of Jews on the streets, convoys driving through Jewish neighbourhoods hurling anti-Semitic abuse, and proliferation of anti-Semitism online. There is an obvious risk that this pattern will be repeated during the current conflict. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that that is already the case.

The Government have been clear that we will not tolerate anti-Semitism, and the Prime Minister has announced an additional £3 million for the Community Security Trust to protect schools, synagogues and other Jewish community buildings. Unfortunately, extremist exploitation of conflicts involving Israel is something with which we are all now too familiar. Escalations in extremist rhetoric, both online and offline, are likely to continue to raise tensions and fear within communities, so we must also be alive to the risk that this has the potential to radicalise and exploit those susceptible to Islamist or extreme right-wing narratives.

I am sorry to interrupt; I meant to include something else in my remarks. What the Minister is saying is very helpful. Can he comment—as far as he is able to—on the Home Secretary’s meeting with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police regarding how existing laws may be used with respect to what we have seen on our streets?

As on previous occasions, there are likely to be Prevent referrals related directly to this conflict and from across the ideological spectrum. In direct answer to the noble Lord’s question about whether the Government are thinking about this, guidance has been issued on the appropriate thresholds. We have written to partners to ensure that they are aware of the escalating risks and that there is appropriate management of their Channel intervention programme case loads. Community tensions and the appropriate responses will be nuanced in each area. Prevent is continuing to work closely and intensively with local authorities and other partners, including DfE, DLUHC and CTP, to spot local risks and bolster community resilience, including encouraging interfaith dialogue.

On the Home Secretary’s meeting with Sir Mark, I was not there so I cannot give any personal reflections on what was discussed. Of course, I have seen what was in the papers with regard to Sir Mark’s cause. We are working with the police to ensure that hate crime and the glorification of terror are met with the full force of the law. Hamas is a proscribed organisation responsible for the biggest massacre of the Jewish people in one day since the Holocaust—we should not forget that. Support for it is a criminal act which carries up to 14 years in prison. The DfE’s counterextremism team is actively gathering from media sources and contributions from the CST information on claims of student group support for Hamas, and we are collaborating with the Office for Students to ensure the exchange of information regarding compliance-related issues, particularly those related to Prevent duties, and to address concerns about preventing unlawful speech on campus. It would be unwise of me to speculate on Sir Mark’s specific comments, but a raft of laws is already available to the police.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me about the number of recommendations in the Shawcross report. We have completed 15 of the 34 recommendations and 83 of the 120 tasks, but, as I said in my opening remarks, the Government have accepted all the recommendations of the independent review. We expect to have implemented at least 29 of the 34 within a year of publication—February next year—and the rest shortly thereafter. I am afraid that I do not know which five we will have to wait for.

The Prevent duty guidance supports several of the recommendations we have implemented, and we have introduced the new security threat check to ensure that decision-making is always informed by a proper consideration of the current threat picture. Updated training has been provided for public sector staff subject to the Prevent duty, and a further update on the implementation of the independent review of Prevent will be delivered one year after publication, in February 2024, when the majority of the recommendations will already have been implemented.

The noble Lord raised the subject of young people and what we are doing for them. One in 15 cases involves people under the age of 18, so protecting children from the risk of radicalisation sits alongside wider safeguarding duties, including tackling harms such as drugs, gangs and sexual exploitation. Prevent seeks to intervene early to support children and young people before they go too far down a road towards violence and criminality. It is not about punishment, making people suspects or placing them under surveillance, and it is not designed to impede a person’s prospects; it is designed to improve them. In line with previous statistics, we continue to see an upward trend in young people being referred to Prevent, demonstrating how vital the education sector is as part of the wider safeguarding duties to prevent young people being radicalised. The Government provide a range of support, including guidance, online training and a public-facing website to support schools in their responsibilities under the Prevent duty.

As the threat of radicalisation evolves, we have updated our training for front-line professionals to help equip them with the skills and knowledge to spot the signs of radicalisation and make a referral where appropriate. Prevent is implemented in a proportionate manner that considers the level of risk, and the Government take the threat from all forms of terrorism seriously. All referrals are assessed very carefully by experts to ensure that there is a radicalisation risk before they receive support through the Channel process, meaning that Channel provides support only to those who genuinely need it. Friends and family are often the first people to notice the changes in someone close to them that may be a sign of radicalisation, so more information is available on the police’s ACT Early website and the Educate Against Hate website. I hope that goes some way to answering the noble Lord’s questions.

The noble Lord also asked me about the fact that four out of nine incidents since 2018 have involved released prisoners. HMIC’s report recognises the significant steps taken by the sector to uplift our capabilities since the attacks of 2019-20. It shows that we have truly stepped up our counterterrorism efforts and that we are working more effectively than ever before to protect the public from terrorism, thanks to the joint work of prison, probation and police staff. The central intelligence hub co-ordinates quicker and better intelligence sharing, vastly improving our assessment of the threat from terrorists of all ideologies. Thanks to that, we can now share previously confidential and sensitive information with parole boards, so that they can make fully informed decisions about whether to release terrorist offenders from prison. On release, terrorist and terrorist-risk offenders are subject to robust risk management and stringent controls that severely limit their activity. Finally, we have also strengthened joint counterterrorism Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements—MAPPA—which assess, manage and mitigate the risk of offenders.

The noble Lord is right that Prevent is only one part of the broader counterterrorism strategy. The report set out a robust approach to tackling extremism and made a significant contribution to the Government’s thinking on counterextremism, including a manifesto commitment to protect practitioners who stand up to extremists. We have carefully considered the recommendations, as outlined in our letter to Dame Sara Khan, the previous commissioner for countering extremism, and they have made a significant contribution to the Government’s thinking on tackling extremism. We have clear laws, and the police have extensive powers to tackle hate crime and the support of terrorism. In addition, we have strengthened the Prevent duty guidance to tackle permissive spaces for radicalisation, which is with Parliament for approval. We have also strengthened our approach to identifying and disrupting high- harm groups that operate below legal thresholds that radicalise others. So, we have robust laws in place on terrorist organisations and we are doing more to tackle radicalisation.

On 18 July, the Home Secretary launched Contest 2023, which is a refresh of the UK’s counterterrorism strategy. Contest 2023 outlines how we are reflecting on and adapting to the findings and recommendations of inquests, inquiries and reviews into terrorist attacks and our counterterrorism approach, and will continue to do so. It also describes the transformational updates we will make to our CT efforts to ensure that we adapt to an ever-evolving landscape.

The noble Lord asked about the ministerial oversight board. We agreed with the IRP’s assertion that that there is a need for stronger oversight of Prevent, including greater co-ordination and communication between secondary oversight boards and committees, so we committed to reinvigorate the prime ministerial oversight board. The refreshed ministerial oversight board will be chaired by the Security Minister and will begin convening later this year. The board will be attended by Ministers from key cross-Whitehall departments and senior leads from operational partners. The purpose of the board is to provide scrutiny and oversight of all Prevent work, including implementation of the IRP’s recommendations. The board will convene for the first time later this year and be chaired by the Security Minister. It is meant to meet biannually but can be convened outside that rhythm if required.

I am getting towards the end, and I apologise for the length of my response. The noble Lord asked me what action is being taken to tackle those who use artificial intelligence. The Contest strategy, which was published this year, noted that new technologies present both threats and opportunities for counterterrorism efforts. The impact of generative AI on terrorists’ and extremists’ ability to radicalise others online is yet to be fully established. The Home Office is firmly committed to understanding this risk better and to ensuring that any policy development in this area is thoroughly informed by evidence. We obviously know that bad actors could exploit generative AI to radicalise susceptible individuals to carry out attacks, so the Home Office is continually monitoring these risks to ensure that our CT system is able to respond.

AI also brings huge opportunities to better enable our counterterrorism response to terrorism activity and online radicalisation, so we are taking steps to build our knowledge of risks and to consider appropriate mitigations. That will include bringing together partners from across industry, academia and civil society. The Government are hosting an AI summit next week. The rapidly evolving nature of AI means that broad consultation will continue to be essential so that it can be guaranteed to advance in a safe, responsible and fair way.

I think I have answered all noble Lords’ questions, and I hope I have been able to do so satisfactorily. As I have set out, the new guidance will enhance the Prevent system and bolster our ability to counter terrorism and keep the country safe. I commend the instrument to the committee.

Motion agreed.

Alcohol Licensing (Coronavirus) (Regulatory Easements) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Alcohol Licensing (Coronavirus) (Regulatory Easements) (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 53rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument).

My Lords, these regulations, which were laid before the House on 11 September, contain measures that are intended to continue to cut unnecessary red tape in order to support the hospitality sector in light of the ongoing residual effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As your Lordships may be aware, the Licensing Act 2003 enables licences to be granted to sell alcohol for consumption on site, for consumption off site, or for both. In the event that a business obtains an on-sales only licence and subsequently wishes also to do off-sales, it can apply to its licensing authority for a variation that would add off-sales to its licence.

The Business and Planning Act 2020 included a temporary provision that meant holders of licences that covered only on-sales would automatically be entitled to make off-sales, removing the need for businesses to apply for a variation, thus saving them time and money. In practice, this has enabled pubs and restaurants that have only an on-sales licence to sell alcohol for takeaway, to operate alcohol delivery services and to extend their service outdoors. Specifically, the measures have enabled businesses to serve alcohol in the area covered by any pavement licence they had, facilitated by a parallel but independent easement to pavement licensing. This parallel easement created a temporary streamlined process to apply for and have granted a pavement licence. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, currently completing its passage through Parliament, will make the changes to pavement licensing permanent.

The off-sales provision has benefited at least 38,000 licensed premises in England and Wales that previously did not have an off-sales licence, and, having previously been extended twice, it was due to expire on 30 September 2023. These new regulations extend this measure until 31 March 2025 to ensure that businesses will continue to benefit from these provisions for a further 18 months. During this time, the Government will explore the creation of a unified pavement licence that includes the consumption and sale of alcohol in the outside pavement area. Work is already under way to establish how this will work in practice. We intend to have permanent arrangements in place that can take effect when the extension expires.

I am confident that extending the off-sales provision is the right course of action in order to provide vital ongoing support to the hospitality sector. Although the immediate Covid-19 crisis has passed, the residual effects continue to have an immense impact, especially for businesses in the hospitality sector. Many continue to face high levels of Covid-related debt, with some reporting in July that their debt repayments exceeded 100% of their turnover.

For the purposes of clarity, I note that another regulatory easement set out in the BPA relating to temporary event notices—TENs—will not be extended. The provision temporarily increased the annual number of TENs that a licensed premises user can have in respect of a premises from 15 to 20 per year and increased the maximum number of days on which temporary events may be held at such premises from 21 to 26 per year. We have decided not to extend this easement for the simple reason that the additional TENs provided for in the BPA have been underutilised and are no longer deemed necessary. As such, on 31 December 2023 that easement will lapse.

These measures will continue to benefit a wide range of businesses, including pubs, restaurants, wedding venues and small festivals. The hospitality industry needs our support, so I commend these regulations to the Committee and beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing these regulations and I declare my interests as set out in the register. I rise briefly to add my support to my noble friend and this measure, and to thank the Government for the support given to the hospitality industry over the last few difficult years.

Personally, I am a supporter of these provisions becoming permanent, and I hope that will come, but in the meantime, I am happy that these regulations will bring 18 additional months of advantage to hard-working, tax-revenue-paying businesses. This extension enables businesses to continue to serve alcohol in the area covered by a pavement licence, for takeaway and for delivery, as my noble friend said, all without the need to apply for a variation to their licence. I am confident that this will continue to benefit thousands of licensed premises across England and Wales. I also applaud the Government’s commitment to explore the creation of a unified pavement licence that includes the consumption and sale of alcohol in the outside pavement area.

In the middle of one of the most joyless events known to mankind—“Sober October”—it is heartening to see some positive news for the hospitality industry. Clearly, the UK’s unelected temperance movement has decided that “Dry January” is no longer enough and wishes to spread even more misery. As far as I am aware, the National Police Chiefs’ Council said that, when the regulations were first introduced and then extended, no increase in crime and disorder resulted. That shows that most people—the vast majority—can enjoy a modest drink without incident.

We know the hospitality sector has taken a huge hit in recent times; although recovering, there is still a way to go for the industry to get back on its pre-pandemic feet. The instrument, as extended today, has helped and will continue to help businesses diversify. Figures reveal that 383 pubs closed in the initial half of this year, to be demolished or converted, the equivalent of two every day. In the whole of 2022, 386 such venues ceased to exist. The overall number of pubs in England and Wales, including vacant ones, now stands at 39,404. The total number of closed clubs is currently not known but the social club sector has seen a number of closures, although not on the same scale.

The reasoning is clear. Let us continue to make things easier and give opportunities to businesses to survive and thrive—positives which we know trickle down to employed staff and to customers who still enjoy socialising. Let us also remind ourselves that, when the Licensing Act was passed in 2003 and introduced in 2005, it was hailed as a means to help create a café society, something which is more easily achieved with the ability to drink al fresco.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harm. I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has introduced these regulations and welcome that temporary event notices will not be continued.

I will focus on the impact of easement, because different health and crime risks are associated with on-sales and off-sales. There is evidence from the Institute of Alcohol Studies that, while on-sales were not happening because of Covid, sadly, the incidence of alcohol-related violence did not drop. There is a link with off-sales. In licence hearings, responsible authorities and interested parties often present evidence of off-sales being a contributory factor in crime and anti-social behaviour.

There are four licensing objectives, which we need to remember: the prevention of crime and disorder; the protection of public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm. There is a concern that making the regulatory easements permanent could undermine local statements of licensing policy. How will responsible authorities and other parties be able to make representations regarding the suitability of the extension and how will any data be collected?

One of the problems with alcohol availability is that it plays a key role in being the biggest risk factor for death, ill health and disability among 15 to 49 year-olds—young people with their lives ahead of them. The density of licensed premises is correlated with alcohol-related deaths, hospital admissions and neighbourhood deprivation. In Scotland, research found that neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets had crime rates over four times higher than those with the least. Public health and licensing have to be linked, and there is overwhelming support from directors of public health for them to be included in discussions of licensing. How will they be included, to allow local authorities to make decisions in the overall interest of their community, not only of the landlord of the pub?

How will all this be monitored before the next deadline date? The balance of sales of food and drink in pubs and other places of hospitality and the social interaction that is important for a community to have somewhere to go, meet and interact does not happen with off-sales to anything like the same extent. A lot of lone drinking, which is really harmful in society, is linked to off-sales.

I hope the Government will follow the advice that came from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee:

“The Government intend to use this 18-month extension to formulate and bring forward a long-term policy in the area. When doing so, we”—

that is, the committee—

“expect the Government to provide Parliament with a more robust evidence base, including addressing concerns put forward in the consultation”.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister and support him in bringing forward these regulations. I share my noble friend Lord Smith’s ambition that we might eventually have a permanent pavement licence. I declare my interest at the outset as chairman of the original committee on the review of the Licensing Act 2003, of which my noble friends Lord Smith and Lord Hayward were leading lights. I also had the privilege to chair the follow-up inquiry, which was instigated by the Deputy Speaker and the Liaison Committee. I also have the privilege of chairing PASS, the national proof of age standard scheme.

I have a couple of questions for my noble friend the Minister. In its helpful briefing, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee indicates at paragraph 13 that the Government are probably underestimating the benefits to the economy, the hospitality sector and employment of the extension of pavement licensing, which promotes the possibility for businesses to know with certainty that they will be able to have that licence until the end of March 2025, as my noble friend said. Does he accept that the lack of reliable data points to the Government being very conservative and underestimating the potential for higher employment and increased outside socialising?

I hope the regulations will lead to the café culture that lay behind the original philosophy of the 2003 Act. However, conflicts could arise where residential developments are built adjacent to existing premises that have a well-developed business model with outside pavement licensing. Equally, there could be an application for a new business adjacent to a residential area.

In earlier proceedings on the levelling-up Bill, a number of us who served on the licensing review committee brought forward an amendment to introduce the agent of change principle. Might my noble friend open the door to considering developing that principle in his discussions in the department? It would go a long way to resolving some of these difficulties at the earliest possible stage.

With those few remarks, I wish my noble friend every success with these regulations.

My Lords, I too support the regulations. Indeed, I hope they are put on a permanent basis, as my noble friend the Minister suggested. I agree with the suggestion that the review should take due account of the effect on people in the vicinity, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on the public health issues she outlined.

I have given notice to the Minister of the point I am going to raise, because it is on the broader canvas of the effect of Covid and regulations post-pandemic, as we now see off the dreadful pandemic period. Many of us will recall that during the pandemic itself, we were able to deal with certain things in a very effective way, which gave rise to a warm glow of satisfaction. I am thinking particularly of rough sleeping, which disappeared in a way that many of us found both stunning and encouraging. Sadly, it is now of course creeping back. Have the Government given any thought as to how this can be reversed?

Another feature of the pandemic that we all recall was that, all of a sudden, there was a host of very willing, not to say enthusiastic, volunteers who came forward to help with the vaccination programme. What happened to these people? We do not want to lose that well of good will post-pandemic, and we are in danger of doing so if we do not think of ways to use that very beneficial aspect of the pandemic to good effect.

I will briefly mention one area which I think the Government are neutral on, although at times they seem to be somewhat against it: the change in working patterns. Many people, understandably, are now working more from home. Ministers have sometimes indicated that that is not a good thing. Regardless of whether it is good or bad, the data suggests it is happening, and that will have an effect on communities and their retail aspect, which is another element. In short, I am looking for some reassurance that the Government are considering these issues and that they will consider having a debate, so we can all participate in a discussion of them. I leave to one side the health issues, which I know are being looked at in the Covid-19 inquiry. But there are many other issues as well, which I hope can be addressed.

With that, I am certainly in favour of these regulations, which strike me as very sensible.

My Lords, I express similar support for the regulations and hope that when the final review is completed in March 2025, we move to a more permanent system of operation. I particularly welcome the support the Prime Minister gave to the extension while these issues were being considered.

I begin by pointing out that I was previously Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association and sat on the other side of negotiations with the Government about the changes of the Licensing Act. I had many a discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about not only licensing matters but security matters, which is relevant to the previous debate. I remember sitting discussing such matters with him when the bombing of late-night establishments was attempted.

I want to raise an issue that relates to temporary event notices, and which is not specifically covered by this legislation but arose earlier this summer in the context of the Lionesses’ success in the football World Cup. We should have considered this issue during consideration of the 2003 legislation. I, with others, led the application before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, to change the interpretation of the law in 2002, when the men’s football World Cup was played in Japan and South Korea. He very sensibly said: “My original judgment was X. I now see that the circumstances have changed”, and the nation was allowed extended drinking hours for the period of the 2002 World Cup. Unfortunately, due to an oversight, the only way that temporary event notices can be extended is with the approval of Parliament. Of course, while the Lionesses were playing Parliament was not sitting, so there was no way that any temporary provision could officially be made. Fortunately, I think in most circumstances the police authorities and local councils were sensible in their application of the intended law.

Although it is outwith the purview of these regulations, when the Minister and his officials review the legislation in question, will they give consideration to circumstances which may arise when Parliament is not sitting, so that temporary event notices can easily be granted in some form or another, without the problems that arose this summer? Otherwise, I wholeheartedly support the regulations as they stand.

My Lords, I also declare an interest—this seems to be the “old hands” thing—having been on the Front-Bench team which debated the original Bill in 2003. Since coming back to this issue, the concerns on both sides have not changed: alcohol, when misused, damages public health and leads to disorder and other things. But traditionally, it is our drug of choice—if you like to put it like that—and the one we use to relax in our society; it is the accepted norm. What is the best way of regulating it and making sure that it is used correctly? We also have a hospitability sector linked to it.

When I read the draft regulations, I was surprised to discover that we still have a coronavirus extension for the hospitability sector, although that makes sense when you run through what has gone on. The overall review of how this will be handled and organised in the future is the important thing—it is the elephant in the room, which is at least opaque at this point time; it is not exactly invisible. When I worked on the original legislation, I discovered that sports clubs did not have the same sort of licensing structure as pubs; they had to be dealt with separately and had been overlooked initially. I suppose that I should declare an incredibly minor interest as a non-playing member of my old rugby club.

If we are going to make this process more coherent, these regulations make some sense. But the points about off-sales and private drinking often leading to domestic violence and more health damage are also important. How will that balance be achieved in the review? That is very important. It is better to have outside control, such as when a barman or manager can literally say to somebody, “You have had too much to drink”. Surely it is preferable to have outside control and influence on somebody, rather than their sitting at home and quietly drinking themselves into oblivion and then occasionally interacting with anybody who tries to interfere with that. What is the Government’s thinking on that? Can they say a few words about that process, what is going on and their input into it? Every time we have discussed alcohol sales, those are the two things we have been trying to balance. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some idea.

To be honest, the outcome on this has a degree of cross-party support; it is not the most political of issues, but people will make ridiculous speeches, usually ranting about a problem after it has been dealt with. There is a constant balancing act. It would be helpful to the House as a whole if we could get some guidance on the Government’s thinking—and indeed that of the Labour Benches, because, let us face it, the reality means that this may well be their problem in about a year’s time.

My Lords, I say at the outset that we are not opposed to the SI, but I have a few comments to make.

We cannot gloss over the fact—I will come back to why—that, according to paragraph 10.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum, the majority of people who responded to the public consultation opposed what the Government are seeking to do and said that we should return to the pre-Covid situation. I started by saying that we are not opposed to the Government’s proposals, but we have to address the fact that, while many of us have said that we support the extension of temporary licensing—although this is the third extension—65% of those who responded to the public consultation opposed it. The Government will probably say, as is usually said, that it was a very small sample and not properly reflective of public opinion; none the less, it is important for the Minister to address that.

The reason is that, frankly, the Government’s presentation of this was not as good as it might have been. Since we are in a conciliatory mood, let us say that it could have been better. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee report is a shocking indictment of the way the Government introduced what is, by and large, an uncontroversial measure. Looking at the public consultation, the Government did not lay out in great detail the problems that were affecting the hospitality industry and why it was therefore necessary for them to continue with the temporary licensing.

I was astonished; I did not realise until I read it, but this was published only as a result of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee saying to the Government, “You haven’t said why you’re going to do this”, and the Government then sending it a letter saying, “By the way, industry survey data shows that the hospitality sector emerged from the pandemic with £10 billion of Covid-related debt”—as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, reminded us. You cannot just ignore that. It goes on to talk about the percentage of people affected, that one in seven hospitality businesses is still operating at a loss, and so on. Why was that not included in the original justification for the instrument?

As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, the impact assessment did not mention the benefits—of employment, social interaction and so on. If you are trying to justify a piece of secondary legislation, why would you not talk about the reasons you are doing it—the adverse impact there would be if you did not do it and its benefits—when all this information is available in the Home Office? Clearly, the Government have to do something about this; it is just not good enough. Their legislation will be impacted, not because it is philosophically wrong but because they cannot get their act together to put out the decent facts to support their case, even though they exist.

I say gently to the Minister that perhaps this needs to be looked at. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that, if we are in government in a year’s time and I have any responsibility, in putting forward a piece of legislation I will do the novel thing of saying why it is a good idea and giving the facts to support that, including the benefits to the community from doing so.

As I joke sometimes with other noble Lords, I am sure that if I do not do it, my comments will be read back to me.

This is important to numerous people’s livelihoods. I will spend a minute or two on that, because it is a serious matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, reminded us, this is about significant numbers of businesses generating significant amounts of money on which significant employment depends. The noble Lord, Lord Hayward, reminded me of the work we did together. It is a really important industry, not to mention the social benefits that it brings.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, was quite right to highlight the concerns. That is why, by March 2025, there needs to be a proper unified licensing regime that identifies and deals with all this and looks at the problems that she mentioned. To start the debate, I do not think the problem is with off-sales from pubs and restaurants. Anti-social behaviour and the problem drinking associated with it usually come from off-sales from small corner shops and so on. In my experience, anti-social behaviour from young people comes from corner-shop sales. That is a sweeping generalisation—the vast majority of corner shops are well run—but the pricing and so on are issues. That is really important.

Another thing that needs tackling—I wonder whether the Minister can say a little more about it—has been highlighted by members of the committee. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that there is no information about what the responses to the consultation said or who was in support. So 65% were opposed and 35% were in favour—who were they? If the Local Government Association and the National Police Chiefs’ Council were part of that 35%, that is a pretty significant thing to highlight in the report. Can the Minister say a little about who responded and what the views of the police, local authorities and other significant bodies were with respect to this?

I have one other point. These regulations relate to England and Wales. In the various extensions that have happened, have any problems occurred on the England/Scotland border? For those who follow these matters, that is not an insignificant question where licensing laws differ within a small geographical space, as we probably all know. Did any consultation take into account the Scottish local authorities along the England/Scotland border?

We do not oppose these regulations on the extension, but they raise a number of questions about how the Government introduce legislation. The shoddy way this was done undermines their case in doing something that, as the Minister can see from the Committee, has cross-party support. The country deserves better and to understand why things are being done. I hope that, in the run-up to deciding whether this third temporary extension until March 2025 becomes permanent, there will be widespread public consultation which takes into account the various views there will be. Some clarification around things such as pavement licences—what area they refer to and so on—would be welcomed by all those who work in the industry and others. With that, we will not oppose the regulations.

I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I am pleased that this measure, which ensures continued support for the hospitality sector, has been generally recognised as a positive move. I reassure my noble friend Lord Smith that I have no intention of embracing sober October, and I will happily join him in that.

As I have already indicated, the long-term goal is to create a unified pavement licence that includes licensing consent for the consumption and sale of alcohol in an outside pavement area. This 18-month extension will provide the time necessary to establish how this will work in practice to bring about the necessary legislative changes.

I will try to respond to the specific questions, starting with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about the consultation. Earlier this year, the Government consulted on whether to make permanent the alcohol licensing regulatory easements that were set out in the BPA 2020. A majority of respondents indicated that they did not wish the off-sales easement to continue and the Government initially decided not to continue with it. Of those who responded, broadly speaking, industry was in favour and local residents and licensing were not. However, I do not have the precise proportions. The Government later reviewed this decision and decided to provide additional support to the hospitality sector by extending this off-sale provision for a further 18 months. I recognise that this has caused confusion for stakeholders, but it will ensure that the hospitality sector can maximise every opportunity to recover fully from the ongoing residual effects of the pandemic on an industry that, as has been broadly noted, is vital to our economy and culture. I will come back to the evidence of the economic impact shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, talked about the broader health evidence that we need to seek. She made some very interesting and sound points about health, but we believe that the existing provisions to consider health matters in relation to licensing applications are sufficient at present. Difficulties remain in establishing direct links, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, alluded, between alcohol-related harms and specific premises. Evidence from Scotland so far is not particularly compelling, but we will consider any new evidence. As a general rule, directors of public health are responsible authorities under the Licensing Act.

I go back to the confusion that may have been caused between the publication of the consultation results and the decision to extend the provisions. We apologise for that confusion—I completely accept that it was not ideal. However, it is right that we considered all the relevant factors in detail, and we are confident that extending this easement for an additional 18 months represents the best outcome for the industry. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked what the point of consulting is if we just ignore the results; I think there is a legitimate expectation that government will consult on matters of policy or legislative change to allow interested parties and citizens the opportunity to contribute their views. They are a vital part of how government engages with the public and stakeholders, and we have to acknowledge the role they play in decision-making. However, they are only one factor among many that must be considered and it is important that the Government retain the ability to make different decisions where other concerns need to be taken into account. The Government have the luxury of seeing the bigger picture, which local residents who object perhaps do not.

My noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lord Smith and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made some very good points about the importance of the hospitality sector to the country and the difficulties it is facing. It continues to feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic; there are no remaining restrictions in place, but many businesses continue to face significant debt burdens, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, as a result of the pandemic. Industry survey data shows that the hospitality sector emerged from the pandemic with, as has been noted, £10 billion of Covid-related debt. ONS data shows that 6.6% of hospitality firms reported that their debt repayments exceeded 100% of their turnover in July 2023, which is above the economy-wide average of 1.9% and up from 5.1% in May 2023.

Operating costs reached record levels in 2021 at 55.2%, compared with 52.5% pre pandemic. Industry data suggests that, while turnover was up 6.7% in the last year to £137 billion, when compared to 2019 it remains almost 20% behind in real terms when accounting for inflation. Following the withdrawal of Covid-related government support in autumn 2021, the number of hospitality business insolvencies has steadily risen, as my noble friend Lord Smith noted. According to Insolvency Service data, hospitality insolvencies in the six months to July 2023 were 58% higher than the 2019 average, as cost pressures place significant demand on profit margins. I think that makes a clear economic case for the reasons and rationale behind doing this now.

A number of noble Lords asked about our long-term plans and ultimate goal, which is to create a unified pavement licence that includes licensing consent for the consumption and sale of alcohol in the outside pavement area. The Home Office is working on a permanent solution in conjunction with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which is responsible for pavement licensing. While related to these regulations, this is ultimately a separate issue that will be worked through over the coming months. I hope that noble Lords will understand that I cannot discuss that work in any detail at the moment, but I very much noted what my noble friend Lord Hayward said about the experience of the Lionesses and will make sure that that is passed back, in particular what he was saying about how common sense prevailed.

My noble friend also mentioned licensing extensions in relation to that situation. As he noted, extensions of licensing hours support communities who wish to come together to celebrate events, particularly those of national importance, by enabling hospitality venues to open for longer. We are looking at how best to streamline that process for such extensions and will continue to do so.

I understand that any relaxation of licensing law naturally results in concerns about potential crime and disorder, but I can provide your Lordships with considerable reassurance on this point. We have consulted the National Police Chiefs’ Council about the effects that the temporary off-sales permission has had. The view of the police is that the temporary off-sales permission has not caused any clearly identifiable increase in crime and disorder.

On concerns raised about premises whose irresponsible approach to off-sales leads to anti-social behaviour, I refer the Committee to Section 76 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which provides councils and policing with powers to issue a closure notice if there are reasonable grounds that

“use of a particular premises has resulted, or … is likely … to result, in nuisance to members of the public, or that there has been, or … is likely soon to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of the premises, and that the notice is necessary to prevent the nuisance or disorder from continuing, recurring or occurring”.

I hope that answers the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about crime and the powers that are already available to have an effect on the grant of these types of licence.

Concerns were also voiced about the off-sales permission leading to excessive noise late at night. The temporary off-sales permission is limited to the hours of on-sales permitted by the licence, with the cut-off at 11 pm. That applies to all premises that receive the permission. Furthermore, should issues of noise and nuisance arise from off-sales of alcohol, environmental health officials can seek an expedited off-sales review. Within 48 hours of an application for such a review being made, the licensing authority must consider whether interim steps are necessary to prevent further problems. Those interim steps may modify the licence conditions, suspend the off-sales permission or exclude the off-sales permission altogether. A review hearing within 28 days has the same option. So there are plenty of safeguards that are sufficient to ensure that problems of noise and nuisance are quickly tackled.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked me about broader work to tackle alcohol-related harms. Preventing alcohol-related harms requires a sustained commitment from across government, but also from local authorities, the police, health partners—to which I have already referred—and, of course, businesses. There really is no easy answer to tackling alcohol-related harms. Every part of the system, from early intervention to brief advice, treatment and access to criminal justice powers, has to work together. We have an ambitious programme of work in train across departments to tackle these harms and I am sure that we will respond to them in due course.

My noble friend Lord Bourne raised some very good points in his question about the lessons learned more broadly from Covid. I am not in a position to guarantee him the debate that he seeks, although I think it is a very good idea, but I point to the way things are changing at pace. I happened to read an interesting article in the Times this morning, which talked about working from home and how, apparently, a majority are now working back in their offices— I believe that that was from Hays, the employment agency. That should be good news for the sort of hospitality services that we are talking about, but I accept and respect the point he made about the fact that society changed in many ways that we ought to spend more time considering, particularly regarding the overall volunteering principle and the civic responsibilities that so many people embraced. Those were good points and we should return to them.

I have spoken enough and answered as many questions as I can. I cannot make any commitment on the agent of change principle, which my noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about, but it is a broad-ranging consultation and work is being done across government on it. I have no doubt at all that it will be considered.

As I said, the hospitality industry is at the heart of many of our communities. It is vital to our economy, as evidenced by the numbers I read, provides employment and boosts tourism. We have to do all we can to ensure it recovers from the effects of the pandemic. The modest extension will allow businesses to continue to benefit from these measures while steps are taken to put in place a long-term solution. I hope that will meet the needs of all interested parties. Therefore, I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Dormant Assets (Distribution of Money) (England) Order 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, I am pleased to move this order, which was laid before the House in draft on 11 September. The order names community wealth funds as a cause to receive dormant assets money, in addition to the existing three causes in the dormant assets scheme: youth, financial inclusion and social investment wholesalers.

To explain why the order is being made and a new cause is being included in the scheme, it may be helpful if I outline the background. Led by the financial services industry and backed by the Government, the dormant assets scheme is a brilliant example of what can be achieved when the public and private sectors come together to address some of the biggest challenges facing people in this country. The scheme’s priority is always to ensure that customers are protected and able to reclaim what they are owed. Where the asset owner cannot be found, the scheme has allowed hundreds of millions of pounds that have been lying idle to be used to support important social and environmental causes across the UK.

Since it began over a decade ago, the scheme has unlocked almost £1 billion to be spent across the United Kingdom. In England, this has sought to address the barriers that young people from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds face when trying to gain employment. I am pleased to say that over 22,000 young people across the country have been supported to find meaningful work, thanks to the scheme. It has also supported 150,000 people with no-interest loans totalling over £150 million. This has kept honest and hard-working people out of the clutches of dangerous and manipulative loan sharks and saved them over £50 million in interest payments, ensuring that those who are financially excluded are given a hand up to get back on track.

The scheme has also helped to scale up the social investment market by more than tenfold, giving 5,000 organisations such as charities and social enterprises the investment needed to ensure they can continue to serve the communities and people who need it most. Soon dormant assets funding will also be about supporting communities across the country, placing decision-making into the hands of local residents to enable them to invest in what matters most to them and in a way that works best for their community.

Last year, I had the pleasure of leading what is now the Dormant Assets Act through your Lordships’ House in its final stages. It is thanks to the passage of this legislation that the Government were able to give people and participants in the scheme a voice in deciding how we should use dormant assets funding in England. Last year’s public consultation made it clear that the scheme enjoys widespread support from the public, and it is wonderful to see how this unique policy is bringing people and organisations together.

This order makes good on the Government’s commitment that the scheme will support the four causes that people told us matter most to them. By supporting youth, financial inclusion and education, social investment wholesalers and community wealth funds, we can ensure that the scheme is capable of delivering meaningful change for the next decade and beyond, providing support for those who need it most across the country. I commend the order to the Grand Committee and beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting this instrument, which is subject to affirmative approval. I declare an interest as a member of your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

I welcome the use of dormant funds, particularly being ploughed back into local communities for the benefit of those communities. When I was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive several years ago, we set up an arrangement for dormant funds there. It took about 12 years to be realised for investment in local communities, but there is no doubt that they provide that added resource when other resources may not be available to underpin community initiatives.

Thanks to the pioneering investment of dormant assets over the last decade and the work of organisations such as Big Society Capital, Access—the Foundation for Social Investment—and many others, social investment in the UK has grown more than tenfold in 10 years, with £9.4 billion invested into charities and social enterprises. This includes £1.8 billion committed to social enterprises and charities in 2022 alone, which has gone into over 1,310 projects delivering measurable social impact such as affordable homes, community food banks and tech start-ups tackling mental health.

There is no doubt, and we have all seen examples, that social investment has had a transformative effect on communities most in need. Around 43% of social investment deals have gone to levelling up priority 1 areas. Perhaps that is one area where levelling up has worked. But the next wave of dormant assets—I think the Minister was referring to that in talking about the initial legislation and this subsequent legislation on community wealth funds—will build on these foundations and take social investment further. A group of leading social enterprise, voluntary sector and social investment organisations have mapped out a plan for how best to do it. Known as the community enterprise growth plan, it proposes using dormant assets to deliver three proven interventions. Only yesterday, I talked to one of those organisations, and they have exciting initiatives for local communities through the investment of this resource.

There is no doubt that this plan has a number of benefits. It is a proposal to create jobs, boost growth and address regional inequalities, targeting communities affected by long-term economic decline. The plan uses existing systems, which would allow capital to begin flowing quickly and deliver results. Crucially, through social investment, the money invested is repaid and recycled, enabling funds to be used again and again to grow future support.

I am well aware that the Minister brought the initial legislation through your Lordships’ House, but I would like to be assured, as I am sure other noble Lords present would, that the dormant assets fund can continue into perpetuity for whatever that perpetuity means, because it brings much-needed benefits alongside government and other community resources. I would like to see it continue and to receive assurances to that effect.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on bringing this proposal forward. As my noble friend pointed out, we discussed it in the final knockings of the Dormant Assets Bill on 9 February 2022, nearly two years ago. I thank my noble friend for adding community wealth funds to the list of bodies which can receive distributions from the dormant assets fund.

I will add a quick word on why I think community wealth funds are so important. Some noble Lords may recall that about 10 years ago I was asked by the Government to undertake an official review of the Charities Act 2006. That Act was the biggest change in charity law since the Elizabethan statute of 1601, so 400 years of history were wrapped up in a new Bill. There was concern on all sides of the House and in the sector as to how matters would work out, so we needed a review to see how the new system was settling down.

Assisted by a terrific team from the Cabinet Office, we undertook visits around the country, which were interesting in two senses. First, you saw just how much could be done by really small groups of men and women dedicated to their community and the area where they lived; they were small, passionate, hard-working and deserving of support. Secondly, you saw the very different levels of social capital around the country. After we had a session in the south-east of England, we had to have a second, because so many people wanted to come to the first, but we could not fit them all in—but it was not quite the same in Newcastle, where there were much smaller numbers. It seemed to me then that community wealth funds could hit both those targets: they could help to level up social capital in different parts and they could reach in and get to those small groups of men and women who are doing interesting things in tune with their communities.

Those two factors bring their challenges. The first is the distance between the distributor of the funds and the recipient. I shall use an aeronautical analogy: the distributors of the funds are flying at 30,000 feet, while the people I am talking about are hedge-hopping at 100 feet, because they have to be right down at the grass roots. So Big Society Capital is brilliant—I have not a word of criticism about it—but its handouts are in the tens of millions and its access grants are in the tens of thousands. We will have to find a way to make sure that there are plenty of intermediate layers so that what leaves the big groups at the top trickles all the way down and reaches the really small organisations in this new regime—because, with community wealth funds, they will be really small organisations. We must also find new little acorns, which may grow well, and not fall back, as is too often the case, on the usual suspects. That will be the challenge for the structure going forward for this important decision.

There are some challenges for the sector, which are worthwhile putting on the record today. There is now a pot of money—as David Jason used to say in “Only Fools and Horses”, “lovely jubbly”—but there will be some hard decisions to be made on what to support and what not to support and, even more painfully and hard, when to stop supporting something because it is not providing the answer to the question or demand for which it was set up. That, in turn, will mean a second challenge to the sector. The weather in the charity sector is too often made not by the thousands of men and women doing their stuff and being successful but by the outliers—the crass, the illegal and the stupid who end up on the front page of the newspapers and therefore begin to bring the sector into less good odour. Therefore, on behalf of those Members of your Lordships’ House, most of whom are not here today but who spoke in favour of this from across all parties, I say: we are looking to the sector not to let us down. There was a degree of cynicism at times about whether these small organisations would be able to deliver, and I hope that they will prove those of us who went in to bat for them that our confidence was well placed.

That takes me to the next important point. Because you are small, it does not mean that you do not need to have your impact measured. Every charity has a public benefit objective, and the Charity Commission is supposed to ensure that you are meeting that and that you have a proper impact. It will be very important, with these small bodies, that we do not forget that, because the dormant assets fund and all the other providers of funding are entitled to have a level of confidence about what is going on. I hope that the Oversight Trust may have a role here. It is chaired by Sir Stuart Etherington, who was for many years chairman of the NCVO. I hate to say it like this, because Stuart Etherington is a good fellow, but he is—I say this as a compliment—a wily old fox, so he will be able to find out what is going on. I hope that he and his board will be able to dig into these sorts of things to make sure that we can have all confidence in what going on in this new sector.

I say in particular to my noble friend that when things become successful—and we are going to have some really successful things happening—the Government need to be very careful not to rush in. Victory has a thousand fathers. It will look wonderful and terrific things will be done in a particular part of the country where we want to show we are being successful. It is understandable, but it is dangerous, because we raise unrealisable expectations. Most of these organisations have a sense of purpose, and cloning them, saying that what we did in Newcastle we will do in Oldham, does not work. There is always a tendency to follow the easiest route without too much effort and with too much money. Camila Batmanghelidjh is an example. Kids Company was a terrific idea, but once she got £20 million from the Government it collapsed under its own weight, and a really good idea became discredited. The Government need to be careful that, when we have really good ideas, we do not overlay them.

I have spent most of my life helping commercial companies to develop. There are two dangerous stages. The first is that you have a couple of people who set something up; they get going, and then they get too big to look after themselves and have to delegate. Can they delegate? Do they know how to delegate? Will they delegate to people who will challenge them, or will they delegate only to yes men and yes women? That is when many fall apart. The second stage is when you start to get much bigger, particularly if you want to go international, where there are all sorts of cultural and other differences. I think we need to be careful where we have successes not to put too much weight on them.

I have given notice to my noble friend about my final question. It is about the reserve ratio on the fund. We discussed this at some length during the passage of the Dormant Assets Bill. For those who are not familiar with what I mean, you do not lose your dormant asset. If you come back and say, “Hang on, where’s my bank account?”, you get it back—so we cannot afford to hand out the whole dormant assets fund because people will come back. What happens is that, to begin with, you have to be quite cautious, because you do not understand what that is going to be like; but over a period of years you begin to get a feeling of the level of back claims you are going to receive.

In our discussion in Committee on the Bill, we felt that with the knowledge that we had of what the claims were likely to be, the reserving policy was too conservative. If you could reduce that, a great deal more money could be released to the worthy causes that on we all sides of the House all support. I understand that that is not an issue that my noble friend will have at his fingertips this afternoon, but it would be helpful if he could take it away, have a look at it, see whether we think the ratio is still appropriate and write to those of us who have participated in the debate this afternoon. I hope it will be possible to think about reducing it a bit and, in so doing, release a bit more money for the sector.

I conclude by thanking the Government for what they have done, in particular for including the community wealth fund, and wish the concept of the fund every success in future.

My Lords, I have been following the issue of dormant assets principally in relation to the 2022 Act. My concern has always been to emphasise that this is not free money; it is somebody’s money and out there there are people—some may no longer be around—and the primary objective of restoring the money should always be in our minds. That is why I have followed closely the progress of the Act and these regulations.

I have a few questions for the Minister. First, one of the main points of the Act was to include orphan pension assets. Does this order arise because of those additional assets, or is something still coming down the road? It would be useful to have some indication of the relationship between them. I make it clear that I do not oppose the order; my concern relates to the issue of additionality. What we always want is for this money to be doing things which would not otherwise be done, but which could—and should—be done by public authorities. By way of definition, the Explanatory Memorandum says that a community wealth fund

“will give local people the power to make decisions about how to improve their neighbourhood and community”.

That is where the issue of additionality becomes difficult to assess. Are these things which the local authority, central government or other bodies should be doing in any event? Can the Minister give us some assurances on the issue of additionality?

On the question of restoring the money to the individuals who really own it, during the passage of the Act there was some discussion of the pensions dashboard. It has got bogged down and is taking much longer to appear than anticipated, but it illustrates the complexity and difficulties as to what priority the Government are prepared to give to the restoration of assets to their real owners, rather than to the orphan assets fund. Is this issue being discussed, either generally or in the context of this order?

Finally, what responsibility do the Government have? What supervision do they employ over how this money is being used? Do they just hand it over, wave it goodbye and feel they no longer have any further responsibility; or do they accept responsibility, despite the advisory bodies and the contracts they have with the bodies that distribute the money? What responsibility do the Government accept for overseeing this money? I always make that point in this context. My experience, having been responsible for distributing grants along these lines, is that it is all too easy to give capital grants but to pay insufficient attention to the revenue consequences of doing so. Do the Government recognise this issue? What responsibility do they have to ensure that we do not encounter problems?

Finally, on the issue of the reserve ratio, which was raised, during the passage of the Act I had some correspondence with the grant-giving body and I was not entirely clear about the basis on which the ratio was decided. Further explanation could be given and further time devoted by the Minister in his crowded schedule to assessing the reserve ratio, to see that it is set at a proper level.

My Lords, I intervene with some trepidation on this subject because, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson, who have clearly lived with this subject for some time, my interest has essentially been dormant. Then I got an email from Big Society Capital, which I am sure we all got, which drew my attention to the SI. In one of the quieter moments during consideration of the levelling up Bill yesterday, I picked up the SI and followed some of the links.

I have no difficulty with the policy at all—it is a very successful policy—but a number of questions arose in my mind. The first was about the public consultation, referred to in Paragraph 10.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which in turn led to the SI before us confirming the original three objectives but adding an extra one. I read the consultation document, which was structured in such a way that it inevitably led to the conclusion we have arrived at. The first question it asked was whether it was right to continue to support the three objectives we are now supporting. Then there was a long list of some very successful projects, which no one could disagree with at all. After that was another section on what would happen if support was cut off—and then, obviously, there would be a lot of disappointment. At the end of that, when one’s mind was already predisposed towards supporting the three existing ones, was another question, asking whether wealth management should be added; and then it set out all the benefits of including wealth management. Right at the end, the document asked about other objectives. The consultation showed that there was no consensus at all about any other objectives, so it concluded that they should carry on with these three and add the extra one.

The question raised in my mind was that the original three objectives were set out in 2008, 15 years ago. Are they really the same objectives that we should be applying today? Instead of the review starting off with a preconceived notion of carrying on from where we are, should it not have started with a totally blank piece of paper? A whole lot of issues have arisen that simply were not around in 2008, such as childhood obesity and non-attendance at schools, social harms from the media and increased awareness of the environment. I was slightly worried when my noble friend said, in introducing this measure, that the objectives would go on for the next decade and beyond. I hope that there will be another review, and perhaps he will say that the next one will be slightly more open-ended than the one that has just concluded, to take account of the fact that we now live in a different world and the priorities of objectives may well have changed.

That was the first thing that struck me. The second thing was what my noble friend said about the reserve ratio. Some 40% of the money in the reclaim fund is retained. That may have been right at the beginning, when no one knew exactly what was going to happen, but all the banks and financial institutions that have signed up to this scheme voluntarily follow a protocol to identify who owns the assets—and it is quite a rigorous protocol. After 15 years, if no one has claimed it, the money goes to the reclaim fund, which then retains 40%. I was reading the Government’s response to the consultation document, which came out in May. It says that

“only a small percentage do so”—

in other words, claim the money from the reclaim fund. It went on to say that there were

“consistently low levels of reclaims following transfer”.

If so, why on earth are they sitting on 40% of the money, given that it is hundreds of millions of pounds that could go through to worthwhile causes.

This proposition may be too much for my noble friend but, if you lose the deeds of your house or your share certificates, you can take out an insurance policy, which is actually quite cost effective, to insure yourself against somebody else suddenly popping up with the deeds of the House or the share certificates that were yours. Have the Government considered insuring themselves—or the reclaim fund insuring itself—against these claims? How many Rip Van Winkles are there are out there waiting to claim their money after 15 years? If they could insure themselves against that small minority of claims, all the money could be released.

Related to that second point, the document says that a portion of the money is invested. Are the Government happy to see hundreds of millions of pounds held in gilt-edged securities to help them with their borrowing requirement, rather than having that money paid out to voluntary organisations? My noble friend may not want to go down that path, but what is done with that money, the hundreds of millions of pounds that it says is invested? What is it invested in?

I have two final points. I think the scheme was recently extended to include pension funds. Has that money started flowing in? This point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. Are there plans to extend access to the scheme to any more institutions, which would obviously require primary legislation?

As a final relatively minor point, as I understand it, the funds are distributed by the National Lottery. Is it paid to do that? Is a slice taken off the money to reimburse the National Lottery fund? Is there a series of competitive bidding for the distribution of these funds or does the National Lottery have a monopoly for ever? I am conscious that a flurry of correspondence is going on behind my noble friend’s back as a result of those questions and that he may not be able to answer them all this afternoon. I do not want to detract in any way from the success of this scheme; it is brilliant to mobilise these unused assets for worthwhile causes, but I wonder if we might take a slightly different approach in future and, following my noble friend Lord Hodgson, be able to push more money out through the voluntary organisations rather than investing it in gilt-edged securities.

My Lords, when I looked at this, I thought I had one or two clever questions, but they have both been asked. It is one of those SIs which is basically a good idea but there are a series of “Yes, but what if it happens?” questions. The final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, that if you insure against this then maybe you could get the money out there and would be covered anyway might be an answer. I certainly had not thought of it, but it deals with the problem of getting the money, which is designed for a good cause and which you are holding, out there and letting it do the work.

I appreciate that we should hear about how everyone who is paid from this is using the money, benefiting from it and reporting back. Can the Minister say something about that? I declare a small interest as a trustee of the Atlas Foundation, which does this on a very small scale from privately arranged funds. Reporting back is very important to what we do because we have to know what has happened, usually in youth projects based around rugby football abroad. We have reports back so that we can see what is going on. The Government should let us know how this is happening.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, made a point about additionality and the National Lottery. I wonder how many times that has been breached and whether it has now become the National Lottery’s normal activity to cover certain activities. It has been a great success and done positive things, but has it let the Government off the hook? I do not know. If we want a pointless activity, let us go through that and put the balancing scales up. My attitude is that we do not need to, as long as it gets done and we do not try to overload it.

How it is administered seems to be the major cause of concern. I do not know whether we are holding too much money back—whether for 15 or 20 years—and then giving the whole thing away. Are the Government or the Opposition thinking about whether they will challenge this in future? What is the Government’s long-term thinking on this? Helping good causes, most of which do well, and making sure you find out which ones do not is basically a win-win. It has been a successful scheme, so what are the Government doing to make sure that this momentum is maintained and that we continue to have good results? That is the only thing that could cause any controversy. It is a question of how they are monitoring it and making sure that it is doing this properly. There is also the principle of additionality. Is it doing something that other bits of legislation say are government activity, either local or national? With those caveats, which sound rather miserable as I look back at them, this should probably be supported.

My Lords, like everybody else, I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he introduced this. It is a short SI. That has not stopped noble Lords this afternoon asking a plenitude of questions, but all of them are highly relevant. Many of them are repeats from when we discussed the Bill back in 2021-22, but they are nevertheless highly relevant today.

This is of huge importance to community organisations and individuals who will benefit from the funding. I thought that the testimony of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, was very good on that point because she gave very good examples of the benefits of using the funds in the way in which they are used. I am sure that the Minister will fondly remember his many hours taking the Bill through the House; I have a feeling that it was his first Committee, and he did it very well and with tact and skill.

During the passage of the Bill, we had a lot of discussion about the potential inclusion of community wealth funds as beneficiaries of the dormant asset moneys. In the best tradition of the Lords, there was cross-party support, including in particular from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the now-retired Bishop of Newcastle, and, speaking on her behalf, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely. That collaboration gave rise, as I recall, to an amendment that many of us signed, which led to a shift in the position of the Government. It was initially resisted by the Minister, who stressed that

“current evidence for community wealth funds, as well as concrete designs for how they would operate, are relatively sparse”.

He did, however, go on to say that

“there is more work to be done in this area before a commitment can firmly be made”. [Official Report, 16/11/21; col. 177.]

In a refreshing break from tradition, the Government have followed through with their promise. I congratulate them on that, because it is a very important and significant one.

Based on the outcomes of their consultation, which saw 71% of respondents agree or strongly agree that community wealth funds should be included as a cause for dormant assets, they have rightly included them on the list in this instrument. This is, without doubt, a very exciting time for those involved in the creation and scaling up of community wealth funds. However, the Minister will know that some in the sector are concerned by the direction indicated in the recent technical consultation document published jointly by DCMS and DLUHC. We understand the need to build the evidence base for community wealth funds. Limiting their work to smaller towns of fewer than 20,000 people appears counterintuitive to us—I will not say counterproductive. Some of the most deprived areas across our country have populations larger than 20,000, yet for a variety of reasons they lack the type of social infrastructure that these funds could provide. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, gave a very good case example of where that sort of community capacity can be missing.

Yes, we need to build the evidence base for community wealth funds over time, but I hope the department will consider whether this rather arbitrary threshold is wise. If the pilots are run in the wrong areas or to the wrong criteria, we may never see an accurate picture of the role these funds can play in improving communities and people’s lives and livelihoods. Will the department reflect further on this? This design principle is not even subject to consultation, and I think that needs to be given some urgent thought. At the least, we would like to see the Minister prepared to welcome views on the point and the issue.

While we are glad that community wealth funds have been named as a cause, we are equally pleased to see the existing three causes keep their place in the list. Dormant assets have funded a variety of important services for young people and those with debt or financial inclusion issues, which the Minister referenced. It is vital that their work is able to continue, particularly at a time where our economy continues to struggle and inflation remains a problem for people up and down the country. The Minister will be familiar with the work of organisations such as Big Society Capital, Local Trust and so on, that fall under the third category on the list. As I am sure the Minister is well aware, Big Society Capital has come up with a community enterprise growth plan, which aims to put dormant asset funds to even better use by leveraging additional private capital and multiply the impact that the initial investment generates. While I understand that the Minister will not be able to announce individual allocations today, will he commit to looking closely at least at that plan?

Some questions will remain over elements of the Government’s approach, but we are generally pleased to support this SI. As I have already noted, there is cross-party support for the scheme, and we should harness that energy. At the same time, there are legitimate concerns over particular aspects of the policy. Ministers like to talk about levelling up but, despite the fantastic work of social enterprises across the country, it is not clear that we are yet seeing it on the ground. With that in mind, I hope the Minster can commit to further discussions in the months to come.

For me, the dormant assets scheme is an original great Labour success story. It started in 2008 and was authored by Gordon Brown. The current Government have taken it a stage further and broadened the range of options for paying into that fund. It has put millions of pounds to good use around the country. We are happy to support the expansion of the asset categories through the 2022 Act. Once the finer details have been ironed out, we hope that even more will soon go to good causes.

A number of questions that colleagues asked were particularly important, such as on additionality. Ensuring the restoration of money to the right place is important. The size of the reserve fund seems questionable. We must ensure that we get the right distribution of funds and that they deliver additionality, rather than just paying for things that would otherwise be paid for by government programmes through local government.

This has been an impressive and useful debate. I hope this is an issue that we can keep at the forefront of the House’s consideration. Perhaps we could return to the point about monitoring and analysing the impact at some stage in some form or other. It might be the sort of thing that could be the subject of a Lords’ report, because this is an exciting opportunity. It is all about building capacity, providing opportunities and getting funds to communities that most require them.

I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, that this has been an important and useful debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to it. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and her fellow members of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for the work they have done in this regard. I reassure her that we do indeed want this scheme to continue long into the future. The expansion of the dormant assets scheme is expected to unlock a further £738 million for England alongside the almost £1 billion which has already been unlocked, as I mentioned in my opening contribution. We are committed to ensuring the success of this expansion so that ample funding can be distributed across the four causes. That is what the primary legislation—the 2022 Act—and the secondary legislation intend to promote and protect.

I can also reassure the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Brixton and Lord Addington, and other noble Lords who underlined the importance of the additionality principle that it will be adhered to. Ensuring additionality is an essential criterion of the dormant assets scheme. The Government are committed to ensuring that a community wealth fund is designed and delivered in a way which does not replace or undercut central or local government funding. We specifically sought views on how to embed the principle of additionality in the design of a community wealth fund in the technical consultation, which closed on 19 October and which we are working our way through at the moment. That will include ensuring that any interventions provided to communities to support their decision-making will exclude statutory duties. We will work with the National Lottery Community Fund as the main distributor. Lottery funds are also subject to the additionality principle, so the National Lottery Community Fund already has its own policies and practices in place to maintain that important principle.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked about the pensions dashboard. Ensuring that efforts are made to reunite dormant assets funding with its rightful owner remains the first priority of the scheme. A number of ongoing initiatives are aimed at preventing pension assets reaching dormancy, including pensions dashboards, which will enable people to access their information online, securely and all in one place.

A number of noble Lords asked about reporting on the impact of the good work that is done through these funds. The four organisations which currently receive dormant assets funding in England are regularly reviewed by the Oversight Trust, which commissions quadrennial independent reviews of each to examine their effectiveness in delivering their respective missions. That is in addition to their usual reporting requirements from their own boards. The Oversight Trust published its first review, focused on Big Society Capital, in 2020. A review of Access was published in June 2021, the review of Fair4All Finance was published in January this year, and the Youth Futures Foundation will be reviewed during the course of this year. The cycle will then restart.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts asked about the retention rate. It is the responsibility of Reclaim Fund Ltd to determine the appropriate proportion of funding that it can prudently release. That is a matter for it and His Majesty’s Treasury as its parent department. I do not think that I will be able to provide much in writing in further elaboration at this stage, but I can tell him that Reclaim Fund Ltd currently reserves 40% of the funding that it receives to meet reclaims. This approach is based on actuarial modelling and guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority. Reclaim Fund Ltd is exploring an appropriate reclaim model for the new asset classes, some of which have market risk associated with their reclaim values. I am sure my noble friend will want to follow it as it does that exploration.

My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham asked about how often we might seek to change the causes in the dormant assets scheme. I am afraid that we do not intend to review these causes frequently and have no intention of doing so in the near future because we want to ensure their continuity and enable the scheme to support long-term initiatives that have the greatest impact. Setting the causes through secondary legislation will help to protect the impact of the scheme in England while building the sufficient flexibility we need to respond to evolving social and environmental needs over time. If future Governments wish to review these causes, there is a statutory obligation to consult publicly on them first. The Government were bound by the provisions of the 2022 Act to consult specifically on the four causes on which we have consulted.

My noble friend Lord Young also asked about other asset classes. The scheme was expanded in 2022 to enable a wider range of dormant assets from the insurance, pensions, investment, wealth management and security sectors to be transferred into the scheme. Definitions of dormancy and reclaim values for each asset have been tailored to reflect existing community behaviour, market practice and, where relevant and appropriate, existing regulation. The dormant assets scheme provides funding for social and environmental initiatives across the UK. In England, that includes support for young people, tackling problem debt and investment in charities. Section 19 of the 2022 Act provides a way to enable expansion into additional asset classes at a later date, but further work must be undertaken to identify those assets and facilitate their inclusion.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, was right to recall the contribution made by the former Bishop of Newcastle when we debated the Bill. He may be right that it was the first one I took through Committee. He may be reassured to know that the Bill team remain the officials behind me who are working on this policy area, which is a rare and happy example of continuity at both ministerial and official level.

The noble Lord asked about supporting towns and other parts of the community. Community wealth funds will be targeted in the first instance at deprived small towns of 20,000 or fewer residents that are experiencing high levels of deprivation or low social capital. The technical consultation that I mentioned outlined the Government’s approach that the level of need is most important when determining recipients of a community wealth fund. The Government’s preferred approach is for recipients to be selected by order of need, ensuring that there is an even spread across England. We also want to ensure that a variety of places are supported, including urban, rural and coastal areas. I have certainly heard his point and will take it away and reflect on it with my colleagues.

I am grateful for the cross-party support for this scheme, as we saw through the passage of the 2022 Act. The noble Lord is right to highlight the contributions that Governments of both our parties have made to it. I am glad that the widespread support that there was when we took the Act through has been repeated today and grateful to noble Lords for their continued interest in this important area.

Motion agreed.

Representation of the People (Postal Vote Handling and Secrecy) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Representation of the People (Postal Vote Handling and Secrecy) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Relevant document: 53rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I beg to move these regulations, which were laid before the House on 11 September. In our manifesto, we committed to ensuring the ongoing integrity of our democratic process by stopping postal vote harvesting, and we are delivering on that commitment. Last year, Parliament passed the Elections Act 2022, and I am delighted to be able to bring forward a statutory instrument flowing from that Act.

The instrument implements three measures in the Elections Act relating to UK parliamentary elections and other types of polls concerning the handling of postal votes and the secrecy of absent voting. These changes intend to tackle the practice of collecting the votes of large numbers of postal voters and support electors to be able to cast their vote confidentially and securely outside of the polling station.

The first element introduces a ban on political campaigners handling postal voting documents issued to another person. The second measure sets out that an individual, in addition to their own postal vote, will be able to hand in the postal votes of up to five other electors at a polling station or to the returning officer at, for example, a council office. Thirdly, existing secrecy provisions in force for those voting in person in a polling station are being extended to postal and proxy voters. These measures implement recommendations in the report into electoral fraud published in 2026 by my noble friend Lord Pickles entitled Securing the Ballot. They are designed to improve the security of absent voting and make it less vulnerable to potential fraud.

I will set out the measures in more detail. Currently, there are no restrictions on who may hand in postal votes or how many may be handed in by any single person, and there is no record of who has handed in postal votes. We do not consider this acceptable because it creates opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to undermine the integrity of postal voting. For example, there is a concern that voters could be coerced into completing their postal voting statement before handing the ballot paper unmarked to be taken away and filled in elsewhere by someone else, or that completed ballots could be tampered with out of sight of the voter and the returning officer. Tackling the collection of votes in this way is a manifesto commitment that we are keen to deliver on.

Furthermore, even if acting legitimately, people seen to be handing in significant numbers of postal votes creates the perception and suspicion of impropriety, which can be damaging to public confidence in the electoral system. We are intent on striking the right balance between being mindful of security and keeping the electoral process accessible. Under these regulations, a person, in addition to their own postal vote, will be able to hand in the postal votes of up to five other electors at a polling station or to the returning officer—for example, at a council office. I highlight that the setting of this limit has been informed by the helpful input from your Lordships during the debates on the Elections Act, in particular the input from the noble lord, Lord Scriven.

A person handing in postal votes will be required to complete a form setting out certain information, including their name and address, the number of persons whose postal votes they are handing in, and the reason for this. Postal votes in excess of the limit or not handed in in accordance with these requirements will be rejected.

These regulations will also update all relevant prescribed forms to make sure the new limits are set out clearly to electors. This information should help electors to plan accordingly and return their postal votes via post where possible, although if they are handed in, they will know the permitted number that may be handed in.

After the poll, the returning officer will put together lists of rejected postal ballot papers, and the electoral registration officer, where possible, will subsequently write to the persons whose postal votes have been rejected under the postal vote handing in requirements to notify them that their vote was rejected and the reason, or reasons, why. This will ensure that postal voters are informed of the rejection of their postal vote and can, if necessary, act to avoid this at future polls.

The concerns about postal vote harvesting I have set out are magnified when being carried out by a political campaigner. The Act, supported by these regulations, therefore sets out a stricter approach for such individuals. It introduces a ban on political campaigners handling postal voting documents that are issued to another person, unless the political campaigner is a family member or designated carer of that other person. The ban is supported by a new offence. These regulations apply an equivalent new ban and related offence to election types not directly covered by the Act: for example, police and crime commissioner elections.

Currently, requirements protecting the secrecy of a person’s vote are in place for people voting at a polling station, but it is essential that electors opting for an absent vote are also protected by the same secrecy provisions. The secrecy of the ballot is fundamental to the ability of voters to cast their vote freely, without pressure to vote a certain way, and this should apply regardless of whether they are in a polling station or marking their ballot at home. Therefore, it will be an offence for a person to seek information about who a postal voter is voting for at the time they are completing their ballot paper, or to communicate any such information obtained at that time. The offence does not apply to opinion polling activity asking how a postal voter has voted or intends to vote, to avoid criminalisation of legitimate opinion pollsters.

As well as protecting postal voters, the measure also provides that a person voting as proxy for another elector at an election must not communicate at any time to any person, except to the elector for whom they are voting as proxy, any information as to the candidate for whom that person is about to vote or has voted as proxy. As with the political campaigner handling ban, the Act makes these secrecy changes in respect of some elections, and the regulations make equivalent changes to other types of elections.

These measures are sensible safeguards against the potential abuse of absent voting and will reduce the opportunity for individuals to exploit the process and steal the votes of other voters. I hope that, following my setting out of the details of the statutory instrument, the Committee will appreciate its careful and considered design for supporting absent voters. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, I put on record my welcoming of the regulations and, as I indicated during the passage of the Act, my support for the broad range of the proposals in relation to controlling postal votes and the fraud which has gone on. I say that without any shadow of a doubt, as on one occasion I went to Tower Hamlets to campaign in a by-election and, as I got out of the Tube, I was confronted by people exchanging voting forms in front of me. I hesitate to imply that Tower Hamlets has been the cause of much of this legislation, but it seems to have been on occasion. However, to ensure that it is not the sole location identified, Richard Mawrey, who sat in judgment on the Birmingham case several years ago, said that the events in Birmingham in relation to voting fraud gave banana republics a bad name. He was essentially taking a view primarily in relation to postal votes, but also to other elements of fraud.

I will make a quick comment in relation to my noble friend’s opening comments. I think that he referred to 2026. It would be rather perceptive of us to be discussing something that arose from a report published in 2026. I think that he meant—and that everybody in the Moses Room knows he meant—2016.

I return to a point that I made in discussions on the last statutory instrument that we discussed. Yet again we have proof of the serious need for the consolidation of elections law. We are passing a series of regulations in relation to one election, but we have to have another set of papers in relation to another election and another election. The Elections Act 2022 is a mere 176 pages long. The regulations that we have in front of us today, which are only one of a series of sets of statutory instruments that we are facing, are 194 pages long. Last week, we considered two SIs, one of which was 34 pages long and another of which was 50 pages long. The vast majority of cases from which this arises is because we are covering different elections under different pieces of legislation, of which there has been no consolidation. We would not need this vast proliferation of paperwork if we had a consolidated piece of legislation.

Having said that, I will say that I think statutory instruments have grown. I did some research with the Library in relation to the amount of pages of statutory instrument documentation required on voter ID when it was introduced in Northern Ireland and the comparison with when it was introduced in England. Unfortunately, I have not finished that research, but I have a strong suspicion that, rather like Topsy, these things are just growing.

I will make just two other points. I welcome this legislation because, when I proceeded with the Ballot Secrecy Act, large numbers of people said to me that I was tackling the question of intimidation, overseeing other people’s voting in a polling booth, but asked what I was going to do in relation to postal votes—and I said that that had already been dealt with. The two pieces of legislation go hand in hand, and they are beneficial to achieving free and fair elections.

In conclusion, I remind my noble friend that, when I spoke last time on the statutory instrument, I made a request for a meeting to discuss the correspondence that I have had with the department—and I sought an indication of the date on which counsel’s opinion had been transferred from the Electoral Commission to the officials. As yet, I have not even received information in relation to the date of transfer which, after all is said and done, is merely a question of looking at the top of an email.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. I wish to add my support to the comments that he made about the consolidation of election law. We are way behind the curve—the Minister is nodding—and we really need to look at the consolidation of electoral law.

I turn to this statutory instrument and thank the Minister for laying out the reasons behind it and its intention. Everybody wishes to reduce or completely stop the use of fraud in postal votes and stop people’s votes being stolen by others in our democracy. Some provisions in the regulations will help with that, such as those on political actors handling postal votes. However, I believe the main thrust of these regulations, which is about the handing in of postal votes at the polling station or electoral offices, is doomed to failure because it is impractical. I shall explain why and look forward to an answer.

Let us assume that I am a fraudster and I understand electoral law. I go out and harvest postal votes. I will know not to hand them in to the polling station—I will do it before election day—or to the electoral office. I will put them in a Royal Mail box. Will this statutory instrument achieve its number one aim of reducing electoral fraud? Practically, it can be circumvented just by putting the votes into a Royal Mail box. Let me show the Committee the stupidity of this through my city of Sheffield. I could go to the town hall, where within a couple of metres of the post box for the electoral office—just around the corner, probably 60 metres—there are two Royal Mail boxes. I would put my 100, 50 or 30 harvested postal votes into the Royal Mail box because why I got them or why I am handing them in will not be checked. It is completely outside the law. This will not stop the harvesting of postal votes and fraudulent people getting them back into the system.

It is also impractical for another reason. In the example I have just given in Sheffield, let us say that I am an upright citizen who believes in saving the taxpayer money. I decide to put in my one postal vote, which is my mother’s, but because I do it after the electoral office is closed my mother’s vote will not be counted, even though the 50 that have just been put into the post box around the corner by the harvester will be valid. I do not think that those who have drafted this statutory instrument understand the logistics of elections. What are the Minister’s and the Government’s views on that differential?

While I support the reduction of postal vote fraud, for those reasons I believe these regulations are flawed and impractical and will not have the desired effect. I look forward to hearing the answers from the Minister, which may alleviate my concerns, but I think that the regulations will not stop vote harvesters and that the votes of some people who genuinely cannot get to the polling station on the day or to an electoral office between nine and five will be invalid, simply because of the difference of a couple of metres in where somebody decides to hand in their postal ballot.

My Lords, I shall add one further issue that concerns me, partly from what the Minister said in his introduction and partly from my reading of the instrument. It relates to the definition of “political campaigner”. This appears several times in the statutory instrument. Is a person who is a friend of an independent candidate a political campaigner? The regulations permit an individual to hand in up to five postal votes of other voters at a polling station, but a political campaigner cannot handle a postal vote. Therefore, the definition of a “political campaigner” matters. Does it include a friend of a candidate who is independent of any political party? Is that person a political campaigner?

My Lords, it is pleasure to hear from noble Lords, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Hayward. I felt a bit nostalgic at the “Back to the Future” moment, when the report by the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, from 2026 was announced. I thought that there might have been an election and a new Government, with the noble Lord promoted to look at elections.

Like other noble Lords, we on these Benches also support the intention to reduce voter fraud. I thank the Minister for introducing the SI. I will raise an important point for noble Lords to consider. From my understanding, the Government have not consulted relevant stakeholders on this issue. I assume that there would have been some consultation to bring the regulations forward, but the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers—ALACE—has not been consulted. That concerns me, and must concern other noble Lords.

Since, from my understanding, the Government have not consulted ALACE, I will pick up on its points of concern and help the Minister on some of them. I do not want to repeat noble Lords’ points, but ALACE is concerned that the regulations will create more work for polling station staff. If significant numbers of postal votes are handed in on polling day, this might cause unnecessary delays for other electors, particularly at a general election. What does the Minister think about that concern?

What are the Government’s thoughts on the imposition of new duties and responsibilities on polling station staff, and on reception staff at council offices, who will have to decide whether to reject postal votes? What about the unnecessary disfranchisement of some electors, who will have completed postal voting packs correctly, including by providing their signature and date of birth on the postal vote, but which also have to be returned with the ballot paper?

The Opposition have a number on questions. What will happen to those who are already registered as a proxy voter for more than four electors or more than two domestically residing electors? Is the relationship between proxy and elector not important in preventing coercive proxy voting? Will there be special circumstances by which a proxy can act as such for more than four electors, should they be family members who are unable to vote themselves and the chosen proxy is the only trustworthy option for them?

Postal voting is an important means to ensure elderly people with mobility or financial issues are not prevented from exercising their democratic right to vote. Given that the elderly are more likely to face problems navigating a digital application compared with the more familiar written form, is there a concern that the move to digital applications may act as a hindrance to ensuring that the elderly can vote? What is the Government’s assessment of the number of proxy voters abusing this system to coerce others and steal their vote, compared with the number of proxy voters who need to use the system and do so fairly? With voter turnout at a relative low compared with the previous century, what is the Government’s assessment of the impact that additional requirements to vote will have on voter turnout?

Finally, the introduction of photo ID has resulted in clear evidence that some electors have been denied a vote as a consequence. Does the Minister recognise this in relation to these regulations? How will the Government ensure the regulations do not compound that situation? I look forward to his response.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their many thoughtful and specific questions. It reminds me a little, going back to a previous career, of when I had rooms full of volunteers asking me very similar questions about guidance that had come out, which we had to then deal with. For the record, I also thank my noble friend Lord Hayward for correcting me earlier; yes, of course it was 2016. Perhaps my dyslexia kicked in and I got ahead of myself, but for the record it was not in fact 2026.

I will address some of those questions head on. Others I may need to consider and come back to noble Lords on, because they were quite detailed. The first thing I want to deal with directly—I did nod quite strongly when this issue came up during consideration of some SIs last week, and that has always been my view—is consolidation of electoral law. I worked in political parties for three decades, and I know others in this room have also been very actively involved over a much longer period.

The Government remain committed to the continued integrity of our electoral law and processes. That is why their immediate priority has been to implement the measures flowing from the Elections Act 2022. Electoral law is complex, as everybody in this room knows, but it is understood by those who administer elections and referendums. It is robust and we can, as we have in the past, rely on it and our electoral administrators to underpin free and fair elections, and have confidence in their results. That is not to say that legislation cannot and should not be revisited, revised and improved from time to time. It should, but that takes significant consideration and policy development and is not something to rush out and potentially get wrong. That is probably as clear as I can be today on consolidation of electoral law. It is certainly on my mind, and I am very happy to continue that discussion, as I offered to do last week.

On the point made by my noble friend Lord Hayward, the meeting will of course be arranged, and we will get back to him on the two points he raised directly in the Chamber last week. I put that on the record for him.

The noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, had very well thought-through questions, as ever; we seem to be having these discussions fairly regularly. We note the concerns raised about the potential challenges of implementing the measures and the impact of new requirements on the administration of polling stations. We will continue to work with the Electoral Commission and electoral administrators on the implementation of these measures in order to ensure that administrators have the necessary support for their delivery, and on raising awareness among the electorate of the changes and the new requirements.

We also expect that political parties will want to bring the new requirements to the attention of their members. We intend that the changes will be communicated to electors directly via forms, including the postal voting statement and poll cards, and through information made available to electors via GOV.UK. Additionally, information will be displayed on the Electoral Commission’s and other agencies’ websites, and in information provided by local authorities. We will continue to work very closely with the Electoral Commission to develop this information and awareness. If noble Lords feel that more needs to be done in that regard, I ask them to please make sure that they raise that with us on an ongoing basis.

In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on the friend of a candidate who was an independent, that situation is laid out clearly in the Act, but if they were helping and not acting to get them elected, that is okay. Again, it may be better if I confirm that in writing to the noble Lord, so that he has that laid out clearly.

I would be happy with a written statement from the Minister. The issue is an important one. The friend may be campaigning, as opposed to just handing in, but if the friend is campaigning for an independent candidate they may think of themselves as not being a political campaigner, which would ban them from doing so.

Indeed. I would be happy to lay that out clearly in writing.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked probably the most interesting question of all. Overall, the legislation and changes are there to deter. We are obviously very aware of some of the problems that have occurred around the country in the past. We want to make sure that we strike the right balance between being mindful of security and keeping the electoral process accessible.

On the point the noble Lord highlighted, I suspect, if we are being honest, that we simply do not have the data available to say whether there are groups of people picking up bundles of 20 or 30 postal ballot papers and distributing them across different postboxes in a particular electoral area. The honest answer from me today has to be: let us see how the legislation develops in practice. If we believe there is a significant problem, as the noble Lord described, obviously we will need to look at that.

I do not think that was quite my question. I am trying to understand, as it is not apparent to me from reading the statutory instrument, why a postal vote pack posted in a Royal Mail box will be treated differently from, or even preferentially to, one posted on the same day in a council postal box, which could be a couple of metres away from each other.

I will have to come back to the noble Lord on that in more detail. The point he made earlier concerns me. The potential for a bundle of ballot packs to be collected up and put through a door or letterbox is something that we really need to look at. I will take it away and look at it in more detail, and I will certainly come back to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, is pursuing a key point. It has been the case in certain investigations that fingerprinting has been used to establish who has handled the ballot papers, which would cover an element of the aspects to which he referred but not necessarily all of them.

That is true. I know there is one example in the Pickles review that I was on the ground for: in Bradford, at the 2005 general election. I think I am right in saying that it was not just fingerprints but analysis of signatures. The police were able to identify and take action because the individuals who were filling in the ballot papers did them on top of each other. It was not just the signatures they could identify; they could identify them on every single one, which enabled them to prosecute. I saw that up close several years ago.

To close this discussion, I know that all noble Lords believe that preserving our democratic processes is paramount. I will certainly come back on the very important points raised, but I am pleased to be able to introduce these measures.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.38 pm.