Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Constitution Committee, 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 21st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 25: Third parties capable of giving notification for purposes of Part 6 of PPERA
41: Clause 25, page 35, leave out line 6
My Lords, I am acutely aware of the call from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, so I will try to avoid speaking for too long, but at times there are points of principle that one has to address. Of course, the good thing about Committee is that the House is at its best in terms of probing what exactly is meant by and what is the intent of particular clauses. I have sought to get a clear view about the impact of Clause 25 and where it could lead.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has said many times in the House that the majority of non-party campaigning organisations, whether they are unions, charities or think tanks, do not exist primarily to campaign in elections. Expressing a public view at election time is not their primary purpose. The vast majority of their expenditure and activity is on other work, and they generally have quite limited staff—or volunteers, for that matter—to give support for election regulation compliance. The rules require these non-party campaigners to make a judgment about where they have incurred regulated expenditure.
As we have heard in previous debates—of course, lot of these clauses are interrelated—the guidance of the independent Electoral Commission is invaluable in helping non-party organisations navigate incredibly difficult and complicated rules that are defined loosely in legislation. There is a requirement to lean on the Electoral Commission. The fact that a Secretary of State could, under the Bill, direct the commission to amend its guidance—in effect, changing the rules—is deeply worrying.
As we have heard previously in Committee, election expenditure is regulated for the 12 months leading up to a general election. As the Minister rightly pointed out, this has been in place for quite a while. If the definition of what constitutes regulated campaigning were to change during that period, organisations would clearly find themselves having breached the rules retrospectively. That, of course, is the chilling effect that we have referred to that we need properly to address.
It goes without saying that this level of ministerial and therefore political oversight of the Electoral Commission undermines the independence of the regulator and opens the door to political interference in the regulation of campaign activity by party and non-party campaigners alike. This is deeply worrying; it conflicts with our democratic traditions and is an extension of the trend of governmental interference in previously independent regulators.
The legal definition of “joint campaigning” is loose and organisations rely on the Electoral Commission’s guidance to tread the line between working in a formal coalition and the usual sharing of information and communication that happens organically between organisations that have common goals, even if they do not have a common structure.
Were the Secretary of State to direct the commission to change this guidance, it could dramatically change the political campaigning landscape. I will come on to a particular concern that the Labour Party has on how it can impact on our structures, particularly in that since our establishment, the Labour Party’s constitution is a federal body, with independent organisations coming together to establish it. That structure remains in place despite the introduction in 1917 of individual membership. We are a hybrid organisation—federal but having the rights of individual membership.
The effect of Clauses 23 and 24 together would be to allow the Secretary of State, by statutory instrument, to add, remove or define permitted participants in electoral campaigns, and to prevent the categories of organisation spending more than £700 on an election campaign in the 12-month period. The Minister has said to my colleagues that the clauses are there to add, and there may be changing circumstances. We have tabled these amendments because those categories of organisations in PPERA include trade unions, and the idea that we are now contemplating putting into legislation the power for a Secretary of State to remove that category, which could include trade unions, is extremely worrying. The Minister might be able to give an assurance that he and his Government have no intention of doing that and that this is not what the Bill is about or what this clause seeks to do, and I may trust him, but I am not sure that a future Government might not exploit the powers that he seeks in this Bill to damage traditional democratic campaigning, including trade unions.
The TUC has met the Bill team, and so has TULO, the organisation of trade unions that are affiliated to the Labour Party. They have expressed their concerns. I hope that the Minister can acknowledge those concerns, even if this was not his intent with this clause, and come up with ways that they can be properly addressed, so that we are not opening the door to a further possibility of attacks on democratic organisations such as trade unions, which are incredibly tightly regulated at the moment. Their political funds are regulated, their structures are regulated through the certification officer, and they must file annual returns which include all their political fund expenditure. I hope that the Minister can address our concerns and those of the trade union movement. I beg to move.
My Lords, if this amendment is agreed, I cannot call Amendment 44, because of pre-emption.
My Lords, I will speak on whether Clause 25 should stand part, which is grouped with these amendments in an attempt to improve Clause 25. I will begin with some remarks about Part 4 as we have so far examined it.
I came away from Tuesday’s Committee much more worried about the coherence of this Bill than I had been until then. We learned that Clause 18 is there primarily to reverse the court’s judgment in the Thanet election case, although the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in her reply, attempted to persuade us that it does not really change the law; in which case, the clause is not necessary. We learned that Clause 22 was entirely about the threat to our electoral system posed by a body called Advance Together, which, on examination, fought five seats in the 2019 election and gained in total just over 400 votes. We did not learn the purpose of Clause 24. Indeed, after the Minister’s explanation, I and others were more puzzled about the purpose of this clause than we had been before we started, and worried as to whether there is some underhand objective that we have not yet uncovered.
When reading through Section 88 of PPERA last night, which defines “recognised third parties”, I could find no reference to unincorporated associations as recognised third parties. Can the Minister or his staff kindly inform me before Report whether the inclusion of unincorporated associations in Clause 24 is intended to bring these bodies within this category for the first time or whether they were already covered in existing legislation? I also found in the briefing a reference to permitting only overseas-based unincorporated associations consisting entirely of UK citizens, which is not the wording in the Government’s text.
The Minister gave us to believe that the small group of former Liberal Democrats who formed Advance Together, and then merged it into Renew, represented a major threat to the UK, but that foreign money and foreign interference, most evidently from Russia, do not present any serious threat. The Minister suggested that the paragraphs in the ISC’s Russia report and elsewhere that flag up the seriousness of that threat are little more than “innuendo”. It is astonishing that he can suggest that Russian interference should not be a serious concern to us as we consider this Bill—at this point above all.
Now we have Clause 25, which gives full power to the Secretary of State to add or remove descriptions of third parties from the approved list. I am grateful to the Minister for offering us a government amendment to delete the power to
“make such amendments of this Part as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”,
but this is only because the Government consider that PPERA already provides sufficient authority. As I wade through sections of PPERA to understand the provisions of this Bill, with the occasional reference to the earlier Representation of the People Act, I am repeatedly reminded of the CSPL’s declaration in its report on election finance that there is an “unarguable” case in favour of consolidating and simplifying electoral law.
The Minister must recognise, as he struggles to explain and justify this Bill clause by clause, that it totally fails to consolidate or simplify. The Electoral Commission’s briefing for Second Reading stated, accurately, that the changes in Part 4, including these clauses,
“would add new requirements to laws which many campaigners have said are already complex and hard to understand. The added complexity of these changes could deter some from campaigning at elections ... Voters could therefore ... hear from a narrower range of sources.”
It therefore falls to the Minister to justify the inclusion of Clause 25 and the powers that it gives to the Secretary State, and to explain, as we keep asking, what problem it is intended to resolve. If he cannot persuade us that it is necessary, we shall ask for it to be removed.
My Lords, I support the intention to oppose Clause 25 standing part of the Bill, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. In so doing, I also support Amendments 41 and 42, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury.
Clause 25 introduces significant delegation of powers in relation to Clause 24, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has indicated. We understood from the Minister last week that the purpose of Clause 24 is to protect the country from electioneering by overseas organisations. I am quite happy to support the Government in that purpose. However, the Minister was unable to assure the Committee last week that non-charitable civil society organisations in this country would remain outside the scope of Clause 24 and therefore also, importantly, of Clause 25. I hope that the Minister can clarify this significant point in his summing up.
I do not want to repeat my concerns about Clauses 24 and 25, which I expressed last Thursday, so will focus solely on the delegated powers in Clause 25, and in so doing declare my interest as a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.
It is concerning that, in Clause 25, the Government have provided wide-ranging powers for Ministers to amend Section 88 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 to which Clause 24 applies. In a sense, it feels a little unnatural to be talking about Clause 25 when these two clauses are so very closely aligned and intertwined. The Government need a very good reason to introduce Henry VIII powers under which a Minister can amend an Act of Parliament.
I want to focus on Clause 25(1)(b) in that respect. I am sure that the Minister is aware that the DPRRC has particular concerns about this paragraph, which relates to the list of third-party organisations that can exceed the spending limits contained in Section 94 of PPERA. He may also be aware that, in its memorandum to the DPRRC, the department admits that preventing other categories of third party being able to campaign has the potential to impinge on freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR and the right to enjoy a free election under Article 3 of the first protocol of the convention. The department has argued that it is important that, if a legitimate category of third party emerges, it can be added quickly to the legitimate categories to ensure that these restrictions on campaigning remain proportionate and no more extensive than is necessary to meet the aim of preventing campaigning by those with no genuine stake in the UK. As I said, I understand that objective, but this clause seems to go much wider and, with the delegated powers in Clause 25, we have no idea where it may go. The DPRRC is clear that the Minister needs to explain the need for Ministers to have Henry VIII powers to remove third parties. If Ministers are unable to provide a satisfactory explanation, these powers are inappropriate. That is the view of the DPRRC, not my view—I am simply a member.
I have brought this issue to the Floor of the Committee because if the Minister can explain the need for these Henry VIII powers in Clause 25 it may help noble Lords when deciding whether to bring back this issue on Report. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that organisations based in the UK and which are not controlled from overseas will be clearly excluded by the Bill from Clauses 24 and Clause 25, thus taking fully into account the concerns of the DPRRC.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I too am a member of the Delegated Powers Committee and I support everything she said about the delegated powers provisions we are considering. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I support the amendments proposed by my noble friends Lord Collins and Lady Hayman.
There are 6.56 million trade union members in this country, which is one in 10 of the population, from babes in arms to our oldest citizens. Trade unions were defined by Sidney and Beatrice Webb in The History of Trade Unionism, in 1894, as
“a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving the condition of their working lives.”
They achieve this in two ways: first, by seeking to regulate relations between workers and employers, a purpose which is captured by Section 1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, and, secondly, by campaigning for changes in the law. They have a glorious history in that respect, from the “Ten Hours Act”, factory and mines legislation, and, after they had formed the Labour Party, the Trade Disputes Act 1906 and many other pieces of legislation through the 20th century.
That campaigning function is a legitimate activity, protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European convention. Article 11 protects freedom of association and specifically the right to be a member of a trade union for the protection of one’s interests, and Article 10 protects freedom of expression. Only restrictions which are
“necessary in a democratic society”
are permitted on those two guaranteed rights.
The restrictions proposed in the Bill have never been required, although political expenditure by trade unions has been intensely regulated by statute since the Trade Union Act 1913. It cannot be said that the measures we are considering today are necessary in a democratic society. It is of course true that states have a margin of appreciation, but not to the extent of potentially extinguishing trade unions’ rights to campaign where that campaign coincides with campaigns run by one or more political parties in an election.
As my noble friend Lord Collins pointed out, Clauses 24 and 25 would allow the Secretary of State to add, remove or define permitted participants in election campaigns by statutory instrument and effectively restrict categories of organisations spending more than £700 on election campaigning in the 12 months leading to a general election—which could be a snap election that is not in the minds of unions spending money on campaigning.
Unless the amendments under discussion are accepted, there is a possibility that the trade union right to campaign may be extinguished. How does the Minister justify the statement at the front of the Bill:
“Lord True has made the following statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998: In my view the provisions of the Elections Bill are compatible with the Convention rights”?
It does not appear to me that that is the case.
My Lords, when I first came into this House I got involved with the Trade Union Bill, like a number of other noble Lords. I did so because I was seriously concerned that it was unbalanced and partisan legislation that worked against the interests of one political party in this country. I fear that Part 4 of this Bill has much the same effect. We should be aware that, despite the complexities of this issue, the impact could in effect well be the same. The Committee should be very concerned about that.
Clause 25 adds to the imbalance, with the addition of executive power. It is a pity that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is not in his place, because he would be very strong and vocal on this issue. Before we could possibly agree this additional power for the Secretary of State, we need to understand the reason for it and why it could not be dealt with in some other way. We should not lightly give additional powers, and I would like to hear from the Minister precisely why this is necessary and why it could not be dealt with in a different fashion; otherwise, we should not agree to it.
My Lords, I wish to follow the themes that the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and other noble Lords have alluded to. I came to this Bill slightly worried but with open ears to hear where it was going. As we have got more into Committee, the more worried I have become about a level playing field for elections. Regardless of the colour of a political party, a level playing field is what is required. With Part 4 and Clause 25 along with other clauses, it is becoming more worrying.
If you were to say to an ordinary person outside this House that the Bill would put the Electoral Commission more in the pocket of the party of government, regardless of its colour; to limit organisations, which at the moment can campaign 12 months out from a general election and spend £20,000 before they have to register, to £700; and that the stroke of the Secretary of State’s pen—that is what we are talking about—decides what type of organisation or individual is deemed to be allowed to campaign, I think most of the British public would say that was not a fair and equal way to carry out an election.
I come back to the central question that a number of noble Lords have asked: what is the problem that this clause is trying to deal with? How big is that problem? As someone who has been involved in elections since the age of 15, I am not clear what the problem is that requires my third question: what is it that requires the speed and the secrecy of the Secretary of State’s pen to deal with it? Those are the three questions that I ask the Minister. I hope that he will give detailed and, as he normally does, reasoned answers to what the clause is trying to solve, how big the problem is and, if he can explain the first two, why the only option is a Henry VIII power for the Secretary of State to decide what type of organisation or individual is deemed legal to campaign in such a way.
My Lords, I too express my deep concerns about the ways in which the Bill contravenes the Human Rights Act and indeed our constitutional commitments. I have canvassed the views of human rights lawyers and constitutional lawyers, and I am afraid I find it very difficult to see where the Government’s advice has come from that this complies with our commitments and obligations under our own legislation and constitutional commitments. When people say, “Let us think twice”, it is a reminder to this House about our role in causing hesitation when something of such significance in our democracy is going to interfere with the fundamentals. I call upon us to hesitate before going down this road, and to question what its purposes really are.
My Lords, I would like to say a word of caution as well. When I look at a piece of legislation, I invariably say, “How would this work if the political parties were changed—if, instead of us implementing it, the party opposite were doing so?” If it passes that test because it is a fair piece of legislation, then I think that is within the Government’s right.
My concern here is that we are unbalancing the structure and that a Secretary of State—from a party, my party, that clearly is not well known for its love of the trade union movement—could exercise these powers, which may need exercising but not in this way by these people. We have to be very careful with the Electoral Commission because it is in all our interests for it to be seen as fair, independent and trustworthy. I am not going to make lots of speeches on this Bill because they would all be essentially the same, but I am afraid I am concerned about the way the Bill is tipping things.
I clearly have no interest in funding Labour Party campaigns, but I have an interest in there being a level playing field and people being able to campaign. My personal view, which I will mention in debate on another clause, is that party financing has got completely out of control and needs fundamental reform. You cannot run a democracy on selling games of tennis. When we say, “We have a great democracy and we’re really proud of it”, we are asked, “Oh yes? How do you fund it?”, and we have to reply, “Well, the Prime Minister plays tennis with Russians, and we get quite a bit of money in from that.”
When I came into politics, which was a long time ago—about 60 years, to be exact—the great joke was that you could not have a party function without a raffle and you could not run an election without at least a couple of jumble sales. When I was eventually disposed of by the Labour Party, which in retrospect was actually not a bad thing, I joined the Conservatives—
I have followed the noble Lord’s career for all those 60 years in great detail; I remember when we worked together in the Co-operative Party. I think his recollection is just a little wrong. My recollection is that he left us; we did not kick him out.
I have a letter signed by none other than the great Mr Blair terminating my membership of the Labour Party for a disciplinary offence, which was running for an office that was not actually reserved for any political party but was supposedly open to all. Mr Blair decided that I was to be forbidden from running for that office. I had won the election fairly easily because it gave people an excuse; they were voting not for Balfe but against the Iraq war, which was a bit odd because the job I was standing for was administrator of the European Parliament pension fund.
I suggest to my friend the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that he stops making a fool of himself. This was not a paid post; it was an elected post within the European Parliament, known colloquially as “shop steward”—I see the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, nodding—that attracted no pay but you got some staff, a big office and the ability to actually get things done for the members. By definition, it was a non-political post. It had no politics attached to it, which made what happened even more odd. I will bring the noble Lord the letter; I will get it out of the LSE archives.
Could the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, just help us with something? Having gone down this road, we need to complete the journey. I think I understand why he was removed from the Labour Party, and why he presumably accepted the post, but I would like to know what it was he found particularly attractive about the Conservatives. It is one thing to leave the Labour Party, but to join the Tories, I mean—
From my position in the trade union movement, I knew there were quite a lot of right-wing people in AUEW/TASS. We were not all bleeding-heart liberals; we were actually toughies. I had no difficulty in joining the Conservative Party because I felt that it reflected many of my values.
I am enjoying this exchange, although obviously we need to focus on the clause. In recent times the noble Lord has addressed this House about the discipline that has been imposed on him by the Conservative Party in the House of Lords, so that seems to be a common thread through his career.
I think we should stop our entertainment and get back to the purpose of the Bill.
My concern about the Bill is that it leads to an uneven playing field—it is as simple as that. If we are to have reform, it should be by some form of consensus, although I know that has been incredibly difficult to achieve. I take a rather puritan view as to how much should be spent on elections. We need to get back to a situation where a democracy consists of people asking for votes, not of people going out and attempting to buy them. To my mind, the party funding system has got completely out of kilter.
I see the Bill as unbalanced because it gives an unhealthy level of power to one party. That is my fundamental objection to it, and I ask the Government—although I doubt they will do much about it—to look at strengthening the Electoral Commission and maybe giving it the powers it needs to regulate elections, but not hand them to a political source which, even if it is the most straightforward and honourable politician in the world, will always be suspected of bias. I am afraid that is the way that politics works. If one party has power over another in this respect, it will not be seen as a level playing field, so in my mind this is not good legislation.
My Lords, I rise briefly to contribute to Committee on the Elections Bill, rather than take part in the “Lord Balfe Down Memory Lane Amendment (No. 2) Bill”, which I, like other Members, have enjoyed. We are discussing in this clause the powers of the Secretary of State, yet this is the same Minister who will pilot the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill, which, as we know, will restore the position where, in effect, a general election might be called at short notice.
Will the Minister explain in responding how the clauses we are discussing—the powers of the Secretary of State to add or remove from a list—would be exercised in the event of a very sudden general election? Would it be possible for the Minister suddenly to say, after an election has been announced, that such and such will or will not be allowed to take part in it, with the expenditure limits that follow? I would be very interested to know the answer to that and how they fit together. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
Will the noble Viscount take that a bit further? It is not just after the general election has been called; the Prime Minister will now have the sole power of calling the general election and knowing the date. It could be that, a few months before the general election, in a couple of marginal seats in which organisations are particularly difficult, the Government could, at the stroke of the Secretary of State’s pen, proscribe those people from campaigning. Does the Minister—I apologise, the noble Viscount—accept that that could take place?
First, I thank the noble Lord for promoting me to a position that I am unlikely ever to hold. I do not disagree with him. As I said, it is the relationship between what is being proposed in the Elections Bill and the fact that we are moving to a situation where, if a Prime Minister so decides, we can have an election at short notice. These areas, including those raised by the noble Lord, deserve a bit of exploration. I would be ever so grateful if the Minister could add that to the list of things he intends to cover in his reply.
My Lords, the noble Viscount should not be so modest and reticent about the possibility of achieving ministerial office. If we have the quick election that we might have when the situation arises that the Prime Minister can call an election, the Labour Government might welcome his presence on the ministerial Benches in the House of Lords. I would certainly do so.
I do not want to go down memory lane again with the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, but I genuinely pay tribute to him. I know that we had a little to and fro earlier in which I seemed to imply that I did not appreciate him; I do appreciate that, on many occasions, he has criticised his own Conservative Government—just as he used to criticise our Government—and we should give him credit for that. It is to his credit that he sees the flaws in this Bill and others and has said so.
We debated earlier the need to have Tuesday morning sittings. This Bill, including this clause, is one of the reasons why we will have these sittings. The Government have tabled this huge omnibus Bill; it includes this provision that has been rightly criticised by my noble friend, but it also includes so many other things. It is an omnibus Bill of grievances and vendettas of the Conservative Government against the Labour Party and the trade union movement. It is an attempt to ensure that there are Conservative Governments for ever. That is what they are up to. They believe it is their right to rule and they are trying to find ways to make it more and more difficult for other parties and more and more difficult for electors to cast their votes and particularly for poorer people to participate in the electoral procedure. This clause is part of that.
I hope that the Minister, in his discussions in his department and government, will express the views of so many people, including some on his own side, as we know, that it is not helpful to keep pressing this Bill. Going back to the debate we had earlier, it would make life a lot easier and make it less likely for us to be sitting into the early hours of the morning and coming in on Tuesday mornings if this Bill were abandoned. This clause is one of the many reasons why it should be. I hope that, at some point in our debates in Committee and on Report—if we ever get there—he will feel able to come to that view.
My Lords, I make it clear at the outset—I will take any intervention noble Lords want to make—that the Government’s view is there is an issue being raised in Clause 25, which I will address.
Before doing so, I thought I had answered the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on spending by unincorporated associations on our previous day in Committee, but I am very happy to arrange for her to have a full explanation from either me or officials. The purpose of lines 25 to 28 on page 33 of the Bill is to carve out from Clause 24 precisely the kinds of bodies that she describes: charities and all those listed there which are allowed to campaign.
If I may complete my remarks, they will not be subject to the new provisions in Clause 24, which, as I explained last time, will restrict foreign campaigning, with which I think the Committee agrees. I am very happy to meet the noble Baroness outside and explain this further.
I thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene. As a point of clarification, I understood that charities will not be included. That is not the issue. I am concerned about non-charitable bodies from abroad, which are not controlled. If he could make that clear, that would be very helpful.
All those bodies in the current list in Section 88(2) of PPERA are carved out, whatever their description. We will come on to the concerns raised about what is in Clause 25, but I repeat that assurance. In saying that, I understand some of the suspicions and concerns raised by noble Lords.
I do not wish to be adversarial in any way, but the other thing I would say in starting is this. As I have said several times in these discussions, I agree that, one day, ideally, a consolidation Bill would be highly desirable. I fully accept that. There are issues here that are relatively urgent, whether we are agree or not: for example, around foreign money, digital campaigning and so on and so forth. The Government are seeking to make progress on those, but it is not a zero-sum game. In presenting this legislation—by the way, as a Minister who has himself had to try to get his mind round all the various references and cross-references in the Bill—I am not in any way saying that a consolidation Bill, one day, is not a desirable end. Anybody involved in the political world would agree.
Clause 25 is really what this debate is about. The potential problems and suspicions—raised, for example, by the noble Viscount—arise from the perceived view of Clause 25 that has been expressed in this debate. Perhaps I could deal with the first part, which is about potentially adding new categories. We are conscious that, as the world evolves, new legitimate categories of third parties that are not currently on the list might emerge. Because they are not protected by the carve-out in Section 88(2), they might be significantly restricted in their ability to campaign by this provision if they could not be added to the list quickly. That is why Clause 25 makes provision for the amendment of the list of eligible categories of third-party campaigns in PPERA, to add a new category of campaigner that might emerge. That would allow any Government, not just this Government, to amend the list to enable new groups or styles of campaigners to take part. Parliament would have a lock on that, via the affirmative resolution procedure.
I simply wish to congratulate the Minister on following so very clearly the precautionary principle in legislating here for something that has not yet happened and might happen, because it would be useful to have this in place if it did happen. That is what I understand him to be saying.
I am saying that there is a practical possibility that this might arise. I take it that, however expressed, that was assent from those Benches, and I am grateful for that.
These provisions will ensure that we can be responsive to the emergence of new categories of third parties, or changes to the legal description of existing categories of third parties—there is some legal language in Section 88(2) —so that they are not unduly restricted from campaigning and participating in our democracy in the future. That is added with a parliamentary lock.
I am grateful for the engagement on the points we come to next; I have heard the concerns of the Liberal Democrat and other Benches, most notably, as we heard again in the debate today, from the party opposite. I thank all who have spoken to me on this subject, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for the points he made on Clause 25 regarding the power to remove—the specific subject of his amendment—or vary the list.
I hope that part of making progress on a Bill is making progress, but it is the person at the Dispatch Box who has the responsibility to listen—my job as a Minister. I hope we can go forward with that in mind.
The Government have listened to the concerns raised. I pay great respect to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recent report on the subject of Ministers having the power to remove entries from the list of eligible categories of third-party campaigners in Section 88(2). That is why I asked my officials to meet, as the noble Lord said, with the TUC and TULO on 7 March to discuss their concerns.
Although powers to update lists in legislation are not unusual—and indeed can be important where, either due to changes in legal definitions or oversight, Governments may need to respond quickly—we acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed. The Government have heard the concerns around whether the power in Clause 25 could be abused by a future Government. I reassure the noble Lord and others who have spoken that before the next stage of the Bill I intend to consider at the very least what further safeguards could be added to the clause, along the lines of, for example, Amendments 42 and 45 from the noble Lord, relating to the role of the Electoral Commission. I have heard the force of opinion in the Committee on these provisions.
I undertake to engage on what I think is an important and significant issue, about which reasonable concerns have been expressed by noble Lords in the course of the debate. I undertake to have further, constructive discussions on that line to come to a solution, because the Government accept that what is in the Bill at the moment arouses concerns that we need to address.
I hope that, in that light, the noble Lord will feel able to not press his amendments. I assure the Committee that I very much conceive it as my duty at the Dispatch Box to listen to the concerns expressed by your Lordships.
My Lords, the Minister is now going to consider safeguards under Clause 25. I invite him to bear in mind that, in order to avert the danger under Clause 25(1)(9)(b) of
“removing a description of third party from that list”,
if the possibility remains of trade unions being excluded or put in that category, it will have to be justified, by reference to the convention, as necessary in a democratic society. That is a high hurdle.
My Lords, I have given a very clear undertaking that I will consider this concern. As it stands, the provision potentially affects not only trade unions. The immediate and direct concern, as has been expressed by noble Lords, is in relation to trade unions, but obviously the power as it stands is, exactly as the Delegated Powers Committee pointed out, far-reaching. I will of course take all issues into account in considering this. I can only repeat my good intent, and, I hope, in my humble state, power to make progress to address the concerns that have been raised by your Lordships on this clause.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s comments and the discussions that will follow. However, I must press him on just one point, so that I can at least have the benefit of his advice. Is it the intention that the powers we are discussing could be exercised by any Secretary of State after a sudden general election has been called?
My Lords, having listened to the debate, the noble Viscount’s contribution was obviously one that I heard. The Bill as drafted—like any other Member, I can only parse a Bill that is put before your Lordships House—has no restriction on what time or in what condition it might be adopted. That is why, I thought, I heard widespread concern from the Committee. When I started, I said I thought that the answer to the noble Viscount may not lie in addressing any particular possible set of circumstances but in trying to address the wider concern that your Lordships have about these provisions. That is the undertaking I am giving between now and Report. I have said that, at the very least, we will look with interest at the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Minister’s response to this debate. I think we are making progress. The fact that the Minister recognises that there are genuine concerns shows the benefit of proper scrutiny of these clauses. I hope that, in his consideration of what might come from the Government on this clause before Report, he will consult both the TUC and TULO to ensure that they understand the rationale behind it. I am sure he will. I welcome the Minister’s comments and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
Amendment 42 not moved.
43: Clause 25, page 35, leave out lines 8 to 10
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment leaves out provision that is not needed because of section 156(5) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Amendment 43 agreed.
Amendments 44 to 45A not moved.
Clause 25, as amended, agreed.
45B: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Disclosure of status as a recognised third party
(1) Section 89 of PPERA (Register of notifications for purposes of section 88) is amended as follows.(2) At end of heading insert “and third party disclosure of registered status”.(3) After subsection (4) insert—“(5) During a period in which a notification under section 88 is in effect and the Commission has entered details of the notification on the register in accordance with this section, a third party shall disclose its status as a recognised third party in a prominent place on the homepage of its website.(6) For the purposes of subsection (5), a reference to a third party's “website” means any part of a website relating to that third party which that third party has caused or authorised to appear.(7) Subsection (5) shall not apply where a third party does not have a website within the meaning of subsection (6).(8) A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, they contravene subsection (5).””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires registered non-party campaigners to disclose their status as such on a prominent place on their websites, so as to increase transparency for the public.
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is very simple. It is to increase transparency around third-party campaigners—not campaigning—by inserting a new clause entitled:
“Disclosure of status as a recognised third party”.
The amendment is not concerned with imprints on electronic or printed material, the complexities of which we shall wrestle with when we come to Clause 37 in Part 6. It is much simpler than that. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend and the Bill team for agreeing to address this issue now.
This amendment is confined to the contents of the homepage of a website—if it has one—of a registered third-party campaigning organisation. If the amendment were accepted, the homepage of that registered organisation would be required to carry a statement, along the lines of: “XYZ”—the name of the organisation—"is registered as a third-party campaigner under Part 6 of PPERA 2000”, or similar wording. This would alert a reader or viewer that the organisation was an active campaigner in the political sphere. It might mean that the viewer or reader might wish to make further inquiries before becoming more deeply engaged with this organisation.
Would such a provision bring about a sea change? Of course not, but it would serve for the small proportion of interested people as a way of increasing the transparency of what is going on. In these circumstances, it would be the desirable outcome fitting the purposes of this Bill as a whole. In my view, there is broad support for such a proposal. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that, after two minutes and 12 seconds, I beg to move.
My Lords, yet again I support the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I share his view that it is good for charitable and voluntary organisations and campaign groups to be involved in civic activities. There should be full transparency around their involvement.
I do not disagree in any way with his suggestion. I would make it a condition of registration with the Charity Commission that an organisation should have a website. Certain things would have to be on that website, such as accounts and a copy of the organisation’s governing documents, precisely so that people could find out basic information about who was behind the entity. But why confine this to a website? Why not have it on a Facebook page or a Twitter handle, for example? I think the noble Lord is coming at an issue that is of growing importance and much bigger than this Bill.
I have started to talk to a number of the regulators, including the Fundraising Regulator, about what is an organisation. It is now quite common for campaign entities to be described as an organisation when they are nothing more than a Facebook page. They may be crowdfunded, but they do not have to produce accounts or show who or what their membership is. They do not have to show their governing documents. They are simply a presence. They can exert quite considerable influence in political campaigning—not necessarily as yet in election campaigning, perhaps, though I bow to others who have greater knowledge about this.
It is certainly a growing phenomenon in campaigning on political issue—one that I think regulators will have to start discussing. Indeed, I know that these discussions are beginning. I was talking to a regulator the other day about how they deal with a very prominent campaign, Insulate Britain, its fundraising activities on a platform and whether they were or were not compliant. This issue is starting to emerge. All sorts of people are having to work through it for the first time.
In this spirt, I ask what might seem a bit of an “anoraky” question of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots. He and I are entitled to be the anoraks on this subject in this House. Small and technical though the question may be, I think it is potentially of growing importance in the time to come.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, for his introduction. As I am sure Members of this House are aware, new digital tools and channels have significantly changed the campaigning landscape in the UK during the last decade. This includes the use of organisational websites.
Unfortunately, concerns about the transparency of some websites that have been set up for political campaigning are starting to have an impact on public trust and confidence in campaigns. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, seeks to address this further. We support his aim in doing so.
Following the 2019 general election, the Electoral Commission said that it had been contacted by people who had been concerned about misleading campaign techniques from across the political spectrum, including on websites. It received a large number of complaints, raising concerns about presentation, tone and content.
Transparency is incredibly important. We are pleased that this is addressed later in the Bill. In the Electoral Commission’s research after the 2019 election, nearly three-quarters of people surveyed agreed that it was important for them to know who produced political information that they saw online. Fewer than one-third agreed that they could find out who produced it. Again, it is important that the amendment talks about having the information on the website in a prominent position, not tucked away and hidden.
The Electoral Commission’s research also confirmed that transparency about who was behind political campaigns was important. Nearly three-quarters of those questioned—72%—agreed that they needed to know who produced the information they were looking at online, including on a website. Unfortunately, fewer than one-third—29%—agreed that they could find out who had produced that information.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, has said, this is a simple amendment, but we also agree this is an important small change. The more transparency we can provide when people are looking online during general or local elections, the better. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said it was a good thing that civic organisations are involved in electoral campaigning. Of course it is. I am sure we all agree with that. But that does bring issues around transparency as part of how campaigning on websites is managed. I do not imagine everyone is going to be deliberately hiding information, but perhaps they do not even think about the importance of providing it.
I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on this, because in some ways this is missed out from the discussions we are going to be having later on in Committee around digital imprints and improving the law on digital campaigning, which we will be dealing with further on. I would also be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said about expanding this to include other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. We know that many of the problems with misinformation during election campaigning come from those social media platforms, but we also appreciate that actually it is very difficult, when they are not registered in this country, to manage that. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that as well.
My Lords, again, this is a significant point that has been raised, and I am grateful to those who have spoken in this short debate. I hope I have come to assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Hayman, opposite, that, setting aside the fact that some people’s misinformation is other people’s information, we know what we are talking about and that these are important areas.
I am grateful to my noble friend for proposing the new clause. As he has explained with commendable brevity, his intention is to require third-party campaigners to disclose their registered status in a prominent place on their website, where such a website exists. That was supported strongly by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. Registered third-party campaigners are already publicly listed on the Electoral Commission’s website—I will not venture to comment on the legibility of that website —and this Bill will introduce further requirements to ensure that any UK-based group spending over £10,000 registers with the regulator.
Further to this, I agree with noble Lords that it is worth emphasising that the digital imprints regime in the Bill—and we will come on to discuss that section later—will require campaigners, including recognised third-party campaigners sometimes referred to as “registered”, to declare who they are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked, when promoting relevant online campaigning material to the public. So I can certainly go with the spirit of what was said by all noble Lords who have spoken.
On the specific amendment of my noble friend, while the Government entirely agree with the principle that the public should clearly be able to identify recognised third parties, I can reassure the noble Lord that the current rules, supplemented by new rules in the Bill, will provide for that. It would be good practice for this to happen. For many people, entry into a new organisation is via a website; not everybody is active on Twitter and Facebook, as the noble Baroness acknowledged. So I will want to consider further how we can ensure that this good practice will happen, because the fundamental point that has been made by noble Lords is important. In that light, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his proposed new clause.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support for this amendment. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that I am proud to be an anorak with her, on this and other issues. She of course had a considerably more sophisticated approach to what should appear and how it might be covered. If this were to be developed, I had always thought that, since this is a fast-developing space, the Electoral Commission, having got this bridgehead, would then have some subsidiary code, which would be what it required third-party campaigners to provide somewhere on their website. I saw that as a second stage, having got this initial agreement. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She is essentially right about public trust and confidence and the growing interest in and significance of third-party campaigning. I am grateful for her support.
My noble friend talked about the Electoral Commission website. I do not think it is very informative, and I do not think people should have to go to the Electoral Commission website to find out whether someone is a third-party campaigner or not. They should be able to see from the organisation itself. I am grateful for two-thirds of a loaf from my noble friend—or maybe half a loaf. I hope we are not going to fall back on “it would be good practice if”, because that is a let-out. I notice he used the words “good practice” in his summation, so I hope that he will reflect further; I, and I suspect others in the House, would feel that “good practice” did not go far enough in this small but important area. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 45B withdrawn.
Clause 26: Recognised third parties: changes to existing limits etc
Amendments 46 to 48
46: Clause 26, page 36, line 15, after “period” insert “in relation to which any limit is imposed by paragraph 3, 7, 9, 10 or 11 of Schedule 10 (periods involving parliamentary general elections or general elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment restricts the provision made by Clause 26, so that it applies only in relation to periods involving parliamentary general elections or general elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
47: Clause 26, page 36, line 24, after “or” insert “, where the regulated period is one in relation to which any limit is imposed by paragraph 3, 7, 9, 10 or 11 of Schedule 10,”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement relating to the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 36, line 15.
48: Clause 26, page 37, line 22, at end insert—
“(13) The amendments made by the preceding provisions of this section have effect only in relation to reserved regulated periods beginning on or after the day on which this section comes fully into force.(14) In subsection (13), “reserved regulated period” means a period in relation to which any limit is imposed by paragraph 3, 7, 9, 10 or 11 of Schedule 10 to PPERA (periods involving parliamentary general elections or general elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment inserts transitional provision in connection with the amendments made by Clause 26.
Amendments 46 to 48 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 26 should stand part of the Bill.
I am sort of moving this on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock. We have sort of tried to spread out these groups so we can last the day, as it were, and I am doing my best.
I will be brief here, because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has his amendment in this group. I come back to the fundamental point that some of the clauses in this Bill beg the question of what the problem is and what we are trying to solve. It is absolutely not clear why this clause is here. What is clear is that, once it is introduced, it will add a burden to a lot of small third-sector charity organisations, and those organisations are least able to bear that burden. That is the point I really want to stress. It comes back to the issue that heavier, more stringent regulations placed on such small organisations will result in what we have called so far a chilling effect—basically, self-censorship. It will not be worth the hassle to express an opinion, and it could be quite an important political opinion. We talked about campaigns about local facilities. It could be a small charity running a creche or something that is promoting childcare that wants to impact a particular election campaign. We have seen examples of that in the past.
One of the problems of this Bill is that, instead of the Government having to come up with clear explanations —“We’ve identified the problem, this is the solution, and we can all unite behind it”—we are having to think, “What is the problem that the Government have identified here?” It increases anxiety in me, because it makes me think, “Am I missing something? Is something happening to our democratic society that requires this sort of burden of regulation, this new lower tier?”
I will certainly welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on his amendment, because I can see that he is seeking ways to alleviate that burden, and I am happy to consider that as well. But at the moment I am not at all satisfied that there is any justification for the clause, or for that lower-tier arrangement.
My Amendment 48A has been grouped with the stand part debate. I thought about degrouping it, but having seen the lie of the land and the way that the debate was likely to go, it seemed easier to join the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in this group. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his support.
This is about third-party joint campaigning. It is not unusual for charities and voluntary groups, especially smaller ones, to try to increase their impact by gathering together in a joint campaign. That could be focused on a policy area, such as animal welfare, or it could be attacking a particular event. When I was doing the review—I have referred to this before—HS2 construction was an important issue, and a number of groups and communities affected by it joined together to campaign to try to change public opinion about the desirability of building HS2 at all. Just those two examples show that this is a very complex area, and finding the appropriate degree of freedom and transparency is hard.
The current rules governing joint campaigning are pretty complex, burdensome and hard to understand, especially if the individual participants are quite small organisations. The present rule is that joint campaigning expenditure bites only when total expenditure by third-party campaigners reaches £20,000—the level at which registration under the Electoral Commission rules is required under Part 6 of PPERA. However, under this Bill there will be a new lower threshold of £10,000. It is true that the lower threshold—the £10,000 to £20,000 level—will be subject to a lower level of scrutiny, but joint campaigning expenditure will still need to be recorded and accounted for. This adds yet another complication to an already complicated arena.
My amendment, complex as it is, seeks to remove some of that bureaucratic burden. How would it work? Let us suppose that charity A has spent £7,000 on its own account and £3,500 as part of a joint campaign with a number of other charities or voluntary groups. That will have taken the total spend to £10,500—above the lower limit. If the amendment were to be accepted, the £3,500 would not be included, so the charity would not have to register. However, if it were to spend £10,000 on its own account and still spend only £3,500 on the joint campaign, it would have to register, because it would have hit the lower level on its own account. Finally, if charity A were to spend £5,000 on its own account and £16,000 as part of a joint campaign, thereby spending £21,000, it would have to register, because it would have infringed the higher level at which full registration is required. That is provided for in proposed new subsection (7B), in my amendment.
The purpose of the amendment is to avoid sweeping a range of pretty small organisations into the regulatory net, thus releasing them from the need to undertake ineffective registration, but at the same time to avoid creating loopholes that could be used to undermine the effectiveness of the regime as a whole.
My Lords, I wish to speak in this relatively short debate to say that these Benches start from the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Collins: we do not understand what problem the new £10,000 lower threshold is trying to solve. Again, I genuinely ask the Minister what the problem is. Could we have examples of that problem from previous elections, and be told the size of the problem, the methodology and why the lower limit was chosen? That would give us some assurance that the proposed new lower limit has not been plucked out of thin air, and also some evidence base showing why it is required—if, say, for some reason, in previous elections the £20,000 limit somehow tilted the level playing field.
It is important to understand the problem, the size of the problem, examples of the problem and, in particular, why the £10,000 lower limit will solve that problem. Without that, these Benches will find it difficult to support the clause. If the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, brings her objection to it back at a later stage, we will be minded to support her.
This is all quite worrying because, as other noble Lords have said, civic society is key to a good, functioning democracy. Many civil society organisations are very small. They are not large regional or national organisations; they are community-based organisations with a real passion for what is happening to their local swimming pool, local library or local hospital. Getting involved is a great way not just of campaigning but of bringing people into the political process. If we as a country make the process of campaigning bureaucratic, and lower the limit so much that the bureaucracy puts people off campaigning in a controlled period, that is bad for democracy in itself.
In general, I am sympathetic to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and support it. However, one issue is this. If an organisation were to set up subsections to keep under the £10,000 limit, how would that be controlled? I believe in the principle of a level playing field, so it would be interesting to see, if joint campaigning amounts were below £10,000, what restrictions would be available to ensure that an organisation did not spend £9,999 and then set up a subsection of the same organisation to spend more. In general, I support the amendment, but I just have that reservation about the level playing field.
I genuinely look forward to hearing answers from the Government Front Bench. It is important for the Minister to explain the problem, why the clause would solve the problem and, particularly, what the methodology is and why a £10,000 limit would deal with that problem.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed to this short debate. I acknowledge the complexities here—indeed, in the latter part of his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, illustrated one set of possibilities.
As noble Lords know, the clause introduces a new lower registration threshold for third-party campaigners who spend more than £10,000 during the regulated period. I think that it would be agreed—it is common ground on all sides—that any organisation wishing to influence the electorate should be prepared to be transparent. It is entirely reasonable, in our submission, to expect organisations spending significant amounts of money campaigning in our elections—perhaps I am old-fashioned, but £10,000 seems a lot of money to me—to declare that activity. This is particularly important, given the evolution of campaigning. People ask, “What has changed? What is new?” A significant new factor is that digital campaigning has made election campaigning more cost effective and cheaper, allowing for greater reach for less resource.
This new lower tier of third-party registration has been designed to be proportionate to that smaller spend, and it will ensure a minimal regulatory burden for campaigners who fall within the scope of the new measures, without the same reporting requirements that those spending enough for the upper tier are required to comply with—we acknowledge that there is a burden. This proposal enacts recommendations made by the House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee in its report on Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust, in which it spoke about the need to respond to new manners of campaigning.
I thank my noble friend for his careful consideration of it—I understand what he seeks to do. His comprehensive and balanced report on the regulation of third-party campaigning is held in significant regard. Indeed, the central premise of his report, “getting the balance right” between providing transparency for the public and administrative burden for campaigners, has been present in the minds of all of those considering the measures in Part 4. But, for that reason, we fear that, as it currently seems, the noble Lord’s proposed amendment might inadvertently add an undesirable layer of complexity to the existing rules, which I know is not what he seeks to do. This amendment will require campaigners to consider joint campaigning in their calculation of spending limits for the purposes of registration in some scenarios and not others, a situation that may create confusion for campaigners, who may be unsure under what circumstances they need to count certain expenditure.
Let me be clear on two points. First, at any level of spend, joint campaigning can have a significant impact on the outcome of an election. Reporting of joint campaigning when determining total spending maintains the integrity of spending limits. Secondly, third parties subject to the new lower-tier expenditure limit—the new £10,000 limit—will be subject to the minimum requirements necessary for them to register. As my noble friend acknowledged, they are not required to provide a spending return, and therefore they do not report the specific details of their joint campaigning.
Under the proposed amendment, the entirety of a joint campaign will only contribute towards the spending of a campaigner subject to the existing registration requirements, or the upper tier. However, it will not count towards the calculation of the spending of a campaigner subject to the new lower-tier registration threshold. This means that, in practice, all campaigners would still need to monitor the costs of joint campaigns that they are involved in, if only to determine whether they need to include them in their calculations to register with the commission. Therefore, for consistency, we believe that it would be easier for all campaigners to consider all of the campaign spending, including joint campaigning, in order to comply with the law.
I am pleased that the noble Lord recognises the need for effective campaigning at UK elections. The Government acknowledge that the contributions of civil society are legitimate. But, for the reasons given, in terms of what we think may be the unintended consequences—I am happy to speak to the noble Lord further—I urge and hope that Clause 26 stands part and that joint campaigning continues to form part of the calculation of all regulated spending by third-party campaigners.
The explanation that the noble Lord has given in relation to the clause is not altogether satisfactory because—if I have a better understanding now—he thinks that costs have somehow gone down with online campaigning and that this is less costly than producing leaflets. As he well knows, £10,000 is not a great deal of money, in terms of campaign expenditure—it is simply not.
But what concerns me about the Minister’s response is that, actually, this new lower tier will especially force all campaigners to monitor their costs and will create a chilling effect, as we have warned throughout the Bill. The result will be that organisations that want to have, and should express, a voice will be reluctant to do so if it impacts in terms of their statutory requirements. I heard what the noble Lord said, but we oppose the clause.
Do you wish to test the opinion of the House?
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27: Joint campaigning by registered parties and third parties
Amendment 48A not moved.
Amendments 49 to 51
49: Clause 27, page 38, line 37, after “a” insert “reserved”
Member’s explanatory statement
The amendments in Lord True’s name relating to Clause 27 restrict the provision made by that clause, so that it applies only in relation to periods involving parliamentary general elections or general elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
50: Clause 27, page 39, line 14, after “a” insert “reserved”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement relating to the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 38, line 37.
51: Clause 27, page 39, line 27, at end insert—
“(7A) In this section, “reserved regulated period” means a period in relation to which any limit is imposed by paragraph 3, 7, 9, 10 or 11 of Schedule 10 (regulated periods for parliamentary general elections or general elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly).”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement relating to the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 38, line 37.
Amendments 49 to 51 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 2.30 pm.