Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, in putting my name down to oppose Clause 29 standing part of the Bill, I hope that the Minister will be able to explain what this whole clause is really about, and what mischief it is intended to block. I went to the Public Bill Office, whose staff have been extraordinarily helpful on this occasion, as on so many others. In order to run through my amendments and to make sure that I understood the Bill properly and what I was putting forward, I asked about this clause, and what it really meant. I said to them, you are all highly trained lawyers; you will be able to tell me what it is all about. They said that they deliberately do not have lawyers in the Public Bill Office because it is very important for people to understand legislation, and that is why they are lay people and not lawyers. I said, “That’s very good—I’ll leave this with you for a day, and perhaps you can tell me what all of this is about”. I went back the next day and they said that they were very sorry but they did not think they would be able to help me with this one. I then contacted the lawyer who specialises in electoral law who has been advising the commission, and asked her. She sent me a reply. I am still not quite sure that I understand what it is all about, but this is what she says:
“Clause 29 imposes limits on the amount non-parties can spend on activity that could reasonably be regarded as promoting a particular party and none other, to £38,500, unless they have the party’s authorisation. This limits the freedom of expression association beyond the limits of proportionality”.
“Although not a focus of the commission’s work, it is another position that would leave groups open to inadvertence, and the onus on what parties do, as opposed to campaigners’ intent. If the rest of the commission’s recommendations are implemented, this would be a highly peculiar—and, from a regulatory viewpoint, bizarre—provision to remain”.
I hope that the Minister will be able to explain what this clause is really about, and what mischief it is intended to block.
My Lords, my name is also down to oppose the question that Clause 29 stand part. We had some powerful speeches from Welsh Members of your Lordships’ House the other day about the living language that is Welsh. This is another part of the Bill that is written in the living language of gobbledegook, although that is living only in parts of Whitehall. I, too, was completely puzzled by it. I obtained the Explanatory Notes, read them with care, and was none the wiser at the end of it. This, I hope, will also be included in the undertaking that the Minister gave when he said that he felt an obligation to look at those parts of the Bill that are incomprehensible. This certainly needs translating; it has been written by lawyers for lawyers—of a specialist sort—yet not for the people who have actually to apply it, particularly those in small charities and organisations. They have to be able to understand the detail of the Bill. I hope this clause can be completely rewritten, if indeed large parts of it are at all necessary.
My Lords, I also put my name down here. I apologise to your Lordships for not being able to participate for the latter part of Monday, and earlier today. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, have both indicated something that ought to be of prime and absolute concern to every Member of both Houses of Parliament: legislation should be intelligible. People to whom this will apply ought to know what the law says they can and cannot do. In this House and in another place, I have often advocated a redistribution of Sir Ernest Gowers’s famous book Plain Words. If anyone needs a copy, it is those who give—devoted and conscientious, I am sure—service to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, because what has been produced here is utterly incomprehensible, to moderately intelligent people in all parts of this House. First, we need my noble and learned friend to give us a child’s guide from the Dispatch Box, to tell us what is intended. He should then take this clause away, which is total gobbledegook, as the noble Baroness said a few moments ago, and after Christmas, bring us a new year’s gift of something which we can all understand.
My Lords, I hear the message. The current provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 do not prevent political parties benefiting from expenditure by third parties in a way that would enable the political parties to avoid party spending limits. Although measures exist to regulate political party spending, third-party spending and the notional campaign expenditure of political parties—that is, spending by third parties for or on behalf of a political party—those measures are not necessarily effective in ensuring that all spending for the benefit of a political party is properly captured. Our concern, which influences or informs this clause, is that that risks undermining trust in the controls on party spending.
Clause 29 therefore introduces a new measure that requires third parties that spend significant sums in a way that can reasonably be regarded as supporting a particular political party or its candidates to be specifically authorised by the relevant political party to campaign in that manner. I heard and will certainly reflect on what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, of Pentregarth, said—that this might somehow be something that innocent people or groups can stumble into, but I rather think that the political reality on the ground is that if a particular group is, to all intents and purposes, supporting the Liberal Democrats—I am being neutral about this—it will not do so innocently or without any notion that that is what it is doing.
Under proposed new Section 94B(3), authorisation would be required only in instances where the third party wishes to incur expenditure that exceeds 10% of its spending limit for a part of the UK. This would be treated as “targeted controlled expenditure”, and the Bill defines it as more than 0.2% of the maximum campaign expenditure limit for political parties in that part of the United Kingdom. That limit would be £31,980 in England, £3,540 in Scotland, £2,400 in Wales and £1,080 in Northern Ireland. If a political party does not want the third party to spend more than 10% of its spending limit in support of it, or for that expenditure to count towards its limit, it can simply withhold authorisation. A third party will commit an offence if it either exceeds the targeted expenditure limit without authorisation or exceeds an authorised cap set by a political party. In other words, if such a group comes to the Liberal Democrats, in the highly unlikely event that the Liberal Democrat treasurer says, “Sorry, we are not going to accept your offer of going beyond the 10% limit and we are not giving you authorisation”, it would be an offence if the group then spent money in obvious support of the Liberal Democrats beyond the 10%.
The intention of this clause is to bring a greater degree of transparency where third parties campaign to support a particular political party or its candidates. Requiring expenditure incurred as part of that campaigning to count towards the spending limits of both the third party and the political party, and for this information then to be disclosed to the public, will prevent political parties evading their spending limits by relying on co-ordinated support from campaigning groups. Clause 29 will not prevent third parties campaigning up to a significant limit without needing any kind of authorisation from a political party. Nor will it curtail third-party expenditure that cannot reasonably be regarded as intended to benefit a particular party—for example, because that expenditure supports multiple parties or candidates who support the third party’s aims.
This is an important provision to try to prevent the spending limits on political parties being circumscribed or undermined by third parties campaigning on their behalf. It does so by requiring authorisation at 10% of the third party’s spending limit. I take the point that what I believe is a relatively simple and important principle or objective may not have been expressed in the most felicitous terms. I would normally share my noble friend Lord Cormack’s desire to see legislation in much plainer English. I confess that having negotiated a coalition agreement with the Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament in 2003, including a commitment to making progress towards drafting legislation in plain English, I fear that we failed to honour that commitment. That suggests that it is easier said than done. Some challenges are bigger than others.
I do not know whether delivering the objective can be done in much simpler language. In the previous clause, much of the apparent complexities related to an interrelationship between different relevant periods because of different elections. However, judging by the mood of the House, we at least ought to look at this clause to see if something can be done in that regard. However, the underlying objective, to stop the subversion of the limits on party political funding, is a proper objective.
Clause 29 agreed.
Moved by Lord Tyler
170H: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
“Third parties acting in concert
(1) Section 94 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (limits of controlled expenditure by non-recognised third parties) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (6)(b) after “arrangement” insert (“the plan”).
(3) In subsection (6), at end insert “in pursuance of the plan”.”
My Lords, I have tabled this proposed new clause with my colleagues, my noble friends Lady Williams of Crosby and Lady Tyler of Enfield and, in a private capacity, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. We have given it the heading:
“Third parties acting in concert”.
We think that that is a better definition of the problem that has been brought to our attention on many occasions than using the word “coalition”, which might have other overtones.
Among all the groups that we have met, the present PPERA 2000 rules on this type of working between different organisations have emerged as a major area of concern. Indeed, they have caused great confusion and, more than anything else, given rise to the alleged chilling effect among smaller organisations. I checked with the Electoral Commission earlier this week about what exactly is meant by the present rules. Suppose organisation A contributes £15,000 to a combined operation, which acts in concert in some form of policy coalition. Then organisation B contributes £375,000 to that same campaign. Therefore, under the present rules, A and B have to record £390,000 as having been spent. However, vitally, organisation A, which has spent only £15,000, is recorded as having spent right up to the total of £390,000. That creates an extremely difficult situation for small organisations. Just by being caught up by some joint operation, they get clobbered because they might very well want to take on some different campaign activity that is nothing to do with that original campaign, and then find that they have already exceeded the limit. That is the nature of the present law, and that is the nature of the present problem that so many organisations have drawn to our attention.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and his colleagues have a good amendment that would deal with this for small organisations making a contribution below the registration threshold and, of course, that is welcome. Our amendment goes further: it embodies the principle that any one group or any one campaign should be capped at the level of the national or constituency limit. We do this by engaging in the amendment with the phrase,
“common plan or other arrangement”,
which is already referred to in the 2000 Act. We are effectively saying that the money spent on that plan should be capped—it should not then be carried forward for any other campaign of a different nature—or that that money spent by a different organisation should be capped. If, in my example, organisation A was spending only £15,000, that would be the limit of the restraint on it because it clearly would not be contributing a huge sum. Just because organisation B has spent a considerable sum in pursuance of the common plan, it should not be effectively restricted by what has happened with one of their allies.
There is a way around these rules at present, which is to set up an umbrella organisation to accept donations from all the different organisations involved, but if they simply campaign together then they will be caught by the present rules. There is a defect in the 2000 PPERA rules and the Bill is our opportunity to deal with it, remove that uncertainty and assist a number of organisations that feel that this is a real constraint on what they are permitted to do. I should say briefly that, on these Benches, we strongly refute the case for Amendment 182A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, which would seek to take away all the coalition rules. It would mean no constraint whatever on organisations, allowing them simply and artificially to multiply and then provide multiple spending limits. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is not here to explain exactly the rationale for those original 2000 PPERA rules, which were thought at the time to be both necessary and desirable. Unfortunately, they have proved to be, to a large extent, not very effective and, in some respects, a discouragement to small organisations being involved in perfectly proper campaigning operations.
The amendment of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, goes a long way to dealing with the problem, but we think that our approach goes a little further and we hope that the Government will accept the direction in which it is going. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 170M. First of all, the charities and campaigning groups have indicated very strongly that what the present Bill puts forward on coalition working is totally unacceptable. All charities are encouraged by the Charity Commission and by their own trustees to work together in coalitions. We have seen many very successful examples of coalition working, but under the law as it is put forward in Part 2 of the Bill, the total amount of money spent by the coalition is attributed to each single member of the coalition. This must be, by any standard, totally unfair. We have racked our brains for the past six weeks and do not feel that we have come up with any solution to the fundamental problem. Therefore, in the first week after we come back, we will be calling a round table conference to which the Minister has agreed to come and various other people will be invited, to see whether, together, we can crack this fundamental problem of coalition working and how it can be fairly regulated. I am sure that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, to which I put my name in a private capacity, will be very much on the table to be considered at that point.
However, as he mentioned, our Amendment 170M will go some way towards solving the problem for smaller groups. In that amendment, we mark the difference between a minor third party and a nominated third party. A minor third party is one that has not yet reached the registration threshold. If it is working in coalition with other parties, on the basis of my amendment it will be able to nominate another party, called the nominated third party. With the agreement of both the third party and the nominated third party, the money that the minor third party spends on that campaign will be attributed to the nominated third party as part of its overall expenditure and the minor third party will simply be able to indicate to the Electoral Commission that it is below the threshold and has, as it were, contributed this amount of money towards the nominated third party, which is very likely to be regulated. We believe that this is quite a neat way of ensuring that smaller parties—those which do not hit the registration threshold and certainly are very anxious to work in coalition —will not be brought within the scope of regulated expenditure. The Electoral Commission, in examining this amendment, remarked that it is “attractive in principle”, but wants to think about it further to see whether there are any unintended consequences.
The issue of coalition working is one of the key areas about which charities and campaigning groups are concerned. I will not go through any of the examples set out at the end of our report, but I would draw the attention of noble Lords to the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland, which has been referred to at least once in this debate already, where something like 180 NGOs work together on a crucial issue. That gives some indication of why getting coalition working right is absolutely fundamental to the charity sector and, indeed, to the workings of our democracy.
My Lords, I add my support for Amendment 170H, to which my name is attached. As my noble friend Lord Tyler has already explained, the amendment seeks to apply the limit of £390,000 to any one registered third party or to any one coalition campaign, but not to limit the spending of one body by virtue of the spending of another. That is a key point.
As I looked into this issue, it became clear that, under the existing 2000 legislation, if a number of organisations campaign together on one issue, each member has to account for the full amount spent on that joint campaign, regardless of their individual contributions, however large or small. As I understand it, this aggregated reporting of coalition spending was put in place at the time as a form of anti-avoidance mechanism for these rules. My concerns are based on my own experience of working in coalitions of charities, and focus on the impact that this can have on collaborative working across the voluntary sector. I am particularly concerned about the impact on small and medium-sized charities and other organisations. In the year before an election, small organisations are quite unlikely to join coalitions for fear of having to deal with the related administrative burdens, while larger organisations are likely to walk away from such coalitions in order to avoid reaching the maximum expenditure limits.
I have also looked at the work of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, and I pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for highlighting the issue of the impact on coalitions of charities. I was struck by how charities would be affected, because they will have to deal with two regulators. I know very well that the Charity Commission encourages coalition working in order to achieve the efficient use of resources—and, frankly, because when smaller charities work together they are likely to have a far greater impact on the policy area they are concerned about.
My personal experience is based on three things. For two and a half years I was the chair of the Kids in the Middle coalition—an interesting coalition of around 30 charities in the children and families sector, working with 30 of the country’s agony aunts and one or two agony uncles. It was all about the impact that very high-conflict separation of parents can have on children. I like to think that it was a rather effective campaign in terms of the things that were achieved, but I fear for how such a coalition of charities would be able to operate under the Bill as it stands.
I am also currently the chair of a coalition of charities called the Making Every Adult Matter group, which looks at how organisations trying to help adults with multiple and complex needs can better work together to produce more joined-up solutions on the ground. It is very difficult for small to medium-sized charities, given the size of their resources, to campaign individually. They simply do not have the resources to do it, and it is probably not a very good use of their very limited time.
I will finish by making a couple of broader points about coalitions and how they could be affected by this legislation unless these amendments are taken on board. It is really important that coalitions are able to campaign effectively, often over a long period of time, to get their point across. I think, for example, of the Mental Health Alliance, which has existed for nearly 10 years. The lead organisations in any alliance or collaboration need to have clarity that they themselves will not be penalised by excessive regulation if their campaign happens to straddle election periods. They also need to be absolutely sure that their governance responsibilities are clear.
I feel quite strongly about federated charities. I was chief executive for five years of Relate, a federated organisation in exactly the same position as federated charities such as Mind or Age UK. They are federations of local independent charities that operate under an umbrella and are federated with a central charity. My concern is that, unless an amendment of the type that we are talking about is taken forward, individual charities that work as part of an umbrella charity will find themselves in a very difficult position and will perhaps feel that they would not wish to be involved in any campaigning work. That would be very unfortunate.
My Lords, my name is on Amendment 170M. This issue creates a number of problems, some of which have been mentioned and some of which have not. One concern is that it gives a completely misleading impression of what each partner in a coalition has spent, because it has to include everybody else’s contribution with its own. This does not give the impression of transparency—if that is what we are trying to achieve—but just the opposite. It gives the public a picture of smaller organisations, and the campaign as a whole, spending far more than they have actually done.
It also of course reduces the amount that can be spent by those groups on other messages or campaigns that they may be conducting. It is inhibiting in both ways and provides the opposite of transparency—it draws a veil over the whole coalition and does not give a true picture to those who want to see how much each of them is spending. Others have said that it is a discouragement to coalition working, which charities are encouraged to do.
We also know from the evidence we have heard that there is very considerable concern about coalitions that involve charities and non-charities working together. How does the Minister see such a coalition working if he were tempted to agree to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, which sought to take charities out of the Bill? If that was done, the charity would of course be under no obligation to register or, indeed, to record its contribution, but the non-charity would. If he has a chance to do so, I would be grateful if the Minister could deal with my worry about that particular situation.
It is quite clear, as we grapple with this, that five weeks is totally insufficient to reach a proper conclusion that would create transparency but at the same time not inhibit proper campaigning. The Electoral Commission has said that, ahead of Report in this House, it is looking at all the options for mitigating the burdens on campaigners with a common plan that spend less than the registration threshold, and that it will publish its conclusions to help the House before that stage.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment. I have done so in relation to the organisations involved with the criminal justice system that I have mentioned before. I refer in particular to the two initiatives being driven at the moment by the Secretary of State for Justice. One is Transforming Rehabilitation, which involves establishing new partnerships working with prisons. The other is the transforming of the probation service, which involves setting up community rehabilitation companies. These consist of a mixture of private companies, charities and other non-voluntary organisations.
They are being encouraged to do this and to do it on a payment-by-results basis. The results are not yet clear. It should be borne in mind that 50% of the rehabilitation work in prisons today is done by voluntary organisations, many of which are very small. Have the possible implications of them joining in coalition with larger organisations that may well fall into the catch of this amendment been explained to the Ministry of Justice and does it have any comment to make? In theory it should explain the implications to those who are minded to join in the coalitions under its leadership.
My Lords, there is little wonder that there is so much concern in the charitable and voluntary sectors about the idea of collaborative working being detrimentally affected by the Bill. That is because collaborative working coalitions are the most effective way of campaigning and bringing about policy change. They bring together large and small organisations, single issue and multiple issue organisations, service providers and self-help organisations, and charities and other types of organisation. As well as enabling a powerful voice, collaborative working moderates the kinds of demand that are made and makes them more realistic. You have to achieve some kind of consensus, if, for example, you are putting together a manifesto, as many coalitions do in the run-up to an election. This may mean moderating the demands of the more extreme and pushing along the demands of the more cautious. These coalitions are very effective and this is why it is important that we get this right. This issue requires much more detailed consideration. In the mean time, the amendment proposed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, gets us some way along that road. I very much support it.
My Lords, I should like to emphasise the challenge posed to coalition working by the present PPERA rules. I have an amendment in a later group about the practical reporting requirements that flow from it.
My noble friend Lord Tyler laid out the challenges, but the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, put his finger on the issue. Our big challenge is to come up with the answer. Charities, particularly smaller ones, will always work in coalitions and therefore we must find a way to facilitate that, for the reasons given by several previous speakers. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, explained this clearly from her personal experience. I can see that we are not there yet, but I hope that the round-table conference taking place early in January, to which the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, referred, will produce something that will address the weaknesses of the present system. I also hope that my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench will be able to approach that with an open mind so that we can tease out the right solution to this undoubtedly difficult but fundamental challenge.
My Lords, I have already expressed my concerns about the smaller charities and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has articulated this so much better than me. I think that the Minister has been waiting for this amendment to reply to me and to others.
I back up what my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries has said about encouraging charities to work together. Let us look at the example of slavery, which is in the minds of the Conservatives at the moment. We are rather surprised about that because that campaign comes from the voluntary sector and the Liberal party and not the Conservatives. Why is that? It is because the ecumenical coalition against trafficking and Anti-Slavery International came up with legislation. They have been working on this subject for 20 years, not five or 10 years, and the Prime Minister has embraced it at the forefront of present legislation. I am delighted about that but the Government have a lot of difficulty in the voluntary sector at the moment. If they are proceeding along these lines, they are going to have to think of something else soon.
My Lords, the last example given by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is a really powerful one and it adds to the criticisms, which I endorse, of the catch-all provisions that have been added to the existing rules, which worked in the past but have become unworkable because of the increased range of activities, the addition of staff, travel and other costs, the reduction of thresholds, and the cut in the spending cap. This is what makes what was a quite innocuous concept now very difficult.
We endorse the criticisms but go further and suggest in Amendment 182A, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Royall, that the combined effect of all of that is so serious and could so jeopardise joint working that it is time to review whether such an anti-avoidance dollop of restrictions, red tape and responsibility for another organisation’s spending is actually worth the candle.
Of course, had we had pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and known about this in advance, we might have ironed it out before, but we did not, so we are left with a situation in which restrictions on coalition spending—or, at least, subjecting it to joint limits and reporting—seem aimed at anti-avoidance only in the belief that 10 groups will get together and campaign and they will all spend £100 less than the limit. Again, we have had no evidence of this. It seems to be a solution in search of a problem.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which supports our amendment, has pointed to the increased significance of the rules because they will now apply to such a wide range of activities, and with new constituency limits. It thinks that this will threaten legitimate coalition campaigning, especially locally. For example, the RSPB works locally with other groups on infrastructure projects that affect the natural environment, such as an M4 relief road, when public reports or press events may be used. This may well be caught because one party may be in favour of a road and another party against it. Even if that is not the purpose of its work, the RSPB risks being caught if its particular objective chimes with—or is at variance with—one party, even though the RSPB’s objectives are based on the interests of birds rather than politics. It is particularly worried about how its spending would count against every member of the coalition’s spend and each member’s £9,750 limit would in a sense be double- or treble-counted if each group had to declare it as if it was its own. As the RSPB says, the combined effect of all the different rules is likely to limit what it can do.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, also looking at the confusion surrounding coalition spending, was worried that simply having its logo on something, with therefore a bit of cost involved, would mean that that would have to be apportioned to a coalition, which could present problems and reduce its ability to support a campaign. The Libel Reform Campaign, which is made up of Sense About Science, English PEN and the Index on Censorship, believes that if it was pooling all those expenditures over a year, all those three organisations would hit their limit even if the combined limit was still below what is permissible.
NAVCA highlights that £5,000 is a lot of money for one small charity alone to spend. However, as my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley said, working in partnership can be much more effective for charities and what they want to achieve for the groups they support. Yet because all the funding is put together, the thresholds create a burden. This could discourage small charities from working in partnership to gain a voice, because they would fear everything that went with that.
It has been mentioned that the Electoral Commission itself, which traditionally saw the old coalition rules as a good anti-avoidance tool, now acknowledges that there are strong concerns about the impact, particularly on small local campaigns. If a local campaigner which is spending only a few pounds enters into a coalition with another which is spending more than the registration threshold, it may then be required to register. One campaigning group would have to take the other party’s spend as part of its own, and then comply with all the rules.
Of course, the amendment proposed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, might appear attractive. It allows a bigger organisation to take responsibility for some of the spending of a smaller organisation. The problem is that a smaller organisation may have decided to spend only £1,000 on something over a year, but then something happens—it gets another member of staff, or the car breaks down and it has to hire a bus—and its expenditure suddenly goes up over that year. It will be the bigger organisation, the responsible body, which will suddenly have to answer for a new range of expenditure that has not been agreed in advance.
I am afraid that for small voluntary organisations that is often how spending takes place. They do not spend with a budget in advance, as the Government do. Spending is often as and when.
Problems remain, despite the attempts to answer this. As has been said, the Electoral Commission itself has failed to come up with a response, only promising us its ideas by Report. This highlights the fact that not only was this not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny but the Government did not even consult the Electoral Commission before they brought in the Bill. It is a little worrying that neither the Government nor the Electoral Commission have found a way to answer these very serious questions. For that reason, we suggest removing the old requirements on all participants to be responsible for the actions of the other. We ask the Government to find a better way of tackling any attempts by various bodies to circumvent the very proper objectives of PPERA.
My Lords, from almost every meeting I took part in with charities or representatives of NGOs, I was certainly aware that the issue of what we described as coalition or co-ordinated planning was of considerable importance to them. That said, it is worth reflecting that the Bill does not actually make any changes, apart from the technical changes to take into account the other activities. The basic architecture on expenditure by organisations going towards a coalition plan was set down in the 2000 Act. I am not quite sure whether there was pre-legislative scrutiny before that particular architecture fell into place. However, it is not the case that the law was put forward in Part 2, as was said by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. That law is already there in PPERA.
What has happened has perhaps been fortuitous. The Bill has brought activity and greater focus, which have targeted minds on what is actually there. I accept that there is more activity now, as I am sure would be said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. Yet in fact, as the law stands at the moment, if 10 groups each contribute £1,000 to the activities or to the election materials covered under the present Act, they would each be required to register. This is therefore an important issue. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made this point about the concern of smaller organisations in a number of his contributions. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that we should remember to put this in the context of what the controlled expenditure is. If we are talking about the valuable and important work that is done in our prisons in terms of rehabilitation, it does not readily strike me how that would be the kind of expenditure envisaged, albeit that the groups concerned might be engaged with other bodies which fall within the ambit of the Bill and of what would lead to controlled expenditure. However, it is important that we recognise that this issue has now been identified, and I think that we all agree that we should seek to address it.
The rules on coalitions are necessary. In its evidence to the Commission on Civil Society, the Electoral Commission said:
“In our view, rules that limit what different campaigners can spend on co-ordinated campaigning are a vital element of the controls on election spending. Without them, individuals or organisations seeking to spend more than the limits on campaigning at elections could do so by setting up multiple organisations working together, with each organisation able to spend the full amount”.
As I have said, the existing provisions have been place for both the 2005 and 2010 general elections. They seemed to work well and they remain unchanged by the Bill.
There has been some confusion about the operation of the rules, so perhaps I should take this opportunity to clarify them. Section 94(6) of PPERA stipulates that where two or more third parties work together as a group or coalition in pursuance of a common plan, the whole of the expenditure they incur as part of that coalition must count against each third party’s individual spending limit. As my noble friend Lady Tyler pointed out, that is a key anti-avoidance provision. If total spending by a group of third parties acting as part of a common plan was not counted in full against each individual third party’s limits, it would allow third parties to form many coalitions on single issues in order to evade their spending limits.
However, the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Tyler perhaps does not have the effect that, I am sure from what he said in moving it, he intended, because it would appear simply to reinforce what is already provided for in PPERA. I am sure that my noble friend seeks a different outcome, which is perhaps the cessation of third parties accounting for aggregated coalition expenditure. Nevertheless, his amendment has raised an issue which I see as current and, as will be clear when I come to respond to the specific amendment proposed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the Government want to look carefully at what more can be done to deal with these concerns. My noble friend mentioned a round-table conference—when we broke for lunch, I think that dates and times were being arranged for that.
The amendment proposed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, would create a category of what he described as “minor” third parties which are exempted from having to account for any coalition expenditure provided their individual contribution is below the registration threshold. The third party must not have incurred expenditure in any other circumstances, and a “nominated” third party must be willing to absorb the “minor” third party’s spend and report it as its own to the Electoral Commission.
I accept that that is a constructive approach to addressing the problem that has been identified. Already, if a coalition campaign is organised by a lead third-party organisation which alone incurs, or decides when to authorise, regulated spending for the campaign, only the lead organisation is required to register with the Electoral Commission. The lead campaigner may receive contributions or donations from other organisations towards the campaign. These will be considered as donations. Where other organisations provide services or materials to the lead campaigner, these will be regarded as both in-kind donations and “notional” spending on behalf of the lead organisation. I reiterate: it is only where there is no lead organisation, and several third parties co-ordinate their campaigning while making their own decisions on when to incur regulated expenditure, that they will be covered by the rules on coalition campaigning.
I hope that in indicating what the present position is on when donations are made I have gone some way to reassuring the noble and right reverend Lord, but we recognise the concerns of small organisations which may wish to join a larger coalition to campaign on an issue. We will continue to look carefully at what more can be done. I hope that, when we meet, the benefit of a break might have enabled us to find a way to address an issue which, as I said at the outset, already exists even under the law as it stands.
In the same vein, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, specifically asked what the position would be with regard to charities. If charities were exempted, they would not incur the controlled expenditure so it would not be counted towards spending on a common plan. As I indicated in my response to the amendment moved on Monday by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, though, while there is certainly an issue there to be addressed and we want to consider it, the Government’s position has not been to exempt charities. If we were to go down that path, the kind of issue that she has raised is one of those that would have to be considered.
Amendment 182A in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Hayter—the latter spoke to it—would remove the requirements for third parties to operate to a common plan to account for the total spending. This amendment would create a significant loophole. Third parties together pursuing a common plan would find themselves unconstrained by spending limits. It would be a simple and obvious avoidance technique for an organisation wishing to spend above the spending limit to split itself into multiple splinter groups, each with their own significant spending limit. They could all work together, with each able to spend up to £390,000 individually. That risks bringing big money into campaigning, which the Opposition said earlier they do not wish to encourage.
I hope that, with some explanation of the current position and with the guidance that smaller organisations contributing to a larger campaign run by a larger body would not draw them into controlled expenditure, I have offered some reassurance, but I do so against the background that we are willing to engage on this issue. As I have indicated, this is a problem that exists even under the law as it presently is. On that basis, I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
I am very grateful to the Minister but also to others who contributed because, if we have done nothing else in recent minutes, we have demonstrated that there is a basic misunderstanding of the current law. It is therefore not surprising that many organisations outwith Parliament, large and small, have been confused by this issue. We should be absolutely clear, and my noble friend’s latter remarks underline this, that if we are not very careful, if it were removed completely from the current 2000 Act by this Bill, this could result in those who have a direct interest in avoidance using this as a cunning plan to get around the constraints of the current law. I have read the Hansard from the time and this was anticipated as a potentially dangerous loophole in the debates in 2000 that led to the PPERA Act, and it would be totally wrong to just tear it up and throw it out.
Incidentally, in that connection, there have been comments about the role of the Electoral Commission. As I have frequently reminded your Lordships, I have a role as a member of the cross-party informal advisory group to the commission. I think that the commission should be taken to task for not identifying that this was a problem over 13 years of experience. It is unfortunate that in that respect it did not recommend to the previous Government and to Parliament that this needed to be looked at, whatever future legislation was going to try and tackle it.
It is clear from the contributions right around the House that many here who have contact with small organisations and charities know that in the past there has been a chilling effect, to use that expression, on those who wish to work in a collaborative way, which, for the reasons that have been explained so well by my noble friend Lady Tyler, needs careful attention. We need to try to avoid the existing distortions that have been identified as having been there for some time, although obviously are now more pressing, given the other changes in the Bill.
Obviously I, too, hope that between now and Report the promised discussions will result in a fairer, more rational approach for those who wish to campaign in an election together. I therefore hope that in the next two or three weeks we will see a practical solution. A number of ideas have been put forward to the Minister and I have every confidence, given what he has just said, that the Government will look at them very carefully. In the mean time—
Can I just clarify the noble Lord’s comments about the Electoral Commission, as I did not fully understand them. The criticism of the commission for not identifying this problem—was that it ought to have identified it before the 2000 Act or between the Act and now? It was set up, as I understand it, by the 2000 Act so it could not have done it in anticipation of that.
My Lords, I am so sorry if I did not make that clear. Since the 2000 Act it has become increasingly evident that this was having an effect and discouraging a number of organisations from working together. This has come to a head now but the principle was explicit in PPERA in 2000 and it is unfortunate that the commission allowed some discussion to continue at a low level but was never in a position to nor felt able to recommend to government and to Parliament that this matter needed close attention.
Amendment 170H withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Hardie
170J: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
“Publication of guidelines for third parties regarding regulation of expenditure
(1) As soon as is reasonably practicable after the passing of this Act, the Electoral Commission shall publish guidelines to assist third parties to determine what procedures are necessary for them to ensure compliance with the provisions of this Act.
(2) The provisions of this Act regulating expenditure by third parties shall not come into effect until three months have elapsed after the publication of the guidelines mentioned in subsection (1).
(3) In the event that the effect of subsections (1) and (2) is that the period remaining prior to the 2015 general election is less than the relevant period, the limits on expenditure by third parties will be reduced to the relevant proportion of the maximum permitted expenditure.
(4) In subsection (3) the “relevant proportion” means the proportion of the maximum permitted expenditure represented by where A is the number of days remaining after the expiry of the three month period specified in subsection (2) until the date of the poll for the 2015 general election and B is 365.”
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 170K. Both amendments introduce new clauses into the Bill. Amendment 170J introduces a requirement on the Electoral Commission to publish guidelines for the assistance of third parties to ensure that they comply with the provisions of the Bill, when it is enacted. I understand that it would be normal for the commission to provide such guidance, but subsection (1) of the proposed new clause requires publication to be:
“As soon as is reasonably practicable after the passing of this Act”.
That provision recognises that the commission may not be able to prepare such guidance until the final version of the legislation is known.
Unlike many pieces of legislation where one might be able to prepare guidelines in anticipation of enactment, the Bill has a number of issues of uncertainty. There remains a considerable amount of uncertainty about the final provisions of the Bill in view of the extent of the opposition to different clauses and the commitment by the Government—which is welcome—to come back on Report with amendments. The Government’s response to the report from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement is also awaited. Until all of that is known it would not be sensible to embark on preparing guidelines because one might ultimately be dealing with different provisions. It would be a waste of resources to commence work until the picture was much clearer.
Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause thereafter allows a period of three months after the publication of the guidance to enable recognised third parties to put in place procedures necessary to ensure that they comply with the Act’s provisions. It is clear from the discussion in Committee that there will undoubtedly be a bureaucratic burden on third parties. Once the guidelines are known, the procedures might well involve the recruitment and training of staff. It will certainly involve administrative procedures, including measures for recording and monitoring expenditure on a constituency basis—if the constituency provisions come in—and it will involve procedures for making returns, including weekly ones, as mentioned by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth.
We should not underestimate the huge bureaucratic burden imposed on small organisations by this legislation. It is appropriate that, if this legislation is to work, they should be given a reasonable period to make arrangements to enable them to comply, particularly as a failure to comply will expose them to criminal conviction and sanction.
I recognise that by furthering this approach, one might well be encroaching into the year before the election. Subsections (3) and (4) of the proposed new clause are my attempt to address that difficulty. They provide, in that eventuality, for the regulated period to be reduced below the 365 days before the next election. Their effect is to reduce the period and to reduce the maximum amount of allowable expenditure in proportion to the amount of the year that is left.
The provisions of my proposed new clause are fair and reasonable. They will not prevent the Bill, when enacted, having effect prior to the next election, if that is the will of Parliament. However, I recognise, having regard to other possible approaches, that the new clause will be unnecessary if the relevant period is reduced to, say, six months, which other noble Lords suggested. However, it is lodged in anticipation that the period will remain at one year.
The second proposed new clause is in Amendment 170K. It would ensure that the Government recognise—as I am sure that they do—the significant additional burden that the Bill would impose upon the Electoral Commission. This is reflected in the various new provisions, requiring guidance, monitoring and enforcement, particularly if the commission has to monitor and enforce contemporaneously the provisions on constituency expenditure. I referred to my concerns about that when opposing the Question that Clause 28 should stand part of the Bill, and I do not intend to repeat them here.
In addition those concerns, I anticipate that if we are in the realms of monitoring constituency expenditure and taking contemporaneous action, and stopping campaign groups or whatever from doing particular things in the course of an election, there will be a great increase in the work of the courts in the form of judicial review. Some campaign groups will just not accept the decision of the commission and will challenge its action. Has provision been made for that eventuality by the Government in making some allowance for the commission to resist such actions, should they arise?
There will be an added burden on the commission’s resources due to the time constraints occasioned by the history of the Bill. Many noble Lords expressed concern about this at Second Reading. Again, it is unnecessary to repeat those concerns today. Suffice it to say that the limited consultation and the short period of time available before the general election, coupled with the 365-day relevant period, combine to impose additional pressures on the commission’s staff to produce guidelines that will be effective within a very short timescale.
Of necessity, that will involve the commission in expenditure that could have been avoided, or at least reduced, if the Government had followed a different course. The commission should not bear that cost or the additional cost of monitoring and enforcement.
This clause seeks to ensure that they do not do so. There is no point in passing the Bill if the Government will not give a commitment to provide adequate resources to those who are charged with the responsibility of regulating and enforcing the regime that the Bill introduces. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie. Amendment 175 picks up the early part of Amendment 170J and seeks, as a probing amendment, to require the production of joint guidance between the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission. During all the debates on Part 2 of the Bill, the underlying theme has been the practical implications for individual charities, especially smaller ones, many of which—as has been pointed out on several occasions—were not yet aware of their responsibilities. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, pointed out on Monday, the overwhelming proportion are run by people of the utmost integrity. The challenge is how to do this so they can discharge their responsibilities at minimum commensurate cost and disruption.
As we have discussed, there is guidance. The oft referred to CC9 from the Charity Commission is 35 pages long but is commendably clearly written and laid out. There are two parts to the Electoral Commission’s guidance: one is entitled Overview of non-party campaign material and the other is on non-party campaigners. That runs to another 15 or 20 pages, so we are talking about something north of 50 pages in total. That is what it looks like for a small charity. I suspect my noble friend Lord Tyler would call it a very good aid to sleeping.
These are two separate sets of guidance which are not easy to integrate. For example, in section G of CC9, entitled, “Campaigning: getting it right”, it says:
“This section is aimed at charities that have already decided to campaign or work in the political arena. There are a range of detailed questions and issues that may arise, along with the need to comply with charity law, and other laws and regulations.”
Strangely, the Electoral Commission is not mentioned at all in the text that follows. What is mentioned is the Advertising Standards Authority, a body which has not hitherto featured large in our discussions. In the Electoral Commission guidance on non-party campaign material, the focus is on two tests: the purpose test and the publicity test. These form no part at all of the CC9 guidance and the overall impression is of two ships passing in the night. This will pose considerable challenges, especially to smaller charities, so the amendment is intended to require—force is perhaps an unattractive word—the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission to produce an integrated set of guidance laying out how to comply with the new Act.
This is a challenge but not an insuperable one. It will, of course, be opposed by both commissions. Members of your Lordships’ House will already have had an opening salvo from the Electoral Commission:
“We think that a legal requirement for us and the charity regulators to produce joint documents is unnecessary and likely to be inflexible. It may also be counterproductive because it could hinder our ability to respond quickly to the needs of charities whose activities fall within our regulatory remit, especially as new questions will arise during the regulated period.”
I do not find these arguments persuasive at all. I see nothing in them that will be made more difficult by requiring a joint approach. Indeed, if the Electoral Commission is proposing to introduce new guidance during an election campaign without the agreement of or consultation with the Charity Commission, this has the potential to put charities in an extremely difficult position.
I do not underestimate the challenge this will pose to my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench. I have been trying for some three years to encourage greater co-operation between Companies House and the Charity Commission to save 30,000 charitable companies making two returns where one could and should suffice. That has never seemed an insuperable objective but progress to date has been glacial. The same applies to collaboration between HMRC and the Charity Commission. However, that issue of collaboration between the Charity Commission and the Electoral Commission is altogether more pressing because of the short timescales and the imperatives created by a general election campaign.
If the requirement to produce joint guidance is not made a statutory one, I confidently forecast that none will be produced. The two commissions will keep to their own separate turfs, and the affected charities will be left in no man’s land in the middle. I therefore hope that my noble friend will appreciate the importance of tackling this matter.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, for his amendments and I welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who just pointed out the ghastly complexity and challenges that will be faced by charities as a result of the Bill. It is eminently sensible to have an integrated set of guidance, and I very much hope that the Minister will accept this amendment so that it will be clear that this House and the Government want there to be a requirement for an integrated set of guidance.
On Monday the Government made a great deal of how the guidance that would be issued after the Bill becomes law would clear up many of the apparent difficulties contained within it. The Minister—I do not know if it was the noble and learned Lord—said:
“The Government believe that it is essential that campaigners have clarity on how they are to comply with the third-party regulatory regime. The Electoral Commission has a power to produce guidance for third parties campaigning in elections, and indeed has exercised that power in previous elections”.—[Hansard, 16/12/13; col. 1040.]
Indeed, the Minister placed such a heavy emphasis on the guidance that would be given that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, was moved to say while speaking to his amendments:
“However, perhaps I may anticipate, rather too boldly, the response that the Government are likely to make: that these kinds of issues can be dealt with in guidance”.—[Hansard, 16/12/13; col. 1057.]
Charities and NGOs need to understand how the Bill will affect them as the Bill passes through the House.
To place the amount of weight that the Government place on guidance is effectively another way of avoiding proper consultation.
The first amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, would ensure that the Electoral Commission is able to give charities and NGOs guidance in good time before they are subject to the regulated period, and would reduce the spending limits in line with the reduced regulated period that would result. The second would ensure that the Electoral Commission is resourced to apply these changes. As the Electoral Commission has said itself,
“The current PPERA rules on non-party campaigning are relatively narrow in scope … and the definition of what is covered is relatively clear, so we are able to produce guidance that builds on the legislation”.
However, it goes on to say with regards to the Bill before us:
“This will be particularly challenging for campaigners because of the need to apply the definition of ‘election purposes’, which is new and untested in the context of non-party campaigning. In the limited time available we will aim to produce guidance to assist with this, and will offer advice on particular queries where possible, but our experience strongly suggests that it will not be straightforward to apply the new rules to many specific types of activities”.
I know that the Electoral Commission will do all in its power to produce the guidance, but it will need time because of the complexities.
I say to the Minister that of course the best way of ensuring that the Electoral Commission is able to issue clear guidance in time is to draft clear law—to draft a very clear Bill. These sensible amendments would therefore assist in that. However, notwithstanding the desired clarity, this is a complex Bill, and time will be needed to ensure the best possible guidance so that the voluntary and charitable sectors understand their new obligations and do not unintentionally fall foul of the law. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, I think that small charities and voluntary organisations that do not employ lawyers as a matter of course could well find themselves unintentionally in breach of the law. As in so many things we do in this House, the lawyers will gain the most, and we cannot allow that to happen. I therefore very much hope that the Minister will signal that the Government will accept these or similar amendments in due course.
My Lords, Amendment 170J, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, would require the Electoral Commission to produce guidance for third parties, so that they are clear what actions they must take to comply with the provisions of the Bill. The Bill, should it have received Royal Assent by the time that guidance is produced, would not be permitted to take effect for a further three months. The noble and learned Lord further proposes that the Electoral Commission be given the extra resources it might need to produce this guidance and to comply with its other obligations under this Bill.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson has tabled Amendment 175, which, similarly, would require the Electoral Commission to produce guidance, but jointly with the Charity Commission. This would be designed to address specifically the impact upon charities.
The debate surrounding this Bill has made clear just what a lack of awareness there was, not only among third parties but among the public at large, of the existing provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—PPERA. I have certainly heard from more than one of the organisations that I have spoken to that they had not been aware that they might just have been edging towards a registration threshold back in 2010, but had not appreciated the fact. This lack of awareness has highlighted the crucial importance of comprehensive and clear guidance for all third parties, not just charities, so that they understand whether they could be affected by the provisions of this Bill as it amends PPERA.
As I said in at least one of the debates on Monday, when the original Committee on Standards in Public Life was considering the architecture and proposing the idea of an Electoral Commission it accepted that in some ways we could never achieve an absolute definition, and that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, predicted, some cases may have to go to the courts. However, much of that uncertainty could be avoided through guidance. That was one of the functions and roles that the Committee on Standards in Public Life saw for the Electoral Commission that it proposed should be set up.
The Electoral Commission already has the power, under PPERA, to produce guidance for third parties. As I said on Monday,
“The Electoral Commission has a power to produce guidance for third parties campaigning in elections, and indeed has exercised that power in previous elections. Campaigners require clear guidance to support them and help them understand the revised regime, and I am reassured that the commission recognises this too”.—[Hansard, 16/12/13; col. 1040.]
I think that I went on to say that the sooner the guidance can be produced in draft, the better.
Although there is existing guidance on third parties and the PPERA rules, noble Lords will be aware that the commission has already indicated that it will indeed produce fresh and enhanced guidance in time for the 2015 UK general election. It did so in its briefing to members in the other place, as recently as
As in previous elections, the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission will work closely together to develop guidance that will assist campaigners and charities to have a clear understanding of how the provisions in Part 2 relate to them. Again, the Electoral Commission made this clear in its briefing of
I hope that the fact that the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission have indicated an awareness of the need for clear and comprehensive guidance is of some reassurance to the Committee. However, the Government are also keen to reassure campaigners and charities that the provisions of the Bill and the PPERA rules will, and should, be clearly communicated to them. It is our view that the Electoral Commission should produce guidance in consultation with the Charity Commission, and provide specific consideration of charities. I am not sure whether a particular statutory provision is needed, but the benefit of that is very evident.
The other point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, in his amendment, which was also spoken to and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was about the funding of the Electoral Commission. It is important to be aware—
Before my noble and learned friend moves on, may I ask him a question? When he was speaking so encouragingly about the joint guidance, I was not quite clear whether, in his mind’s eye—I know that he will not wish to commit himself yet—this will be one document produced by the two commissions? I ask this because once the two bodies are able to produce two documents they will do just that and leave the charities to connect them. They should be doing the connecting. They are the regulators, and they really need to do that. Is that how my noble and learned friend sees it?
I am not sure that that is entirely how I see it; my point was that whatever is produced should be produced in collaboration. I certainly am wary of saying anything that might be seen as a direction to two independent bodies, which must act independently of Government. That is why I hesitate, as I am sure my noble friend will understand. Ministerial colleagues have had meetings with the Electoral Commission—I have not done so personally—and, I think I am right in saying, with the Charity Commission, and I am sure that the message conveyed by noble Lords here will also be conveyed by Ministers.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord says, he cannot give directions. However, if the measure were included in the Bill, both the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission would be obliged to produce joint guidance.
Obviously, if Parliament wishes that to be the case and the measure is included in the Bill, we would have a different proposition, and we would want to reflect whether that was one which the Government would wish to support. Notwithstanding whether or not the measure is in the Bill, the respective commissions will no doubt hear the concerns that have been expressed and the legitimate expectation as regards their response in respect of these matters.
As I said, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to resources. It is important to recognise the position of the Electoral Commission. It is an independent body established by Parliament and is overseen by the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, which oversees the Electoral Commission’s annual estimates. I checked during the debate and I am not aware of it having asked for more resources in respect of this legislation. However, if the commission requires extra resources to perform this or any other duties, including producing this guidance, it would be for the Speaker’s Committee to come to a view on the resourcing of the Electoral Commission in the light of its roles and responsibilities. I think that there is agreement across the Chamber on the importance of proper guidance and clarity. I hope that this debate has been helpful in communicating that message to those who have responsibility for that. I therefore invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I have certainly found the debate helpful. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for their contributions. I should say to the noble Baroness that, as a lawyer who has benefited in the past from gaps in legislation, it may seem a bit churlish of me to deprive the modern generation of that. However, I agree with her that we in this House should do what we can to avoid gaps arising of which people can take advantage because of the uncertainty that causes for others. I thank the Minister for his response. I note that the Electoral Commission will produce guidance. I had not appreciated the niceties about funding, but I am grateful to him for those comments. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 170J withdrawn.
Amendment 170K not moved.
Clause 30 agreed.
Moved by Lord Harries of Pentregarth
170L: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Schedule 10 to the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (limits on controlled expenditure) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 3(3)(a) for “365 days” substitute “six months”.
(3) In paragraph 3(3)(b) for “365 days” substitute “six months”.”
My Lords, this is a blessedly simple and straightforward amendment. It would reduce the regulatory period from the current one year to six months. There are two reasons for the amendment. The first is that a year is a very long time for charities to be burdened with the regulation of electoral law. In the debates today and on Monday, we have begun to see exactly how burdensome that could be. It would be a huge relief to charities if they could focus on what is required of them for election purposes only in the last six months leading up to the election. The second reason for the amendment is that it is supported by the Electoral Commission, at least for the 2015 election. I do not want to say that it is committed to it beyond that but it supports the measure for the 2015 election.
There are particular complications about this one year length in other parts of the British Isles. For example, Oxfam reports:
“Oxfam Scotland is concerned that Scottish organisations may end up being in a regulated period repeatedly for the next three years, with the UK elections in 2015, and Scottish national elections in 2016. It seems to be a disproportionate amount of time for a regulated period”.
Obviously, if the regulated period was six months rather than a year, the problem in Scotland and elsewhere would be lessened.
It might be argued that if the Government accept this amendment, or the other amendment which we are to debate, there should be a change in the registration threshold and the cap—that both of those should be lowered. But to anticipate that argument, the charities have made it quite clear that their expenditure—if there is any—during campaigning, in so far as it is directed towards an election, is loaded up very close to the end of the election period. They do not start thinking about the election right at the beginning of the period. This simple and straightforward reduction from one year to six months would be a huge help to the charities and campaigning groups generally. I cannot see that by making that change there would be further opportunity for abuse by unscrupulous organisations or people. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment and also added Amendment 170P in the spirit of what the Army refers to as KISS: “keep it simple, stupid”. That is because there is already an allowance that the Bill reduces the period to four months before European elections and elections to the devolved Administrations. I know that a number of organisations would be very happy if the period were four months rather than six months, because it would mean that there was one period for all elections. That is why I have tabled my amendment. But the great thing is to have the period reduced.
My Lords, the argument does appear to be very simple. I wish it was so. I will illustrate the complexity that could be caused by one or other of these amendments. Amendment 170L would create a fourth regulatory period in electoral law; there are already three. One would be of 12 months for both non-party and national political party expenditure. One would be of four months for candidates’ long campaign, introduced for the 2010 election by the PPE Act 2009. There would then be the traditional four to six-month period post-Dissolution of the so-called “short campaign”, which was imposed by the Representation of the People Act 1983 but which originated from the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883. So there is a little more complexity than both of the noble Lords who have already spoken suggested.
As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, indicated, there are of course implications for a number of other parts of the Bill. If either of these amendments were to be passed, they would have an impact on spending caps. It would surely be very odd if his commission’s recommendations for the higher spending limits—that is, £1.25 million in England—applied over half the regulated period. This would make the proposed new limit equivalent to £2.5 million if it had been over 12 months. There could then be an argument for no constituency limits. This could mean an unlimited sum being spent in constituencies up to four or six months before an election. I do not accept the argument that nobody is interested in what is spent in the longer period leading up to an election. It can be very influential, as those of us who have fought elections know. After that period, a further £1.125 million could be spent in one constituency—a target constituency, a marginal seat or a small number of constituencies—which would vastly outspend the candidates themselves. The argument is very seductive. The two noble Lords who have spoken are regularly seductive in this House and speak with the tongues of angels, but I have to say that this particular case is not as simple as they suggest.
My Lords, I am hoping to be seduced. There is a kernel to this that is more important than the detailed argument we have just heard. The kernel is that it might be more sensible to have a shorter period in which this whole thing operates. If I may say so to my noble friend, it is not a sensible argument to say, “It’s awfully inconvenient to do this because all sorts of other things might have to be reorganised”. I hope that the Minister will take seriously the following argument. We now have a system whereby we know when the next election and the election after that will be. If you think about it in those terms, you realise that no one is going get anything much under way at this point just before Christmas. The real period will in any case be that from
Given that there is so much unhappiness about this bit of the Bill and that so many people are concerned—I have checked my Twitter feed and seen how many people remain unconvinced by what the Government and the Minister are saying—it might be sensible to think about making a clear change, and saying to people, “Look, we have listened and we can see that there is still a concern about the weight upon organisations, and therefore we will at least think about the possibility of integrating into the Bill a shorter period”. That would of course mean that my noble friend’s concerns would have to be looked at. After all, this is the Committee stage. One of the things that you do in Committee is raise matters that do not actually fit at the time but might lead one to wonder whether there might be a little bit of a shift.
I was hoping perhaps not to be seduced but, in a gerundive sense, to be put in a state to be seduced. In other words, it would be helpful for the Minister to say that he will look at this and see if there is a possibility of giving confidence to people that their fears would be at least more limited.
The only other thing that I will say is that I am concerned about the immediate effect, because all the arguments about referenda and other things fitting at the same time create a very complex web. That is the second reason why I have difficulty with the views of my noble friend Lord Tyler, with whom I often agree—even though I am not supposed to. There is this difficult web in any case, and therefore it is not unreasonable to take apart the pieces and knit them together in a different manner.
My Lords, I am not going to repeat the points that have been made, which in part arise from two issues. One is that there are so many bits in the Bill that change the way in which a number of organisations are going to have to work that a lot of them are concerned. The changes are also bureaucratic—and none of us likes that.
We have to place the other issue on the shoulders of the Government, I am afraid, because they brought the Bill in so late. We must remember that the Bill was introduced the day before the Commons rose for the Summer Recess, had its Second Reading on the day the Commons returned, and so on. That added to the feeling among organisations that there was such haste with the Bill that their views were not being heard. I fear that some of the questions that have been asked are still not getting answered
From the point of view of the organisations, how on earth are those that are affected going to get all their bureaucracy up and running before the regulated period? It starts in 23 weeks and two days’ time. In fact, it really starts at the beginning of April, because virtually every organisation’s financial year runs from
I remain worried that we are not going to see a number of workable proposals. We talked earlier about the ones relating to coalitions in Part 2 coming in good time. I know that the Minister was unable on Monday to promise that we would see the new government amendments on
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who is not in her place, said that Part 2 had to be reconstructed from the ground up. We know that that is what she wants and what the outside groups want. Failing that, perhaps the noble and learned Lord could explain what changes the Government will make to ensure that organisations can prepare for the regulated period well ahead of the due date.
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, has proposed an amendment that would reduce the length of the regulated period for third parties from 365 days to six months. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has tabled a similar amendment, reducing the regulated period to four months under the banner of “keep it simple”, although as my noble friend Lord Tyler has illustrated, it is perhaps not quite as simple as it might appear on the surface.
I am aware from the engagement in meetings that this is an issue that has come up on a number of occasions and not least because, for the first time, some bodies that might have been getting pretty close to being regulated in 2010 but did not realise it have now realised that there is something that they will have to address. I will explain by way of background the different regulated periods that operate for different elections. The regulated period for UK general elections is 365 days and for devolved Administration elections and European parliamentary elections it is four months. The reason why we have put these in is that we believe that it is not unreasonable that third parties and political parties should adhere to the same regulated period for an election. This is because the campaigns relate to the same election. I am sure, if one thinks about it for a moment, that it would be somewhat unusual and unfair if third parties were allowed to incur unlimited amounts of expenditure campaigning for or against a party or candidates in a period when the political parties themselves would be faced with a limit on their spending. That is the principle that underlies why we wish to keep the periods in tandem.
As we have discussed earlier, particularly on whether the clause would stand part—when we talked about expenditure by a third party, which is ostensibly and is indeed intended to support a registered political party—there could be a scenario where a short third-party regulated period really detracted from the rules on the political parties, as political parties could use these third parties as expenditure vehicles for a considerable period of either six months or eight months. I do not believe that this is the sort of situation that we want to end up with. That said, believing that it would be possible to have the relevant guidance in time before the regulated period starts for the 2015 election, I recognise that there are issues; my noble friend Lord Deben highlighted some of them that relate to the first election under this. Of course there will be a review, which we will come on to but the Government have already indicated that there will be a review post-2015. I hear the points made that there are still concerns with regard to the immediate prospect facing a number of organisations. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made reference to that too.
I can say this in a spirit of consideration but not promise, because the principle involved here is to keep the times so that they march together. Not doing so could undermine an important aspect of the restriction on expenditure by political parties. That is why it is important that we do not disregard that principle and I invite the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord explain why he always goes back to parity with political parties? We are not talking about political parties; we are very different in kind.
My Lords, I am happy to explain that. The very nature of the expenditure that will fall to be covered by Part 2 will be expenditure that is very much geared towards an election, the same election in which the political parties will be fighting. It would seem rather odd if the political parties themselves are restricted in what they can spend over a period of one year. If, for example, we were to accept the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for eight months of that year other third-party bodies, some of whom would be endorsing quite unashamedly the policies and perhaps the candidates of one of the political parties, would be able to spend freely without any restriction at all while the political parties themselves are campaigning with restrictions. That is why I make the comparison because it would create a sense of unfairness and imbalance if those who are actually fighting an election, those whose heads are on the block on polling day, as it were, were under restrictions but third parties did not have any such restrictions for a substantial part of that time.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for his support in principle for reducing the regulation period. Perhaps I may remind the Minister that the Electoral Commission, at least for the 2015 election, is supportive of a six-month period. It will be reviewed after 2015, but there is a great deal to be said, at least for the 2015 election, in support of testing the six-month period. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 170L withdrawn.
Amendment 170M not moved.
Moved by Lord Harries of Pentregarth
170N: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Returns as to controlled expenditure
(1) Section 96 of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (returns as to controlled expenditure) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(a) after “expenditure” insert “in excess of the limits in section 94(5)”.
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
(a) during any regulated period the total controlled expenditure incurred by or on behalf of a recognised third party is below the limits in section 94(5) in any relevant part or parts of the United Kingdom, and
(b) that period ends, the responsible person shall submit a declaration to the Electoral Commission that it has not spent in excess of the limits in section 94(5) in respect of the relevant part or parts of the United Kingdom.””
My Lords, this amendment is about reporting requirements, and I shall speak also about the two clauses included in the grouping. I think that the Government are sympathetic to the idea that the regulatory burden, particularly on charities, should be reduced if at all possible. The Electoral Commission has noted that the current provision in the Bill appears to be onerous as far as reporting procedures are concerned. At the moment, charities and campaigning groups have to report every month, and every week during the post-Dissolution period. Amendment 170N provides that those organisations which register because they think that they will be above the registration threshold, but do not in fact go above it, will simply have to report that they have not spent above the limit. They would not have to submit detailed accounts, they would just note the fact that they had not spent above the limit. It is a simple way in which the regulatory burden on them could be lessened.
I have called for a debate on whether Clauses 32 and 33 should stand part of the Bill because we need to go way beyond that. Surely it must be possible for smaller organisations in particular, but even slightly larger ones, to make a single report of expenditure after the election period rather than having to submit monthly reports and, in the post-Dissolution period, weekly reports. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to doing all they can to minimise the regulatory burden, particularly on charities. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have tabled a couple of amendments in this group. They follow the line of attack of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and they deal with reporting requirements. They are quite simple and entirely deregulatory. As regards Amendment 173, if at present a body makes a donation which has to be reported under PPERA rules as part of the quarterly reporting procedure, that triggers a requirement to make returns in subsequent quarters even though the body may not have made any further donations; that is, the body has to make a nil return.
This situation becomes rather more pressing during an election campaign, where a single report of a donation may require a series of weekly nil returns during the rest of that campaign. That arrangement will apply to all charities and all non-party campaigners under the new regime. I have argued quite strongly that nil returns are superfluous—indeed, they may be worse than superfluous, in that a blizzard of nil returns may distract the Electoral Commission from its regulatory role. Amendment 178 seeks to achieve a position where, if a reportable donation is made, it must be reported, but if no further donations are made, then no further reports are required—we dispense with the requirements to make nil returns.
Amendment 174 takes us back to the challenge from a couple of groups ago about the reporting of coalition working, where groups and charities collaborate to work on a particular issue. I referred a moment or two ago to the quarterly and then weekly reporting requirements. Extraordinary though it may seem, as we heard in the earlier debate, every member of a coalition has to report the record of all the members, even of expenditure for which they have no responsibility. That of course is immensely time-consuming and duplicative.
I will give the Committee a quick example. A group of charities may wish to raise the issue, say, of the export of live animals. They establish an agreement and a budget of £200,000. One large charity puts up £150,000 and five smaller charities put up £10,000 each—all are therefore above the reporting requirement. The consequence is quarterly reporting, and weekly reporting during the general election, for all six organisations, which have to make the return to the Electoral Commission. This surely cannot be a sensible use of resources for any of the parties involved, not least the Electoral Commission itself.
Amendment 174 would permit a coalition of charities to nominate a lead charity, which will make the return on behalf of the group. My noble and learned friend may fear a loophole being created. Indeed, in his remarks when we were discussing coalition working an hour ago, he hinted at this particular concern and fear. However, I am not sure that he needs to be concerned, because the lead charity will have to take the responsibility —and all that implies under electoral law—for all the activities of all the members of the syndicate. It is unlikely to take on the leadership role unless it is satisfied that its fellow coalition members will behave properly and legally. Amendments 173 and 174 are supported by the NCVO and have the support, in principle, of the Electoral Commission. They are of course also in tune with the Government’s general deregulatory approach and policy. I hope the Government will study the amendments, which are in a purely probing form at the moment, and perhaps come back with some reaction on Report.
My Lords, I will say one thing. I am very puzzled by the way in which, almost every day in our debates, something happens which reminds us that it is entirely out of kilter with the Government’s generally stated opinions. This Government have generally stated their opinion that they wish to get rid of unnecessary red tape. They are always saying that and yet, every now and again, we have a Bill that seems to have absolutely forgotten that.
We owe a great debt to my noble friend for raising this particular example. It is not the only example—there are a whole lot of examples in the Bill where the Government have suddenly decided that they will do precisely the things that they said they will not do, for very much better purposes, in a whole lot of other areas. For example, we could do with a lot more regulation on environmental matters to get things going, but every time one raises that, one is told, “We don’t want more regulation”. However, in this particular area, regulation appears to be not only implicit, and explicit, but continuous and extensive.
I just do not understand it. This is a good example of something useful, with which I agree; I am largely in favour of this Bill. To some of those movements that do not like it, I have to say that there are some nasty people around. We need this Bill, because these people are increasingly damaging our electoral system. We should not kid ourselves about this. It will get worse. We have a terrible habit of learning from the Americans. Some in America will do things to our electoral system that they have already done there, which would be terrible. I am entirely in favour of the principle of this Bill, but it is not an excuse for going against all our other principles. One of them should be that we should do this as lightly and sensibly as we can, and without too much trouble.
I particularly dislike the idea of people having to tell the Government that they have not done something. That seems peculiar. I do not care whether it is a government or an agency, but I do not want a society in which I have to tell people what I have not done. I am not terribly keen on a society in which I have to tell people what I have done. But what I find really difficult is the suggestion that I am guilty if I do not tell people that I have not done something that I did not intend to do and have never thought about. That is the problem here. I am keen that Ministers recognise that this important Bill needs to shed the bits that are contrary to the principles of this coalition. As I support it, I want the Bill to not look silly, but there are some bits where it is in grave danger of looking so.
Some of the charities that I and my wife support have difficulties doing the normal things. To add to that their being sent a letter that says that they have not done something that they had not thought about seems unnecessary. I hope that the Minister will take all this seriously.
My Lords, may I add a small rider to what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has just said? I have been involved to a certain extent with raising funds, mainly in the arts, but also for charitable work. One of the questions that people are most frequently asked is: how much of the money will go on administration and bureaucracy? We must bear that in mind and minimise it as much as possible.
My Lords, I support Amendment 174. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, it relates to our earlier discussion about coalitions of organisations working and campaigning together. As my noble and learned friend the Minister said when summing up that debate, it is important to get the balance right between not creating loopholes in the rules, or rules that can turn into avoidance measures and things like that. But we must balance that with not just allowing but recognising in many cases that it is a good thing for small and medium-sized charities, in particular, to work together in their important campaigning. That should not be made overly burdensome or difficult for them. The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Hodgson is a sensible way of allowing coalitions to nominate a lead charity to deal with the reporting requirements, and I look forward to hearing what my noble and learned friend the Minister has to say about this in his summing up.
On this side we very much support getting rid of red tape for small organisations. I think that it is tomorrow that the Joint Committee on the Government’s draft Deregulation Bill will produce its report, so it will be slightly ironic if there is that on the one hand and, on the other, we are regulating these small groups. I look forward to what may be the time when the Minister gives us a “yes” today.
My Lords, Amendment 170N would insert a new clause that would remove the requirement for recognised third parties to provide a spending return after the election if they had not incurred controlled expenditure above the registration threshold. Instead, a recognised third party would be required to submit a declaration that they had not spent in excess of the registration threshold.
Amendment 173, spoken to by my noble friend Lord Hodgson, would amend Clause 32 so that a recognised third party would not have to submit a nil report where it had not received a reportable or substantial donation. Amendment 174 would amend Clause 32 so that a recognised third party would be able to appoint a responsible person who had been a responsible person for another recognised third party.
I will give some background before addressing specific amendments. To improve transparency and to ensure that people can see who is funding a third party before the poll takes place, third parties will be required to report any large donations in advance of the poll. This will align the reporting requirements of third parties more closely with those of political parties, and will take two forms.
First, recognised third parties will be required to provide quarterly reports of donations for each reporting period that falls within the regulated period for a UK parliamentary general election. Secondly, between the dissolution of Parliament and polling day, recognised third parties will be required to provide weekly reports of any large donations.
I am not sure if I heard correctly whether the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, suggested that the quarterly and weekly reports also applied to spending. To clarify, the quarterly and weekly reports prior to the election apply only to donations—of more than £7,500—and the spending return will continue to be a requirement after the election.
Both the quarterly and weekly donation reports would be submitted to the Electoral Commission, which would publish the information. The quarterly reports must be accompanied by a signed declaration from the responsible person of the recognised third party, stating that all reportable donations accepted were from permissible donors. The Bill introduces measures that are necessary to achieve this increased transparency. The Bill proposes that third parties provide information about large donations in advance of the election, in quarterly and weekly donation reports.
At present, recognised third parties have to provide details of their campaign income and expenditure to the Electoral Commission after a UK parliamentary general election, and after the poll for certain other elections. To improve transparency by providing a clearer understanding of the finance of those involved in elections and to align the reporting requirements of third parties more closely with those of political parties, a statement of accounts would form part of the return third parties already provide to the Electoral Commission.
To ensure that this additional obligation is proportionate, individuals are excluded from this requirement. The Government believe that not to exclude individuals would result in an unwarranted intrusion into their personal financial matters, although they will still be required to provide details of their campaign income and expenditure, as is currently the case. Third parties, such as companies, charities and trade unions, which are required to prepare a statement of accounts under another legislative framework would be able to submit these accounts as part of their return to the Electoral Commission. I hope that this is an example of proportionality.
Turning to the amendments, I hope that noble Lords support the principle of providing information on reportable donations during the election period. However, the Government acknowledge that the correct balance has to be struck between increased transparency and overly burdensome requirements. With this in mind, the suggestions of the Electoral Commission in relation to nil reporting have provided a very useful starting point. The Government want to consider these matters very carefully and to revisit them on Report, to ensure that adequate and proportionate reporting requirements are included in the Bill.
Amendment 174, spoken to by my noble friend Lord Hodgson, concerns the role of the responsible person. When a recognised third party seeks registration with the Electoral Commission, they must nominate a responsible person who ensures compliance with the provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
It is for the recognised third party or coalition to nominate a responsible person who they feel is best placed to ensure compliance with legislation. That could be a person who is already a responsible person for another third party. There are therefore no restrictions placed on who the recognised third party can nominate as a responsible person, except where an individual registers as a third party, where they will automatically become the responsible person.
In relation to amendment 170N, the Electoral Commission made a similar suggestion in its June 2013 regulatory review. The Government see merit in the suggestion, which underpins our aim that smaller bodies should not be subject to overly burdensome reporting requirements. As a result, the Government will want to consider this issue carefully and revisit it on Report.
We have heard the—understandable—strictures from my noble friend Lord Deben. In that spirit, I ask the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. It is probably the most positive response we have had this afternoon—it must have been the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, which tipped the balance. He has been useful on one or two things on that side in recent years.
I accept the Minister’s assurance that the Government will do all they can to reduce the regulatory burden on both donations and expenditure. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 170N withdrawn.
Amendments 170P and 170Q not moved.
Clause 31: Notification requirements for recognised third parties
Moved by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
171: Clause 31, page 24, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) In subsection (2), after paragraph (c), insert—
“(ca) a body incorporated by Royal Charter, or”.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 172. It is with some relief that I reassure the Committee that this is not, for the moment, about charities. It is about the position of royal chartered bodies. At present, royal chartered bodies cannot register with the Electoral Commission, but nor are they charities. They are floating in the electoral ether, so to speak. These amendments attempt to regularise their position.
Amendment 171 amends Section 88 of PPERA, which is concerned with recognised third parties, by adding royal chartered bodies to the list in subsection (2) of those who may make returns to the Electoral Commission. Amendment 172, which is consequential, adds the officers of the relevant chartered body to the list of relevant participators at the end of Clause 31(3). I have tabled these amendments on behalf of the Law Society. Sections 94(3) and 94(4) of PPERA set out that where a third party is not a recognised third party and exceeds the limit of expenditure, which under the
Bill will be £5,000, it will be guilty of an offence if it knew or ought reasonably to have known that the expenditure would be incurred in excess of that limit.
The fact that the Law Society cannot register as a third party, together with the Electoral Commission’s clear guidance that campaigning on policy issues could be deemed to be controlled expenditure, leave the society vulnerable to possible criminal sanctions for any campaigning it does on issues which arguably have a political dimension. Without the ability to register, the Law Society may have to cease such activity to avoid such sanctions.
There is inevitably a human rights argument that the position of chartered corporations breaches Article 10 of the ECHR, which is on freedom of expression, combined with Article 14, which covers discrimination. As these bodies do not have the options available to other bodies to come under the Act’s system of proportionate control subject to transparency, their freedom of expression is stifled. This is nothing to do with party political activity. Chartered corporations such as charities must not be party political. The exclusion of chartered corporations from being donors in Part 4 of PPERA is right, and is not touched by the amendment.
Until now, the Law Society has been able to live with the low level of uncertainty as to its precise legal position. Two developments have altered this. The first is the provisions and implications of the Bill we are discussing today. The Electoral Commission noted in its briefing of
“The combination of lower registration thresholds and spending limits, new constituency limits, and the wider scope of regulated activity, is likely to create a much higher level of allegations of breaches of the rules by non-party campaigners than at previous elections”.
Further, the detailed guidance on the width of controlled expenditure given by the Electoral Commission at a
The Electoral Commission is sympathetic to this. Its briefing states:
“We support the principle of this amendment and agree that this is an issue that should be considered and note that any organisation that does not fall within one of the categories listed in PPERA as having appropriate links to the UK will not be able to register. This effectively means that their spending on matters covered by this Bill is capped at the registration threshold”.
It goes on to make a further point, which I had not focused on and which is an issue the Government will have to consider:
“There are other organisations that are currently ineligible to register, including Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIOs)”.
Of course, that came into force only in the past 18 months and was not in existence in a corporate form at the time when PPERA was passed. It will be an increasingly important corporate form, because of course it offers the trustees of charitable trusts limited liability. We will therefore need to address this issue at some point during the passage of the Bill, but I had not come across it until this moment.
I have tabled these amendments on behalf of the Law Society, but it will not just be the Law Society that is affected. Other relevant bodies which may or may not be aware of the fate that awaits them include the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Royal College of Surgeons. The full list of royal chartered bodies contains no fewer than 1,002 corporate bodies—whose names I shall not read out—but it may interest the Committee to know that the list of establishment, which is set out in date order, begins at No. 1 with the University of Cambridge, established in 1231, and ends with No. 1,002, the Marylebone Cricket Club, or MCC, established by royal charter on
My Lords, Clause 31 is entitled, “Notification requirements for recognised third bodies”. My plea to the Minister is simple and straightforward, as it was with the earlier clauses. The regulatory burden under this clause should be as small as possible for charities and other campaigning groups. The great list under subsection (3) includes company directors, friendly societies, building societies and so on. At the very least, someone will have to give some very clear guidance—I presume that it will be the Electoral Commission—not only to charities, to which the measure might be clear, but a whole range of campaigning groups to which it may not be clear who is the governing body or the accountable body among them. Again, I look to the Minister to give some assurance that the regulatory burden regarding notification requirements will be kept to a minimum.
My Lords, in respect of the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Hodgson, I have some further positive news. The Government acknowledge that, as 13 years have now passed since PPERA was enacted, there may be other bodies which should now be added to the list. My noble friend mentioned a number of bodies, including the Law Society. Organisations incorporated by royal charter are among them. The Government would like to consider what other bodies should be added to the list of bodies which can register with the Electoral Commission. The Government are committed to ensuring that those bodies which would like to register as a third party are able to do so.
I entirely agree with the noble and right reverend Lord that it is important in all that we do that we do not overburden organisations, be they small or indeed large. Looking through the list, it is my understanding that for companies the relevant participators would be the company directors; for trade unions, it would be the trade union officers; for building societies, it would be the directors; for limited liability partnerships, it would effectively be the partners; for friendly societies, it would be the management committee; and for unincorporated associations, it would be members or, if there are more than 15 of them, the officers of the association. It is certainly not intended to be an extensive list, but it is important to ensure that the activities of third parties are transparent. We think that the change will assist that, but, clearly, we do not want to burden people. Being a director of a company myself and a partner, I know that one has always to put down the names of the directors of the company or the partners, but, certainly, one does not want in any way to make this a difficulty for charities and non-party organisations. That is why these details are included in Clause 31. I hope that, in these circumstances and with that positive news, my noble friend will feel encouraged to withdraw his amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, it is crystal clear in the case of company directors and lawyers who are in partnership, but if you take, let us say, Save Lewisham Hospital, a great campaign group with perhaps lots of other little groups, it may not be at all obvious who they have to put on their paper to report. Then there is the Stop HS2 campaign, with thousands of smaller groups. It will not be obvious which is the organising group or body or the equivalent of directors for those kinds of campaign groups.
I tried to explain what would be the case with unincorporated associations but, given what the noble and right reverend Lord has said, I will certainly look into that.
It is the fate of those of us who scrutinise legislation to spend most of our time pushing against a door that remains firmly shut. When the door suddenly opens, one is inclined to stagger into the room slightly off balance. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for that very constructive reply. I invite him to confirm that charitable incorporated organisations will be on the list that is being considered. If he cannot tell us that now, perhaps he can write and let us know. For the charity sector, that is going to be an increasingly important corporate form because of the limited liability that it affords to trustees, who otherwise have unlimited liability. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would say, it will apply to Scottish CIOs as well. Can he give us any further reassurance?
I have a note that includes the CIOs. We will be looking into this issue, including the Scottish incorporated organisations, so I can give my noble friend as positive a reply as I am able.
It is therefore with great pleasure that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 171 withdrawn.
Amendment 172 not moved.
Clause 31 agreed.
Clause 32: Reporting of donations to recognised third parties
Amendments 173 and 174 not moved.
Clause 32 agreed.
Schedule 4 agreed.
Clauses 33 to 35 agreed.
Amendment 175 not moved.
Moved by Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab)
176: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
“Part 2ATax relief on donations
Tax relief on donations
(1) In the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, after section 70 insert—
“70A Tax relief on donations
Tax relief shall be given, subject to Schedule (Tax relief on donations), to individuals who make donations to a registered political party.”
(2) Schedule (Tax relief on donations) has effect.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 177. Amendment 176 is an attempt to reduce some of the controversy over the funding of political parties. It would incentivise a system of donations by individuals by allowing taxpayers to reclaim the basic rate of tax on their donations to political parties. It would limit the relief to the standard rate. It would operate in the same way as gift aid to charities or covenanting to your local church.
The objective is to help to build a more participatory democracy where a far larger section of the population can sign up to more active forms of political engagement. It would widen the donor base, as Obama managed during the course of his campaign for the presidency in the United States of America. It would be far healthier for democracy than a system where a few large donors and organisations stand accused of exercising undue influence over the democratic process. We all know that while that may be the case on occasion, more often than not it is not the case, but the public simply do not believe us. I argue that an arrangement that widens that donor base and reduces the reliance on large donors is to be welcomed.
I have support for my amendment right across the parties and there is wide support in both the Commons and in this House. I know that there are many who would have been here today if the debate was not taking place at this time of day shortly before the Christmas Recess.
Why has it not happened before? Why has my simple proposal not been considered and implemented in law? To examine the reason for that we have to go in the history of what has been a very difficult debate. Over the past century there were repeated scandals involving political donations. By 2000 the debate had become sufficiently heated to provoke the Government into introducing legislation in the form of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, which has been referred to repeatedly during proceedings on this Bill. However, that Act dealt with only part of the problem. Deficiencies in the legislation surfaced around the 2005 general election when a series of arguments broke out over the use of loans—or what were described as loans—as a means of funding political campaigns. As a result, the parties were driven into all-party discussions on reforms which, predictably, broke down. That breakdown and the inevitable stalemate that followed led to the 2007 review undertaken by Sir Hayden Phillips. It was hoped that this review would lead us out of the impasse but its report indicated only the nature of the problem and did not provide a solution. However, the review paved the way for further talks between the three main political parties, under Sir Hayden Phillips himself. Again, the inevitable happened as the talks broke down in October 2007. In May 2010, after aborted discussions and a general election, a reference to the problem surfaced in the coalition agreement:
“We will also pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding”.
The coalition agreement was followed in July 2010 by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which re-energised the debate with its 2011 report. The report was accompanied by caveats in the appendices from both Labour and Conservative party representatives. We were back on the old merry-go-round with caps on contributions, trade union donations and the usual differences and suspicions—what appeared to be irresolvable problems. Two months later the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee called for heads to be banged together and a solution found to this intractable problem, which is so damaging the political class. The committee, despairingly, called for a resolution of the problem to help avoid further party funding scandals. Not that that plea had much of an effect. Within two months we had a further scandal, with the Cruddas affair: an allegation that led to a libel action against the Sunday Times, which Peter Cruddas, incidentally, won. Once again, Parliament had been submerged in sleaze allegations and more damage was done to its credibility.
“We could also look at how to boost small donations and broaden the support base”,
for the parties. I could not agree more. That is the basis for this amendment. I understand that there were seven meetings in 2012 and 2013. Once again the predictable and the inevitable happened. The talks collapsed. They have been described to me “collapsed talks” and “fizzled out”. On
“clear that reforms cannot go forward in this Parliament”.
Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a totally discredited donor regime in place. Personally, I am fed up to the back teeth with all this ducking and weaving.
All we are doing is bringing the entire political establishment, particularly Parliament, into disrepute, while increasing the disconnect between Parliament and the people. The rot has got to stop.
My amendment is the embryo of a scheme. It provides a framework on which a tax-relieved donor regime can be built. Discussions about what constitutes a political party or levels of tax-relieved donations, although defined in my proposal, can be the subject of negotiation and more precisely defined at a later stage. Today, I am simply moving a probing amendment, and I look forward to the considered response of Ministers.
My Lords, I was delighted to be able to put my name to this amendment, which indeed has cross-party support. It would be fair to say that the four Members of your Lordships’ House who have put their names to the amendment have all had extensive experience, long commitment and real concern about the maintenance of our parliamentary democracy and its health. My noble friend Lord Marland has also had considerable responsibilities in this field, and I hope that he will be able to address your Lordships’ House in a minute because he will have a particular dimension to add.
I do not think that any of the four of us are dangerous radicals, exactly, but we have all of us given a great deal of thought to this issue and have a common concern. I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues have long recognised that a broad range of small donations is preferable to a small number of large donations; that is where we come from. Tax relief along the lines of gift aid would be a good way to embody this principle in regulations about donations. As your Lordships’ House is aware, we believe that those regulations should also include a comprehensive donation cap on individual and corporate donations; that is not for this evening’s debate but I very much hope it will come in due course. With colleagues in the other place, I launched a cross-party draft Bill earlier this year, which would have made specific provision both for tax relief and for a cap.
The amendment before us has the potential to move the debate forward. After so much self-interest has thwarted progress so far, I welcome a further attempt to put momentum behind this change. The amount of money that this would cost is clearly limited in the noble Lord’s amendment, which makes clear that the maximum tax relief for the first two years of operation would be only £16 per taxpayer, and in later years a figure of £96 or another figure set by the Secretary of State. We do not have figures before us for the total cost of such a measure, but we do know that there are ways to find this money without increasing the overall cost to the taxpayer of political parties. I think that it would be the common experience of Members of your Lordships’ House that this is not exactly the best time to be persuading our fellow citizens to spend more on political parties, or even the political process.
However, I have advocated before that the freepost election addresses from which candidates at UK and European parliamentary elections can send at the cost of the Treasury—of the taxpayer—should be converted into booklets of the kind used in the London mayoral elections. It is a staggering fact that a saving of something in the region of £50 million per Parliament could be secured by doing this, and could be put into a tax relief measure of the kind being suggested. Therefore there would be no necessary net increase in taxpayer subsidy to the political parties or the political process. Now that Royal Mail is privatised, it may be increasingly attractive to taxpayers to divert some money away from their coffers and profitability into this very simple way of improving how our political system is funded.
There is no reason for anyone in this House to fear this simple change. It seems that it would apply only to small donations and would roughly affect and benefit the parties equally. Given the desire for consensus in this area, that ought to be enough to recommend it to us. It is a very good measure which has my strong support and I hope it will make some progress.
Since I am an optimist, I hope I will not have to speak again in Committee. I am sure other members of the Committee will be glad to hear that. I therefore take this opportunity of hoping that colleagues on all sides of your Lordships’ House have a very collaborative, transparent, enjoyable campaign of partying during the Christmas recess.
My Lords, I also support the amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for tabling it and for being associated with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who does so much thinking on this subject it is a joy to behold.
I speak with some experience as a former treasurer of the Conservative Party for three and a half years. I may not be entirely supported by the Government on this amendment but most politicians I know think that money grows on trees when it comes to fundraising for a political party and have no concept of how incredibly difficult this is whatever time of the electoral cycle you are in. Working with former Prime Minister Blair, I was one of the instigators of the Phillips report. I participated keenly in that and was disappointed when it came to naught, largely over the issue of trade union donations.
I approach the amendment by asking myself three questions. The first question is: why do people join and participate in political parties? The simple reason is that they have a keen interest in politics and democracy. However, in my experience it is also—as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said—fostering a hobby in the same way as you might join a museum society or any other club or society. It is therefore quite reasonable that a donation to a political party should be treated on the same basis. It also allows people to foster political debate. We are the home of democracy and, as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy, I have been proud to be able to use this as a message throughout the world. Democracy is created by political parties; political parties are created by the individuals who work for them and fund them. Democracy is therefore dependent on giving. New political parties like UKIP, for example, would not have been able to start had a large number of people not donated to it. That, in turn, fosters democracy.
We must also recognise that, as I said earlier, fundraising is incredibly difficult. Very few people like doing it, are good at it or like to be asked. Because funding is so important to our political parties, it is also incumbent upon those of us who are involved in politics to stop the continual denigration of people and institutions for giving money to them. In my experience of three and a half years as a treasurer there were very, very few people who wanted something in return for giving money and most of them were not treated with any respect. There are, of course, situations where people want to persuade a Minister or shadow Minister of the benefits of their ideas, but they will probably not take a blind bit of notice unless the idea has reasonable resonance with their political approach. It is incumbent on us to resist the temptation to criticise people who give political donations or to show them up in a bad light for doing so. It is they who allow us to promote democracy.
The next question I ask myself is: do we want to continue a mix of public and private funding of political parties? Let us not kid ourselves: political parties are funded by public money. There is something called Short money which is £6.5 million a year given to all the opposition parties. There is also the Cranborne money, which is given to opposition parties to support their shadow Ministers in action, which is public money, and a considerable amount. The future of political-party funding should be that blend of public and private support. Of course, the problem with Short money is that it goes only to opposition parties, and believe you me, there are times when parties in government suffer from a complete dearth of funding and therefore require financial support, which at the moment they do not get. Therefore the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is worthy of support.
The final question I ask myself is: do we want to encourage parties to focus on increasing their membership and their small donations? Of course, there is overwhelming support for that. We have to rebuild our donor base of small donors and our membership, just to excite people into the task of politics and support for politicians, which has, sadly, been under attack and under threat. Every argument leads to a mixture of public and private funding. This is a very good start on the road to trying to find the best route to doing it, and so I have great pleasure in supporting the amendment.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of my three noble colleagues. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has done a very good service to the House by tabling this amendment, and I hope that there will be a sympathetic and encouraging response from the Minister who replies. I take issue with just one point made by my noble friend Lord Tyler. I would not like to see the booklet sent out in place of the individual election addresses which candidates are able to send out, one to each elector, at public expense. That would be a further depersonalisation of our politics in this country. Every candidate should be encouraged to send out an individual election address which reflects that particular candidate and his or her interests—that should continue. However, I agree with all that my noble friend Lord Marland said about encouraging participation. It is right for us to give that modest encouragement and assistance, because, after all, it is capped—at a realistic and modest level—and it would not transform politics in the short term. One of the problems we have in this country is the declining membership of political parties. Nevertheless, that would be a move in the right direction and it has my total support.
My Lords, I apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading, when I was not present, and I declare my interests in charities that are in the register of interests.
It is natural for us, as people who are involved in politics, to think that it would be a good idea to subsidise politics in a way that other activities are not subsidised, and for us to be keenly aware of the difficulties we all have as members of political parties in raising money for our political causes. However, our problems in doing that are the same as those that other people have. We should therefore think very deeply about appropriating for ourselves a privilege that is not given to other people. Although this is a modest proposal, and does not go as far as other proposals for state financing of political parties, it would be naive of us to think that if we asked the electorate to treat political parties as if they were charities, they would not in return begin to expect political parties to behave as if they were charities and ask us to do all sorts of things that justify our claim that subsidising our activities is something of public worth. Therefore, although I respect the intention behind this amendment, and I understand why we all feel that our work is incredibly important and therefore should be exempt from the normal taxation that other people’s important work is subject to, we should be careful before appropriating to ourselves that privilege.
I know it is already many millions of pounds, and I am very nervous and worried about that. That money leads to the state beginning to suggest to political parties how they should spend that money, in a very restricted way. In the end, to avoid the problems that the noble Lord talked about in his speech, we would have to impose all sorts of restrictions on political parties’ funding. Otherwise, political parties would be able to raise that money on top of the other money that has been given to them.
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I could reiterate what I said earlier. The state gives political parties £7 million a year. Does he not agree that, because he did not know that himself, this has not been transparently demonstrated to the world at large—and that the proposition in the amendment is much more transparent than what currently exists?
Yes, I think I would agree that it is more transparent, but the noble Lord is assuming that for that reason I agree with the original proposal that we should be spending all that money in the first place. I am very nervous about the amount of money that the public are already giving to political parties. It is not very transparent to people, and I think that if they knew what was being given they would not agree with it. Although I can see why this idea might be an improvement, it is being proposed not as an alternative but as an additional sum.
Does my noble friend not accept that we are talking about voluntary donations? Nobody is going to be compelled to give anything. All it means is that if my noble friend decides, in his generosity, to give a modest sum to a political party—I cannot guess which party it would be—that would be his voluntary decision, and a very modest subsidy from the Treasury would come with it. This will broaden the base of political parties in a way that both he and I would surely desire.
I am going to gain an exemption from my other duties as a taxpayer, in order to do this. It therefore constitutes a privilege that I am being given for giving that money to a political party. Naturally, we are all in favour of doing that because we are all involved in politics.
I am sorry to interrupt, but if we are starting to talk about taxation in that form, I must say that I do not want a state in which it is a privilege not to pay taxes. That is a very peculiar Conservative view, if I may say so.
We are required to give money to the state to pay for all the services that we enjoy, and the amendment suggests that instead of doing that, we should be given an exemption from that duty merely by dint of the fact that we wish to give money to a political party—a privilege that is not granted to us in respect of any other decision that we may take. Any other decision that I may take about what to do with my money is not granted that privilege; I am not to be granted an exemption from my duty to fund the National Health Service—except, by coincidence, in the opinion of a group of political activists, if I give money to the cause of political activism.
My noble friend has just admitted that he has a large number of charitable activities. I am very happy that that should be the case. The real problem with not extending this provision to political parties is that it says that a political party is somehow less worthy than charities. My concern is that that is an insult to the noble nature of a political party.
If it were a charitable activity, the party would be a charity. It is not a charitable activity; it is a political activity. There is a distinction between a charitable activity and a political activity. I am sure that the noble Lord is motivated in his politics by a charitable instinct, but that is very different from a political party being a charity. There are rules that govern what is a charity—rules that we have determined should exist. If we wished political parties to be charities, my point is precisely that the electorate would begin to expect us to impose on political parties the same sort of restrictions that we place on charities.
It is hardly to my surprise that I discover that in a group of people who are involved in politics, everybody thinks that political activity is very special and ought to be granted privileges not granted to other activities. It should not come as a surprise to any of us that we are all very keen on it and understand its importance. My question is whether we think that because we have an interest in politics and believe it to be a noble and important activity, we have a right to expect the electorate to grant us that privilege—an exemption from our other duties as taxpayers. I would argue that we do not.
My Lords, I wish to add a few words. This discussion shows that in the area of political funding, for every solution there is a problem. I take a more sympathetic view of the issue than my noble friend Lord Finkelstein because I think that it is dangerous for parties to depend for their existence on a few major donors, wherever those donors may come from. We therefore have to find a way to replace those donors either with the state or by encouraging more people to make their donations worth more: for example, by means of gift aid, thereby taking them into the charity arena.
At the moment, there is a disconnect between the general public and Parliament. There are a number of reasons for that but the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, put his finger on it: a large proportion of that disconnect is due to difficulties in the area of funding. Some reports are blown up by the newspapers but the public is left with the impression that everybody has their nose in the trough. Even when people are found not guilty of offences in this regard or libel suits are successful, that impression is nevertheless left behind.
I offer a personal view on this. I am on the Lord Speaker’s outreach panel, the members of which give talks in schools, mostly to sixth forms, but sometimes to members of luncheon clubs and so on. It is interesting to see the reaction of 17 and 18 year-olds to talks about Parliament. After you have told them a bit about what we do, you ask them what they think about Parliament and the subject of money always comes up. It is not a question of one party or the other but of a general “smell”. At the moment, we are not passing the “smell” test as far as 17 and 18 year-olds are concerned. I am not suggesting that this amendment is perfect, but it provides a way for us to begin to address the “smell” test and start to deal with some of the issues that so far we have failed to grasp. If we do not grasp them, I fear that the reputation of Parliament will continue to decline because the newspapers and the media will continue to make hay with our reputation.
Although my noble friend is absolutely right about his narrow point, he has to decide where the balance of advantage and disadvantage lies. We should tell our fellow citizens that this process should mean a lot to them as it is the means by which irreconcilable policy issues are reconciled, and that if we do not reconcile them inside this place, we literally fight it out in the streets; and that is not very attractive either. Although I do not think that the amendment is the answer to this problem, I am sympathetic to it because it is the beginning of the answer and deserves to be explored further.
My Lords, I have always been an agnostic about this issue and it is rare that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, but I thought that his speech was remarkably informed. However, the important point is that those who do not want this measure have to find an alternative; and that is the trouble. Every time you talk about party political funding, people do not like whatever you suggest, so you end up with a system which is clearly not acceptable.
This measure is the best solution I can think of for the very reason that the noble Lord who has just spoken put forward: that is, whenever you give a talk in schools, money is the universal and everlasting concern that is always raised. I am not sure that it is easy to answer it because I know perfectly well that, in all the cases I have ever known, donors to the Conservative Party did not get what the newspapers thought they got. I think of a specific occasion when I was a Minister when, because somebody dared to tell me that a particular person was a donor, I am afraid that the opposite happened to what would otherwise have happened. I am sure that the noble Baroness on the Front Bench opposite would agree that such things happen on the opposite side of the House as well. That is what decent people do but it is not what indecent newspapers pretend those people do.
If our whole body politic is being poisoned by the present system, it is incumbent on those who object to the measure being put forward to suggest a different, better solution. I hear none, so, although I do not particularly like this measure, I do not know of a better one. We need to think about this issue much more seriously. The political parties should not wander on saying, “Well, we cannot think of anything better so we will go on with this”, because it is damaging the whole system.
Is the noble Lord proposing that there should be a cap that accompanies this amendment? Because if he is not, why would it affect the problem that he is talking about? It only affects the problem that the noble Lord is talking about if you ban people from making the bigger donations.
I am sorry; my noble friend misses my point. I am an agnostic on this. I am merely saying that as an agnostic listening to the debate, having listened to this debate for many years now, I think that those who defend the present system should not be allowed merely to say, like my noble friend did just then, that this is a problem, and that that is a problem. They have to explain how we can go on with the present system without the poison constantly dripping down into the system in which we live. It is rather like climate change. I never understand why I am supposed to explain that it is dangerous to put vast quantities of gases into the atmosphere. They should have to explain why it is safe to do so. That seems to me to be the right way round. I am in exactly the same position here. Those who defend the present system have got to explain why it is that we should go on with something that is clearly poisoning the body politic.
My Lords, that is an interesting idea in an interesting debate. I certainly do not defend the present system. I agree with all of the noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, that funding causes a disconnect with the people of our country, and that we have got to do something about it. We have to lance the boil, or whatever metaphor one wants to use. People have made various suggestions, including about the cap and about other things such as those that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, talked about. It is absolutely clear that we have to find a solution. I am sure that all of us who are engaged in politics, and all of us who are here would agree, that politics is a “noble activity”, as the noble Lord said. It is a fundamental part of our democracy, and we are here to protect our democracy and to be vibrant activists.
However, it is my party’s strong view that whilst this is an interesting idea, it should not be looked at in isolation, and that what we have to do is to knock each other’s heads together, and find a solution in the round. My party—our party—wants to resume the all-party talks. It can be done; we have got to find a way through. It is not that I am being complacent. I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Marland is getting frustrated by what I am saying, but I can assure him that I spend a huge amount of my time raising funds for my party. I know how difficult it is, and I know all the problems with the media and everything else. We have to find a solution. It may well be that this is part of the solution, but it cannot be dealt with in isolation. But I am very grateful to my noble friend for raising this very interesting issue.
I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for raising this. Having spent much of the earlier part of the Committee discussing non-party organisations and the limits on party expenditure, I think that it is interesting that we now move on to party revenue and how it is raised. Indeed, there is much in this debate in which I find myself in considerable sympathy, as there is a disconnect and there is a problem.
As my noble friends Lord Deben and Lord Marland and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, reminded us, politics is a noble calling. It is not always seen like that, and we understand sometimes why it is not seen like that. But much of the work that is done in this House and in the other place, and in the various devolved Administrations and council chambers up and down the land, requires people to make a commitment and very often a sacrifice in order to make the system work. It does not work perfectly, we know that, and it will not always produce the policies that people like, but nevertheless, without the people prepared to do that work, the system would completely break down and democracy would be seriously imperilled. Democracy does not come cheap, and if people are going to have proper choices at election times it is important that funding and resources are there for particular programmes to be put before voters, who should have an opportunity to respond.
I acknowledge what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said in his opening remarks when he narrated the history of this and of those who want to see reform on this issue. Interestingly, in every party’s manifesto at the last general election there was a commitment to party funding reform. However, the fact that it tends to stall every time is frustrating. I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lord Tyler over many years on this issue, and to what he said about the health of a system that ought to rely more on a large number of small donations rather than, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, on the dangers created if the political system relies on too few donors.
The history of more recent discussions has been narrated. The amendments would allow individuals to make donations to a registered political party, and the individual would be able to obtain tax relief on the donation. There is a proposed new schedule that indicates the various conditions that would have to be fulfilled. I am not sure whether there is a printing error. Amendment 177 states that the tax relief must not exceed £16 in the year 2014-15, £16 in 2015-16 and £96 in 2016-17. The noble Lord says that it is meant to increase to £96. I wondered whether that figure was intended to continue at £16.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining that.
It will not come as any surprise that the Government do not feel able to support the amendment. There have been discussions among the three main parties, which have been guided by the principle of consensus. There has been not total consensus but substantial consensus in your Lordships’ House this evening—a consensus that was not found in the discussions that have taken place. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said that there had been seven such discussions. In a Written Ministerial Statement on
“clear that reforms cannot go forward in this Parliament”.—[ Official Report , Commons; 4/7/13; col. 62WS.]
From what has been said, it has been a source of considerable disappointment that agreement could not be reached. I do not necessarily think that the Bill is the best place in which to start to do these things without that wider consensus as to what other things might be needed. However, it is important that we have had this debate, which has shown that there can be consensus across the parties.
I therefore say to my noble friend Lord Cormack that, while I am sympathetic, I regret that I cannot be encouraging. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I do not know whether to describe that as a disappointing reply. I hope that behind the scenes wise heads get together and further consider these matters.
All that I have tried to do in the amendment is break a logjam. These talks go on and on, collapse, start again and collapse. That is the history of this debate and we are getting nowhere. Meanwhile, our Parliament is submerged in a reputation of sleaze nationally, and some of us really resent it. Whether it is due to Hanningfield, Mackenzie and all these people, it is all part of the same reputation that is developing and surrounding Westminster. We cannot go on forever talking and nothing happening.
I say to the political parties that this is the beginning and is a way through. It would mean that we would have to re-engage in discussions about how to go forward. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Deben, Lord Tyler, Lord Marland, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Lord Finkelstein, and Lord Cormack, and my noble friend for their comments. The fact is that more people spoke on this amendment than on most amendments to this Bill, because people really are conscious of this matter and they know that there is a problem of credibility outside in the country.
I beg leave to withdraw my amendment, but I hope that at some stage in the future heads are banged together to sort this problem out.
Amendment 176 withdrawn.
Amendment 177 not moved.
Clause 40 agreed.
Clause 41: Commencement
Amendments 178 to 180 not moved.
Clause 41 agreed.
Moved by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
181: After Clause 41, insert the following new Clause—
“Operation of this Act
The Minister must before the end of the period of two years, beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, appoint a person to review generally the operation of this Act.”
My Lords, as we approach this last group for debate I shall be as brief as I can. This amendment inserts a new clause into the Bill and provides for the operation of the Act to be subject to a review. Whatever one’s views on the purpose of the Bill and whether it is sufficiently necessary, proportionate and effective, whatever one’s views are on the process of the Bill and whether it is too quick or perfectly adequate or whatever one’s views are on the implications of the Bill, one thing is certain: it has proved controversial. If this were not so, I am sure that the Government would not have agreed to the pause during the past few weeks. As the NCVO said in its briefing on this particular part of the Bill, three senior parliamentary committees have raised their concerns about it: the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, the House of Lords Constitution Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Yet at this stage, all our views and opinions are so far merely supposition. We have yet to meet my noble friend Lord Tyler’s unintended consequences. This probing amendment is designed to ensure that the operation of the Act, in particular Part 2, is reviewed once we have had some real-life experience on its operation. My amendment suggests a review within two years of it coming into force. This will, I presume, mean a review commencing in the spring of 2016—that is to say, about nine months after the next general election, close enough that the lessons learnt in that election will remain fresh, but not so close that those lessons are distorted by the passions inevitably aroused during the campaign itself.
This approach, which is supported by the NCVO, offers the Government the opportunity to say to the doubters, “Let us see what happens in the run-up to and during the general election in 2015, let us then have a formal review and then Government, Parliament and the parties affected, including the charity sector, can decide and lobby for whatever changes need to be made”. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 181A, 181B and 181C, which all move in the same direction as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on reviewing the Act. We made it clear from the standpoint of the commission, from the word go, that our recommendations, as a result of only a fixed five weeks of consultation, were only provisional for the 2015 election and we were very glad to learn from the Minister that he thinks that it should be reviewed.
Amendment 181B, also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Ramsbotham, puts forward the recommendation that the review should be undertaken within six months of the next parliamentary election. Amendment 181C, also in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Williams of Crosby, provides that the review should be undertaken within one year. That one-year recommendation is closely linked to Amendment 181A, which provides a sunset clause so that the Act would cease to have effect on
It has been borne in upon the Government that there are issues here which are far more difficult and complex than they first thought when this legislation was put before the other place in July. We have seen this in particular in relation to constituency working, in relation to coalition working, and in relation to what is the actual heart of this, which is the definition of controlled expenditure. These are major issues that will need to be reviewed after the 2015 election.
My final point is that it is clear that the Government have approached this legislation from the standpoint of how electoral law might be abused. It is the contention of those who are heavily engaged in the democratic process, charities and other campaigning groups, that in trying to clamp down on potential abusers, they have severely curtailed the legitimate activities of people who want to contribute during an election year. The Electoral Commission has said that much of the present Act would be a burden on charities and NGOs generally. When the Minister goes away and thinks about what has been said today, I hope very much that he will do all he can to give NGOs that want to contribute to the democratic process much greater freedom and the liberation to do so without fear of crossing registration thresholds and so on, as would happen if the present Bill goes through unamended. I hope that not only will he think about what has been said both today and on Monday, but that he will support the idea of a sunset clause and a review within a year.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support what has been said by the noble and right reverend Lord and to make two precise points. The first is that the original amendment provided for a period of nine months, which is too short. As we know from many experiences, there is a complexity about elections and everything does not surface as quickly as that. It is sensible and important, if we are to have a review, that it should take into account all that has happened during an election—some of that will be local and some national—and that it is allowed to take note of all the propositions that have arisen. That is because a review that comes too early is one that might well get it wrong.
My second point is the importance of the sunset clause, as has been mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord. I am afraid that I am a little cynical about government reviews. In my experience they do not always happen, sometimes they happen with some very odd persons being involved in them, and sometimes they just disappear into thin air. The great thing about a sunset clause is that it concentrates the mind of Government wonderfully. It is like a wicket in cricket. It makes it possible to consider very carefully what is at stake. I therefore strongly support the noble and right reverend Lord in calling for a sunset clause to be linked to the review because the sunset clause makes it certain that the review will happen and be taken seriously. The Government of the day will then have to consider in detail, in the way that the noble and right reverend Lord has asked for, many aspects of this very complex law.
My Lords, we had no pre-legislative scrutiny and many of us are unhappy about the way in which this Bill was produced. I think that a sunset clause would set our minds at rest to a considerable degree and there is, frankly, an unanswerable case for having one. I sincerely hope that my noble and learned friend, who has already been helpful and has indicated that he accepts the need for review, and who gave us the five-week period of grace—it was not enough but nevertheless it was appreciated because it marked a recognition on the part of the Government that they had not got it entirely right—can give us an assurance that there will be a sunset clause. That, I think, would send us all off to the Christmas festivities and the new year celebrations with a spring in our heels.
My Lords, I will briefly say that I am in favour of both a review and the sunset clause. I also very much hope that the noble and learned Lord has been listening attentively—that is a stupid thing to say as I am sure he has been—over the two Committee days that we have had on this really important part of the Bill. Amendments have been put forward by all sides of the House, notably by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, but both the review and the sunset clause may well be too late because some charities and NGOs may well have been silenced by then—not necessarily by the legislation itself but by the fear of the legislation and its consequences. This legislation needs time and good guidance, as we discussed earlier today. It desperately needs amendment and I am sure—at least I very much hope—that the Government will come forward with the appropriate amendments, including an amendment saying that there will be a review.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to what has been said. One of the important developments in your Lordships’ House over the past year or two is that of post-legislative scrutiny. Noble Lords have focused on the usual way of addressing such things, such as a sunset clause and a plea for a government review—my noble friend expressed some scepticism about government reviews and about who gets asked to do them and so on—but Parliament now has it within its own hands. We would do well to consider not so much depending on government to produce a review at some stage down the line, or putting in a sunset clause, but rather whether we should use post-legislative scrutiny more regularly, after an appropriate time, whether that is two years or otherwise. I say that because it is so easy for us to put taking responsibility for something we ourselves feel strongly about on to somebody else. It is now in our hands to conduct post-legislative scrutiny.
My Lords, I will very briefly say that of course we need to be aware of the effects of any legislation and that often these effects do not become clear until after the legislation is in force. As far as Part 2 is concerned, the Electoral Commission already has, under PPERA, the statutory function of reporting on the conduct of elections. That report will include how third-party campaigning is carried out.
I reassure your Lordships that we agree that the impact of the provisions of Part 6 of PPERA, which would include, if it passes, the measures in Part 2 of this Bill, should be subject to a review after the 2015 UK parliamentary general election. The passage of the Bill has shown that the provisions of PPERA are not necessarily as widely known as they ought to be, and even less well understood. The 2015 election will provide an opportunity to review the effectiveness of the provisions of Part 6 of PPERA as enhanced by Part 2 of this Bill.
The Government are still considering the precise details of the review but we commit to laying the review before Parliament, and a government amendment to that effect will be tabled on Report. Such a review was recommended by the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, led by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and we are grateful to him for that recommendation. When the review is carried out, it is only right that Parliament should have the opportunity to consider how to respond to its findings.
The reason I hesitate in agreeing to the sunset clause is that Amendment 181C calls for the report to be debated “before
I hope this will be the last time that I will be on my feet in this Committee stage. I thank noble Lords in all parts of the Chamber for their contributions. It is important that we have had them. I also thank noble Lords for the good nature in which, debating pretty complex matters, our deliberations have proceeded. The Government have been listening and will reflect over the Recess on the matters that have been raised in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, for the second or maybe the third time this afternoon I can say how grateful I am to my noble and learned friend for his very positive response. It has been a long afternoon and I take this opportunity to thank him for the courteous way in which he has dealt with the extensive probing to which he has been subjected. In withdrawing my amendment I hope that it is not out of order if I wish him and all members of the Committee a very happy Christmas.
Amendment 181 withdrawn.
Amendments 181A to 181C not moved.
Amendment 182 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 42 agreed.
Amendment 182A not moved.
Clauses 43 and 44 agreed.
In the Title
Amendment 183 not moved.
Bill reported without amendment.
Motion to Adjourn
Moved by Baroness Anelay of St Johns
That the House do now adjourn.
My Lords, it is customary at this point of the year for the Chief Whips and the Convenor to pay tribute on behalf of the whole House to the dedicated, patient and courteous staff who have facilitated our work this year, and whose efforts are sincerely appreciated by us all. The adjournment is also an opportunity to record our particular thanks to long-serving members of our staff, who have perhaps left us recently or are about to leave the service of the House.
I begin with the name especially well known to the scholarly among us, Isolde Victory, the recently departed director of library services. I do hate the word “departed”. It sounds as though she has gone not only from here but even further afield; she is still very much active. Isolde joined our House in October 1984 and became a Library clerk a year later. In her 29 years of service, she brought her sharp intellect to more than 4,000 pieces of individual research that covered issues as varied as Lords reform, Alpine skiing and tractors, or, given those who are here today, I might mischievously suggest the Recess itinerary for many of my noble friends. Perhaps her most enduring piece of research concerned delegated legislation, for which her briefing note is considered to be the definitive reference material on that subject. Isolde also took the lead in developing Library services. As the Library’s first head of research services and then as its director, she oversaw a significant period of expansion. In doing so, she kept at heart the Library’s core purpose of providing reference and research services to Members and she leaves a wonderful legacy for her successors. In retirement, Isolde has already enjoyed a family trip to Canada. To her other pursuits she will no doubt bring the same thoughtfulness and, I understand, dry sense of humour that characterised her time in our House.
I also note the departure of Kathryn Colvin, who retired as clerk of the Committee Office after seven years. Kathryn joined the Lords after a career in the Diplomatic Service, which culminated in her appointment as our first ever female ambassador to the Holy See. In that role, she represented Her Majesty’s Government following the death of Pope John Paul II and hosted a visit from the Prince of Wales. Her service saw her recognised not only as a Commander of the Victorian Order but, perhaps uniquely among the staff of this House, as an Officer of the Légion d’honneur. Kathryn’s Lords career was similarly devoted to foreign affairs in her role as clerk to the EU Sub-Committee on External Affairs. She brought her diplomatic ability and intellect to bear on the fast-moving work of that committee, granting it levels of access to the Foreign Office that were previously unknown, and guiding it in the production of notable reports on relations with China and Russia. Outside the House, she has played a leading role on the UK national committee of UN Women, and I have no doubt that she will continue to fly the flag for gender equality during her retirement.
Finally, Anne Bannerton also retired from the House this year after 17 years of service. Anne is perhaps best known for 14 years in the Peers’ Dining Room, first as a waitress and latterly as a wine steward. She became a warm and familiar face to many. In all that time, my experience was that she never lost her enthusiasm and diplomacy in dealing with all manner of occurrences in the Peers’ Dining Room. Perhaps Peers are not always quite as patient as they might be. Anne was a very popular member of staff with colleagues and Members, and her presence will be missed.
I also pay tribute to John Rogers, an attendant who served the House for 14 years. He first worked for the Law Lords as a senior clerical officer, where he prepared legal bundles and provided administrative support on what I am told was the notoriously hectic Law Lords’ Corridor. Other colleagues may feel that it is hectic on every Corridor. After the establishment of the Supreme Court, John wisely opted out of the confines of Middlesex Guildhall and instead joined the corps of attendants, where he worked in our Peers’ Lobby until his retirement in February this year. He was a popular figure throughout his time in the House. As with all other members of staff who retire, we wish him a long and happy retirement.
All that remains for me to do is to register the thanks of all of us to all the marvellous staff of this House and wish them all a very festive period ahead. I will formally adjourn the House later, but will now leave the matter of other tributes to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition, a representative from the Liberal Democrat Benches and the Convenor of the Cross Benches.
My Lords, I echo the thanks that have been given by the noble Baroness the Chief Whip to our marvellous staff in this House. The fact that I am standing here in almost splendid isolation does not mean that my Benches do not think that the staff of this House are not just unfailingly helpful and courteous but amazingly patient and superb in dealing with the many daily challenges and problems that arise. I am particularly grateful to staff when some of our noble friends are ill. Two noble friends of mine were taken ill of late and the staff were impeccable and I am extremely grateful.
It should be my noble friend Lord Bassam standing at the Dispatch Box this evening but I am afraid he has been transported to the TARDIS. He has gone to see a “Doctor Who” film—I would say another great British achievement—and that is why I am here. I seem to have rather different notes from the noble Baroness, because I have some different aspects of the lives of some people.
First, I pay tribute to Mr James McWhinnie, who is clearly a very interesting character with great joie de vivre. I am told that Mr McWhinnie asked for a day off for a doctor’s appointment. Of course, his request was granted. When he came in the following day, everyone asked him how he got on, and he said, “Oh I’m absolutely fine, no problems at all”. However, a number of weeks later his colleagues from the RAF were looking through an RAF magazine and came across a picture of Mr McWhinnie with a wide grin on his face at a top table lunch, on the day he asked to go to the doctor. So I am glad that he has other things in his life apart from the House of Lords.
For the past number of years, a group of the doorkeepers go on what is called a “jolly boys’ outing”. The outing takes place over a weekend and they cruise the high seas. During the cruise, Mr Edwards gives a lecture on whale watching, so it is not just a drinking exercise. On one particular occasion Mr McWhinnie was at his muster point by the bar when he reached out to lean against a chair. However, he missed the chair, fell on the floor and, in falling, managed to fuse all the electrics that operated the bar, including the tills and, more importantly, the pumps to the barrels. I am told that the chap who ran the bar was not too happy. I am sure that we will greatly miss Mr McWhinnie, and I am glad that he did not cause that havoc in this House.
Next I pay tribute to Mary O’Keefe, who was a housekeeper. I pay tribute to all the housekeepers, who do a fantastic job in the early morning before we arrive. When we arrive every day, the House of Lords looks splendid. Mary worked as a housekeeper for 10 years and spent almost all her career in Old Palace Yard. She was highly regarded by all the Members and the departments which occupied the building. She ended her career in the Lords working in the Royal Gallery and the Sovereign’s Entrance. Both these areas were kept to her usual meticulous standards, and she will be missed by all those who worked with her and by the House in general.
Maria Teresa Rey has retired on medical grounds after many years of service to the House, working as a catering assistant in the River Restaurant since its opening in 2006. During that time she served many customers including Members and staff of both Houses, and we wish her well in retirement.
Finally, I pay tribute to Mr Paul Langridge, who joined the Corps of Attendants in April 1996 after a career in the London Fire Brigade. He rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming a principal attendant in 2001 and then moving on to become deputy staff superintendent in Black Rod’s department, in charge of all the attendants. His career included some memorable moments, not least when a Member collapsed here in the Chamber. Paul attended and, using his first aid training and a defibrillator, without doubt saved the Member’s life. Other notable events were the lying in state of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, along with state visits by the Pope, Barack Obama and many more during his 17 years of service to the House. He retired on
I also take the opportunity to thank the staff who work in the Government Office, in the Liberal Democrat Office, the Cross-Bench Office and my own staff. They all do a fantastic job, ensuring that noble Lords opposite are an effective Government in this House and we are an effective Opposition. My thanks go to all the staff of this House.
One of the extremely valuable services that we all use every day in this House is Hansard, the Official Report. This does not only serve us now, but continues to provide a remarkable resource into future decades and indeed centuries. One of our senior Hansard officials has recently retired, and I would like to express our appreciation to Glenice Hoffmann. Glenice joined House of Lords Hansard as a reporter on
Most of us also use the House Library facilities regularly and I would like on all our behalves to say a word of appreciation to Sian King for her service. She retired earlier this year, having joined the House of Lords Library in March 2003 as an assistant librarian. Later, she became technical services librarian, with responsibility for the Library’s core systems and infrastructure—invisible but vital for a modern library. One of her outstanding achievements and legacies is the successful introduction of a new library management system in 2011. She also played the key role in implementing the new e-deposit system whereby in 2007 both Houses moved overnight and seamlessly from a paper-based to a fully electronic deposit system for documents, which was a huge advance and a major achievement on her part.
Sian’s technical expertise and commitment to the Library profession were legendary and she did notable work with CILIP, the professional body for librarians and information scientists. She was a mentor for younger librarians early in their careers and she took every opportunity to champion the cause of libraries, promoting the collections and pursuing opportunities to move from print to digital, which is a very important element of the Library transition these days. On her retirement, Sian and her husband show no sign of taking things easy, as they move to Wales to self-build a new home and spend time with their new grandchild. Thank you, Sian, and very best wishes to you.
The housekeepers look after us quietly and unobtrusively. Patience Owivri has given nine years’ service as a housekeeper here in House of Lords. During that time, she worked in Millbank House, Fielden House and in all areas of the Palace. She was one of the group of housekeepers who volunteered for State Opening duties, working in the Moses Room helping the team of attendants dressing Members in their robes prior to going into the Chamber for the Queen’s Speech. Thank you, Patience, for all your work here in the House.
I say thank you from these Benches not only to those staff who depart in 2013 but to all of those who continue with us. We are mindful and deeply appreciative of the warm and courteous way in which you enable us to do our parliamentary work. I was asked to express particular appreciation on behalf of some of our Members who suffer from disabilities and need assistance to continue their parliamentary work. The staff are impeccable, courteous, warm and helpful at all times. We trust that you all, our staff, have a restful and enjoyable time over the festive season and look forward to continuing together with you to serve our nation in the new year.
My Lords, on behalf of the Cross-Bench group, I associate myself with the warm tributes that have already been so well expressed. It is always a pleasure to take part in this important tradition in the House, because it rightly gives us the opportunity to make some time to express our gratitude to the many staff who have served us so well over the years.
We are all agreed that we owe a great deal to the staff of this House. Many are required to work late into the evening and sometimes unexpectedly, as was illustrated this year during two occasions when the House was recalled. Throughout the year, the staff carry out their duties with care and thought, and their support is of immense value in enabling the House to function so effectively. We are fortunate to have such dedicated and resilient staff who are committed to their task.
It is a pleasure to make special mention of three former staff who have served the House in different but equally important roles. The first to mention is Lieutenant Colonel Edward Lloyd-Jukes, who was widely known and respected by all Members of this House. Ted worked in Black Rod’s Department for more than nine years, first as administration officer and, for the last four years, as Yeoman Usher. Of particular note, was Ted’s ability to act at very short notice as Black Rod during the absence, caused by serious illness, of Sir Freddie Viggers in 2010 and 2011.
During nine months as Black Rod, Ted conducted the introduction ceremonies of no fewer than 108 new Members, a number thought to be a record for such a short period. At the State Opening in May 2010, Ted carried off the ceremonial duties of Black Rod with great assurance and, later that year, played a leading role in ensuring that the visit to Parliament by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was such a memorable occasion.
Throughout his tenure, Ted was at the heart of the arrangements for all the state events in the Palace of Westminster. His tally of visits by heads of state is no fewer than 18. The State Opening of Parliament in 2013 was his ninth. Just as for all previous State Openings of Parliament, it was his task, in which he took enormous pride, to direct and supervise in minute detail, and of course because of that the results were always flawless. Ted’s service was rightly recognised in June this year when he was appointed LVO in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Next, I pay tribute to Michael Walsh. Mick joined the House of Lords in 1997 as one of the two judicial doorkeepers after a career in the London Fire Brigade. Two years later, in 1999, he joined the Palace of Westminster Fire Service, where he remained until 2002. He was clearly bitten by the doorkeeper bug because he returned to us and remained until 2011 as a senior doorkeeper. He then joined the Department of Facilities as a facilities manager for property and office services. In this role Mick was in charge of the housekeepers and the training for the whole department. He remained in this position until his retirement on
I also pay tribute to Felicia Ojo. Felicia was a housekeeper in the House of Lords for six years, and until her retirement was part of the team that cared for the Peers’ Entrance, the Peers’ cloakroom and the Peers’ staircase. The area that she worked in presented a number of challenges, not least being the importance of not disturbing any papers that Members of this House had left around their pegs or on the floor by their pegs. Despite all this, the area was always maintained to a very high standard, which reflected well on Felicia’s work ethic and attention to detail. We thank her and wish her a very long and happy retirement.
I end by adding my own thanks to all the staff, and wish them and noble Lords a very happy Christmas.
My Lords, I speak on behalf of the Lord Speaker and all the other Deputies. We associate ourselves with all the tributes paid to everyone in the House and wish everyone a happy Christmas.