Amendment 1

Elections Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 10th March 2022.

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Lord True:

Moved by Lord True

1: Clause 14, page 21, line 13, at end insert—“(3A) The statement must not include provision in relation to elections, referendums and other matters so far as the provision would relate to the Commission’s devolved Scottish functions or the Commission’s devolved Welsh functions.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment provides that a statement under the inserted section 4A of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (“PPERA”) must not include provision about matters so far as relating to the Electoral Commission’s devolved Scottish or Welsh functions.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee at the outset for the large number of amendments in this group. They are technical amendments, in the main, and the overwhelming number of those I speak to—Amendments 1 and 2, 21 to 24, 26 to 30, 33 and 34, 36 to 38, 40, 43, 46 to 51, 106 to 108, 110 to 118, 124 to 133, 157 to 160, 162 to 167, 169, 173 and 174—are related to the discussions the United Kingdom Government have had with the devolved Administrations in preparing the policy and drafting the legislation. We undertook extensive engagement with them.

For a number of measures that are within devolved competence, the United Kingdom Government considered that a co-ordinated UK-wide approach would have been beneficial, ensuring consistency and operability for electoral administrators and those regulated by electoral law while strengthening protection for electors and relevant political actors. It is therefore regrettable that while the Government sought legislative consent for these measures, the Scottish Parliament has not granted such consent and the Welsh Government have recommended that the Senedd does not so. In respect to those positions, we have therefore tabled these necessary amendments to ensure that measures in the Bill apply to reserved matters only. In addition, an amendment has been tabled to the digital imprint provisions, which already apply UK wide, to ensure they will continue to function correctly once other parts of the Bill concerning devolved matters are amended.

We welcome the indication from the Scottish and Welsh Administrations, however, that they are considering legislating comparably in a number of areas covered by the Bill. The United Kingdom Government remain committed to working closely with the Scottish and Welsh Administrations to support consistency in electoral law and ensure clarity and coherence are achieved across the United Kingdom for voters, the electoral sector and those regulated by electoral law.

Additionally, this group contains technical amendments in my name that are necessary for the measures to be fit for purpose and operate as intended. I will give a brief description of each and the reasoning behind them.

Amendment 82 relates to voter identification and clarifies the information to be displayed on both the poll card and the large notice in polling stations. These will tell electors which forms of identification will be accepted. Amendments 74 to 77 and 123 to 133 are minor clarificatory drafting changes to Schedule 1 and Schedule 6 to reflect that Northern Ireland-registered voters and GB-registered proxies are not mutually exclusive categories, with a further change to make sure that dates of birth for GB-registered temporary proxies can be checked at Northern Ireland Assembly elections, in line with the intended policy. Amendments 157 to 160 are minor amendments to the European Union voting and candidacy rights provisions in Part 2, to remove an unnecessary reference to Northern Irish local councillors in the transitional provisions for officeholders.

In addition, Amendments 5, 6, 10, 11, 15 and 16 are government amendments relating to the Electoral Commission measures in Part 3. This partly answers the noble Baroness’s questions. I was going to answer them later but, since they have come up now, they relate to the change in the committee which is responsible and reflect the parliamentary consequences of the recent machinery of government change, where ministerial responsibility for elections was transferred from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

As a result, the amendments replace PACAC as the statutory consultee on the strategy and policy statement with the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee which will have responsibility henceforth for looking at electoral matters, in line with the machinery of government. This would also align the consultation requirements with the recent change to the membership of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, where the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee chair has replaced the PACAC chair. The noble Baroness and the Committee will know that the chair of that committee is Mr Clive Betts, who is, I say with all sincerity, a very distinguished and experienced Member of the other place. The amendments are technical in nature, as is the move, and does not result in any other changes to the statutory consultation requirements and process.

Amendments 181 to 196, the final government amendments, are to the digital imprint provisions in Part 6. Once again, these are all technical in nature and aimed at ensuring that the provisions deliver the policy as intended. I urge noble Lords to support these technical and necessary amendments—I apologise if I have missed citing any in my speech—and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, on this occasion, I have a lot of sympathy with the Minister. As I understand it, these amendments have been tabled because of the consultation that has taken place since the original drafting of the Bill. I commend the Government for the process—I will come to substance of it—and I have sympathy with him.

However, in dealing with this, the Minister has the support of an excellent team—I see the Bill Committee officials here—whereas my noble friends on the opposition Front Bench have, in comparison, a very limited group of people helping them; they are limited in number—I had better make that clear—but able in every way. That makes it difficult to deal with such a complex Bill. However, I ask the Minister to think of the problems of Back-Bench Members, who have no help whatsoever. We have a huge volume of legislation to consider at the moment, not only this Bill, which is big enough in itself, but so many others, and this does create problems for us.

I would have liked to have spent more time discussing these amendments, particularly as they relate to Scotland and Wales. I was a great advocate of devolution in Scotland—and subsequently in Wales—and strongly supported giving more power to the Scottish Parliament. I served as a Member of the Scottish Parliament for four years, so I know the kind of work that is done there. Some of it was very effective, although it is less effective now under the SNP—much less effective than it used to be in the joint Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration. I wonder if all the differences that are now demanded by the current Administration in Edinburgh are genuinely sensible or just for the sake of being different in Scotland. I sometimes think that they just want to be different for the sake of it. I would like the Minister to reassure us that this is not the case in any of these amendments, because what difference is there?

In relation to voting at elections in Scotland and England, people move quite a lot from Scotland to England, so in one year they may vote in Edinburgh and the next year they may vote in London. Therefore, some degree of consistency has an advantage. The only difference that I know of at the moment is the voting age in Scotland, which is 16 for Scottish Parliament elections, but apart from that I think that the procedures are fairly similar. Can the Minister assure us that each of these amendments—as I say, I have not had the time, opportunity and support to be able to go through them one by one—is a genuine, excepted difference? Or has the Minister had his arm twisted and, wanting to keep the SNP Administration quiet, has he just agreed to do what they suggest?

Photo of Baroness Humphreys Baroness Humphreys Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, I wish to speak to those amendments in this group which deal with the consequences of the Welsh Government’s refusal to grant legislative consent to this Bill—primarily, Amendments 1 and 2, and others. The Welsh Government’s refusal results, of course, in the removal from the Bill of all aspects which relate to devolved elections. I am pleased to welcome these amendments, but I must say that the pleasure is tempered by the sympathy that I feel for my English colleagues, who will have to contend with some aspects of this Bill which they, and I, find very difficult to accept, and which go against the principles which govern free and fair elections in the UK.

At Second Reading, I spoke against the moves to neuter or control the Electoral Commission by the introduction of a strategy and policy statement, which your Lordships’ Committee has just dealt with. I also spoke of the deep disappointment felt in the Senedd at the way in which the UK Government was prepared to overlook or ignore the role of the Llywydd’s Committee, and its role in holding the Electoral Commission to account on behalf of the Senedd itself.

The refusal of the Welsh Government to give legislative consent to this Bill has resulted in Amendment 1, which excludes the Electoral Commission’s devolved Scottish and Welsh functions from inclusion in a statement, and Amendment 2, which defines the elections to which the functions relate, thereby securing the status quo for the commission in Wales. The refusal also has the effect that, in devolved Welsh elections, there will be no need for voter ID, no new constraints on postal or proxy voting and no extension of the overseas franchise.

Our Senedd will continue to be elected by the d’Hondt system—not a perfect system, I would agree, but it introduces a good element of PR and results in a balanced Senedd, where the seats allocated to political parties reflect the number of votes cast. Of course, in the devolved elections for the Senedd and for local government elections, our 16 year-olds will continue to be able to vote—not that this right, or our more proportional voting system, is under threat from the UK Government in this Bill, but I mention both merely to emphasise how much our systems have already diverged. Dealing with even more divergence will become the new normal, as voters and officials cope with different systems for devolved and reserved elections.

I thank the Minister for his letter to Members, in particular for the section dealing with the disapplication of the devolved provisions. I am grateful for his decision to respect the wishes of the devolved Administrations by the tabling of these amendments. I understand the Minister’s disappointment and his concerns about the exclusion of what he terms the “protective measures” in the Bill—modernising the offence of undue influence and the regulation of political finance, for example—but these are issues that can be determined by the Senedd, and it is the Senedd’s right to do so. The Senedd’s Counsel General has already indicated his desire to introduce an elections Bill in the Senedd and, as the Minister himself says in his letter,

“the Welsh Government has expressed support in principle for a number of areas in the Bill”.

The challenge for the Welsh Government will be to take noble Lords’ concerns on board in their new Bill, once they have undergone the due process of scrutiny and consultation.

Although I believe that the rights and responsibilities regarding devolved elections in Wales lie with the Welsh Government, I cannot resist the temptation to add a further challenge or gentle nudge—and that is for the Welsh Government and the whole Senedd to finally come to a decision about the size of the Senedd and an even more proportional system of voting for our Senedd. I know that this is already a work in progress, but we have been waiting in anticipation since the Richard commission reported in 2004.

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative 1:15 pm, 10th March 2022

My Lords, I have one question of clarification to ask my noble friend. During his introduction, he referred to the change of structure of government and therefore the change of structure of committees in the other place, and their responsibilities for dealing with electoral matters. Given that the Government have a habit of restructuring virtually everything virtually every year, whichever party is in power, can I seek clarification that these amendments are future-proofed—in other words, that we are not writing into the Bill the name of a committee that may not exist in one or two or three years’ time?

Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour

My Lords, I will briefly make a point about these proceedings. As I understood it, when we debated the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the Minister said, “We should not have these general arguments; we should be focusing on the specific amendments.” In a corner, as he was, I can see that that was the best sort of argument available to him. Now we have nearly 100 amendments which change the law of this nation, and how much time did the Minister devote to each of them? It was six seconds. This is not a detailed examination of a Bill; it is a Minister who thinks that whatever he happens to want—I am sure that most of these amendments are completely acceptable—should go through without proper debate, consideration and deliberation by this House.

I say that both as a protest and as something that I hope the House will carry forward in its future deliberations on the Bill. It cannot be done at the kind of speed whereby 100 amendments are considered in one grouping. It will not be done, and we will stop it being done.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will speak very briefly to this amendment. I seem to have used my time allocation earlier—I apologise to the Minister for wasting his time. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and my noble friend just pointed out—the Minister probably cannot hear me with my mask on, so I am sorry about that as well—it is six seconds per amendment against 13 per amendment on my part. I apologise for that.

I will pick up on a couple of things. The Minister expressed regret that Scotland and Wales had opted out of the application of Clause 14 in those two nations. He will understand that I think they have shown the utmost common sense in doing so, and I do not think it is a cause for regret at all. I certainly support what my noble friend Lady Humphreys had to say about that.

I will bring the Minister back to the fig leaf of consultation in new Section 4A in Clause 14. I said before that of the five bodies, four were completely hostile and one other was captured by the Cabinet. There is now a proposal here which means that one of those—PACAC—is captured by the Select Committee for the Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities, and that Secretary of State will be making the strategy statement: that is something else that has got worse as a consequence of that.

I put back into play the point I made before, that if Scotland and Wales are not going to be part of new Section 4A and if PACAC is going to be neutered and transformed, it might be time to add the CSPL as one of those bodies which should be statutorily consulted as the creator and, up till now, the recommender of progress and developments on that Electoral Commission body. I would have thought that some voice for local government in that consultation should be statutory there, of course only for England, because Scotland and Wales have sensibly opted out.

We shall not oppose these amendments but we believe that the direction of travel on this suggests even more reasons for reforming the application of Clause 14 when we get to that debate.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction. Clearly, these amendments are technical and we agree with noble Lords that they are required.

I agree with my noble friends Lord Lipsey and Lord Foulkes that this enormous number of amendments was chucked at us in one go, with very little time to look at the detail, not just of what they say but of what the implications are. Noble Lords made an extremely important point about that. That has happened with other Bills as well. In debates on the Building Safety Bill, which I have also been working on, an enormous number—38 pages—of amendments were given to us with a very short time to assess them. Can the Minister take that away and think about it for future legislation? It is difficult for noble Lords to assess such amendments in a reasonable fashion.

We need to look at why the amendments are necessary. Clearly, as noble Lords have explained, it is to do with the devolved Administrations. When the Bill was originally proposed, it was for legislating on a UK-wide basis, and that included some areas where the devolved Parliaments in Scotland and Wales could legislate in respect of their own local and devolved elections. Clearly, the Government had to seek legislative consent Motions from the devolved Parliaments. Unfortunately for the UK Government, the Governments of Scotland and Wales both declined to lay consent Motions and requested that all aspects which relate to devolved matters be removed from the Bill, hence the large number of amendments.

I will just draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that, out of more than 350 legislative consent Motions, consent has been denied just 13 times, according to the Institute for Government. UK Bills have been redrafted previously when devolved Administration consent has been withheld under the Sewel convention. Can the Minister say why that option was not considered? Perhaps it was considered and we do not know about that, but it was rejected.

The Government have said that they were disappointed by the move—the Minister used the word “regrettable”—but said that they would respect this request by preparing the necessary amendments to the Bill, which is why we have so many before us in this group. I thank the Minister for apologising for this to the Committee—I appreciate that, as I am sure other noble Lords do.

I want to look at why the Welsh and Scottish Governments did not agree with the Bill. As the Government did not redraft it following the concerns raised but instead decided to plough on regardless, it is important to draw this to the attention of the Committee to fully understand the implications of many of its proposals.

In the Welsh Government, the Elections Bill was scrutinised by two Senedd committees: the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, and the Local Government and Housing Committee. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, on her excellent speech about disappointment in Wales over the Government’s behaviour around the Bill, particularly because they completely refused to listen to the findings of the Llywydd’s Committee.

The Local Government and Housing Committee report agreed with the Welsh Government’s memorandum that consent should not be granted, saying:

“The majority of the Committee believe any proposals to legislate on these devolved matters should be brought forward by the Welsh Government and subject to full scrutiny by the Senedd.”

The Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee also expressed concern at the lack of engagement between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. Can the Minister say why there was a lack of engagement —what went wrong with that process?

In addition, the committee agreed with the Welsh Government that some of the reserved measures would have a considerable impact on electoral administrators in Wales, particularly around voter ID. The same will happen in England. It highlighted the potential for voter and candidate confusion and complexity for electoral administrators if devolved elections happen close together or on the same day as a reserved election, as happened in May 2021. This could lead to a situation where postal and proxy voting rules were different and voter ID requirements in polling stations were different for polls happening together. My noble friend Lord Foulkes talked about the importance of consistency. Diversion will only cause confusion.

On voter ID, the committee also cited Electoral Reform Society Cymru concerns about poll clerks becoming

“bouncers at the ballot box” and being required to turn away

“potentially thousands of would-be voters each election.”

Concerns have also been raised by Jess Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, who said that the Elections Bill makes

“sweeping changes to our democracy.”

She said that

“it looks like UK ministers have barely engaged with Wales or Scotland so far. This bill is being swiftly rammed through with little consultation”.

That echoes the concerns expressed already in your Lordships’ House. She continued:

“Moreover, the changes to the Electoral Commission represent a UK government power grab, with ministers given new controls over our elections watchdog. This is a dangerous and unprecedented move that the Welsh Government is right to oppose. This Elections Bill could lead to a ‘two tier franchise’ in Wales, with some elections banning those without ID, and others remaining open and free. Both the Welsh Parliament and Holyrood should use their powers to pause this power-grab bill, and secure changes to protect the right to vote.”

So they have done.

The Scottish Government also recommended that the Scottish Parliament should not give consent to the Bill and would not lodge a legislative consent Motion. The lead committee of the Scottish Parliament tasked with scrutinising the Bill was the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. The majority of that committee agreed with the Scottish Government that consent should not be granted.

The committee also noted that the Elections Bill requires Scottish Ministers to be consulted on a draft of the strategy and policy statement for the Electoral Commission. The Scottish Elections (Reform) Act 2020 transferred financial responsibility for funding the Electoral Commission in relation to Scottish elections from Scottish Ministers to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. The committee considered that the SPCB should be added as a statutory consultee to the statement. Can the Minister confirm whether that will be the case?

On voter ID, the committee noted that changes to reserved elections in the Bill had a potential impact on Scottish elections. It raised concerns about the administrative burdens placed on elections staff by the various new measures; in particular, the administration of voter ID in polling stations and registration staff determining applications for overseas voters and absent voting requests. These concerns for England remain within the Bill, and we will come to them as we move through Committee.

The committee in Scotland heard evidence from the Electoral Management Board for Scotland that voter ID requirements are

“out of proportion to the problem they attempt to address”.

The EMB voiced concern over the effect on polling station staff of having to implement voter ID provisions, saying that polling staff would no longer be able to help citizens in elections, but, instead, officials would be checking voters’ identity papers. It is concerned that it will be a less attractive job given the likely associated conflict and bureaucracy.

On the digital imprint measures in the Bill, the Scottish Government and the UK Government disagreed on whether or not the measures are fully reserved. The UK Government believe that the measures are wholly reserved under the “internet services” reservation in the Scotland Act 1998, but the Scottish Government disagree. Their view is that only the measures requiring removal of electronic material that would breach the new measures are reserved. They view the rest of the measures on digital imprints as devolved and consider that the provisions in the Elections Bill would override measures already in place.

The Scottish Government do not recommend legislative consent in this area. Their initial position is that the existing Scottish regime should remain in place, with any necessary adjustments made to accommodate the reserved aspects of the Bill in relation to the “takedown” of material on the internet. I note that the Minister talked about amendments in the area of digital reform. As I have said, we have not had time to go through the detail of all the amendments. I would be grateful if he could comment on what exactly the amendments and the Bill still mean for Scottish powers in this area.

I want to look briefly at some specific government amendments. Those relating to Clause 14 would remove matters relating to the Electoral Commission’s devolved Scottish or Welsh functions from the scope of the proposed strategy and policy statement. They would remove the requirement for the Secretary of State to consult Scottish and Welsh Ministers on a draft statement. In addition to the UK Parliament, the commission is accountable to and funded by the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd. While devolved matters may be removed from the strategy and policy statement, it remains likely to affect how the commission delivers some devolved functions; for example, in terms of resourcing. It will also affect the commission’s core functions, which benefit voters, parties, campaigners and electoral administrators in Wales and Scotland. Does the Minister agree that it therefore remains important that, if the proposed strategy and policy document is brought into law, the processes for development, consultation and approval should reflect those shared accountability relationships with the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd?

Amendments to Clauses 18 to 27 would ensure that provisions in Part 4 of the Bill did not apply to devolved elections in Scotland and Wales. The Government should set out clearly how the amended clauses on notional expenditure and third-party campaigning will apply when there is a combined regulated period covering both reserved and devolved elections.

I return to the Minister’s comments on PACAC being removed as a consultee. This is a backward step in transparency, and it is of concern.

To sum up, the Government have had to table all these amendments relating to the devolved Administrations because they would not give consent. The reasons for withholding consent are due to concerns that should deeply worry us all; in particular, that the Bill risks disenfranchising voters and threatens the independence of the Electoral Commission. It is a great shame that the UK Government did not heed the concerns of the devolved Administrations and go back to the drawing board.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 1:30 pm, 10th March 2022

My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in the debate. Perhaps I am allowed occasionally to speak as an individual from the Dispatch Box as well as a Minister, and I have not changed a view that I held as Back-Bencher, which is that the minimum number of amendments is desirable and that all Governments should seek to get Bills into the best possible condition before they come before your Lordships’ House. That is desirable, and I made an apology at the outset.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and others pointed out, a significant number of the amendments arise from our decision to respect the recommendations of the Senedd and the decision of the Scottish Government. We believe that some of the issues concerned are important and that we should proceed to legislate, but, as I said in my opening remarks, we intend to continue discussions with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and would be interested to see how they proceed. We have welcomed the indication that they are considering legislating comparably in a number of areas covered.

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked whether there were areas where we were deferring to the Scottish nationalists. I would not put it that way. Some of the areas were where there was a disagreement. Your Lordships have already indicated that you might also disagree with Her Majesty’s Government—let us say, on the elements relating to the proposed strategy and policy document, and that is one area covered by these amendments, as the noble Baroness opposite said.

However, one consequence of the withholding of the consent Motion will be that the modernised undue influence offence will apply only to reserved and excepted elections. The Government’s view is that a UK-wide application of the measure would have delivered greater levels of integrity by upholding what we submit in this Bill should be a basic principle: that those guilty of an intimidation offence should not be allowed to stand at any election in the United Kingdom. That is why we sought legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament on those measures. Following these amendments, which we have introduced for the reasons that I have given, and if your Lordships give assent to the legislation, offenders will still face a five-year ban from standing for all elected offices in the UK save for the Scottish Parliament or Scottish local government. In respect of devolution, it will be for the Scottish Government to make the necessary changes themselves to disqualify individuals who are disqualified for such offences in other parts of the UK. Other areas of undue influence, sanctions against intimidation, measures on notional expenditure—referred to by the noble Baroness—and third-party campaigning will apply only to reserved and combined regulated electoral periods.

There will be divergence, and in some cases there is already divergence. There is already some minor divergence, for example, between the current version of the undue influence offence in the 1983 Act and the situation in Scotland. That has not so far caused any confusion, and we do not expect this to be any different. We would expect ambiguities to be straightforward for the courts to resolve.

Obviously, we will continue to watch events. I am not anticipating that the Scottish Government would not wish to legislate in this area, or indeed, as the noble Baroness said, that the Welsh Senedd might not. But we are submitting to Parliament the idea that Parliament should act in respect of things such as undue influence, intimidation and the measures on notional expenditure. We have taken the judgment to proceed—showing respect to the devolved Administrations not by waiting, but by excising and allowing them to make their own decisions and proposals.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked me a specific question on a specific matter, which I undertake to write to her about, and to place the letter in the House in the normal way. My noble friend Lord Hayward asked about the designation of the new committee. This is in the legislation, because the effect of one of the amendments before the House is to remove PACAC and put in the other House of Commons committee. Ultimately, if this Bill is not thrown out—as was impishly suggested at the start of our proceedings—it will go back to the other place for it to determine. I shall give way to my noble friend Lord Hayward in a moment.

It surely is the case that if a government department is responsible for an important subject such as elections, the scrutiny should be conducted by the committee of the other place that is responsible for scrutinising that department. As I said, that will be the committee that is being substituted, under the chairmanship of Mr Betts. I give way to my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative

I am sorry if I did not make this clear, but I was asking a question about the future structure of committees, beyond the next change. I think I used the term future-proofing, as it takes into consideration Governments’ habit of changing structures. Is there a part of the Bill that will future-proof structural change, so that when we move on from one select committee having responsibility for overviewing elections matters to another committee having that responsibility, it will not require a change to primary legislation?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I have not had advice from the Box on this, and that is always a dangerous place for a Minister to be. However, I try to read carefully what I put before your Lordships’ House, and I think it is provided in proposed new section 4C(8) that,

“If the functions of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee at the passing of this Act with respect to electoral matters … become functions of a different committee of the House of Commons, the reference … to that Committee is to be read as a reference to the committee which for the time being has those functions”.

Maybe I am parsing that wrongly. If I am, I will apologise to my noble friend and to the Committee and come back with a better explanation—but sometimes a Minister just has to try his best at the Dispatch Box. Does the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, want to intervene?

Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour

My Lords, I am sorry to come back to something the Minister said just before the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, but I think the record will show that the Minister said that, when we have passed such amendments as we do, we send them back to the other place for it to determine. I do not think that is the procedure. I thought they came back here, and then we decided whether we accepted them or not. Will the Minister please set the record straight on the procedure?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I think I did set the record straight on the procedure. According to the principle of amity—I have great amity and respect for the noble Lord—I was not going to pick up the fact that he took me to task for saying that someone had spoken for a long time. I did not say that; I said it was an interesting coincidence that a prepared speech was ready at very short notice. I did say to the Committee—I reiterate this, and the noble Lord can give me a few strictures if he sees my departing back—that I would sit through every hour that your Lordships require of me on this Bill.

As for the procedural point that the noble Lord asked me about, if a change is made in this House, it is an amendment to the legislation. If it goes in, it will be a Lords amendment to a Bill that has been sent up here, so it will go back to the other place as a House of Lords amendment. If the other place does not like it, theoretically it can reject it, as it can reject any of your Lordships’ amendments. That is the procedural position, and that is what I meant when I said that the other place would be able to determine matters. The noble Lord shakes his head; perhaps he will tell me what he disagrees with.

Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 1:45 pm, 10th March 2022

I do not want to take up the Committee’s time on this. Perhaps we could have an exchange of letters.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

May I take up the point that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, raised earlier? We are now about to agree—or otherwise—more than 100 amendments, after 42 minutes’ debate. Those amendments are vital in Scotland and Wales, as well as in England, and will determine the future of a whole range of aspects of the electoral structure. This is not giving the matter proper consideration. Perhaps in an unguarded moment, the Minister said that he was prepared to spend all the hours necessary to consider such matters, and we need to consider this in more detail on Report. How can we do that, and look at all the aspects relating to elections in Scotland and Wales as well as in England, without just passing them through in well under an hour?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the groupings put before your Lordships’ House are agreed through the usual channels. I can only serve the House in the way that has been agreed through those channels. As for the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, I have nothing to add to my explanation. If the substitution of PACAC with the new appropriate House of Commons committee is agreed by your Lordships’ House, it will become a Lords amendment to the Bill, and will go back to the House of Commons and be considered by it appropriately. I have nothing further to add.

Amendment 1 agreed.