Amendment 205

Elections Bill - Committee (6th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 28th March 2022.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock:

Moved by Baroness Hayman of Ullock

205: After Clause 59, insert the following new Clause—“Review and consolidation of electoral lawWithin 12 months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a timetable for undertaking a wholesale review and consolidation of electoral law.” Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would implement a recommendation of the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in its report on the Elections Bill.

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, the hour is late, so I shall be brief in introducing my amendments in this group. I have spoken previously in Committee and in the House about the fact that I used to work in consultation—that was my profession—and was an associate of the Consultation Institute. So these amendments are around my concern about the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation on significant parts of the Bill.

My Amendment 205 looks to implement a recommendation of the PACA Committee, which referred to the lack of pre-legislative consultation and scrutiny. Basically, it recommended that, once the Bill had been introduced and Second Reading had taken place, the Government should introduce in the Bill a statutory commitment to post-legislative scrutiny of it. This is what my amendment aims to achieve; and my Amendment 206 would also implement a statutory committee for that purpose.

I also have two amendments in my name about provisions not coming into force, one until

“seven days after the Secretary of State has published a consultation on the provisions” and the other until

“seven days after the Secretary of State has published an equalities impact assessment”.

We are concerned that no impact assessments have been done on all the impacts of this Bill.

There is a long tradition of cross-party working and consensus when we make changes to our law on our democratic and electoral systems. There has always been agreement that we should come together when we change such laws. It is disappointing that this Elections Bill represents a notable exception to this tradition. The lack of cross-party working and pre-legislative scrutiny ahead of bringing the Bill forward was very disappointing; for me, it is a worrying change. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 10:45 pm, 28th March 2022

My Lords, in this overfull House at this late hour, I will be extremely brief. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who said to me earlier that he thought that this is one of the more important groups to which we had yet to come, has felt it necessary to go. So I will simply say that it is important that we come back to this issue given that this Bill is such a mess and has failed to do so many of the things which several committees recommended it should do. It has also been sharply criticised by a Commons committee.

I would choose Amendment 205; if the Labour Front Benches were minded to bring that back at Report stage, I would certainly give it support and there would be others around the House who would too. Having missed—or refused to take—this opportunity, we had better try to get it right again soon. The integrity of British elections is a very important principle. The questions of how our elections are regulated are fundamental. This is a very unsatisfactory Bill, and Amendment 205 would ensure that we have another go to deal with many of the things which it has been suggested that we need but which this Bill does not provide.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, these amendments seek to require the Government to commit to a timetable for wholesale review and consolidation of electoral law and to further consultations to be conducted on the Bill. The Government remain committed to ensuring that our electoral law is fit for purpose, now and into the future. We agree that electoral law should be revised and improved, but a wholesale review takes significant consideration and policy development is not something that we should rush at and potentially get wrong. The Government’s immediate priority will be the implementation of our manifesto commitments, which this Elections Bill delivers. This would allow us to update our electoral law in important ways, strengthening our current framework by addressing known vulnerabilities in our systems.

Amendment 206 would oblige the Secretary of State to establish a committee consisting of members of both Houses of Parliament to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of this Bill within five years of its passing. I have heard the arguments at Second Reading, and in previous Committee sessions, over perceived potential future impacts, and I understand the desire to ensure that any such legislation has the impact intended. It is already the settled will of noble Members that significant pieces of primary legislation should be subject to post-legislative scrutiny. Indeed, it was only a couple of years ago that the Government published a post-legislative assessment of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. Things would not be any different when it comes to the legislation before us today. It is the Government’s view that to include an obligation in the legislation is not necessary in light of our plans to conduct scrutiny and evaluation of the measures in the Bill in due course.

I note the purpose of Amendments 214 and 215: to require the Secretary of State to publish a consultation and an impact assessment before measures are commenced. The measures in this Bill deliver not only on recommendations by parliamentarians, Select Committees, international observers and electoral stakeholders but also on a range of consultations. This includes the overseas electors policy statement issued in October 2016, the Government’s 2017 call for evidence on the accessibility of elections and the Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence and Information consultation of July 2018. My officials have consulted with administrators and civil society groups throughout the policy development, and they are continuing to do so in our implementation planning. We have also published both an equality impact assessment and an economic impact assessment before introducing these measures, and we will continue to monitor impacts, as I have said. I can assure the noble Baroness that the Government are listening but, at this time, do not consider these amendments necessary.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

The Minister will know that I am quite astute at reading impact assessments. I have also read the equality impact assessment. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is important because the equality impact assessment relies mainly on a 2021 telephone survey, and it indicates that there will be indirect discrimination based on some of the provisions in the Bill. The impact assessment says further on that mitigation ideas will show how the mitigation will take place, but there are no mitigation provisions in the equality impact assessment; there are only the issues that the 2021 telephone survey has revealed. Why are there no mitigation provisions in the equality impact assessment?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I do not know, but what I can say is that it is a continuing process, as I have said. We will monitor any future impacts, and I will get a fuller answer for the noble Lord.

Photo of Viscount Stansgate Viscount Stansgate Labour

Before the Minister completes her remarks, her argument is that Amendment 206 is not necessary because the Government will do it anyway, while in respect of Amendment 205 she has indicated that the Government are minded to consider the question of consolidating electoral law but gives no idea of the timescale on which they might undertake that. Is that correct?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

No, I did not say that we were minded to consolidate at all. I go back to what I said: the Government’s immediate priority will be the implementation of our manifesto commitments, which the Bill delivers. I have not given any undertaking that we will do another Bill to consolidate, as was set out in that group of amendments.

Amendment 213 would prevent Schedule 8 coming into force until a time when the Secretary of State has made a statement to Parliament on the voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens. The Government’s position on this policy is clear and settled and was set out in detail in a Written Ministerial Statement in the other place on 17 June 2021. Now that we have left the EU, there should not be a continued automatic right to vote and stand in local elections solely by virtue of being an EU citizen. We have made provision to protect the rights of those who made their home here before our exit and preserved rights where that can be done on a bilateral basis, protecting UK citizens living in those countries in turn. A statement of clear intent on this matter has already been made to Parliament and I can see no purpose in restating our position. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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 her response. However, there seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether suitable consultation has been carried out on the Bill. The Consultation Institute states in its response:

“Many of the proposed changes in the Bill are not accompanied by evidence detailing why they are necessary or desirable. Where evidence in support of changes is cited, it has generally involved little consultation and engagement with the public, particularly with the general public as opposed to institutional or organisational stakeholders.”

So in the institute’s opinion, as well as mine and others’, including PACAC, there simply has not been sufficient scrutiny or consultation on the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his strong support, and I am sure we will be returning to this on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 205 withdrawn.

Amendment 206 not moved.