Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

National Security Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 21 June 2023.

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Lord Carlile of Berriew:

Moved by Lord Carlile of Berriew

At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 22B in lieu—

22B: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—

“Foreign interference in elections: duties on political parties

(1) A UK-registered political party must, within three months of the passing of this Act, and annually thereafter, publish a policy statement to ensure the identification of donations from a foreign power (whether made directly or through an intermediary).

(2) A UK-registered political party must provide the Electoral Commission with an annual statement setting out individually the details of all donations from a foreign power, including whether made directly or through an intermediary (and identifying all such intermediaries).

(3) In this section, “UK-registered political party” means a political party registered under Part 2 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.””

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

My Lords, in moving Motion A1 as an amendment to Motion A and proposing Amendment 22B in lieu, I should say that I shall support, if it is necessary to do so, Amendment 122B, which will be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.

The Minister mentioned the very pleasant meeting I had with three Ministers and a number of officials about my amendment, and I was very grateful for that meeting. I was given a very simple message—with which I do not agree—that the law goes far enough to protect political parties and those who vote for them from the intervention of foreign powers. My amendment would place no extra burden on Ministers; I removed that from the original version. What it does—rightly, in my view—is place a burden on political parties to do what in the commercial world is routine and carry out proper due diligence, as the term is, on the people who contribute to them.

I listened with great care to what the Minister said a few moments ago. If my noble friend Lord Kerr will forgive me for quoting one of his many memorable sotto voce utterances, he turned and said to me, “So that leaves it to the thief to report the crime, doesn’t it?” I agree with him. Indeed, what the Minister said suggested that when, say, a company is used, up there in Companies House, if you make a complaint, there are investigators who will carry out an investigation to see where the money ultimately comes from—the ultimate donors, not those nice nominees who are nominated directors of the company. However, I do not know how many of your Lordships know this, but Companies House has no investigators whatever—zilch, zero. If noble Lords will take the trouble, during the boring parts of what I hope will be a short speech, to look at GOV.UK, they will see that it tells people that if they want an investigation done into a company they should go to the Serious Fraud Office or somewhere like that.

I accept that the Government want political parties to be properly funded, not improperly funded, although some political parties have accepted unusual sums of money from unusual places. However, I hope that the Minister—and noble Lords if this comes to a vote later—will agree that more due diligence is needed, and that we cannot take at face value that the criminal should report his own crime. We are dealing with bad people here, not good people.

I thank the organisation Spotlight on Corruption for some excellent research that it has done; I feel that it deserves that namecheck. Donations from foreign powers are a significant threat to the UK’s national security and undermine the integrity and credibility of our democratic processes. There is plenty of evidence to support that. A report in 2020 by the Intelligence and Security Committee identified that members of the Russian elite linked to Putin had donated to UK political parties.

Another bit of evidence is that in January 2022 the Security Service warned that an alleged Chinese agent had sought to influence UK parliamentarians on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party and had donated to two major political parties that stand in every seat in this country. In mid-April 2023 concerns were raised in Parliament about alleged links between the Chinese Communist Party and Conservative Party fundraising. The Minister of State for Policing said that

“all political parties need to be alert to the danger of representatives of hostile states seeking to infiltrate or influence their activities”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/4/23; col. 249.]

This amendment is just that alert.

The Home Office impact assessment for the Bill emphasises that foreign interference is a direct attack on our sovereignty, national institutions and values. The Bill will not prevent that attack unless political parties are required to play a part. One of the noblest things that this noble, unelected House does is to protect democracy from itself, and that is what the amendment is intended to do.

We turn to the safeguards that the Minister says are effective. They are not. The rules that are supposed to prohibit foreign donations in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 are absolutely riddled with loopholes. They enable foreign money to be channelled to political parties and MPs through what appear to be lawful donors, such as UK-registered businesses and unincorporated associations. The Act requires UK political parties only to check the status of donors; it does not require them to have a risk-based approach to donations. The nominated directors may look like ordinary nominees, but I think it was yesterday that we heard from my noble friend Lord Vaux, in an excellent speech, how names can appear in Companies House as directors and bear no relationship to the control of a company. We come to the same point twice in two days. While the UK’s anti-money laundering framework has been progressively tightened over the last decade, the minimal checks that parties are required to perform are a glaring anomaly.

How effective are the sanctions? The Electoral Commission referred eight cases to the Metropolitan Police in the period 2011 to 2021. I will give your Lordships one guess as to how many prosecutions there have been—absolutely none, because it is completely unreasonable to ask the police suddenly to move into this complex area to carry out the detective work and do the due diligence that any company, whether significant or relatively insignificant, should carry out.

I do not accept for one moment that what I am proposing will affect tiny political parties, because they will be taking their funds from a small group of closely interested people who will, effectively, be their close friends. What we are talking about here is the bigger political parties.

There is consensus among independent experts that parties should check the source of donations. In 2018, the Electoral Commission argued that risk management principles adapted from anti-money laundering undertaken by businesses could

“prevent foreign money being used in UK politics”.

It emphasised that political parties had a duty to do just that. This was supported, in effect, in the July 2021 report Regulating Election Finance by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

I was pleased to note that my original amendment, to which this is in itself an amendment, was supported in the other place by the Conservative chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Sir Julian Lewis MP, who said that the need for political parties to do more to determine the source of donations is “entirely appropriate” and that the additional measures would not be “over-onerous” and were “eminently reasonable”. The Government said that the amendment would impose “huge administrative burdens” on grass-roots political campaigning, but this is just not the case. As the chair of the Electoral Commission has highlighted, a requirement to determine the true source of donations is proportionate and would not by design overburden smaller parties with limited resources.

About 35 years ago, when I was an MP in the old Liberal Party, my Whip and the Opposition Labour Whips asked me to go and sit on the Reasons Committee in the other place. I think it was not really a compliment. If your Lordships have ever been behind the Speaker’s chair they will know that there is a little room, which I thought until that night was private facilities for the Speaker. In fact, it is the reasons room, though that is not on the door, because visitors would assume that it was straight out of “Alice in Wonderland”—and it is, a bit. The Government of the time were privatising the railways and the opposition parties had tried to avoid ping-pong happening twice in one night. I think the reason I was chosen was that they thought I could keep a debate on next to nothing going for an extremely long time.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

I am not sure how to take that laughter.

Interestingly, we debated for one and three-quarter hours who should be the chair of the committee, until my pager pinged—we had pagers in those days. It read: “You can go home now. Their Lordships have gone to bed”.

I knew nothing about the Reasons Committee until that night, but I discovered then that it is a cipher. The reasons brought to us in this House do not bear intellectual analysis. What we are doing, I hope, on my amendment is using our minds—our critical faculties—to decide how best elections should be conducted in this country. My submission to your Lordships is that the small change I am suggesting would help just that aim. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 4:15, 21 June 2023

My Lords, I will speak to my amendment in Motion C1. We very much support the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. Should he wish to press it, we will certainly support him in the Lobbies later.

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments and for the valiant effort he made to defend what the Government are not doing about updating the memorandum of understanding. I thank him for his attempt to gloss over and make the best of it.

I pay tribute to the work of our security services. As we know, there is no difference among any of us here in our admiration for their work and the way in which they keep us safe. We all wish to see the National Security Bill become an Act as soon as possible. However, that does not mean that we do not have a responsibility to scrutinise and improve the Bill where we think change is needed. My amendment is part of that ongoing process.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that I must be a veteran, because I have been to the Reasons Committee a few times, not just the once. I do not know whether I was particularly good at it or just regarded as a toady who would do what anyone said. I am not sure exactly where the room was but I remember going there on a number of occasions.

On a serious point, that is something I now regret. The point the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was making was that Members of Parliament—I was one of them; I am talking about myself—should take more notice of the revisions that are sent down. Sometimes the reasons given were simply spurious, such as, “We don’t agree with it”. I would not say that they were made up, but they were not far away from it. That is a source of great regret to me. Personally, I should have done more and taken more notice of them. That is partly why I understand that the reasons the Government have given are totally inadequate. They have basically dismissed what we said and what this House passed in my amendment that the other place then disagreed with.

The Minister will note that I have taken seriously the Government’s rejection of my original amendment. He will have seen that the duty to update has been changed to a duty to review. This is a significant, important change, as it would not require the Government to update the memorandum of understanding; it would simply require them look at the memorandum of understanding, review it and see whether change is needed. The Minister said that that is already included in the Bill. I submit to your Lordships that the Government will not do this unless something is put forward in the Bill to say that are required to review it, rather than the Government saying, “It’s in a piece of legislation that we have passed so we will do it anyway”. It will not happen.

The Intelligence and Security Committee—I know my noble friend Lord West will speak in a few minutes—is our voice. It was set up by Parliament to hold the Executive to account on intelligence and security matters. It is astonishingly and incredibly important. All Select Committees and committees of this Parliament are important, but the Intelligence and Security Committee was set up in 1994 to fill a vacuum, and the MoU was updated in 2013.

Some noble Lords have far more experience of that committee than me and will know how it works, but the fundamental point is that confidential and classified security-related matters can be discussed and debated there on our behalf. I do not expect to know what no doubt my noble friend Lord West and others discuss; it is totally inappropriate and wrong for me to know that, and I accept that. That is not what this is about. But it is important that those who are selected, appointed or voted, in some instances, to be members of that committee have access to all the classified information across government, because it is across government that they hold the Executive to account. That is how a democratic system functions while keeping security material safe and classified. It is a really important committee.

There can be no doubt that, as the Intelligence and Security Committee said in its annual report in December last year, the intelligence architecture has changed. The committee has asked not for anything radical or for a complete rewriting of the rules; it is simply saying to the Government, is it not appropriate to update the memorandum of understanding to reflect the changed security environment in which government operates? This committee should do it on our behalf but, essentially, also on behalf of the people of our country; it is totally reasonable to ask for that.

The committee gives some examples of changes that should happen in areas where it does not currently have the opportunity to operate. One is BEIS and

“the activities of the Investment Security Unit”.

I would have thought there was a clue in the title. I do not know what it does; I can guess, but I do not really know. Another is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and

“the activities of the Telecoms Security and Resilience Team”,

which is not accountable to the ISC. The report also mentions the “Office of Communications” and the “Counter Disinformation Unit”, which are not accountable to the ISC and do not come under its remit. There is also the Department for Transport and

“the activities of the Transport Security, Resilience and Response Group”,

which, again, is not accountable to the ISC. The report further mentions the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and

“the activities of the Intelligence Policy Department”,

which, again, is not accountable to the ISC. It also mentions the Department of Health and Social Care—we have heard a lot about this—and

“the activities of the Joint Biosecurity Unit”.

None of these is accountable to the ISC, and the Government should at least review that. Instead of updating this and saying, “You have to do it”, all the amendment says is, “Perhaps review whether the ISC should look at these”.

Noble Lords can see how ridiculous this is. The example that the committee gives is BEIS and the activities of the investment security unit, which the Government say the BEIS Select Committee can look at. That is completely and utterly ridiculous, because the point is that the ISC has security clearance to look at classified information, in a way that the BEIS Select Committee, as good as it is, cannot. So how on earth can the BEIS Select Committee look at anything that may be classified in the investment security unit, without the necessary security clearance? It cannot be done.

My amendment does not actually require the Government to do anything, but they have simply rejected it, saying that it is not necessary, that they are not even going to look at it and that various commitments have been made. I am sure the Security Minister and the Minister opposite will agree that there should be a review. Indeed, it appears that that is what the Security Minister has said. But what about the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and the other people at the top of government? If the Security Minister is making those noises to the committee, why are the Government just going to say that this simple amendment, requiring a review, is not needed and is inappropriate and wrong? Just saying that we do not need it is not answering the point; it is just an assertion, and that is not good enough.

The Minister in the last minute or so has just glibly, if I might say so, pointed out that my amendment does not require the Prime Minister to attend. No, it does not, but let me tell noble Lords this from the Dispatch Box. It is an absolute disgrace that no Prime Minister of our country has been to the ISC since 2014. That is nine years. It is actually in the report—meeting with the Prime Minister; I had to read it a couple of times. I spoke to the Minister four or five months ago about this, and I asked him to ask why on earth the current Prime Minister, despite being invited, as I understand it, still has not responded to say when he is going. That is despite my saying then that it was completely unacceptable that no Prime Minister had been to the ISC.

Perhaps the Minister could update the House on what has happened. Who has the Minister made representations to and why has nobody taken any notice? Why has the Home Secretary not gone to see the Prime Minister about this? I say again—I could not believe it. Apparently, for 20 years after 1994, the Prime Minister of the day went once a year to the ISC; and then it stopped. The committee has tried to get Prime Ministers to go, and they will not. The Prime Minister of this country should go at least once a year to the Intelligence and Security Committee of our country, which is how this Parliament holds intelligence and security agencies to account. Can the Minister take that back to the Government? I speak for myself and for His Majesty’s Opposition, and I shall let others speak for themselves, but I think it is disgraceful that a Prime Minister has not been to speak to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I hope that that is heard loud and clear, that we can get something done about it and that the next time this is raised, the Prime Minister has spoken to the ISC with the Security Minister.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

Having been the chairman of the ISC for its first seven years, may I just say that it is quite untrue to say that we called the Prime Minister to report to the ISC? We used to report to the Prime Minister when we were conducting various investigations.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

I take that point, and I apologise if I suggested it was the other way around. The point I am making is that the Prime Minister, according to the information here, used to go and speak with the Intelligence and Security Committee, and there was that two-way communication. My contention is that that is an important thing for the Prime Minister of our country to do. I would have hoped that the ISC had the opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister at least once a year since 2014.

I finish where I started. The defence and security of our country is the Government’s highest priority, and we all support them in that. We welcome the work of the security services to keep us safe. Mine is a simple amendment that seeks to update, through a review, the memorandum of understanding under which the ISC operates. It is a sensible thing for the Government to do and when the time comes, I shall seek to test the opinion of the House.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Chair, International Agreements Committee 4:30, 21 June 2023

My Lords, I support Motion A1, having had my name on the original amendment—I think it was Amendment 22 at the time—from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

There are two reasons for being concerned about foreign influence in UK politics. One is indeed the ISC Russia report, as it highlighted what was going on and gave good evidence of malign attempts to affect our politics and our elections—the same could be said about China. The other reason is this Government’s decision to give long-term expats the vote, no matter how long they have lived abroad. By doing so, they enable those expats to become permitted donors to UK political parties. Someone living for, say, 40 years in Russia can be on our electoral roll—no checks, no questions asked—and thereby be free to donate to a political party, with no checks on the source of these fundings, nor even whether they belong to that permitted donor. In fact, there is no way to ascertain whether the said donor is in fact in prison, whether they have properly earned income or whether such money that they donate is actually their own or has been given on behalf of a political power.

In the Guardian today, we read of a wealthy Chinese couple banned from Britain after they were accused of donating to British political figures on behalf the Chinese Communist Party. They happen not to be permitted donors but were no doubt able to put their money through somebody who was. Interestingly, that story seems to have come to light following an immigration tribunal, rather than by checks by a political party of the sort that would be required if Motion A1 were agreed by this House.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, PPERA—the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act—requires parties to check only that the donors are permissible. The Minister said again today—as all his predecessors did—“Oh, but we’ll check that the donors are valid people”. That is not the point that we are making. We are saying that, by being able to be on the electoral register, they become donors and we do not check the source of the money that they give. We are not asked as political parties to carry out due diligence on donors, even those operating in high-risk countries of the sorts that are listed in the 2022 money laundering and terrorist finance regulations 2022. As a political party, we can take a donor from one of those countries and are not required to do any checks—in fact, we are not required to check anything other than that the donor is legitimate. So overseas-domiciled citizens—who long ago gave up paying taxes here, of course—can donate to a political party without any questions about the money.

Motion A1 would effectively introduce a “know your donor” culture and would make a political party responsible for showing how it would identify and look at donations from a foreign party and for sharing that information with the Electoral Commission. Back in the summer—on the day that we debated this, I think—the Minister wrote to me and said that

“it is in the national interest to have greater openness about the influence on British politics by foreign powers”.

I could not agree with him more. Motion A1 would ensure that foreign donations were properly scrutinised and openly made.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, I support Motion A1 from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and Motion C2. On Motion A1, I spoke in favour of the previous version of this amendment on Report on behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Our position in the committee remains very much the same: we firmly support the introduction of this clause. Indeed, I cannot really understand why the Government continue to oppose the amendment. It is eminently sensible and the previous version received widespread support across this House. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, it was notable that, apart from the Government Front Bench, not a single Peer across the House spoke against it.

The ISC’s Russia report in 2020 recognised that the UK, including political parties, had welcomed money from Russian elites, and the Government acknowledged that. They have, for example, as part of the Bill increased the sentences for electoral offences involving foreign powers. There is no doubt that protecting our democratic institutions should be the very top priority for the Government and parliamentarians, but the Government have adopted a rather dismissive and worryingly complacent approach to this risk. They claim that they oppose this amendment on the basis that the existing protections within electoral law are sufficient, that the amendment would not work in practice and that it would place an undue burden on grass-roots political organisations. These claims are patently not true.

Current protections within the electoral financing law are demonstrably inadequate. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, the chairman of the Committee for Standards in Public Life, who is in his place, noted on Report, his committee undertook a major report into the regulation of electoral finance in 2021 and provided a series of recommendations to close several loopholes in this space, all of which were rejected by the Government. The report stated that

“we consider the current rules are insufficient to guard against foreign interference in UK elections”.

One of the many problems the committee identified was the ability of a foreign corporation to create a UK subsidiary with the sole function of receiving and channelling money to a UK political party. Further, as extraordinary as it may seem, unlike charities or companies, political parties do not have to examine the source of funds they receive. This means that it is perfectly possible for companies to make significant donations to political parties despite clearly not making operating profits and therefore with limited explanations of how they can afford such donations and where the money comes from. These factors clearly increase the threat of political parties being unduly influenced by a foreign power.

The report also noted that, since 2018, the Electoral Commission has supported the introduction to electoral finance of risk management principles that are used in anti-money laundering checks conducted by companies. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, suggested on Report, this amendment would introduce such principles and ensure that political parties identify foreign money and potential proceeds of crime, establishing a culture of “know your donor” within parties similar to the “know your customer” approach in the financial sector.

Contrary to the Government’s suggestion, this amendment would not place a significant administrative burden on smaller political organisations, and nor would it be too difficult for political parties to implement in practice. As the shadow Security Minister noted in the other place, the Electoral Commission has stated:

“These requirements could be introduced in a way that recognises the need for proportionality … with different requirements depending on the size of a regulated entity’s financial infrastructure, or the size of a donation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/5/23; col. 129.]

Guidance would prevent this amendment, which increases transparency and accountability, becoming a disproportionate burden. The fact that due diligence measures are used in the charity sector and not just by commercial enterprises demonstrates that it would be entirely possible for similar measures to be adopted by political parties.

I find it extraordinary that the political parties currently do not have to check the source of their funding in the same way as charities and businesses—it is extraordinary—and it is inexplicable that our Government or any political party could consider it appropriate to oppose such a sensible and proportionate amendment. It is entirely necessary and it would go a long way to strengthening our democratic institutions, providing greater protection from foreign influence. I am sure that the Government agree that we must protect our democratic institutions from harmful interference and I am sure that, having heard all these arguments, they will change their view—or I hope they will

Moving on to Motion C1, on behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee—I have been given its approval to speak on this—I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Coaker for introducing this amendment and we fully support it. It is interesting to note that, when a similar amendment was debated in the House, many Peers spoke in favour but only one, on the Government Front Bench, spoke in opposition. It seems to be a trend with these various amendments. Strangely, the same was true in the other place, where many MPs spoke in support and only the Minister opposed the amendment. The Security Minister himself acknowledged the need for the amendment when he stated that an update to the ISC’s memorandum of understanding needed to be made.

Parliament is united in its support for independent oversight of the intelligence agencies; it is only the Government who are seeking to undermine the ability for oversight, for purposes unknown. National security is too important to play party politics with. Members from across both Houses have repeatedly explained the need for this amendment throughout the passage of the Bill, but to no avail.

I intend to do so again to demonstrate the absurdity of the Government’s opposition to it. The ISC’s memorandum of understanding, which sits underneath the Justice and Security Act 2013, outlines its remit and the organisations that it oversees. Its remit encompasses the expenditure, administration, policy and operation of the agencies and four other organisations that form part of the UK intelligence community. As the ISC has made very clear in its most recent annual reports, intelligence and security activities are increasingly undertaken by a wider assortment of policy departments, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned, including those that generally do not carry out national security-related activity, such as BEIS—now the Department for Business and TradeDCMS and the Department for Transport.

Those teams are not currently listed in the ISC’s MoU. This is solely because, when the MoU was drafted in 2013, they were not responsible for intelligence and security matters. Had they been, Parliament would have included them in the ISC’s remit. Parliament was clear on the remit it wished the ISC to have and the work it wished it to do on its behalf and that of the British public.

Effective oversight of intelligence and security matters can be undertaken only by the ISC. Only it has the security infrastructure to scrutinise effectively those aspects where classified material, such as intelligence, underpins decisions on national security. This is not rocket science—perhaps sometimes it is, but that is a different issue. Intelligence and security matters deal primarily with highly classified information. Parliament established the ISC, supported by security infrastructure such as the appropriate computer systems, storage facilities and vetted staff, to provide independent oversight of classified matters precisely because Select Committees cannot effectively undertake that role. They definitely cannot do it and it is wrong for the Government to pretend that they can.

The sole purpose of the ISC, and the reason Parliament set it up, is for it to hold the Executive to account on behalf of Parliament and the public. Independent oversight in this space is particularly important given the gravity of national security decisions and the significant intrusive powers that the agencies have at the Government’s disposal. The inability for Select Committees to provide effective oversight of intelligence and security matters has already been acknowledged by the Minister on Report.

The ISC’s MoU, which sets out which government bodies it can oversee, is woefully out of date. There is now intelligence and security activity undertaken by government that is outside the ISC’s independent oversight, which means that it is outside Parliament’s democratic oversight. I am sure noble Lords agree that that is unacceptable. In effect, it means that secret activity is being carried out in our name that no one is scrutinising. The ISC’s MoU needs to be updated so that Parliament can ensure that the Government are acting appropriately in the intelligence and security space at all times.

I find it appalling that the Government continue to oppose this amendment. It is hardly controversial. There is no reason to oppose it unless one wants there to be less independent oversight, less transparency and less accountability in relation to classified intelligence and security. Is that really what the Government want? Would they rather keep any problems behind closed doors? If so, we should be very afraid. This is a matter of grave concern. I therefore support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the Commons reason given for disagreeing to Lords Amendment 22 is:

“Because the law already makes sufficient provision in relation to donations to political parties”.

Yet we have heard that the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Electoral Commission have made it quite clear that they do not believe the current law makes sufficient provision for that. I remind the noble Lord that the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Electoral Commission, like the Intelligence and Security Committee, are part of the structure of constitutional safeguards in our politics. They are there to remind the Government how the rules need to be kept. A wise Government should accept that advice. When they do not accept it, Parliament should insist that they do.

There is plenty of evidence that there is a problem, that foreign governments are actively engaged in attempts at interference: the Russians, the Chinese and others. However, I remind the Minister that the last time I raised this question in the House, he accused me of spreading rumours. I thought it was ungracious of him at the time and I hoped he might have the grace to withdraw that accusation. He will, of course, recall that the Government in Russia accuse of people of spreading rumours and send them to prison for a long period, and so do the Governments in Turkey and Pakistan. It is not the sort of language that should be used in a democratic parliament such as ours.

There is a great deal of evidence that foreign Governments attempt to influence all political parties, to a greater or lesser extent, by various means, including donations. It is, of course, natural that they concentrate their attacks very often on the governing party, and there is evidence that there have been attempts to push money indirectly from the Russian and Chinese Governments on to the Conservative Party. They also, no doubt, try other parties and there is evidence they have tried and, on occasion, succeeded with other parties, not only opposition parties but fringe movements on the right and left, and even occasionally groups active in referendum campaigns. These are not rumours; there is evidence. There is a problem; the Commons reason is wrong.

The purpose of the Bill is to stiffen the safeguards against foreign power interventions in Britain’s democratic politics. It does so successfully in many other areas. Some of us thought that the efforts it intended to make to interfere with interaction between international companies, international policy researchers, universities and other Governments were almost too onerous. With political parties, it was too far in the opposite direction. I do not understand how the Minister justifies leaving this particular part of the stable doors open when the Bill rightly moves to close so many other doors. There is a problem here. It has been drawn to our attention by several of the respected committees which advise us on the rules of politics, and the Government should recognise and accept that. If they do not, I hope this House will insist on supporting the amendment.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 4:45, 21 June 2023

My Lords, there is no doubt that a number of foreign Governments seek to subvert our democracy and in many cases that means seeking to influence political parties, particularly the governing parties. All parties are looking for finance; the temptation is to accept that money. I rise mainly to applaud the colleagues who have spoken before, and particularly to adopt what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said so well about the inadequacy of the current safeguards.

I congratulate the Government on organising the two-day conference on the reconstruction of Ukraine. Understandably, it is focusing mainly on financial reconstruction, but I have just come from a parallel conference on restoring, or improving, democracy in Ukraine, which involves looking particularly at the political parties. What sort of example are we giving to Ukraine if we allow these loopholes to continue? How do we inoculate Ukraine against possible subversion from Russian oligarchs and others? How do we inoculate ourselves and our own democracy from similar attempts? I think of the phrase “sunlight is the best disinfectant”, which is attributed mainly to the great American jurist, Justice Brandeis, who was so towering in his intellect and legal knowledge. If we are to have the sunlight, the onus must surely be on the Government, or anyone else who seeks to block that sunlight, to give good reasons why they should do so, because we know that there are malign forces seeking to subvert our democracy.

We need an active citizenry and a committed democracy to counter these sorts of attempts. I believe the response of the Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and others have shown so well, is inadequate to that task.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative

My Lords, I will take just two minutes, because when I vote against the Government, I generally listen to the debate and have a clear view. Democracy is being bought. This is part of a very difficult proposition that we have. I completely support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, but I am also concerned at the amount of money that goes into political parties in Britain, because it is just not true that people pay for nothing. We need to look at the whole structure of party financing.

I have been many times to Ukraine, which has just been mentioned. It is not just foreign financing; one of the curses of Ukraine was oligarchs buying political parties and buying seats in the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. We have to look at what we call democracy and how it functions if we are allowing so much money to go into it from basically pretty covert sources.

I would like to see a very strict limit on donations. I am delighted in some ways that the Labour Party is now reported as getting millions every quarter—but this is not the way forward, any more than it is for our party. We have to find a better way of doing it. To all those people who deride state funding, I say that at least it is in the open and is based on the number of votes.

I will support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, but I see this as a much wider thing. I will also support the Motion about the Intelligence and Security Committee. The noble Lord, Lord West, made an excellent speech outlining why we should, and I have nothing to add to it. We need a fundamental look at the way we fund democracy in this country.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, these Benches will support Motion C1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, if he tests the opinion of the House. He made the case very adequately, and I need not add anything. These Benches will also support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, if he seeks to test the opinion of the House on Motion A1.

The coming year is likely to be the most expensive year in British politics—let us be honest about it—so the time to act is now, rather than having regrets after the next election if there are difficulties with some of the sources of the donations. Therefore, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is right: it is no longer good enough simply to verify the donor and not the source of the funds.

I used to give tours of the House of Commons when I worked for David Steel—and I also thought that was a toilet behind the Speaker’s chair, after the Speaker no longer used the toilet under his chair with the curtains around it—so I learned something about the Reasons Committee. I do not think it would have taken the committee an hour and 45 minutes to come up with Reason 22A:

“Because the law already makes sufficient provision in relation to donations to political parties”.

That was the reason given before the current situation for reporting mechanisms was put in place. It is a reason that has been given by the Government each time there has been a proposal for change. The question is not whether we agree with that reason—which, of course, we should not—but what the merits of the case for seeking extra information about the sources of funding are.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I thank the Minister for the way he has engaged on the Bill. If he does not mind me saying so, it has been a model of how Ministers can operate. But there are these two outstanding issues on which he can use his good counsel with his colleagues in the House of Commons.

I know the Minister made the point that this will potentially delay the Bill a little longer. He will forgive me for saying so, but the Bill was delayed because of the Government bringing forward the foreign influence registration scheme without notice in Committee in the Commons, dumping on us and then having to bring 150 concession amendments. We have done our job and we continue to do it—that is the point of us being here. The time to act is now.

The Minister also mentioned that one of the deficiencies of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is that political parties had not been consulted. That is a bit rich. The Government have not asked the Electoral Commission to ask political parties for their view about it, but then they say that is a problem with the amendment because there was no consultation. That is not really relevant, if the Minister does not mind me saying so.

We have to move to a situation in which we check not just the status of the donor, as the noble Baroness said, but the status of the source of funds. We would do it if a donor was buying property and HMRC was uncertain about the source of the funds—that is why we have unexplained wealth orders. It seems odd, as it seems to be the Government’s and the Minister’s position that the very same person who could be liable for an unexplained wealth order from HMRC if they were buying a property would be able to donate considerable funds to a political party and there would be no questions asked. It does not match. We also have a list of countries where extra checks have to be made by law because of the list of countries in the anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regulations that the Minister’s department puts forward.

In that regard, I will ask a couple of questions of the Minister. I hope he is able to answer them today but, if he is not, I will be grateful if he writes to me. In support of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I note that we seem to be in a position in which, over the last seven years, if you are a Conservative treasurer and you donate more than £3 million, you have a unique set of characteristics and skills that will mean that you have a 100% chance of being elevated to this House. If you donate more than £3 million and coincidentally then become the treasurer of the governing party, that governing party elevates you to be a Member of Parliament to hold that governing party to account. This is Britain in the 21st century. I understand that the current treasurer has given £600,000 through Unatrac Ltd and that he has also given personal donations. He is a joint national—I do not cast any aspersions on him whatever. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that he does not have a non-dom status. I would also be grateful if the Minister could state where his permanent residency is: London or Cairo. I would be grateful for a simple, straightforward clarification.

I would also be grateful if the Minister could state when Unatrac stopped trading with Russian oil and gas enterprises. Another Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, is here—he and I have debated Russian sanctions and trying to clamp down on economic activities with Russia for a long time in this House. Apparently, Unatrac has made a statement that over the last few weeks it has suspended trading with Russian oil and gas. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me when that ceased permanently.

I ask that because, according to the accounts of Unatrac, its immediate parent company is Unatrac Subco Ltd, which is incorporated in Dubai. Unatrac’s ultimate parent undertaking is Unatrac Holding Ltd, based in the UAE. The UAE is on the list of the anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regulations; extra requirements have to be made when businesses are carrying out activities from the UAE. The Minister says that political parties that receive millions of pounds in donations do not have to do that. The context we are facing is that over the coming year, as many noble Lords have said, money and politics will affect all political parties. The time to act is now. We must amend the Bill to make sure that we do not regret it in 2025.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:00, 21 June 2023

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this relatively short debate. It was remiss of me earlier not to praise our security services, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, did, so I will correct that omission now. I also thank in particular the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Carlile, for the spirit in which they discussed and spoke to their Motions.

There is obviously a fundamental disagreement on the burden that this Bill would place on political parties, and indeed on whether the laws stand up to “intellectual analysis”; I believe that was the phrase used. I think I have made a strong case already that all of the matters under discussion are already illegal. However, there are one or two points that perhaps deserve clarification, so I will go into those briefly.

On overseas electors, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, it is a long-standing principle first introduced by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1998 that if you are eligible to vote for a party in an election then you are also eligible to donate to that party.

On unincorporated associations being used to funnel donations to political parties, there are a number of existing rules that make sure that ineligible foreign money is prohibited from entering through proxy donors. Permissible donors cannot give donations on behalf of impermissible donors. It is right that unincorporated associations that carry on business mainly in the UK and have their main office here can donate to political campaigns. I have already said this, but I will say it again: unincorporated associations that are making political contributions are already subject to additional controls compared with other types of donors. If they make political contributions or donations over £25,000 within a year, they must notify the Electoral Commission and provide it with information about how they are funded.

On the questions raised about the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government responded to the committee’s report Regulating Election Finance in September 2021. The Elections Act 2022 contains measures that closely link to the recommendations made in that report—for example, the new requirement on political parties to declare their assets and liabilities over £500 on registration, and a restriction of third-party campaigning to UK-based or otherwise eligible campaigners. However, as the Government’s response stated, the recommendations in the report deserve full consideration. As noble Lords will be very well aware, electoral law is complex, and more work is required to consider the implications and practicalities of all the committee’s recommendations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, also referred to a report in the newspapers today. I obviously cannot comment on the details of the individual case, but the Government absolutely recognise the risk posed by those who wish to evade the rules on donations. I think this story demonstrates just seriously the Government take that risk.

I am not sure there is very much point in me saying anything else. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Anderson, that we are not Ukraine. Self-evidently, there are very robust laws already in place.

If I was ungracious to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in a previous debate, I would like to apologise for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised a number of party-political matters. Obviously, I am here to speak on behalf of the Government so I will not address those, but I suggest that he writes to the party.

I now move on to Motion C1 from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I join him in praising the work of the ISC, on which the noble Lord, Lord West, sits. Of course, we agree with much of what has been said. However, His Majesty’s Government consider the current MoU to be sufficient to allow the ISC to discharge its statutory oversight duties of the agencies and the wider intelligence community. The MoU is subject to continuous review and His Majesty’s Government welcome the ISC proposing changes that it would like the PM to consider.

The ISC has a broad remit over security and intelligence policy, as set out in the Justice and Security Act and the accompanying memorandum of understanding between the ISC and the Government. Those documents also set limitations where, for example, there would be a conflict with current operations or where it would be duplicative of the work of other jurisdictions. We believe that those guiding principles are working effectively and would seek to maintain them but, as I just said, the Government would welcome the ISC proposing changes it would like the PM to consider. It also shows the respect the Government have for the work of the ISC that the Security Minister has made the commitments that he has.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that I do not believe I was glib in my remarks about the Prime Minister earlier. Obviously, I am unable to comment on the PM’s diary, but I have said this before and made the commitment at this Dispatch Box: I will make sure that No. 10 is well aware of the discussions that we have had in the Chamber today.

With that, I am afraid that I do not think there is much point in me saying too much else. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

We in the ISC have tried to get movement on the MoUs being changed. There is no doubt—all ISC members feel this way—that we are being thwarted in getting this to happen and we do not really understand why. The Minister makes it sound as though this is a nice process that is happening. It is not, I am afraid. It is not happening, which is extremely worrying.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Obviously, I will make sure that those concerns are reflected to my right honourable friend the Security Minister, who will see the committee fairly soon. As I have just said to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, clearly I will make sure that this debate is widely understood in the appropriate places.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have spoken in this debate; I am particularly grateful to the Minister for his great courtesy. I say to him, with great respect, that he has answered mostly questions of his choice that were not directly relevant to the points I made. In my experience over the years, the repetition of a weak defence is capable of convincing only the defendant and nobody else.

I thank those who spoke. It is worth mentioning their names for a particular reason. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was powerful, as ever. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made some powerful additional points. The noble Lord, Lord West, is always the right person to have on the bridge with you if you can arrange it; he spoke powerfully about the views of the ISC. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, speaks on matters of the constitution with great political and academic knowledge, and has done so for many years. I have always respected the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, whom I have watched in the other place as well as here, for the wisdom of his views. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has yet again made another powerful speech in your Lordships’ House. Interestingly, the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, was the only Member on the Conservative Back Benches to speak in this debate—a factor that I take to be of significance.

Taking all that into account, it is my intention to invite the House to agree to my Motion by expressing its opinion.

Ayes 219, Noes 172.

Division number 1 National Security Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons — Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Aye: 217 Members of the House of Lords

No: 170 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Motion A1 agreed.