Clause 32 - Power to amend Schedule 8

Elections Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 26th October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North 11:00 am, 26th October 2021

I beg to move amendment 92, in clause 32, page 44, line 12, leave out “may by” and insert

“must consult with such persons as the Minster considers appropriate before making”.

This amendment empowers the Secretary of State to consult broadly before making regulations under clause 32 to amend Schedule 8.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

This relatively technical amendment is based on the written evidence and suggested amendments submitted by the Law Society of Scotland, which I am sure Committee members are familiar with and have read in detail. Schedule 8 provides the list of offences that disqualify offenders for elected office, including offences under the law in Scotland, which in a lot of these areas is determined by the devolved Scottish Parliament, so we think it is pretty simple and appropriate that the clause places a duty on Ministers to “consult with” relevant persons as appropriate before making statutory instruments.

A lot of themes that have come up in the course of our deliberations are about the need for enhanced scrutiny and consultation. Indeed, the Minister strongly defended the role of consultation—as opposed to seeking consent from the devolved Assemblies, which we are not asking for in this amendment—in a debate on a previous clause. I look forward to her saying that the amendment would be overly bureaucratic and delay the process and therefore is not necessary.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch Minister for Equalities, Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (jointly with Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. If he already knows what I am going to say, and if we have had this debate multiple times, it raises the question of why he chose to table the amendment. Nevertheless, I will speak to the clause and his amendment.

The purpose of clause 32 is to future-proof the new disqualification order so that it remains relevant and can continue to apply to offences of an intimidatory nature. For example, the nature of electoral campaigning is evolving as online campaigning increases in significance, which unfortunately means that the nature of intimidation and abuse is also evolving and shifting online. It is possible that new online intimidatory offences will be created. For example, a Law Commission report in July recommended the creation of a more modern harm-based communications offence. If this proposed offence became law, we might want to make it possible for the intimidation disqualification order to be imposed in relation to that offence where the necessary hostility was established. That is why the clause enables Ministers to add, amend or remove offences from the list of intimidatory offences in schedule 8. Any statutory instrument made using this power would be subject to the affirmative procedure.

Amendment 92 would require the Secretary of State to undertake a consultation with such persons as he considers appropriate before making use of the regulation-making powers to amend the list of intimidatory offences in schedule 8. This is not necessary, as the hon. Gentleman knew I would say. The Secretary of State will be able to seek and consider the views of such persons as he considers appropriate when relevant without the need for a legal requirement to do so—this is the normal business of government. As previously stated, the clause already requires that any statutory instrument laid using these powers will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the affirmative resolution procedure. This will ensure that Parliament can scrutinise and decide whether to accept any proposed changes to schedule 8. The Government will therefore not accept the amendment, as we believe that it is unnecessary. To ensure that the new disqualification order evolves in the same way that intimidatory behaviour and criminal offences evolve, the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

I do not think that was a massive surprise. The Minister is right to say that it is important that the legislation is future-proofed. The Scottish Parliament has a proud record—as indeed does the Senedd Cymru—of being in advance of this place sometimes in terms of the legislation it has brought forward and the kinds of behaviour it has gone on to deem a criminal offence; in fact, a recent piece of hate crime legislation might well contain examples to add to the disqualifying offences in the Bill.

In an attempt to strike a note of consensus, I will take in good faith the Minister’s commitment to monitor the development of legislation north and south of the border and that the consultations will happen. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.