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House of Lords

Monday, 16 December 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Death of a Member: Lord Roberts of Conwy


2.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness D’Souza): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, on 13 December. On behalf of the House, I extend our sincere condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


2.37 pm

Asked by Lord Avebury

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the outcome of their discussions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, during her visit to the United Kingdom on 6 November.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, during her visit to London on 6 November. The High Commissioner discussed with the Foreign Secretary a range of human rights issues including Syria, Burma, Sri Lanka and Iran, and our preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, the noble Baroness has left out one of the items which I know the High Commissioner discussed with Ministers, and that is the call that she made for the strong and swift implementation by the Government here of their new legal obligation to extend the Equality Act to include caste in the list of protected characteristics. Postponing that question until the other side of the general election is incompatible with the obligation. In the light of the High Commissioner’s advice, can my noble friend say whether the Government will speed up the timetable?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the Government are committed to outlawing caste discrimination. However, we are aware that legislating on the basis of limited evidence carries a serious risk of unintended consequences, and we need to get the detail of the legislation right. My noble friend has been a huge campaigner on this issue. I can assure him that the Government are committed to it, but it is important to ensure that the consultation on what that legislation would look like is completed, as well as making sure that the relevant groups that

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would be affected are fully brought into the process. He will be aware, of course, of the report of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, published in December 2010, which unfortunately proved to be quite divisive because people used it to support both sides of the argument.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, Navi Pillay has called for an international inquiry into war crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war and has said that the regime is now showing signs of moving in an increasingly authoritarian direction. Following the Prime Minister’s attendance at the CHOGM, what diplomatic efforts are the Government making to secure support for a strong resolution on Sri Lanka at the March 2014 session of the UN Human Rights Council?

Baroness Warsi: Of course, at the time that Navi Pillay visited the United Kingdom, the CHOGM had yet to happen. It was one of the issues that was discussed with the Foreign Secretary. We are keen to see some incredibly robust language and text at the Human Rights Council in March 2014.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, given that the visit of Navi Pillay took place just a few days after the United Nations Commission of Inquiry was here at Westminster taking evidence about the egregious violations of human rights in North Korea, and given the events of last week with the execution of Chang Song-thaek and the Amnesty International report which shows the expansion of political prison camps as part of the gulag system that incarcerates more than 300,000 people, can the Minister say whether Navi Pillay spoke to Ministers about the situation in North Korea and whether this was one of the issues we had on the agenda for that meeting?

Baroness Warsi: She did discuss that matter with the Foreign Secretary and it was one of the issues on the agenda. The noble Lord may be aware that an Urgent Question has now been granted for Wednesday specifically on North Korea. I look to the Lord Speaker to confirm that but, if that is the case, I can, I hope, answer that question in much more detail on Wednesday.

Baroness Thornton (Lab): My Lords, to return the Minister to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the paving legislation on caste discrimination was agreed by this House in 2010. There was an overwhelming majority in the House in favour of including caste discrimination in our legislation not that long ago but it looks like that will not be implemented until after the next general election. The United Nations High Commissioner has asked for strong and swift implementation of the legislation. Can the Minister say whether that is compatible with her statement and the fact that it will now have taken more than five years to implement if the Government stick to their current timetable?

Baroness Warsi: As it stands, the timetable is that the public consultation will be held around February and March next year. That will be followed by some targeted sector-specific engagement with groups that

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need familiarisation with the new legislation, including certain employers, public authorities and the judiciary. It is anticipated that the legislation will come into force in October 2015, but I am quite happy to take back the noble Baroness’s comments to the Minister who deals with equality issues.

Lord Flight (Con): My Lords, freedom of religious belief is becoming a bigger issue, sadly, around the world. What are the UK Government doing in terms of working, particularly with the Human Rights Commission, to promote freedom of religious belief?

Baroness Warsi: My noble friend will of course be aware that freedom of religion and belief is one of the six priorities for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Indeed, it is a personal priority of mine and something into which we have put additional resources and energy since my appointment at the Foreign Office. We are dealing with this matter on a number of levels through both the Human Rights Commission and our support for Resolution 16/18, which determined, among other things, tolerance towards minority religions. We have also instigated and chair a political track to this process. The first meeting was held at the beginning of this year and the second at the UN General Assembly in New York in September. We are proposing that a conference on freedom of religion and belief should be held in the United Kingdom next year.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, will the Minister perhaps say a word about the resources available to the High Commissioner for Human Rights? I understand that the Government have in fact found an extra £500,000 voluntary contribution—a matter on which I am still waiting for a reply from the noble Baroness, following the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, some weeks ago. What are the Government doing at the UN to ensure that the resources for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2015 and 2016 are not constrained and reduced, as they currently are? Are we supporting an increase in those resources?

Baroness Warsi: I apologise to the noble Lord for the delay in responding. I did in fact sign the letter on Saturday so I know it is on its way to him. It may be on his desk this morning. In relation to funding, the noble Lord will be aware that as well as making our contribution to the UN general budget, which is about 5%, we make voluntary contributions to OHCHR of about £2.5 million a year. On top of that we make additional voluntary contributions, which can be anything between £2.5 million and £4 million. We were the seventh largest donor to the office during 2012. The 2013 figures have not yet been published but I assure the noble Lord that we are incredibly aware of the pressures on OHCHR in terms of its funding and that we do feel that it should be properly resourced. However, that does not stop us from making quite strong representations for better budget management. We are asking OCHCR to do more but we also think that it should do more with the money that it has.

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Lord Hughes of Woodside (Lab): My Lords, closer to home, will the Minister take this opportunity to condemn the gender discrimination which is creeping into our universities and which apparently has the support of the people who control university education at the highest level?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I have strong views on this, but it may be well beyond the scope of the Question.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, when the Prime Minister visited China recently, did he have an opportunity to talk to the Chinese authorities about the thousands of executions carried out there every year?

Baroness Warsi: I am not sure of the specific discussions that took place on human rights but I will write to my noble friend on that point. He will, of course, be aware of the annual dialogue we have with the Chinese where these matters, among other things, are raised.

World Innovation Summit for Health


2.45 pm

Asked by Lord Crisp

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the recommendation for improving mental health globally made at the World Innovation Summit for Health.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, we welcome the recommendations made at the World Innovation Summit for Health and outlined in its report, Transforming Lives and Enhancing Communities. Mental health and well-being is a priority for this Government. Our overarching goal is to ensure that mental health has equal priority with physical health, and that everyone who needs it has timely access to the best available treatment. We hope that other countries will afford it equal priority.

Lord Crisp (CB): My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply. I should have made it clear when I tabled the Question that I was really looking for a reply from the Department for International Development. I will, however, ask two questions.

I know that the Minister will be as appalled as everyone else by this report and its finding that 700 million people with mental health problems worldwide are not getting treated, as a result of which some find themselves chained up or caged. Does he think the report’s findings and recommendations are relevant in the UK as well as elsewhere, although, obviously, not in relation to being chained up or caged? DfID currently spends, essentially, nothing on mental health. What is it planning to do post-2015 to make sure that nobody is left behind, as the Prime Minister has set out in his report?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the principles espoused at WISH do indeed apply with equal force to mental health services in this country. Those principles are several, but I would draw the noble Lord’s attention to

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the need to draw on evidence-based practice; to strive for universal mental health coverage; to respect human rights and to take a life-course approach. We try to embody all those things in our mental health services. Regarding DfID, I can tell the noble Lord that there are a number of multilateral and bilateral programmes which are in train and supported by the Government. We are supporting work in the Caribbean and Bermuda and promoting work in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. I would be happy to write to the noble Lord with a complete list of these.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con): Is dementia included in this?

Earl Howe: My Lords, in broad terms, dementia falls outside the scope of mental health but it is, of course, closely allied. Many of the principles that apply to good mental health care apply equally to dementia. We are, again, doing our best, in responding to the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia, to ensure that those who contract this dreadful condition are looked after with dignity and respect in the appropriate setting.

Baroness Wheeler (Lab): My Lords, the WISH report, to which the Government are signed up, recommends key improvements to community care for mental health by 2020. Yet the recent FoI survey of 51 NHS mental health trusts by BBC News and Community Care magazine shows overall budgets shrinking by over 2%, including those for community mental health support teams, despite referrals to them rising by 13%. How is this consistent with pledging to achieve the WISH goal by 2020? What leadership and direction will the Government give to preventing this very disturbing situation from getting worse?

Earl Howe: My Lords, we need to hold the NHS to account by reference to the outcomes that it achieves. I do not belittle the need to spend sufficient sums of money. The National Survey of Investment in Adult Mental Health Services has indicated that reported spend on mental health services has continued to hold reasonably steady over time. I reiterate that mental health and well-being is a priority for the Government, as I hope the noble Baroness knows. We have clear indicators in the NHS outcomes framework, which will ensure that NHS England will need to focus on this area very closely.

Lord Alderdice (LD): My Lords, it is extremely welcome that my noble friend has emphasised again that for the Government, under the Health and Social Care Act, parity of esteem between physical and mental health is to be maintained in this country. Perhaps I might press my noble friend a little further than the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, did. Have there been discussions between the Department of Health and DfID about DfID espousing parity of esteem for physical and mental health in its proposals, and have there been discussions with other government departments, such as the FCO, about the increasing abuse of mental health and psychiatry facilities for political prisoners in various parts of the world, not least in some of those countries with which we have good relations, including Russia?

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Earl Howe: I will write to my noble friend on the issue of political prisoners. On his main point of principle about parity of esteem, that principle—which essentially works to ensure that mental health has equal priority with physical health—is central to government-funded mental health programmes overseas; in particular, DfID funds programmes that promote the rights of people with mental health disorders to ensure that their needs are equally met. We recently invested £2 million for an additional three years’ support to the Disability Rights Fund, which makes disability, including mental health issues, a key international development priority.

Baroness Hollins (CB): My Lords, people with learning disabilities are disproportionately affected by mental health problems, with three times as many people experiencing such issues. In this country we are very well aware of that, and despite our own problems, such as Winterbourne View, we actually lead the world in research and service development. This is not recognised in global initiatives such as the summit just referred to by my noble friend. What will the Government do to try to raise awareness of the mental health needs of this particularly vulnerable group of people?

Earl Howe: Often overseas we are working with very scant resources and the key is to build up the skills at primary care level in countries that are developing and may not have regarded those with learning disabilities as a priority for healthcare. It is a slow process but one that we are trying our best to support. Again, I would be happy to write to the noble Baroness with details.

Benefits: Sanctions


2.52 pm

Asked by Lord McKenzie of Luton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been the impact of the application of the new sanctions regime for jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance claimants.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): The new sanctions regime was introduced in jobseeker’s allowance from 22 October 2012 and in employment and support allowance from 3 December 2012. We have released statistics on the sanctions up to the end of June 2013. They show that there has been little change in the volume of sanctions since the introduction of the new regime. Matthew Oakley is conducting a review of how we operate the sanctions system and will report back in due course.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab):My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is not a matter of dispute that the social security system should involve rights and responsibilities, but I suggest that the recent, delayed data show a record number of sanctions, and raise the question of whether the sanctions are being

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fairly applied—particularly the JSA and ESA three-year sanctions. I ask the Minister particularly about the case of Reilly and Wilson v the Secretary of State. He will be aware that the Supreme Court dismissed the Government’s appeal and determined that the Government had a duty of fairness to provide enough information to jobseekers on an individual basis about available back-to-work schemes for them to make informed representations should they so choose. Will the Minister give an assurance that this is now happening, and that it is happening before the DWP seeks to apply the sanctions regime?

Lord Freud: My Lords, as part of the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act we passed earlier this year, we are having a review, which is being run by Matthew Oakley. He is concentrating on precisely the issues of communication that the noble Lord raised.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD): My Lords, one of the complications of the sanctions policy could be its impact on the Troubled Families programme. Will my noble friend confirm the number of instances of second-time sanctions, and how many of them were part of the Troubled Families programme?

Lord Freud: I thank my noble friend for giving me advance notice of that question. Only a small proportion of claimants are sanctioned two or more times. For high-level sanctions, only 5% received two sanctions and 1% received a third sanction. On the specific question about the Troubled Families programme, that provision is delivered by local authorities and unfortunately we do not have the data available at the present time.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, given that the Social Security Advisory Committee warned that sanctions tend to impact disproportionately on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and given that a recent survey of citizens advice bureaux showed that the new sanctions regime is having a severe impact on physical and mental health, with one respondent saying,

“The strain has quite literally smashed our family to pieces”,

what steps are being taken to monitor the unintended consequences of sanctions, as called for by SSAC? Will the Minister undertake to report regularly on the impact of sanctions on these groups?

Lord Freud: As I just said, we are having one review, undertaken by Matthew Oakley. My colleague the Minister for Employment is also looking at this area very closely, and I am expecting the details of the review that she is overseeing to be published reasonably soon.

Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, the Minister said that sanctions had not increased significantly. Perhaps he would look at a Written Answer given in another place to Mr Timms on 4 July, which suggested that the amount of money withheld from JSA in sanctions in 2009-10 was £11 million. Only halfway

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through 2012-13, it was £60 million. If it carried on at that rate, that would constitute a tenfold increase. Anyone who has ever been to a food bank will have heard horror stories about people being sanctioned for trivial or disgraceful reasons. Can the Minister please get a grip on this?

Lord Freud: My Lords, the relative figures are that since 2010 the volume of sanctions has run at between 3% and 5.5% whereas between 2005 and 2010 the rate was running between 2% and 4%. One of the most encouraging elements of the new regime is that the proportion of people on high-level sanctions has fallen quite steeply and is now down by 40% from 10,000 per calendar month to 6,000 per calendar month.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the officials working in the DWP are working to targets, and whether this has any impact on the number of sanctions that are applied?

Lord Freud: We are not working to targets. We have made it absolutely plain that that is not our policy. We have had a study done on that by the head of JCP, Neil Couling, which reported in May and found that we did not run targets. Obviously, we collect management information, without which we could not give out the kind of data that is requested.

Baroness O'Cathain (Con): My Lords, will my noble friend give us some indication of the sort of training given to those who deal with some of the rather disturbed people who go to jobseekers’ offices? I have seen several instances where the people in this very difficult situation get a bit disturbed about it and need a bit more sensitivity. I have mentioned this to the Minister before. I wonder whether the responsibility lies with the local authorities dealing with these issues or with the department.

Lord Freud: Jobcentre Plus advisers are well trained to look after their clients. One of the most difficult areas for them is always mental health, and that is something that we are looking to push further forward. We are introducing a mental health toolkit along the lines of that given to prime providers in the Work Programme.

Lord Touhig (Lab): People with special educational needs and physical disabilities are particularly badly hit by these sanctions. Will the Minister respond to the question put to him by my noble friend Lady Lister? Will he come to the House and report regularly on the impact on people with these difficulties?

Lord Freud: My Lords, I said earlier that I hope that we will be announcing the context of the review that my colleague Esther McVey is looking to produce. When I have that information, I will, of course, bring it to this House.

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Employment: Tourism and Hospitality


3 pm

Asked by Lord Lee of Trafford

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of the number of people currently employed in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

Lord Lee of Trafford (LD): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, the Deloitte report Tourism: Jobs and Growth, commissioned by VisitBritain and published on 21 November, states that the tourism economy directly supported more than 1.75 million jobs throughout the United Kingdom in 2013. When the indirect impacts of the tourism industry on the wider economy are taken into account, the number of jobs supported across the UK rises to 3.1 million—in effect 9.6% of total UK jobs.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, do not those significant figures and the fact that one-third of the new jobs created in the past two years have come from tourism emphasise why politicians should take tourism much more seriously? Is the noble Lord aware that the leaders of the campaign for tourism have had a meeting with the No. 10 policy unit and there has been a reply to a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister but, unfortunately, as yet, there has not been a reply from the leader of the Opposition’s office? Perhaps noble Lords opposite will use their good offices to elicit a response. Has he also seen in the Deloitte report, to which he referred, the projection that the likely 6% annual increase in international visitor spend in this country should by 2025 produce a situation where we have a surplus on our balance of payments tourism account for the first time for 40 years?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right in saying that tourism must be taken seriously, whether it is business tourism, sports tourism or cultural tourism. Tourism is worth £127 billion to the UK economy. I am aware of the Deloitte report and my noble friend’s reference. I am nervous of offering advice to the office of the leader of the Opposition, but I suspect that a letter should be swiftly drafted.

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Lab): My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Deloitte report also referred to the fact that 630,000 additional jobs will be created by 2025? That puts the figure at 9.9% of GDP. That is up there with some of the major industries in this country, such as financial services. There is a real need to put tourism at the heart of this country’s growth agenda. There are a couple of caveats in the Deloitte report. One is the need to encourage SMEs to get much more comfortable with the digital economy and to concentrate on emerging markets. Is there not a case for BIS, together with DCMS, to develop a programme specifically focused on encouraging

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SMEs to grow their offering in the tourism market? I should draw attention to my entry in the

Register of Lords’



Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, the noble Baroness absolutely strikes the right note. Tourism is at the heart of much of the UK economy. If you look at the countryside, there are constituencies where a very significant proportion of jobs are involved in tourism. It needs to be taken extremely seriously indeed. The other point is that whether the apprenticeships are in large organisations or smaller ones, there are great opportunities for young people coming into this industry. I take the point about SMEs. BIS is working extremely hard on apprenticeships. We very much hope that tourism will be part of the next tranche of Trailblazers’ apprenticeship activity.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): My Lords, does the Minister agree that the arts in the widest sense play a terribly important role in tourism, whether it is the West End theatre, the National Gallery or the Royal Opera House? These things are very important and a lot of organisations are quite stretched with declining subsidies. Given what he has just said, does he agree that subsidies should be seen as an investment?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: To pick up the noble Lord’s first point, it was very interesting to see in the list of those who went with the Prime Minister to China the number from the creative industries and tourism and heritage sectors. It is a very important part of why lots of people want to come to this country. It is why Britain is fourth in terms of culture and tourism on the Anholt brands index. I very much take that point. On the question of subsidy, it is a balance of the great opportunities our culture has to generate its own funds and government grant in aid.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, I welcome and endorse all that my noble friend has said. Does he accept that many tourists come here because of the beauty of our countryside, which is being increasingly despoiled by unsightly, uneconomic and unreliable wind farms? Can we have an absolute assurance that the Government will now turn their back on these curiously inefficient structures?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My noble friend should not tempt me on these matters.

Baroness Billingham (Lab): Is the Minister aware that the Government have at their disposal the most wonderful Christmas present they could give to millions of people, young and old, in this country and also for tourism, which could increase by up to 10%? I am speaking, of course, of the need to introduce a lighter evenings Bill into this House. It is an opportunity that ought not to be missed and the nation would be truly grateful.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I would very much like to grant the noble Baroness a Christmas present but it would not be the one she has in mind. In Scotland and Northern Ireland there are very considerable and enduring

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concerns about this matter. I think your Lordships would expect these matters to be dealt with by a consensus across the United Kingdom—I stress, the United Kingdom.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

Committee (3rd Day)

3.07 pm

Relevant documents: 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee and 12th and 16th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.

Amendment 156B

Moved by Lord Rooker

156B: Before Clause 26, insert the following new Clause—

“Application in Northern Ireland

This Part shall not apply to Northern Ireland for as long as it is governed by a statutory power sharing executive based upon the Good Friday Agreement.”

Lord Rooker (Lab): My Lords, this amendment would remove Northern Ireland from Part 2 of the Bill. Before I begin my brief remarks, I welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, to the Front Bench and send my sincere best wishes to his colleague—I think we would all do that—for a speedy recovery from his operation. We look forward to his early return.

There are many disadvantaged groups in Northern Ireland. To that extent it is no different from anywhere else but when one looks at representation, there is no Protestant working class representation in Westminster. Your Lordships’ House does not have the benefit of either Sinn Fein—which gets elected but is not represented at Westminster—or the SDLP, which gets elected but does not use this place. This means that we never get the whole story from Northern Ireland, from either side of the divide. I am no expert and my 52 weeks as one of the last direct rule Ministers does not make me one. However, I did collect some messages: fairness and equality are paramount.

We reminded ourselves last week of how young democracy is in South Africa, at 19 years. It is a lot younger than 19 years in Northern Ireland. I recall being at a civil society reception. At the time I had ceased being the Minister but was still the spokesman in this House; it was obviously before the change of Government. I was asked what the approach of the new Prime Minister would be. Would he take as much interest as the previous Prime Minister had when they got devolution back? They would still want some help and some tender loving care, but not nannying—no one is saying that at all. People are prepared to learn from their own mistakes. Progress has been made. However, it was known then, before and after devolution came back, that it was a fragile situation. It is still a fragile situation today, and will be for many years to come.

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I was reminded this week by boxes in the dark areas of my home of the advice given to the ministerial team in 2005, when we arrived after the election. I will not quote from it because I would be asked to provide it. However, the central message, beside minding the language one used, was about this issue of community working across the divide, in which I include the divides of rural and urban, blue collar and white collar, and working class and middle class—all of which overlaid the divide of religion and the issue of two member states sharing one island. In fact, I wish the politics were divided down class lines and other factors rather than history and religion.

I want to put to the House five short quotes from A Shared Future which was first published in 2005, but the points are as relevant today as they were then. On building a shared future, it said:

“The potential of addressing the problems of disadvantaged communities will significantly depend on closely aligning community development and community relations work. Community development in disadvantaged communities is largely delivered through the work of the voluntary and community sector that has made a powerful contribution to the achievement of better relations between communities”.

Another paragraph, about investing together, made the point that resourcing the voluntary and community sector,

“identifies the importance of the community development work of the sector and the contribution this work plays to building community cohesion. It is important, therefore, that the capacity of the voluntary and community sector to deliver community development is maintained and reinforced”.

It went on:

“In recent years there has been considerable focus on the difficulties of alienated working class communities. It should not be assumed that the needs of protestant and catholic communities, whether urban or rural, can be met through similar approaches to community development and community relations work. The needs of the two main communities—urban and rural—will be different and, therefore, different approaches … will be required”.

Talking about action at community level, A Shared Future said:

“There is a clear recognition that the voluntary and community sector has made a powerful contribution to the achievement of better relations between communities. It is important that that role is underscored, especially in the most disadvantaged and interface areas”.

My final quote from A Shared Future makes the point:

“Government also recognises the contributions made for example by employers, churches and other faith-based organisations, minority ethnic groups, trades’ unions, children’s organisations, women’s groups, health organisations and youth organisations. These organisations continue to have a role to play in helping build relationships across Northern Ireland. These contributions will be important as Northern Ireland moves forward to a shared society”.

Virtually all those groups I have just mentioned, one way or another, are involved in campaigning, however one looks at it. Looking at the situation from a Northern Ireland perspective, equality legislation is dealt with slightly differently from the rest of Great Britain. I refer, of course, to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. It is paramount that the needs of that legislation are watched like a hawk by all the groups in Northern Ireland. Indeed, when I was a Minister there, it was watched by Ministers and we were held to account.

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It is crucial—others in this House will know the operation of this much better than I do—that that legislation applies to Northern Ireland in a way that it does not apply to England, Wales and Scotland. There is an insistence there, from a legal point of view, on the promotion of equality of opportunity between persons of different religious beliefs, political opinion, racial groups, age and marital status, between men and women, persons with a disability and without, and persons with dependants and without. There is a meticulous approach to this and people campaign about it. I do not know how a charity or other campaigning group would be able to pursue campaigning on Section 75 around an issue that arose during the year before a general election. I am a bit concerned about that because it seems to have been ignored by the drafters of the Bill.

3.15 pm

Finally, I come to the report of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, which was published last week and which we will no doubt hear a lot about. I draw the attention of the House to a recommendation on page 43. It states:

“The Commission is of the view that the nuances involved are complex, multi-origin and difficult to untangle. The potential to do harm in Northern Ireland with hastily adopted legislation is likely to be of a different order to that in Scotland, Wales and England”.

I draw attention to a further paragraph on the same page:

“True democratic engagement in Northern Ireland is unlikely to be achieved if ill-prepared legislation severely curtails the abilities of NGOs to forge links between communities and to work together to influence the policies that affect them, irrespective of which political party is in power in Westminster”.

We have to bear in mind, of course, that political parties in power in Westminster do not stand for election in Northern Ireland, which is a factor that must be taken into account. The last point I want to draw attention to on page 43 is where the commission recommends, as part of a review of provisions, that the Government should:

“Re-examine the proposed rules for coalition working, taking account of the necessity of coalition working across divided communities to moving the peace process forward in Northern Ireland. Explore ways to ensure that regulation does not discourage small community groups and charities from working in coalition”.

The coalition referred to there is a coalition in the normal sense of the word. Northern Ireland is not governed by a coalition but by a statutory power-sharing Executive. It is nothing remotely like the situation we have here at Westminster. The political parties virtually own the departments; they are carved up in the process following the election. I am not complaining about that, but the point is that the campaigning groups, charities and NGOs in Northern Ireland do a different kind of work, in the main, from what they do in England, Scotland and Wales. There is obviously a crossover in how they work with the elderly, the disabled and other things, but there are unique factors in Northern Ireland. Groups were set up during direct rule in order to get action because the politicians were not there. It was not appropriate for direct rule Ministers

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to deal with it, flying in and out a couple of times a week as we were, but as far as the groups were concerned, there was no political structure. Groups were set up to deal with issues. Many of those groups still exist. The last thing they need to be forced to do, as this legislation almost invites them to do, is to align themselves with a political party during the election; notwithstanding, as I have said, the fact that the parties in power in Westminster do not stand for election in Northern Ireland.

As I have said, I cannot make a massively detailed case—I am not an expert—but I know enough and am concerned enough about the issues drawn out in the commission report to ask the Government to think seriously about them. There would be no complaints from Wales, England and Scotland because the political structure in Northern Ireland is utterly different and it is a very young democracy. The power-sharing Executive must be made to work. The unspoken rule from Westminster to the Northern Ireland politicians is, “You’re never getting direct rule again; you have to sort this out yourselves”. We need to nurture cross-divide working and not put barriers or hurdles in its way. Part 2 of the Bill has the potential to do that and I hope that the Government will think seriously before they make further progress. I beg to move.

Baroness Blood (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as patron of many charities in Northern Ireland, but mainly as a campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund, which I shall come back to.

I strongly support this amendment, from my noble friend Lord Rooker, which I consider to be a crucial amendment to the lobbying Bill. The amendment acknowledges the unique circumstances in which Northern Ireland is governed by the statutory power-sharing Executive. I also want to take this opportunity to highlight how, in my part of the world, the work that charities and community groups carry out has never been more important.

As many of you already know, I am a proud Belfast woman and I am especially proud of how far Northern Ireland has come and grown over recent years. Since the Good Friday agreement, I have watched a fledgling Northern Ireland Assembly climb many mountains during its power-sharing journey. Throughout that journey, the power-sharing Executive have had the support and engagement of the many charities and community groups working in Northern Ireland. Before the signing of the Good Friday agreement, charities and community groups played their part in holding the front line. My standing here today and being in the position of talking to you is very much a symbol of that, as I was part of that grass-roots community movement. We were ordinary people, working on the ground, campaigning for a better, more productive and ultimately more peaceful Northern Ireland, and I believe that all of us together played our own small part in helping to bring about huge changes. Often very difficult work is still being carried out today by the different charities and voluntary groups; I could give noble Lords many examples of victims’ and children’s issues, equality issues and issues about the aged, but I am not going to take up the House’s time by going

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down that route. That work is relevant and vital in helping to support the work of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Change is not easy, and democracy is not easy, and I would urge that in Northern Ireland many charities and community groups allow vital spaces for engagement, where voices can be heard. The importance of this cannot be underestimated; without these outlets, fear and frustration can only fester and grow. In many different ways and on many different platforms, I believe that these campaigning groups, referred to by my noble friend Lord Rooker, have enabled voices to be heard. A lot of the time, it may not be what our politicians have wanted to hear, but that is yet another reason why the work is so important. By listening, supporting and highlighting the voices of groups that might not otherwise feel connected in any way to the governing of the society in which they live, these organisations continue to play a vital role. This work and contribution of the community groups has helped to develop and bring about new policies designed to create a better Northern Ireland for all of its citizens.

As I have already said, this amendment highlights the special circumstances of Northern Ireland—a Northern Ireland governed by a statutory power-sharing Executive based upon the Good Friday agreement—and my noble friend Lord Rooker has already referred to many issues around that. The work of charities and community groups helped to lay the foundations on which the Good Friday agreement was built. I could give noble Lords many examples of all the charities with which I am involved, but I shall give an example of the one in which I am most deeply involved—the work that is done by the Integrated Education Fund. We do things in two ways. First, as campaign chairman, I know that we fundraise to enable schools to be opened to educate children and young people of all faiths and no faith to sit together side by side every day and to learn together. Secondly, we lobby our elected politicians to try to bring about policy change in our education system to lead to a shared future, which 90% or 95% of the people in Northern Ireland crave. No integrated school has ever been established by the system; it has always been established by parents who want to see this change. That work was crucial then and remains crucial to this day.

I began my speech by highlighting the fact that I support this amendment, and I urge the Minister to do the same. Without it, the Bill would have an immense negative impact on the work of charities and the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville (Con): My Lords, my intervention will be brief. When I came into the Chamber, I did not imagine that I would find myself on my feet so soon. I have long admired the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, through a series of mutual experiences over 30 or 40 years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blood, will recall the run-up to the ending of the first programme of Making Belfast Work. The right honourable—and now Sir—Richard Needham, who was then the Minister responsible for the programme, discussed with me whether it would be sensible to bring the communities, particularly

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those in west Belfast, together at Hillsborough on a social occasion, where the total agenda would be what we should do at the end of the first four years of Making Belfast Work, particularly on community relations. It was a high-risk thing to do, and we went into it slightly quaking. I cannot remember if the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, was there, but she is nodding, so I think she probably was and I would have expected her to be there. I hope she would agree that the evening was a tremendous success in terms of the meeting between the communities on both sides. I also greatly admire what she is doing in the context of integrated education.

I return to the first thing that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said about community development, which I regard as being an absolutely key part of the process of reconciliation within Northern Ireland.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB): My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has raised the specific case of Northern Ireland, which he did in such a deeply felt and powerful way.

The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, which I have the privilege to chair, carried out two consultations in Northern Ireland—one before our first report and one before our second. It would be fair to say that, as a result, we became not just concerned but seriously disturbed by the possible harm that the Bill as it now stands could do in Northern Ireland. Consequently, we put forward a number of recommendations, reflected in later amendments which I am not going to mention now; I will speak to them when we reach them. However, I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, especially about the manner of government in Northern Ireland, which is so different from that in Wales, Scotland and England. It may be that the Government will bring forward quite specific amendments—whether or not they accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—in addition to those which the commission will be putting forward.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, I do not have the same experience as my noble friends who have already spoken so powerfully about the dangers of this Bill for Northern Ireland, but I was privileged to be a member of the Opsahl commission on the future of Northern Ireland about 20 years ago. As part of that commission we invited anyone to give evidence about anything that concerned them. We were particularly impressed by the evidence that we received from local civil society groups, especially from the women in those organisations, working within and across divided communities to help bring peace and social justice to Northern Ireland.

As it happens, 10 days ago I was in Belfast with the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security, which is undertaking an inquiry into the application to Northern Ireland of UNSCR 1325 on women’s roles in post-conflict situations. To my amazement, I discovered that our Government did not accept that Northern Ireland had been in a conflict situation, although there are groups currently campaigning on the application of UNSCR 1325 to Northern Ireland.

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When we heard from civil society groups, one of the overwhelming messages that we received was that women in deprived communities feel that they are being silenced, partly by the men in their communities and partly because their role in achieving peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland is simply not being recognised. My fear is that this Bill will further silence these women who are active in local community groups.

My noble friend Lord Rooker talked about equality legislation in Northern Ireland. Again, the overwhelming message we received was that Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 is not producing gender equality in Northern Ireland; in the name of gender neutrality, women are being disadvantaged. Again, these are issues around which campaigning has taken place. As well as the implications for Northern Ireland—I hope that the Minister will take heed of my noble friend’s warnings in that regard—this issue also illustrates an important point made by the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, which I congratulate on producing a first-class, useful report in no time at all. One of the issues to which it draws attention is the failure of the Government to provide a detailed equalities impact assessment. This is very relevant to the Northern Ireland situation where, as I say, women’s voices in particular could be silenced. The report says that the commission is not aware that any progress being made in this regard during the pause—that is, with regard to an equalities impact assessment. Therefore, I would be very grateful if, as well as referring specifically to the point about Northern Ireland, the Minister will advise your Lordships’ House whether any progress has been made on an equalities impact assessment in relation to this piece of legislation.

3.30 pm

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has performed a very real service in putting down this amendment and raising this issue. I had the privilege to be the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place from 2005 to 2010 and saw at close hand the establishment of the power-sharing Executive. Two things struck me: first, it was remarkable—indeed, unique—and, secondly, it was fragile, as events of the past weeks have reminded us. We must do nothing that may, even inadvertently, damage what has been achieved—something to which successive Prime Ministers have contributed. Without Sir John Major’s trail-blazing work, I do not think that Prime Minister Blair would have been able to bring about the Good Friday agreement. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, nodding in assent.

A great deal has been contributed by a great many people to establish something truly remarkable which is an example for the rest of the world. The last thing we must do—even inadvertently, as I say—is to jeopardise or threaten that. Therefore, I appeal to my noble friend the Minister to say that he recognises the importance and the sensitivities of this crucial subject, that the implications for the United Kingdom as a whole would be considerable and profound if the achievements of recent years were put at risk, and that he will ensure

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that, as the Bill proceeds through your Lordships’ House, the Government recognise the vital matters that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, so rightly and judiciously mentioned.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve (CB): My Lords, I agree with the points that other speakers have raised, but I support the amendment for a further reason, which is that the politics of Northern Ireland differ from those of the rest of the United Kingdom. Noble Lords may say that that reason is more apparent in Part 1 of the Bill, which deals with political parties and lobbying. However, we should remember that the parties that campaign in Northern Ireland may also receive funding from individuals and organisations in the Republic of Ireland. The Republic is reasonably generous in giving citizenship to those who are not domiciled there. That line of thought should suggest to Ministers that there are additional reasons for ensuring that the civil society organisations and charities that have made such a profound difference in Northern Ireland can continue to do their work.

Lord Horam (Con): My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Electoral Commission. However, I am speaking for myself on this occasion and any further remarks I make in this debate are not from the Electoral Commission.

The burden of the point of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which I take very seriously, is that civic society plays a special role in Northern Ireland because of the nature of the political settlement there. The solution he proposes, which is to exempt Northern Ireland entirely from the provisions of the Bill, is only one possible solution to the problems. Another solution was put forward by the commission chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, which goes into the issue in some detail. The noble and right reverend Lord points out that if the registration levels were raised, and if the costs of security and safety were exempted from regulation, that would be another way of dealing with this issue, rather than exempting them from the Bill as a whole.

As to the other remarks made by the previous speaker, the noble Baroness was quite right to say that, in relation to donations, for example, which have played a very important part in the political tragedy, if you like, of Northern Ireland, delegated powers under another Bill allow the Secretary of State to bring in provisions as he thinks fit and as his judgment suggests is wise. That is a third alternative to exempting Northern Ireland entirely from the provisions of the Bill. It would be rather stark to do that, given that—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, would agree—in essence we are trying to normalise the situation in Northern Ireland as we go along. Therefore, we could give it special attention by all means, but to exempt it totally from the provisions of the Bill would be too stark when there are alternative ways forward.

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, I would very much like to support my noble friend Lord Rooker in what he has said and the amendment he has put forward. I also very much welcome the comments made by my noble friend Lady Blood, particularly with reference to integrated

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education. I totally share her views that the integrated education movement in Northern Ireland is a vibrant force and absolutely crucial for the political future of education there. I only wish it had more money and even more clout than it has to influence the political parties in Northern Ireland.

I preceded by some years my noble friend Lord Rooker in being a junior Minister in Northern Ireland. Well, he was not a junior Minister: I was. I was so impressed by the vitality, energy, vibrancy and effectiveness of the voluntary sector. It is something that one has to experience in Northern Ireland to sense the way it is. Anything that would muzzle the voluntary sector would be a retrograde step. I have more recently, through my membership of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, been involved through one of the committees in dealing with many parts of the voluntary sector. That vitality continues to make such an important contribution to democracy in Northern Ireland.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, politics in Northern Ireland is a bit different. We have there a coalition compelled by legislation—although I am bound to say, as an aside, that it is quite to be expected that there will be arguments within the coalition in Northern Ireland through the power-sharing Executive. The coalition here is beginning to follow in the steps of the Northern Ireland Executive in that respect. Perhaps it is churlish of me to draw attention to that.

The voluntary sector has an enormous part to play in developing democracy and institutions, and in seeking to establish change in Northern Ireland. I very much hope that the effect of the Bill will not be to muzzle that effectiveness. That is why I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Rooker in bringing forward this amendment.

Baroness Mallalieu (Lab): Perhaps I might add a little to what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said earlier. I had the good fortune to be a member of his commission. I am bound to say that, before I started to hear the evidence from Northern Ireland, I had very little understanding or knowledge of the particular effects of the Bill, as it is currently drafted, on Northern Ireland.

The commissioner who went over on the commission’s behalf, Georgette Mulheir, is the chief executive of Lumos, a children’s charity. She came back with some truly powerful evidence from those from whom she had heard, and made more than one visit. Some of her work was done before Second Reading in this House, and some subsequently. I understand that latterly one of the Ministers—I believe it was Tom Brake, but I shall be corrected if I am wrong—went over on one occasion and took some evidence, but that was of course after the Bill had been drafted and gone right through another place, and after our Second Reading here.

If I had not had the benefit of the material that we had heard, I would have had no idea of the damage that the Bill as currently drafted could have in Northern Ireland. What came back was that non-governmental organisations’ participation in the democratic process over there is one of the key components of the peace

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process. The engagement of young people in campaigning, and the close co-operation with all-party groups, was viewed by virtually everyone as a way of strengthening the possibility of lasting peace in Northern Ireland and a real alternative to a return to violence—which, after all, was the way in which young people participated in politics in Northern Ireland for far too long.

The commission’s view at the end of the day related both to the limits—the registration limit and the spending limit—which in our view it would be wholly wrong to lower, and of course to the way in which coalitions work. One of the most powerful examples of how unintended consequences can occur with a Bill such as this—and I cannot believe that the Government wanted to produce this result—was the example given in the commission report about the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland, a group of 180 small organisations from right across the political divide. It would be hard to think of a more disparate group. It got together to campaign for a Bill of rights. Under the Bill as currently drafted, that coalition would have fallen foul of the registration threshold, the spending limits and, in some areas, the constituency limits. It would have been wholly impossible for that group to get together, knowing that it would face the regulatory burdens of the Bill, with a criminal sanction at the end of it. I cannot believe that an organisation such as that, which was working hard and involved people who had never spoken to one another sitting down and campaigning together, is something that the Government would wish to destroy. That, in effect, would be the result of the Bill as it stands.

Whether the right course is, as my noble friend Lord Rooker suggested, to take out Northern Ireland altogether, I am not sure—because, of course, transparency should go across the board in the United Kingdom. However, unless there are changes to the thresholds, to the way in which groups can get together to work, and to the regulatory burden that is imposed, the amendment will deserve to be supported at a later stage.

I am bound to say that the commission spent a lot of time looking at many areas that we are going to come on to. This is not a Bill that can be tinkered with and cherry-picked, in the sense that the amendments put forward by the commission stand or fall together as a package. This House may have to make a decision when eventually we hear what the Government’s views are. Not a single government amendment has been put down today—because, we are told, they are listening, as I am sure they are. The question is: will they act to put the Bill right? If at the end of the day they have not done so, we would be better off with the present state of play for the next election.

Most important of all—it is one of the commission’s recommendations and makes sense from all that has been said by those noble Lords who have spoken and who know about Northern Ireland—the issue needs to be looked at in real detail, not in the rush of a couple of months or weeks. It needs people to sit down and produce a proper piece of legislation, not something cobbled together in a rush since July, as this Bill has been. If that cannot be done before the Bill leaves this House, it will have to be done after the 2015 election.

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If the changes are not made, I am bound to say that I hope that we will look closely at the whole of Part 2 at the end of the Bill’s passage through this House, to see if we would not be better off without any of it until after the next election, when the job can be done properly.

3.45 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lady Blood. Using a deep understanding of Northern Ireland, they have demonstrated why this badly drafted and poorly thought-through Bill has the potential to be so damaging there. My noble friend Lady Blood has huge experience in campaigning in Northern Ireland as part of a grass-roots movement and I pay tribute to her work as chair of the integrated schools movement—a movement which I fully support, does excellent work and must never be muzzled in any shape or form. I very much hope that the Government will heed her advice.

I am sure that I will not be the last in the Chamber today to pass on my sincere thanks to the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, specifically the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, my noble friend Lady Mallalieu and the other commissioners. By seeking evidence from across the UK and by formulating proposals and testing them against the needs of charities and NGOs, they have highlighted how remiss the Government have been in failing to do any of that. We are told that today is to be an extension of the consultation. However, our constitutional role in this House is to scrutinise the Government and revise their proposals. Committee stage should enable noble Lords to debate government proposals and then to table the necessary amendments for Report. Instead, we are being treated as a focus group for the Government to gauge how little they can get away with changing. I therefore ask the noble and learned Lord to give us a cast-iron assurance that, at the latest, we will see any government amendments which might be forthcoming after Committee by the Tuesday when the House returns following the Christmas Recess. That means that the amendments would have to be tabled on the Monday and published on the Tuesday. It is only right that noble Lords, especially those who are engaged with the commission, have an opportunity to look at the amendments properly and to table their own amendments at Report.

As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, on Friday night we had a terrible reminder of how fragile the peace in Northern Ireland is: a large explosive device was left in a busy area of Belfast, at a time when many were out enjoying themselves with friends or colleagues ahead of Christmas. Despite the worrying scenes on Friday, however, a huge amount of progress has been made, and it must not be jeopardised in any way. From the beginning of the Troubles at the start of the 1960s until the Good Friday Agreement, 1,800 people lost their lives in Northern Ireland. One in five people had a family member killed or wounded in the fighting. So we must support the people who have created, and are attempting to sustain, the delicate balance there in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement and, of course, earlier agreements.

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As the commission report says:

“NGOs and charities in Northern Ireland are frequently working on issues that relate to ensuring the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement”.

I was particularly struck by the evidence relating to equality issues and was interested to hear what my noble friend Lady Lister said about women’s voices in Northern Ireland.

As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland has made a huge contribution to nurturing understanding between the two communities there, especially in disadvantaged areas. In a post-conflict society, freedom of expression cannot be taken for granted. Non-governmental organisations carry out roles that do not necessarily come easily to governments in such circumstances. The evidence gathered and presented by the commission on civil society provides us with a vivid example of this in an extraordinarily wide-ranging and inclusive campaign for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

As my noble friend Lady Mallalieu mentioned, more than 180 community groups have come together as the Human Rights Consortium, including human rights organisations and disability charities. Strikingly, it also contains republican and loyalist ex-prisoners and the injured police officers’ association. The consortium’s campaign is driven by the belief that, in a society emerging from a conflict that has proved to be so scarring, a Bill of Rights can play a vital role in building confidence in a new legal framework. In its own words:

“While there are rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, this is special for our country because here we have a country where I have been brought up to be British, and that was just the way it was, and my neighbour across the street was brought up to think they belonged to another country, but using rights we can work together to form a new contract with the government of our country, which is Northern Ireland. That is why it is so important to people, particularly in working class communities, but that benefits the whole community right across unionist and nationalist and that is why it is so important”.

The consortium’s campaign shows how the Government’s insistence on bringing forward proposals which expand the definition of regulated activity and expand the definition of what has to be counted toward that expenditure while reducing the thresholds for registration, has muddied the waters.

In 2009, representatives from the consortium appeared before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. In that appearance, they had the opportunity to present and explain some important polling that they had carried out. It showed 75% public support for a strong and inclusive Bill of Rights. The sample for the poll was weighted so that different communities in Northern Ireland were represented, and the consortium was able to tell the committee that the breakdown of its poll showed high levels of support for a Bill of Rights across different religious communities.

As the Bill is currently drafted, this polling, designed to pressure the Government into action, appears to be a qualifying expense. The Government wish to lower the thresholds of registration in Northern Ireland to a very low level at the same time as widening those definitions. However, there is not a single reason why the thresholds as contained within the existing PPERA legislation could be said to be too high.

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Noble Lords on the government Benches may have spotted that much of the campaign that the consortium ran took place under the previous Government, and they will be wondering about my enthusiasm for protecting its rights. But that is what being in government is all about. The huge majority of protest is aimed at whoever is in government, because civil society, NGOs and charities all know that if they want a change of policy they will have to convince whoever is in power. Civil society can be awkward for a Government to deal with. It needs to be, because in a democratic society its role is to scrutinise and to hold to account. It seems as though the Government have not fully understood that, and that is the central problem with the Bill.

I would be grateful if, when the Minister responds, he could outline the detailed changes that will be made to protect the rights of civil society in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I would be particularly grateful for the Government's response to the recommendation from the commission that:

“In advance of introducing any new legislation, Government should”—

this is in relation to Northern Ireland—

“Undertake full, in-depth and considered consultation with a range of organisations in Northern Ireland and with the Stormont Parliament itself to ensure that civil society's contribution within the unique political environment of post-conflict recovery is not jeopardised. In particular, ways should be found to ensure that pre-election regulation does not inhibit progress in towards full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement”.

I trust that we will have several assurances from the Minister in response to this short debate.

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) (LD): My Lords, as this is the first of no doubt many occasions on which I shall speak in this debate, I should put on record that I am a member of the board of the Saint Magnus International Festival and a member of the Kirk session of St Magnus Cathedral congregation in Kirkwall, both of which are charities registered with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for introducing this debate and Committee sitting. With the indulgence of the House—and perhaps responding to some of the things that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said—perhaps I may first update the House on the consultations that the Government have had, and benefited from, over the past six weeks. I should also like to indicate how grateful we are to the many campaigning groups, charities and others—and Members of your Lordships' House—who have taken the time to discuss these matters.

My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire has written twice to noble Lords offering discussions—and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his expression of good wishes to my noble friend Lord Wallace. I assure the noble Lord that no one wishes my noble friend a speedier recovery than I do. My noble friend texted when I was on my way down south from Scotland today to say that he was home. Somewhat alarmingly, he also said that he might be watching some of our proceedings on the parliamentary TV channel. I asked him to check his blood pressure levels before doing so.

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I know that my noble friend has valued the meetings that have taken place, as have I. There have been meetings with nearly 50 organisations to discuss how the Bill might affect them, and there has been correspondence with many more. Organisations which we have spoken to reflect the diversity of civil society in the United Kingdom, including large charities, campaigning organisations, umbrella organisations and specialist organisations.

I wish particularly to express my thanks—the noble Baroness said that it would not be the last time that that would be the case in these debates—to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and other members of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement for its comprehensive second report on the Bill. Campaigning groups have made numerous suggestions about changes that might be made to the legislation, many of which are reflected in the amendments that have been tabled. We have been considering these suggestions carefully. I do not accept that this House is a focus group; it is important that this House should scrutinise government legislation. We thought it equally important, in framing the amendments we would bring forward, to have the benefit of full and thorough exchanges on the amendments that have been tabled both today and on Wednesday.

The noble Baroness has asked for a guarantee that the amendments will be available on the first sitting day after the Recess. While it is one that I would love to give, I am sure she will understand that I cannot do that with certainty, although we aspire to it. At any other time of the year it might be easier to do so, but as the Committee will be aware, quite frankly it can be difficult at this time of year to make sure that all the people concerned are in the right place. However, I take the important point that those who have taken a particular interest in this Bill are given proper notice of the amendments that the Government are to propose before the House comes to debate the Bill at Report stage.

One area where we have heard consistently that more clarity is needed is over the guidance as to which activity might or might not be caught by the electoral test, and I may be able to say something about that in the course of replying to the specific points raised by the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. The Government believe that it is essential that campaigners have clarity on how they are to comply with the third-party regulatory regime. The Electoral Commission has a power to produce guidance for third parties campaigning in elections, and indeed has exercised that power in previous elections. Campaigners require clear guidance to support them and help them understand the revised regime, and I am reassured that the commission recognises this too. It makes clear in its briefing notes that it is committed to working with the United Kingdom’s charity regulators to produce clear and reliable guidance that will help charities to understand how to comply with both electoral law and charity law, and I say that without pre-empting subsequent debates that we will have on charities. Also, I would say that the sooner this guidance can be produced in draft, the better. As a Government we are open to working across the House and with the electoral

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and charity commissions to give campaigners the guidance they need. It may be that we will hear in these debates in Committee how best the commissions can support campaigners in a thorough and timely way.

Charities and campaigners have also expressed fears that low-level campaigning and expenditure will be regulated as a result of this Bill, and that small organisations will face a disproportionate reporting and compliance burden. Our belief is that there should be greater clarity about who is campaigning for the electoral success of parties or candidates, but we do not want small campaigners to be dissuaded from taking part by the fear of having onerous burdens placed upon them. Therefore in line with the commitment made by my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire to the House on 5 November, the Government will bring forward on Report amendments to increase the registration thresholds in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As I have said, we will listen to the debates today, but the Government believe that the substantial increase in the threshold currently set out in the Bill is appropriate.

Finally, as a preliminary, the Government are committed to bringing more transparency to campaigning by third parties before the 2015 general election, but having listened to the views of campaigners over recent weeks, I seek to reassure noble Lords that we agree with those who think that the provisions of Part 2 should be subject to review after the 2015 UK parliamentary general election. That election will provide the earliest opportunity to understand the effectiveness of the provisions of Part 2. The Government therefore commit to laying this review before Parliament, and an amendment to this effect will be introduced at Report stage. As I have said, beyond that I do not wish to pre-empt the debates today and on Wednesday. Of course, the Government wish to hear views from across the House on the amendments which have been tabled, and I hope that these points and a short statement will assure your Lordships that while the Government are absolutely committed to the increased transparency that Part 2 will bring, we have been listening and will continue to listen to those who have strong views on this legislation.

I turn now specifically to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. As we have heard, it would exclude Northern Ireland from the provisions contained in Part 2. That exemption would stand for as long as there is a statutory Executive based on the Good Friday agreement, which is in place. I readily accept that there is a different political structure in Northern Ireland, where different parties compete for elections, than is the situation in Great Britain. It is clear that there is a particular situation in Northern Ireland and it is important that the legislation should take account of that.

I have been particularly struck by the contributions that have stressed the importance of civil society, not just across the United Kingdom but particularly in Northern Ireland, and the role of community groups in developing policies. I think the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, said that, very often, in the years when there was a lack of political leadership, community groups were very important in coming together and giving leadership

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on specific policy issues. We do not in any way wish to negate the impact that they have had or the work that they do. The Government recognise that and I hope that I can reassure the House by saying that we do not believe that that important work would in any way be prejudiced or jeopardised by the provisions in the Bill.

4 pm

Clearly, the Government strongly support the work that has been done building on the Belfast agreement and indeed, as my noble friend Lord Cormack properly pointed out, the work done prior to the Belfast agreement by Sir John Major when he was Prime Minister, which sometimes is not given as much credit as it merits. It is clear from very recent events that the situation is fragile and we recognise that it is very important that we build on that. We would not wish to do anything that jeopardised it.

Perhaps the most important point to make is that organisations in Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, will incur controlled expenditure under the Bill only where their activities,

“can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”,

of “parties” or “candidates”. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and the importance of the equality provisions there. I recognise the noble Lord’s experience and will certainly read what he said again, but I cannot in any way see how, having regard to that section, it actually impacts on organisations which might reasonably be regarded as intending to promote or procure the electoral success of a particular party or particular candidates.

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my right honourable friend Tom Brake, who I am sure will keep a close watch on this particular debate, went to Belfast recently to meet with some of the groups in Northern Ireland that were concerned that they may be caught by the provisions of the Bill. He discussed the controlled expenditure test and heard from a number of those groups how they scrupulously ensure that their campaigns are non-partisan or include representatives from all the parties right across the political spectrum. Nothing could be further away from falling within the trigger for regulated activity under Part 2. That being the case, a campaign need not worry about being caught by the provisions of Part 2, if indeed it is striving to build relationships across the communities and is not being in any way partisan in terms of promoting one particular candidate or one particular party.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned coalitions and the difference between the “statutory” coalition, as he properly described it, in Northern Ireland and the coalition we have here. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, would say, in the context of the Bill, we have been talking about coalitions of interest groups and community groups. I noted specifically what was said. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, quoted the following passage where, in reviewing the provisions, the commission chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, called on the Government to:

“Re-examine the proposed rules for coalition working, taking account of the necessity of coalition working across divided communities to moving the peace process forward in Northern

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Ireland. Explore ways to ensure that regulation does not discourage small community groups and charities from working in coalition”.

I say again that groups that are coming together, which we would encourage them to do, to move the peace process forward and to promote cross-community working, provided that in doing so they do not promote the electoral success of a particular political party or particular candidates, will not be caught by Part 2.

In a similar vein, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, mentioned the Good Friday agreement and the Human Rights Consortium that is trying to promote a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. As I understand it, the consortium is a well established campaigner for an inclusive Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, which has charitable status and a wide and diverse membership. It has been advocating for a broader set of provisions to be included in a Bill of Rights. However, that advocacy would not be a regulated activity. The Human Rights Consortium’s activities around a Bill of Rights would only be regulated if they could,

“reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidates.”

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, talked about the polling that had been done, the purpose of which was to put pressure on the Government to take action on a Bill of Rights. Pressure on Government to take action on a particular policy is not the same as trying to procure the election of one party or candidate. Based on that position, the activities of the Human Rights Consortium would be regulated by this Bill only if it were to encourage people to vote for a political party or to support particular candidates in a future election. So far as I am aware, the Human Rights Consortium does not support particular parties or candidates. Its purpose is to pursue a policy aim and provided the organisation does not campaign for or against the electoral success of a political party it is not the Government’s intention to regulate that activity. We therefore find it difficult to see how the work of the Human Rights Consortium would be caught by this proposed legislation.

My noble friend Lord Horam raised the issue of thresholds and limits, which was also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. As I said, we do not believe that the activity itself would be caught but, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire indicated, we will raise the registration thresholds. My noble friend Lord Horam mentioned other concerns with particular relevance to Northern Ireland. There may be extra costs for third parties such as security-related expenditure. The Government have heard concerns like this while consulting and listening over the past six weeks; we will consider them carefully and I fully expect to return to this on Report.

I hope noble Lords will understand the Government’s view that it is important to bring transparency to political campaigning which reasonable people could see was intended to procure the success of particular parties or candidates. We are absolutely committed to maintaining the Northern Ireland peace process, and we are aware of the impact in devolved areas of the United Kingdom. However, the burden on small campaigners should be addressed by increasing the threshold levels. In the particular case of Northern

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Ireland, some of the concerns expressed actually identify why the Bill is not the threat which many people have perceived it to be. Trying to build a cross-community consensus is not a partisan activity and should not give rise to concerns.

We will want to look at the very important points which have been made but I hope I have given reassurance that these kinds of activities, which the Government wish to encourage, would not be caught by the Bill. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, will reflect on that and be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: Can the noble and learned Lord give an answer to my question about whether any further work has been done on the equalities impact assessment? This is not relevant only to Northern Ireland but, for the reasons I gave, is particularly so there.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I apologise for overlooking my scribbled note. As part of the impact assessment at the time the Bill was published, we said that 30 third parties were recognised by the Electoral Commission for the 2010 general election and that there were no robust equalities data covering these groups. However, we did not believe that these proposals would have an adverse equalities impact because of the wide range of groups that were registered. There is nothing to suggest that there was a preponderance of gender equality organisations. We therefore do not believe there is particular impact in that regard.

In the 2010 election in Northern Ireland, 10 third parties spent a total of £26,773 while £27,000 could potentially have been spent by each third party. The total for 10 third parties was, therefore, less than what one could have spent. Only two incurred expenditure above the current £5,000 registration threshold.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: The Minister said he did not think that the Human Rights Consortium would be captured by the present legislation because it could not reasonably be interpreted as wanting,

“to promote or procure electoral success”,

of a particular party or candidate. However, does he agree in principle that in an election year, such a human rights consortium, which might be opposed by one of the parties standing for election, could actually be caught? There are some very important subsections in the Bill. Clause 26(4)(c) says that,

“though it does not involve any express mention being made of the name of any party or candidate”,

and proposed new subsection (4A) says that,

“it is immaterial that it can reasonably be regarded as intended to achieve any other purpose as well”.

Therefore, there could be a human rights consortium, which as a result of those two subsections could possibly be interpreted as supporting a particular party or candidate. Real difficulties remain, even if that particular example would not be caught.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I think this is at the heart of much of this debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall said, if the activity being

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undertaken included extensive polling, the purpose of which was to get a Government to act in a particular way, and one applied a test of,

“reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”,

of a party or candidates, I do not think that it could be interpreted in that way, unless one had a very vivid imagination. It is a leap to see activity that is clearly directed towards trying to address or change government policy as being intended to procure the election of a particular candidate.

As I said in my opening remarks, there is quite an onus on the Electoral Commission and the guidance it has given. It has given guidance on this in two previous elections without any apparent problems; I think we will return to this issue more fully in the next group of amendments. It is stretching things quite some distance to think that what is actually the perfectly legitimate purpose of an organisation, to campaign on issues relating to establishing provisions to be included in a Bill of Rights, can be seen as an intent,

“to promote or procure electoral success”,

of a particular party or candidate.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am very grateful for the contributions. As I said, I am no expert on this but I know enough from my own experience to know that we are on thin ice.

To deal with the last point first, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, the whole point is that the parties make it a political issue, not the groups. Let us be clear about this. Having read my original ministerial briefing, I will be mindful of the language I use, but let us face it: Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 would not have been put on the statute book by a majority Government in Northern Ireland. That is a fact. But that legislation operates the pressure on all the parties in Northern Ireland to have transparency.

I saw things in Northern Ireland that you do not see in annual reports that are published in England and Wales and Scotland, which we get from the Printed Paper Office, such as an analysis of the religious make-up of participants, because they are checking the Equality Act. The Equality Unit there takes it really seriously, but it is not that unit that makes it party political; it is open to a party to say, “Hang on a minute, we’ll show our true colours: we are not in favour of this right”. Automatically it becomes a partisan issue, and that is where the danger lies. But that point has been made.

I fully accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Horam: there are other ways of dealing with this. This is a black-and-white issue of taking Northern Ireland out of Part 2. There has to be another way of taking account of the situation in Northern Ireland. I genuinely think that we have to take account of a situation that is different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I also want to say on the record that nothing I have said or implied is in any way a criticism of the power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland. I think they have done a fantastic job. I once sat in the Public Gallery in Northern Ireland during my time as chair of the Food Standards Agency, because it is a UK

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body. I watched Question Time and almost had tears in my eyes. It was a pretty rubbishy Question Time but it was there, across the Floor of a Chamber, using words to fight each other and not weapons, and that is the way of the future. We want to make sure the fragility is strengthened, not weakened.

I fully admit I had never set foot on the island of Ireland until I went there as a Minister but the Northern Ireland Office today cannot be the same as it was before devolution. It was unique in Whitehall. The political director was one of the most senior civil servants. The last one became the Permanent Secretary. They had fingers on things that did not happen in other departments. I would like to know that the equivalent of the political director in the Northern Ireland Office today is satisfied with this process in this Bill. I am concerned that those who know about the nuances and the organisation to make these things work are comfortable with it. I would certainly like to have a note on that before Report or a Statement from Government.

4.15 pm

My final point is on the issue of using this debate as consultation. I have just had the privilege of chairing a Joint Committee on the draft deregulation Bill. I cannot say much; we will publish on Wednesday. However, when Ministers came to see us, they said our pre-legislative scrutiny was part of the consultation. We did not accept that. The Government cannot use Parliament as a consultation sounding board when they are going to come back to Parliament and say, “This is what we have decided; vote for it. And by the way, your consultation fits this process”. There is something wrong with the logic of the situation for legislators. It is fine for Government to listen to our voices and concerns in the normal way but in no way should any Government say, “We have consulted on this and we had these meetings in Parliament. Now we want Parliament to follow the consultation we had”. That has to be wrong. It is fine to consult with interest groups, parliamentarians and outside, but not with Parliament prior to legislating through Parliament where the Executive have a majority. There is something wrong with that. For a start, it cannot be in the textbooks on good governance. The Government can listen to what we have said, by all means, but then they must come back and show that they have listened. I genuinely believe that the noble and learned Lord will do that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 156B withdrawn.

Clause 26: Meaning of “controlled expenditure”

Amendments 157 to 159 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 159A

Moved by Lord Hardie

159A: Clause 26, page 12, line 35, leave out “intended” and insert “having as its principal purpose the intention”

Lord Hardie (CB): My Lords, in speaking to this amendment, I will also speak to Amendments 159E, 159F, 160D, 160E and 160F. As this is the first time for

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me to speak about this part of the Bill, I should declare an interest as honorary president of Capability Scotland, a charity that is concerned with provision of services and support for multiple-handicapped people.

Controlled expenditure requires two elements. The first is that the activity resulting in the expenditure must be within the definition of what is controlled. Secondly, the expenditure must reasonably be regarded as intended to promote the electoral success of one or more registered parties or candidates within certain categories. Section 85 of the 2000 Act is restrictive in its scope. It confines controlled expenditure to the production or publication of election material made available to the public or sections of the public. In that situation it would be relatively easy to assess objectively whether the intention of the published material was to promote the electoral success of individuals or registered parties. However, Clause 26(2) of the Bill extends the meaning and scope of controlled expenditure by expanding the activities from the mere production and publication of election material to include the various activities listed in Part 1 of new Schedule 8A to the 2000 Act added by Clause 26(2)(a) and Schedule 3. These activities include market research, public meetings, rallies and media events.

Many organisations with a legitimate interest in the democratic process indulge in such activities at different times. For example, charities and others may be involved in campaigns throughout the year, highlighting the plight of those in our society who are poor, homeless or otherwise disadvantaged, including the disabled. These campaigns might intensify at Christmas and throughout the winter months when the consequences of having no shelter or hot food are more acute. At other times, they may concentrate on the inability of the poorer members of society to afford heat, light or other basic essentials. These activities are not associated with elections and they are not confined to the year immediately preceding an election.

A campaign to make poverty history in our society might suggest various solutions directed at unemployment, the level of wages and benefits, the price of energy or other measures. It might involve organising public rallies and media events. If such a campaign started before the commencement of the regulated period before an election, expenditure could be incurred with impunity, but one might expect such a campaign to continue during the regulated period in the lead-up to an election. If that happened, different issues would arise.

If the organisers considered that there was a risk that their activities might be interpreted as having an intention to favour a candidate or a party at the forthcoming election, they would be obliged to incur the cost of the administrative burden imposed by the Act of having systems and personnel in place to comply with the Act and make the return. If they genuinely believed that they were not covered by the Act, but ultimately found out they were wrong, as I will explain later, they would face prosecution and a criminal penalty.

Similar consequences would apply to local campaign groups concerned about a local issue, such as the threatened closure of their hospital, the route of HS2

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through the constituency, fracking or the existence or otherwise of wind farms. If no party or candidate had policies about such matters, the local campaign group, or the charity, as the case may be, could spend money without fear of contravening the rules about controlled expenditure, but what if—and this is a point that was raised on the previous amendment—a candidate with such policies emerged after the start of the regulated period or an existing candidate adopted them in the course of his campaign? The intention of the campaign by the local group or charity would not have altered, but the organisers would risk prosecution if after that time they continued to incur expenditure without complying with the provisions about controlled expenditure, the reason for that risk being that it might be argued that a subsidiary intention of the campaign was to procure the electoral success of the candidate who had adopted it, even if he or she were not mentioned. While such an intention may not be the aim of the organisers of the campaign, and might not even be in their contemplation, it may be a consequence of their campaign. In that situation, if an objective evaluation of the case resulted in the conclusion that such an outcome could reasonably be regarded as a subsidiary intention of the campaign, the consequence would be a criminal conviction and a financial penalty for those responsible for the campaign.

The risk of such consequences might well induce organisers of a campaign to abandon it in the regulated period prior to an election. That cannot be desirable. We should encourage participation in the democratic process, particularly in the period immediately prior to an election. We should not threaten with prosecution campaigners who are genuinely concerned about social, local or other issues of genuine concern to the electorate.

I accept, of course, that there have to be some controls but where the scope of controlled activity is being extended as widely as in this case, the control should be proportionate and we should make some allowance for the genuine subjective intention of campaigners. We can achieve that balance by restricting controls and consequential offences to expenditure where the principal purpose of the expenditure is to achieve electoral success for candidates or parties. This is the aim of my Amendments 159A, 159E, 159F, 160E and 160F.

If the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General does not favour this solution, perhaps a more acceptable one would be to introduce a statutory defence to any criminal offence, similar to my Amendment 160D. If that route were preferred, I accept that it would necessary to redraft the clause as it currently includes a reference to the principal amendment. Without such a defence, we risk criminalising campaigners who are genuinely concerned about issues that matter to the electorate and do not seek to promote the electoral success of a candidate or candidates or a political party or parties. I beg to move.

Lord Walton of Detchant (CB): My Lords, this amendment and the subsequent ones, such as that carefully drafted by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, give me the opportunity of raising an issue of concern to a number of charities. Much has been said about the role of charities in respect of lobbying activities

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and a number of reassuring comments have been made during early stages of this Bill. However, I am particularly concerned about the activities of all-party groups within Parliament. Many of these groups are in the medical research field and are serviced and provided with financial, secretarial and other support by charities. They are dependent on this to a considerable extent. Of course, one would say at once that if they are all-party groups and their membership includes Members of the Commons and of this House from all parties, surely they cannot be construed as lobbying in search of electoral success. That is an entirely reasonable conclusion to draw. However, there is always a possibility that a particular all-party group may be so dominated by members of one political party that its attitude to an approaching election could change quite significantly.

I want to give noble Lords an example. I speak as the life president of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. I served on an inquiry by the All-Party Group on Muscular Dystrophy, which conducted a lengthy inquiry over a 12-month period, rather like an inquiry by one of your Lordships’ Select Committees. It took a great deal of written evidence and held public meetings to which a number of witnesses were called. The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign covered the costs, including the expenses of those giving evidence. We discovered in that inquiry that boys with the most severe form, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, who, when I started work in that field in 1950, were dying, often grossly deformed, in their teens, were now, with greatly improved care, living into their 30s and some even into their 40s in places such as Newcastle, Oxford, Queens Square in London, Oswestry and a number of other centres, with wonderful rehabilitation and respiratory support.

However, that inquiry demonstrated that in the south-west many of them were still dying in their teens. That was also true in the north-west. When we produced this report, which went to all the major health bodies across the country, and it went to the South West Strategic Health Authority, the executive director, Sir Ian Carruthers, was so shocked that it immediately put another £1 million into care for patients with muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular diseases in that area. Mike Farrar, then the chief executive of the North West Strategic Health Authority, said that anything Ian Carruthers could do, it could do better, so it put money into those services in that area.

That was clearly lobbying with a view to improving services and influencing the activity of health service organisations. There are a number of people working on that and many other charities to do with things like stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, and another inquiry into Parkinson’s disease has just been conducted, demonstrating a similar unevenness of standards of care across the country. The question is whether the all-party groups serviced by these charities are at risk under the Bill. It is crucial that we have an answer from the Minister about this. Many of the charities which service the all-party groups have expressed serious concern that their activities might be adversely influenced by the provisions of the Bill.

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4.30 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, I first congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, on the amendment, and my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries for the work of his outstanding commission; I do not think that anyone has seen such a piece of work from the charity.

Having not spoken at Second Reading, I will beg for just a couple of minutes to put one point to the Minister. These are the most critical of the amendments. They convey the fundamental problem, which is that while the Bill and its predecessor are trying to regulate electioneering, they are actually hitting a whole range of legitimate charitable activities. The Government may not even guess at the damage that will be caused by this, all the way up to the review—which is of course welcome.

I have spent nearly 40 years working with aid organisations, personally assisting in the development of advocacy. It is a vital part of their work, bringing issues of poverty reduction to the attention of the public during an election campaign. Mr Brake told MPs that charities would not be caught by controlled expenditure. I am not sure that the Government yet appreciate that with national, European and local elections, and possibly referendums, all at different times, the Bill will or could hurt charities throughout the five-year period, not just leading up to the election—although we are going to discuss that period.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, demonstrated, there are grey areas everywhere in the Bill, even if we accept the Government’s undertakings in the Commons on definition. I have much sympathy with the Liberal Amendment 160, which is coming up and attempts to exclude charities altogether; however, it may already be too late for that, as they are already regulated under PPERA and the Charities Act. The amendment should attract the Minister, since it makes the point that if the campaign is not specifically related to a manifesto or proposed legislation, it should not be counted at all. It will be difficult enough making the calculation, but at least the Minister should see the point of the amendment. It is much narrower than subsequent amendments and should be easier for him to accept.

On smaller charities, there is a myth that Clauses 26 and 27 would not have an impact on them. As we know from coalitions, there is a close relationship between the larger charities, such as Oxfam and Christian Aid, and the many smaller ones which they themselves have sponsored. However, these may now be more independent and in some cases have grown much larger. So the smaller, specialist agencies are often concerned with single issues such as appropriate technology, fair trade, anti-slavery or other aspects of human rights in Burma, Tibet or Sudan.

Some of the issues are highly political. The noble Lord, Lord Walton, mentioned all-party groups; there are many active all-party groups on specific subjects. These might well be brought to the attention of campaigning politicians. At the same time, the size of these charities, while in some cases bringing them over the proposed threshold—I welcome the Minister’s assurances about the threshold—is not sufficient to

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justify the added expense and work involved in what I call selective accountability and monitoring in relation to the Bill.

The point about counting volunteers has already been made. It is often the smaller charities that depend on volunteers, especially in times of emergencies. We have also heard about coalitions. In spite of what the Minister said, I feel that they could also be caught by the Bill quite unnecessarily—as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, pointed out. I therefore urge the Minister to consider accepting the amendment on Report.

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, I think that this is the first time I have spoken in Committee, so I remind the House of my various interests with campaigning groups and charities set out in the register of interests, and also declare my lifelong activity as an election agent, which, I have no doubt, will continue.

I, too, thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and his commission for the outstanding body of work they carried out in a limited time and for the reports they have produced. This is only to the good as we look at the Bill in detail. I also thank the Government for the large amount of activity which has taken place. For example, my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire has met something like 40 representatives of separate organisations to discuss their concerns about the Bill, and we had a letter this weekend from my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness making it absolutely clear that the Government are in listening mode. I hope that noble Lords will not get too tied up in whether this is consultation or not. The fact is that we are scrutinising legislation and that the Government are listening to that scrutiny. We do not always get that in Committee in the House of Lords, from different Governments, and we should make it very clear that it is welcome.

Much discussion is still taking place within coalition circles, within the Government and between the Government and other organisations, not least the noble and right reverend Lord’s commission. That discussion must continue and we must continue to do what I believe the Government, or at least substantial parts of the Government, are now doing, which is to seek a consensus on the Bill that will achieve the objectives behind it and will not have the damaging, chilling effects that are feared by so much of civil society.

We have two main slates of amendments here which come through the different groups. One slate of amendments has come from the commission of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and we have another which my noble friend Lord Tyler has been working on with ferocious energy over the past few weeks. Together they add up, if not to a perfect answer, at least to a very satisfactory means of scrutinising the Bill, by putting forward a number of positive suggestions. I understand that the commission has said that it would like us to take its slate as a package. In practice, as the noble Baroness said, if we come up with something successful at the end of this process, we will end up with a series of compromises, as we always do, but the Bill will not be any the worse for

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that. There are various other amendments in this group, including three of mine that I will speak to briefly in a minute.

It is absolutely right that the commission chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, looked at all this from the point of view of campaigning groups and charities and of civil society. That is the purpose for which the commission was set up. But I hope that it will be recognised that that made the consultation that the commission carried out, and is still carrying out, incredibly valuable as it is, one-sided in one respect—that is, that people involved in fighting the elections, candidates and political parties, were not part of the consultation. When we scrutinise this legislation, we must find the right balance between protecting the interests not just of candidates but of the democratic process itself on the one hand, and preventing damage to civil society on the other.

The dangers that this legislation rightly sets out to prevent and challenge are, first, that at national level we do not see our national politics taken over by the super-PAC-type organisations that we see in the United States, and by what has been described as “big bucks from big boys”—usually boys, but perhaps sometimes girls as well. In other words, we should not allow money to dominate. That money is inevitably from large corporate interests, most if not all of them on the right. We should not allow them to take over politics in this country as has happened to a worrying degree across the Atlantic. Furthermore, we should not allow people to buy particular constituencies simply by throwing a large amount of money at them—far more than the candidates themselves are allowed to spend under the regulations. Those are issues that we will come to later, but that is the basic aim of Part 2, as I understand it. It is very important that we balance that against all the concerns and the proposals put forward to try to address those concerns.

I have three amendments. My Amendment 159C is similar to an amendment in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries: Amendment 159B. It would exempt from controlled expenditure rules a range of activities related to legislation before Parliament —before devolved Parliaments and Assemblies—and proposals being actively put forward by local government, government agencies and so on. In other words, the normal campaigning and lobbying activities of charities and campaigning organisations ought not to be prevented during the period in which the expenditure is controlled.

Amendment 159D is another probing amendment, more probing than the previous one. It would exempt from controlled expenditure rules any campaigning that was not specifically related to the functions of the bodies being elected during the regulated period. There are obviously major holes in that amendment, and concerns with it, but there is a question as to how far the expenditure controlled by third-party organisations should relate specifically to the functions of the body that is being elected during the election period, and how far it is just general political activity, even if it is totally unrelated to the functions of the Scottish Parliament or whatever it might be.

Amendment 160A would exclude from controlled-expenditure arrangements,


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“is minor, insignificant, inconsequential or incidental”,

or any similar words that the Minister would like to consider. The question is to what extent there will be in practice a de minimis provision within the Bill and to what extent there will be a requirement to look at whether to some extent, even if it is a very small extent, it might be intended to affect electoral support, and how far it is absolute. It is a similar question to the questions put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, but on a more de minimis basis.

4.45 pm

Lord Ramsbotham (CB): My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made the point that we are trying to make certain that the normal activities of non-party charities and NGOs are not prevented and must continue. I also want to thank and congratulate my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth on this excellent commission report. The five weeks we have had, which have not been nearly long enough, have resulted in a considerable amount of work and consultation. At the same time, I am disappointed that there is not a list of government amendments, arising out of that consultation, for us to look at as well. I hope that those will come.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, mentioned the package. During the rest of this Committee stage, I shall be referring to this package of recommendations made in the report. However, I believe that the package goes wider than that. I think there are three parts to what we are trying to do in this House. The first is what I mentioned when asking for the pause, saying that the request was not a wrecking but a saving motion. It was saving the Government from themselves and from wrecking the voluntary sector. That is hugely important. We must make absolutely certain that the voluntary sector can continue—that is, the non-party bit—and it must be maintained. Secondly, there is the package of recommendations which I hope will be accepted. We are looking no further than the 2015 election, because the third and key part of this package would seem to be the post-election review, based on what has been learned. Bearing in mind that everyone is keen that the process should be transparent, I think that what eventually comes out should be based on careful examination of what happens during a natural event, rather than the presumption that this or that might happen, when we know that many of the measures in the Bill have nothing to do with the day-to-day activities of non-party organisations.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for providing the time and, acknowledging that it is too short, I hope that during the remainder of this Committee stage we can be constructive and make certain that these normal activities are allowed to continue.

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, because I very much agree with the last points that he has been making. I think there is wide agreement in this House that we have to do our job to make that process to which he has referred a reality. I am grateful, too, to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth,

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and to all his colleagues. It was a formidable task that they took on; they did not stop at the first hurdle but kept going and have produced some extremely helpful and notable recommendations.

As is recorded in the register, I am a patron of many charities and I am sure that other noble Lords are too, but I have also had experience in the past as a full-time employee of Shelter, which is exactly the sort of charity and non-party organisation that we think is so important to civil life in our country. I am extremely proud of the work that such organisations have done and are doing, and I continue to support them. So I hope that your Lordships will understand that I come to these issues with very much the same background, interests and enthusiasm as members of the noble and right reverend Lord’s commission. I recognise that the work they have done is an extremely valuable contribution to the discussion of these issues.

Before I come to Amendments 160B and 160C, in the name of myself, my noble friends and others, I wish briefly to address the stand part debate which is also in this group. At Second Reading, I said:

“You could plot on a graph transparency on the one hand and bureaucracy on the other in very many areas of life. If transparency is low, the regulatory burden tends to be low, too. If accountability is strong, it is likely that the regulatory burden will be significant. The threshold is a question of where we plot this legislation on that graph. … It will be our responsibility in your Lordships’ House to get the balance right when we come to Committee”.—[Official Report, 22/10/13; cols. 902-3.]

That, surely, is our principal occupation today—to get that balance right, which is a crucial role that we have to undertake between now and Report in January.

After meeting a very large number of charities, community groups, third-party campaigning organisations and their representatives, it is clear to me that the amendment which I and my colleagues have put forward would go some way to meet that objective. However, I am the first to admit that I am no great expert when it comes to getting the amendment absolutely right. Many others in the House are greater experts in that regard. However, I endorse the concerns expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, that we must be careful about the unintended consequences that could arise if the Bill were implemented in its present form. That is why the amendments that I have tabled have had broad support from third-party organisations, which accept that there is a problem in ensuring transparency in relation to those who are campaigning.

The Bill refers to expenditure that,

“can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”,

in respect of a party or candidate. There is wide acceptance that there should be greater transparency in relation to organisations that are determined to undertake that role. Indeed, everyone to whom I have spoken is absolutely clear that an extremely important part of the role and responsibilities of your Lordships’ House is to try to avoid confusion and to deal with a lack of clarity and the excessive constraints of the 2000 Act. Indeed, that sentiment was shared by the commission of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and he has endorsed Amendments 160B and 160C.

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Amendments 160B and 160C deal with two discrete issues that have come up time and again in my discussions with a large number of organisations, and have been a feature of our debate this afternoon. They do not attempt to rewrite the basic definition, which the Electoral Commission has advised is not susceptible to constructive alteration. The benefit of that definition, as it stands, is that it has 13 years of practical experience attached to it and it is an objective test—namely, “What would a reasonable person think someone is doing?”, not “What did that person think they were doing when they did it?”. The latter would be much more subjective. We can never be sure of someone’s intentions but we can come to some conclusions about what a reasonable person would think those intentions were. The amendments seek to make these things clearer still.

Amendment 160B sets out the principle that the endorsement of a campaign by a candidate does not imply that the campaign concerned necessarily supports the candidate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, referred to a similar situation. This is a very worrying misconception about the Bill and is much featured in the case studies reported to us: that is, the notion that the endorsement of a campaign by a candidate can be construed as that candidate receiving support from that campaign. The more one thinks about that, the more illogical it is, but it is clearly a perception and, as is so often the case, a perception can be even more influential than reality.

I recall regularly speaking of the good work done by community groups in my former constituency. If, by so doing, I could have won the implied support of those groups, it would have been wonderful. If everything that I supported had automatically reciprocated that support, I would have got an even bigger majority than I did, but, of course, that was simply not the case. The policy objectives of non-party organisations will often receive flattering praise from a candidate, but the feeling may not be mutual. That is precisely the grey area that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to just now. It is not absolutely clear in the Bill that it is not reciprocal. We deserve to try to make sure for everybody’s benefit that the Bill is so improved that we know precisely where we are. That needs clarity. I hope that Members of your Lordships’ House will accept that our amendment is intended to do precisely that—to clarify the situation.

Amendment 160C gives an opportunity for the Minister to address some other matters that are ambiguous under the PPERA 2000 definition of non-party campaigning; that is, the extent to which the remotest praise for a candidate by a campaign can be said to be “promoting or procuring” his or her electoral success, or that of their party. In particular, we have all seen in the past—indeed, I think I prepared them when I was not a Member of either House—the score-cards of different parties’ positioning on different policies. These assess the policies of various parties against the policies of that particular organisation. Again, it may seem to us within the political system that it is perfectly logical that it does not automatically mean that you are seeking to procure or promote the election of a candidate, but we need clarity for everyone outside that that is the

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case. People are not normally involved in the political process. It is not absolutely clear at present whether this activity would or would not be regarded as promoting or procuring the electoral success of the party or candidate that comes out best in that score-card assessment. Again, a little more clarity would be extremely helpful. Even if we were forced back on to the 2000 Act, rather than producing this new Bill, we would be wanting to deal with that particular problem as a matter of urgency.

A remote suggestion that a candidate has done something right by, say, an organisation congratulating that candidate at a press conference for adopting a particular policy, is a grey area in precisely the terms that have already been referred to in this afternoon’s debate. It is important that we should make sure as soon as possible that this amendment could provide an opportunity to clarify the situation once and for all. The Electoral Commission advice is that a non-party organisation could not be accused retrospectively of “promoting or procuring the electoral success” of a candidate or party, just because that party or candidate had adopted some of the positions of the organisation. The House, however, is entitled to ask the Minister this afternoon to give that position his very clear attention so that we can be sure that we are clarifying the law as it stands and as it would seem to be intended in the Bill.

Can he also shed some light on the position after a candidate or party announces its support for a policy which is supported by a non-party organisation? My understanding is that, providing there is not a massive increase in the scale of the organisation’s campaigning clearly as a result of promoting the candidate who is supporting its view, then it would not reasonably be regarded as campaigning for that candidate simply by virtue of doing what it had been doing all along. Again, however, it is a grey area. I would welcome some greater clarity.

Some clarity on these issues is just what a lot of campaigners—be they charities or not—are asking us to undertake this afternoon. That is our principal task in your Lordships’ House. We generally do it very well. I hope that we are going to do it again today. These amendments are vital tests to see whether this Bill can be made both clearer and more workable than the present law. I hope, therefore, that they will be given the very active consideration of the Minister as well as other Members of the House.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, I, too, should declare my interests as listed in the register; in particular the fact that I am a trustee of the Woolf Institute. I would like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for working so assiduously, conscientiously and sincerely to try to move this terrible Bill on from where it started off in order to achieve something that might be workable.

I should like briefly to comment on the attempt by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, to achieve a better definition of “controlled expenditure”. The commission thought very hard about that definition but, in the end, we felt that in the time available we could not come up with anything better than what we

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have at the moment. We reckoned that the political reality was that we had to work with what we have under the heading, “Meaning of ‘controlled expenditure’”. However, our strong recommendation is that this is one of the areas that is to be considered by the review, which the Minister has assured us will take place after the 2015 election. Certainly if the definition of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, were to be accepted, it would immediately exempt all charities from the Bill because, of course, their primary purpose cannot be to promote or procure the election of a particular party.

5 pm

I should like to comment, again briefly, on Amendment 159B in my name, which concerns legislation going through Parliament during the regulated period. It is fundamental to the working of our democracy that if legislation is going through Parliament every non-violent means to oppose it should be allowable. Another point, which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has made, is that an unscrupulous Government might reserve their most controversial legislation for the election year in order to mute or dim down any possible opposition. I therefore very much hope that the Government will bring forward an amendment along those lines.

I have added my name in a personal capacity to the two amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, Amendments 160B and 160C. Both seem to be pretty obvious and I shall not repeat the reasons he gave. However, perhaps I may anticipate, rather too boldly, the response that the Government are likely to make: that these kinds of issues can be dealt with in guidance. However, the strong message that we picked up from charities and campaigning groups was that they would like to see far more clarity in the legislation itself—exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, was calling for. These are just the areas in which clarity in the law is essential. For instance, as regards score-cards, mentioned by the noble Lord, members of the commission and charities generally picked up two conflicting messages from two different Ministers in the other place. One seemed to suggest that score-cards were perfectly allowable and would not be caught by the Bill; the other seemed to suggest precisely the opposite—and we have that on record. If two Ministers in the other place who are meant to be supporting the Bill are actually sending out different messages, this highlights the need for something to be stated as clearly as possible in the Bill.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I support what has been said, not only by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, but by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. I am aware of a number of campaigning organisations that have been to see Ministers, expressed their concerns, and been told repeatedly, “You have absolutely nothing to worry about; you would not be caught by any of this”. It is a reflection of the way in which the Bill has been drafted that if those Ministers have got it wrong, they should not have been in that position in the first place because it should have been clear to them. It is still not clear whether, for example, a rally, a demonstration, a march, a rural manifesto, a score card or even a round-robin hustings with all

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candidates present would fall foul. All that needs to be made absolutely clear. I echo what has been said by the noble and right reverend Lord: it is no good getting a quango to do the drafting; we want Parliament to do it so that people can see what is allowed and what is not.

Perhaps I may add to what has been said about the amendment in this group that I am particularly concerned about, and on which I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us straightaway today—Amendment 159B in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, which removes from the provision expenditure relating to campaigning on,

“legislation before Parliament during the regulated period”.

Such campaigning would relate to the success or failure of legislation that was currently before Parliament in that year, and must necessarily come to an end, one way or another, at Prorogation. It would not therefore, on the face of it, directly affect the election.

I again mention an interest here: I am a supporter of Stop HS2. What would be the position if the campaign to stop HS2 could not campaign during the next year from the time this Bill is due to become law, while the hybrid Bill is passing through this House? It is expected here in the early part of next year. What of a Bill like this one? If this Bill were to reach the statute book after Christmas and another Bill in the future were to come forward before Parliament—one which directly affects the way in which campaigns can be conducted during an election period, and perhaps with some draconian restrictions—it could not be right that campaigning against that legislation should be restricted in this way and that expenditure should be controlled if we were in a year before an election.

I will repeat the point I made earlier: an unscrupulous Government could effectively muzzle opposition for an unpopular measure and would have a positive incentive to bring forward their most unpopular measures in that last year of a fixed-term Parliament. I cannot believe that the Government would wish that to be the position and I hope the Minister will be able to make it clear that he will accept this amendment or something very much like it.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con): I too am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, for giving us a chance to discuss this very important matter this afternoon. I have not participated in the Committee stage of this Bill so far, so I need to declare an interest as a trustee of various charities, which are in the register of interests, and as the official reviewer of the Charities Act, appointed by the Government 18 months ago.

I would like to ask my noble and learned friend for some reassurance on the implications of Clause 26(2); in particular, I am following through the remarks of my noble friend Lord Tyler about unintended consequences. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to round-robin meetings at general election campaigns, and I want to use that as a practical example. If a charity were to invite all parliamentary candidates in a particular constituency to one of the round-robin meetings, I presume that it would not then be caught, because it is not promoting or procuring

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the electoral success of one or more particular registered parties. However, suppose it was decided by the charity specifically not to invite one party: does that then mean that it is caught because—by leaving one party out—it is promoting or advocating the policies of the rest?

The particular concern that has risen in my correspondence was from black, minority and ethnic charities, which may not wish to invite—for obvious reasons—the British National Party to one of their round-robin meetings. They are concerned that, by so doing, for perfectly obvious reasons, they may inadvertently fall into the trap of, or the category caught by, the provisions of Clause 26(2). This is a narrow but important point for these quite vocal minority charities, and I hope that in due course, perhaps by writing to us, my noble and learned friend will put on record whether these people’s fears are groundless.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: It may help my noble friend to know that, in the most recent guidance put out by the Charities Commission, entitled Charities, Elections andReferendums, there is quite a large section on public meetings and who is invited to them. It is profoundly commonsensical, so he will have some reassurance. It will not, of course, apply to non-charitable NGOs, but at least it applies to charities.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I am grateful to my noble friend. Of course, we are now talking about the Charity Commission: the question is, will the advice from the Charity Commission and that from the Electoral Commission be joined up? This is an issue which we shall come back to later, with amendments. I do not doubt what my noble friend has said, but the heart of the problem is the confusion about whether the thinking is joined up and what might fall through the cracks between the two sets of guidance.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I declare my interest as patron of several charities, but particularly as vice-president of Carers UK, a campaigning charity.

I have always had a lot of bafflement about the Bill. I am baffled as to why it was introduced in the first place by a Government who have always set such store by the big society, who have repeatedly assured charities of the vital place that they occupy in public service provision and, moreover, who have set such store by putting the consumer voice at the heart of policy-making.

I am baffled, too, by how the Government have spent the pause period. It was intended to enable them to listen and think again as the result of the extraordinarily negative reaction to the Bill, especially Part 2. Clearly, the Government have neither listened nor thought again. I remind them of what consultation means: it means not only listening, but acting as a result of what you have heard. It is clear from what others have said that we still have not had enough reaction from the Government. We now hear that the Government’s reaction and the actions that they propose will not be given in time for this Committee stage and perhaps not until very near Report. The provisions of the Bill,

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I am afraid, remain excessively broad in scope. There is too much discretion for the Electoral Commission and far too much uncertainty remains. That, as we have heard from other noble Lords, will trip up charities and stifle their voices. Why the rush for this Bill? It is clearly not yet fit for purpose.

The commission on the other hand—I pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and his commission—has used the pause very effectively indeed. The result of its work is before your Lordships in the form of the excellent report and package of proposals that have been put together, which we shall debate not only in this section but elsewhere in the Bill.

So far as controlled expenditure is concerned, I will only say that it is vital that there is clarity—indeed, not just clarity but certainty—about whether and when which activities will count towards controlled expenditure. The group of amendments, particularly those of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and his colleagues, will go some way to addressing that issue, and I urge the Government to accept them.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, I also join in wishing the absent noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a speedy return—not that we do not feel safe in the hands of this noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, but it would be nice to see them both running around again. I also declare my interest as a patron of the Blenheim Trust and trustee of the Webb Memorial Trust.

I echo the concerns expressed by a number of noble Lords about the Bill and support the thrust of their amendments, which aim to make this bad Bill a little less bad. I also want to argue that Clause 26 should not stand part of the Bill. As has been said, the Government paused, but not for long enough and, more seriously, they then did nothing. There was no consultation—which as we have just heard is about more than just listening—because whatever they heard they made no changes. Even today, after all that, we have only the promise of a review about whether the Bill is fit for purpose after we have had an election with it, and the promise of a revision of the thresholds, but without the all-important figures before us. The Government’s inaction is in stark contrast to the NCVO and the Harries commission, as my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley just said.

The NCVO heard from 140 of its members and engaged with MPs, civil society and lawyers, and, as we have heard, took evidence. It talked, it thought, it listened and responded. The Government, by contrast, refused a proper committee to take evidence but then failed to use the time to produce their own amendments. They have failed to ask for written evidence and they have failed to produce a report of what they heard.

They have still failed to believe the warnings of chill, uncertainty and criminal sanctions—warnings and concerns that the Women’s Institute, Crisis and Sense About Science have repeated just this morning despite, or perhaps because of, the meetings that they have had with Ministers. The Government have failed to listen to the Royal College of Nursing, which says that the Bill will restrict the activities of organisations

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that seek legitimately to influence public policy in the run-up to an election. Indeed, the nurses say that if they are curtailed from raising concerns, this may pose a risk to standards of care in the NHS. Not only did the Government not heed these warnings, they have sought to dismiss them by asking others, not themselves, to change their view of the Bill. It is really no good the Minister today, or indeed Mr Brake, telling these groups that they need not worry if their own lawyers and the Electoral Commission tell them that they may well be in scope.

5.15 pm

The Government were forced to apply the brakes to this Bill to avoid defeat in your Lordships’ House on 5 November, but instead of using that pause to think again, they left the Bill unamended, with its chilling effect on democracy. I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, expected when he withdrew his Motion for a longer pause. He said that he hoped the Minister would exercise flexibility, and that if, when the consultation gets under way, it cannot be done in time, consideration should be given to pushing the Committee days further back to enable proper examination. Today, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has used the word “disappointed”. It is not delay we seek, unless perhaps to the Report stage if we are not to agree the amendments in advance. What we want is a proper response from the Government before they push on with this ill judged and ill thought-out legislation: the wrong Bill aimed at the wrong target and in the wrong way.

There are two major problems with the Bill. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has said clearly that,

“the political voice of a charity is an important contribution to our democracy and enhances the work of Parliament”,

but that the Bill remains incompatible with that role. That is a serious allegation. By seeking to introduce detailed restrictions to the work of the third sector, the Government do not achieve transparency but instead engender fear. That is, I think, because they understand nothing about what voluntary organisations do and how they help those whose interests they represent.

As I have said, I am a trustee of the Beatrice Webb Memorial Trust, and we should remember what that great lady did after she wrote the minority report on the Poor Law. She campaigned vigorously for its findings to be adopted, and of course she had to campaign against a Government. As a result of her campaigning, society and politicians listened and learnt. They stopped blaming the poor for their poverty and they set about implementing policies to prevent poverty and to care for the sick, the old, the disabled and the workless. I will ask the Minister: how much of what Beatrice Webb did would be ruled out by this Bill?

Our fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are crucial to democracy. We tend to take them for granted because we are free to speak out, organise, march and protest. The stated intention of the Government is simply to stop wealthy individuals having an undue influence on the outcome of an election. Hurrah to that, because democracy must not be for sale, but, as Georgette Mulheir, about whom we have already heard and who worked on the

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commission chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, pointed out, we in this House must find ways to ensure that that intent of the Government does not have the effect of curtailing the human rights of citizens to freedom of speech, assembly and participation.

Georgette Mulheir is not alone in worrying about this. The BMA is worried about how it could raise concerns and seek to influence public policy for a whole year. It thinks that the Bill could have unintended consequences for apolitical bodies, restricting routine activity on public policy.

What is the reason for the Bill? Is it about Sheffield Hallam? When the Minister comes to reply, perhaps he can he confirm my interpretation—

Lord Greaves: I have listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, but it seems that all she is doing is repeating her Second Reading speech. What we have heard about so far, and what we have down for Committee, is a whole series of amendments probing particular parts of the Bill and putting forward very constructive and, in many cases, sensible proposals to improve it. Why is the noble Baroness still making a Second Reading speech, and why has the Labour Party not put down a single constructive amendment for discussion in Committee?

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: We have a clause stand part debate and the point is to argue that this increase in scope does not belong in the Bill. That is the purpose of this, and the clause stand part debate is in our name. It is absolutely because we do not accept the enormous expansion that this clause brings in. We had expected, at this stage, because of the pause, that the Government would give an indication, even if not through amendments, of their response to the dissatisfaction at Second Reading. Our surprise is that we meet today, five weeks later, and there is not a single indication that the worries raised either by the two reports from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, or at Second Reading, find themselves in any way reflected, given that no government amendments have been tabled for today.

Lord Tyler: Is the noble Baroness’s position that she wishes to leave PPERA 2000 just as it is, unamended? That is not the position of the commission of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, or indeed of any of the organisations that I have met. It therefore seems extraordinary that she is prepared to leave that status quo in place.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: I do not think that any one clause quite does that, but it is interesting if that is the noble Lord’s interpretation. Assuming that we take the Government’s intention as genuine—we can perhaps agree that this should just be about transparency—our view is that the extension of the scope has the unintended consequence of extending it from purely publications to an enormous range of other activities and things such as staff costs, transport and hire of halls. That fundamentally alters the position, which is what we are questioning. Is the effect of the Bill the same as the intent—transparency—or is the

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effect the chilling one that every charity and community group is telling us about? It feels like watching the Army march, with one young soldier out of line and his mother saying, “My son is marching properly but everyone else is out of step”. It seems that everyone who is commenting on the Bill has worries about the effect—except, of course, the Minister.

It was interesting and very noticeable that Lib Dem Members stood up when I used the words Sheffield Hallam. Can the Minister confirm my interpretation—it would also be interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler—on whether, had the Bill been an Act in 2010, so looking backwards rather than forwards, the NUS-Lib Dem antics over tuition fees would have been permissible? My reading is that they would not have been, that the NUS would have been caught had it spent too much. I have the feeling—and the NUS shares the figures on this—that, including events, press campaign tools, photographs, travel and related staff costs, the photos of those various Lib Dem candidates pledging not to increase tuition fees would have been caught by these rules, therefore requiring the NUS to register and account for all its costs. The interesting question is whether that would be the case.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I wonder what the noble Baroness is thinking. Activity by candidates, which is caught by other parts of the PPERA, is completely different from non-party expenditure, which is what we are debating in Part 2 of the Bill. I want to give the noble Baroness the opportunity to tell me what I may be missing, but activity by candidates seeking election is clearly political.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: The NUS and other student groups have raised an interesting question about work done in the year before an election. Can the noble and learned Lord assure the student groups—and it is the Bangor student union that has been writing to noble Lords—that they can continue to campaign? The fact that student groups are concerned is another example of the uncertainty about this issue. It is not just charities: other groups would also need to be concerned that expenditure on a campaign like tuition fees—or the Stop the War coalition, which we knew rather a lot about—early on before a general election could fall within this. If a political party adopted what another group had been campaigning on and that became a big issue at an election—I recall that the Iraq war was such an issue—then the work done maybe 12 months before the election would be caught by this provision. If we understand it correctly—and this is why a stand part debate is absolutely right for this bit—this clause would have the effect of expanding the scope of the Bill to bring into account the cost, in that 12 months, of activities like rallies, marches, hire of transport, stewarding and all those sorts of things.

The other point I want to raise on this clause is the administrative burden brought in by the addition of these types of activities; they are separate from publications, which are relatively easy to account for. It is interesting that another part of the Government is doing a lot about getting rid of red tape at the moment. Last month, this House agreed a statutory instrument

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allowing small companies to no longer do full accounts if they do not exceed two of either: gross assets of over one-third of a million pounds, a turnover of over two-thirds of a million pounds or an average of 10 employees. That will not apply to charities, which are excluded, but it will exempt other small groups from having to do full accounts. However, those exact same groups, having been relieved by BIS from all that red tape, will, because of the extended activities related to the items included in this clause, have to go through an enormous, complicated, bureaucratic form-filling process.