Tuesday 19th March 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
19:10
Moved by
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 29 January be approved.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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My Lords, if approved and made, these draft regulations will uprate the maximum campaign spending limits at the Greater London Authority and local authority mayoral elections in England to reflect changes to the value of money. This instrument also provides an exclusion for reasonable security expenses from the various election campaign spending limits. Finally, the draft regulations make some technical amendments to remove drafting that is now redundant from the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012.

Elections rely upon the ability of political parties, candidates and other campaigners to communicate their views so that voters can make an informed decision at the ballot box. If approved by Parliament, this statutory instrument completes the package of reforms the Government announced in July 2023 to uprate reserved and excepted party and candidate spending limits and donations thresholds. This is a necessary action, as many of these statutory limits, which were set in absolute terms, have not been uprated in recent times. If we do not uprate them in line with inflation, it means that they continue to be lower in real terms, which has real impacts on campaigning.

Furthermore, no one should feel afraid to participate in our democracy. As noble Lords will be aware, in the past eight years we have witnessed the horrific murders of two parliamentarians, Jo Cox and Sir David Amess. The safety of parliamentarians and candidates is important, and in recent years the Government have introduced numerous measures to tackle intimidation in public life. It is of the utmost importance that candidates feel safe to campaign. Therefore, the Government are explicitly exempting reasonable security expenses from contributing to spending limits for political parties, candidates and other campaigners at reserved and excepted UK elections. I am pleased to confirm that this fulfils a recommendation made by the Jo Cox Civility Commission in its recent report No Place in Politics: Tackling Abuse and Intimidation.

I turn to the specifics. The draft regulations will uprate the spending limits for candidates at Greater London Authority elections and local authority mayoral elections. The various spending limits for Greater London Authority elections have remained unchanged since they were set in 2000. Due to this significant gap, the regulations will uprate the spending limits by 81.05%. This means that the limit for a candidate at an election of the Mayor of London will increase from £420,000 to £760,410, the limit for a candidate at an election of a constituency member of the London Assembly will increase from £35,000 to £63,360, and for an individual or party list candidate at the London-wide assembly election the limit will change from £330,000 to £597,460.

The draft regulations will uprate the spending limits for local authority mayoral elections in England by 29.09%. The uprating is done from 2017, to align with the new spending limits for combined authority and combined county authority mayoral elections recently approved by Parliament in the Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017 (Amendment) Regulations 2024. This is to ensure parity between mayoralties and means that the limits for local authority mayoral elections in England will change from £2,362 and 5.9p per elector to £3,040 and 8p per elector.

19:15
The draft regulations will provide clarity for parties, candidates and campaigners by explicitly exempting reasonable security expenses from contributing to the spending limits for candidates, political parties and third-party campaigners at UK reserved and excepted elections, other than local government elections in Northern Ireland. The Government will introduce an equivalent exemption for local elections in Northern Ireland in due course. The regulations will not apply to security expenses at devolved elections in Scotland and Wales. The Scottish Government have separately legislated to make similar provision, and the Welsh Government have recently consulted on doing so.
Many parties and candidates already take the view that security expenses are, in general, not election expenses. This exemption will put that view beyond any doubt and ensure that campaign spending limits are not a barrier to the provision of security during election campaigns. I thank the Electoral Commission for drawing the Government’s attention to this point of law and for its support in getting the drafting of this important exemption right.
The draft regulations also make minor technical and consequential changes to remove the police areas of Greater Manchester, North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire from the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012. These functions have already been transferred to the relevant mayors by separate legislation. Therefore, these regulations do not make a substantive policy change; they simply remove the redundant drafting from the 2012 order to ensure that the law accurately reflects this position.
I must also speak to the regret amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. On the matter of the timing of the instrument, the Government acknowledge the proximity of the making of this legislation to forthcoming elections. As the honourable Minister, Simon Hoare MP, mentioned in the debate on the instrument in the other place, given the significant benefits that clarifying the position on security expenses provides for candidates, parties and campaigners in the current climate, the Government took the view that delaying these provisions would delay the provision of a significant benefit.
The Government strongly disagree with the noble Lord’s claims that there is insufficient evidence for the uprating of spending limits. Before uprating election spending limits, the Government consulted the members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel on two occasions. The parties were first consulted in 2020, ahead of uprating spending limits for candidates at local elections in England. In September 2022, the Government wrote to the members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel again regarding uprating election spending limits and exempting reasonable security expenses from those limits. The responses received indicated support for increasing various spending limits and endorsed exempting security expenses. As is statutorily required, the Electoral Commission was formally consulted on this statutory instrument.
The Government have completed the uprating using the consumer prices index—CPI—as a measure of inflation, in line with other recent uprating exercises. The CPI reflects changes to the total cost of a variety of products and services, including those used by parties and candidates during election campaigns, such as transport and postage.
The noble Lord also expresses regret in respect of the effect of increasing reporting thresholds on reducing the transparency of funding for elections. Donations-reporting thresholds are not being uprated in this instrument. These have already been adjusted in line with inflation in a separate instrument. The Government have a legal duty in any Parliament lasting more than two years to uprate donations-reporting thresholds, or outline to Parliament their reasons for not doing so. The existence of this requirement indicates that Parliament intended for such an uprating to take place should the Government consider it necessary.
In conclusion, the uprating of campaign spending limits at the Greater London Authority and the local authority mayoral elections in England to reflect inflation is necessary. The significant gap since the limits were last set, and the current level of inflation, mean that this uprating exercise is required to avoid the spending limits putting greater constraints on campaigners than originally intended.
Violence and intimidation cannot be tolerated and have absolutely no place in our public life. The security expenses exemption will bring clarity and reassurance to parties, candidates and third-party campaigners as to their ability to incur security expenses without it impacting their overall spending limits. I beg to move that the regulations be approved.
Amendment to the Motion
Moved by
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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At end insert “but this House regrets the Government’s decision to lay the draft Regulations, given the large scale of the proposed increases, the proximity of elections on 2 May, the lack of evidence of parties and candidates being constrained in their ability to reach voters by current expense limits, and the effect of increasing reporting thresholds on reducing transparency of funding for elections.”

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by welcoming the clarification in election law that necessary security costs for candidates must not be constrained by being included as part of their campaign spending that is set against election expense limits. On 28 January 2000, a friend of mine, Andrew Pennington, was working for an MP when he was murdered by an attacker who came to the advice centre of my late friend Lord Jones of Cheltenham when he serving as the town’s MP. In the 1980s, well before there were any funds for security at MPs’ offices, I used to run the campaign HQ for my friend the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, which was where he held many advice centres as an MP. Anyone could walk in at any time. It was not safe. We need to protect Members of Parliament and all their staff, in this place and wherever they work, and we are thankful to all those who help to protect us in these dangerous times.

I also acknowledge that there is a case for uprating the mayoral election expense limits, and those for candidates for the Greater London Authority. But no case has been made for doing so by 81%, thereby increasing the unhealthy influence of big donors that has caused such problems and been so clearly exposed in recent weeks. Inflation, as measured by CPI, in the three years since the last London mayoral election has been about 18%. If we go back to the last London mayoral election in 2021, the three leading candidates each spent around £400,000, or 95% of the available election expense limit at the time. An increase now from £420,000 to £760,000 must be considered to be excessive. This is especially so when it means that the candidates are suddenly being allowed to spend an additional £340,000 in just the last six weeks of the campaign. Many of us here have experience of election planning and will know that parties will have budgeted perhaps a year ago to spend no more than the £420,000 limit in place until now.

It is not, however, just an extra £340,000 that is suddenly being pumped in for each of the London mayoral candidates. There are 14 constituency members of the Greater London Authority and, as the Minister said, the expense limit for each of those 14 candidates is suddenly being increased by the sum of £28,360. This means that each party with 14 candidates can now legally spend an extra £397,000 supporting them.

Then there are the party list candidates. A party will now be able to spend an extra £267,000 supporting its list. What does this mean for a party with a mayoral candidate and a full slate of candidates for the Greater London Assembly? It means that the total permitted expenditure for those parties will rise, at the drop of a hat, from £1,240,000 to £2,244,080. In London alone, a party will now be able to spend more than £1million extra in just six weeks before polling day on 2 May.

The expense limits are being raised not just for the London elections but for 11 more metro mayor elections across England covering almost half the country. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us what the combined increase will be in election expense limits for a party with a candidate in each of these 11 metro mayoral elections. What is the combined total of permitted election expenditure for these candidates under the present rules, and what will it be under these new ones? Perhaps the combined increase may be more than £1million, and this comes in all of a sudden, long after campaign budgets will have been set. A party with sufficient funds will be able to spend an extra £1million in London, and, if the figure is £1 million elsewhere, it will be spending over the next six weeks at the rate of a third of a million pounds per week, over and above existing plans. To be able to spend to the maximum of these new limits, it appears that the Conservative Party needs the donations of its disgraced donor, Frank Hester. Or are these increases simply being made because it has his donations? I think we should be told.

Last December, the Times reported that the Conservative Party is well on track to raise £50 million in a year. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in the very same month the Conservatives dramatically raised the expenditure limit for national parties in general elections from around £19.5 million to around £36 million. Is it not the truth of all these huge increases in election expense limits that the Conservative Party is feeling desperate? It lacks support, but it has money. It thinks that it needs to spend the £15 million believed to have been given by Frank Hester, the £5 million from Mohamed Mansour and all of the money from billionaire tax exiles whom it has just allowed to donate, and with as little scrutiny as possible, even if they have not lived here for several decades?

This is all about desperate spending to seek re-election, and not about the democratic principle of a level playing field in politics, which was established in law during Gladstone’s time. This principle was also agreed by all the parties in the legislation governing party expenditure in 2000. More recently, it has been supported by the words of the noble Lord, Lord True, in our debates on the Elections Act. However, action speaks louder than words, as they say, and it seems a very long time since the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, became Prime Minister, and pledged to “take the big money out of politics”.



It is most regrettable that the excellent report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life of 2011, when my noble friend Lord Alderdice served on the CSPL, was not implemented by the coalition Government. This report proposed a cap of £10,000 on all donations. These new, extremely high election expense limits mean that, more than ever, all parties must go begging to major donors.

19:30
It is also clear that those who can make great profits from doing business with the current Government feel able to afford exceptionally large donations to the party in office. The increases proposed are enormous. They are being made very suddenly in close proximity to the elections. This is despite the convention, and the advice of the Electoral Commission, that, if significant changes are to be made to electoral law, they should be made at least six months in advance of any election.
There are only six weeks to go to polling day. The commission says that this is a significant change to the UK’s political finance controls. I have accepted that there is some evidence of the need for a modest increase in expense limits, as inflation has been around 10% over the last year, but changes could have been made a year ago, or after the last mayoral elections, so why are they being made now?
The Electoral Commission confirmed that the Government have not provided evidence of the need for such huge and disproportionate increases in election expense limits. It says that, for there to be increases in election expense limits, there should be evidence that parties and candidates are being constrained in their ability to reach voters by the current expense limits. The commission says:
“We did not see any evidence of this”.
I beg to move the amendment in my name because we must regret what the Government are doing as, once again, they abuse their power and bend the election rules quite grotesquely in their favour.
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I rise to offer the strongest possible Green Party support to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. This is indeed a great cause for regret, although I follow the noble Lord in saying that I entirely accept and agree with the security clarification that, unfortunately, is clearly necessary; I have absolutely no problems with that.

On social media, you know you are catching the zeitgeist, and that people are recognising what you are saying, when it gets repeated back to you. A couple of phrases that I use often on social media are increasingly repeated back to me. One is:

“#democracy - it would be a good idea”.


The other is:

“We get the politics that the few pay for”.


The second is simply and undoubtedly a statement of fact. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, set out such figures as £10 million, but even a donation of £1 million or—in the context of the elections we are talking about —£100,000 are potentially election changing. As the noble Lord said, this is happening at the last minute. The only way that this money will come in is through a few rich people.

We have to ask this question, and I would love the Minister to answer it: why does she think people give a donation of £10 million or £1 million or £100,000? Surely they do not give it for nothing. What do they get in return?

I should perhaps make a declaration of non-interest here since, as far as Green Party election spending is concerned, this is all entirely irrelevant. We were never going to spend up to the old limits, so this does not matter to us at all except that we will face a deluge of paper and social media posts, which will attempt to flood out our modest attempts to reach and speak to the electorate. That is the practical reality.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vere, likes to ask where people will say the money should come from. I very much accept the figure from 2011 of a maximum donation of £10,000. I could set it lower, but that will do for starters. I will say what is often considered the unsayable: we need state funding of political parties and election campaigning. Instead of the few paying for the politics we get, that would mean we get the politics that everyone has chosen.

That is effectively how the Green Party funds things, how we are funding these elections and how we will fund the coming general election: by crowdfunding—people putting in their £10 or £20 and making the choice to support a local candidate. But we have a cost of living crisis. The people who would have put in £20 can now put in only perhaps £10 or £5. Yet the millionaires and billionaires are getting richer, so their donations get bigger and bigger.

I have one final point to make. The security element of this really made me think of things that can get in the way and stop candidates running, and this deserves to be raised in this context and every electoral context. I refer to the access to elected office fund for disabled people, which was closed in March 2020 because of the Covid pandemic. We can discuss the continuation of the pandemic, but I do not think we are in an emergency situation any longer. The Government have failed to reinstate this fund despite its inclusion in the Disability Action Plan. There was an open letter written to the Government in the November by a whole coalition of disability groups calling for this small, modest measure to find a little bit of money to enable disabled people to compete on a level playing field in elections. So my question to the Minister is: will the Government reinstate the access to elected office fund? It is probably too late for these elections—not too late for billionaires, but for disabled people to start to run —but we could at least do it for the next set of elections, which will be the general election.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I add to what my noble friend Lord Rennard said just a few brief comments. First, on the timing, I note that when the committee considered this, the Minister in the Commons said:

“I will be perfectly frank … we could have delayed this until after the elections in May”.—[Official Report, Commons, Third Delegated Legislation Committee, 5/3/24; col. 6]


The Government should at least have asked themselves: how does this looks to a cynical public? Why rush it in just after it has been announced that they have received some huge donations? It looks like last-minute changing of the rules in favour of the Government.

I declare an interest as a Liberal Democrat. I recall the Electoral Commission commenting some years ago that we had a much larger number of donors to our party than the Conservative Party but, of course, a much smaller total of what had been given, because our donations tend to come, at best, in £5,000 or £10,000 chunks, rather than in chunks of £1 million or £2 million or more. It looks bad.

Secondly, as my noble friend has said, the Committee on Standards in Public Life report has been on the table for some time now. It is clear that the political parties ought to be coming to a consensus on what to do about that and what to set as a limit. I am sorry that the Government have not moved in that direction. I very much hope that, immediately after the next election, whatever Government come in will move on that.

Thirdly, we have a severe problem with public confidence in our democratic politics and it is a shame that the Government are not addressing this. The sense that money counts in political campaigns is part of the worry. The whiff of corruption that comes with donors being seen to be close to the Prime Minister, with big donations coming from companies that have made their money out of public contracts given by the Government—all of those things add to disillusionment with our politics, which is fundamentally corrosive of our democratic system.

I add that we now have a right-wing television station that made a loss last year of £31 million but, in spite of making a loss, is paying over £1 million to Conservative and right-wing politicians. The £340,000 increase that my noble friend mentioned is almost exactly the sum that Jacob Rees-Mogg is receiving for the few hours a week that he puts in as a television presenter. That is all corrosive of public confidence in public life, and the Committee on Standards in Public Life is correct to say so.

This SI, coming now, adds to the sense that money is what counts in British politics. We look across the Atlantic and see what has happened in American politics as big money has taken over. We do not want that to happen here, and I deeply regret that this Government are moving in that direction.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to this statutory instrument. I offer my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for his eloquent speech and detailed analysis before the House today.

The Minister will be glad to know that these Benches support the implementation of Regulation 4 of the instrument. It would be wrong for expenses incurred to protect candidates, their families and supporters to be seen as part of the cost of campaigning, and it would set a dangerous precedent if candidates requiring extra security had to forgo elements of their campaign simply to feel safe. I say that as a Member of your Lordships’ House who has unfortunately faced death threats to me and my family in recent months. I totally understand the need for parliamentarians to exercise all security measures in order to do their job and serve.

This instrument stops an obvious injustice in our electoral expense law, but our response to candidates feeling unsafe cannot simply be to tell them to open their pockets and hire security. The Government must make sure that adequate resources are in place to ensure that candidates feel secure without needing to spend their own money.

I turn to another significant part of the instrument relating to the increase to election expenses in Greater London Authority elections and local authority mayoral elections. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, dissected the issue using percentages and statistics to a profound effect. The point that election expenses have remained the same since the introduction of mayoral elections in the year 2000 has rightly been made loud and clear by noble Lords. Sadly, that figure has failed to be updated in line with inflation. It was used during the last mayoral election, 21 years after it was introduced. I understand that a significant increase is expected, given that the limit has been untouched for 24 years.

I hope that the Minister recognises why we need to ask questions about why we are raising the limit by over 80% less than two months out from the elections. The real reason why we are seeing this rise in the proposed figures is the compound failure by successive Tory Chancellors to get inflation under control. The reality is that we have seen a huge rise in inflation under this Government.

We do not intend to oppose this instrument outright, but I hope the Minister agrees that this rise does not reflect the reality that people are seeing in their day-to-day expenses. I hope she also agrees with me that future Governments should not wait until six weeks before an election to carry out an increase that is 24 years late.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made an interesting point about election spending across the Atlantic. In 2018, after the midterm elections, I visited Capitol Hill and spoke to a Congressman. As I was congratulating him on winning his election, he said, “Well, I can’t take too many congratulations because I have to start fundraising for my next election”. This increase in the region of £19 million to £36 million is bringing money into our politics like never before. That means a lot of people are spending time fundraising when they should be serving their communities.

I hope the Minister reflects on those points and tells us when the periodic review will be for the next uplift in expenses. Will we have to wait another 24 years for a decision, or will we get told six weeks before the next set of mayoral elections? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. They have made a number of points and I will try to respond to all of them. First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, that I remember Andrew Pennington; I remember the case and I am really sorry. To the noble Lord, Lord Khan, I say that nothing changes, does it? The noble Lord and his family are still getting death threats, which is totally unacceptable in a country as democratic as ours.

19:45
I turn to some of the issues that have been brought up. The same things were said by all noble Lords in different ways. First, it has been a long time since campaign spending limits were last adjusted for inflation. This means that prices have risen over time and that the limits have effectively been reduced. Parliament anticipated this when the limits were set, which is why the legislation allows them to be adjusted to account for inflation.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for giving me all the details—I am sorry that I do not have further details from across the country for mayoral elections, but I am sure I could find them if he wanted them—but the issue is that the spending power for printing, leaflets and transport, all of which are important in making sure that candidates can get their policies across to their communities in an election, is now the same as it was in the year 2000. That is what is important.
The Government have made those adjustments through a series of four statutory instruments, and so those spending limits are now restored in real terms. This is the last of those instruments. This is not an unusual exercise; successive Administrations of all political colours have previously uprated candidate spending limits.
Although the Government aim to comply with the Gould principle where possible, in this scenario we concluded that delaying the application of the provisions beyond this point would not be beneficial to candidates and agents. It was particularly important for us that we provided clarity on security expenses as a matter of urgency. The legislation has been drafted in such a way that the changes will apply as soon as practicably possible after the instrument has been approved by Parliament and prior to—as we were talking about—the May elections, which were also brought up.
All noble Lords strayed into the issue of donations. Let me make it clear that there is no change to the threshold at which checks on the permissibility of donations and donors are carried out. The level of those checks remains the same, exactly as it was, which is important. Accepting donations from foreign powers, for example, whether made directly or indirectly, is prohibited. There are strict rules prohibiting impermissible donations from entering into our political system through things such as proxy donors. That provides a safeguard against impermissible donations by the back door. Donations are monitored and controlled just the same as they always were.
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, the Minister used the term “strayed into” the issue of donations, as if we were going off the subject. Will she acknowledge that the question of where the money is coming from is just as central to this statutory instrument as what the limit is?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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It is, but we already have the Elections Act, which looked at donations and the rules behind them. That part of election law is already being dealt with.

Fundraising is a legitimate part of the democratic process; we cannot get away from that. I am sorry, but the Government do not agree with the noble Baroness opposite that we should have political parties funded by government. That is not a policy of this Government, and I am not sure that it is a policy of the parties opposite.

Within our current system, while there are no caps on donations received, there are limits on what can be spent in order to maintain the level playing field—and the level playing field is the same now as it was in 2000. All reportable donations over the relevant thresholds will continue, as always, to be published online. This allows anyone to see who funds a political party and ensures that a transparent and accountable system is in place for those donations, so nothing has changed in that way.

It is important that people have the opportunity to know about their political parties’ policies. We cannot get away from the fact that that takes money. All we are doing is to ensure that the money agreed in 2000 has the same spending power this year as it had then.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, brought up an issue relating to disabled people. I am sorry that I do not have an answer to that, but I will make sure I get one tomorrow. It is an important issue and I thank her for bringing that up.

I think that I have answered the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This is about necessity within democracy; there has to be money to communicate one’s policies.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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The Minister has used the phrase “level playing field” several times. Does she think that there ought to be something about a financial level playing field in political campaigns if we are to regain the trust of the public? If one party is able to raise such large sums—much larger than the others—then the playing field is tipped heavily in one direction.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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At different times, different parties have raised large sums of money from different places over many years. I look at the party opposite, which has been funded by the unions over the years; I believe that I have seen quite large donations given to the Liberal Democrats too. On party donors, I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who asked why anybody would want to give money. Some people feel very strongly and passionately about the policies of some parties—I am not talking about just ours—and that is how politics works. The level playing field is the fact that no party can spend more on one candidate in any election than the other party.

Asking why we have waited so long, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, did, is a reasonable question. As intended by Parliament, it is for the Government of the day to review the limits and update them when they consider that to be necessary. The fact that we had low inflation for so many years probably meant that there was no real necessity to change them as quickly as perhaps we should have done. But, as we have heard, inflation has increased in recent years and the Government decided that uprating these sums was now necessary to ensure that we get that communication out to our electorate.

I think that I have answered everything, unless anybody has something that they want to repeat. I will look at Hansard to make sure, but I think the only thing that I need to respond on is the disabled allowance question.

These regulations are essential to ensure that campaigners can continue to communicate their views to voters and, importantly, that candidates and other campaigners can feel confident in procuring the security they need at any UK elections. I hope noble Lords will join me in supporting this instrument.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this statutory instrument before us. We have shown in this short debate that it was worthy of greater consideration than the 16 minutes which it attracted in a committee in the House of Commons. There are many important issues here and I congratulate her on single-handedly defending the Government’s position in the face of all the opposition parties this evening, which suggests that the arguments are not quite so straightforward as she might suggest.

The principal argument which the Minister made, that this instrument had to be brought forward now with such huge increases in election expenses, was not about election expenses at all. The argument here and in the other place was on the urgency of clarifying election law about security arrangements for candidates and their teams. As an experienced election agent, I would never have allowed security considerations to be part of the election expense return which I was making.

If this was necessary, it could of course be done simply on its own and with all-party agreement, but there is not all-party agreement on such huge increases and on them being made at the last minute. No satisfactory explanation is given as to why they are so large or have been made so suddenly before polling day. On all these issues where the Government are clearly changing the rules in their favour, they are abandoning the principles of the level playing field. A level playing field requires not just the same maximum limit for everyone but equal resources on each side. An army with 100 tanks against an army with one tank is not an even competition, so we do not have a level playing field of the kind which the law provided for in the 1880s and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act tried to provide for in 2000.

I do not feel the need to test the opinion of the House again, when I feel that its opinion on all these issues was well tested when the noble Lord, Lord Khan, did so a few weeks ago. I note that 90% of the Cross- Bench Peers voted in support of his Motion and against the Government, so as we know the opinion of the House on this issue, I will not test it further. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.
Motion agreed.