Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Lipsey during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 10th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Lipsey
Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, when the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, came into the Chamber, I do not think that she was expecting to have to move any amendments, and when I came into the Chamber, I certainly was not expecting to speak on any of them. But in a few sentences I would like to inject a broader perspective.

At the moment, we see a conflict between democracy and totalitarianism in Ukraine such as we have not experienced since the end of the Cold War. Democracy must win. But at this very perilous moment, the Government are introducing measures to shackle the independent Electoral Commission and put in its place the will of government Ministers. The Minister may say that they have no intention of doing anything naughty, but I would not trust him on that and, even if I did, I certainly would not trust every subsequent Government to go the same way. This is a disgraceful proposal. It undermines the democratic case that we are making to the world, and I hope that the Committee will have none of it.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, this is the most extraordinary debate that I have ever taken part in, with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, first disowning the amendment in her name on the supplementary list of amendments and then moving it formally but not explaining what we are debating. I hope that the noble Baroness remains to withdraw her amendment at the end. Otherwise, we may be in a little trouble.

I was unable to take part at Second Reading on this Bill because I was not in the country, but I have of course read Hansard on that debate and I hope to take part in the remaining stages. I will not range as widely as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, because I hope to say more about Clause 14 generally when we get to the stand part debate, where I think it would be most appropriate. But I will say a couple of things about the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, because neither of them is necessary.

Amendment 4A states that the Electoral Commission only needs to comply with the strategic and policy statement if it conforms with its own objectives. The amendment is unnecessary because the only requirement in new Section 4B in Clause 14 is for the commission to “have regard to” the statement. Nothing compels the commission to do anything specific as a result of the statement being published, and nothing in Clause 14 changes the requirement for the Electoral Commission not to do anything which conflicts with its statutory duties. In short, its regulatory independence is already protected by Clause 14.

I was somewhat mystified by Amendment A1 which removes the role and responsibilities from the strategic and policy statement. These strategic and policy statements merely set out what the Government’s priorities are and what the Government see as the role and responsibilities in relation to those priorities. It does not override the commission’s independence but gives guidance as to the Government’s priorities and of course those priorities will be approved by Parliament. Public bodies do not exist in a vacuum; they exist in a political context. The strategic and policy statements just give that context—nothing more, nothing less. Clause 14 does not impact on the independence of the Electoral Commission.