Elections Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House

Elections Bill

Lord Collins of Highbury Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 28th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-VI Sixth marshalled list for Committee - (24 Mar 2022)
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I too wish the noble Lord, Lord True, a speedy recovery and a quick return to duty, hopefully in time for Report. I am sure that the noble Earl would be pleased by that.

This has been a very good debate, because it has focused on broader issues of principle which we need to probe the Government on. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is absolutely right, as we have said at a number of stages, that this Bill represents missed opportunities. It is not so much what is in it as what is not in it that has been a problem. I am sure that the amendments which we have tabled will be considered. If they are not in this legislation, we will return to these broader issues of principle. The one thing that we would have all hoped for in terms of that right to vote is clarity, which we do not get here for all kinds of reasons, not least legacy reasons. Noble Lords have spoken about the complications that we will now face which we had not faced previously, not least that we will have some EU citizens with the right to vote and some without the right to vote, based on when they arrived—an arbitrary date as far as they are concerned.

Of course, the principle that we have sought to highlight in our amendment is what sort of qualification would make sense, would be clear and would be easily understood. We bandy terms such as “no taxation without representation” around, but lots of people who should be perfectly entitled to vote do not pay tax, particularly council tax. Residency is an important principle and perhaps the missed opportunity that this Bill could have addressed more properly, not least because of that legacy. I am not arguing at all for a change in what happened in the Brexit vote. We have left the EU. However, there is a legacy that we must consider there, particularly on people who have made their home here.

I must declare an interest, not least because in my household, with every general election that comes around, we are denied the right to vote. I wish we could vote but we cannot. My husband has lived here for 27 years; he has been a taxpayer, a national insurance payer and a council tax payer. He is a member of the Labour Party, has campaigned for candidates and has voted in every local election that he has been permitted to. The legacy of that will continue. The complication is that it will not apply to other EU citizens who establish the right of residency, who work here and who pay tax here. After a certain date they will not have that right to vote. It causes unnecessary complication.

Throughout this Bill I have readily agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, particularly on citizenship education—and by the way, citizenship education should not be limited to citizens of the United Kingdom. The rights and responsibilities of living in this country should be understood by all who live in this country, and we would create a much safer society if we undertook that responsibility. That is why we should consider a right to vote based on the clear principle of residency. Maybe we will not have the opportunity in this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said that people who just pop over here should not have the right to vote. However, because of our legacy as an empire and our legacy in terms of the Commonwealth, it is a bit ironic that a student from Australia on an overseas experience visa can land in this country and get the right to vote, but my husband, who has been here for 27 years and paid tax, does not. It does not really make sense.

This is, sadly, a missed opportunity. Amendment 156, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and my noble friend, deals with precisely that issue: instead of clarity we end up with confusion, with some people having the right to vote and others not, but both having the right of residency and to work and pay tax and national insurance. This country will have to consider that at some stage, if not now. I hope the Minister will understand why we have tabled our amendment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that this is a missed opportunity. I am sure none of these amendments will be agreed to, but I hope that the principle we are trying to establish will be considered in the future.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by conveying the regret of my noble friend Lord True that he is unable to be in his place today because of illness. As a result of his indisposition, the Committee finds itself with a deputy Minister in the shape of me. That is a privilege for me, but I am only glad that I am so ably supported by my noble friend Lady Scott in this endeavour.

My Lords, this group of amendments deals from various perspectives with the voting franchise in the context of UK national elections. I hope that I can be of help to noble Lords in setting out the Government’s approach to this issue and the logic that lies behind it. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for what he said in connection with Amendment 152, which I shall begin with.

The purpose of Amendment 152 is to require the Government to allow EU citizens to vote in UK parliamentary elections. It may be helpful if I explain our policy position on this. Our policy has always been that after our exit from the EU there should not be a continued automatic right to vote and stand in local elections solely by virtue of being an EU citizen. The provisions in this Bill are based on two main planks: first, to respect the existing rights of those who chose to make their homes in the UK before the end of the implementation period; secondly, to look to retain rights on a bilateral basis where possible.

Amendment 152 would extend the parliamentary franchise to EU citizens where no such rights previously existed. In a similar vein, Amendment 156 seeks to allow EU citizens to continue to vote and stand in local elections in Northern Ireland. Those who are nationals of an EU member state have never been able to vote in UK parliamentary elections by virtue of their EU citizenship. If an EU citizen becomes a British citizen, they will be eligible for the parliamentary franchise from that point.

The Government stand by their commitment to EU citizens resident before EU exit, and the Bill ensures that any EU citizen who was a resident before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 and who has retained lawful immigration status will retain their voting and candidacy rights in England and Northern Ireland. This goes beyond our obligations in the withdrawal agreement. EU citizens who arrived after the end of the transition period will move to a position whereby local voting and candidacy rights rest on the principle of a mutual grant of rights through voting and candidacy rights agreements with individual EU member states.

On Amendment 156, the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referred to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. As was rightly said, both those commissions have sought clarification on EU voting and candidacy rights in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK Government’s position is very clear and has been explained to both commissions. Removing voting and candidacy rights from EU citizens arriving in Northern Ireland after the implementation date does not run counter to article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Article 22 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union confers a right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal elections only in respect of EU nationals who are resident in another member state, having exercised their rights of free movement and residence. As the UK is no longer a member state, EU citizens self-evidently no longer enjoy the right to reside here, so the ancillary article 22 right to vote and participate in municipal elections is no longer applicable to it in this context. This is entirely consistent with part 2 of the withdrawal agreement, “Citizens’ rights”. I hope that is helpful.

I submit to your Lordships that the Government’s approach is a sensible and fair one, whereby established rights are recognised while moving to new bilateral agreements with individual nation states in the EU. I am afraid, therefore, that the Government cannot accept either of these amendments.

Amendment 155 is intended to extend the parliamentary franchise to foreign nationals with certain types of immigration status in the UK. The right to choose the next UK Government is rightly restricted to British citizens and those with the closest historical links to our country. In this respect, the UK is in line with international norms. Citizenship is the normal criterion for participating in national elections in most democracies, including the UK.

Amendment 155A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, proposes to enfranchise all who pay council tax in the relevant local authority area. Taxation has never been the basis for representation in the UK in modern times. There is a long-standing principle in the UK, as originally recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1998, that those who do not pay income tax, such as those earning less than the tax-free personal allowance, rightly remain entitled to vote. Similarly, full-time students are legally exempt from paying council tax but still have the right to vote in local elections. So, I submit that that connection between taxation and voting does not exist. The Government hold to that principle and therefore cannot support Amendment 155A.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked me a number of questions. I will arrange for a letter to be sent to her, but I will comment on her point about credit scoring and being on the electoral roll. The noble Baroness is, of course, not wrong in pointing out that credit reference agencies use the electoral roll to enable lenders and other service providers to confirm someone’s identity. However, it is true to say that lenders look at the entirety of the information on a person’s credit side, as well as other factors, to decide whether to lend to somebody. Lenders and other providers of financial services can ask for other forms of identity and confirmation.

The noble Baroness also asked whether we were taking steps to inform local authorities about the measures being taken. The Government are very conscious of the competing priorities that local authorities have and, particularly, electoral registration offices, both in relation to their business as usual activity and in the new activity that will be conferred by the Elections Bill. We are committed to working closely with the electoral community throughout the development of secondary legislation and implementation planning. We will commit to funding all new burdens incurred by EROs as a result of implementing this policy, as is customary.

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Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab)
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Well, that is the answer to my question.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, we talk about piecemeal reform, and changes to this House have not necessarily been a result of legislative change or even reform. I have mentioned in previous debates the excellent book by Antonia Fraser about the debate on the Great Reform Act 1832. What I found most fascinating was that most Members of the House of Commons were sons of aristocrats and were put there by their fathers to have proper training to come into the House of Lords. Of course that was in the days when the powers of this House were great, as noble Lords have mentioned.

What recently shocked me even more—and I have cited this too—were the diaries of “Chips” Channon, who, when he was writing pre-war, leading up to the 1938 Munich debacle, mentioned that most of his friends in the House of Commons were sons of aristocrats who eventually ended up in this House. I hope things have changed. Constitutionally, things have radically changed, quite rightly, in the powers of this House, which can no longer challenge the democratic mandate of the House of Commons. The question is not simply about whether we are here for life or not; it is about what we do here. Even where we have particular circumstances of power, I am one of those people who would not use it to challenge the democratically elected House of Commons.

My noble friend made a very powerful case, and the point that struck me was that not many people in the public out there are aware that we have not got the vote. I remember campaigning in the 2017 election and a young, radical activist stopped me and asked if I had voted yet. When I explained I could not vote for Jeremy Corbyn, she nearly issued an internal disciplinary notice. Once I had explained, I was eventually forgiven. But I think it is a point worth making that most people assume that everyone in this country has a free and fair democratic right to vote, and it just seems ridiculous that we do not.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is joined on the Marshalled List by my noble friend Lord Naseby, brings us to a topic on which each of them has tested government policy on a number of occasions in the past, including, as I recall and as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned, through my noble friend’s Private Member’s Bill in 2019. On the latter occasion, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham set out the Government’s response, and I therefore hope it will not come as a shock to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that my response today bears an uncanny resemblance to the one given to the House previously.

I understand and respect the case that noble Lords have articulated on this issue. However, I am afraid it is not a case I can accept, and the reason is clear and straightforward and was well articulated by my noble friend Lord Cormack. Noble Lords will be aware that although, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly said, the role of this House has changed over time, our place in Parliament still gives us a position of influence not held by other citizens. My noble friend Lord Sherbourne asked what the downside would be of accepting the amendment. Enfranchising noble Lords to vote in general elections would give Peers two ways of being represented in Parliament. Members of this House have an opportunity to debate and vote on legislation. To provide a vote for Peers in UK parliamentary elections would undermine the principle that all citizens are equally represented in politics.

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Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I gave notice at Second Reading that it was my intention to bring forward an amendment on votes for Commonwealth citizens in general elections—and I repeat that. We have had a very good debate on local elections and got into a lot of technicalities, but this is now about general elections.

My suggestion is that, to vote in general elections, the basic requirement should be citizenship of the UK. That is clear, simple and logical, and I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, agrees. In the wider context, however, it would be a pity to take an action that might be perceived as unfriendly to the Commonwealth. We should therefore introduce the principle of reciprocity; I will come back to that point.

At present, all Commonwealth citizens have the right to vote in not only our local elections but our general elections without becoming British citizens. That is the case whether or not their countries of origin permit British citizens to vote in their general elections; as I will explain, most of them do not. In practice, as things stand now, Commonwealth citizens in the UK can simply put their names on the electoral register. Indeed, now that the register is reviewed every month, they could acquire the right to vote very shortly after their arrival. By contrast, foreign nationals in the UK must first obtain British citizenship—a process that takes five years or so.

A word about the background—as I mentioned at Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, a Labour former Attorney-General, recommended in 2008 that this virtually automatic right for Commonwealth citizens should be phased out. He made three points, which briefly were that: first, most countries do not permit non-citizens to vote in national or even local elections; secondly, the UK does not have the same clarity around citizenship as other countries do, which is quite important; and thirdly, it is right in principle not to give the vote to citizens of other countries living in the UK until they become citizens of the UK. All that makes perfect sense. It is just a pity that it was not listened to at the time.

I just mentioned reciprocity and I am grateful to the House of Lords Library for its research into this. Only about 10 of the 53 Commonwealth countries grant British citizens the right to vote in their general elections, and nearly all those countries are small Caribbean islands. It would be wrong to remove the vote from nationals of those countries that continue to grant it to British citizens, so my amendment therefore makes that one small group of exceptions.

Sadly, no action was taken on this matter by the Labour Government at the time, nor by subsequent coalition or Conservative Governments. However, this Bill provides an opportunity to deal with it quickly and, I hope, quietly.

The effect of my amendment would be to put virtually all those coming legally to live in Britain on the same footing—namely, they would be entitled to vote when they had achieved British citizenship and not before.

On the numbers potentially involved, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of Commonwealth citizens has increased by about 100,000 a year in the past five years. At this rate, very generally, about half a million would be able to vote in a general election without having acquired citizenship.

As a further point, and not an unimportant one, the present law is expressed in what one might call Home Office speak. That is picked up by the Electoral Commission, the website of which says:

“Any type of leave to enter or remain is acceptable, whether indefinite, time limited or conditional.”


That is absolutely extraordinary. In practice, it means that any Commonwealth student or work permit holder can register to vote before an approaching general election and so could their adult dependants. This right could even be extended to visitors, as most get six months’ leave when they arrive, as noble Lords know. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, this makes no sense. I would be grateful if the noble Earl, Lord Howe, would confirm that I have correctly explained the meaning of these words on the Electoral Commission website, which corresponds to the Home Office website. Could he also confirm that British nationals overseas are Commonwealth citizens for the purpose of voting? I believe they are.

Migration Watch, of which I am president, has made a rough estimate of the numbers involved. If one takes just the top 10 Commonwealth nationalities, the number of entry clearances granted in 2021 was about 360,000. If visitor visas are included, the total is over 500,000. If Hong Kong is included, it would add those who are adults among the 100,000 who have already arrived. I realise that may sound a little techie, and these numbers are not exact, but they are certainly not insignificant. I leave it to noble Lords to consider whether election agents in the relevant constituencies would be able to work it out. I suspect that they might.

It is important to be clear that my amendment would not take the vote away from anyone who now has it, only from future arrivals until they became British citizens. I add a final note on Irish citizens in the UK. As most Members know, they have had the right to vote in general elections since 1922, and vice versa. These arrangements would not be affected by my amendment and nor should they be.

To sum up, this amendment is about four matters: first, the simplification and rationalisation of the system, as the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, pointed out and which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, called for; secondly, reciprocity and therefore fairness; thirdly, a basic requirement of citizenship; and fourthly and perhaps most importantly, maintaining confidence in the electoral system. There can no longer be any justification for this anomaly. My amendment makes a simple and sensible change, and this Bill is an opportunity to get it done.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, could I ask a question? He referenced my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith. If he recalls, this issue came up during the debate on voting rights in the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Green, referenced this as the second issue that my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith raised in his report: what is a British citizen? Does he think that fundamental question has been properly addressed for this purpose?

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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A lot has changed in 14 years, but the thrust of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said is absolutely right. We now have a system that has developed somewhat in defining what a UK citizen is—I accept that—but it is not too difficult, is quite well known and has been discussed recently. I do not think that undermines his recommendation or the logic of saying that the clear thing, if you want to vote in this country, is to become a citizen, and you know how to do that.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I was sorry not to be able to speak at Second Reading. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. Logic, clarity and lack of reciprocity call for Amendment 154, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green, to be taken seriously and for the questions he has raised to be answered. I look forward to hearing positively from my noble friend the Deputy Leader. I will not delay the House.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I have some sympathy with the points made, but I wish this amendment could have been debated in the group of amendments we had on the entitlement to vote, because I do not really want to move away from the principle I articulated before. Not everyone wants to lose the status of their nationality. For example, my husband does not want to give up his Spanish citizenship, which he may have to do. A number of European countries have started to change but they did not allow dual nationality. A lot of people could lie about that, but he does not want to give it up. I certainly do not want to give up my nationality.

When we were in the EU, we were in the comfortable position of being, as we used to describe ourselves, EU citizens; we could locate and meet our families in our respective countries with ease. Now that has changed and we accept that, but I do not quite understand why we do not accept that there is a settled status, where someone has lived in the country for 27 years, paid tax, national insurance and everything else—they have taken the responsibility of a citizenship—but for one reason or another do not want to take formal citizenship, and why that should preclude them from having the right to vote.

It is crazy that, as I mentioned, an Australian student who comes over for their OE can immediately apply for the right to vote. I would rather the debate focused on what entitles somebody to vote. We have talked about taxation, we have talked about responsibility, and I say that clear levels of residence should establish some basic rights, so that we treat people who live here equally, and when they contribute to the success of our country we should acknowledge that.

I come back to what the noble Lord, Lord Green, said. One of the issues his amendment ought to probe and cause us to think about is: what is a British citizen? He says that British nationals (overseas) are not included. We can make commitments suddenly; for example, we made a commitment to Hong Kong citizens who are BNOs because of the breach of an international agreement. I have no doubt that in future, as we have done in the past, we will want to protect our legacy. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, spoke about the legacy of British Empire, which of course we cannot ignore, and things have changed.

I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Green, has tabled this amendment but we need to consider it in the light of all the amendments we have had on the right to vote and what the qualifications are. I do not think we should ignore residency.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, with Amendment 154 we return to the franchise. The purpose of the amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Green, explained, is to require the Government to confine the voting rights of Commonwealth citizens to citizens of countries that grant British citizens the right to vote in their general elections. The effect of this would be to limit the franchise to Commonwealth citizens from countries where British citizens are entitled to vote in general elections.

I take this amendment seriously but perhaps I could clarify the position as it relates to Commonwealth citizens. First, it is important for me to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in particular, that there is no blanket voting right in this country for Commonwealth citizens. The right to vote applies only to qualifying Commonwealth citizens: those who have leave to remain in this country or have such status that they do not require such leave. The noble Lord, Lord Green, asked me to expand on that definition. The definition of “Commonwealth citizen” is a broad term and is not limited to citizens from Commonwealth countries listed in Schedule 3 to the British Nationality Act 1981. It applies equally to other types of British nationality defined in Section 37 of that Act. This includes Hong Kong British nationals (overseas), British overseas citizens and British Dependent Territories citizens. It also includes British Overseas Territories citizens.

I acknowledge that the approach adopted in relation to Commonwealth citizens is different from that that we take towards other categories of foreign nationals. However, there are sound and well-rooted reasons for that difference. The rights of Commonwealth citizens to vote are long standing and reflect the historic connections and well-established links with the Commonwealth of this country and Her Majesty the Queen, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, outlined.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord Desai, is once again perfectly right.

Successive Governments and Parliaments since 1981 have concluded that the existing voting rights of Commonwealth citizens should not be disturbed, and it is on this basis that the Commonwealth citizens are granted the right to vote in UK elections.

I have enormous personal sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and his husband in the situation he has outlined. The best answer I can give him is to refer back to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai. As a country, we have found ourselves at various times in our history as members of different families of nations; for example, the family of EU member states and the family of Commonwealth nations. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the links and historic traditions, and hence entitlements, relating to each such family are different from one another. Our formal ties with the EU have been severed. Our ties with the Commonwealth endure. The weight of history plays a very considerable part in all sorts of aspects of our national life—

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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The noble Earl says that our ties with the Commonwealth endure. I agree with the sentiment but the reality, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, is that the relationship with Commonwealth countries has changed fundamentally, and is continuing to change. As Prince William said yesterday in his press statement—I have forgotten the exact words but it seemed relevant to me—the relations endure but Commonwealth countries change. The fact is that we have not changed what we define. With all these different British nationals as a consequence of our imperial legacy, we find it very difficult to define citizenship in that regard. That is why I come back to this fundamental point. I am not arguing that my husband has a special right as a former EU citizen. I am saying that someone who has lived here for 27 years, and paid tax and national insurance, should have the right to vote. It is residence that I am arguing for, which is what a number of noble Lords have been making the case for.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I understand that. It is clear that this is an argument that runs very deep. We may or may not return to it on Report but if there is anything else that I can add to the remarks that I have made, I will ensure that a letter is sent to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate.

In short, it is for reasons of history and because of the well-established ties that we in this country have with the family of nations that we call the Commonwealth that the Government have no plans to change the voting rights of Commonwealth citizens. Therefore, I am afraid we cannot support this amendment.

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I say to the Minister: please take this back as a matter of urgency. This is an area which, as we all know, contains a number of new threats to democracy from the way in which our younger generation, in particular, now live online, and we need to have some strong safeguards.
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his excellent introduction to a range of amendments. We should not simply think that negative campaigning and threats to our election process are new things as a result of new technology. These sorts of things have been going on for many years. Certainly, I have seen a political party put one leaflet down one street saying one thing and then another down another street saying the complete opposite.

All of these things are addressed effectively through effective transparency, with people knowing exactly where this information comes from. I think the noble Lord, Lord Mann, is right there. That is why it is important that the Minister specifically addresses the point in Amendment 180A. I am worried that we spot a problem, understand the issue, say we are addressing it in legislation but then create a loophole where everyone can escape.

I am grateful for Adobe sending me its briefing on this issue. It basically says that we have the technology and there is a standard being developed for content authenticity initiatives—CAI—which, if adopted, and it is being adopted, can address this issue. I do not understand why we have this loophole. Technology can ensure that the imprint of who has created and published the content is there. I do not see the circumstances where it is not possible. Even if it is not possible on the face, they now have the technology to point out easily how you find it. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones says, I do not see why we have this wording of “not reasonably practicable”. I am not even sure I would agree that it is not possible. It is possible—the technology is there so we should do it.

Noble Lords have referred to the Russia report. We said at the beginning of Second Reading—and I am not going to make a Second Reading speech—that the Bill is a missed opportunity. It could have embraced a lot more and the issues identified in that report will need to be addressed in future legislation as they have not been addressed here.

I hope the Minister can specifically address the issue in Amendment 180A; I particularly hope she has seen the briefing from Adobe and the industry which says that this is possible. They have created a standard which they expect everyone to adopt—in fact, Facebook, Twitter and others are all adopting it. If they are adopting it, can we not use the legislation to ensure that it becomes compulsory for all political actors to comply with this legislation and that we do not have a loophole?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for a very thorough piece of scrutiny of this part of the Bill. I think it would be useful if between now and Report we had a meeting with him and other interested parties to discuss this further and also address some of his very in-depth speech that I will not answer this evening because we might be here all night. We will get answers to him very quickly so that we can discuss them when we have that meeting.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, and many others are right: this is fast moving. What we see today is probably not what we will see in five years’ time, and we need to future- proof. I think we all understand that.

There were some very specific questions that I will answer upfront because that will give some context to what else I am going to say. First, on digital imprints, it is important that “reasonably practicable” is understood. It should be read as commonly understood; “reasonably practicable” is commonly understood. The Electoral Commission and the police will need to interpret this phrase in context in the course of their enforcement of the Bill. The statutory guidance will provide further details on the location of this imprint and what is required. There will be further guidance on this.

A number of noble Lords spoke about the Intelligence and Security Committee and said that political adverts should include an imprint. The Government’s digital imprint regime delivers the ICS’s recommendation to introduce a requirement to add an imprint on digital paid-for political advertising. As digital campaigning is not confined to election periods or geographical boundaries, the regime is intended to apply all year round, UK-wide, and regardless of where in the world content is promoted from. Following a conviction or a civil sanction, the courts can make an order or the Electoral Commission may issue a notice to anyone, including social media companies, requiring them to remove or disable access to infringed content. Failure to comply with a notice or order would be a criminal offence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, brought up the issue of targeting messages. Targeting messages at voters is a legitimate activity that allows campaigners to maximise their resources and target their message at the right audience. All campaigners must comply with direct marketing and data protection laws when using personal data in their campaigning, but it is a legal activity.