61 Lord Mann debates involving the Cabinet Office

Wed 20th Mar 2024
Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one & Committee stage & Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one & Committee stage
Mon 21st Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Thu 17th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Lord Mann Excerpts
Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I come to this from an entirely different perspective from that of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, sharing literally no arguments with him. Therefore, I shall refrain from taking up any time to offer any critique of his pro-university analysis.

I should reference my interest in the register: I am an unpaid, independent government advisor on anti-Semitism. I speak very independently. I suspect that I have been to more universities than any other Member of your Lordships’ House or any member of the Government or any Member of the House of Commons in the last two years. I have spoken with more university vice-chancellors on anti-Semitism than anybody else. I have spoken to virtually all of them over the last three years—some multiple times. I have been in and I have solved specific problems with them, and I think they have been reasonably pleased to have had my assistance in solving them. That is what they have told me. So I know what is going on. I meet with the Union of Jewish Students regularly, as I do with Universities UK. It is fair to say, in the five years that I have been carrying out this role, that I have spent more time on the university sector than on any other single issue.

My approach has been lauded in the Jewish community, and I think it is successful. My—if you like—philosophical, but also strategic and even tactical, approach has been to say to the universities that, in dealing with anti-Semitism—anti-Jewish racism—the critical thing they have to do is listen on a regular basis to their Jewish students, who are organised through Jewish societies. There are about 80 of them across the country. I speak regularly, and have recently done so, to large numbers of students at Jewish societies in universities, and I spend a lot of time listening to them on their perspectives, their fears, their ambitions and how they see themselves as being Jewish both in the country, in the city or town or sometimes rurality that they are based in, and in their university. I feed that back, for better or for worse.

My strategy is, therefore, that when I speak to university vice-chancellors, for example, I tell them that what they have to do is to get their head round what anti-Semitism is, and how Jewish students and staff should have equality of status and what that means, and what the obstacles to that have been and are. The organising strategy is very simple: they should go and speak regularly to their Jewish students because they are organised. If there is a coherent system of organising Jewish staff members—not just academics because there are as many, certainly in some of the bigger cities, non-academic Jewish staff as there are academic staff—and an effective forum for Jewish staff, and there are some, then by all means speak to them as well. But there is no system for that, so that is not a system solution; that is something that should be done, something that is encouraged and something that more could be done to develop.

If the university leadership speaks to the Jewish student leadership, they will have a perspective on what is going on. If they do it every year, there will be a turnover of Jewish student leaders—that is inevitable in a student environment—and they will have a bit of a time series of what the issues are and how well they are doing in dealing with them.

What has been remarkable since 7 October is not how much anti-Semitism there has been in our universities but how little there has been compared with what has gone on in the United States, for example, or in Canada or Australia, as relevant comparable countries. That is because the universities are listening and talking to their Jewish students and responding, initiating and thinking through. Having a working definition of anti-Semitism as a benchmark has been invaluable in doing that and in understanding the issues. That is working.

However, there are problems; I deal with them. The biggest problem—I repeat what I said at Second Reading—is the ostracisation; the isolation when your so-called friends do not speak to you and the micro- aggressions that go with that. That is the worst problem that Jewish students face, and it has dramatically increased. Students are uncomfortable where they live because their flatmates are not including them in things any more because they are “Zionist” or “pro-Israel”, whatever that means—it can mean many different things.

That is the big problem, so I am looking at the Bill and asking: what does it do, if it applies to universities, to assist those students and staff? The answer is: it does nothing—zero, zilch. I do not mean a little bit; I mean nothing. It does nothing about the academic boycotts, which is a problem. It does nothing about the isolation if, for example, someone wants to work with, say, an Israeli university but is blocked by the rest of the department from doing so. If someone wants to research in a particular way, on a thesis or in a postgraduate setting, they are discouraged from doing so. These are the real problems that come to me. It is insidious and dangerous racism.

I come back to the question, because in making law we have to look at it: what does the Bill do about that in the context of universities? The answer is nothing; there have been no successful BDS campaigns in our universities—none. I have been around long enough to have seen and experienced the origins of the campaign, not just in the last three or five years in my current role, or the 20 years I have been around Parliament, but the 40 years in which I have been in some kind of public life. For all those 40 years, there have been zero successful BDS campaigns and therefore it is not a big problem. They are unsuccessful campaigns.

I fully understand. I know the people who organise them and I know how they do so. I am on the receiving end of the abuse. I have had people jailed for targeting me and my family. I could take noble Lords back to when I was stopped from speaking in universities because I dared to visit Israel in 1984. When I was in the West Bank, I met a man called Sinwar—noble Lords may have heard of him. He was the student leader at Birzeit University at the time. It is probably a good job I was not photographed with him. But after I went on that visit to Israel, I was banned from speaking in universities.

I have been through all that, and I am telling noble Lords that there is nothing in this Bill that assists Jewish students. Frankly, it does not matter whether you listen to me, because if you go back to the principle that universities should listen to Jewish students, the Jewish students say that they do not want the Bill to cover universities. What are we doing if we allow that to happen? Jewish students are clear; they do not want it. It does not help them. Is it some kind of political game—I am not sure who it is aimed at—to put it in? There is no case in tackling anti-Semitism for universities to be included in this Bill. By definition, when the Union of Jewish Students says: “No, thank you”, they are the arbiters, the front line—the people impacted and affected. It does nothing on academic staff and academic boycotts.

Before I am, no doubt, sacked by government—as I am not paid, that is kind of an arbitrary thing— I intend to offer to every single political party, for we do not know who will be in power afterwards, a proper set of proposals on the changes that are needed to improve what is going on for students with anti-Semitism. This Bill is not it. This amendment is right and appropriate; it would be outrageous, when the Union of Jewish Students says: “No, thank you”, for us to ignore it. I recommend the amendment to the Committee.

Lord Johnson of Marylebone Portrait Lord Johnson of Marylebone (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow such a powerful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Mann, and that from my noble friend Lord Willetts just now. I should declare an interest; I am on the council of the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, and I am a visiting professor at King’s College London. I want to be sure that is on the record.

I also want to be clear at the outset that I appreciate the good intentions of the drafters of this Bill. Of course, as it is a manifesto commitment, when it comes to later stages, I will certainly support it; I hope my noble friend Lord Leigh will take note of that. However, I think there are real problems with it, which have been brilliantly clarified by the two excellent speeches that preceded mine. I will be brief, because they have made many of the points that I wanted to make and much better than I will be able to. I will ask the Minister just to clarify a couple of things on which I need some reassurance.

The first relates to the points that my noble friend Lord Willetts made about the ONS’s review of the status of universities, and the likelihood that this measure will inadvertently tip them towards being reclassified as part of the public sector. It would be good to understand what assessment the Government have made of that likelihood and of the impact it would have on universities’ ability to borrow and make investment decisions of their own without the kind of Treasury oversight they would have if they were drawn further into the public sector.

Secondly, like my noble friend Lord Willetts, I would like a better understanding of how the provisions in this Bill can be squared with all the provisions that were enacted in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act that we passed just last year. The Office for Students is meant to stand for the widest possible definition of freedom of speech; anything within the law should be permissible on our campuses. The Bill will considerably narrow what is lawful speech. My concern is that that is a very heavy-handed approach, and one that does not sit easily with the Government’s intentions in passing the freedom of speech Act last year.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To be absolutely clear, my question, which I hope the noble Lord will pick up when he responds, is this. My putative public authority has a consistent policy, which it applies consistently to all countries around the world, of not disinvesting merely because a foreign country does not allow gay marriage, or treats women in a discriminatory fashion, but of disinvesting when a foreign country is in control of occupied or disputed territory. Would that be permitted, or not permitted, under the noble Lord’s amendment? I look forward to his answer in due course.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, there are a couple of observations, one of which has been rather lost in the debate. The first one has not. I merely make the observation that I am increasingly concerned by the concept that the implementation of legislation could be at the discretion of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—whether it is run by Robin Cook, or the noble Lord, Lord Hain, or the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, or Ernie Bevin.

There are different flavours of Foreign Office, but my observation of the Foreign Office over the years is that it often manages to face two ways at the same time. Indeed, it might well regard that as a key part of the art of diplomacy. One can therefore read into Foreign Office policy almost anything one wants to do at any one time. The Foreign Office often makes quite a virtue of presenting a particular side to one group of people and another side to another group of people. However great those running the Foreign Office of the day might be, they are liable to change in the future. So I question whether that, as a basis for legislation, is sensible.

The key point I want to make is one that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, as I understood him, at the beginning. Governments come and go. There will be a general election. Who knows who will be in power after that? There will be another one after that, in however many years—perhaps five years. Who knows —and who knows who that Government will be? There will be different flavours of government—but legislation, unless it is altered by Parliament, will remain.

The question of double standards in foreign policy is a fundamental part of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism—a definition that was adopted first by the United Kingdom, in 2017, before any other country, but which has now been adopted by many countries. Pertinent to this debate is the fact that it has been adopted by virtually every political party represented at Westminster, including the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Within it, the concept of double standards against the State of Israel, judging the State of Israel in ways in which one would not judge any other state, is rather fundamental. It is there, I guess, particularly because of what people have said, for example, in the United Nations. I am not talking about the legitimacy or otherwise of any specific United Nations vote or decision, but what one can objectively demonstrate is that there has been a huge number of decisions relating to the State of Israel, far outweighing, usually, every other country in the world put together. That, I think, could rationally be argued as therefore being a double standard in approach—of unduly concentrating on one member state of the United Nations and not being equal handed. The IHRA definition is quite specific that that should not happen, which is not the same as to say that one should not be vehemently critical, if one chooses to be, of the State of Israel, its Government or its policies. Many people are, including many people in the Israeli Knesset. It does not state that that is in any way illegitimate or anti-Semitic, but it does say that double standards should not apply.

I would also welcome clarity from the Minister on the concept of “a reasonable observer”. Decisions on finance and investment are complex and may raise a range of issues and factors influencing a decision. Will the reasonable observer be someone with a certain level of financial expertise? If so, how will this be defined and determined? We need much more clarity, particularly for elected members in local government, as to how the Bill will directly affect them.
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I have an entry in the register of interests. I seek clarity from the Minister. I may not need it, but I would like to tease it out, to see whether my interpretation of these clauses is correct. My question is about the word “decision”, and what the statutory understanding of that word is. My understanding is clarified by Clause 2(2), which says:

“A ‘procurement decision’ is a decision about a contract for the supply of goods, services or works to the decision-maker.”


That seems to me absolutely clear. I want to clarify if that is also the Minister’s understanding of what a decision in this context is.

I ask that because of an example from the University of Essex student union, which has a policy passed 15 or 16 years ago, described as a BDS policy, which is specifically targeted against the state of Israel. On the student union website that policy is deemed to be an educational policy to stimulate discussion and debate. But the student union, in applying the policy, has chosen specifically to address the purchasing of kosher food products, including those from Israel, in the student union shop.

In the context of the amendments, and in terms of how the general public might understand this, as well as those more directly impacted in the public sector and elsewhere, it would be helpful to know whether I am right in my understanding that the University of Essex student union policy, which has not been turned into a procurement decision, as defined in Clause 2(2), would not be covered by the Bill, because it is merely an educational policy, as opposed to a procurement and economic activity decision. To know that would be helpful in understanding what the scope of the Bill is and is not, and what the legal situation will be when it is enacted, as I presume it will be.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I spoke on Second Reading, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Deben for taking the trouble to read my speech. I wait with anticipation to find out the, no doubt very few, points on which we disagree. That will perhaps be for another day, but I look forward to it.

On these amendments I can be brief, because the central point has already been made: that the proposed amendments, especially those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would add complexity and increase the likelihood of litigation; I declare the obvious interest in that respect. The amendments would therefore make the Bill not more precise but less.

I say that for three reasons. First, introducing words such as “primary or sole” is an invitation to litigation. My second short point—forgive the legal geekiness, but we are in Committee—is that a quick search of legislation.gov.uk indicates that that phrase does not appear anywhere else in legislation. “Sole or primary” does, so in case we go forward with this, I would invite the noble Lord to flip it round, so that we put the more general word “sole” first, followed by the word “primary”. That is not my main point, but as we are in Committee, which is the place for geeky legal points, I may have just made one.

Another amendment introduces the word “material”. That is a really problematic word in law, as are words such as “significant”, because we always have the debate about what the opposite of “material” is. Is it immaterial—that is, de minimis? In that case, that is not really, as I understand it, the force of the amendment. “Material” here really means “of substance”, and it is, I suggest, not a good word to use if one is seeking to get that point across.

However, my main point is that this part of the Bill is drafted clearly and that whether we add “primary or sole” or “material”, that would add complexity and invite more litigation.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My point was not in relation to the amendment; it was in relation to the fact that a significant number of people in the Jewish community have said to me that they anticipate one of the key benefits of this Bill being that student unions will not be able to debate and pass BDS resolutions. My understanding of how the Bill is written and how it has been framed is that what the University of Essex student union has done, whereby it deemed its policy to be an educational tool rather than a procurement decision, explicitly would not be covered by the Bill. That is important, because the expectation is coming from multiple sources within the Jewish community that that is what would happen. Can the Minister clarify whether I am wrong on this, because my reading of the Bill suggests that I am right that—whether one calls it a good thing or a loophole—it would not be covered by the Bill?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord is right—student unions are not covered, and I think that I made that clear at Second Reading. It is private activity. Clearly, what matters is the influence on public bodies, which is what we are discussing today.

To come back on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, obviously the Government recognise the risks associated with economic and financial activities in those settlements. We do not support boycotts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Such boycotts are inherently divisive and could lead inadvertently to negative effects on Palestinians as well as undermining the aim of this Bill, which is to ensure that the UK speaks with one voice internationally. That does not change existing government guidance on doing business in those territories. The Government do not recognise the settlements as part of Israel, as the noble Lord knows, and we have already moved to ban those responsible for violence in the West Bank from the UK—there have been some recent sanctions.

I have tried to answer the probing amendments. I hope that this provides noble Lords with clarification and a rationale for the scope of Clause 1, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
8: Clause 1, page 1, line 23, at end insert—
“(9) A decision under subsection (2) may include a decision by a university or research institution based in the United Kingdom to enter into a commercial partnership with another university or research institution in a foreign state.”
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

I again reference my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests. I should specify, as others have, that I am an unpaid adviser to His Majesty’s Government on anti-Semitism, and that previously in the other House I was, for 14 years, the chair of the all-party group on combating anti-Semitism.

In that time and over recent years, I visited virtually every university in the country, looking at and discussing anti-Semitism. I have a very detailed report that was published last year with a lot of recommendations on what should be done in higher education in this country on this issue. In introducing my amendment, I can let the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, and others know that there were no examples from that time of when a student union was capable of influencing a university in terms of BDS campaigns. I think I described it at Second Reading as the most unsuccessful political campaign in my lifetime, and that was partly why I used that language.

My amendment gets to the nub of the issue—what the problem that led to the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment at the last election for a BDS Bill is actually about. The fundamental issue and problem that has been raised consistently is attempts at academic boycotts. In the last six months, there has without question been a growth in the pressure in universities and on academics not to carry out co-operation or research work that links directly into Israeli universities. That is a fact. How it manifests is not so much complex as complex to legislate on, because the most common way is peer group pressure. How does a university department determine what its research priorities should be? How does it determine which of the myriad universities around the world it should co-operate with?

Sometimes it is explicit; the arguments and the language are explicit. It seems to me that here there is potential scope for legislation, hence this amendment. Sometimes it is not. It is unspoken; it simply happened. Clearly, for us as legislators, that is very intangible. However, the purpose of this amendment would be to give not just a message but a specific legislative tool that would prohibit the explicit refusal to an individual academic of any status, including postgraduates, for example, specifically to work with a university that somebody did not like for political or whatever reasons.

These cases are about Israeli universities. It is widespread across Israeli universities in terms of people saying, “That should not happen”, “We don’t do that here” or “You should not do that. Your research should not include that”. That puts immense pressure on individuals. Imagine that you are a postgraduate student and you are told by your supervisor, “No, I don’t think you should be researching into what is happening in Israel in relation to the specific subject of your postgraduate studies”. That is exactly the pressure that has happened. Or, “We as a university are not going to have a relationship”. The excuse given might be, “We don’t have the budget for this particular university” —Haifa university, let us say—“but we do have a budget for another university somewhere else in the world”. That is precisely how it manifests.

Where it could be demonstrated that that is done for racist reasons, when the academic has a specific interest, a particular desire, a particular motivation to work with an Israeli university or with an Israeli academic, that becomes the problem that we should be dealing with. That is the real problem of anti-Semitism having a pernicious impact in our universities and in our university life. Thankfully, it is not widespread in terms of how it happens, but it is there, it is more common, there are many examples of it over the years and there are increasing examples now.

So having something in the Bill that addresses that specific problem is far more relevant than the theoretics of investment decisions elsewhere, where the evidence base does not say that is the nub of the problem. If the Government wish to manage expectations in the Jewish community, that is rather fundamental. The people who have said, “Yes, we welcome this Bill”, expect it to be about student unions and student union debates. There is no ambiguity in what people have said and what they have called for. It does not serve the interests of Government or Parliament to build up a false expectation of what a piece of legislation would do— indeed, it is dangerous to do so, in my view. So I put it to the Government and the Committee that this amendment would be helpful in putting some meat into the issue for this Bill to progress.

My second amendment, Amendment 9, is equally important but for a different reason. My stance on BDS protests and campaigns is that, frankly, if anyone here chooses to buy this or that product, it is perfectly valid. If one decides not to buy Jaffa oranges because one does not like Israel or the Israeli Government, that is a choice one is free to make and should be free to make. If someone chooses particularly to buy Jaffa oranges, that is a perfectly valid case. If, like me, one is partial to both Palestinian dates and Jaffa oranges, one can say that that is a healthy choice to make on both counts, and perhaps even a little bit politically balanced—I am doing so because the food is rather good. If one chooses, as I do, not to buy Ben & Jerry’s, perhaps one might observe that that is doing me some good. Whether one calls that a political or moral decision, or an absurd decision, it does not matter; that is my free choice.

However, if one then stops a shop—let us say, in a student union or university, or in a local authority—stocking Jaffa oranges, that means that people who wish to buy them cannot do so. It is particularly invidious, when a religion, and there are several, has specific dietary rules and laws—in the case of Judaism, it is kosher food—specifically to isolate the ability of individuals to choose to follow religious norms and rules on diet and ban their right to do so. That is much more invidious, because it is impacting one’s way of life. Therefore, the principle is far greater. Having additional legislation that specifically makes that illegal has a much more powerful impact, because it is affecting a way of life. With the so-called BDS campaign, we are seeing increasingly Jewish kosher foods, which may be Israeli or not, being specifically targeted by racists, whether in supermarkets or Jewish-owned stores, inhibiting the rights of those who choose to be kosher-adherent to be so. That fundamental freedom is being restricted. That is why Amendment 9 has a validity to it.

There are great legal brains here who will work through whether the amendments I am proposing would work; they appear to me to do so. Certainly, in terms of the expectation out there of what this Bill is about, people are interested in precisely this kind of thing, because these are the big issues impacting on how people live their lives and on their freedoms; that is, their academic freedoms to do what they wish as academics—which, I put it to the Committee, is fundamental to what we are as a country—and their freedoms to be themselves in what they choose to eat, which is fundamental to the concept of individual and collective rights, and what we are in this country. I recommend these two amendments to the Government and the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Pickles Portrait Lord Pickles (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I apologise for not speaking at Second Reading, and I draw attention to my entry in the register. I am not entirely sure that what the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said is entirely within the scope of the Bill, but it should be, because it raises a very important point. Before I go on, I crave your Lordships’ indulgence for 30 seconds, because I want to say how indebted this country is to the noble Lord for his work in universities and higher education, and also in sport. He has made a considerable difference, and this House should be grateful to him,

What the noble Lord said illustrates that this is not just about who is in charge, or about the comfort of people attending universities and speaking in student union debates; it is about who is welcome and who is not. It is about how comfortable people feel when politics from another country spills over and affects the domestic life of this country. It is about how we underpin, and celebrate, a multicultural society, while ensuring that we can also celebrate our common Britishness.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, has done a lot of work on getting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism adopted in universities. It is a non-legally binding definition, and is there as a marker for discussions. As with all such things, there is a bit of a fashion, and people go around and adopt things. The question that the noble Lord asked, and that I ask, is: “Congratulations on adopting it, but what have you done with it?”

The very minimum we would expect, in a university, say, is the creation of a safe space for Jewish students to be able to study. But this also means creating a safe space to do the sorts of things that would keep their parents up at night worrying about them—to be able to enjoy being at university, to enjoy life and to be able to go around the campus with signs of their Jewishness, without fear that they will be picked on. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, is making is that we should not seek to do things that exclude people. If people have a particular view of the kind of food they can eat, that should be available. Student shops on campuses should not remove kosher food, because that excludes people.

I speak from practical experience of this. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was the leader of Bradford Council, and, with the co-operation of the Labour Party, we introduced halal meat into school meals. That does not sound all that exciting—we see it all the time—but we were the first council in the country to do it. There was an enormous backlash from the population, and from the animal rights people, because of the nature of religious-compliant slaughter.

Why was that important? We had a large number of Muslims in Bradford, many of them on very low incomes, and it was one guaranteed way of ensuring that once a day, the children got a hot, nutritious meal that met their needs. We were also saying something really important to the population of Bradford, which was, as we say in Bradford, “You’re ratepayers—so you’re entitled to get back what you’re putting in. You’re entitled to receive respect”. When we try to get people to work together as a wider community, we should not seek to exclude them because they cannot come to receptions or parties or other social events because we do not provide things that they can enjoy. We should also ensure that if people want to pray, that should be available, because this is about bringing people together.

I am not sure whether the Bill covers that, but there is a debate coming in this country that may be the flip side of the definition of extremism, which is about how we bind people together—how we work together and make people feel British without them losing their identity. The noble Lord, Lord Mann, has given considerable service to this House by raising this because it is an issue that over the coming years and decades we have to get right.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. These are difficult issues.

I turn briefly to Amendment 9, which would ensure that the prohibition in Clause 1 applied to decisions relating to the procurement of food prepared in line with religious practices, such as kosher and halal foods. The ban established by the Bill applies to all procurement decisions, including the procurement of food where this is part of a public function. Therefore, if a public authority made a decision not to procure kosher food and that decision was influenced by moral or political disapproval of the conduct of the State of Israel, the Bill would already prohibit this. However, I reassure noble Lords that nothing in the Bill would stop a public authority providing food that accommodated the religious beliefs of its employees or its service users. For example, it would not stop a public authority specifying in a tender that it was procuring halal products. For these reasons, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I would like to add a few facts to allow the House to consider how it makes up its mind on the principle and the detail of the Bill. The reality is that the Bill has been sold as assisting the Jewish community on the BDS campaign targeting Israel that has been going for many years. It would be inaccurate for any Member of the House to think that this was something in the future. The BDS campaign has had a plethora of resolutions passed across the public sector over many years.

I will cite one example as an illustration of the effectiveness—or otherwise—of this campaign. There is a student union that has had a BDS policy for 15 years. I will not give it additional attention or hassle by naming it. It is publicised on its website; there is an educational tool for anyone who wishes to look at it. At the same time, the student union sells kosher products, some of which are available only from Israel. It does so as a duty of care to its Jewish students. In the context of a BDS policy passed for the last 15 years, it is selling kosher products—including Israeli products—in its shop.

If the objective of the BDS campaign is to boycott and divest from Israel, I suggest that factually it is the most unsuccessful campaign in all our lifetimes, because it has manifestly failed to do that. One of the reasons is that, if we want to be honest about boycotting Israeli products, the key products that one would start by never using would be computers and mobile phones. They would be at the heart of it, because that is where Israeli products have the maximum impact on all our lives.

There is one exception in this country: pharmaceuticals. On the balance of probabilities, each of our households will be using Israeli pharmaceuticals. I will cite the example of naloxone, which is the only drug available for bringing people round after a heroin opiate overdose and saving lives. Its introduction in this country has been a major lifesaver—fact. The idea that the NHS would not use naloxone is a nonsense.

Therefore, those resolutions are there but have not been implemented. That is a consideration—draw what conclusions one chooses to from it.

On managing expectations, it is important to look at what the impact will be of any legislation we pass, whether amended or otherwise, because there can be unintended consequences. I will cite a recent example. On the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, I raised some questions about whether there could be unintended consequences by shifting more extreme protests from the public realm to the university realm, using the rationale that there is absolute freedom of speech in the university realm. I am sad to report to the House that my questions and warnings have proved true. I speak to universities every week and to the Union of Jewish Students most days, and that is precisely what is happening in our country now: extremists are moving their protests off the public realm to the university realm, nearer Jewish students, using the excuse and rationale that free speech goes in any way in universities. That will need to be considered, because it is an unintended consequence of that legislation—which I supported, by the way.

I return to managing expectations. Let us take the university sector. There has not been disinvestment from Israel in the university sector, but let me tell the House where this campaign is most pernicious: academic boycotts. They are not covered in the Bill, and I have not found a way in which I can amend it, but there may be greater brains here who could assist. Academic boycotts are attempts to stop university lecturers or researchers doing this or that kind of research in co-operation with Israelis, and sometimes beyond Israelis. That is the most pernicious and most regular form of campaign. It is hard to regulate for that because it is normally peer-group pressure that leads to it.

This Bill does not address academic boycotts at all, and nor does it deal with the issue of the Jewish way of life, which manifests, for example, in access to kosher foods. I will pose one question; it is not a statement. If we legislate as framed at the moment, will it make the Sainsbury’s incidents that we are seeing, where the targeting of the BDS campaign shifts from the university or municipality to the supermarket and its products, more likely, less likely or the same? Will the Jewish independent store be more or less targeted? It seems to me that these are fundamental issues about how the Jewish community lives its life.

My fear with any legislation is that, if it is rushed through, those unintended consequences will come to fruition. I appeal to all Front Benches: frankly, the Jewish community is stronger and better protected when there is a political consensus across political parties. I will chair a meeting myself—if the two sides are not prepared to, or cannot, get together—for whatever party wants to participate. That leaves the Jewish community stronger. It is essential that that is part of the Bill’s objective.

I have one final point. Because I know the House loves its Brexit consequences, I would like to warm its heart by suggesting that there is one here. If a local authority decides that it wants to campaign for a local factory that is being shut down as part of the supply chain, for example, in the automotive industry—by campaigning that the products are bought from there and not, say, from Germany, Japan, China or wherever—is this Bill an impediment to it? For most trade unionists who voted for Brexit, the objective of buying British, manufacturing British and having British steel, rather than importing from abroad, was the biggest single, individual motivator. That is a question that I want clarifying: is that a problem with this Bill? If it is, the Bill would not be fit for purpose.

Civil Service: Digital Skills

Lord Mann Excerpts
Monday 20th February 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I used to sit on the Competitiveness Council in Brussels, in the days when we were in the EU, and learned a lot from the Estonians—but of course they have a much smaller country and they were able to start everything digitally. I think people have admired us for the step we took, now 10 years ago, with GOV.UK, hosting all government paperwork and data. That now has 99% recognition across the UK, which I find very surprising. To answer the question, there are of course difficulties. Digital skills, which is the subject of this Question, is probably the biggest difficulty, but data sharing is also very important. We are finding this with all the various data initiatives we are doing—for example, I am working on borders—where being able to share data between companies, or to share individuals’ data between departments, is extremely important. We are gradually making sure that we are getting the right powers to do that in different areas as Bills come before your Lordships’ House.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, what targets have been set to upskill Peers of the realm?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that is a matter for the House authorities, but I will happily pursue it for the noble Lord.

Emergency Planning

Lord Mann Excerpts
Monday 20th February 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Asked by
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann
- Hansard - -

To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the robustness of their system of emergency planning across the country.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Civil Contingencies Act sets out the framework for emergency planning in the UK, which the Government have a legal obligation to review every five years. The most recent review was published in March 2022, which concluded that the Act continues to achieve its stated objectives, but it also set out recommendations to strengthen the system and its planning. The resilience framework published in December sets out the Government’s wider approach to strengthening our resilience to all risks.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Considering the crisis in local government finance and the ongoing spectre of ambulances queuing at hospitals, how many emergency planning bodies have raised major concerns about our resilience in the event of a major disaster?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the noble Lord suggests, we have a well-developed system of local resilience through the 38 local resilience forums. I have received no reports myself of particular concerns they have raised on this matter. It is more a matter for DLUHC than for the Cabinet Office, but I will look into it and get back to the noble Lord.

Standards of Behaviour and Honesty in Political Life

Lord Mann Excerpts
Thursday 23rd June 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

I rise simply to ask who determines truth. I read the resolution and look at the House of Lords, and know that lots of voices out there will say that the House of Lords once voted to give them a referendum on the European Union, and then repeatedly voted to try to undermine the decision that was made when people were given that power. When we look at why people are increasingly cynical about politicians and use the language of truth, we see that there are many aspects of it, but surely part of our duty here is to look at and examine our role and ability to improve our democracy.

We have a mishmash of rules, regulations and laws that are available to us to use. Let me give an example: the Phil Woolas election court case in 2011. A sitting MP stands in an election and is taken to an election court over issuing a false statement. It is one line in a leaflet and an election court deems that it is a false statement and a breach of law—a law that is over 100 years old, created in a time when precisely that discussion was going on. He is debarred from Parliament—thrown out with no jury and no right of appeal. That is one level of law, and we could bring in identical laws for sitting politicians, be they Ministers or otherwise, if we chose. We have that power; we have the powers to do what we choose, and we have the power to pontificate generally. But the cynicism of the people is increasing.

One of my predecessors as the MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire was a gentleman called Sir Fred Bellenger. He was the MP for 35 years. Sir Fred was a barrister, practising in London. He had a home—I believe a rather nice one—in Chichester. He visited the constituency of Bassetlaw once a year for his annual dinner at the Olde Bell Hotel. Sir Fred may have been a great MP; he may have been a scoundrel. On balance, it would appear that he was a good MP—not great, but reasonable—but the voters of that constituency had no idea. How could they make a judgment? Where was the information available to them? There was none. They knew he came once a year, but the Olde Bell is not big enough to accommodate that many people, and that was it. But at least he turned up for his elections; his predecessor, Malcolm MacDonald, son of Ramsay, sent his sister to fight one election.

The idea that there was some golden era of integrity, honesty and decency is mythology. What there is today is information: people can find out more. Our big weakness is not grasping that what we therefore need is not more information but transparency. They will find out what people do one way or another—not everyone or everything, but far more than ever before—so we should grasp transparency as an asset for us.

It is not just No. 10. There are MPs in jail or just getting out of jail; there are MPs on trial who might or might not go to jail, depending on the courts. That is current, and it is cross-party. MPs being barred from the Commons is cross-party. There are so many transgressions going on that people hardly even notice them. If we want this place to survive, and if we are, as we claim, this great authority of wisdom and should through our collective wisdom be able to influence the laws of the country on behalf of the people, we should ensure that we set the standards ourselves. We have the power to set standards on behaviour and standards on transparency. It is not just for each and every one of us. The honour-based system is precisely the system of MPs’ expenses that led to quite a number going to jail, plenty more who were lucky, and a large number who resigned their seats and had their careers ended. It was a system based on honour, and it did not work.

This is an opportunity for us to collectively create systems of transparency here, recognising that we are in the information age, and to open ourselves up to criticisms. Let us set standards in the House of Lords. It would refresh our democracy. If we wish to survive, before the tempest arrives that blows us away—because it certainly will do, one unexpected day when we are not looking—we might give ourselves a future in that democracy. That is my hope for the conclusion of this debate today.

Elections Bill

Lord Mann Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage
Monday 21st March 2022

(2 years, 4 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-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Mar 2022)
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 118A on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, who cannot be in his place today. I am doing this to allow for debate at this time on Amendment 122A, which is on the same topic. Amendment 118A is a retabled version of Amendment 120 and this has been done in order to place it in the correct part of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has already spoken to his amendment on an earlier day, he has nothing further to add.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 122A, on an issue that I do not think has received sufficient attention for a long time: the significant group of voters who lose their votes at each election because they inaccurately fill out the verification forms to be enclosed with their postal vote forms. The problem is that, depending on the whims of a particular returning officer, a voter could be doing this, year in and year out, at every election, without realising that the vote they thought they had cast has not actually been validated because of an error—perhaps on the voting paper itself but, in my experience, it is far more likely to be an error on the verification form required to go with it.

I have listed certain categories of voters in my amendment—for example, those with failing eyesight or those with limited or no literacy. To fill in the paperwork that allows one to complete a postal vote form can be incredibly complex. There is a range of options open to returning officers. My own personal experience of filling them in is that some are straightforward and some are mind-bogglingly difficult. Those voters who are particularly vulnerable ought to have an automatic right, whereby an agent of the returning officer should, if requested, be able to visit them and assist them in the completion not of the voting paper itself—the experience I have is that that is rarely spoiled—but of the verification form that goes with it.

The percentages are very high indeed. In a local election in the area I once represented, one could easily see 300 postal votes that were lost because of this. In a general election, one is multiplying that, and anything up to a thousand votes could be lost, purely because people have been unable to accurately complete the paperwork. Some will do that carelessly, but there is a whole range of more vulnerable voters who, given the opportunity for assistance, would complete the verification form accurately and then vote and have their vote counted.

It seems to me that, whether it requires legislation or clearer guidance to returning officers, this is a rather important point in ensuring that maximise the actual turnout in elections, rather than the theoretical turn out of those who have returned postal votes but do not have them counted. The numbers are significant if we multiply across the country those that I have seen locally. It is a significant group of voters, and it is through no specific fault of their own—other than, for example, their literacy or their failing eyesight, which is the example I am most familiar with.

Better advice from returning officers would be appropriate. I put this forward as an option, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Elections Bill

Lord Mann Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 years, 4 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-IV Fourth marshalled list for Committee - (17 Mar 2022)
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support Amendment 52 in the name of my noble friend Lord Collins. He eloquently explained the pernicious threat posed by this legislation to our democracy. As a former leader of Unite the Union, I do not need anyone to tell me how dangerous this Bill, and Clause 27 in particular, will be to trade unions and their ability to campaign on the issues that matter to their members.

My noble friend Lord Collins said that it has not been thought through. Far from it: it has been well and truly thought through. This is yet another ideological assault on the trade union movement by this Government. It is nothing less than an attempt to gag the trade union voice once and for all, coming so soon after we debated the tax on trade unions to fund their own regulator, and a police and crime Bill which, as my noble friend Lord Hendy warned on Report, could see the end of the right to picket during lawful industrial action. It is clear that the Government’s agenda is nothing more than trying to stop us getting involved in talking with our members. It is certainly not “levelling up”, or “building back better”.

It is a shame, because there is no doubt that, as my noble friend said, trade unions are a working-class group of people who look after their members and those who struggle to look after themselves. They balance the bad bosses and a system that is sometimes rigged against them. We should always remember that union members earn higher wages than non-members. They have more paid holiday, better sick pay and safer workplaces. This is crucial, particularly at a time such as this when there is rampant inflation.

It is quite simple. Trade unions demand the right to campaign on any issue that matters to trade unionists, regardless, as has been said, of the Labour Party’s own priorities. For example, if I want to ask for more doctors for the NHS or to campaign against the far right in this country or on other serious industrial issues such as the shameful practice of fire and rehire, as a trade unionist, I must surely have the right to do so through the democratic structures of my union. Just because a trade union is affiliated to the Labour Party, it does not mean that we always share the same political priorities: far from it. Why should money be spent by Labour on an election campaign count against the limit allowed by, for example, my union, Unite? With the greatest respect, it makes absolutely no sense, unless the objective is to silence the trade unions.

Another clear danger with Clause 27 is the chilling effect it will have on unions because they will be afraid to break the rules. The rules themselves are unclear and could change at the whim of Ministers. It will also actively discourage unions and other groups from campaigning together as a coalition—a totally legitimate activity that should be welcomed in any democratic society.

Clause 27 could even lead to Labour-affiliated unions being held accountable for the entire election campaign expenditure of the Labour Party. This would be a completely crazy state of affairs. Because “joint campaigning” is not properly defined in the Bill, affiliated unions could discover that they had exceeded their own expenditure limits many times over. They could even be breaking the law before they had had a chance to begin to campaign on their own priorities. Surely this is absurd. It is almost surreal. This situation must not be allowed to happen.

Let us not kid ourselves: this is an unprecedented and unconstitutional attack on the Labour Party and on the affiliated trade unions that founded it. It completely undermines the most basic principles of democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of association. Again, as has been said, this Bill breaches the long-standing convention on cross-party support for any fundamental changes to the democratic process. Unfortunately, the Government are riding roughshod over this convention. They are attempting a power grab of epic proportions. For the sake of our democracy and for the freedoms we all take for granted, this draconian legislation—and this clause in particular—must be defeated before it ever reaches the statute book. Amendment 52 is a critical step in this fightback. I urge all those who wish to defend our democracy and freedoms to support it.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, when dealing with election law, it is always worth looking at unintended consequences. I could speak at length about trade unions, the Labour Party and funding arrangements. During the 1997 election, I was described by the Sunday Times as the “bag man”.

That has been covered. I shall restrict myself to two unintended consequences which the Government would not have expected and which I think will emerge. The first is the so-called dining clubs. Some years ago, I did quite a lot of work on stopping them meeting in here. The dining clubs are primarily a Conservative Party-supporting concept and institution. Occasionally, there are some in other parties. This is a long-standing way in which the Conservative Party has raised money— in my view, perfectly legitimately. The unintended consequence that I read in the legislation as framed is that, at the moment, electoral law requires only the net income to be considered. If £30,000 is spent on a dinner and £10,000 or £20,000 is raised, there is a specific legal requirement as to how this is accounted for. It is well and adequately covered in the law. However, this clause seems to say that the entire expenditure will have to be accounted for. This is not a problem for national parties, but it is a problem for individual candidates.

Until the last five years it was possible to know when a general election would be. I am in a minority in thinking that it is not a good idea to move away from fixed-term Parliaments. If an election is called at the whim of the Prime Minister of the day, the candidate will not know where this expenditure will fit with candidate expenses. I predict the unintended consequence of the possibility of a legal case which could lead to a duly elected Member of Parliament no longer being a Member of Parliament. I urge caution on this.

A second unintended consequence could be much more widespread. It concerns the use of Labour, Liberal and Conservative clubs for political campaigning—otherwise known as elections. I understand the law and, as I have worked in this area for a long time, I am pretty sure that I am right. At the moment, the law is fairly loose in that a Conservative Party campaign can be based in a Conservative club. Many are. This seems reasonable. There is probably a slight advantage in that there are more Conservative clubs these days than Labour or Liberal clubs. This does not seem to impact on our democracy in any undue way. However, this clause would make it necessary to account for this as joint campaigning and therefore election expenditure. It would become a nightmare of defining what is expenditure, when it is clearly joint campaigning for the officers of an independent Conservative, Labour or Liberal club, to agree to have a campaign base inside their club. As everyone knows, this is common across all three parties. One could easily cite scores of examples—sometimes there is more than one in the same election in one constituency.

That does not seem very clever. Again, people will have a field day with picking holes in it. When one looks at what I think are the appropriate, minimal amounts of spending in any one constituency, this is pretty major for our democracy. It is obviously not the Government’s intent. As ever, with electoral law, unintended consequences are the problem. There is a big problem with this clause.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we on these Benches hope that the Government will be willing not only to listen but to accept both of these amendments, either in their current form or in some reshaped form. They would be constructive and non-partisan additions to the Bill.

I recall that the review undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, came about as a result of what some people felt were the botched efforts of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act, which was rushed through Parliament. Of course, if this Bill becomes law in anything like its current form, I should warn the noble Lord that he—and perhaps not only he but other Members of the House too—will be called on several more times to do post-legislative scrutiny on various aspects of it.

We differ from the noble Lord in one or two respects. We would have fought for Parliament against the executive prerogative of the monarchy in the Civil War; that is where my party comes from. We are therefore in favour of the Electoral Commission being responsible to the Speaker’s Committee much more than to the Secretary of State. We will want to consider and discuss between now and Report whether the Speaker’s Committee too needs to be further reinforced, and perhaps slightly reshaped. Apart from that, we strongly support where both amendments come from, and we hope that the Government will be willing to incorporate them in further discussions on the Bill.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, made a distinguished contribution, based on his great experience—although I fear that in identifying Conservative clubs he was thinking of Walsall North Conservative Club, which defines itself online as a pub that has gone out of business, rather than the neighbouring Aldridge Conservative & Unionist Club, which defines itself online both as a social club, which it is, and also as “community and government”. That rather makes my point about some clubs—not only Conservative clubs but also Labour and Liberal clubs.

I want to make one brief comment on Amendment 54B and what the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, and will requote one of the principles he identified, which is clarity. In 1995 I was tasked with ensuring that the Labour Party and the trade unions stayed within the law, as it was emerging under the Nolan committee, to which I presented evidence with my noble and learned friend Lord Morris on behalf of all trade unions. Before the law changed, my experience was that clarity was critical. I was able to go to senior politicians—my noble friend Lord Blunkett was an exception because he was always exemplary on all financial matters, but not everyone was because politicians are often more enthused about their political campaigns than by exactly how they are funded—and one of my roles was to ensure that everything was within the spirit of the law and within the law we already had on trade union funds. Clarity was critical.

It would probably be a best seller if I cited some of the spectacular examples, but there were some ferocious rows. I explained to people that they were not having that money because the way they were trying to get it was not technically legal, despite the fact that the way they wished to spend it was clearly for social good. Politicians have a weakness when it comes to money, especially when it is to do with elections. Clarity is critical.

When the law changed, and treasurers were about to be elected in my local party, when I was a Member of the other place, I always used to say, “You’ll go to prison if you get this wrong.” That quickly weeded out those who wanted the position of treasurer for some kind of political enhancement and left a tiny number who were prepared to ensure that the finances were in order. They were awkward to me, because I kept saying “That’s perfectly legitimate”, and they would delay income or expenditure because they wanted to be absolutely certain.

That is the beauty of what the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, is suggesting: a designated treasurer with a duty that they will apply with draconian consequences for breaching the law. I strongly commend this approach and this principle as one of the levers to ensure that transparency is delivered. I think this is rather a good proposal.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am not an expert on dining clubs, working men’s club or gentlemen’s clubs. Sadly, in these days of the pandemic, even nightclubs are a distant memory.

Electoral System (Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 Committee Report)

Lord Mann Excerpts
Friday 11th March 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will add my tribute to Lord Shutt. We both cut our teeth politically in the town of Pudsey, between Leeds and Bradford, where birds fly backwards to keep muck out of their eyes. He was somewhat older than me, although we fought the same elections. He started young but I started even younger. I recall that he had the advantage of a large Liberal hall to operate from, whereas we had the caravan of the church Sunday school superintendent, Tony Rogers. Tony celebrated his 91st birthday very recently, so I am pleased that he still going strong. We altered the balance because we had a whole operation of sending our voters in the rather luxurious Liberal Party cars to the polling station—a practice which survived for at least 15 years. Lord Shutt is sorely missed.

Without straying into future business, I will make the brief point that the Labour Party ought to be celebrating—they might be surprised by this—at how outdated the paradigm of the Conservative Party machine is in understanding voters today. Voter ID at the next general election will cost the Labour Party very little, but it will cost the Conservative Party an awful lot, including red wall seats and red wall voters. I know what the attitudes will be, and that the voters for the Conservative Party won red wall seats for the first time. As an observation, I merely say that the Conservative Party does not know what it is doing with this in relation to the next election. I will be proved right when it is analysed afterwards: the Conservative Party will lose votes because of the Bill. I merely throw that in as a factual piece of information.

I have a question for the Minister in relation to ID; it would be helpful to have clarification now, or perhaps even a government amendment, if what I am told is accurate. The practice of party agents and candidates standing inside a polling room has crept in. I have challenged that, and I am told that the law allows them to do it—not to canvas, that is forbidden, but to stand the entire day in a polling room with a rosette on, saying nothing. I think that is intimidating the voters. However, voter ID is an entirely different concept, as people’s personal data can potentially be discussed in the polling station—voting of course is done privately, but not necessarily the dialogue over identification. Is it therefore good practice to allow party candidates or agents—including those wearing rosettes—to stand in a polling room on election day? If it is, which is what my returning officer informed me in ruling out my objections to this practice, will the Government bring forward an amendment to make it illegal? It seems to me that it is highly inappropriate.

The issue of disabled voters and other vulnerable voters is one I want to home in on. Disability can be defined in many ways; returning officers do not seem to be using their powers—perhaps those powers should be strengthened—to define who are vulnerable voters, in particular in relation to assistance with postal voting. There is a remarkably high wastage rate among that section of the electorate on postal votes. Almost by definition, it is impossible to say which party that affects; I imagine that, overall, it balances out over the country. The kinds of people who get it wrong, however, tend to be those with, for example, very low levels of literacy; those with a learning disability; elderly people whose eyesight is not as good as they would like to admit; and people whose manual dexterity, otherwise known as “writing”, is not as good as it needs to be for the signature required. Their votes often get ruled out.

There ought to be a duty on returning officers to consider that and to make available far more election officials who can assist in completing a postal vote, and specifically the verification of a postal vote. That could be at town halls or in other local authority venues, or in care homes or people’s homes—particularly in people’s homes. I think, indeed I know, that would increase the actual turnout of votes counted, as opposed to the number of votes submitted. While it is a small number, in a general election it can be many hundreds. I do not know whether this was totally within the rules, but I recall one returning officer who, on opening wrongly filled-in verification forms early, used to return them to the voter explaining what they had done wrong and giving them a second chance to vote. That kind of intervention, if necessary by additional law, would be extremely helpful. Literacy and other such issues are often overlooked. However, as the Government are very concerned about the propriety of postal voting, such an intervention would also further ensure that postal votes are completed in the way in which the voter wished them to be.

As we all know, the reality is that, if a 95 year-old with failing eyesight and a trembling hand is trying to fill in a vote, they will tend to call in a relative to assist—and hopefully get the vote that they wish. Their ability to bring in an official, or the ERO themselves, would be quite a significant improvement. I am aware of cases where people have objected to their family standing over them and pressuring them on their postal vote, but do not have a route out of that. While those cases of pressure small in number and concern precisely the people who would never complain—certainly not to officialdom, although perhaps to a candidate who has been denied a vote—it seems that this could be an enhancement of the system, and one that would be relatively easy to make by giving a further duty to EROs to consider this.

I have two final points to make. The first is that I do not understand why we allow more than a single registration. I do not mean that it should be illegal for someone not to have removed themselves from one register as they move to a second house, but the principle that people—people like us—can vote in two different locations seems fundamentally anti-democratic. Why should someone with two homes choose where they vote, whereas someone with one home cannot? I understand the principles historically in terms of local government and finance but, with the myriad elections we have today, why should someone be able to choose which mayoral election they vote in or, as the law allows, vote in two mayoral elections on the same day? That seems fundamentally flawed in logic. Such a change would also discourage people from jumping around, because some of the registrations and where people claim to be living can themselves be dubious. If we are looking for something dubious in the system, that is a dubious part—I will finish in a minute.

None Portrait A noble Lord
- Hansard -

Now.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

I thank the Whip for the prompt.

My final point is on early voting. Early voting ought to be encouraged, and the way to do that is to allow returning officers the power to bring in early voting for five days before an election at a town hall. Small business people in particular would benefit greatly from that.