9 Lord Trimble debates involving the Cabinet Office

Wed 30th Dec 2020
European Union (Future Relationship) Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee negatived (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading & Committee negatived
Wed 1st Jul 2015
Wed 28th Jan 2015
Thu 13th Jun 2013
Mon 14th May 2012
Wed 8th Feb 2012

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

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Friday 8th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, I want to exploit my position here at the moment, standing right behind the Minister. He opened the debate by referring to some of the major achievements that have been made, in particular that the European Court of Justice no longer applies in Great Britain, and other related matters. I am sure the noble Lord will realise that I could, and perhaps should, exploit my position here by saying that what the Minister said is not true. The ECJ still operates within the United Kingdom. It operates with regard to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is still governed by Europe. This is not what we fought for. This is not what we voted for. It could be tolerated as something for the short term that will be dealt with speedily, but there is no sign of that happening. This process continues.

The man in the street in Northern Ireland does not understand what is going on, does not know is going on, because very little information seeps through. That should be addressed rapidly. I ask the Government to find ways of communicating with the people of Northern Ireland through their elected representatives and those of us who are here. I would like to know what happens in the various meetings. People come out and say that they have achieved something, but they do not explain what they have achieved. I would like to know that.

Without information coming through, people will look, for example, at the problems that some of the supermarkets have had recently: they have not got the material that they want to come through and in some cases have been quite embarrassed. There is also concern over the line that is basically driven down the Irish Sea. It is there, despite assurances being given to us several times that that was not going to happen. It has happened.

I want to pick on just three matters, one of which is hugely important, and that is the question of legislation in Northern Ireland. Where will that come from? At the moment, it will come from Brussels, not from this House or the other place. Legislation for Northern Ireland is done by Europe, and will continue to be done by Europe. I have heard Ministers say that if any legislation comes through, they will not do anything but just let it go through automatically.

I have two specific questions to ask the Minister—

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I am sorry, but the time is up for my noble friend. It is well over two minutes.

European Union (Future Relationship) Bill

Lord Trimble Excerpts
3rd reading & 2nd reading & Committee negatived & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee negatived (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 30th December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 View all European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 30 December 2020 - (30 Dec 2020)
Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the debate so far. I am sorry to hear so many occasions where people are criticising the Government for what they have done and in particular suggesting that in some way they were dragging out the proceedings, for whatever benefit. This is a most unfair approach. One could predict at the beginning of the negotiations that there would always be a flurry at the very end—that is how the European Union carries out negotiations. It only puts its hands on the table right at the very last minute, and sometimes then things get into a mess when you are trying to sort them out. There is a lot still to be done to sort out what has happened, but to put the blame for the handling of this solely on our Government and Prime Minister is not fair, and the party opposite should reflect on that.

I look at this as a unionist, and I do not particularly like what I see. There was a reference from the Front Bench about there now being a division down the Irish Sea. There is a worse situation, actually: the position we have arrived at is that the European Union now governs part of the United Kingdom. That is the present situation. The part that is governed is the one dealing with a lot of agricultural matters. The problems there could always be handled, but instead of handling them the EU has walked away with a position where it now legislates for agriculture, and some business things in Northern Ireland are now governed by the EU. How long is that going to last? What are we going to do about it? We cannot accept this. I have listened with interest to people talking about setting up discussions, or at least pursuing the matters—we must not go around thinking we have solved this issue, because we have not. Today, we have no choice because this has to be carried through in order that we have an Act—we do not want to have a situation where we end up with no deal; we have to have that. But we have to realise that it is only a beginning, and we have to pursue it further.

I particularly want to go back to what people call the Good Friday agreement, and to remind people of the core element within that agreement. Under Article 1, paragraph (iii) says:

“it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”.

This agreement changes the status of Northern Ireland, in that part of Northern Ireland is to be governed by the EU without the people of Northern Ireland having any say in that process at all. We cannot allow that to continue, and it is for that reason that we have to press on with this Bill, so that we achieve what is necessary. I will leave it at that point—I can see the Front Bench thinks that no more should be said—but, as I said, this is unfinished business. Waving hands may feel nice, but it will not solve the problem. We are going to have to come back to this as soon as possible, without delay, so that we get something worth while out of it.

Chilcot Inquiry

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Wednesday 1st July 2015

(8 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but I have to refer him to the answer I have just given, which is that we will need to take account of this process and the lessons we might learn once the inquiry concludes. I note that he shakes his head, but this inquiry is independent and it needs to remain independent.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, the underlying problem here is the fact that this inquiry was not constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005. If it had been set up under the Act, as it should have been, the inquiry would have been conducted more efficiently, the Minister setting it up would have had a power to call for it to be concluded and handed over to him, and this problem would not have arisen. Lessons should be learned, and they are contained in the report that the noble Lord referred to. The Government should review their response to that report.

Chilcot Inquiry

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Wednesday 28th January 2015

(9 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
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My Lords, the Maxwellisation process is unavoidably a lengthy one. Noble Lords who served on the post-legislative scrutiny committee on the Inquiries Act last year—a particular special committee—raised the question of the length of time it took to carry through this process. There are issues of fairness and equity in making sure that those who may well be sharply criticised by a report should have the right to see those criticisms and comment on them before publication. That is the process that is now under way and, unfortunately, it does take some time.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords—

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Portrait Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Trimble; he may not be, but I am. Will the Minister reassure the House that the Government understand that the delays in publishing Chilcot—whether justified or not—are eroding public confidence in the report and in the inquiry process itself? Even allowing for the fact that this is an independent report, is there really nothing that the Government can do to impart some urgency and immediacy to this matter?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
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My Lords, the purpose of inquiries is to restore public confidence, but it would be highly desirable if this report had been completed and published by now. There have been a number of reasons for the delay, and this is not the first time that an inquiry has taken, sadly, a lot longer than was originally hoped.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, in reply to an earlier question, the Minister referred to the numerous documents that had to be sifted and I am sure that he was absolutely right. Does he not agree with me that this is where having a good-quality counsel for an inquiry is essential? Am I right in thinking that Chilcot decided that he could do without such a person?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
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My Lords, I am not so sure that the quality of the counsel in this case was important. As I understand it, it was the sheer volume of documents that had to be sifted, a number of which were discovered to be relevant at a later stage of the inquiry, and then the whole question of what could be released. This is a very new kind of inquiry in terms of the amount of highly classified material—much of it relating to discussions with other Governments—that will be released.

House of Lords: Labour Peers’ Working Group Report

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Thursday 19th June 2014

(10 years ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, the report we are debating is deliberately modest, which in itself is a welcome change. I will confine myself to just a few points.

It is proposed that the House of Lords Appointments Commission be put on a statutory basis “to underpin its independence”. That is not a problem. I will not debate the quality of its appointments, although they are, and are bound to be, somewhat varied. My problem is with the legitimacy of the Appointments Commission. Why should a quango have the power to influence the size and composition of one of the two Houses of Parliament?

Those appointed by political parties derive a degree of democratic legitimacy from the popular support for that party. However, it is said that that is insufficient and that they should be properly elected. What, then, of the commission’s appointees, who have no scintilla of democratic legitimacy? That is not to say that there should be no Cross-Benchers, but that maybe there should be another way.

It is also proposed that some of the commission’s criteria for appointment should be applied to political appointees. I think it is wrong, as a matter of principle, to interfere with the internal workings of any political party.

It is also proposed to end the replacement election of hereditary Peers, which is described in paragraph 6.19 as,

“a political arrangement reached by the main political parties”.

Those are rather weasel words. A deal was done. A contract was made. The Act was passed on the basis of that deal. All those who supported the Act necessarily accepted the deal. I say to the party opposite that they should keep their word or, in the fine old Scots phrase, they should not approbate and reprobate. It is not good enough to say that it has not led to further reform. That is because a consensus has not yet been achieved. Perhaps we should focus on that.

This brings us to the proposal for a constitutional commission as a means to achieve a consensus, which has some merit, although such a commission would probably have several other matters on its agenda ahead of House of Lords reform. However, such a commission would have to deal with the issue of Lords reform comprehensively.

I was pleasantly surprised in 2012 by the speed with which so many new Conservative Members of the other place realised that Lords reform was really about them, involving a reduction of their power and primacy through the creation of an equal or superior Chamber. It underlined the point, which should have been clear from previous attempts, that the other place will permit the creation of another elected Chamber only if the latter’s mandate and power are clearly inferior. This can be done through indirect election, for which there are precedents even within British parliamentary practice. It should be easier to build a consensus for that than for any of the proposals we have seen in recent years. The report avoids this territory as its proposals are for interim contributions, but those proposals have the disadvantage that most of them require legislation. Will time be found for such legislation? Will a Private Member’s Bill pass the other place? If it does, will it advance or postpone wider reform?

Finally, here we are at the beginning of the last Session before the general election, which will come in less than a year. This is the first Labour debate. I was surprised to see that that the most important issue for Labour is modest, interim measures of Lords reform. It takes priority over the financial crisis, comes before the economic recovery, and relegates consideration of Labour’s views on the growth of business and the reform of public service. I think the party opposite must be hoping that the electorate do not notice.

G8 Summit

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Thursday 13th June 2013

(11 years ago)

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Moved By
Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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That this House takes note of the Government’s priorities to be pursued at the next meeting of the G8 in Northern Ireland on 17 and 18 June 2013.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, I begin by thanking the Prime Minister for selecting Fermanagh as the location for the G8 summit. He had scores, if not hundreds, of possible locations throughout the United Kingdom from which to choose, but I am sure that it was simply the beauty and tranquillity of the surroundings, together with the high quality of communication and security available, that led to the choice. I can recommend that noble Lords go and see just how nice it is. I must also thank the nearly 4,000 policemen from other parts of the United Kingdom who are rendering support to the police in Northern Ireland over the coming days. We hope that they have a pleasant and peaceful time, but I am confident that they can cope if anybody tries to disturb the peace.

The Prime Minister set out the Government’s priorities for the G8 in a speech at Davos in January, and revisited the topic on Monday. I will refer to the former, in which he began by recalling,

“we are in the midst of a long struggle against murderous terrorists and the poisonous ideology that supports them”.

We cannot avoid this struggle, for the ideology that drives terrorism is one that hates our society and the freedoms and opportunities that it provides. That hatred is all the greater because most people in the countries and cultures from which the terrorists come desire the same freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy. David Cameron rightly pointed out that our response must be intelligent and patient, and while military action may be necessary, it must be combined with a political response. My own experience is that good intelligence is absolutely essential, but it is unlikely to be obtained on the scale necessary until we have won the ideological war and convinced the communities from which terrorists come that their ideology is wrong and that in a mature democracy such as ours the only valid option is the use of exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

Turning to the question of how to compete in today’s global economic race, this Government have done much to tackle the problems created by our predecessors: the debt, the bloated welfare system, the underperforming education system. But as David Cameron says,

“competing in the global race is not just about what we do at home, it is about the wider economy we’ll operate in, the rules that shape it, the fairness and the openness”,

it needs. So what we need to see from the G8 is a drive to,

“more free trade … fairer tax systems … more transparency on how governments and … companies operate”.

To turn to tax and transparency, on 21 May a US Senate committee heard a report entitled Offshore Profit Shifting and the US Tax CodePart 2. The report focused on Apple and how it used,

“a variety of offshore structures, arrangements, and transactions to shift billions of dollars in profits away from the United States and into Ireland, where Apple has negotiated a special corporate tax rate of less than two percent”.

It mentioned the movement of substantial funds to offshore entities in Ireland, while claiming that they were not tax residents of any jurisdiction. The report also mentioned companies such as Apple Operations International and Apple Sales International, which together had received hundreds of millions of dollars, the former paying no corporate income tax to any national Government for five years, and the latter, due in part to its alleged status as a non-tax resident, paying taxes on only a tiny fraction of its income.

The Irish Government immediately issued a denial that a special rate of corporation tax had been negotiated with Apple. On 26 May, the Dublin-based Sunday Business Post reported:

“This newspaper has learnt that Apple was one of about six multinationals that reached an agreement with Charles Haughey’s coalition in 1990 ... The deal did not relate to the corporation tax rate. Instead it centred on the tax base on which profits were calculated.”

The following Sunday, the paper added:

“What was negotiated was a deal that allowed Apple and the other multinationals to reduce their taxable corporate profits. This had the effect of reducing the tax Apple paid on profits to 2% or less for a number of years ... This was the ‘double Irish’ system under which income earned by one Irish Company was transferred to another Company—typically via a royalty payment under which the second company was paid for intellectual property—with the second company being incorporated here”—

in Ireland—

“but tax resident elsewhere”.

Under US law, the second company, despite being controlled from the US, was not regarded as tax resident in the US, and so not liable for US corporation tax. The paper thinks that this double Irish arrangement now applies to nine multinationals. It also says that the Irish are under pressure to end this, and I hope that the Minister in replying can tell us more on that point.

Much of Apple’s UK profits are spirited away in a similar manner and, of course, this is done by other major companies. There has been much comment and anger about this, not least in this House last week, but tax avoidance is lawful and a natural instinct that government use to shape popular choices. Directors considering their duty to their company may even think that it is obligatory. I think that the sensible response is to clarify what is lawful and what unlawful—and maybe, indeed, to extend what is unlawful. This will also need action at international level. At least the senatorial report might result in legislation to negate the double Irish device. My noble friend Lord Newby, replying to last Thursday’s debate, outlined some of the current lines of action and said,

“the Prime Minister will take a lead and will push this very hard at the G8 later this month”.—[Official Report, 6/6/13; col.1312.]

Corruption and money-laundering are similar threats to global and national economic health. This is not just a third world problem. At a reception in this House a few weeks ago to launch his book entitled Fragile Empire, Ben Judah estimated that roughly one-third of public expenditure in Russia is lost through corruption. That is an enormous figure. Global Financial Integrity, in a report published in February, Russia: Illicit Financial Flows, said that the Russian economy had lost hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit financial outflows. These outflows represent the proceeds of crime, corruption and tax evasion. The report estimated the size of Russia’s underground economy, including drug smuggling, arms and human trafficking, at no less than 46% of GDP—another astonishing figure. In the past, much of this was laundered through Cyprus, but I understand that now a lot of it is laundered through the UK and its dependencies. This is the preferred route, because money is considered safer here.

I choose Russia as an example, although it is not the only one, partly because of its importance and proximity to us, but also because there are important matters on which we are seeking Russia’s diplomatic support. It would be helpful, and perhaps easier to obtain that, if we were doing something which the Russians would regard as very welcome.

On tax transparency, which would help to inhibit laundering, the Prime Minister has written to the leaders of the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. Most of these have agreed to join in an automatic exchange of information scheme based on the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, and 17 EU members have called for a new global standard based on that Act. Equally important is developing accurate registries of who really owns and controls companies, and being clear about the beneficial ownership of companies. This seems to be developing rapidly; there are reports in the press that indicate that some people are reluctant to join in this scheme. I hope that the Minister can bring us up to date on this, and touch on what revisions the United Kingdom is seeking to the EU’s third money-laundering directive.

I turn to two issues where Russia is in a position to make a positive contribution, one of which is Syria. It is often said of Syria that there are no good options left, but it is not unusual for us to have to sift out the worst from the not so bad. Leaving the Sunni majority in Syria to be crushed by Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Shia supporters from Iraq, all of whom are active within Syria in significant numbers as we speak, must be pretty close to the worst option available.

On Iran, it looks as though the regime there will continue to accumulate 20% enriched uranium, which it has in significant quantities. That can be taken to weapons grade in three to four months at the outside, but it does not look as if the regime will try to do this until it suits it to do so. Therefore, the international community needs to ensure that it is in a position to detect such a dash and to do it in sufficient time for action to be taken by the Security Council, so as to avoid the possibility of others taking their own initiatives. Unfortunately, looking back over other cases where countries went nuclear, it is depressing to see how often the international community was taken by surprise.

Let me turn to more cheerful matters. On trade, it is hoped that the G8 summit will see the launch of negotiations on a free trade area between Europe and the United States. The prize here is enormous, but estimates vary. It is said that a US/EU free trade area would add $60 billion or in some cases $80 billion to US GDP, and $50 billion to $100 billion to EU GDP, including at least $10 billion to the United Kingdom economy, with further worldwide gains in excess of $80 billion. The figures are estimates, but they give an indication of the extent of the prize that is available.

The US Government have indicated that they want to achieve an agreement quickly. But before they committed themselves to it, they asked for, and I believe received, an undertaking from the European Commission that on a certain key issue the Commission would follow the science. I pretty much hope that this lead will be followed by the member states on whose behalf the Commission will be negotiating and that the absurd quasi-superstitious fear of genetically modified crops will not be allowed to deprive us of this tremendous opportunity.

In addition, the EU is in or about to commence talks with Singapore, Canada and Japan, and the World Trade Organisation is working on a deal to sweep away trade bureaucracy at a ministerial conference in December at Bali. It is a pity that, in the midst of all these opportunities, our trade and recovery is, and unfortunately will be, held back by the weakness of our largest market, which is likely to persist until those involved come to the painful, but inevitable, conclusion that the euro was a mistake.

None the less, there are some reasons for optimism. We have some economic successes. The business editor of the Times, Ian King, pointed out last week that this year more cars will roll off Britain’s production line than in any year since 1972, and that four out of five of these cars will be exported—a phenomenon not seen since 1976. Since 2010, while public sector employment has fallen by some 420,000, 1.3 million private sector jobs have been created. Some purchasing managers’ indices—PMIs—have been published recently, in which a figure over 50 indicates growth and a figure under 50 indicates contraction. This week, the Financial Times gave a very interesting regional breakdown of the latest figures. Yorkshire and Humber lead the field with 57.6, a 26-month high for the region. Wales is second on 56.7, which is a remarkable 39-month high for Wales. London comes third on 56.4, a 14-month high. All other regions in the UK show growth, except for Northern Ireland, which on a figure of 49.6 is very close but not quite into the positive field. However, for Northern Ireland, that is an 18-month high. We therefore have a remarkable picture of very significant growth shown by these PMI figures. Of course, they are only possible forerunners of actual growth, which still has to come.

There are still other problems: lending to SMEs continues to shrink; productivity, to quote Mr King, remains lousy; we are still running, proportionately, a bigger deficit than Greece; and exports are rather disappointing. But these weaknesses underline how right the Government are to prioritise tax and trade. We do not expect next week’s meeting to solve all problems, but we hope that there will be progress on what are indubitably the priorities for the country and that this progress will contribute to the continuing recovery of the economy. I beg to move.

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, it is now my pleasant duty to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been a very interesting debate to listen to. It has been very interesting to see how various contributions complemented each other while some brought in completely new topics and new thinking. I have very much enjoyed listening to it as I am sure all noble Lords here have. I am tempted almost to comment on each contribution but I will eschew that temptation for two reasons. First, I can see that the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, is in her position ready to go on her debate and I do not wish to detain her. Secondly, my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire has been so comprehensive in his reply to the debate that he has done that job for me. He has also given us a very good insight into what will happen in the next few days in Fermanagh. Finally, I want to add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells for his contribution to this House. I am sure all of us here are glad that we have had the opportunity to hear his last contribution in the House.

Motion agreed.

Electoral Registration and Administration Bill

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Tuesday 24th July 2012

(11 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, I shall start with a personal reminiscence. I went into the other place after a by-election in 1990. I managed to persuade my party to make me Home Affairs spokesman shortly afterwards with the result that, after the general election in 2002, I found on my desk an invitation to go to the Home Office’s regular post-election wash-up. I decided that I would go, and when I went I found that I was the only elected representative. The other parties were represented by experts in the subject, which I certainly was not; on that occasion, I was a mere practitioner. During one discussion, there was a comment about a problem—I cannot remember whether it was made by a representative from the Conservative Party or the Labour Party. I could not quite understand the problem because reference to it was curtailed. During the coffee break, I went to the Conservative and Labour representatives and inquired, “What was that that you were referring to?”. They said, “We were mentioning a significant problem that occurs in certain areas and affects all our parties. The problem is that there is widespread fraudulent voting in those areas but no one is prepared to talk about it openly because it gets into areas of ethnic minorities”.

They went on to say that in these areas the register is completely unreliable and that there is great difficulty in checking it because in some cases you are dealing with large numbers of people whose surname is merely based on the fact that they all came from a certain village on another continent. That was in 1992. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred to cases that were more than 10 years later. More than 20 years have passed since that comment was made in the margins of a meeting—it certainly was not made formally—but the problem has not passed and it should be addressed.

I also recall that once, at an election in Portadown, I came to a narrow, dilapidated, boarded-up house. Those who were with me with a copy of the electoral register drew my attention to the fact that there were six persons on the register for it. That is completely dwarfed by the figures that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned earlier, but it impressed me at the time that someone thought they could put so many persons into such a small house.

There is clearly a problem. In Northern Ireland, where photo ID is now required for voting, the quality of the register is the main source through which electoral fraud can occur. Mention was made earlier of how individual electoral registration was introduced in Northern Ireland and I want to refer a little to that experience. Individual electoral registration was introduced in 2002; individuals registering to vote had to include personal details, including National Insurance and a signature, and registration was done de novo with no carry-forward of names from the existing register, which had a 12-month life.

The immediate effect was a fall of over 10% in the number of voters. The figures are as follows: in 2002 there were a total of 1,198,504 persons on the register in Northern Ireland. That dropped in 2003 to 1,072,425, a drop of just over 124,000. It dropped further in 2004 to 1,069,000, a drop of 3,000, and in 2005 there was a drop of a further 23,000 to 1,047,601. There are a number of reasons for the decline and, in the absence of any detailed research, which I do not think anyone has undertaken, those reasons are speculative. False registrations were responsible for a significant number, though we cannot quantify it. There were also many people who preferred to be off the register for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting to have their name accessible, though it is not necessary to go into these. There would also, of course, have been those who could not be bothered.

Because of the continuing falls after the initial one, there was concern over this situation and, starting in 2005, a number of measures were adopted to curtail the decline. First, carry-forward was reinstated in 2005 for that year and then permanently. Secondly, a system of rolling registration was introduced in place of the requirement to register annually. Thirdly, provision was made for data matching and, as the Minister says, data mining, though I would have thought that was included in data matching. Fourthly, provision was made for a canvass to be held in 2010 and every tenth year thereafter although, significantly, provision was also made for additional canvasses where the chief electoral officer requested it and the Secretary of State was satisfied that it was in the public interest. Fifthly, the chief electoral officer was given access to the identities of 16 and 17 year-olds in schools and further education so that they could have their attention drawn to the desirability of registering.

These measures have resulted in an increase in the register. In 2006 it increased by roughly 10,000 to 1,157,000 but dropped, funnily enough, the next year to 1,075,000. In 2008 it went up to 1,125,000, an increase of over 50,000, and increased by another 16,000 in 2009 to 1,142,000. In 2010 it was 1,170,000 and finally, by 2011, it reached 1,202,000 and got above the 2002 figure. It has increased in the latest register by a further 2,000. As the Minister said in his opening speech, it is indicated that this is roughly 85% complete.

In 2007 the Electoral Commission, commenting on this experience, said that the fall in numbers reflected the removal of the carry-forward, which had the effect of removing inflationary factors from the register. That lovely phrase “inflationary factors from the register” is a way of avoiding the use of the word fraud, but that is what it was. Significantly, the commission said that it had the effect of “restoring integrity” to the registration process. That is hugely important, and I hope that that integrity has been sustained.

I am slightly uncomfortable, though, because one has heard rumours—I can say only “rumours” because they cannot be proved—about a certain political party in a certain constituency, when it has its post-election get-together, awarding a special prize to the election worker responsible for the most votes. I am not sure what the mechanics of that are these days and I am not going to identify the constituency, but I am sure that if this is happening, and given its discipline and organisation, the political party will have ensured that the number of votes claimed by its election workers is accurate.

It will have been noticed that the Bill retains the annual canvass, has provision for data matching and introduces a civil penalty for failing to register when required to do so. The carry-forward will continue until 2015, by which time the register should have been thoroughly checked. One hopes that these measures may work in maintaining on the register persons entitled to be there but, if there is a reduction, we should not jump to the conclusion that it means that people entitled to be on the register have been removed—one has to remember that it is possible that there is significant fraudulent registration. Not all the measures adopted in Northern Ireland have been paralleled here, but most of them have. However, we may want to consider during the passage of the Bill whether further measures similar to those adopted in Northern Ireland should be introduced.

Finally, I wish to mention another matter, although I will not be in complete agreement with party colleagues. A welcome side effect of the extension of the electoral timetable occurred in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in 2011 when the early dispatch of poll cards resulted in more than 17,000 changes to the register, of which some 11,500 were new registrations. The extension to the electoral timetable may produce more new registrations, and they would indeed be welcome.

Queen’s Speech

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Monday 14th May 2012

(12 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Cope of Berkeley Portrait Lord Cope of Berkeley
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That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, the Front-Bench speeches last week on behalf of the coalition added very little to the cautious reference in the gracious Speech concerning reform of this House, but that is as it should be. The noble Lord the Leader of the House said that the Government are yet to take a position on the Joint Committee’s report. I would add that they should give equal weight to the alternative report—and note that it is an alternative report, not a minority report. It was a committee of 26: there was one member from the Commons who did not attend any meetings; another member from the Commons, during the 30 meetings of the committee, popped in six times at the beginning and popped out not long afterwards. I do not recollect him saying anything while he was there, and he certainly did not vote. We had then, in effect, 24 persons who were contributing to the committee and 12 of them signed the alternative report. In the light of that, that report is entitled to equal weight in the matter.

There are some signs, I am glad to see, that the Government might think again. For example, both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister gave nuanced reactions to the recommendation in both reports of a referendum, and last Wednesday in the other place, the Prime Minister said:

“I think it is possible, and it would be a good reform … if we had a smaller House of Lords and if it had an elected element”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/5/12; col. 23.]

That is of course reminiscent of the Wakeham report. It may also refer to the suggestion which appeared in the Mail on Sunday on 15 January, in a column written by Mr James Forsyth. He said that a compromise was being hatched in Downing Street which would see elections take place in 2015 for 20 per cent of the places in the Lords, but that the elected element—his words—would not be increased without Parliament again being asked to give its approval. In case either of these is being considered, may I advise caution?

If there was a referendum, what advice would the Conservative Party give to the electorate? It is likely that Members of Parliament and other members of the Conservative Party might try to compel their leader to campaign for a no vote, just as they did with regard to the AV vote. As to the cunning plan which, it is said, is about to emerge from Downing Street, I would like to make two points. First, it would be unstable if future change was conditioned simply on the approval of a statutory instrument. What, I wonder, would your Lordships do if such an instrument was whipped through the other place after a short debate? Secondly, the injection of even a small elected element into this House would destabilise it. No matter how few they were, I cannot see any directly elected Member accepting that his or her electoral mandate was inferior to that of the other place. The elected Members would not follow the conventions and they would expect, and probably obtain, the support of their appointed political colleagues in doing that.

There is no escape from the reality that a House containing Members with a direct electoral mandate, whether they be few, many or all, will act differently from this place. If the other place is to retain primacy, those who sit here must not be able to assert that they have an equal or superior mandate. The Joint Committee’s report suggests this can be done by a concordat between the two Houses, but anything agreed between the two Houses will last only as long as both Houses continue to agree. When one House decides not to follow it, it will end. Ministers giving evidence to the Joint Committee said that the Parliament Acts would be a fallback for Commons primacy. I was interested to note that last week the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said that he “firmly agreed” with the view that had been given to the committee by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the Parliament Acts would not apply to an elected Chamber. Proposing, as some do, that those Acts be extended to an elected Chamber ranks, to my mind, with the Labour Party’s proposal to reduce the powers of the elected Chamber—a proposal rightly derided by the noble Lord the Leader of the House as a rich absurdity.

I would suggest that the solution is to elect Members indirectly, by a formula or process related to a direct election. Indirect elections are not unusual. In her written evidence, Dr Meg Russell told us that of the 76 second Chambers then in existence, 16 were wholly indirectly elected and 18 partly indirectly elected. By way of comparison, the figures for wholly and partly directly elected Chambers were 28, while those for wholly or partly appointed were 34, so there is an interesting distribution there. It is proposed that we have a second Chamber with a majority directly elected and with some appointed members. There are five other upper Chambers around the world that are constituted in the same way and which might be regarded as comparable. These five are Zimbabwe, Burma, Bhutan—they may not be regarded as terribly good comparators for reasons of distance, cultural difference and so on, but it is the remaining two that really worry me—Italy and Belgium. Is that going to be the future of our constitutional and parliamentary arrangements? I hope not.

The simplest form of indirect election is to allocate seats in proportion to the votes obtained in a general election, so that if a party obtained 40% of the vote it could appoint 40% of the second Chamber to hold office until the next election. Nominations could be made after the election or from a list published beforehand. But that is open to the familiar criticism of closed lists: it would increase party patronage and favour those individuals who were good at schmoozing party managers or members.

I would prefer the form of direct election that this Parliament legislated for in the past. The relevant Acts that I am referring to were enacted in 1909 and 1920. The second Chambers provided for in those Acts no longer exist, but that is not the point. Here we have legislation that was enacted in the middle of the crisis that led to the Parliament Act, and it may show what the Government who were involved in that crisis thought would be the appropriate shape of a second Chamber. The first Act was the South Africa Act 1909 and the second was the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Both proposals are very similar. My noble friends to my right might like to note that the 1920 Act was the work of a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, headed by a Liberal Prime Minister—Lloyd George—whose Budget it was that had started the crisis in the first place. This is something worth looking at.

The South Africa Act 1909 provided for eight senators to be elected by single transferable vote for a 10-year term by the legislature of each of the four colonies that became provinces of the Union of South Africa, with a further eight Members appointed by the Governor General—an 80/20 split. That is interesting. The Government of Ireland Act provided for 24 Members of the Northern Ireland Senate to be elected for an eight-year term by single transferable vote by the Northern Ireland House of Commons, half being elected every four years, with the lord mayors of Belfast and Londonderry as additional Members. I thought that this might be a pointer in view of some other aspects of the coalition’s policy, but apparently they got lost by the wayside recently. But you never know, that might come back again.

Interestingly, both Acts had exactly the same procedure written into them to resolve differences between the two Houses. In the event of a difference between them over a piece of legislation, there could be convened—it was discretionary—a joint sitting of both Houses to deliberate and vote on the disputed Bill. That deliberation and voting would then count as the passing of the Bill. This procedure also applied to the rejection of a money Bill, so the legislation contemplated that money Bills might be rejected and had a procedure for dealing with that, which underlines that the Governments at those times did not contemplate that something similar to the Parliament Act was needed or should exist with regard to these bodies.

If anything resembling the draft Bill that the Joint Committee has considered comes forward, it is clear that it will encounter serious opposition in the other place from Members who wish to retain their primacy and to avoid being challenged in their constituencies by a rival elected Member. An indirectly elected senate solves both those problems. So I urge it on those who will be involved in taking decisions on this as something to look at.

Last week the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said that if a reform Bill comes here,

“the responsibilities of this House are clear. We should treat the Bill like any other coming before the House”.—[Official Report, 10/5/12; col. 50.]

It might be possible to do that if the Bill comes after being properly considered in the other place, but I fear for what might happen if we get another ill-drafted Bill pushed though the other place on a guillotine with many of its provisions never debated.

I appeal to the Government: treat this bill as constitutional Bills were once treated in the past. Let it be considered without a timetable. A whip on Second Reading would be understandable, but thereafter let the debate proceed freely. A consensus reached in that way would then be respected.

Gaza

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Wednesday 8th February 2012

(12 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, I was attached as an international observer to the Israeli Turkel commission, which considered the “Mavi Marmara” flotilla incident. The House of Lords Library note on this debate omits reference to the Turkel commission, but it mentions the Palmer panel, which considered the Israeli and Turkish investigations for the UN. Palmer said:

“Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was ... a legitimate security measure ... and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law”.

Palmer says the flotilla “acted recklessly” and that there are,

“serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organisers”.

Israel was entitled to stop the flotilla, but Palmer is right to criticise the plan. However, he is on weaker ground in criticising the use of force by the IDF. In an annexe, we examined each use of force by IDF personnel and found them prima facie justified, except for a handful of cases where there was insufficient material. Unfortunately the annexe was classified. It should be published.

The blockade was an extension of the land crossings policy to prevent military supplies entering Gaza, and wages indirect economic warfare, limiting Hamas’s ability to attack Israel. This affects the civil population but is legitimate unless it causes a humanitarian crisis. We spent 40 pages examining this. I will give noble Lords a few quotes:

“The Gaza Strip Economic Committee (a representation of the Palestinian Authority) ... receives requests from private market forces and importers in Gaza ... Ordering the goods and determining priorities between the parties requesting the entry of goods is done by representatives of the Palestinian Authority”.

Lists of goods are then delivered to the Israeli authorities.

“Between the various requests, the order of priorities for entry is as follows: (1) medical supplies and medicine; (2) requests by international organisations ... (3) agricultural materials; (4) the balance of supply capacity for the private market … No evidence was presented before the committee to the effect that Israel prevents the passage of medical supplies apart from those ... prohibited for security reasons … when the relevant Israeli authorities are notified of a shortage of any medical supplies, there is an organised system for replenishing those supplies … there is no quota limiting the amounts of foods that are allowed to enter the Gaza Strip”.

Strictly speaking, there is no humanitarian crisis.