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House of Lords

Tuesday, 10 February 2015.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Barnett Formula


2.35 pm

Asked by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much has been allocated to the Scottish Government in Barnett consequentials in the last year.

Lord Newby (LD): My Lords, the Barnett formula was applied in the usual way to changes in departmental spending at both Budget 2014 and Autumn Statement 2014. The Scottish Government received £301 million in extra allocations as a consequence of spending decisions taken by the UK Government.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree that Barnett provides secure funding for the Scottish Government and if they had relied on oil revenues they would not have produced the £7 billion that was in the SNP White Paper, but just over £1 billion, and that an independent Scotland would now be bankrupt? Is it not a good job that we voted no in the referendum?

Lord Newby: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to agree with the noble Lord. It is, however, worth underlining the point that he has just made. There would be a £6 billion deficit compared to the figures in the Scottish Government’s November 2013 White Paper in respect of oil revenues, which would mean that for that reason alone the Scottish deficit in 2016-17 would be more than 6% of GDP, one of the biggest in the developed world.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con): My Lords, as the progress of Scotland towards independence seems to be almost inexorable, should we not be getting them used to the idea of doing without English money and phasing out the Barnett formula over a period of years?

Lord Newby: Well, my Lords, that is exactly what we are doing. The transfer of tax revenue to the Scottish Government means that the block grant, the element to which the Barnett formula applies, is falling by two-thirds from approximately £30 billion to £10 billion.

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, does the Minister accept that the comments he has just made about phasing out the Barnett formula will be noted with considerable interest in Wales? Does he understand that on the formula that Scotland is receiving at the moment, adjusted for population, Wales is getting £1.2 billion less than we would if it was calculated on the Scottish basis? When are the Government going to phase in a new arrangement for Wales so that we get a fair deal out of the Treasury?

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Lord Newby: My Lords, the noble Lord knows that this year Welsh spending will be at a level which Gerry Holtham has said is the appropriate level for Wales.

Lord Stephen (LD): My Lords, can my noble friend first confirm that the preservation of the Barnett formula was one of the key elements of the vow given by all the main party leaders from this Parliament in the run-up to the referendum? Secondly, can he confirm that there would be no Barnett formula whatever if there had been an independent Scotland, and thirdly, that as a consequence the finances of Scotland would be in tatters and the country facing financial ruin if there had been a positive referendum vote in favour of independence?

Lord Newby: My Lords, I agree with all the points my noble friend has made.

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): Does the Minister recognise that whatever new constitutional arrangements may be made, there will be no stable union of the nations of the United Kingdom as long as the distribution of public funding between them is fundamentally inequitable?

Lord Newby: My Lords, there are many different views about where equity lies in this respect. The effect of the transfer of fiscal responsibility means that, going forward, the extent to which Scotland has money to spend will depend increasingly on the success of the Scottish economy and therefore very much upon the effectiveness of the Scottish Administration.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, will my noble friend reflect on the fact that if it is the Government’s policy that the Scottish Parliament should be more responsible for the money it spends and should raise that money, the corollary is that the grant should be done on a needs basis and not on the basis of a formula that dates back to the 1970s, which clearly disadvantages the north of England, Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom? Why have the Government set their face against the report of the Select Committee of this House on the Barnett formula which spelled this out very clearly?

Lord Newby: My Lords, apart from the fact that the parties have supported the Barnett formula, the effect of the changes being made is that the relevance of the Barnett formula going forward is being cut by two-thirds and therefore any disparity that it might bring about will be reduced by an equivalent proportion.

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree that this exchange reinforces the view that we must have a constitutional convention and that a core part of that must be to address the relationship between the four parts of the United Kingdom? If we do not do that, we will lose the union, and I for one would deeply regret that.

Lord Newby: My Lords, it is absolutely clear that a consequence of the Scottish referendum is that a raft of issues around the way the union operates, not least the way in which power works in the Commons and in

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England, needs to be revisited. All the parties are setting out proposals at the moment about how they propose to do that.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): Does the Minister accept that the solemn undertaking given by the Prime Minister on Welsh devolution—that Wales should be at the very heart of devolution—means that as regards the Barnett formula, Wales should be on a par with Scotland in relation to that subvention?

Lord Newby: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, all-party talks are going on at the moment about future constitutional and other developments in Wales, and funding is one of the items.

Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD): The Minister referred to the Holtham commission. Is he aware that last October all four parties in the Welsh Assembly agreed that in conjunction with the UK Government Holtham should be looked at again? What is the current situation?

Lord Newby: My Lords, in terms of what is happening on the ground in Wales, the level of expenditure which Holtham suggested would be appropriate if there was to be a fair allocation is actually being spent.

Lord Richard (Lab): The Minister said that the Barnett formula is becoming less relevant to Scotland. That may be so, but does he recognise that it is deeply relevant to Wales? The committee of this House in relation to the Barnett formula, which I had the honour of chairing, was crystal clear: it is unfair. It should be changed, but the Government have set their face against that. I do not for the life of me understand why. It ought to be based on needs and not upon some mathematical formula being applied to a block grant system which has been out of date for 40 years.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I am well aware of the noble Lord’s views. The Secretary of State for Wales is considering the devolution settlement at the moment and is aiming to reach a cross-party agreement by 1 March.

Lord Tebbit (Con): My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House whether he thinks that, as a consequence of the policies which are being pursued by the coalition Government in Scotland, there will be a great wave of support for Liberal Democrat candidates in Scotland?

Lord Newby: My Lords, I am extremely confident about the electoral prospects of my colleagues in Scotland.

Welfare Assistance Schemes


2.44 pm

Asked by Baroness Lister of Burtersett

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been the response to their consultation on the future financing of local welfare assistance schemes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, local authorities can continue to offer local welfare assistance alongside a

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range of other services in 2015-16 if they judge it to be a local priority. To assist them with this, we have identified an amount in each upper-tier authority’s general grant totalling £129.6 million nationally. In response to consultation representations, we have also allocated an additional £74 million to assist them in dealing with pressures on local welfare, health and social care.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, I welcome the response to the consultation, but we are still talking about a cut in funding. Without ring-fencing or even any monitoring requirements, how will central government ensure that hard-pressed local authorities spend the allocated money on meeting the needs of vulnerable groups such as women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people or care leavers, as we were promised during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, it is for local authorities to set their priorities; I am sure that all will do so in a responsible way. On the issue of vulnerable women, she will know that, from this very Dispatch Box, I announced an additional £10 million for victims of abuse and women’s refuges up and down the country. This will be available to up to 100 local authorities and will benefit the women most in need.

Baroness Pinnock (LD): My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to know that my own council—Kirklees, in West Yorkshire—has allocated for the coming year £1 million to help people in crisis. However, I am also sure that he would be willing to support the notion that, on occasion, additional financial support is always very welcome.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I agree with my noble friend; that is why we have announced an extra £74 million.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, the Minister might be aware that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro has secured a debate on this issue this evening, which I welcome. In the mean time, in the absence of ring-fencing, will the Minister undertake to write to local authorities to highlight the £129 million allocation for local welfare provisions within the local government settlement, and the additional £74 million to which reference has been made, to ensure that local authorities have the resources they need to assist those most in need, and to encourage them to use them?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: In response to the right reverend Prelate, as I said earlier, I am of course aware of the debate and look forward to that later today. It is for local authorities to set their priorities, and we have been responding directly to local authorities; it was part of the consultation after the initial settlement. I myself met with several local authorities. The issue of welfare provision was high on their list, and the Government have responded accordingly.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): Are the Government proud of the fact that they had to be dragged through the courts on behalf of some of the most disadvantaged people in our country before they reconsidered their decision to cease funding for local welfare provision?

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I will respond in the words of Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, who said of the announcement of the additional money:

“The big winners from this announcement will be the hundreds of thousands of children living in poverty who will now be given a better chance of a fair start in life”.

The Government have responded according to local authorities’ wishes, and that should be welcome.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (CB): My Lords, while I welcome the funding and have confidence in local authorities, the Minister must agree that this is a postcode lottery. It will depend on the attitude of the local authority and where you live. Can the Minister say what is going to be done to monitor this, and whether there will be any information as to how different local authorities use the funding?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: As I said, local authorities—and I served on a local authority myself for 10 years—deal with their budgets in a responsible fashion. The Government are committed to ensuring that there is greater welfare provision at local level. Taking the example of the better care fund, in addition to the allocation originally made, there has been an additional 39% of voluntary top-ups, and we already have 146 plans in place. Local authorities are responsible and they are responding accordingly.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Lister said, none the less there is an overall cut in this funding, and it is not ring-fenced. How, then, does the Minister expect local authorities and local people to cope, given that his department and his Government are cutting discretionary housing payments next year by £40 million, thus increasing the number of people—families and disabled people—who will have rent arrears and will face eviction, and will need to turn to a fund that is smaller than it has been in the past?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I am disappointed. Certainly, on this side of the House, we believe in localism, and this is about devolving responsibility to local authorities. On the issue of discretionary housing payments, £445 million of flexible housing funding between 2011 and 2015, and £125 million in 2015-16, has been made available so that local authorities can support vulnerable households through welfare reform.

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): Does my noble friend the Minister not agree with me that the disparaging term “postcode lottery” is just a way of saying that local governments have autonomy and so there are therefore bound to be differences? Those who disparage postcode lotteries should come out in the open and say that they wish to see the abolition of local government.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: It is always a pleasure to agree with my noble friend.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, the Minister is right in supporting the principle of local autonomy, but was he present when his noble friend Lord Newby, in answer to an earlier question,

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referred to the fact that the north of England loses out financially, as do the Welsh, because of government allocation of funding and resources? I asked the Minister a question yesterday as to whether these funds were being cut in total or not. Is the answer yes or no?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Local authorities have to take the burden, as does everyone else in government. We inherited, as we all know—it is well documented—an economy that was failing, but we should now celebrate the fact that unemployment is down, employment is up, and inflation is down. Do you know what? We believe in local authority autonomy; that is what we are doing, and the maximum cut received by any local authority across the country is 6.4%.



2.51 pm

Asked by Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to investigate breaches of international law by state and non-state actors in Syria with regard to sexual and gender-based violence and persecution of minorities.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, we are appalled by all violations of international law in Syria. The situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court. We support non-governmental organisations and Syrian activists documenting human rights abuses, including sexual violence and minority persecution, for use in a future accountability process. Through our humanitarian partners, we have provided wide-ranging support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Syria and the region.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab): My Lords, there is evidence that all parties to the Syrian conflict have perpetrated crimes against women and children, including rape and terrible sexual violence, and such brutality has often been directed at minorities. The majority of such crimes constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and it is alleged that thousands of instances of crimes of this sort have been committed by Syrian Government forces, by ISIS, by the al-Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army.

Crimes against women and children are often forgotten in the fog of war. What steps are being taken to train people properly to evidence-gather so that there can be prosecutions in future for those crimes? If such training is available, is it sensitive to the social pressure and taboos that are experienced by rape survivors, particularly in that part of the world?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Baroness is right to point to the importance of ensuring that impunity does not prevail in these circumstances and that people on all sides of the conflict need to abide by international law. However, it is clear that it is Assad and his forces who are committing the vast majority of the offences that appal humanity.

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With regard to investigating allegations of war crimes, the UK, together with the US, the EU, Germany and Norway are funding the Commission for International Justice and Accountability to develop documented legal case files, with named defendants, on regime and opposition—including ISIL—war crimes in Syria. So far, all this work has recovered about 1 million regime documents and archived 500,000 videos as a result of UK-trained and equipped investigators.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD): My Lords, in view of the Minister’s very powerful response to the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will she consider the rather surprising interview given by the President of Syria this morning, in which he implied that he knew nothing at all about barrel bombs, weapons which have been specifically condemned by the United Nations as never to be used in populous areas? Given that, will the Government consider inviting the Syrian ambassador to explain what his President meant and whether he agrees that barrel bombs should not be used in heavily populated areas? Does the Minister agree that there should also be mention of the bitter, cruel effects of barrel bombs, which are often filled with shrapnel, nails or devices intended to do great damage to children and women?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the Government speak out regularly on these matters and I am delighted to hear my noble friend put them in such a context. Today, President Assad showed that he is divorced from reality if he has ignored the fact that he has not only allowed but clearly encouraged his forces to barrel-bomb his own people. Only he has the capacity to deliver barrel bombs. There has certainly been evidence of the result—literally the impact—on the ground and a spokesman for OCHA, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, has made it clear that there is evidence of barrel-bombing and aerial shelling of populated areas by the regime.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, does the Minister agree that the use of chlorine-filled barrel bombs is, in itself, a breach of international law? If so, what are the Government doing to put in the public domain the evidence that chlorine has been used in this way by the regime, thus contradicting the not very believable remarks made by the President of Syria this morning?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raises an important point about the work that has been done in recent months and years on removing chemical weapons from Assad. His use of these has been documented, and the use of chlorine in barrel bombs would come within that category. Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile has now been removed from the country and the bulk of it destroyed. However, it is imperative that Syria now addresses its obligation, under the Chemical Weapons Convention, to destroy its chemical weapons production facilities. If it does not, removing what it did have will not prevent the creation of more in the future.

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Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, my noble friend has done the House a service by raising this important issue. In her Question, she referred to the persecution of minorities. Christians, in the Middle East and elsewhere, are being deliberately attacked and targeted because of their faith. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to counter these outrageous attacks? Will they use the UK’s place on the UN Human Rights Council, from March onwards, to speak out for religious freedom and against the persecution of Christians?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I entirely agree with the sentiments behind the noble Lord’s question. The behaviour of Assad’s regime and ISIL in the area in targeting and attacking minorities, particularly Christians, is inhumane. They appear to be taking action that would strip out some minorities, including Christians, from that area. The noble Lord is right: the Human Rights Council sits in March. Pending the decision of my noble friend the Chief Whip, I hope to be able to attend and make the representations that the noble Lord invites me to make.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in her initial reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the Minister said that she wanted these issues referred to the International Criminal Court. Does she recall that, last August, the commission of inquiry established by the United Nations called for a referral to that court? It has carried out 480 interviews and drawn up confidential lists of those who ought to be prosecuted. Where have we reached in the judicial process?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I regret to say that, with regard to the judicial process through the ICC, reference to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council was blocked by two members of the 15-strong Security Council: Russia and China. It is indefensible that Russia and China prevented us and the rest of the members of the United Nations referring this matter to the ICC.



2.59 pm

Asked by Lord Horam

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to enhance international support for the government of Ukraine.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, we are working closely with partners and allies to exert maximum pressure on Russia to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine. In parallel, we are pushing hard for an additional IMF-led financial package to help stabilise the Ukrainian economy. We have also provided £19 million to strengthen the OSCE special monitoring mission, support the international humanitarian response and provide technical assistance to support economic and governance reforms in Ukraine.

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Lord Horam (Con): I am grateful to my noble friend for her Answer. Does she not agree that, whatever does or does not happen in Minsk tomorrow, we still need a formidable economic package, given the financial state of Ukraine? That must be given priority and I am glad to hear that it is being worked on. Does she also not agree—again, whatever does or does not happen in Minsk—that we need to keep firmly on the table an option to supply Ukraine with defensive military equipment?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, first, with regard to aid, the IMF has indeed been carrying out investigations as to the measure of the gap between what Ukraine has, what it needs and what may need to be provided for it. In fact, the next IMF review reports in the middle of this month and will identify the need for further macroeconomic support. At that stage we will be able to judge what our contribution should continue to be. With regard to defensive materiel, my right honourable friend has made it clear in another place that that is something that every NATO country has the right to consider. At this stage, we are not considering supplying or selling defensive materiel to the Ukrainians, who are defending themselves against Russian-supported assault. It is important that pressure is kept up on Mr Putin to do the right thing.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, so far the EU consensus has held remarkably well but, for the sanctions package to be renewed, I believe that there has to be unanimous support in the EU Council and that vote will be in July. Given the close relationship between the new Greek Government and the Russian Government, and between Prime Minister Tsipras and President Putin, what are the realistic prospects of that consensus maintaining?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, since the election of the new Greek Government, there have been two occasions on which sanctions have been discussed at a European level. On each of those occasions, the Greek Government have agreed with the consensus of the EU-wide view that it is important to continue these sanctions. Yesterday, in the European Affairs Council, when the next tranche in ramping up sanctions was discussed further, it was decided to postpone their implementation until 16 February to give the diplomatic discussions this week a chance. There was consensus and it is important for all of us that consensus remains.

Lord Spicer (Con): My Lords—

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Russia’s disregard for international law, and disregard for the rule of law at home, can best be challenged through democracy and freedom within Russia? Is she aware of the anti-war rally on 1 March, organised by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Grigory Yavlinsky and Alexei Navalny, the champions of freedom and democracy in Russia? What talks are being held with civil society within Russia to try to bring about an end to the belligerence that Russia poses to its neighbours?

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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention again to the way in which Mr Putin has manipulated or prevented the ability of Russian people to speak out and what should be an elected Government with some freedom of expression. It is important that we all liaise with NGOs that have the ability to express their opinions. The difficulty is, as my noble friend pointed out in her debate last October, Mr Putin has been passing legislation to shut them down, if not shut them up.

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, will the Government press for the earliest possible complete exchange of prisoners? Would this not be a huge benefit to the families and create a good atmosphere for negotiations?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, exchange of prisoners is not a straightforward matter, if ever there were such a thing. It would involve exchanging prisoners between Ukraine and the separatists and indeed the separatists and the Russians who are in east Ukraine with Russia. I am sure the noble Lord will be aware of the predicament of the Ukrainian pilot, Nadiya Savchenko, who is being held in Russia. We have raised these matters with the Russian Government. An exchange is not a one-off straightforward matter.

Lord Spicer: My Lords—

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, we are just about to have a Statement on the same topic when there will be 20 minutes for Back-Bench contributions. It is actually the turn of the Labour Benches.

Lord Lea of Crondall: Does the Minister agree that it would play into President Putin’s hands to supply arms to the Ukrainian Government and make his position in Russia and his thesis about Western conspiracy more credible to the Russian people?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, that is precisely one of the political judgments that would need to be taken by each and every member of NATO before they took such an action.

Public Bodies (Abolition of the Library Advisory Council for England) Order 2014

Motion to Approve

3.06 pm

Moved by Baroness Jolly

That the draft order laid before the House on 4 November 2014 be approved.

Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 15th and 21st Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 4 February.

Motion agreed.

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Fishing Boats (Satellite-Tracking Devices and Electronic Reporting) (England) (Amendment) Scheme 2014

Public Bodies (Abolition of the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee) Order 2015

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2015

Motions to Approve

3.06 pm

Moved by Lord De Mauley

That the scheme, draft order and draft regulations laid before the House on 6 January and on 2, 15 and 17 December 2014 be approved.

Relevant documents: 16th, 17th, 18th and 20th Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 19th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 4 February.

Motions agreed.



3.07 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the situation in Ukraine.

The past month has seen an escalation of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Fighting has been intense around the town of Debaltseve, a strategically important rail and road hub between the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. The Ukrainians have suffered indiscriminate missile attacks on buses in Donetsk and Volnovakha and on the port city of Mariupol. What is happening on the ground now resembles, to all intents and purposes, a small-scale conventional war. Over 5,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the crisis began last spring, and over 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.

In recent weeks, Russia has aggravated the effects of its initial incursion by stepping up the military support it provides to its proxies. It has transferred hundreds of heavy weapons, including rocket launchers, heavy artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles; and it maintains hundreds of regular soldiers, including special forces,

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in Ukraine, as well as command and control elements, air defence systems, UAVs, and electronic warfare systems. The Russian army is also the source of ex-regulars, who resign their posts in the Russian army to fight in Donbass as ‘volunteers’. The recent escalation in fighting would not be possible without the military support and strategic direction that Russia provides.

In these circumstances, it is vital that all those countries that have a stake in the rules-based international system remain clear and united against Russian aggression. In Normandy last summer, we agreed with the US and our European partners that the most effective channel of communication with the Kremlin would be through a small group. This is known as the Normandy format, comprising Germany, France as the host of the Normandy meeting, Ukraine and Russia.

Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande met President Poroshenko in Kiev last Thursday, and President Putin in the Kremlin on Friday. On Saturday, in Munich, I held meetings with Secretary of State Kerry and German Foreign Minister Steinmeier to assess the prospects for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis. On Sunday, the German Chancellor and the French President held a conference call with Poroshenko and Putin, agreeing to meet in the Normandy format in Minsk on Wednesday. Their aim is to reach agreement on an implementation plan for the Minsk ceasefire agreements that the Russians entered into last September, updated, as they need to be, to reflect subsequent changes on the ground.

The UK welcomes efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the situation in eastern Ukraine, while remaining sceptical of Russian commitment to such a resolution. It is clear that Putin respects strength, so Britain’s focus has been, and will continue to be, on ensuring that the EU remains robust, resolved and united on the maintenance of economic sanctions, and closely aligned with the United States.

The consensus within the European Union that Russia must pay a price for its disregard of the international rules-based system remains strong. Equally, there is a clear consensus that the European Union does not, and will not, recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The emergency EU Foreign Affairs Council on 29 January agreed to roll over all Crimea-related sanctions against individuals and companies—the tier 2 sanctions. This is another clear sign that the EU remains united in its response to Russian action in Ukraine.

The package of economic sanctions which the European Union and the US have imposed on Russia, coupled with the catastrophic impact on the Russian economy of the decline in the oil price, is a critical element of the pressure on President Putin to change his behaviour. Britain was and remains at the forefront of the successful effort to build and maintain an EU-wide consensus on a sanctions regime on Russia, to the evident surprise and dismay of the Kremlin. Yesterday in Brussels I represented the UK at the European Union Foreign Affairs Council, which discussed Ukraine and reconfirmed its decision to apply additional sanctions, but, at the suggestion of the Ukrainian Foreign Minister and as a gesture of support for the political process, decided to delay their entry into

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force until next Monday. The informal European Council of Heads of State and Government will have further discussions on Ukraine when it meets on Thursday.

The crisis has inflicted substantial damage on Ukraine’s economy. The World Bank estimates that it shrunk 8.2% in 2014. Public debt has risen sharply, foreign exchange reserves have fallen and the currency has lost nearly half its value against the US dollar. Ukraine clearly needs support from international partners to stabilise the economy, in return for which it must pursue the reforms to which it has committed under the association agreement with the European Union and the IMF programme. Britain is providing £10 million in technical assistance to support economic and governance reforms and the humanitarian effort. The EU will make a substantial contribution to the immediate estimated $15 billion financing needs of the country, the majority of which will be provided through an IMF-led package.

We shall also continue to work through NATO to offer technical support to the Ukrainian armed forces and reassurance to our eastern NATO allies. At the NATO Wales summit last September, NATO allies sent a strong message to Russia, agreeing to maintain NATO’s long-standing capacity building work in Ukraine by setting up five dedicated trust funds for Ukraine, one of which will be co-led by the United Kingdom.

The Wales summit also agreed a readiness action plan to reassure our eastern allies. As part of the package, NATO allies agreed to a new spearhead unit—the very high readiness joint task force—within the NATO response force, which, supported by the newly created forward integration units in the Baltic and eastern European states, will be able to deploy at very short notice whenever they are needed.

On 5 February, NATO Defence Ministers agreed the size and scope of that mission. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary has announced that the UK will lead the force in 2017 and on a rotational basis thereafter. The UK has also committed to contribute to headquarters in Poland and Romania and the six NATO forward integration unit headquarters in the Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, the UK will contribute four RAF Typhoons to operate alongside Norway in support of the Baltic air policing mission.

The UK also remains a strong supporter of the OSCE’s monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine. We have provided funding of over £2 million, the second largest number of monitors and 10 armoured vehicles to allow monitors to move around dangerous areas in a more secure manner.

Our policy since the start of the crisis has been to supply non-lethal assistance to Ukrainian armed forces, in line with our assessment that there must be a political solution to this crisis. We have increased our defence engagement with Ukraine and are providing additional support on crisis management, anti-corruption, defence reform and strategic communications.

We have also offered three members of the Ukrainian armed forces wounded in the Donbass life-changing specialist medical assistance in the form of reconstructive surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. We are providing a substantial package of non-lethal

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equipment to Ukraine, comprising medical kits, winter clothing and equipment, body armour, helmets and fuel. The package is focused on reducing fatalities and casualties among members of the Ukrainian armed forces.

It is a national decision for each country in the NATO alliance to decide whether to supply lethal aid to Ukraine. The UK is not planning to do so, but we reserve the right to keep this position under review. Different members of the alliance take nuanced positions on this question, and are entitled to do so. However, we share a clear understanding that while there is no military solution to this conflict, we could not allow the Ukrainian armed forces to collapse.

By its illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine, including its direct military support to the separatists, Russia has demonstrated its disregard for international law. It is clear that President Putin respects only strength, and by standing united, using our combined economic muscle to impose significant economic costs on Russia, the international community has shown its determination to rebuff Russia’s anachronistic behaviour.

The ball is now firmly in Russia’s court. Until we see Russia complying with the terms of the Minsk agreement on the ground—withdrawing troops, stopping the flow of weapons and closing the border—there must be no let-up in the pressure. Fine words in a declaration tomorrow will, of course, be welcome, but we have seen them before. The proof of the pudding will be in actions on the ground. We will monitor the situation carefully, and we will agree to a relaxation of the pressure only when we see clear evidence of changed Russian behaviour and a systematic compliance with Russia’s obligations under the original Minsk agreement.

Meanwhile, there will be no let-up in our efforts—with the US, in the EU and through NATO—to ensure that Mr Putin hears a clear and consistent message: civilised nations do not behave in the way Russia under Putin has behaved towards Ukraine, and those of us who live by the rules-based international system will be steadfast in defending it against such aggression. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.19 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, on behalf of the House, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary in another place earlier today. The conflict in Ukraine is clearly a major geopolitical crisis, but it is also a conflict of profound civilian suffering. As the Statement made clear, 5,000 lives and more have already been lost; some 5 million civilians are living in conflict-affected areas; and nearly 1 million people are internally displaced as a result of the fighting.

Parliament was united in welcoming the Minsk agreement last year. But even after the agreement was reached, although the fighting briefly subsided, it did not stop. As we have all seen on our television screens every night, the situation has yet again deteriorated, with over 200 civilians killed in the last week of January alone. But President Putin appears to have miscalculated the sustained commitment of the West

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1113

to forceful economic diplomacy. So long as the Russian Government refuse to change course, we have to continue with a robust and united international response. With the collapse in the oil price in recent months, we believe that sanctions still hold out the prospect of altering the calculus of risk in President Putin’s mind regarding Russian actions in eastern Ukraine.

The Foreign Secretary made it clear that at the request of the Ukrainian Foreign Minister a decision was taken yesterday to delay the implementation of a further set of EU restrictive measures, and we support that approach. While credible negotiations are ongoing, all efforts have to be focused on ensuring that they are successful. But in the absence of a deal agreed later this week, do the Minister and the Government believe that new EU restrictive measures—as opposed to simply an extension of the existing measures—should be on the table at the EU Council meeting to be held shortly? More specifically, will the Minister tell us whether, in the absence of meaningful progress this week, the Prime Minister will be calling for new tier 2 or tier 3 sanctions to be discussed by EU leaders?

On the question of sending lethal arms to the Ukrainian army, we welcome the Government's reassurance that the UK will continue to work through NATO to offer technical support to the Ukrainian armed forces. This weekend, the Foreign Secretary said:

“The UK is not planning to supply lethal aid”.

That was repeated in the Statement read to the House, but does the Minister agree that a unified approach to economic diplomacy has been fundamental to the pressure exerted on Russia? Is it therefore sensible for every European member state to take decisions separately about arming the Ukrainian Government in the absence of any co-ordinated EU position? Again, I quote the Foreign Secretary, who said:

“Ukrainians can’t beat the Russian army”.

He went on to say that the policy remains under review by the UK Government. Given those two statements, will the Minister explain to the House in what context her Majesty’s Government envisage that Britain could decide to export lethal arms to the Ukrainians?

Of course, we welcome the recent German and French initiative to try to broker an agreement between President Putin and President Poroshenko. Talks in Moscow with Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany were held alongside US Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Kiev and were followed up by Chancellor Merkel’s important visit to Washington yesterday. The House knows about the talks scheduled in Minsk for tomorrow. Of course, the ultimate test is whether these talks are successful in ending the conflict.

It is in exactly this spirit that I ask the Minister about the extent of British engagement in these matters. Does she agree with us that, given this country’s unique assets and alliances, we could have a key contribution to make, helping ensure that this diplomatic effort is successful? If she does, can she explain to the House today why our country seems to have chosen to take something of a back seat in trying to resolve this crisis?

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The Government do not need to take our word for it. As General Sir Richard Shirreff, the distinguished top commander in NATO until last year, warned, the Prime Minister is a “foreign policy irrelevance” and a “bit player” on the world stage. Sir Richard is not alone. Other commentators have recently seemed to agree, including, the other day, the authors of an important leader in the Times—not a newspaper that is obviously opposed to this Government generally.

Under past Governments of all complexions, Britain has taken a leading role in diplomatic negotiations of this sort and, in particular, in efforts at conflict resolution of this kind. When the Minister replies, therefore, can she offer any more hope that Britain in the weeks and months ahead will be an active, engaged and influential part of efforts to resolve this crisis?

The accelerating military and diplomatic pace threatens to weaken the united front previously displayed by the West, yet of course the mounting death toll and the continuing crisis should strengthen, not weaken, our resolve. Our priority, surely, going forward, must be to remain on guard against Russia’s efforts to find and exploit weaknesses among its European neighbours, but it is always important to remember that the EU must continue to make it clear to the Russian Government that we continue to recognise our long-term underlying shared interest in co-operation rather than conflict. This is a crucial moment in a very serious crisis that affects us all, and we continue, as a responsible Opposition, to support Her Majesty’s Government’s approach.

3.27 pm

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful for the measure of support which the noble Lord has given on behalf of the Opposition. It may be the better approach to begin with the last question, which is, “Do we expect to take part in an active manner in the resolution of this crisis?”. We intend to do so because that is what we have been doing. We intend to continue in our resolute way in the diplomacy in which we have engaged in leading first of all, of course, as the world has seen, in applying pressure in Europe with regard to sanctions—a matter that is directly related to Mr Putin’s decision to be brought to the table.

The noble Lord referred to the fact that we have not been a person at the table specifically in the Normandy format, but I did report to the House on 10 January this year about the Normandy format talks, which I had hoped were going to take place the next week in Astana, and made it clear who the participants were. The fact that the meeting did not take place at that particular time was simply because the Russians failed to come forward with a sensible approach to negotiations. Noble Lords will remember that it was the time of the appalling attacks in Paris on innocent people, so other matters intervened.

The Normandy process was born last summer, and has borne fruit. It deserves to be given that continued support by us. It has our support. Clearly, after the discussions yesterday with Mr Obama, it has his support, too. It is crucial, above all, that we do not allow Mr Putin to divide the allies who seek to enforce international law. It is what he is about and it is why we

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can see that, since the beginning of this year, the level of violence in eastern Ukraine has increased. It is also presumably why—I am making a guess here, but I hope it might be a vaguely educated one—he is trying to put the eastern separatists, with his help, in the strongest position possible in any redrawing of a ceasefire line, having tried to take over even more land.

We are playing and have played a leading role in the EU and NATO and fully support the Normandy process. Of course, one could open that up to other people: if it was opened to us, and to the United States, why should other colleagues in the European Union not also seek to be part of it?

I will quickly answer the noble Lord’s other questions. He referred to the fact that a unified approach to economic diplomacy had been crucial. I most certainly agree. I hope that I have made that clear both in this reply and during the Question a wee bit earlier. He also asked, in particular, whether it was sensible for each NATO country to make its own decision with regard to defensive weapons. The fact is that they can, so whether it is sensible or not shifts to the fact that each country must be sensible and sensitive in the decision it takes. Clearly, our allies in NATO will exercise that degree of moderation and sensitivity before they take action—if any is taken at all.

However, it must be made clear to Mr Putin that we are not going to rule out action. The noble Lord asked in what kind of crisis the UK would supply defensive weapons. I am not going to give Mr Putin the pleasure of knowing what any plans might be. Let him come to the table with proper resolve tomorrow and then put the declaration which I hope may be achieved into practice. Then we might be able to have more sensible talks with him. We will continue to have business with Mr Putin—of course one does—but it is not business as usual.

Working backwards, I will deal lastly with the first question that the noble Lord asked, on whether new EU sanctions would be considered if no deal were to be reached tomorrow. That is the natural outcome of the delay of yesterday’s decision about sanctions until 16 February. Mr Putin should be in no doubt as to the resolve of the European Union as a whole.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, we have 20 minutes for questions. I remind noble Lords that your Lordships should make brief interventions in the form of questions—this is not a debate.

3.32 pm

Lord Spicer (Con): My Lords, I wanted to ask this question some time ago. I am sure my noble friend is aware that we are entering a very serious phase in all this and therefore that we ought to be absolutely clear as a country what our role and position is. If it is to be the broker between Germany, the Europeans and the Americans, would it not help if we had a posture which combined negotiations with raising our military position and strength at the same time? She herself said in the Statement that the Russians understand threats above all.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I give the same answer to my noble friend as I gave in January. We are not considering rearming ourselves and increasing

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our own armed position to launch any form of military action in Ukraine. That is simply not something that would be considered at this stage or, I would hope, in any event. That is not on the table. What we are considering is how best to continue the strong pressure on Mr Putin to ensure that the discussions tomorrow bear fruit and then to hold him to the results of that.

We have a strong part to play in all the continuing negotiations, and the diplomatic airwaves, both face to face and over the internet and telephone, have been a-buzzing this last week, as all noble Lords would expect. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had meetings in Munich on Saturday with Mr Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, and Herr Steinmeier, the German Foreign Secretary. There are talks a-plenty between all the key players. That is why the consensus can be maintained.

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, I commend the Government on the robust tone of their Statement, but, as it says, words do not get very far with Mr Putin, and even sanctions have not so far had the effect that we had hoped.

Does the noble Baroness agree that the only physical obstacle to the further advance of Russian special forces, Russian separatists and Russian so-called volunteers have been the brave men and women of the Ukrainian armed forces, who have been fighting with inadequate weapons? Nothing is more devastating for the morale of any fighter than knowing that he or she is less well armed than his or her opponents. If there is not a convincing settlement in Minsk tomorrow and no real evidence for believing that the ceasefire terms will in future be observed, are we not getting to the point when it would be right for the Government to take the lead within the European Union in indicating that we would be prepared to sell defensive weapons, including lethal ones, to the Ukrainian armed forces?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the noble Lord raises questions that I know colleagues have been discussing and about which they are deeply concerned. I know that he raises them with his background as a Minister in the MoD and has experience of the kinds of difficulty that surround dealing with someone such as Mr Putin.

Briefly, I agree that the courage of the Ukrainians who are trying to resist the separatists being fuelled by up-to-date materiel has been remarkable. There are allegations that they have carried out atrocities. One hopes that those allegations will be disproved, but if they have committed atrocities, that is wrong. The majority have been committed by the separatists.

We have had a long-term relationship in providing non-weapons-based help and support, supplying training and advice more generally as well as the non-defensive materiel that can assist them. Any further step would be one that no Government would wish to rehearse in public, unless there were the need. The important thing is to ensure that there is never that need and that we hold Mr Putin to account, slippery and careful in creating smoke and mirrors as he is.

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Lord Blair of Boughton (CB): My Lords, there have been many crimes committed during this terrible set of events. Can the Minister inform the House on the progress of the investigation into the most obvious of them, which was the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner? That was a war crime beyond normal war crimes and I wonder whether she could assist the House.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lord, that crime was clearly visible to all of us. I can only congratulate those who have persisted in the most difficult task of carrying out investigations against all the attempts by the separatists to prevent access to the crash site. Those investigations are ongoing.

More broadly, with regard to human rights abuses we are determined not to allow impunity. We are concerned by recent reports of the use of cluster munitions in eastern Ukraine. The noble Lord referred to a specific event, but the issue is broader than that. It is important that all of us, and those who work in NGOs, with all the contacts that they have, can insist that those gathering evidence bring to book those responsible for human rights abuses. Impunity must not succeed.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): Does my noble friend accept that in the unlikely circumstance that we have progress in Minsk tomorrow and that Mr Putin sticks to his word perhaps for more than an hour or two, or even a day or week or two, the holding of any ceasefire is contingent on the verifiable force of peacekeepers? Does she agree that the OSCE effort, valiant though it has been, is perhaps now inadequate? What conversations is it having with the relevant UN agencies to explore the possibility of UN peacekeepers being the basis of verification of any ceasefire agreement?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My noble friend raises a very important point. The OSCE plays a great part in such matters, not only in Ukraine but across Europe, and we are a strong supporter of it. We will continue to suggest that it should play an active role in monitoring any ceasefire agreement. I am aware that there were reports in the press—as yet unsubstantiated, I think—that Mr Putin is said to have commented that he might well agree that the OSCE, and indeed the United Nations, could monitor. But those are unsubstantiated reports so I would not wish to go further than that.

The central premise of my noble friend’s question is right. If there is, as we hope there will be, a decision in Minsk tomorrow that leads to some form of ceasefire and a development that is peaceful, there will need to be an agreement to have verification on the ground, which can have the confidence of not only the European Union but, of course, the Ukrainians. It is for them on Thursday then to consider any proposals that may come out of tomorrow.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, the actions of the separatists and the Russian Government are, of course, utterly deplorable. But will the Government press the Government of the Ukraine to curb the activities of the extreme right-wing nationalist and anti-Semitic elements which actually constitute a propaganda gift to Mr Putin and Russia?

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1118

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it is important that throughout Europe and beyond people do not use any activity to undermine the right of minorities to express their own views or indeed to practise their own faiths. If they do so, whether they be separatists, Ukrainians or any groups in any other European country, they are a gift to any person who wishes to show that they have a right to act. Mr Putin, in particular, would of course seize on an opportunity to point to what he alleges to be Nazism where no Nazism actually exists.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, no one wants to precipitate a wider war in Ukraine—no one sensible, anyway—but my noble friend spoke about technical support to the Kiev government forces and strategic communications equipment. Can she indicate to us whether that includes—or at least does not rule out—the provision of cybertechnology and advanced electronic equipment to neutralise the very sophisticated Russian weaponry that has been supplied to the rebels and the sophisticated communications equipment that is giving them a considerable advantage at the moment?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I think if I asked I would be advised that it is not a good thing to mention what our cyberactivity might or might not be. Indeed, I have always been informed by other Ministers that Russia has very good methods of its own to find out what other people’s cybercapabilities are. I can say to my noble friend that we have been providing additional support on defence reform and strategic communications. In addition, this year we plan to provide further support, including with regard to logistics. We are actively considering what more we are able to do. I think that is coded language for saying that we are seeing what we can assist with.

All this has to be based around the fact that tomorrow we will see an attempt by our colleagues to come to an agreement in Minsk. Of course, the Normandy format could be extended to others. We have said that that is not the right way forward because it would render it too wide a group, incapable of coming to a negotiated agreement. But the scene is set whereby tomorrow the Normandy format will, we hope, come to proposals which would then be put to the Ukrainians on Thursday. There is a process in place. Underneath all that is a determination to keep the pressure up on Russia. One part of that determination is indeed to ensure that we give what assistance is proper to the Ukrainians.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD): My Lords—

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, there is time. We will take Labour and then the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Judd: My Lords, while obviously the firm action by the Government deserves full support from all parts of the House, does the Minister not agree that ultimately a solution to the intractable problems of Ukraine cannot be imposed—it has to have the confidence and support of the entire Ukrainian population—and that this would involve reconciliation, bridge-building, peace-building and confidence-building? Is it not therefore

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absolutely essential in the midst of all our firm action to leave nobody in any doubt that we recognise that there is a Russian population in Ukraine which has real anxieties—well founded or not, and certainly ruthlessly and cynically exploited by the Russians—and a real concern about its identity and future in Ukraine, and that we must not use language that seems to obliterate that reality?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point to the fact that opinion can be manipulated, and Mr Putin is very clever at doing that. It is, of course, right to say that there must be people in the area of eastern Ukraine—I would assume, because I do not know and have no evidence of it—who consider themselves to be Russian or Russian-aligned and who have anxieties. There are other ways of assisting them than having Russia send in its materiel and troops effectively to create an unstable and violent situation. I agree, however, that if there are anxieties they must be addressed. We must also remember that Russia illegally annexed Crimea and I have a concern, as others do, for the Crimean Tartars, where the news is not good and disappearances continue. My goodness, my Lords, the Crimean Tartars have anxieties.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD): My Lords, I declare an old interest as having been for some years a former member of the advisory council to the Rada of Ukraine, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that we must uphold the rule of law; that is essential for the interests of the whole European continent. However, I share with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, a concern to make sure that Russia knows exactly where it stands. In particular, it might be very helpful if we indicated to the Ukrainian Government that there is no immediate or close possibility of Ukraine joining NATO. I know Russia well, and a very striking thing there is the level of paranoia about any kind of invasion of Russia. It is a ludicrous idea but it is strongly held. Does the noble Baroness therefore agree that it is important to indicate our understanding of some of Russia’s concerns, albeit that the country must obey the rule of law, and that that means that we have no aggressive intentions? We know that we have no such intentions, but in the case of Ukraine it is vital to keep saying so.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I would say to my noble friend that Ukraine is, of course, a sovereign country, and all European democracies are entitled to pursue NATO membership. However, I am sure she knows better than I that it would be necessary for Ukraine to achieve the standards expected of an ally, and to be able to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership before being invited to join the alliance. Given the situation in eastern Ukraine we would expect this process to take many years.

Lord Cromwell (CB): My Lords, the noble Baroness, in repeating the Statement, referred to President Putin responding to strength—indeed I think “force” was the word used—and she may well be right in that. It is widely said that should the talks in Minsk fail, war is

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the next step. Does she agree with that, and if so who exactly is going to be declaring war on whom? Finally, with the President of Russia arming one side and the President of America possibly arming the other, what would a victory look like?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me to paint a picture of Armageddon, which is not my wont. When we go forward in diplomacy with the next-steps talks tomorrow, their results will clearly be discussed with the Ukrainians on Thursday. I would not want to predict the outcome of those talks. I always go into these matters in a determined and positive way, and I am sure that given the characters of those involved in the Normandy format, they are far more determined and knowledgeable than I could be. I do not wish to go down the route of predicting whether there would be all-out war because it is the job of us all to stop that happening. That is where we must not end up, and the route being taken by the negotiators is one which does not have on it a signpost to war.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, in agreeing with what my noble friend has just said, could we try to cool the rhetoric all around? Invoking the spirit of Munich and talking about a new cold war, let alone a hot one, helps no one. If, sadly, the Minsk dialogue does not result in success, could we consider convening a conference here in London and taking a leading role, which we would be well fitted to take, to bring all the parties together? A future Europe that is at peace and in harmony needs a stable, prosperous Russia and a free Ukraine as much as it needs everything else.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, none of us in the European Union is seeking a confrontation with Russia; it is the Russians who have sought confrontation with Ukraine and others. We need to work within those parameters. That is why I say that it is not business as usual with Russia, but it is business. We talk to the Russians—and indeed tomorrow the Normandy format will show that there is negotiation—but do not let us underestimate the determination of Mr Putin to try to drive a wedge between us. That must not succeed.

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, I welcome the fact that this debate has been much more detailed than in the past and I am grateful for that. I also welcome the recognition that this is a profoundly dangerous situation. However, I say to the Minister that it is not new. If we read President Putin’s statements and speeches over the years, as I have done, it is clear that he is looking for a re-ordering of Europe. He uses phrases such “spheres of influence” and “near neighbours” over and over again, which go against the United Nations rules on those very things. So we have a crisis that will grow, and getting it under control in some way will be profoundly difficult. Some of the suggestions which have been made today, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, may be useful in time, but we should be under no illusions and we should be reading President Putin’s statements because they tell us an awful lot.

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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the last sentence uttered by the noble Lord is one that we should all take away with us. I agree with him.

Recall of MPs Bill

Recall of MPs Bill


3.52 pm

Clause 1: How an MP becomes subject to a recall petition process

Amendment 1

Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—

“( ) In this Act the signing of a recall petition constitutes a public act and the information of each person who signs a recall petition will be accessible in a marked electoral register, if requested.”

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, in moving Amendment 1, I shall also speak to Amendment 15. Together these amendments, tabled by me and my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark, would enshrine in the Bill that a recall petition is a public act—an open declaration of one’s wish to recall an MP. We have moved to this position since Committee, in the belief that there is an urgent need for clarity on this issue.

At Second Reading and in Committee, we discussed whether signing a recall petition is to be secret or a public act. If it were the latter, we noted that people must be aware before they sign that their identity could become known in due course. We then waited for the Government to decide whether to attempt to keep this a secret act, and therefore bring in different rules from those for general elections regarding access to the marked register, or to acknowledge that secrecy cannot be maintained and therefore to make it clear that signing a petition would be, as with any other petition, a public statement.

Alas, the Government are still all over the place. In response to our Constitution Committee, they say they will set out in regulations—which we have not yet seen—how to address the issue of keeping names secret, yet they must surely realise that, at the very least, the MP and the agent are bound to have access to the marked register, as is anyone who thinks someone may have signed in their place. Little thought seems to have been given to how in this respect a recall petition differs from elections, and from referendums—that is, where signing is only a one-way act—and its implications for the rest of the process.

Nor have the Government consulted stakeholders on this issue, be they local government, the Electoral Commission, political parties, the Electoral Reform Society or the Association of Electoral Administrators. Even in the briefing yesterday, the Electoral Commission still did not told us whether it advised the Government that it should be open or secret.

Instead of consultation, the Government have simply tried to cut and paste bits from the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act and the Representation of the People Act without thinking through the implications of what they are proposing. A recall

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1122

petition is neither an election nor a referendum, as in both cases the choice is indicated by the voter rather than being a one-way act. If we consider the history and character of petitions, we would see the difference from normal elections. Take the rules on public petitions in the other place. There are three requirements of signatories of petitions. They must openly declare their name, the petition must be signed by them and they must state their address. There is no doubt that, as our Constitution Committee said,

“signing a recall petition is a public act”.

Even the Government conceded that,

“whereas at an election the way in which a person has voted remains secret, this secrecy cannot be maintained absolutely through the process of signing this petition as there is only one way in which a person may sign”.

The Government’s almost unbelievable suggestion that people should apply to sign by post to maintain their confidentiality is not only flawed in practice—because of the marked register—but, importantly, it is flawed in principle. Postal votes were never designed to safeguard the secret ballot but to enable those who, for whatever reason, cannot make it to the polling station. The unavoidable truth is that, for a petition, going into a polling station, or returning a postal petition, immediately identifies your intentions. The Minister said in Committee that the Government were,

“considering what limitations there should be on access to the marked register”.—[

Official Report

, 19/1/15; col. 1113.]

However placing restrictions on the normal access is probably impossible, as the police and others must have access to check on allegations of double or improper signing. Therefore, the consequent openness of the marked register must be reflected in communication with potential signatories. It must be clear from the start, on the notification sent to constituents, that this is different from elections or referendums, and that the fact they have called for recall may become public.

Indeed, it is not simply a question of the marked register, but of all the staff at signing places over eight weeks, party reps standing outside such places, journalists and their cameras hanging around, scrutineers and polling clerks. Are they all to be bound to secrecy? Of course that is not possible.

It is our view is that it is crucial that a clear decision is taken by Parliament so that everyone understands the position. Furthermore, we have come to realise that the only way forward is for it to be a public petition. It is too important a part of the recall process for this decision to be left to regulation or to the next Parliament, or—even worse—to those having to administer the first ever such petition. Our amendments remove any ambiguity, and would make it clear to potential signatories, to petition officers and their staff, and to campaigners that calling for recall is a public act.

The first amendment therefore asserts that a petition will be entirely open. Amendment 15 would require a petition officer to make the marked register available as normal, if requested, at the end of the process. It would also ensure that potential signatories are made aware that this is an open process, with a notice on the petition card warning that the fact that an elector had signed could become available on the marked register.

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Without our amendments, we would be left with considerable uncertainty because of the Government’s inability to make up their mind about a fundamental aspect of the Bill. Recall is different from a choice between competing parties or competing views on European membership or devolution, where one can vote yes or no. The fact of signing means that one has voted only one way. If it cannot be kept secret that someone has signed—and our belief is that such secrecy could not be maintained—that must be clear to one and all. It is Parliament that must decide on this vital issue. I beg to move.

4 pm

Lord Grocott (Lab): My Lords, it is the job of Parliament and this House to be clear in our language as far as possible. I was wondering whether I had time to rush out and check a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. In all my years in public life, the word “petition” has always involved collecting names and presenting them on a list to whoever you are petitioning. That was certainly the case in the other place, and I assume it is in this House, although I have no experience of it. Should the Government not be minded to accept this amendment, it would involve a redefinition of the word “petition”. A petition involves petitioners, and petitioners are not anonymous people who cannot be traced.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con): My Lords, I have been a little confused by this as well. I imagined that when people signed the petition, they would be crossed off the electoral roll—that would be the proof that they had signed. There would be no question of checking the signatures; it would be a question of checking the electoral roll. I would be grateful if my noble friend could fill us in on that.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, I am sorry to delay my noble friend; I shall not do so for more than a moment or two. I made it quite plain in Committee that I thought this was a dreadful Bill, unimprovable and really unamendable. That remains my position. I could not take exception to the extremely cogent speech of the noble Baroness on the Opposition Front Bench. This is a terrible Bill that the Commons are inflicting upon themselves. I wish they were not. It betrays a lack of self-confidence in a great institution that is superior to any other in this country. Recall is the process that goes on at a general election. That is where I rest my case, and that is why I shall not put myself in either Division Lobby tonight.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD):My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for that very brief Second Reading speech, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for the meticulousness with which she has pursued this delicate issue—although perhaps not for some of her slightly ungenerous little comments in moving her amendment.

There are a number of difficult issues here. There are issues of potential intimidation and certainly issues of electoral fraud that require that a marked register be assembled and is available to those who want to check against impersonation—so we are conscious

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both that this cannot be an entirely secret process and that there are arguments that it should not be an entirely public process. The Government have considered this and consider that we can designate a process that guards against impersonation but which also provides some safeguards against intimidation.

As I said in Committee, signing a petition, particularly in person, is unavoidably, to a degree, a public act. However, that does not go so far as sanctioning the publication of the full list of those who have signed the petition—the marked register—as is implied by the Opposition’s amendment. I agree that regulations should specify—

Baroness Corston (Lab): I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I think he just said that there were safeguards: can he say what they are?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I hope that I will be able to explain, as I continue, what some of the safeguards against intimidation might be.

The regulations should specify that the marked register will be available for inspection, although, as at elections, that will be dependent on certain restrictions and an application to the petition officer. There are also some protections we can provide, such as choosing not to mirror the provision at elections where the marked register can be requested as a document for campaigning purposes by political parties and candidates. There is a good argument here that inspection should be allowed for reasons of preventing personation, but that the document itself should be kept securely and used only to test whether or not personation has been attempted.

Furthermore, the wording of the amendments implies a degree of ease of access to, and publicity of, the marked register, which does not exist even at elections. Those who wish to view the marked register must justify to the returning officer, or the Chief Electoral Officer in Northern Ireland, where problems of intimidation exist very clearly, why they need to inspect the marked register itself and could not glean sufficient information from the full register. Inspection is under supervision and the law specifies that, although handwritten notes are permitted, portions of, or indeed the whole of, the marked register may not be copied down.

I hope that this provides the assurance needed. There is only a small amount of space between the Government’s intentions for the regulations and the spirit of the noble Baroness’s amendments. There will be a marked register and it will be a document which can be made available for inspection—although, as I have said, there will be controls mirroring those at elections and, in some respects, further controls in that the Government do not intend that copies should be made available for campaigning purposes, for the very evident reasons given. I also accept that signing is, to a degree, a public act, although there will be those who prefer to sign by post and avoid attending a signing place; that is their choice to make. I also see the merit in the petition notice card making clear the degree to which signing is an open process; it will therefore ensure that suitable wording is included before it is user tested.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1125

However, I believe that the regulation-making powers in the Bill are sufficient to deliver the policy outcomes under discussion. I therefore thank the noble Baroness for the care that she has taken to ensure that we address this delicate and difficult issue. I hope that we have satisfied her and, on that basis, I hope that she will be able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Hughes of Woodside (Lab): My Lords, I am puzzled by what the Minister just said: that signing a petition is somehow—what was the word he used?—“delicate” or “difficult”. I am astonished. My understanding is that, once the election is past, the marked register is available to be purchased by election agents and political parties. He talked about the marked register being a campaigning tool. We are obviously all totally against names being made available while the petition period is going on, but surely to goodness, if a citizen of this country is asked to determine the fate of a Member of Parliament, he or she should not sign that petition carelessly, without thought to the possible repercussions. I really think that the Minister is quite wrong on the attempted secrecy of the marked register. I hope he will reflect, because he is not doing democracy any good whatever.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I thank those who contributed to this short, but very important, debate. The Minister responded only on one bit of it, in respect of possible intimidation. There is another issue, which is the openness of this new democratic process. He has not really addressed that. He has not addressed whether journalists standing outside a council office where there is a signing will be able to write in the newspaper the names of the people who have signed, or whether they are all suddenly meant to be unable to report what they have seen.

Somebody who is known could go in to sign. The journalist could say, “I saw Hayter going in to sign”, and presumably that would be completely legal. The Minister seems unworried by that. It is not just the marked register. Either this is open or it is not—and that is something that Parliament must decide. I may not have put it down the right way—perhaps I should have had an “either/or” approach, which is not here, asking whether we want it open or closed. As the Government have left it, it will effectively be open. If that is the case, that should be in the Bill, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

4.10 pm

Division on Amendment 1

Contents 195; Not-Contents 213.

Amendment 1 disagreed.

Division No.  1


Adams of Craigielea, B.

Ahmed, L.

Alton of Liverpool, L.

Bach, L.

Bakewell, B.

Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]

Beecham, L.

Berkeley, L.

Bichard, L.

Billingham, B.

Blackstone, B.

Blood, B.

Boateng, L.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1126

Borrie, L.

Bradley, L.

Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.

Brookman, L.

Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, L.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Carter of Coles, L.

Cashman, L.

Chester, Bp.

Christopher, L.

Clancarty, E.

Clark of Windermere, L.

Clarke of Hampstead, L.

Clinton-Davis, L.

Cohen of Pimlico, B.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Colville of Culross, V.

Corston, B.

Crawley, B.

Davidson of Glen Clova, L.

Davies of Coity, L.

Davies of Oldham, L.

Desai, L.

Donaghy, B.

Donoughue, L.

Drake, B.

Eames, L.

Elder, L.

Elystan-Morgan, L.

Evans of Temple Guiting, L.

Evans of Watford, L.

Falkland, V.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Fellowes, L.

Finlay of Llandaff, B.

Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.

Foulkes of Cumnock, L.

Gale, B.

Giddens, L.

Golding, B.

Gordon of Strathblane, L.

Goudie, B.

Gould of Potternewton, B.

Grantchester, L.

Griffiths of Burry Port, L.

Grocott, L.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harries of Pentregarth, L.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Harrison, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Haughey, L.

Haworth, L.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Henig, B.

Hilton of Eggardon, B.

Hollick, L.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Howarth of Newport, L.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Howie of Troon, L.

Hoyle, L.

Hughes of Woodside, L.

Hunt of Chesterton, L.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hutton of Furness, L.

Irvine of Lairg, L.

Jones, L.

Jones of Moulsecoomb, B.

Jordan, L.

Judd, L.

Kakkar, L.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kerr of Kinlochard, L.

King of Bow, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kinnock of Holyhead, B.

Kirkhill, L.

Krebs, L.

Lawrence of Clarendon, B.

Layard, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Leitch, L.

Lennie, L.

Levy, L.

Liddell of Coatdyke, B.

Liddle, L.

Lister of Burtersett, B.

Lucas, L.

McAvoy, L.

McDonagh, B.

Macdonald of Tradeston, L.

McFall of Alcluith, L.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

MacKenzie of Culkein, L.

Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Maginnis of Drumglass, L.

Mallalieu, B.

Masham of Ilton, B.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Maxton, L.

May of Oxford, L.

Mendelsohn, L.

Mitchell, L.

Monks, L.

Morgan, L.

Morgan of Ely, B.

Morris of Aberavon, L.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Morris of Yardley, B.

Murphy, B.

Norton of Louth, L.

Norwich, Bp.

Nye, B.

O'Neill of Bengarve, B.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

Palmer, L.

Patel of Bradford, L.

Pendry, L.

Pitkeathley, B.

Plant of Highfield, L.

Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.

Prescott, L.

Prosser, B.

Quin, B.

Radice, L.

Ramsay of Cartvale, B.

Rebuck, B.

Rees of Ludlow, L.

Reid of Cardowan, L.

Richard, L.

Rosser, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Rowlands, L.

Sandwich, E.

Sawyer, L.

Scotland of Asthal, B.

Sherlock, B.

Simon, V.

Singh of Wimbledon, L.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Smith of Finsbury, L.

Smith of Gilmorehill, B.

Soley, L.

Stern, B.

Stevens of Ludgate, L.

Stevenson of Balmacara, L.

Stoddart of Swindon, L.

Stone of Blackheath, L.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1127

Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

Taverne, L.

Taylor of Blackburn, L.

Taylor of Bolton, B.

Temple-Morris, L.

Tenby, V.

Tomlinson, L.

Touhig, L.

Triesman, L.

Truscott, L.

Tunnicliffe, L. [Teller]

Turnberg, L.

Uddin, B.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Warner, L.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

West of Spithead, L.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Wigley, L.

Wilkins, B.

Williams of Baglan, L.

Williams of Elvel, L.

Wills, L.

Wilson of Tillyorn, L.

Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Worcester, Bp.

Worthington, B.


Addington, L.

Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Anelay of St Johns, B.

Ashton of Hyde, L.

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Avebury, L.

Baker of Dorking, L.

Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, B.

Balfe, L.

Bates, L.

Benjamin, B.

Black of Brentwood, L.

Blencathra, L.

Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.

Borwick, L.

Bourne of Aberystwyth, L.

Bowness, L.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Bradshaw, L.

Brinton, B.

Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Browning, B.

Buscombe, B.

Byford, B.

Caithness, E.

Callanan, L.

Carlile of Berriew, L.

Cathcart, E.

Chidgey, L.

Colwyn, L.

Condon, L.

Cooper of Windrush, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Cotter, L.

Courtown, E.

Craig of Radley, L.

Craigavon, V.

Crathorne, L.

Cumberlege, B.

Dannatt, L.

De Mauley, L.

Deighton, L.

Denham, L.

Dholakia, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dobbs, L.

Doocey, B.

Dykes, L.

Eaton, B.

Eccles of Moulton, B.

Elton, L.

Empey, L.

Evans of Bowes Park, B.

Falkner of Margravine, B.

Fearn, L.

Fink, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Fookes, B.

Forsyth of Drumlean, L.

Fowler, L.

Framlingham, L.

Freeman, L.

Freud, L.

Garden of Frognal, B.

Gardiner of Kimble, L.

Garel-Jones, L.

Geddes, L.

German, L.

Glasgow, E.

Glenarthur, L.

Goddard of Stockport, L.

Gold, L.

Goodlad, L.

Grade of Yarmouth, L.

Greaves, L.

Greengross, B.

Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.

Hamwee, B.

Hanham, B.

Helic, B.

Henley, L.

Higgins, L.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Holmes of Richmond, L.

Home, E.

Hope of Craighead, L.

Horam, L.

Howe, E.

Howell of Guildford, L.

Humphreys, B.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

James of Blackheath, L.

Janke, B.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Jolly, B.

Jopling, L.

Kalms, L.

Kilclooney, L.

Kirkham, L.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Kramer, B.

Laming, L.

Lamont of Lerwick, L.

Lang of Monkton, L.

Lawson of Blaby, L.

Lee of Trafford, L.

Leigh of Hurley, L.

Lindsay, E.

Lingfield, L.

Liverpool, E.

Low of Dalston, L.

Luce, L.

Ludford, B.

Luke, L.

Lyell, L.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1128

McColl of Dulwich, L.

MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.

Maclennan of Rogart, L.

Maddock, B.

Mancroft, L.

Manzoor, B.

Marland, L.

Marlesford, L.

Mobarik, B.

Montgomery of Alamein, V.

Moynihan, L.

Naseby, L.

Nash, L.

Newby, L. [Teller]

Newlove, B.

Noakes, B.

O'Cathain, B.

Paddick, L.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Pannick, L.

Parminter, B.

Patel, L.

Perry of Southwark, B.

Phillips of Sudbury, L.

Pinnock, B.

Plumb, L.

Popat, L.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Randerson, B.

Rawlings, B.

Rennard, L.

Ribeiro, L.

Ridley, V.

Roberts of Llandudno, L.

Rogan, L.

Scott of Foscote, L.

Scott of Needham Market, B.

Seccombe, B.

Selborne, E.

Selkirk of Douglas, L.

Selsdon, L.

Sharkey, L.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Sharples, B.

Sheikh, L.

Shephard of Northwold, B.

Sherbourne of Didsbury, L.

Shipley, L.

Shrewsbury, E.

Shutt of Greetland, L.

Skelmersdale, L.

Skidelsky, L.

Slim, V.

Smith of Clifton, L.

Smith of Newnham, B.

Spicer, L.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Steel of Aikwood, L.

Stephen, L.

Sterling of Plaistow, L.

Stewartby, L.

Stirrup, L.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Storey, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Strasburger, L.

Strathclyde, L.

Suri, L.

Sutherland of Houndwood, L.

Suttie, B.

Swinfen, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L. [Teller]

Tebbit, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Thomas of Winchester, B.

Tonge, B.

Tope, L.

Trefgarne, L.

Tugendhat, L.

Tyler, L.

Tyler of Enfield, B.

Ullswater, V.

Verma, B.

Wakeham, L.

Wallace of Saltaire, L.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Walmsley, B.

Walpole, L.

Warsi, B.

Wei, L.

Wheatcroft, B.

Wilcox, B.

Williams of Trafford, B.

Willis of Knaresborough, L.

4.26 pm

Amendment 2

Moved by Lord Tyler

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out from “offence” to “, and” in line 14

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 3 in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Lexden and Lord Norton and the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Our purpose throughout as a cross-party group has been to try to answer the very powerful point made by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House about the second trigger in the Bill concerning suspensions by the Standards Committee. I will remind the House briefly of that very important comment:

“the provision that an MP should be subject to recall where he or she is suspended from the House for ten sittings days or more means that it will be MPs themselves, rather than voters, who under this scenario determine whether the recall process can be triggered. The constitutional purpose of recall is to increase MPs’ direct accountability to their electorates: it is questionable whether that purpose is achieved when the trigger is put in the hands of

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1129

MPs rather than constituents. There is also a possibility that decisions taken either by the House of Commons Committee on Standards or by the House itself may become skewed by knowledge of the ten-day trigger”.

The Government have now responded to this criticism with two important contentions. First,

“The Government believes that it is important to be careful to respect the disciplinary arrangements of the House of Commons”.

I had some difficulty in squaring that view with the purpose of the Bill, which is to increase direct accountability of MPs to voters. Deference to MPs’ own preferences about the regulation of standards created in a quite different environment and for a quite different purpose cannot be squared with direct accountability to the public. The second of the Government’s contentions in relation to the Constitution Committee’s concerns is that:

“It will be for the standards committee and for the House of Commons to judge how they wish to respond to the introduction of a recall mechanism”.

No one can disagree with that; they will have to work out how to respond.

However, lo and behold, I discovered this very morning this report published by the Standards Committee. In over 100 pages it sets out in extreme detail and with great relevance to this part of the Bill a whole set of proposals for the future of that committee. It comes from a sub-committee chaired by one of the lay members but comprising six very respected Members of that House and that committee. The proposals have huge significance in terms of the committee’s composition, its role and the way in which it could operate in the future. Nothing could have more salience for this part of the Bill and, indeed, to our amendments. It beggars belief that the Government’s response to the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, sent to the committee just a few days ago by Mr Sam Gyimah, made no reference whatever to the imminence of this report. It is also, incidentally, very relevant to Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

I simply do not know Mr Gyimah, as he entered the Commons in 2010 and by that time I had retired. I cannot imagine that a Minister of the Crown actually intended to mislead either our Constitution Committee or your Lordships’ House, but he must surely have been very badly advised or informed not to make any reference to this extremely important report. What were his officials thinking? I can imagine only that he may have been persuaded to be disingenuous, since surely he would not wish to have been thought naive. Either way, these are very unsatisfactory circumstances.

4.30 pm

I and my colleagues are bitterly disappointed that we are now considering this section of the Bill with no idea of how the Government or the House of Commons as a whole intend to react to these recommendations. This report is extremely important. I trust that my noble friends on the Front Bench have been fully briefed about its contents because, if they have not, somebody is surely seriously at fault.

The report intimately relates to the tasks given to the Standards Committee in the Bill before your Lordships’ House. To consider one without knowing

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1130

about the other is just absurd and fails to recognise the risks to the Standards Committee, about which we were reminded so forensically by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, at Second Reading. Placing in the committee’s hands judgments about who should and who should not be subjected to a recall petition puts it and the Commons as a whole in an extremely invidious position. It risks further politicising the committee and, in so doing, seriously damaging public confidence in the whole recall process just when it so desperately needs to be reinforced.

Anyone who has followed the long gestation of these proposals must recognise that the perception outside of what the Government call “disciplinary arrangements” is that we inside simply mean that Members of Parliament should make the essential decisions about the potential recall of their colleagues. The system as proposed seems to place the red card of the recall procedure not in the hands of voters or in those of an independent referee but in the hands of MPs themselves. Unless the Commons first addresses the report of the Standards Committee, published this morning, on these very matters, the Bill and the recall process will be fatally flawed.

My noble friends and I argued in Committee that the best way out of this problem was to create a new, independent trigger which could be used by electors themselves, all overseen by something akin to an election court. I readily acknowledge that those proposals did not command the support in your Lordships’ House that we hoped for, and I understand the reasons.

However, I think that Members across the House will equally acknowledge—indeed, they have done so previously—that we have tried to come up with a satisfactory remedy. It is most disappointing that the Government have, by contrast, produced no alternative proposals whatever. Ministers have failed to make a compelling case for the second trigger or to explain how the Standards Committee can be protected from the invidious position into which it will otherwise inevitably be placed. In the absence of that case and that explanation, our Amendments 2 and 3 seek to do two complementary things.

Starting with Amendment 3, we strengthen the criminal trigger in the Bill by saying that any offence could cause a recall petition to be opened. The whole premise behind the Bill is to hand a measure of power to electors. In the case of an MP who had committed a minor offence, it would be for voters to determine whether they viewed it as sufficiently serious to merit about 7,500 of them turning up at designated places in each constituency to sign a special recall petition. I suspect that in the case of, say, a public order offence to do with a political protest or a minor motoring misdemeanour, the electors would be understanding and generous enough not to seek to dismiss their MP, especially given the quite extensive length that people have to go to in order to sign a petition. It is our contention that if the Government were to accept this quite radical strengthening of the criminal trigger, it could leave behind the non-criminal trigger and leave MPs and the Standards Committee completely out of the recall process.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1131

It would be wrong, of course, to lose the second trigger without the substantial broadening of the first—although it could be right to do both in tandem. Doing so would mean acknowledging that the attempt to tie down bad, but not criminal, behaviour as a cause for recall had failed. Given the very wide concerns expressed on all sides of the House in Committee, these twin steps would seem to be a very reasonable compromise. They are simple proposals and would get the Government out of this dreadful bind that they have created for themselves.

Whatever their view on the amendments, I appeal to Ministers to recognise that the very existence of this new Standards Committee report today adds considerable weight to our argument. Indeed, the report recommends that, even in its more limited existing role—forgetting the Recall of MPs Bill for a moment—the committee should be rebalanced to introduce more lay members and increase their number from three to seven, so that there would be seven lay members and seven elected members. The need to clarify the balance of the committee becomes all the more pressing if the second trigger is allowed to stay in the Bill. Whether it happens or not is the hinge on which the credibility of the second trigger either hangs or falls.

It surely makes sense to determine the crucial matter one way or another before putting the Bill, in its present form, on the statute book. In these circumstances, your Lordships should not be asked to look at the Bill again on Third Reading until that is resolved and the whole issue of the role of the committee, its membership and its operation has been comprehensively addressed. In the mean time, I beg to move.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, I wish to retain the second trigger, and it is only on that matter that I part company from the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. I wish to speak to Amendment 6 in my name. It is very much about House of Commons business in that it relates, again, to the structure of the Standards Committee.

The House has now been made aware of the very significant report that has been produced this morning, which was prepared by the sub-committee of the Standards Committee, established to deal with the issue of structure. I have been able to read that report in its entirety today, and it deals comprehensively with the future of the lay membership. It is an excellent report and analysis, although I depart from some of its conclusions.

I should make it clear that I have also read the entirety of the proceedings on this Bill at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report in the Commons. I take on board comments on the value of lay membership of the committee, which is currently three members, a development introduced after I left the committee in 2001. My own experience over the years I spent on the Standards and Privileges Committee and its predecessor drove me inexorably in favour of an independent element, which turned out to be the appointed lay membership. Amendment 6 deals with the independent element and that lay membership.

I have listened very carefully to the ideas proposed by the Liberal Democrats and their colleagues, and I have talked on the phone on a number of occasions to

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1132

the noble Lord, Lord Tyler; I agree with him very often on constitutional reform and linked issues, but I cannot accept the external processes that he advocates. He is moving the process of inquiry away from Parliament to an outside body, and I simply do not believe that it will work.

I have to confess that my views are tempered by the IPSA experience, which has proved disastrous for Parliament, although that is not my only consideration. I have other considerations such as the handling of the Woolas case, interaction with the Bill of Rights, the role of the CPS, and the total absence of parliamentary experience among those required to make judgments on parliamentary misdemeanours. I want to build on the model already in place, which includes three lay members.

I am informed that the lay membership has been successful and has greatly helped the House of Commons membership of the committee both during deliberation and in the formulation of judgments. I therefore propose an alternative revised Standards Committee model, with a substantial increase in the independent lay membership as an alternative to the model being advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.

The current membership of the committee stands at 10 elected and three lay members. The three lay members are all people of distinction, but they have no vote, although they are free to express dissent over a committee report. I would reduce the committee to 10, comprising seven lay and three elected members—three MPs. In dealing with a complaint, the whole committee of 10 would be engaged in the consideration of commissioners’ reports, the questioning of witnesses were necessary, and deliberation, including discussion of amendments to committee reports. However, on the completion of the whole committee’s discussion on reports and their amendments—the committee meeting in its entirety—the elected three members would withdraw from the committee and the lay membership would then further their deliberations and they would vote on amendments, approve the report and decide on their recommendation of penalty, including suspension. The lay members would vote in the absence of the elected members.

That brings me to the status of the lay-approved report, which is at the heart of the approach. The lay report as approved in reality is no more a proceeding in Parliament than is the commissioner’s report. It is at the time of lay approval no more than private deliberation. It has no parliamentary status. It acquires parliamentary status only when it has been considered and reported by the three parliamentarians on the committee. In my view, it is they and only they who can give it the imprimatur of Parliament, so the committee reconvenes with the three MPs and they do precisely that. They decide on whether they wish to approve or reject the lay report. In my view, it is inconceivable that three elected politicians would choose to overturn the collective decisions of the seven distinguished lay members. Only in exceptional circumstances, which I cannot foresee—although they may exist—would a report be overturned, as to do so would inevitably provoke considerable backlash in the media.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 1133

The advantages of my proposal are that they bring independent decision-taking in judgments to the whole process. The process is simple. It is a development of existing practice. It avoids complicated arguments over parliamentary privilege and the Bill of Rights. It makes it far more difficult for the House as a whole to overturn a Standards Committee decision without provoking public concern and perhaps anger. It would avoid the prospects of an election court coming into conflict with Parliament. It is potentially cheap to manage, although the report today referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, shows some substantial figures in the funding of the lay membership, which could perhaps be re-profiled at some stage in the future. Many outside would regard it as a great honour to be appointed to a lay committee of the House of Commons. Finally, it ensures that the voice and experience of MPs is taken into account when judgments and penalties are decided on. My amendment emphasises the need for the lay membership to recognise this part of the process.

4.45 pm

I turn, finally, to page 35 of this very substantial report, which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. In referring to the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons when it was considering these matters, it said:

“The Committee concluded that if lay members were to be given voting rights”—

that is what I am advocating, and I understand the noble Lord, Lord Bew, advocated it also when he gave evidence to the committee; I do not know whether he is here—

“legislation should set the matter beyond a doubt. The committee believed that appointing lay members in the absence of such legislation would carry a ‘strong element of risk’ in that it could ‘lead to conflict between the House and the courts and might have a chilling effect on how the Committee conducts its work even before such a challenge emerged’”.

It just happens that I tabled the amendment to do so, and the report came out today. I ask the Government to take this amendment seriously into account. If it is insufficient to deal with the concern expressed by the Procedure Committee, they might wish to come back at Third Reading to set in law the requirements that they believe are necessary.

Lord Norton of Louth (Con): My Lords, I support Amendments 2 and 3, to which, as my noble friend said, I am a signatory. They are designed to remove discretion by judges and politicians. I appreciate the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I understand the case he is making, but I think the arguments for Amendments 2 and 3 are more persuasive.

It is important to remember, as my noble friend mentioned in moving the amendment, what the Bill is designed to achieve—it is to restore, or at least create, confidence in Parliament. I cannot see how the existing provisions of the Bill achieve that. A judge or members of the Standards Committee may be conscious that what they decide may render an MP eligible for a recall petition. It may or may not be a

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factor. However, the crucial point is not whether it is a factor but that members of the public may believe that it has been.

If an MP is suspended for eight or nine sitting days, there may be a good reason for selecting that period, but it may well give rise to suspicion that the number was chosen in order to avoid the MP being eligible for a recall petition. A judge torn between whether or not to sentence a Member to a period of imprisonment may err on the side of leniency, but, in so doing, may be accused of being overly lenient, ensuring that the MP is neither incarcerated nor subject to a recall petition. Electors may not share the judge’s view, but there is nothing they can do about it other than feel that the system has let them down.

These amendments take out the element of discretion. There is simplicity, there is objectivity. If an MP is convicted of an offence, any offence, he or she becomes eligible for a recall petition. The issue is simply one of innocence or guilt. If the Member is found guilty, it is then up to the electors whether to begin a petition to recall the Member. If it is a minor offence, as my noble friend Lord Tyler mentioned, they are not likely to take action, but it is up to them. There is no intermediary between the MP committing some wrongdoing and the electors.

In short, these amendments create conditions which electors will understand, and it is then up to them. I suspect they are more likely to feel strongly about MPs who break the law than those who offend against the rules of the House of Commons. If an MP accepts money for raising issues in Parliament, then that should perhaps no longer be a matter for disciplinary action by the House but for a change in the law.

As I argued at Second Reading, this is an imperfect Bill. These amendments are designed to render it less imperfect. I hope, even at this late stage, that the Government see, if not the light, at least a chink between the curtains.

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, Amendments 2 and 3, which have been spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Norton, have the combined effect of making the provisions of the Bill even more severe than they now are and of weakening the capacity of the House of Commons to discipline its Members itself. That seems to me to be an unhappy combination.

The noble Lords believe that a Member of Parliament found guilty by a court of any offence—not necessarily an imprisonable offence, but any offence—ought to become subject to the recall petition process. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, suggested, a minor motoring offence could expose the Member of Parliament to that process. He was optimistic that constituents would have the moderation and kindliness not to take advantage of that, but it does seem to me that a lot of politics could quickly come into this and that an opportunity might well be seized by those who wanted to see a Member of Parliament of a certain party displaced. Perhaps more seriously, a Member of Parliament who was found guilty in a court of some offence of obstruction during the course of protesting against proposals for fracking or wind turbines—or perhaps the tripling of tuition fees—would, again, be subject to the recall process.

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This means that the Member of Parliament, instead of being subject to the rounded judgment of all his constituents in due course at the general election, becomes immediately subject to the wrath of all the Mrs Grundys in his constituency and of the censorious minority—only a small minority, 10% of registered electors, need to sign the petition to trigger the process. Members of Parliament will have to be paragons of virtue and constantly on their best behaviour. Those of us who know the character of the House of Commons well may think that pressures in that direction are not likely to be very positively productive.

The amendments would mean that suspension by the Standards Committee was irrelevant—that would be struck out as a trigger. Even if the amendment would not mark the formal abandonment of attempts by the House of Commons to regulate itself—I acknowledge that the rather substantial volume that the Committee on Standards has released today indicates that it has not given up on that process—it would certainly seriously undermine the capacity of the House of Commons to police itself.

The noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Lexden, made much in Committee of paragraph 13 of the report of the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House. However, that report does not recommend removing the jurisdiction of the Standards Committee. What it does is to point to an inconsistency in the Bill, between its desire to increase the direct accountability of Members of Parliament to electors and its desire to retain a significant role for the Committee on Standards. There is a tension and a contradiction there, but for those of us who believe that it is grievously misguided to introduce this recall procedure, that tension or contradiction is something of a mitigating factor. I certainly do not think that the noble Lords can pray in aid the Constitution Committee as endorsing what they are seeking to do. They have decided that it stated a very important problem and that it is a problem that they want to solve.

Amendment 6, in the name of my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, takes us, as he has explained, only a small part of the distance that he wishes to travel. While I deeply respect his knowledge of the ways of the Standards Committee, on which he served for many years, I profoundly disagree with him. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, has reminded us that the stated purpose of the legislation is to restore the reputation of MPs and Parliament. The way for Parliament to restore its reputation is to demonstrate to the public that it has found better ways to handle, discipline and organise itself.

I am against what has already begun to happen. I am against the introduction of lay members. There is everything to be said for the availability of high-quality advice. I am much in favour of the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards but, as a famous parliamentarian once said, expertise should be on tap, not on top. It is for the House of Commons itself to find more convincing ways to regulate itself and demonstrate to the public that it is doing so.

Some people may ask what all this has to do with us in the House of Lords. I simply reply that we are a House of Parliament. We have a particularly close

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interest in the good functioning of Parliament, as do all the people of this country. I think that it is legitimate for us to offer advice. I agree that the House of Commons will surely wish to consider this important report from the Committee on Standards. That may mean some delay before we reach Third Reading, if matters are to be properly and decently conducted. There is no doubt that we are entitled to take a view on these matters. However, I disagree with noble Lords who have proposed these various amendments.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I will speak briefly on this. I think that it is a mistake to play off these conditions against each other, as if you were to ditch one and get a quid pro quo strength in another. In principle, one should take and look at each condition on its own merit and principle. I do not want to refer to the second condition, as I do not quite understand the dynamics of what happens in the other place; other Members will understand.

The first recall condition needs to have about it a certain level of trigger. Simply to be convicted of any offence and then potentially to find this juggernaut or sledgehammer process kicking in seems wrong. As we all know, when these processes begin, the issues to which they are supposed to refer are not those on which they are fought. At the moment in our political system you need to get only 10% of the electors to agree to recall the MP and have a by-election. It would be easy for people to use a minor indiscretion that leads to a criminal conviction to generate this rather costly and unfortunate process. I believe in the Bill in principle, but there should be a healthy trigger. As set out, the trigger requiring that a conviction leads to a sentence of imprisonment, which I assume also includes a suspended sentence, seems about right.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: I will briefly comment on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norton. I may be mistaken but he seemed to be painting an idyllic picture of what life is in the real world outside, in which the decision taken to discipline the Member of Parliament for whatever reason will be looked at with great objectivity by those reading the newspapers, listening to the radio and watching the television—you can imagine someone saying over their breakfast cereal, “I wonder what this is all about. What should we do? What considerations should we take into account?”. It does not work like that.

My noble friend mentioned the “f” word. We are not supposed to use the “f” word in your Lordships’ House. He mentioned fracking. The other “f” word I would like to use is fluoride. As the House will know, fluoride is a chemical which, put in the water supply, can bring immense dental benefits. For those who support it, it is a wonderful thing. For those who oppose it, it is responsible for every ill known to mankind and beyond. I know from personal experience how once the issue of fluoride comes up, all sorts of judgments come into play. The resources that people put into this are enormous. We know the facts of the modern world—Twitter and Facebook and all that sort of thing—of which, I regret to say, I know little indeed, except that I occasionally get them and delete them straightaway.

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5 pm

Lord Maxton (Lab): You know more than most.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: As ever, my noble friend Lord Maxton is complimentary to me. But, immediately recall becomes a remote possibility, the influence of the press and the media will be enormous. I really do not think that removing any sort of mitigating intermediary between the offence of an MP and a recall petition is the right way to go about it.

We speak lovingly about the need to restore the reputation of Parliament. We speak lovingly and meaningfully about how it is necessary for the highest standards to prevail. If we say constantly that the House of Commons is not fit to control itself, and that it needs people from outside looking in on it to put it right, that does nothing whatever to produce the effect we desire.

I will say just one other thing in passing. When the expenses scandal started—and it was a scandal—it was said that the administration of expenses should be taken out of the control of Parliament itself. So we got IPSA—is it called?—to do that. Has that done anything whatever to improve the issue? All that happened was the press turned on IPSA and said, “You’re worse than the MPs were”. There is no easy answer to this. To imagine that this sort of Bill, especially in its dreadful form, will do anything whatever to improve the standards of Parliament and how it is viewed by people outside is totally mistaken. The only way for that to happen is for MPs to stop the nonsense of accepting that when they get petitions they must say yes to them. They are afraid, apparently, to have any independent views. I accept that as a former Member of Parliament I was subject to the Whips and I would never have been a Member of Parliament without being a member of the Labour Party. I understand the constrictions there are in that. Nevertheless, if we remove entirely any possibility of MPs speaking out for themselves about what may be unpopular causes, that may damage democracy irrevocably.

Lord Lexden (Con): My Lords, I was glad to add my name to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Tyler. As my noble friend has made clear, these important amendments differ significantly from those he brought forward in Committee. My noble friend and the cross-party group that supports him have reflected and reconsidered. Our proposals have been revised, cut back and simplified. They have been discussed at some length with my noble friends Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Gardiner of Kimble. We await the Government’s response to them with interest, though not with unbounded optimism.

In their current form, the amendments are straightforward and uncomplicated. They seek above all to relate the process of recall more fully and directly to those for whom this legislation, whether we like it or not, has been devised—the electors of this country. The amendments would enable electors to exercise their judgment about the case for recall following a decision in the courts. In any worthwhile system of recall, electors should surely occupy the central position, as my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, the Conservative Party’s leading authority on the constitution,

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emphasised so powerfully at Second Reading and repeated today. The famous watchwords of Tory democracy spring at once to mind—“Trust the people”—sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill but in fact coined by his extraordinarily combative and pugnacious father, Lord Randolph, in 1884.

As I have mentioned before, and as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, recalled, my support for my noble friend Lord Tyler’s carefully researched and constructive initiative stems from the work done on the Bill by your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, of which I am a member. The committee’s report has featured quite prominently in our debates. Its central point, as far as these amendments are concerned, is that it expressed considerable scepticism about the wisdom of placing a recall trigger in the hands of the Standards Committee. I repeat the key passage of the report:

“The constitutional purpose of recall is to increase MPs’ direct accountability to their electorates: it is questionable whether that purpose is achieved when the trigger is put in the hands of MPs rather than constituents”.

I would add this question: do we not need to guard against the possibility that the existence of such a trigger might create dissatisfaction and disillusion among electors? If that should occur, the Bill—the purpose of which is to strengthen the electorate’s trust in the political system—could end up exacerbating the very problem it is designed to alleviate.

The committee’s report was published on 15 December. The Government’s response, received a few days ago, states that,

“it is important to be careful to respect the disciplinary arrangements of the House of Commons”.

That, of course, is a sound and overwhelmingly important principle of the internal arrangements of the House. It is not, however, obvious or self-evident that the principle should be applied to the procedures that will trigger recall, not least because of the acute danger that decisions relating to those procedures would be unduly politicised, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, argued so strongly at Second Reading.

Is there not a case for asking the House of Commons to reconsider these issues, which bear so directly and powerfully on the workings of democracy in our country, particularly in view of the new report, to which attention has been drawn this afternoon?

Lord Campbell-Savours: I am sorry to intervene on the noble Lord. He may not have the answer to my question—I perfectly understand that—but he might be helped by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. I should really have intervened on the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. What does the noble Lord think would happen in the case of a non-declaration of interest, where there had been a repeated non-declaration of a major pecuniary interest, over a number of years, by a Member? Which committee would now decide on that matter, and to what extent does he think that that committee might be able to impose any penalty?

Lord Lexden: As the noble Lord suggested, I will leave that to my noble friend Lord Tyler, as a former Member of the House of Commons. However, the case for asking the House of Commons to reconsider

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the issues that these amendments highlight is strong. I incline to that view, and for that reason I support these amendments.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I, too, am a signatory to these amendments. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Lexden, Lord Norton and Lord Tyler. I think that in the part of the country that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, comes from they have a saying: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”.

I sympathise with some points of view expressed by noble Lords on the opposition Benches. I am not an enthusiast for this legislation; I would rather it was not before us for a variety of reasons. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said earlier about the climate that IPSA has created and the difficulties that have arisen because of a loss of confidence. However, as the right honourable Member for Blackburn, Jack Straw, said in evidence to the committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred, and which reported only today:

“It is important that we do not get ourselves into a gloom about this. Politicians have never been trusted. In a sense, in a democracy that is quite healthy … In the middle of the [Second World] war, Gallup surveyed public trust in politicians and it was pretty low”.

I am not indifferent to that: I think it is very important that people should have a high view of politics and politicians. However, as Jack Straw said, it has always been thus. I worry that the solutions that we have put in place will not deal with some of the endemic problems of a lack of trust, not just in politics or politicians, but in our institutions throughout this country, where there has been a considerable decline in public trust across the piece.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, I was grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Gardiner, for meeting us to discuss our reservations about the Bill. However, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, recognised, these are genuine attempts to try to make the Bill better, even if one does not agree with them. That is why I am happy to be a signatory to these amendments, not least because of the experience that I had when I served in another place and was a member of what was then the Privileges Committee—the Standards Committee’s predecessor.

I was a member of that committee when we had to deal with the so-called cash for questions scandal, when two Members of the House of Commons had received significant sums of money for tabling parliamentary questions. The end of that process brought to mind something which I think the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said at Second Reading: that the real mechanism for people to decide whether to recall an MP, which is in place, is of course a general election. I was very struck that, at the end of that process, when two Members of Parliament were found guilty of those offences, in one case the constituents in the constituency where they lived decided not to return that Member of Parliament, but in the identical other case they did return that Member of Parliament. He continues to serve in another place. We had to look at some difficult cases but we were certainly not asked routinely to provoke potential by-elections. That is the issue that most concerns me and which I want to address in speaking to this amendment.

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I was always impressed by the genuine desire of members of that Committee on Privileges, from whichever part of the House they were drawn, to maintain the reputation of the House of Commons and get to the truth. I did not sense any narrow partisanship; I worry that we are risking that by putting this mechanism in place. The fact is that Standards Committee Motions are also amendable on the Floor of the House of Commons. I hope that the Minister will address both the pressure that will be placed on members of that committee of a partisan nature in the future and what can then happen on the Floor of the House. Will he say in his response whether that possibility of amendable Motions on the Floor of the House of Commons will continue in this new situation? If so, could a partisan majority not be used to trigger a recall process by increasing a suspension to 10 days, even where the Standards Committee had decided against it?

I want to say a word about the Government’s response to the Constitution Committee, which talks of the Standards Committee taking judgments. The benefit of these amendments is that we would take those subjective judgments out of the process. I particularly agreed with the description that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, gave. He talked about simplicity and objectivity being at the heart of what these amendments seek to do. In particular, Amendment 3 would make the trigger incredibly simple. If you are convicted of an offence, the electors would get to determine whether they wish to keep you. Incidentally, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said a few moments ago about the danger of vexatiousness creeping into the system with groups of people, for whatever motive, trying to undermine good Members of Parliament.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, it is extraordinary that we are having this debate this afternoon, after this report of more than 100 pages was published this morning. Although I have obviously not been able to read it in any great detail yet, I was struck that the report said on page 5:

“The subcommittee heard from a number of witnesses who were concerned about the extent to which the current system was fair to those members subject to it. While we believe the system is broadly fair, it is clear that MPs do not feel well supported”.

The report also reflected on the Standards Committee itself on page 6, saying:

“The Committee does an essential but sometimes unpopular task”.

That is certainly true; I know from the expressions on the faces of one or two noble Lords who served on that committee in another place that they would agree. The report went on to say that,

“if the House fails to engage with the Committee’s proposals it undermines the Committee’s position but, more importantly, the House’s own standards”.

We have to take those points seriously and I hope that between now and Third Reading, we will have the chance to do that.

By contrast the Government’s second trigger, as it stands, gives Members of Parliament the whip hand. That cannot be in the spirit of what the Government themselves say that the Bill is about. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House made that clear weeks ago but the Government’s response is, to say the least, wanting. In answering, it really would have had to demand that this matter be considered further,

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before Third Reading in any event. Now that the Standards Committee has published these proposals, that case for better and further consideration of the Bill and its impact on the committee must surely be even more compelling.

There are just six weeks left of this Parliament. We are not yet into the wash-up. We are not yet into purdah. We can, in the time remaining, amend the Bill and put in place a recall arrangement that would command public support—something simple, more objective and more easily understood, which avoids the perception that MPs will be able to make friendly interventions to prevent their own errant colleagues being subject to the process. In that six weeks, we can also look properly at the issues raised by the Standards Committee’s own report. Addressing the issue of lay members—a point that has been referred to by noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Howarth—including their number and force, would go a long way towards dealing with some of the issues that I have been raising. Either way, it is not enough for the Government to dismiss such serious and widely expressed concerns out of hand. I hope we will hear a clear commitment from the Minister to come back to this question at Third Reading.

5.15 pm

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, it is always fun to watch the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, having a go at his own side and at one of the Government Ministers. Apart from that, I think it has been an interesting and useful debate, particularly on Amendment 2 about widening the kind of behaviour which could trigger a by-election. As an old campaigner on drinking and driving, this warmed the cockles of my heart and I thought it would have a great impact on the leisure behaviour of MPs, but maybe that is looking at it slightly too narrowly.

I really do not think that having just any criminal conviction is what our manifestos, the coalition agreement, the Government or indeed the House of Commons intended when they brought forward the recall Bill. Nor do I think it is what the public expected—and I was a member of the public rather than in your Lordships’ House when the misdemeanours that we have talked about happened—of the promise that where MPs were found guilty of deliberately falsifying their expenses claims or were sentenced to imprisonment, they should no longer automatically return to work after their sentence. Rather, I think recall was seen as a chance for the MP to explain himself or herself, to apologise or to ask for forbearance, and for the chance for voters to decide whether, despite the sentence, the MP was fit to continue to represent them in Parliament. Lowering the bar so that it covers any conviction risks a rush of petitions, perhaps over quite minor issues, which would take MPs away from their duties in the House for months. It would involve large sums of money, and importantly it would devalue the serious nature of a recall petition.

Incidentally, given that it is JPs—magistrates—who deal with 90% of crime, it is likely to be them rather than judges who will be dealing with these sorts of offences. As my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport

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reminds us, the recall thus triggered could easily become a vote of confidence in the Government or a referendum on fracking rather than actually seeking the electorate’s opinion of their MP’s behaviour, which was the purpose of this Bill and the reason that we support it. There has to be a sensible balance as to what can constitute a trigger. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester suggests, being sentenced to prison, whether suspended or not, seems to be the right place to draw that line.

Amendment 3 would remove any role for Parliament via its Standards Committee and a subsequent vote in the Commons to trigger a recall petition. This seems very hard to support. It does two things. First, it would absolve MPs in the Commons from a role in self-regulation and from any responsibility for policing the behaviour of their own colleagues. That is something which I do not think is right either in principle or in practice. Secondly, it would leave only criminal convictions and not gross unparliamentary behaviour such as breaches of the Code of Conduct or a failure to undertake democratic duties as the trigger for potential recall. The other place may need to make changes to its Standards Committee in order to build public trust, but that is probably not a matter for the Recall of MPs Bill. I know that my Labour colleagues in the other place support a radical overhaul of the committee, in particular to remove the government majority and to increase the role and authority of its lay members. Indeed, Labour has proposed considering whether with at least half the members being lay, there should also be a chair who is no longer an MP.

However, improving the way this trigger would act is different from removing the trigger. It was clearly the will of the Commons to include this trigger, which gives the Commons a role in the Bill, and we should respect that decision for its willingness to accept some collective responsibility for the behaviour of its Members. Furthermore, we should remember that without the second trigger, a number of non-criminal offences could occur without MPs having to face a possible recall, such as cash for questions or the failure to declare serious conflicts of interest. It would be a very radical suggestion to delete an entire trigger from the clause at this stage in the Bill when it was overwhelmingly agreed at the other end, and it would possibly go beyond our normal role of scrutinising legislation. However, that is not my reason for opposing it. I do so because it must surely be right that Members of the Commons should take some responsibility for their own behaviour and that of their colleagues and they should not wash their hands of their role in this.

Amendment 6 has been tabled by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, and we happily support it. We have encouraged the inclusion of lay members on the committee. Indeed, as I have said, we floated the idea of one of them being the chair and of lay members being the majority. While the Government may not feel that this is a matter for the Bill, we hope they will join us in supporting the principle and commit themselves to further moves in the direction I have outlined.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this debate has ranged very widely. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for raising the Bill of Rights. I was

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thinking about it last week when looking at Magna Carta and how these various things pull together. The British constitution has parliamentary privilege as one of its core elements, and we recognise that in this Bill we are walking a delicate line between the maintenance of parliamentary privilege and the inclusion of a greater degree of popular sovereignty alongside parliamentary sovereignty. It is a delicate balance that we all wish to maintain.

Perhaps I may say what a pleasure it is to see the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, again. He told me in the corridor that he had been lying in his hospital bed at two o’clock in the morning watching Lords debates on his iPad. What he did not tell me was whether they kept him awake or provided him with a cure for insomnia.

As I understand the Standards Committee report, which I have not had a chance to read in full yet, it takes us rather closer towards the model which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, would like than we have been before. It is a progression to move from a lay minority to an equal proportion of lay members and MPs, which is probably what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, would regard as moving in the right direction. It is a progression but not a reversal; it is not a radical overhaul of the entire Bill.

Lord Campbell-Savours: The report does not suggest that they should have a vote.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Page 6 of the report states:

“We believe self-regulation, with external input, is the appropriate system”.

As someone who recognises that parliamentary privilege is not something we wish to throw out of the window, I agree strongly with that sentiment.

We have also touched on the question of how far we restore popular trust in Parliament and the political system, or indeed how far any of us can ever restore trust in Parliament or our political system. I think we all recognise that this Bill is intended to assist in that process, but none of us has any illusion that it will solve the problem. It is much broader than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked whether the process of amending Motions to report recommendations to the Standards Committee on the Floor of the other House will continue. That is a matter for the other place. It is a matter of its procedures into which the Bill and this House will not wish to intrude. In introducing the amendments, my noble friend Lord Tyler said that this quite radical proposal would remove two of the three triggers, thus radically changing the basis of the Bill, which has been through the scrutiny of the other House and a good deal of other scrutiny besides. I thank my noble friend for the very constructive conversation we have had since Committee and for his active engagement in discussions about the most appropriate triggers for recall petitions.

The Government considered a number of options and came to the conclusion that a custodial sentence was one of the appropriate levels for a trigger. It is of course difficult to know exactly what line one wishes to draw, but we have concerns, which have been expressed by a number of noble Lords in this debate, that

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lowering the threshold to include all convictions would risk MPs having to face recall in circumstances where it was not appropriate: for example, for minor traffic offences or for offences of strict liability where no criminal intention needed to be proven. The Government’s intention for the Bill is that the recall process should be there as a safeguard which does not, we hope, need to be used very often in an atmosphere of generally good behaviour. My noble friend Lord Tyler’s amendments might well lead to recall becoming a quite frequent procedure, one which a very large number of people would not regard as justified.

I understand my noble friend is concerned that the second trigger for recall petitions relies on recommendations of the Standards Committee, and he is doubtful about that. We all recognise many of these problems, but we do not see his solution of removing two of the three triggers from the Bill as being the answer. I understand my noble friend’s concern about politicising the Standards Committee and also about MPs themselves being involved in the triggering of recall. However, I do not think the answer is to take away from a constituent the ability to recall their MP for wrongdoing that might be serious enough for them to question whether they want their MP to represent them. Collapsing the three triggers into one would drive a coach and horses through the Bill.

This brings me to Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, which would add to the definition of the Standards Committee in Clause 1. I simply say that we will consider the Standards Committee report and whether there needs to be anything in the Bill that relates to the report or whether, on the basis that things are moving in the direction in which the noble Lord wishes, we should leave well alone and leave out matters that are not central to the Bill. We will consider that between now and Third Reading.

Lord Howarth of Newport: Will the Government provide their response to the Standards Committee’s report before they proceed to the Third Reading in this House?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I will certainly take that back and see what the Government can do. I hope that I have provided constructive answers to a very constructive debate, and I urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Tyler: May I ask my noble friend, with his very important noble friends on the Front Bench, to give the House an assurance that there will be no accelerated process towards Third Reading until these matters are properly discussed and resolved both in this House and in the other place?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:My Lords, we intend to proceed to Third Reading with all deliberate speed. The House will, of course, be in recess next week.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am grateful to all Members who have contributed to this debate. I wish that we had had a general debate of this nature rather earlier in the process on this Bill. The central point is that my

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noble friend has just said that he does not agree with our solution. He does not appear to agree with that of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, either, but he seems to recognise that some solution is necessary. That leaves us in a most extraordinary situation. The Government agree that this is unfinished business, yet they have produced no solution. I am afraid that that is an unsatisfactory situation.