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I also appeal for a proper, quick, independent inquiry into what went wrong for two reasons: not just because, as my noble friend said, some of those matters were the responsibility of the Electoral Commission but also because some of them were not. They fell outside its remit. The fact that the two elections were held together was not its responsibility.
Postal votes were decided by returning officers, not by the Electoral Commission. The Minister may want to know that my noble friend Lord Kirkwood was one of the many people who got a postal ballot paper for the wrong ward. Why was that allowed to be contracted out to firms that did not know the local geography? That is extraordinary. It was not the decision of the Electoral Commission; nor was the introduction of the counting machines. There is a compelling case for having a proper, genuinely independent inquiry, whatever the Electoral Commission may do internally.
The Minister said that he does not know the actual number of spoilt ballot papers although, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, we all heard them announced constituency by constituency. We have not yet been told how many spoilt papers there were in the local government ballot. It is a paradox that under the single transferable vote system for local government, there were far fewer spoilt papers than in the first- past-the-post ballot papers for the Scottish Parliament. As the ballot papers were modelled on those in
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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his comments. An independent inquiry is exactly what the law requires. That is why the commission will conduct its review. It is the body charged with doing that work. Here we are, three or four days away from those elections. The Secretary of State has moved very quickly to get the Electoral Commission on board to do exactly what the noble Lord wants it to do, which attacks all the problems that arose last week. If the report is not satisfactory, the way is left open for further review. Although I take on board the noble Lords point that the Statement may not have underlined the gravity of the situation, it was absolutely clear from the debate in the other place taken in the whole, including the contributions from Front-Benchers and Back-Benchers, that it is seen as a very grave situation and one that must be addressed.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, after electoral chaos in Scotland, past postal fraud in Birmingham and even dead people turning up to vote in years gone by in Wallasey, could we have less preaching by the Government, specifically to Nigeria in its handling of the recent presidential round, and concentrate on subtle diplomacy?
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, will my noble friend reflect that one of the main reasons that we have landed in this mess is that he has listened to the siren call that independent commissions can do the job better than the Government? Is it not about time that the Government took responsibility and faced up to the fact that criticism may be made on a partisan basis? On e-counting, will he reflect on the old story about computers: put garbage in and you get garbage out?
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, it is a little too late for my noble friend to say that the Government should take responsibility for these matters. We are talking about a devolved country that, first, makes its own decisions and, secondly, has returning officers who, in two of the crucial areas that we have
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Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, I mention a past interest as an MSP in the Scottish Parliament for the past eight years. For clarity, I confirm that a Motion was tabled before the Scottish Parliament by the Conservatives to have the council elections on a different day, on the grounds that otherwise it could and would lead to confusion. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that people put crosses when they should have put numerals and possibly vice versa.
The Minister has fairly pointed out that the timing of elections was a devolved responsibility. If the Electoral Commission makes strong representations, will he be prepared to take them forward? If they relate to devolved responsibilities, will he be prepared to take them forward with the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament, who is about to be elected, and the Scottish Executive, who will be elected before long?
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, we have asked the Electoral Commission to consider all those matters and report back to us. I assume that if the Electoral Commission and independent advisers make powerful points about what has gone wrong and the reasons for it, the Scottish Executive and the Government will take great note of what is said. It is a serious matter that must be sorted out and solved. The Government are in no way trying to say anything different. Constructive views from the Electoral Commission will be considered very carefully.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, of the three areas of focus mentioned in the Statement, I seek assurances on two. One is the e-counting machines. I understand very well the reasons for using them for the local elections: because of STV, it was thought necessary and a good idea to have e-counting machines. But for the parliamentary elections, I really do not understand why we could not have had manual counting. The parliamentary elections had not changed in any form, people were used to them, and we could have had manual counting. The only reason that I have heard given for having e-counting machines for all the elections is expense. Can my noble friend assure me that, in the light of what has happened, manual counting for the parliamentary elections will be reconsidered?
One of the real problems that led to so many voters voting inappropriately on the parliamentary ballot paper and thereby invalidating it was not so much because it was all on one ballot paper, but because of the instructions at the top of the ballot paper, which stated in very heavy print, You have two votes. Some people put two crosses in one column and none in the other, thereby completely invalidating their paper. Not just the question of whether there should have been one ballot paper but the question of what instructions go on the ballot paper should be carefully examined.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, all the matters raised by my noble friend will be carefully looked at. The paradox of the e-counting machines is that they were so widely tested before the elections yet went wrong on the night. That will need to be looked into because they were validatedand I can hear the Luddites having a good laugh at the back. For those of us who know a bit about computers, that is a very strange occurrence. I can assure my noble friend that all the points looked at will be considered. I have to say that Hansard from both Houses will be of great value to the Electoral Commission as it starts its inquiries and considers its agenda.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, from what I have derived from last Thursdays events, an all- elected House of Lords is rather less likely than it might have been beforehand. More seriously, I shall attempt to bridge the divide that is going to open up between the Governments view that this should be left to the Electoral Commission and the cries for a fully independent commission. Surely we can bridge that divide by instructing the Electoral Commission to include some non-executive directorssome independent members. That would, to some extent, disarm the criticism that they are the guards looking after themselves.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, two voices have mentioned that possibilityone in the other place this afternoon and one here. The Government and the Scottish Executive do not feel that that is sensible.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 385 and 386. These amendments relate to the important provisions in Clause 141 on information sharing. Similar amendments were raised in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and my noble friend Lady Henig on behalf of the Law Society. Although I felt at the time that the wording of the amendment raised at that stage was not appropriate for the Bill, I was persuaded by the importance of the intended effect. As a result, we have worked closely with the Law Society to return with these amendments.
I am happy to report that they represent a solution that both the Law Society and the Government are satisfied with. I hope that noble Lords too will be satisfied. It is of vital importance to the regulatory and complaints-handling framework that approved regulators and the OLC work in co-operation. I am confident that these amendments will facilitate that.
Amendments Nos. 384 and 385 will strengthen the LSBs duties when specifying the requirements which the OLC and approved regulators must meet when drawing up their rules on information sharing. The LSB will now have to have regard to the need to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the OLC and approved regulators, in sharing information, assist one another to perform their function. This elevation of desirability to need seems more appropriately to reflect the importance of the consideration that the LSB should give to these arrangements.
Amendment No. 386 will require the OLC and approved regulators to consult each other prior to submission of rules or arrangements for LSB approval and to require that if there are unresolved disagreements, these are reported to LSB when the rules or regulatory arrangements are submitted for approval. This reflects the particular relevance of these matters to the relationship between the OLC and approved regulators and will encourage the OLC and approved regulators to reach a consensus on what information should be shared and how, and will therefore further facilitate a co-operative relationship.
Amendment No. 386 covers much the same ground as Amendment No. 387, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. Given the Law Societys agreement on Amendment No. 386, the noble Lord may want to reflect on that when we get to his group of amendments. I beg to move.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing forward these amendments to Clause 141 and for her explanation for doing so. We accept the superior drafting of the government Amendment No. 386 to our own Amendment No. 387 and are delighted to see that the obligation for the OLC to consult approved regulators before publishing its scheme rules will be put on a statutory basis. It is right that both sides should co-operate as far as possible and identify to the board any part of the proposed rules where they have disagreed. We welcome these amendments.
Clause 154, page 79, line 38, at end insert unless in relation to a complaint which is determined by an approved regulator pursuant to a direction made under section (Handling of complaints by approved regulator)
(4) This section applies in relation to the Board in its capacity as a licensing authority as it applies in relation to an approved regulator, and in relation to the Board references to regulatory arrangements are to be read as references to the Boards licensing rules.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is a weakness in the Bill in respect of the power of the claimant or respondent to review decisions made by either the OLC or the approved regulator. The Bill allows only for judicial review. That is costly and, in many cases, would prohibit or prevent any review taking place.
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