To ask Her Majesty's Government how, when taking the Youth Justice Board into the Ministry of Justice, they will ensure that there remains a distinct focus on youth justice separate from the adult system.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government are committed to maintaining a distinct focus on the needs of children and young people in the youth justice system. By integrating the Youth Justice Board into the Ministry of Justice, we will bring together the existing experience and knowledge of the YJB and the MoJ. Independent oversight of the youth justice system is no longer required and the MoJ is best placed to lead an effective system going forward that builds on the improvements that have already been made.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and for the Green Paper. He will know that in the past two years of the Youth Justice Board's operation there has been a reduction of some 27 per cent in the use of custody for young offenders. How will this strategy be taken forward in the Ministry of Justice, especially in the light of the decentralising emphasis of the Green Paper?
Lord McNally: My Lords, in many ways, the YJB is a success story. In the late 1990s, youth services were Cinderella organisations but they are also mainly the responsibility of local authorities. We are ensuring that the system is decentralised and devolved in a positive way. In the past few years, there has been a very successful move away from putting young people into custody and towards using other methods, which has brought about the reduction. We will continue to encourage and follow this process.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I was the Chief Inspector of Prisons when the Youth Justice Board was introduced. I entirely agree with the Minister that the board has been a success story. One of the very telling things that occurred was that, at last, a named person was responsible and accountable for looking after these people-and that told. Can the Minister say whether, when the arrangements are changed, there will be someone in the system who is responsible and accountable for young people?
Lord McNally: Most certainly so. I have made it very clear that the Ministry of Justice is taking on the responsibility for continuing a success story. Therefore,
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Lord McNally: I am sorry to hear that barb at the end. The job of the Youth Justice Board was to establish an effective, local system of operating youth justice, which is now carried out by the youth offending teams. Therefore, this extra layer of administration and control is not required. That success means that youth justice is now under local control and is carried out by youth offending teams. We at the Ministry of Justice will carry out an arm's-length supervisory role, but youth justice is a local responsibility that will be carried out at local level.
Lord Elton: My Lords, to complete the reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, could the Minister kindly tell us which Minister within the department will be responsible for children within the criminal justice system?
Lord McNally: I would love to say that the relevant Minister would be Mr X or Mr Y, or even Lord B, but the appropriate time for that is when the legislation has gone through. It is no use the Front Bench clucking-they know darn well that this process has to be gone through. There are transitional arrangements to be made, and at the appropriate time, the appropriate line of responsibility will be defined very clearly. I can assure noble Lords of that.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, is not the noble Lord rather dismayed by his own answer? Cannot he tell us which officeholder will be responsible for this role? The noble Lord knows perfectly well that, before we introduced the Youth Justice Board, the criminal justice system's response to young people was in a parlous state. The noble Lord is quite right to say that the Youth Justice Board has been a total success, as it has reduced the level of young people coming into the criminal justice system. The board does exactly what the Lord Chancellor wants in reducing prisoner numbers. Can the noble Lord tell us, first, why the board is being changed and, secondly, how it will be changed for the better?
Lord McNally: That is extraordinary from someone who has held the position that the noble and learned Baroness has held. The straight answer is that, because the board is coming into the Ministry of Justice, the responsibility will be that of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. That is very clear. However, within the Ministry of Justice, we are in a transition period. We are going through this along with the Youth Justice Board, which is co-operating very effectively in the transition. When those lines of responsibility are cleared and when the legislation has cleared Parliament,
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Lord Thomas of Gresford: Will my noble friend consider, in the medium term, investigating the way that youth justice operates and replacing youth courts with something along the lines of the children's panels that operate very successfully in Scotland, in which the magistrates sit down together with parents and social workers to try to work out the proper solution for the individual offender?
Lord McNally: That is the kind of constructive suggestion that I hope will come forward from the Green Paper that my department published yesterday. The Green Paper shows that we have been successful in establishing youth justice as a priority in our system, as the paper has a distinct chapter on youth justice. There is an invitation to all parts of this House-and indeed to all bodies-to feed in constructive views. This is not the end of the youth justice story. The Youth Justice Board has been a successful chapter and we intend to carry on with that work. We will study ideas that come from the Scottish and Northern Irish systems.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, in light of the proposed cuts in public expenditure, how they will maintain the standard expected from HM Coastguard; and how they will protect the international reputation of the organisation.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, Her Majesty's Coastguard rightly enjoys a proud history of initiating and co-ordinating responses to search and rescue incidents at sea and around our coasts. The Government are committed to maintaining standards and protecting the reputation of HM Coastguard in the years ahead. HM Coastguard will continue to task and co-ordinate the efforts of our national search and rescue capability, including lifeboats, helicopters and Coastguard Rescue Service volunteers.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive Answer. I declare an interest as a long-term seafarer who has a number of concerns about the future of Her Majesty's Coastguard. First, the VHF DF system for quickly locating distress signals and the like is being removed. Apparently, the system is not going to be replaced. What do the Government propose to do about that? I have it on good authority that the decision was made as a result of a series of
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Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord should be aware that the UK coast is fully covered by radio aerials to receive distress alerts. This network is second to none, is more comprehensive than in many other EU countries, and will be maintained. Noble Lords may wish to note that all UK commercial vessels have to carry a radio for use in an emergency. Modern technology, including rescue beacons, has now overtaken the need for DF systems in operation rooms. However, lifeboats and helicopters are still fitted with direction-finding equipment, as necessary. There is less need for the search element of search and rescue.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, given the noble Earl's answer, in which he indicated the technological basis upon which the coastguard service relies, and given the cuts in public expenditure, what assurance can he give us that those systems will be adequately protected against some form of cyberattack or cybervirus? In May 2004, at a time of rather more lavish public spending, the coastguard service's systems collapsed because it had failed to ignore no fewer than six separate alerts sent to it through the Cabinet Office about patching the systems. What assurance can he give us that that will not happen in the future?
Lord Tyler: My Lords, the Minister quite rightly referred to the need for the best possible technology. I was witness to the work of the coastguard helicopters and others at Boscastle and Crackington Haven during the devastating floods of six years ago. Can he assure me that the problems encountered then of liaison between the helicopters in difficult terrain along our coastline have been dealt with in terms of improved technology?
Lord Greenway: My Lords, financial implications apart, is it not true that Her Majesty's Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been going through a rather difficult period over the past five years? Does the Minister share my confidence in the new chief executive, which is felt widely in the maritime community, and agree with me that he will sort out the present problems, although it may take a little time to do so?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I, too, hope that we can ensure that we have the very best Maritime and Coastguard Agency that we can provide. We are reviewing it and we will be making an announcement about consultation shortly.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, could the Minister please guarantee that the input by the coastguard agency to the NMIC, the National Maritime Information Centre, which is so crucial to the counterterrorist security of this nation, will not be touched by what is being agreed to at the moment in terms of reductions.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, is the Minister briefed on his obvious point? This is the second question where we have had a response from the Front Bench which is driven by the necessity for cuts and not for protection of the quality of the service. Will he address himself to that question?
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the decision to withdraw the grant from the Youth Sport Trust; and what consultations were undertaken before the decision was made.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, we looked carefully at the impact of the Youth Sport Trust and the school sport partnerships in recent years. While there has certainly been progress in some areas, the overall level of participation in competitive sport remains disappointingly low. The Government are bringing forward proposals to promote an Olympic and Paralympic-style programme where the Youth Sport Trust has been on the steering committee. We hope that this will lead to more involvement by more children at all levels.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, but it is important to understand that the decision by the Secretary of State to cut completely the dedicated fund for school sports, condemned by head teachers, sports people and 600,000
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Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, as the debates in another place revealed a couple of weeks ago, there is broad agreement across the House on the importance of sport and on the fact that we want to have a very strong legacy from the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In terms of the performance of the school sport partnerships, again there was broad acceptance that the record is mixed. I certainly do not subscribe to the view that there was not good work done-there clearly was good work done-but equally there is acceptance that it was not universally good across the piece, and there are many people in sport who would also make that argument. In terms of going forward, what I hope we are united on is the need to find an effective way-we may differ on the means-of making sure that there is a strong and lasting Olympic and Paralympic legacy.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, can the Minister explain what options were considered for consulting more locally-perhaps with head teachers, schools, or even some of the children who were so vocal outside yesterday-before this decision was made? It is not just about an elite sports pathway; it is about the serious impact that a fall in participation could have on all our children's future health and well-being.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I always listen with particular care to the points made by the noble Baroness. In a debate a few weeks ago, she made a very powerful intervention. I take her points very much to heart. My honourable friend Mr Loughton, the Minister for Children, is working with colleagues at DCMS to make sure that head teachers have the opportunity to express their views. As someone who could never have been described as an elite sports person-unlike the noble Baroness-I also agree very much with the point that we want to encourage participation for people at all levels, as well as making sure that there is a proper legacy.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, many of our Olympians and top sports stars were discovered and cultivated by sport specialists at schools and went on to make our country very proud-the noble Baroness is an example.
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Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the thrust of the point made by my noble friend about the need to make sure that sport is given due weight. Part of what we need to look at in our overall considerations is the review of the national curriculum, to make sure that the emphasis that PE is given-in particular the competitive aspects of PE-is properly reflected. Our contention, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, suggested, is that we are trying to devolve responsibility and funds to heads of schools across the board to make those decisions. We expect that heads will want to continue to make sure that sport is given due and proper weight.
Baroness Billingham: I apologise. Members of this House will remember that when the announcement was made about the withdrawal of funding, there was a firestorm of fury across the whole sporting family. It came from schools, colleges, elite athletes and people supporting the legacy of the Olympics. This outrage was no surprise. I think that No. 10 was somewhat taken by surprise, to the extent that it issued a statement saying that it would rethink this. At today's PMQs, the Prime Minister said that there would be no rethink. My question to the Minister is: will you have a rethink or will you rush headlong into the devastation of sport for a whole generation and many years to come?
Lord Hill of Oareford: The situation is that, in the light of the debate around sport following our announcement, my department and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are considering how best to ensure that we have a proper legacy for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In due course, we will come forward to set out more detail.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: As a mere Back-Bencher, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether it is true that this function was previously devolved to headmasters. They had the responsibility for ensuring that there was competitive sport. However, in practice it did not work, which is why we had to establish the bodies that we have been speaking about. If they are to be abolished, what will the Government put in place to make sure that we do not slip back to what we had previously?
Lord Hill of Oareford: As I said in my previous reply, work is going on to set out our thoughts going forward. It is also true that when the system with the Youth Sport Trust and the school sport partnerships was set up, a former Labour Sports Minister said that the expectation had always been that if it worked well-and after £2.4 billion of expenditure, there are good examples of where obviously it has worked-it would be embedded in the system, and therefore it would be more appropriate for head teachers to take that responsibility.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an unpaid interest as vice-president of the Football Conference and as an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Football Group.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, there is obviously great disappointment over FIFA's decision. England's 2018 team put together a strong technical bid which FIFA recognised. It is difficult to think what more the Government could have done to support it. I congratulate Russia and Qatar on being selected and wish them luck for hosting the tournaments in 2018 and 2022. It is too early to draw lessons at this stage but that process will now begin.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I think most reasonable people will take the view that this Government and their predecessor did all they legally could to win the bid. I suspect that many of your Lordships will have had the experience of being promised votes from people who turn out to be inveterate liars. Does the Minister agree that this is now the time for a far-reaching government inquiry into the state of English football, looking at such matters as the governance of the Football Association, the influence of the Premier League on the England national team and the effects of all these developments on the grassroots of the game?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lord's long-standing commitment to football and his wide-ranging contributions to the sport. On the matters of governance, it is not for the Government to run football. We have been clear that we are looking to football to put its house in order and we would expect it to address governance and regulation issues internally before there is any question of government regulation. But on the broad gist of his remarks, yes, we would agree with that.
Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I start by declaring an interest as deputy chairman of England's 2018 bid and, secondly, as honorary president of the Football League. I have two questions for my noble friend. Does she accept on behalf of the Government that when an excess of money combines with a deficit in truthfulness, the main casualty is the integrity of competition, whether it is national or international football? Secondly, is it the Government's view that the charges and issues raised by the Sunday Times and by the BBC "Panorama" programme remain on the table to be resolved?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, one of the aspects of the Sunday Times exposé is that FIFA responded by expelling two executive committee members in November. Its ethics committee has shown that it takes allegations of corruption seriously, but the issues and the sanctions FIFA imposes are a matter for it.
Lord Addington: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that if football wants help from the Government, it must, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, says, put its own house in order before it goes back to Parliament or any other part of Government asking for any support or help? In that light, can my noble friend give us an assurance that the Government will make sure that football has at least started on that process before we start listening to it again?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: I thank my noble friend for that question. It refers back to what I previously said. We would expect the Football Association to put its house in order and we look forward to that being learnt. Quite possibly, the result of not getting the World Cup will mean that football takes another look at the way in which it operates, although in no way would I suggest that football was at fault in our not gaining the World Cup in 2018.
Baroness Billingham: Many people have said that the best antidote to the rebuttal that we have had is to actually get on the pitch and win the World Cup at the next possible opportunity. If it is any help to the Minister, is she aware that there is already the Burns report which did an amazing review of football governance in this country? It may well be time that we looked at the Burns report again and brought it into action.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that getting on the pitch and winning some matches would be a very good rebuttal of what has happened with FIFA. On the funding side, the Government remain committed to investing in grassroots football through the money which Sport England provides to the Football Association and, as she says, learning lessons from the Burns review.
Lord Inglewood: Does the Minister agree that it is open to those against whom these very serious allegations have been made by the Sunday Timesand "Panorama" to issue court proceedings for defamation, and that we can draw our own conclusion on whether they do so?
Lord Pannick: My Lords, can the Minister confirm the accuracy of a report in the Guardian newspaper on 1 December that, as a condition of being allowed to bid, the Government agreed to exempt FIFA and its representatives from aspects of the money-laundering
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Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, a number of conditions were agreed by the previous Administration before the bid went forward and guarantees were required by FIFA. The guarantees were generic and did not take into account matters such as EU law. There were also some things that we were required to do-for example, we were required to charge VAT by EU law-but we made it clear to FIFA that, as with the Olympics, arrangements would be put in place to minimise the impact and not distort our own systems.
A Bill to make provision for the arrangement and financing of energy efficiency improvements to be made to properties by owners and occupiers; about the energy efficiency of properties in the private rented sector; about the promotion by energy companies of reductions in carbon emissions and home-heating costs; about information relating to energy consumption, efficiency and tariffs; for increasing the security of energy supplies; about access to upstream petroleum infrastructure; about a special administration regime for energy supply companies; about designations under the Continental Shelf Act 1964; about licence modifications relating to offshore transmission and distribution of electricity; about the decommissioning of nuclear sites; about the powers of the Coal Authority; for the repeal of measures relating to home energy efficiency; and for connected purposes.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 25. In moving this amendment, I need to step back, without in any way wishing to delay the House, to remind the House and those unable to be present last week that the central argument in the case for many of us is that the Government have picked the wrong system in the referendum question. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I both support
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The Government picked the system in a rush against a background of frantic coalition negotiations. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said in his speech the day before yesterday, it seems that they had in mind when they selected the scheme the fact that the Labour Government had picked a similar scheme when we presented our Bill earlier this year.
My view, and that of many of my colleagues, is that the system that has been selected is nonsense and riddled with flaws. That is why I argue for an inquiry in Amendment 22. I am convinced that whenever more than two or three are gathered together to consider AV systems, they invariably end up with the supplementary vote or London AV, which is the basis for Amendment 25. This amendment would modify the question in Clause 1 where it states:
Amendment 25 would enable Parliament to select an alternative voting system out of the three variants of AV available, to which I have referred. The Bill preselects an AV system which many of us reject, as indeed an overwhelming majority of the House would probably do on a free vote. An affirmative vote in a referendum would lead to an inquiry being established to recommend an electoral system to the House, and that inquiry would be able to select from the three systems. It deals with the distinction alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on Second Reading on 15 November-at col. 569 of Hansard-when he drew a distinction between pre-legislative referendums procedure as proposed by the Labour Government during the Scots and Welsh referendums: in other words, a referendum decision first and legislative detail after; as against the post-legislative referendum as set out in the Bill, which means legislative detail first followed by a referendum.
The question is simple: why cannot we have a referendum that simply seeks approval for the introduction of an AV system in principle? Parliament could then carry out a timetabled inquiry-perhaps even an independent commission of inquiry-to do the work. The Government could then introduce an order following a debate in Parliament, and at least then the merits of the various forms of AV would be debated. We would then have a system that might prove more acceptable to the voting public. My amendment would secure that pre-legislative referendum, which clearly preoccupies the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and many of his colleagues on those Benches. It would mean that the building block of an
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Amendment 25-the second of my amendments in this block-is the supplementary vote amendment. This would substitute the alternative vote proposal in the Bill in the referendum question with the supplementary vote, which is a tried and tested system in the United Kingdom. It is a variant of the alternative vote. The system has been the subject of substantial international debate among academics who specialise in electoral systems. It has been the subject of critical and supportive review in both its theory and its practice by academics in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Holland, Australia and Belgium. It is the system which supporters of AV have consistently sought to rubbish, as it exposes the flaws in AV. It is simpler to use, is more easily understood by the electors and is invariably supported when subjected to rigorous debate. It is opposed by the Liberal Democrat element in the coalition because Liberal Democrats, and only they, believe that it would not deliver for them the windfall gains which they believe are available to them under the optional preferential system of the Bill.
The supplementary vote is the system that is used to elect the United Kingdom's 13 elected mayors, including Boris Johnson. The coalition hopes to create a further 12 directly elected mayors-which many of us support-presumably under the same, successful system which is now being used and supported by millions of voters in more than 30 mayoral election contests nationally in London, Bedford, Doncaster, Hartlepool, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Mansfield, Middlesbrough, Northside, Torbay and Watford.
It is curious to note that when a noticeable number of advocates in the United Kingdom of AV or even full proportional representation are commenting on electoral systems, they studiously avoid reference to the supplementary vote. It is the system that the Government adopted when they were forced to choose between AV and SV in 1998. How does it work? With the supplementary vote, there are two columns on the ballot paper: one for the first choice and one for the second. Voters can mark an X in each column if they so wish. All the first preferences are counted. If a candidate has more than 50 per cent of the votes, they are elected. If no candidate receives 50 per cent, the top two remain and the rest are eliminated. The second preference votes of the eliminated are added to the votes of the top two candidates and counted. The candidate with most first and second preferences is the winner: simple and fair. I say to the Conservative end of the coalition that when we first presented that in 1989-it is 21 years since it was first presented in Parliament-there was support on their Benches in the Commons for that system.
I have been promoting the supplementary vote since 1989. It arose after a dinner in the Commons where there had been argument over a number of weeks about proportional representation and a system that would be acceptable to Parliament. At the end of the conversation at the last dinner, I announced to my colleagues that I would go away to research a new
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Soon after, the Labour Party established the Plant commission, which examined electoral systems including AV over four months, again in great detail. It produced the Plant report. The Plant commission, while not completely rejecting AV, came down in favour of a single-member constituency system in recognition of the desire of MPs of all parties in the Commons to retain single-member constituencies. In its comprehensive canter around the course of electoral systems, it came down strongly in favour of the supplementary vote with the following words:
"While other systems provide scope for variation from time to time, according to fashion or political whim, SV is relatively immutable; although it could be abolished (or turned into AV), there is little scope for altering the formula by which it operates. Hence, it is more likely to be durable in an unchanged form, and therefore to acquire legitimacy.
"Although it does not entail 'proportional representation' (in the sense of a direct link between votes cast nationally or regionally for a party, and the number of seats allocated to that party), it is possible that it would go some way to limit the imbalance between votes and seats that has characterised many election results ... While it would reduce the likelihood of any one party gaining an overall majority on the basis of much less than an overall majority of votes, it would not make single-party overall majorities impossible. Landslide victories, firmly establishing a major party in government without minor party support, would still be possible ... In sum, the Supplementary Vote appears to have the advantages that it is a reform which, although possibly far reaching in its consequences, would nevertheless be practical, straightforward, comparatively modest, and would generally be perceived to be fair. However, it emerged that, while there was a clear majority in favour of some form of change from the present system, there was also a clear majority in favour of a single-member constituency majoritarian system. Both the Alternative Vote and the Supplementary Vote would represent a change retaining these features. Between the two, there was, though, a clear preference for the Supplementary Vote; and, accordingly, this is the majority recommendation of the Working Party".
"The Supplementary Vote would be likely to increase the representation of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons-and so be more likely to produce hung parliaments and thus the possibility of coalition or minority government".
That is why I simply cannot understand the scale of their opposition. In some ways, I hope that that comment deals with remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, at our team meeting the other week in Room 3A when he put it to the meeting that it was some sort of Labour Party stitch-up. It was never a Labour Party stitch-up; it was a very neutrally-based system.
The problem with the whole AV/SV debate is that the benefits of SV are often attributed by proponents of AV to the alternative vote, more often than not out of ignorance or a failure to subject both systems to detailed examination. Even the House of Lords Constitution Committee in its report on the Bill likened the system to AV when it stated in paragraph 14:
It is similar, but it is very different in operation and in how the votes are counted. For a start, under SV, bottom-placed candidates' additional preferences do not have priority over the additional preferences cast for other candidates other than those cast for the top two. This avoids results where extremes, such as the BNP, can determine the results of elections, which can happen under the AV system in the Bill.
Also under SV, third and fourth-placed candidates cannot leapfrog into first place, undermining the credibility of election results. I understand that leapfrogging is the reason why the Liberal Democrats support AV-because it does precisely that-but that is a two-edged sword. They may wish to consider what would happen if there was an election tomorrow under the AV system in the Bill. They should remember that they are part of a coalition that is having to take some very unpopular and difficult decisions. As Plant put it:
"The main disadvantages of AV are as follows ... it is possible for low ranked candidates actually to break through and be elected so that the most weakly preferred candidate could gain a majority ... Following from the fact that the winning candidate has to get"
The other day I referred to the work of Professor Rawlings and Professor Thrasher at length, and I do not want to repeat what I said, except to say that, following their research into voting behaviour in Queensland, Australia, which uses the same optional preference AV system as proposed in the Bill, they concluded that,
I argue that SV is simple, easily understood, well tried, internationally recognised, more likely to lead to the casting of additional preference votes and easy to count. I have not even dealt with the problems that arise over counting-perhaps I can do that on Report. In replying to this debate, perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity to tell us whether it is proposed under their system to count the votes manually or electronically, which is significant. Unless they are counted electronically it will not be possible to work out how effective this system is. That view is expressed by returning officers in Scotland, with whom our people have spoken over the past few days. It reduces the influence of the extremes. Finally, it concentrates the mind of the voter on the need not to waste votes. I beg to move.
Lord Rooker: I support my noble friend in this amendment. I do not want to repeat what I have said in previous debates, but we are given an opportunity here to deploy once again-certainly, it will be deployed if and when a referendum takes place-the fact that the proposal in the Bill is fraught with difficulties. What is more, untruths are told about it. It will be the case that every time someone appears on a platform or a television station and says, "Oh, they have got to get more than 50 per cent to win", someone will pop up and say, "Not true". It is not true under the system in this Bill that every MP will be elected with more than 50 per cent of the votes. It cannot happen with an open system. It is impossible. Every time it is said, whether by the Deputy Prime Minister or anyone else, it is not the case. The public are being misled.
We have to look at which system of AV is being used. I know that it is the case-it was the case with the previous Cabinet and will be with this one-that there has been no proper discussion in the Government. There has been no seminar in the Cabinet Room for Cabinet Ministers to say, "There are three ways of doing AV. Which one do you want in the Bill?". There has been no discussion at all. That is why we have a Bill based on ignorance. I am not saying that people are personally ignorant; I am saying that there is ignorance of the system.
It would not be so bad if the Government were offering up the system and telling the whole truth about it or if they said, "Well, this is the system we have got. It is not perfect, but none of them is. Most MPs will be elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote, but some of them won't be. So we won't make the claim that they all will be". But the Government are not saying that, because they cannot say it under this system. They must know that by now because their advisers must have told them about it. As I have said, there is ignorance and lack of party discussion. It was the same with the last lot-no one was ever consulted and it just turned up in the Bill earlier in the year. Part
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I want also to confirm briefly everything that my noble friend has said about the start of the supplementary vote. To my certain knowledge, it is true. I was involved in the beginning of the campaign; it was the time when I turned away from first past the post and moved to AV. In fact, I do not know anyone who has moved from first past the post to PR who did not stop off for a few years while they supported AV. That is the case and it was the same for me. I supported AV for four years, then the penny dropped that AV would still leave hundreds of square miles of this country where there would be millions of Tory voters without a Tory MP and millions of Labour voters without a Labour MP. I thought, "That's not fair". That turned me to PR, having been convinced by the geography specialists from Sheffield who published the book A Nation Dividing?. I stopped off by supporting AV because it was seductive. It seems to be fairer than first past the post until you realise that it does not do what it says.
The other thing that I want to point out is the issue of second preferences. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, is in the Chamber because he was absolutely right to raise this last week. I do not know all the ways of dealing with this, but why should someone win on the second preference of a person who voted for the sixth or seventh bottom candidate? That is preposterous. I have put down Amendment 52 to try to deal with this, but we certainly will not reach it today. It provides that the vote will not have the same value. If someone comes sixth, then the second preference would be worth one-sixth of a vote to be transferred, not a whole vote. However, with the supplementary vote, you avoid that completely.
By the way, people can still vote using crosses. It is a majoritarian system, not a PR system, and no one is claiming that it is. The Tory part of the coalition Government does not want a PR system, but this proposal does not offer it a PR system. This offers a majoritarian system, which is exactly what AV is. The supplementary vote is majoritarian and people can vote by making two crosses in two columns. It is actually simpler than ranking in numbers, so you really cannot go wrong, and people can vote in the way that they are used to, with a cross. But it produces a result whereby a constraint is built into the system so that the votes of the bottom candidates-the second preferences may be from the bottom candidates-do not distort the overall winner. The votes are not worth the same. Why should they be when they are at the bottom? They have value and they are used as a vote, but they should not have the sort of value that could swing the result.
My noble friend was right to say that we have not seen the localism Bill yet, but we keep hearing about it. It would be quite useful to have it brought forward because I understand that it is going to deal with mayoral referendums. Presumably that will explain the voting system to be used, which I assume will be the
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My noble friend has made a valid case and the Government would be well advised to heed it. As I have said, it is never too late to avoid making a bad decision. SV is in use in Great Britain and millions of people have used it-not across the country, I accept, but only in areas where there are elected mayors. It is tried and tested and it is British. AV, as proposed in the Bill, is not a British way of doing things, notwithstanding what happens in by-elections in Scotland. My noble friend's positive approach to this issue should be supported.
Lord Rooker: No, as my noble friend explained in even greater detail. However many candidates there are on the list, noble Lords should envisage the current ballot paper but with two columns. Voters put an X in the first column and an X in the second column-obviously for different people-and the contest is then between those two candidates only. One person could get elected, of course, with more than 50 per cent in the first column, as is the case with AV now, and that would be great. However, it would not be possible for the least popular candidate to leapfrog the popular candidate, as can happen with AV.
Lord Greaves: This is the first time that I have spoken on the Bill. I apologise that I did not speak at Second Reading and I do not expect to speak very often in Committee, which will please my noble friends.
I rise to speak because the debate is about the supplementary vote, which I consider to be an awful voting system. I want to explain why. Before I do, however, in response to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, I should explain that it is not possible under AV for a candidate who gets no first preference votes to be elected. It is possible, but highly unlikely, under STV in a multimember seat; it is not possible under AV. That is a red herring.
I normally expect the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, to speak a great deal of sense and to put forward sensible proposals, even when I am not allowed
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As the noble Lord said, the system is used in 12 mayoral elections for councils and for the election of the Mayor of London, so there is, indeed, a great deal of experience. However, on the evidence that we have, it is not particularly beneficial to any of the political parties. It often seems beneficial to candidates of weird and wonderful varieties but, at the moment, of the 12 mayors, three are Labour, two are Conservative, two are Liberal Democrat, four are independent and one is an English Democrat. People ought to at least ask questions about any system that allows the election of an English Democrat, as the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, against AV included the suggestion that that system might lead to influence for BNP voters.
Lord Greaves: They would, yes. However, whether they would have stood and whether it would have resulted in their election is a different matter altogether. It may be that the problem is with elected mayors and not with the system used to elect them. However, we will have that discussion under the localism Bill when we come to it. Indeed, at least five of the existing elected mayors were elected with over 50 per cent of first preferences, so whatever electoral system you have makes no difference whatsoever.
I think that you have to look at the outcomes, but my objections and, I think, those of the Liberal Democrats to the supplementary vote are not based on whether it is good for Liberal Democrats. The noble Lord was seductive in trying to find an electoral system that would be best for us, but that is not how we look at election systems. It is certainly not how I look at election systems. We look at election systems as a matter of principle.
Lord Greaves: That is certainly how I look at election systems. We have here a system that is bad in principle but also shown in practice to be defective. I shall refer to three or four actual elections to explain what happened.
At the last ordinary election in Bedford-we have had a by-election since then-the total number of votes cast was 43,525. The top two candidates, who, under the supplementary vote system, as the noble Lord accurately described, go through to the final
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Lord Campbell-Savours: On that matter, again, if the noble Lord is comparing the system with AV and alluding to what he might regard as wasted votes, or unused votes, is it not true that under the system in the Bill a bottom-placed candidate could take a top-placed candidate over the 50 per cent limit? Therefore, every additional preference for all the other candidates would be unused under the Government's proposed system. You would have a whole ballot paper wiped out on the basis of the simple transfer of the bottom eliminated candidate taking the first-placed candidate over 50 per cent. That is an outrageous waste of votes. If the noble Lord's case is based on wasted votes, there are far more votes wasted under AV when you start doing research into election results.
Lord Greaves: I do not want to talk about AV; I want to talk about the supplementary vote. However, the main votes wasted under AV are where people do not express any further preferences and therefore that vote is not transferable, but that is their decision. It is their decision not to express a further preference after they have decided whom they want to vote for down to however far they vote. Under this system, people very clearly express a preference and that preference is discarded. In Bedford in 2007, as I said, it was a quarter of the vote.
In Mansfield in 2007, where the two top candidates got a much larger proportion of the total vote, it was still the case that, of those eliminated on the second count, 2,350 transferred and 3,853 did not transfer. Of those, 1,199 were void as unmarked or for reasons of uncertainty. It may be, of course, that people did not want to express a second preference, but one of the problems of the supplementary vote is that it leads to a much higher proportion of votes being void because they are not filled in accurately. For example, there are many people who vote for the same candidate in both columns. It is perfectly easy to do that, but you cannot do it under the alternative vote system, only under the supplementary vote system. It is clear that that is what people did.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I just want to correct the noble Lord. The reason why that happened in the first mayoral elections in London was that the civil servants
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Lord Greaves: The problem did not arise to the same extent. I do not have the figures for the London mayoral elections, although those are available-for most counts, no figures are issued to show exactly why people's votes were rejected.
In the 2007 Mansfield mayoral elections, 892 votes were rejected at the first count. At 3 per cent of the total, that is significantly higher than the normal number of rejected ballot papers in an election. Of those 892 ballot papers, 483 were rejected because the person had voted for more than one candidate in the first column. Such errors are to be expected when people are told only, "You've got two votes-you vote for one person as your first preference and one person as your second preference". It is not surprising that a significant number of people vote twice in the first column. Only an inefficient voting system encourages people to make mistakes like that.
Lord Campbell-Savours: These points should be answered because this is a debate on the technical working of the system. Research into AV in Australia found that the requirement to number the candidates meant that people simply numbered "1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6", "7" and so on down the ballot paper, without even thinking of the candidates involved. That is how people thought that they had to use the system, so there are equally problems with AV over how people understand the ballot paper.
Lord Greaves: I am talking about the supplementary vote and trying to point out why that is a bad system. However, in any long ballot paper with lots of candidates, people near the top of the ballot paper always do better than people near the bottom. That happens with multiseat elections under the first-past-the-post system, for example. If noble Lords have ideas on how to counter that issue-there are several ideas around-perhaps they can put them forward, but that is not what we are talking about today.
In the 2010 Watford mayoral election-which was won by a Liberal Democrat, so I am not making a party-political point about rejected votes, which might have been against the Liberal Democrat candidate-the number of eliminated ballot papers was 12,202. Of those, the number of valid ballot papers was only 5,381, which is less than half.
The most ludicrous example of all comes from the most recent mayoral election in Torbay in 2005-I do not think that there has been another election since-where the 14 candidates, which I agree is an extreme example, included a Conservative, a Liberal Democrat, a Labour candidate and 11 independents. The Conservative was elected on the second count after the
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The supplementary vote results in people being cheated out of their second preferences. SV is an inefficient and unnecessary system that was invented for party-political reasons by the Labour Party, which imposed it on the mayoral elections. The supplementary vote is a very bad system that should be rejected.
Lord Howarth of Newport: In Amendment 25, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has offered a lifeboat to the coalition, just as my noble friend Lord Rooker did the other day, when-slightly to their surprise-the coalition Government found themselves in another lifeboat. For two reasons, they might do well to take a ride in it.
First, the alternative vote system proposed in the Bill plainly will not work. It would be very foolish for the Government to plough ahead with the proposal because the inadequacies of the system will be exposed in the process of the campaign. There may not have been a seminar on that in the Cabinet room, but there will be a national seminar. If the system is as fallacious as I believe it to be, those weaknesses will ineluctably be exposed and the campaign for the alternative vote will disintegrate and become a fiasco. That might be a matter for some quiet satisfaction to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but it should be a matter of some anxiety to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and indeed to all of us. Whatever our views on the rights and wrongs of holding a referendum, getting rid of first past the post and having AV instead, none of us wants to see this process reduced to complete impracticality and ridicule, which is what I fear will happen.
Noble Lords would do well to heed the arguments of, and to use the opportunity put forward by, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has sought to persuade the House that the supplementary vote is a bad system. In those very interesting exchanges, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours seemed to have the better of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in the argument. The supplementary vote system has been road-tested in this country through the practicalities of election campaigns. I am not aware of any significant public dissatisfaction of the practical operation of the supplementary vote system. In Amendments 22 and 25, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has offered a lifeboat to the Government; they would be very wise to accept the opportunity that he has presented to them.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this is an important debate on an issue that might figure in the course of the referendum campaign. Clause 9 sets out in detail the alternative vote system that the referendum will be about, which is a system in which people could vote "1", "2", "3", "4" and "5" but would not have to use all five preferences. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has identified two other AV systems. Under the AV system used in the federation of Australia, voters are compelled to use all their preferences. Under the third alternative vote system-called the supplementary vote system-voters identify their top two preferences and the second preferences of those who voted for the other candidates are shared out between the top two.
As Clause 9 establishes, the Government have chosen the AV system that is used in Queensland, Australia. For the sake of the electorate, it is important for the Government to set out why they have chosen that alternative vote system in preference to both the system used in federal elections in Australia and the supplementary vote system that has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. Once the Government set out what their reasoning is, this House can judge whether the AV system chosen is the right one or whether amendments should be made in relation to the alternative vote. Perhaps more importantly, the public voting in the referendum will be able to judge whether it is sensible to vote in favour of the particular alternative vote system that the Government have adopted. As we have identified before, this is-as it were-a compulsory referendum because our previous amendment failed. The effect of a majority yes vote, once the new constituency boundaries are in-those are tied in as well in Clause 8-is that the system in Clause 9 will automatically come into effect. The public will be voting not just on the principle of AV but on the detail of the particular system adopted. Therefore, it would be helpful if the Minister would set out the reasoning behind Clause 9.
My children have always thought that I am a bit of a nerd because I am so interested in politics, but if they had heard the invigorating debate between the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, they would think that I was the coolest man alive.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I very much admire the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, introduced the amendment. I also admire his perseverance, eloquence and sincerity. He gave us the history of the genesis of the supplementary vote since one of his dinner parties that occurred in 1989. I make no joke about his dinner parties, as I am sure that it was very good. Historians will want to know what on earth he ate at that dinner party, but that is for history.
Lord Strathclyde: That might shock some of my noble friends. However, I was astonished to read in this morning's Guardian a letter from the leading lights
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Before I get into the detail of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, intends by Amendments 22 and 25, I must stress again that it is fundamentally important that the referendum gives the public a clear choice about the systems that they are asked to choose between. That is the only way that we will get a clear result that will allow voters truly to express what they want. We cannot simply ask the people whether they want "an alternative voting system"; we need to be honest with them right from the start by letting them know exactly which alternative system they are being asked to vote on.
A key problem with Amendment 22 is that, by its very nature, it does not make clear whether the revised question would ask whether voters want an alternative to the current voting system-meaning a system that is not first past the post-or, more specifically, the alternative vote electoral system. Consequently, the noble Lord's amendment raises a very significant risk that some members of the public might vote in favour of "an alternative vote system" because they want something different from the current first-past-the-post system, but they may think that they are voting for the single transferable vote system or the additional member system-they might not want a form of "the" alternative vote system at all. The crucial change of "the" to "an" would make the question so ambiguous that the result of the referendum could be impossible to decipher. We would not know what the people really wanted at all.
Given the noble Lord's interest in the various alternative vote systems-in particular, the supplementary vote system to which Amendment 25 refers-he may intend by Amendments 22 and 25 to debate the merits of those different types of alternative vote systems. The noble Lord referred to his amendment concerning a committee of inquiry that we discussed on the first Committee day. I do not wish to reopen that debate, but I understand that the point that he made then is at least tangential to the point that he is making today. We had a full debate on that then, so I will not reopen it.
However, a number of noble Lords have suggested-including, indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton-that they would welcome a clear explanation of why the Government are putting forward this specific form of AV. I will address that point here, which I hope will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, on why the alternative vote system set out in the Bill is the right choice to put before the public in the referendum.
The type of alternative vote system specified in the Bill that will come into force if there is a yes vote in the referendum is the optional preferential alternative vote system. We believe that to be the right form of alternative vote to put before the people, because we believe that it is right to allow electors to choose to mark as many or as few preferences as they wish. The optional preferential alternative vote system is different from the system used to elect the Australian federal House of Representatives, for which voters are required to express a preference by ranking all candidates standing at the election. The optional preferential system is a more appropriate form of alternative vote, because it prevents people from being forced to vote positively for political parties that might be distasteful to them, such as those on the extremes of politics. The optional preferential system does not put people in such an uncomfortable position. People should not be forced to vote for anybody-no matter how far down the rankings the candidate might be placed-whom they do not want to see elected.
In response to other criticisms, notably from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, of the optional preferential alternative vote system, it is possible to have a situation in which no candidate receives 50 per cent of the vote. That could happen if most people expressed only a first preference. However, that argument will no doubt be used during the course of the campaign both by those who are in favour and those who are not in favour of AV. I will not indulge that argument now.
Lord Rooker: The Leader of the House is deploying arguments that he has not used so far in this debate. He is to be congratulated for the exposition that he has just given. It naturally follows from what he has just said that it would be completely misleading for members of the Government to persist in claiming that the proposed system will mean that MPs will be elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote. That has got to stop. If he said that that will stop, that would knock one of the misleading issues off the agenda so far as the public are concerned.
Lord Strathclyde: I like to think that I have made an authoritative statement from the Dispatch Box as to what the Government believe to be the case. However, as the noble Lord knows, we will not be controlling the campaign-different people will make their different views known as to the merits or demerits of AV. However, the noble Lord is right. I have agreed with him, and I thank him for his earlier words about this case.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I am sorry to come back at this stage, but the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is sitting next to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, so we really need to have this sorted out. During the course of an interview on Monday 15 November on the Radio 4 "Today" programme, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was asked a question, to which he replied:
Now, that is why my noble friend intervened. It is really important that this is sorted out if Ministers from now on are to go on television and admit that. I
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Lord Strathclyde: Those who are in favour of the system will no doubt be responsible for what they say during the course of the campaign, but that is not part of the debate that we need to have now. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the Electoral Commission-
Lord Grocott: My Lords, it is no use saying that those who are in favour of the proposal will deploy whatever arguments they like. Given that the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords have joint responsibility for presenting the Bill to Parliament, presumably they have joint responsibility for presenting some of the arguments to people in the country. If it is not true, as my noble friend has made perfectly clear, that successful candidates under the proposed system would have the support of 50 per cent of the voters in their constituency, could we have that loud and clear, preferably from both the Leader of the House and-after all, this is a double act-the Deputy Leader of the House at the Dispatch Box? Accuracy is important. Surely the noble Lord would agree with me on that?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, on this Front Bench we are entirely tied by collective responsibility and my noble friend is totally aware of that. The point is that in the generality we would expect more than 50 per cent of voters to have voted for MPs, but there are circumstances, as I and the noble Lord have explained, where that will not be the case.
The Electoral Commission will be providing this kind of information, and voters will know what they are voting for in the referendum. If they choose AV, it will, I assume, be because they want to express more than one preference at an election, because if they do not, they may as well vote for what we have currently got. So I do not think that there is really any need to worry about voters not exercising this right, if that is the very system that they voted for in the first place. Just as we are not convinced that voters should be made to express a preference for all candidates, we are not persuaded that the Bill should limit the number of preferences that a voter may express at an election. Therefore, we do not agree that the supplementary vote system is the appropriate alternative vote system to present.
I have set out our reasoning and I do not want to go on about arguments that I have already made, but I assume that this is the same reasoning that was behind the previous Government's proposals for a referendum
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Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I shall briefly comment on the interventions. I say to my noble friend Lord Rooker that we have travelled down exactly that route-from first past the post, through an AV variant to an additional member system. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that I dispute the figures he used during his intervention and I shall trawl over them. He is perhaps unaware of the failure to use additional preferences, which goes to the heart of the argument over the AV system that he supports. During the debate on whether this clause should stand part of the Bill, I hope to produce evidence of what happened in Scotland on these very matters.
My noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport is absolutely right to identify the TV campaign as being critical to what is going to happen. I can envisage circumstances in which advocates of this AV system are demolished in argument in front of the nation on news bulletins, on "Newsnight" and so on. We will see slowly dripping away any residual support that there is for this system. I say to the Government that they might be looking forward to that prospect, but on that basis the Liberal Democrats should certainly not be looking forward to it.
I again thank my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer for his clear, lawyer's explanation of my system, and I apologise to the House for intervening repeatedly. However, I did so because it is important in advance of the referendum that we strike down some of the myths that have been used throughout this whole debate. I understand the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on the wording of the amendment and the question of "an" alternative vote system, and I might well return at Report with another amendment precisely to deal with that matter.
Finally, I say this to the Government because I really think that Conservative Back-Benchers, Conservative members of the coalition, should carefully consider what they are doing. In my mind, the question to ask is whether they, as Conservative Members of Parliament, Members of the House, are prepared, for the sake of a possible five-year survival of a coalition, to take the immense risk of allowing a referendum result which could completely transform the British electoral system, could cause huge damage and undermine the whole credibility of parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom. Maybe it is that they are confident that the referendum will be lost, but are they really prepared to take that risk? I say to Conservative noble Lords: be very careful, you are playing with fire.
Lord Rooker: With respect to Amendment 24, in view of the clarity of the Leader's speech this afternoon, as a reward and to avoid further embarrassment to the Liberal Democrats, I will not move Amendment 24.
(a) Thursday; or
Lord Snape: A lot of the debate that has taken place so far on this Bill has been about the referendum itself, about the wording of the referendum or whether different voting systems should be adopted. But, whatever the views that have been expressed by both sides in your Lordships' House, by all parties and by none, the one thing I suspect unites us all is the desire to see higher turnouts in elections generally in the United Kingdom. For that reason, my noble friend Lady McDonagh and I have tabled this amendment about polling day.
It seems to be generally accepted that, in elections, polling day should be held on a Thursday. That is a fairly modern trend. It is not something that we have had for centuries, or even decades. Indeed, my first election to a local authority-to the Bredbury and Romiley urban district council in 1971-took place on a Saturday. Polling for local authorities, particularly UDCs and RDCs, at that time took place on various days of the week. It allowed those of us who had perhaps outgrown train spotting, but were looking for something else to do, to campaign on behalf of colleagues in other elections in other parts-in my case, in the north-west.
Thursday as polling day for elections is not set in stone or in concrete. Nor is it set in stone or in concrete as regards parliamentary elections, or, for that matter, parliamentary by-elections. Back in July 2007, the previous Government published a Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, and followed it with a consultation paper about this very point: whether turnout in elections would be increased or improved if polling was held at the weekend rather than during the week. Perhaps I may quote briefly from the foreword to that consultation document written by my noble friend Lord Wills, who at that time was the Minister of State for Justice. The Government envisaged a summit and notified over 20 bodies as well as publicising to the general public as widely as possible the desire for people to participate in this particular exercise. In this document, my noble friend proposed a citizens' summit to look at the point. He stated:
"I also want to use that Summit to have a broader discussion about the factors that motivate people to exercise their right to vote. The sense of a civic 'duty' to vote has eroded over the last 50 years. It is vital for all of us that we understand the reasons".
Whether turnout on polling day would be improved if we moved the day is perhaps an issue on which he received some replies. I am not sure why we did not take those replies forward. If my noble friend intervenes in this debate, no doubt he will tell us. The idea that polling should not necessarily be held on a Thursday is one that we should look at.
It is only since the Local Government Act 1972, which abolished the Bredbury and Romiley urban district council along with many other units of local government throughout the United Kingdom, that Thursday has been set as the day on which elections should be held. When one looks back at the history of general elections, Thursday appears only infrequently. Up to and including the First World War, it was possible in many parts of the country to vote over a four-week period. I am not suggesting that we return to those days. However, the election on 14 December 1918, immediately after the cessation of the First World War, was held on a Saturday. Until 1931, general elections were held on three or four other days of the week. We should not regard Thursday as the only possible day to exercise our democratic right. I would be interested in the Government's view on whether it would be better to hold elections on a Saturday, or at the weekend, rather than on a Thursday.
It is a similar story with by-elections. They have been held on various days of the week over many years. As recently as 1978, the Hamilton by-election in Scotland was held on 31 May, which happens to be a Wednesday. I tread carefully here. It was held on Wednesday because the first match in Scotland's World Cup campaign was held the following day. As a supporter of Stockport County, I well understand the desire of my Scottish colleagues not to see the by-election clash with a major football match. I hesitate to mention, particularly with so many Scots present in the Chamber-but I will do so, perhaps recklessly-that on that occasion the Scots came up against the footballing might of Iran and were disappointed at the outcome. In case my Scottish colleagues feel that I am making an undue point, I suggest that perhaps, given England's dismal performance in this year's World Cup, we should set polling day on whatever day our national side happens to be playing, in order to distract the populace of both our countries from the resulting misery.
I hope that the Government will look seriously at this. It is sensible to look at weekend voting in the United Kingdom. Whether this would be on Saturdays or Sundays I will leave to the opinion of the Government Front Bench. Of course, there are objections to both days on religious grounds, but most of our EU neighbours vote on Sundays and the attendance at various churches throughout the EU does not seem to be adversely affected. It would even be possible to hold elections over both Saturday and Sunday. This would deprive the Dimbleby family of the opportunity to appear on our various television channels presenting the results during the evening, but that is probably a cross that all of us would be able to bear, if not with equanimity than at least without too much disappointment. I will not detain your Lordships further on this point. It is worthy of consideration and I will be interested to hear the views either of the Leader of the House or of his deputy.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I remember the words of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, in an earlier debate when he said, "If it's not broke, don't break it". That seems to fit most of the prejudices with which I approach politics. But I think we should look again at the question of voting on Thursdays. That was set up in an age when people did not move very much. We are now dealing with a much more mobile population and people who travel all over the country. How many of us have canvassed on election day, knocking on doors to find that somebody has travelled the length of the country and is sitting in some city a very long way away from where they can vote? There are arguments for moving the date of an election to the weekend because it is much more likely that people would then be at home. This is something that needs consideration. As the noble Lord, Lord Snape, pointed out, the Europeans on the whole vote on Sundays and that seems to be eminently sensible. This has a degree of merit and should be seriously considered because the habits of people are changing.
A noble friend said to me when I was considering supporting this amendment that we now have postal voting and so therefore this becomes less of a problem. I am not certain about that. Postal voting has opened up enormous opportunities for fraud and it seems to be possible to create electors in inordinately large numbers who do not actually exist. There is something to be said for restraining the growth in postal voting and possibly considering moving the election day to the weekend when there will be more people at home and in a position to vote.
Lord Wills: My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, on this and to support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Snape. Both noble Lords are right to draw attention to the fact that in the past there has been a great flexibility on election day and the changing circumstances of the British people now suggest that we ought to be looking at this again. That is why the previous Government held a consultation on this issue. That consultation, for which I was the Minister responsible, proved a very interesting one. There was a mixed response, as one would expect. There were a lot of voices in favour of moving election day. There were equally, I think it is fair to say, a lot of voices very much opposed to it. But what it showed was that there are a great number of issues that have to be taken into account on this: participation in elections, which is a fundamental of our democracy, questions of faith, the patterns of the working day for the great majority of the British electorate and the cost of shifting the election day.
These are complex issues. In the end the previous Government took the view that it was right that the British people should have a decisive say in that. It is their democracy. It is not for us but for them to decide what day would be most convenient, bearing in mind all those other considerations that both noble Lords have alluded to and which the consultation highlighted. We thought in Government that the best way of allowing the British people to have their say was through a citizens' summit, as my noble friend Lord Snape has reminded us. I still think that probably is the best way
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Lord Renton of Mount Harry: Before the noble Lord sits down, I am rather surprised by what he is saying. I apologise for the fact that I was not in the House for the beginning of this debate, but is he saying that he would like to see the British people being given the choice as to whether it is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday? If he is, the people will simply split and you will have 10 per cent saying one thing, 10 per cent saying another, et cetera. I have stood in seven or eight general elections, all of them on a Thursday, and I never saw anything wrong with it being on a Thursday. People are used to that and personally I would continue having them on Thursdays only.
Lord Wills: I had sat down, but I shall briefly respond to the noble Lord's question. He asked what was wrong with having elections on a Thursday. Quite simply, we have seen turnout falling. It is extraordinarily low in local elections and deplorably low even in general elections, which is the British people deciding on the future of their country and 60 per cent of them turn out. We owe it to them to look at every obstacle to people turning out. I absolutely accept that it is not only to do with the convenience of polling and whether there is electronic voting or voting on election day. Politicians-I include myself in this-are at fault as well in this deplorably low turnout. We should do everything we possibly can. At the very least we have to examine, as one of the options, the question of polling day. That is why I think it is worth examining this matter. The Government in their wisdom have already made a judgment on how we should judge the outcome of a referendum on the alternative vote system. We do this every time we have a referendum. This is not an insoluble problem. The need is pressing and we owe the British people the option of deciding on this.
Lord Monson: If one is thinking of opting for weekend voting, it would be preferable to choose a Sunday rather than a Saturday. Of course, it is true that many shops and places of entertainment are open on Sundays nowadays but not nearly as many as are open on a Saturday, when there are a great many choices which the average voter might prefer to queuing up at a polling station. If one wants to optimise turnout, as I think most of us do, of the two I would certainly plump for a Sunday.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I would not follow my noble friend along that very controversial path, but perhaps I may make a broader point, broader than the amendment itself. It seems to me that there is a case for drawing a clear distinction between general elections and all other elections. General elections have, for many decades, been held on a Thursday for a particular reason, which is that by Friday morning one pretty well knows who is likely to form the government and it gives the new Prime Minister, or the continuing Prime Minister, the opportunity of a couple of days to cobble together all those considerations that are so pertinent to the formation of a new government. That applies only to general elections and not to all other elections. Therefore, it seems to me that one should draw that distinction. I have a fairly open mind about the amendment, but if one considers that there is much greater latitude for all non-general elections than for general elections, I think that should be a practical background to our consideration.
Lord Grenfell: I wish to express my support for the amendment of my noble friend, Lord Snape. This may be an esoteric point but reference has been made to elections in other parts of Europe. Over the years, I have witnessed many elections in France and it is not just tradition that demands that they be held at a weekend; there are also some practical reasons and I shall cite just one. It may sound a little bit like French Cartesian logic gone mad, but it is much easier to get people to the polls at a weekend than on a weekday. Where there are still many one-car families, as there are in France, on the weekend the car will be at home and not at the office. That is one example of the kind of thinking in France and it is the kind of thinking that we might want to apply here to see what kind of practical advantages there are as regards weekend elections as opposed to elections on a Thursday.
Lord Rooker: I was not going to speak on the amendment but perhaps I could add to the debate by referring to the next amendment. Everything short of compulsory voting should be tried to raise the turnout. I am dead against compulsory voting. In my view, that is quite preposterous in a democracy. However, the barriers to increased turnout, such as the hours of polling, or the days of voting, are all things that could be addressed. There is a lot more as well. All these things should be in play. I realise that the Leader of the House is going to ask what on earth this has to do with this Bill, but one has to look for a peg to hang these things on. The localism Bill will probably be another one-it is exactly the same. I have been disabused of the history this afternoon. I always thought that it was a Thursday-and I have repeated this at meetings-because in the old days, that was the day the squires went to market and bought and sold constituencies. It seems as though I may have been wrong.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, it strikes me that the amendment prompts three questions. The first is whether we should change the date, and that is what my noble friend Lord Hamilton and some others have addressed. The second is whether this is a question
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The third and most important point is why we should have this question rather than others. We will be looking at other questions to be included, but priorities are important. If we start adding to it, there is a danger of overdoing it, and I am not sure this question should take priority for the simple reason that we could find out through an opinion poll. I think that that would be sufficient for these purposes.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. It is one that is had practically every time we have any Bill that mentions voting. The facts are interesting. Since 1935, every general election has been held on a Thursday. In 1931, it was held on a Tuesday. In 1922 and 1924, elections took place on Wednesdays, and in December 1918, as my noble friend Lord Snape said, election day was a Saturday, so weekend voting is not a new idea. There is no statutory requirement for elections to held on Thursdays. They could be held on any weekday except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Good Friday, a Bank Holiday, or any day appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning. It was in 1983 that Saturday and Sunday were also designated as dies non under the parliamentary election rules in the Representation of the People Act. This amendment gives an opportunity to debate whether Saturday should be a dies non, but not Sunday.
To deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, I emphatically think this is obviously not a question for a referendum. If we start voting in a referendum on whether it should be Thursday or Saturday, goodness knows what we will then be voting on in a referendum. I am opposed to it being in a referendum. Referendums should be kept for constitutional questions. I know from talking to my noble friend Lord Snape that that of course was not his intention. His intention was that we should debate the issue in relation to whether it is appropriate. I agree completely with the approach taken by my noble friend Lord Rooker on whether it increases turnout. We all agree that we should try to increase turnout. Attractive as the approach taken by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry is, that he has never had any trouble on Thursdays-because he has always won his elections, presumably, that is why he likes Thursday-I am not necessarily sure that should be the bar to it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that we should look into the question. In fact, pilots have taken place in local elections in relation to Saturdays
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Lord Strathclyde: The main reason why I shall disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Snape, is precisely the one that we have witnessed over the past 23 minutes. It is a fascinating debate and different people have different views about different days of the week. This debate has yet to mature, so it is not one for the Bill, which is about a specific referendum on AV. In fact, I remember the noble Lord and some of his colleagues complaining that we should not have more than one difficult issue on a day, but here he is proposing one himself. However, I also know that he wanted to tease out the Government's view on this subject.
We believe that a further question on the referendum ballot paper would detract from the Government's main purpose, which is to see whether voters wish to change from the current first past the post voting system to the alternative vote system. As we have heard this afternoon, there are arguments for and against moving polling day from the traditional Thursday to a Saturday, and lots of evidence, supporting or not, on turnout and the use of postal votes. In experiments and consultation, there are divided opinions on whether such a change would be more convenient for voters and whether it would lead to an increased turnout. There are also resource and cost issues, alongside concerns about practicability.
In weighing up those arguments, the Government have seen no evidence that such a move would bring any clear benefits. It is not obvious that moving polling day from the traditional Thursday to a Saturday or Sunday would make it easier for electors to vote. This is probably the subject of a wider debate, or even a Private Member's Bill. I am unable to support the noble Lord.
Lord Snape: I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the House for participating in this debate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that this is not a particularly suitable amendment for the Bill, but if not here, where? We repeat as a mantra from all quarters of the House that we are desperate to involve more people in our democratic processes, and this strikes me as one way of doing so.
I am especially grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, who knows what I am thinking when I move these amendments before I have thought of it myself. It is truly the mark of a major and outstanding parliamentarian that he can be so perceptive. I not only accept that this legislation is not suitable for the amendment but I accept the views of the government Front Bench. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for what he had to say. I was not aware
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(a) Yes; or
Lord Snape: My Lords, I fear that this is yet another amendment that may rouse the ire of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, because of its lack of suitability, but there is perhaps a more important point in this amendment than in the previous one. As I have said, and has been said from all quarters of the House, we are interested in increasing turnout at elections. This is one certain way to do that.
We are aware from previous debates that although only Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia have favoured the system of AV inherent in the Bill, lots more countries have a system of compulsory voting. Across all those countries, turnout has increased dramatically. One might argue that that is because of the punishments for those who fail to vote, but by and large those punishments are minimal, if they are enforced at all. Yet, in Australia, for example, which has the system of AV that we are going to wish on ourselves if this Bill is carried, turnout at general elections is consistently over 90 per cent, although the penalties for failure to vote are very small indeed.
My noble friend Lord Rooker pre-empted this amendment in his comments on the previous amendment by saying that he feels that compulsory voting is unacceptable in a democracy. Instead of having punitive punishments for those who fail to vote, why not have some sort of incentive if we are going to have compulsory voting? A voucher for £10, £15 or £20 off your rates bill, for example, would provide an incentive without the fear of punitive punishment if one fails to vote.
Interestingly enough, countries closer to us than Australia have compulsory voting. I had not realised until I researched this amendment that in France it is compulsory to vote in a Senate election, although I have no doubt that experts on these matters in other parts of your Lordships' House would have realised that. That compulsion is not enforced, but it is believed to bring about an increase in turnout for Senate elections. Although I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will say that this amendment is unsuitable in the Bill, I hope that it will bring about a dramatic increase in voter turnout at this and every other election for that reason in particular.
There is one other reason that I meant to mention: that additional voter participation in general elections would at least remove to some degree the exorbitant and enormous expenditure that political parties indulge in now at general elections. Something like £30 million was spent in advertising and promotional material at the recent general election. I will not go into the division of that money between the various parties. That money could be better spent elsewhere, and if we could guarantee a proper turnout under compulsion, that would be a better way of increasing turnout than throwing the sort of money that all the political parties have to throw at the moment in an attempt to bring about voter participation. I beg to move.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, unusually, I disagree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Snape. I believe that forcing people to vote is eminently undemocratic. In a democracy, people should have the opportunity to vote or not to vote. If you want to say to people, "You must indulge in this democracy and you must go to the polling station or put a cross on a ballot paper and post it", you are taking away their freedom not to participate in an election to elect people who you perhaps do not like or perhaps dislike completely. I am not at all sure that this is a good amendment in any sense at all. Although more people may very well turn out to cast their ballot, you will have to persuade them in some way that they should do so, and the only way you can do that is by imposing a fine on them. Indeed, that is another argument against trying to force people to vote when they might not want to.
It might also be difficult for people to vote. Indeed, polling stations in some constituencies are getting further and further away these days from the voters than they used to be so that it may very well be inconvenient, to say the least, for some people to go to vote in person. However, I come back to the general position that in a democracy people should be allowed to vote for whom they wish and should make the decision themselves as to whether they should vote at all. Anything other than that smacks of autocracy rather than democracy. If this amendment is put to the vote, I should be delighted to vote against it.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am always struck by the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, but what might happen in such a constituency-not his former constituency, of course: nor, I hope, in mine-if the majority of people who performed their democratic function of going to the polling station wrote on the ballot paper, "None of the above".?
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart: and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on his previous interventions. We are greatly reluctant about compulsory voting, which has to be right. People have to have the option of not voting at all. I am afraid that on this issue I am not with the noble Lord, Lord Snape, as I was on his previous amendment, but I was rather attracted by his suggestion of incentives to vote, rather than doing what the Australians always purport to do, which is to
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However, an incentive to enable people to vote strikes me as rather attractive. An incentive that takes the form of, say, a voucher to knock something off your rates or something of that sort, which you are given in the polling station, would encourage people to vote in person. That would get us away from the problem of the growing number of postal votes and all the fraud involved in that, which was alluded to in an earlier discussion.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I shall not repeat my earlier points about whether it should be included in the Bill, which I will take as given. I will briefly address the substance of the argument. I acknowledge that there are quite substantial arguments for compulsory voting, but my view is very much along the lines advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Voting should be regarded as a civic duty. It should not be a statutory obligation. If people do not wish to vote, we should not force them to vote. I am also a bit wary of the argument that is sometimes used in favour of compulsory voting: that there is an increasing disaffection with politics, which is why people are not voting, so there should be compulsory voting.
I do not find particularly attractive the argument that we should say to people, "Look, you are being put off politics, therefore we are going to force you to vote". That would increase their disaffection rather than ameliorate it. I do not find the argument persuasive, although I accept that there are arguments on the other side. I rather warm to the thinking advanced about incentives to get people to the polling station. That is well worth exploring, but with the obvious proviso of "not in this Bill".
Lord Bach: My Lords, this is another interesting debate that was started by my noble friend. The amendment does not necessarily say that compulsory voting is a good or a bad thing. It just asks that this might be added to the referendum that the Government intend. At great risk of taking a slight difference of opinion to that of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, this is probably a better question for a referendum than the previous amendment.
Lord Norton of Louth: It strikes me that there is an interesting argument here. If this is put in a referendum, the sort of people who will turn out to vote will probably favour compulsory voting. Of course, those who are against it will not go to the polling station.
Lord Bach: That, of course, is the danger with the referendum in the first place perhaps. The right to vote is obviously very precious, and we should encourage people to use it as much as possible. As a descendent of Mrs Pankhurst, dare I say that the suffragettes who fought-some, of course, died-in that cause would see this debate as important. Of course they were fighting for the right to vote, not for the compulsion to do so, but at some stage in the future the House might want to give rather more time to this interesting debate than it will this afternoon, for obvious reasons.
Let me make one thing clear. While it may not be a brave view-but it is the truth-I can say from the Front Bench that we have no particular opinion either way as to whether compulsory voting is right or wrong, and I daresay that may also be the view of the Government. It is very much a matter of individual judgment. Compulsory voting has a long and distinguished history. I believe it began in ancient Greece where it was every citizen's duty to participate in decision-making. Those in favour of compulsory votes point to the argument that a Government elected in such circumstances can claim greater legitimacy because it removes the possibility of a party winning an election on 40 per cent of the vote when the turnout stands at just over 60 per cent.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I was careful to say that it was the Front Bench of the Official Opposition that had no official view either way. As it happens I, too, do not have a particularly strong view either way. However, I would say that the Australian experiment in compulsory voting is one that we need to look at quite carefully. It does not seem to be a complete failure, to put it mildly. What is important is that it appears to be understood and accepted by voters in Australia. Obviously compulsory voting boosts turnout and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has already told us, spoiling one's ballot paper is a distinct option if one is not minded to vote. The voter's power to choose remains unrestrained, and there is obviously a bit of learning by experience if you have to vote, although there are problems with compulsory voting.
Voting was described as a civic duty by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, but perhaps it is a civic right and one that no one in a free country should be compelled to exercise. Fines imposed for non-voting could be regarded as some kind of restriction on individual freedom, and in this country in particular there would be administrative difficulties, to put it mildly, in making voting compulsory, as well as many other more historic difficulties in actually putting it into effect.
I want to ask the Leader of the House one question, because different views have been expressed from the government Front Bench over the past few months, although not in this debate. As I understand it, it is compulsory in this country to register to vote. In other words, there is a sanction if you do not register. This is not meant to be a trick question. It is quite important for the House to understand whether it is compulsory to register, and what we mean by "compulsory" in this sense. In theory, at least, fines can be imposed on those who do not register, but of course in practice that does not happen. If that is true about registration, it would certainly be true for compulsory voting.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has asked his question about compulsory registration because it is an important one. I well remember that the back of the registration document stated that if you failed to fill in the form, you could be fined £25. As far as I can see, that statement no longer appears on the form.
Lord Rooker: This raises an interesting issue for Part 2 of the Bill. If, as I have always understood, it is legally compulsory to register to vote, surely the other side of the coin is that there ought to be a legal obligation on the Government to ensure that every citizen is registered to vote, especially given that those numbers will be instrumental in determining the size of constituencies and all the other matters that come under Part 2. That opens up the possibility of some interesting amendments to Part 2 on compulsory registration to ensure that both those sides of the coin are dealt with. There must be a clear obligation on the Government to ensure that citizens obey the law, so that the millions of people who are allegedly missed off are not missed off before the constituency boundaries are redrawn.
Lord Bach: I agree with my noble friend that this is an important point. Various answers have been given over the past months that have suggested that registration is not compulsory in this country. I am not pressing the Leader of the House to answer on that today; a Written Answer would be satisfactory. However, the issue is relevant to Part 2, as my noble friend said. However, Amendment 29 is on compulsory voting, on which I look forward to hearing what the Leader of the House has to say.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is always fascinating in these debates to discover new information. We were treated to new information-at least it was the first time for me-that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is a descendant of Mrs Pankhurst. I am not quite sure what to do with that information, but it is none the less interesting.
We have had an interesting discussion as part of the wider debate on electoral reform. The debate has been similar to the one that we had a few minutes ago, although this debate has been on the subject of compulsion. Those who argue in favour of compulsory voting believe that the greater turnout that would likely ensue would enhance the legitimacy of the Government elected because the result of the election would be closer to the will of the population as a whole rather than that of those individuals who have voted. Those who are against compulsion say that the argument that greater legitimacy would flow from a higher turnout may be challenged on the grounds that people may be either ill informed or have no wish to support the existing system. Opponents of compulsion may also refute the suggestion that low turnouts compromise the legitimacy of existing elections because
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I assure the House that the Government are committed to engaging the electorate in elections and wider democratic activity. In weighing up the arguments for and against compulsion, however, the Government believe that voting should be a civic responsibility and that the importance of political participation should be reinforced without the introduction of any sanction for non-compliance.
That leads us to the interesting exchange about the compulsion to register. Although it was kind of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to say that I could write to him, I have the answer and I can clean up the mystery now: there is no compulsion to register under statute and, therefore, there is no penalty for failing to do so. I hope that that clarifies that mystery. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Snape, not to continue to press Amendment 29.
Lord Snape: I am grateful to noble Lords on both sides of your Lordships' House for their participation in the debate. I thought that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, was a little cynical. Of course there is provision under the compulsive system of voting for a person to make any mark that they like on a ballot paper. I noticed that he exempted both our former constituencies on the grounds that we were so enormously popular that that situation would not have arisen in either West Bromwich or in Cornwall in his former seat. According to my researches, as far as they go, there has not been a recorded instance of "None of the above" ever topping the poll. Although that is not quite the answer that the noble Lord wanted, it is the best that I can do at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, deplored the idea that in a democracy we should, as he put it, force people to vote. I do not think that France, Belgium and Australia-to name but three-are any less democracies because they have some degree of compulsion about voting. Without wishing to embarrass the noble Lord, I should tell him that I have his picture, among others, on a wall in my home in Birmingham. The picture is of the Government Whips' Office in 1976 and was taken in No. 10 Downing Street with Jim Callaghan, who was then Prime Minister. I always thought that we were paid to force people to vote in those days, so he was not quite as scrupulous then as he obviously is now.
I am grateful for the partial support of the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Norton. They were both against compulsion, but both thought that there was some merit in the idea of a voucher towards people's rates, or whatever. Perhaps, in withdrawing the amendment, I can point to some degree of unity.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: The noble Lord is right about the happy times that we had together in the Whips' Office in the House of Commons, but he will recall that we did not have compulsory voting. We wished, sometimes, that we did have compulsory voting, but very often, when I went round my little flock of MPs and told them that they must vote, they told me exactly where to go.
Lord Snape: I do not want to argue with the noble Lord's view of what took place 30-odd years ago, but that was not quite the impression that I had in the Whips' Office at the time. However, that was quite a long time ago.
Lord Grocott: As one who was a foot-soldier when my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, were exerting authority, I can say only that voting did not seem to be an optional matter from where I was sitting.
I referred to the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Norton. I am grateful for their partial support. Both were against compulsion but favoured the idea of a voucher or some financial incentive to the voters to turn up to vote. Perhaps, in withdrawing the amendment, I can point out that we three are all against compulsion but in favour of bribery. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I move Amendment 31, standing in my name and in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke. I understand that my noble friend Lord McAvoy has put his name to it as well. I am pleased to see so many noble Lords with Scottish titles in the Chamber today. I presume that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, will be replying to it. No? Well, another Scot will be replying to it-that is, the Leader of the House.
When I looked through the Bill and saw that the question was to be posed in Welsh for voting in Wales, I thought, what a very good idea. I immediately assumed that it would also be posed in Gaelic in Scotland. Going further through the Bill, I was disappointed to discover that that was not the case. I presume that the reason why it is being put in Welsh in Wales is that people who are native Welsh speakers will understand better the nuances of the question, the implications of voting one way or another will become clearer to them, when they read it in their native language, their first language. That is a very good argument and a very good reason for having the question in Welsh.
There is exactly the same reason for having the question in Gaelic in Scotland. There are a number of native Gaelic speakers in parts of Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, and most particularly in the Western Isles, whose first language is Gaelic. These people will understand the question better, understand the nuances and implications of it, in the same way that Welsh speakers will in Wales.
Then I thought that maybe the argument for having it in Welsh in Wales and not in Gaelic in Scotland was that in Wales there are people who speak only Welsh, whereas in Scotland there are no people who speak only Gaelic. In fact, the situation in Scotland is that in the last few years it has become the case that all native Gaelic speakers now speak English as their second language. However, the situation in Wales is almost exactly the same. I quote from Wikipedia-I am not sure if that is the best source, but it is correct on this occasion:
I also thought that there might be an argument that there were more Polish and German speakers and speakers of other European languages in Scotland. This would complicate things and mean that we ought to have the question in those languages as well. At present, though, citizens of the European Union resident in the United Kingdom will not be eligible to vote in the referendum. As it happens, I also tabled Amendment 36A, which, if accepted, would allow them to vote and to have the same franchise for both the referendum and the election, which would be helpful. At the moment, though, Polish, German, French and other European citizens will not have the right to vote. So that argument does not arise.
Like Welsh, Gaelic is increasingly being used alongside English in Scotland. I took a journey by rail recently from Edinburgh to Ayr-it is not always easy to make any journeys in Scotland at the moment-and Scotrail now has all the names of the railway stations in Gaelic as well as in English. That is happening throughout Scotland. That is just one example of many.
The argument might be put-perhaps by the Leader of the House, if he is replying-that Welsh is an official language. Since 2005, however, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, will attest to because he was Deputy First Minister of Scotland at the time, under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Gaelic is now an official language in Scotland.
The argument might be that the question is being put in Welsh in Wales because there are more Welsh speakers-in fact, there are 611,000. In Scotland there are 58,652 Gaelic speakers. However, I would argue that the issue is not the number of speakers; rather, it is an issue of principle. Even if there were only a handful of Gaelic speakers, the argument would be the same. Still, there are 58,652 native Gaelic speakers.
There have been a number of considerations regarding this at the European level. In fact, it was pointed out recently, in relation not to Scottish Gaelic but to Northern Irish Gaelic, that the United Nations committee looking at the European Convention on Human Rights recommended that the Administration in Northern Ireland adopt an Irish language Act with a view to preserving and promoting minority languages and cultural heritage in the same way as the Welsh Language Act and the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act. So there was a recognition there, and there is increasing recognition generally that Gaelic is an official language in Scotland.
Given the setting up of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, if we put the Bill through in its present form there would be a case for Gaelic speakers in Scotland to take a case to it on the basis that they were not being dealt with in the same way as native Welsh speakers. We are all in the same United Kingdom but they are not being dealt with in the same way.
This is a very serious matter. Some people thought that some of the comments I made on previous matters were debating points. This is not a debating point or issue. It has become known among some people who speak Gaelic that I had planned to move this amendment, for which I have had expressions of support. Gaelic speakers think that this amendment would be a great advantage to the Bill.
The Leader of the House-or I think the noble Lord, Lord McNally-has put down some amendments to the Bill. We passed a change to the Bill on Monday, so the Bill has to go back to the other place anyway. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept this amendment and that it will go back to the House with a clear instruction or expression of review from the House of Lords that the speakers of Scottish Gaelic should be treated in exactly the same way as Welsh speakers in Wales.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, not for the first time I rise in Committee to support my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. On this occasion my noble friend has identified a very important issue of support for minority language rights and identities. He has afforded your Lordships' House an opportunity to make a statement about such support in supporting his amendment. As I have said before, I have made a point of reviewing everything that has been said in these Houses in relation to this Bill. I have to say that I was surprised, given the makeup of the other place, that this issue was not raised in Committee or in any other part of the debate that they had about this legislation. This fact and the issue that my noble friend identified have indicated how important it is that we look at this legislation as carefully as we have been doing in Committee because I am sure that we will find many other opportunities to improve it quite significantly and improve the appreciation that the electorate have of the body politic in this country-a point that I made earlier.
In researching my contribution to this short debate-and I am sure that it will be a short but valuable one-I came across the writings of a man, who I had previously not read, called Robert Dunbar, who was, at least in 2006, at the school of law in the University of Aberdeen. I will share his words with your Lordships' House because they make the holistic case for my noble friend Lord Foulkes's argument very well. In the Journal of Law and Society in 2006 in volume 33, number one, in an article entitled, "Is there a duty to legislate for linguistic minorities?", he wrote:
I apologise to your Lordships' House for reading that at length. However, in those few sentences, Mr Dunbar made the argument for respecting the minority language of Gaelic, the Scottish people and the identity of those who speak that language in a very good way. I could have adopted his argument and changed the words, which, as a consequence of my researches, I have to say I have done in the past. However, I thought that I should attribute those arguments to him.
I would expect the Liberal Democrats in this House to support this amendment because Scottish Liberal Democrats have for decades overtly supported the equal treatment of Scottish Gaelic and English. That position was adopted more recently by Scottish Conservatives. My noble friend put forward cogent arguments on this issue, which included what could be described as a human rights argument. I noted that that generated mild amusement on the part of some noble Lords, but I will not embarrass them by identifying them. However, that amusement was misplaced as this is a human rights issue. For more than 50 years, Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights has provided that the enjoyment of the various convention rights and freedoms,
including language. That guarantee in the European Convention on Human Rights, to which all parts of this House signed up, is enforceable in the domestic law of the United Kingdom through the Human Rights Act 1998.
While the Liberal Democrats are part of a coalition that is reviewing its attitude towards the Human Rights Act, they should at least support it. Their principles on this matter may be tested at some time in the future when the review is concluded, but until that time they should respect an Act which I understand they support. My noble friend may well be right to suggest that the legislation could be challenged by Scottish Gaelic speakers. Why should we enable such an unnecessary challenge to occur?
Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House expand on the statement by his noble friend Lord McNally on the front of the Bill, made under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998, that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights? I am sure that he will have somewhere among his papers a briefing note which describes how it is compatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Will he make it clear to noble Lords exactly why the statement of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is consistent with my understanding of the convention rights, which are adopted in our law?
My noble friend described the attempt made by the Scottish Parliament to accord the Gaelic language the official language status that is enjoyed by the Welsh language. The noble Lord the Leader of the House has the advantage of having at hand the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who was the Scottish Parliament's Deputy First Minister when that provision was enacted in 2005. As far as I recollect, it was the stated objective of the coalition Government in Scotland at that time to achieve parity between Gaelic and the Welsh language. So far as I can see, the Scottish legislation is largely the mirror image of the Welsh legislation. If the reason for the discrimination between the Welsh language and the Gaelic language lies in the 1993 provision that promotes the Welsh language to an exceptional position in the United Kingdom, perhaps the noble Lord could explain-after taking advice from the former Deputy First Minister-why the Scottish Parliament failed to achieve that level of protection in Scotland in the 2005 legislation.
The only other reason for discrimination that I can think of concerns my noble friend's point about whether there are in Wales monolingual Celtic language speakers. However, the 2001 census makes it very clear that no such person exists, so there is no longer any reason for the discrimination as between Scottish Gaelic speakers and Welsh language speakers to exist, irrespective of the fact that there is a distinction in their respective numbers.
I think that with this amendment my noble friend has given the House an opportunity for us to do what this House does very well-to improve proposed legislation to the advantage of a significant minority in Scotland and to send a message to them that we respect their rights. I trust that whatever the response from the Front Bench, if it is to reject rather than adopt this amendment-
Lord Browne of Ladyton: I do not recollect that this legislation was before any House of Parliament when I was the Secretary of State for Scotland. The point the noble Lord wishes to make is that somehow we should not do the right thing now, because perhaps I or others did not do the right thing before. However, if this is the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do at the point at which we identify it is the right thing to do. I am sure that the noble Lord is not going to make that argument because it would be disrespectful to the House and disrespectful to himself. We have an opportunity to send a very strong message back to the people of Scotland and to Gaelic speakers, a message that I think all the Members of the House would want to send back. If the Front Bench rejects this amendment, I would ask my noble friend to insist upon it.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Browne, really could not have made a better case for the constitution of this House in its present form. The noble Lord mentioned that the House of Commons did not look at this aspect of the Bill at all. This is exactly what this House has the time and the experience
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, it is not a question of numbers, although my noble friend Lord Browne was perhaps tempting fate in suggesting that there are no monoglot Welsh speakers. I suspect that now he has said that, the Welsh media will be searching in the valleys of the Lleyn Peninsula and will find some dear old lady-perhaps there is even some Cornish lady still-who speaks only Welsh, but I am not sure frankly that that is really material to the argument. Nor is the question of cost, as the cost must be very minor indeed. I shall argue on the basis of Celtic solidarity-hands across the Irish Sea-that this is a matter more of dignity and symbolism, and is all the more important for that.
The coalition has made much of overconcentration in Westminster and Whitehall. That has been part of the leitmotif-that there will be decentralisation, that there will be more status and more dignity given to local communities to manage their own affairs. Surely, to recognise the differences within the United Kingdom is very much in the spirit of that. I concede this is symbolic, but it will do no harm and may well do some good. I speak as someone with a Welsh background, although I concede that I am a monoglot English speaker-I went to a Welsh grammar school at a time when Wales was not being pushed, and I was taught Greek and Latin rather than Welsh, which I gave up at an early stage. However, like most Welsh people, even the monoglot majority who speak only English, I have a tremendous feeling of pride in the Welsh language. One of the great debates over the past decades has been over the ways in which we can encourage the use of the Welsh language without making it a divisive issue. I give credit to the Conservative Party for the Welsh Language Act, which I believe avoided making Welsh a divisive and explosive issue, as happened with regard to language in Belgium. Overwhelmingly in Wales there is a pride in the language, and not a nasty response to it. That Belgian-style row has been avoided here by a process of being consensual and by recognising the importance of difference. It is indeed a source of pride for most of us.
I concede that there are differences, because we have gone further in Wales with the principle of equal validity, but the identity of the nation is linked with that of the language and, however small the number of Gaelic speakers may be, the identity of the Scottish nation is also linked with that language. This is wholly
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My final principle is to accept this as a symbolic gesture. It will not cost much and it will do no harm. In terms of diversity and recognising the differences within our United Kingdom, it can do some good.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I would be serving the cause of pan-Celticism badly were I not to say that I wholeheartedly supported the amendment; indeed, I support it with great enthusiasm. The situation in Wales is a very powerful and pertinent precedent for the Gaelic situation. In Wales, the Welsh language is a living language; it is some 1,500 years old and has been recognised in statute since 1967. The combined effect of the 1967 and 1993 Acts gave the Welsh language equal validity with the English language in all formal legal situations.
In that regard, there would appear to be an unanswerable case for putting the AV referendum question in Welsh as well as in English. In the clause stand part debate, I will have something to say about the quality of translation, but that is a different matter altogether. The Welsh case is based on the fact that there are a substantial number of people, particularly elderly people, for whom the Welsh language is essentially the only language in which they communicate. They might not be monoglot as one would strictly define that term, but certainly many tens of thousands of people speak Welsh; it is certainly the first language of hundreds of thousands of people in Wales. On that basis alone, it is right and proper that this provision should be arranged. That was the situation in the referendums on the Common Market in 1975 and on devolution in 1979 and the 1990s.
In addition, Welsh is often referred to as "our language" by people who do not speak it. That gives me enormous pride and comfort. I have no doubt that much the same attitude prevails in Scotland. Therefore, there is an unanswerable legalistic case for the Welsh language-a case in chivalry and in the fact that it is part of the rich cultural heritage of the United Kingdom. In the main, that applies equally to Scotland, and it is on that basis that I fervently and proudly support the amendment.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I shall make one or two points briefly. My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton mentioned the number of speakers of Welsh and who is monoglot and who is not monoglot. In referring to Wales, he specifically mentioned that he had drawn his figures from the census. My point is not so much about numbers but about proportions. The Scottish Gaelic world is concentrated in the Western Isles and the western part of Scotland, so the proportion of people affected is quite considerable, although the numbers and proportion in the whole of Scotland are certainly less than in Wales. That is why it should be recognised, not only in symbolism but in reality.
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