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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Marland): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now
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"The House will remember the disappointment of last year's conference in Copenhagen, and in particular its failure to agree a comprehensive and legally binding global treaty to supplement or replace the Kyoto protocol.
Expectations for the Cancun conference were not high. After Copenhagen, it seemed as if the very principle of multilateralism itself was on trial. Our objectives, therefore, were modest. We aimed to demonstrate that the United Nations process was back on track. We also hoped to put in place some of the building blocks for an eventual global statement and to rebuild momentum.
I am delighted to say that our expectations were not just met, but exceeded. The conference agreed a series of linked decisions under both its tracks: the Kyoto protocol; and the framework for reaching a new and more comprehensive agreement. Emissions reduction pledges made under the Copenhagen accord by both developed and developing countries provided a valuable starting point and have been brought into the UN climate convention framework. We can now assess the overall policy pledges against the requirements of science.
to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. This includes processes for adopting targets for peaking emissions as soon as possible, and substantially reducing them by 2050.
The conference also adopted decisions to develop systems for measuring, reporting and verifying emission reductions and actions in line with countries' commitments. This is essential to confidence in each other's actions. Developing countries will get access to low-carbon technology and help with adaptation to climate change. Market-based mechanisms will be considered to deliver effective reductions in emissions at least cost.
Forestry was a key area. The conference agreed the framework for REDD plus-reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation-through which developing countries will be paid for keeping trees standing rather than logging them. The conference also made progress on rules for accounting for land use, land use change and forestry under the Kyoto protocol, an issue that was too difficult to be settled at Kyoto and has remained problematic ever since.
The conference also agreed the establishment of a green climate fund to support policies and activities in developing countries. The fund will be governed by a board with equal representation from developed and developing countries, and its finances will be managed by the World Bank. A transitional committee will be established to design the institutions and operations of the fund, and we aim to see that make rapid progress. The conference endorsed the commitment made by
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The conference did not settle the future of the Kyoto protocol, nor did it adopt a new and more comprehensive treaty incorporating all countries. Neither outcome was realistically possible this year. Nevertheless, the agreements reached at Cancun represent a significant step forward, particularly given that it seemed possible, even as late as Thursday, that the conference would break up over precisely that issue. In the end, every country represented there, with the exception of Bolivia, felt able to support the outcomes.
I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the Government of Mexico, who were responsible for hosting and chairing the conference. The diplomatic skill, political courage and dogged determination of Foreign Minister Espinosa and her team were responsible in very large part for its success. I was happy to be able to support her in co-chairing some of the negotiating groups which addressed the key issues.
I also wish to pay tribute to the British team of negotiators. Even though our delegation was one of the smallest of those of the G8 countries, its members played a key role in many of the detailed negotiations, often leading for the EU. The climate diplomacy carried out by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the year leading up to the conference clearly helped to lay the groundwork for a successful conclusion.
Tackling climate change should transcend party politics. Britain has built a strong reputation internationally as a forward-looking country, and I want to thank my predecessor for his work in helping to achieve this. I was also pleased to be able to include in the UK delegation representatives of the Scottish and Welsh Assembly Governments.
In conclusion, the coalition Government are determined to tackle the accelerating threat of climate change. We intend to demonstrate how a successful and prosperous low-carbon economy can be developed in the UK and EU, providing employment, exports and energy security and reducing emissions. The Energy Bill published last week and the consultation paper on electricity market reform later this week are key components. So, too, is the adoption of a more ambitious target for reducing EU carbon emissions, and in that context I welcome the Spanish Government's recent declaration of support for a 30 per cent reduction by 2020. We are pressing for an ambitious package of measures to be agreed by EU leaders in February next year to create the infrastructure and incentives for a faster move to a low-carbon economy within Europe.
On the international front, we will build on this momentum at Cancun. There is much still to be achieved, but we can now look forward with renewed optimism to the Durban conference next year. As the representative of one NGO said:
That is true, but in saving the process, it represents a triumph for the spirit of international co-operation in tackling an international threat. I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming that".
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, we on this side welcome today's Oral Statement on the outcome of the climate change conference in Cancun. Although I understand that there was some interest in having a Written Statement, we agree that it is appropriate to have an Oral Statement on such a critical issue, and for your Lordships' House to have the opportunity to comment and ask questions. So, on this point, I am grateful to the Minister and his ministerial colleagues for bringing this before the House today.
There is, as the Minister rightly said, a lot of cynicism about the likely outcome of the Cancun conference, but the talks did not break down, as many had feared, and we should welcome the progress that has been made. We join the Minister in congratulating the Mexican Government on creating an environment conducive to discussion and agreement which enabled the Governments of the world to come together to try to agree a common statement.
So, what has been announced as an achievement at Cancun? Leaders of the international community have now agreed to a form of words which the Minister has outlined-a commitment to deep cuts in global greenhouse emissions and to hold any increase in the global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. There is a long-term plan for reducing emissions by 2050. The establishment of a green climate fund to assist developing nations, although still lacking in some detail, is to be welcomed. It recognises the different starting points and challenges faced by developing nations, and the ways that we can act responsibly to support them to tackle climate change.
We also note the Government's commitments, made in an international arena, to act on deforestation. This clearly overrides the Secretary of State's earlier announcement that the Government intend to sell 15 per cent of our forest estate over the spending review period-to be made easier through the Government's proposals in the Public Bodies Bill, which will remove the protections for forestry land sales. I take comfort from the Government's international commitments which mean that they will now be amenable to amendments on this part of the Bill, or that we may perhaps have the benefit of seeing the Government table their own amendments in the new year.
We all support progress made at international level to mitigate the impacts of climate change. We hope that the statement of intent made in Cancun will build on the provisions made in Copenhagen last year, but we also have to recognise that we have to do so much more to ensure that it paves the way for more ambitious aims in South Africa next year. At some stage we have to fully realise our ambitions. Your Lordships will know the importance that we place on this issue, and the commitment shown by the last Government and the last Prime Minister, as the Minister has acknowledged. I congratulate those who have managed to ensure that
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I have three questions for the Minister. First, the Secretary of State has already suggested that the European emissions reduction targets should be increased to 30 per cent by 2020. He recently issued a statement with Germany and France pressing for this change. The Committee on Climate Change reported just last week in support of this aim. Can the Minister tell the House if this is the extent of EU support and what steps he and the Government are taking in Europe on this issue? The climate fund to assist developing nations is a welcome step, but we need to have assurances that funding will be in place. Can the Minister give us further details on how finance will be secured and how it will be allocated? I know the Minister is aware of my concern that we have agreed a framework but have yet to fill in the details. What action will the Government take, leading into the South African conference, to ensure that we have those details and can reach agreement?
We have agreements, but we need to make sure that those promised actions are taken or those agreements will not be a foundation for change. Developing countries need this life-saving finance, because their citizens cannot wait. Finally, we need to see leadership from Britain and Europe over the next 12 months before the countries meet again in South Africa. The Government have our full support in seeking meaningful international agreements.
Lord Marland: I thank the noble Baroness for her charitable remarks. It is gratifying to see such harmony among our Benches on this subject. She is quite right that we have an awful lot to do. This is the starting block. As I said earlier, there was not great expectation that Cancun would achieve anything. It has achieved broad agreement from 193 countries, which is no mean feat. I pay my own compliments to the Secretary of State, Christopher Huhne, and to Gregory Barker, the Minister for Climate Change, both of whom played a very active role in getting agreement. The Secretary of State was asked by the Mexican Government to lead on brokering compromises, and it was no mean achievement.
As for the noble Baroness's specific questions, the 30 per cent target is absolutely right. The Secretary of State made a statement on that matter. As I said earlier in the Statement, the Spanish have now agreed to support that and there is widespread agreement building within Europe to support that very ambitious target.
As for the green climate fund, it is early days. The advisory group on finance met and set up a range of options on where the money could come from. It can come from government budgets, an emissions auction process or from the private sector. The combination of those three will be very beneficial to creating this fund. There is clearly a lot more detailed work to put into that, but there is a commitment to work on it in the run-up to Durban.
I hope that that answers the noble Baroness's questions. I thank her for her generous statements. I do not intend to answer on the subject of the Forestry Commission, as it is not within my remit, but I thank her for the question anyway.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I think that the contrast between this year and last year has been absolutely excellent, and I am sure most of the House would echo that, but may I press the Minister on one or two areas? I should like to have a little more detail on verification, which many of us believe is one of the most important areas that was discussed. Has China in particular now agreed that verification procedures are not just permissible but something that it will encourage, and that they will be part of any future regime and will no longer be resisted?
On REDD and deforestation in general, we are all aware of the still huge rate of deforestation. It might not be quite as great as it was in the past few years, but it is still there. Will the Minister indicate when this regime will come in and when deforestation will start to decelerate in a very major way, given that these forests will not be replaced? Once they are gone, they are gone.
Lastly, I always understood that these UN agreements had to be unanimous for them to work. Will the Minister explain why Bolivia stood against this agreement, and how that leads the agreement? The great lesson to me is to keep one's expectations low and then maybe enlightenment will come somehow and things will be delivered. Whether this will happen for Durban next year is, of course, the next question, but I add my congratulations to the ministerial team and to the Mexican Government on the excellent outcome.
Lord Marland: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I have always kept my expectations low throughout my life; it is a very good starting point for anything. Look where I am now-noble Lords might ask where.
My noble friend quite rightly asked three very valuable questions. I will, if I may, deal with forestry and deforestation first. The agreement was to map out the extent of forestry at the moment so that we had a baseline from which to start discussions in Durban and the period running up to it. It set a formula and a place to start from.
Secondly, even though I was not there, I understand that Bolivia did not agree to the target because its commitments and targets are much more aggressive. I understand that it is looking for no more than a 1 degree-Celsius increase in emissions, and I think it felt that it had a more aggressive timetable.
Thirdly, the verification system is a commitment from all 193 countries that subscribed to verification-so China is included in this-to set a framework and a platform over the four-year period and be transparent about the standards that they are setting in their own countries. The plan is to be able to verify every four years.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister accept congratulations on the Government's input into this conference and on the way in which both the
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On verification, does the Minister not agree that if there is to be a legally binding agreement, which is, I think, the objective of many, it will be sustainable only if there is a proper international verification process? Will he say whether the European Union could take a lead in the months ahead in shaping up the sort of international verification process that will be necessary if business and the electorates are to have any confidence in this?
Secondly, will the Minister comment on the fact that the UN now seems to have broken out of the tyranny of consensus that enabled a very small number of spoilers very nearly to wreck the proceedings at Copenhagen, and that that lesson needs to be learnt and carried forward so that in future we do not allow a very small number of countries with possibly quite different interests to block the interests of the large majority?
Lord Marland: A legally binding agreement is very difficult to achieve, as we have seen from Copenhagen and Cancun. Do we, in reality, need a legally binding agreement? Are we not better just having an agreement under which we transparently announce the requirements for verification and for reporting, and for all those sorts of issues? If they are transparent, people can see what progress is being made. Of course, we would all like a legally binding agreement, but it is rather a big ask among the 193 countries, with their different laws.
One of the very valuable things about Cancun was how well team Europe did at the table, as opposed to at Copenhagen where it was viewed to have been marginalised. The European team's endeavour was much greater at Cancun. As I said earlier, our own Secretary of State and officials who now lead team Europe were very much at the forefront of negotiations, and I know that they are determined to press for a tight strategy for these processes to come to fruition rather than just for general talking.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, I join my noble friend in his satisfaction with an outcome that binds no country to anything at all. In that event, however, does he not agree that the position of the United Kingdom, which, alone in the world, has bound itself legally to a massive decarbonisation agreement at huge cost and by a specific date, is utterly incomprehensible, not to say quixotic?
Lord Marland: As I think the noble Baroness said, there are a few cynics in the House, although they might claim to be realists. I believe that the fundamental Conservative principle is that we put the taxpayer first, as the noble Lord so excellently did when I worshipped him as the great reforming Chancellor. However, he also knows that Britain is a great country because it has shown leadership, and this is what we are doing; we are putting Britain at the forefront of this by showing leadership.
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the outcome at Cancun, but I particularly welcome the Government's approach
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Secondly, will the Government of the United Kingdom ensure that their international development funding and policies work coherently with the approach that was agreed last week and the way in which that will be implemented following Durban next year?
On the green fund, it is clear that countries must honour their commitments. It is fundamental that, in the build-up to establishing this fund, feet are held to the fire as to the exact contribution that countries will make. However, 193 out of 194 countries signing up to something and the transparent way in which it will be done will be a very good starting point.
Our own Government have committed £1.5 billion as fast-track funding between 2010 and 2012. Our ongoing commitment is part of a £2.9 billion commitment over a five-year period-we will certainly not go back on that commitment-of which £300 million will be allocated to the deforestation issue.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, the Statement acknowledges that levels of emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise, despite all the conferences, meetings and decisions to date. When do the Government realistically expect the rate in the rise of carbon dioxide to begin to decrease?
Lord Marland: I thank the right reverend Prelate for that. Unfortunately, I do not have my charts in front of me, but I would be happy to provide him with some of the analysis to answer that question. I thank the Church of England for the example that it has set through step change in driving the church towards nil carbon emissions in the near future. Again, that is leading by example.
Lord Prescott: I attended the Kyoto conference and those at Cancun and Copenhagen. The atmosphere and organisation was fundamentally different, for which we offer our congratulations to the Mexican Government. However, the Minister may recall that in a debate in this House on climate change I put forward my concerns that the Prime Minister had said that he wanted a legal agreement at Cancun. I did not think that that was possible and announced the five or six principles that I thought were important to finding agreement based on a voluntary agreement and not the legal framework.
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However, I am a little concerned about the Statement when it talks about ambition and cuts of 30 per cent et cetera in carbon. Ambition can be the defeat of the good. I worry about the Durban conference and that we may make the mistake that we made at Copenhagen; namely, that we get far too ambitious in our demands. Therefore, for the South African conference, I fear that 12 months will not be sufficient to deal with all these detailed negotiations that took four years after Kyoto. Will the Minister consider and express within the European Union the view that we are thinking of stopping the clock on the 2012 date set for Kyoto in order that South Africa and Durban does not appear to be a failure as occurred at Copenhagen?
Lord Marland: No one has done more for these conferences than the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. In fact, the Secretary of State has told me of the pleasant fireside chat that he had with the noble Lord in Cancun. I do not think that "fireside" is the right word-perhaps it should be "poolside". The noble Lord is absolutely right to send a note of caution. He has been at the forefront of negotiations for a long time. He has understood that this has to be slowly, slowly, despite the fact that we want to go quickly. However, I go back to what I said. We must set high standards for ourselves if others are to follow. I do not think that he would disagree with that.
Lord Howard of Lympne: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and the Government on their Statement. As someone who had the honour of representing the Government at the first earth summit in Rio in 1992, I well recollect how difficult these conferences can be. Now that the momentum lost at Copenhagen has to some extent been resumed as a result of the efforts which my noble friend has described, will he tell us a little more about what our Government, together with our partners in the European Union, intend to do between now and the Durban conference in order to maintain that momentum?
Lord Marland: Again, I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Howard who was instrumental in persuading the Americans to come on board in Rio in 1992 and has great experience of these matters. As he rightly knows-he would have learnt this at Rio-and as we have heard since, it is our determination, working with the EU, to show real leadership in this and to press hard to turn what is a loose but generally agreeable statement into something practical. We should not set high expectations for ourselves to be ratified in legal language by Durban, but ensure that the transparency issues, which are critical to this agreement, the production
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Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, in view of the critical importance of rain forests in the general effort to achieve the objectives that the Governments have set themselves, will my noble friend say a little more about REDD-plus? Given all these good intentions and a widespread understanding about the importance of rain forests, their destruction still continues at a considerable rate. Little effort seems to be made to slow down the production of soya beans, palm oil and cattle ranching. When will we get effective, tangible action on the ground?
Lord Marland: It is absolutely fundamental that the Brazilians and the Congo Government associated themselves with this agreement. Those two countries have a massive forest issue. It is not possible for me to give fixed dates, but, for once, we have an agreement that something will be done. We are going to establish a map to show where the forests lie, which we hope will form the boundaries for no-go areas for deforestation.
Lord Soley: I am very grateful. I rarely insist, but I was right this time. Although it is right that we congratulate Governments at this time, it is important to remember why we are more optimistic now about our ability to deal with this problem than we were 10 or 20 years ago. It is because not just Governments, but industries, public and private organisations, as well as individuals, are now much more seized of the seriousness of this. All are playing a major part in trying to drive down emissions. We should encourage that and perhaps give more credit to those industries, organisations and individuals who are making a big effort now in a way that was not happening before.
Lord Marland: I totally agree with the noble Lord. The encouraging thing about Cancun is that it reverses the trend and brings real momentum back into the process and the understanding that we have to reduce our emissions as a result of climate change.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon:I should like to raise two matters. First, there are varying estimates as to the number of people who attended the conference. As far as I can see, there were between 10,000 and 25,000. It would be useful if the Minister could give us the number. Secondly, I thought I heard him say that the cost of the operation of helping underdeveloped countries would be $100 billion. If that is correct, what proportion of that figure will be met by the United Kingdom?
Lord Marland: I cannot respond to the question of how many people were in Cancun. I am afraid that I am not the arbiter. All I can tell the noble Lord is that in order to reflect the current economic circumstances, our department sent 70 people to Copenhagen and 46 to Cancun. The noble Lord is right about the $100 billion fund. That ambitious target has been set for the green climate fund. As yet the apportionment of that, or the contributions to it, has not been ratified. As I said earlier, the Advisory Group on Finance has met and has developed a pathway of where that figure can be resolved.
(c) persons who have attained the age of 16 on the date of the referendum"
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, this amendment would allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the referendum due to take place in 2011. Only a minority of 18 year-olds voted in 2010 and it must be a major aim of us all to increase their turnout so that they have a real input into decisions that will affect the whole of their lives. Indeed, although he is not in his place, I was just talking to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, who mentioned that, during the referendum held in 1975 to ask whether we should stay in Europe, his wife had asked their 11 year-old son how she should vote on the ground that it was his future that she was voting on rather than her own. As it happens, she is still very much with us, but she took her son's guidance, since it was about his future. That, I think, was a wise move.
For the Labour Party, I fear that our manifesto promised only to put the issue of voting at 16 to a free vote rather than giving it the full commitment that I think it deserves. However, Liberal Democrat manifestos not just this year but also in 2001 and 2005 have been clearly in favour of giving 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote, so I look forward to support from those Benches today. The Electoral Reform Society has long argued for this-the society is, needless to say, following the Bill's progress with interest. Perhaps less surprisingly, the UK Youth Parliament also supports the Votes at 16 campaign, as does the 2006 Joseph Rowntree Power inquiry, which recommended that not only the age of voting but the age for candidacy should be brought down to 16. They cannot all be wrong. Our citizens can leave school, get married, join the Armed Forces and, indeed, have the great luxury of paying tax at the age of 16, so they do indeed have taxation without representation.
Because of the coalition's decision to go the full five years before the next election, there will be many more new voters at that general election than when elections are held closer together. The question of the system to
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For today's young generation there has been a growth of interest in public policy, if not, I fear, in party activity. Young people were fully involved in the Make Poverty History campaign. They have taken up the green agenda faster than many of us. Last week, school students told us to preserve their sports facilities and classes. Today, they are telling us to continue with the education maintenance allowance. This week, we also see youngsters thinking of the following generations of students by involving themselves in the tuition fee debate. We have a choice over such activity and interest. We can encourage young people to channel their concern about public policy into voting and democratic behaviour or we can leave them frustrated on the streets. My choice is to involve them. Building on their current interest could be a turning point in their future role in the big society, of which elections are an important part.
The great opportunity of the referendum is that it is not about the usual issues on which young people's parents vote. It is not for the existing MP or for a change of MP. It is not for one of the traditional parties, which may not resonate much with them. It is a new question for a new generation and very possibly the beginning of a new politics. The referendum will decide how those who are aged 18 in 2015 will cast their vote, so why not let them, as 16 and 17 year-olds in 2011, cast their vote in the referendum on how the vote for the general election will be conducted in 2015? I beg tomove.
Lord Soley: My Lords, I rise in support of my noble friend Lady Hayter. Let me begin by perhaps anticipating the Minister's response. Despite his commitment to his party as part of the coalition, he will say that it is not possible to do this in the Bill, that the Electoral Commission would not approve and that these young people would not be able to vote in the referendum anyway because the Bill will not allow time for that. He said much the same about the right to vote for
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If the Minister thinks that I am the only person who is saying that the coalition Government are not allowing time for the Bill-they ought to allow time, so that we could consider the wider issue of votes at 16, which is his party's policy, or indeed votes for prisoners, which is also his party's policy-let me quote from a letter sent to me and to others by one of his honourable friends in the House of Commons, Andrew Turner, the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight. He says the following in relation to a different part of the Bill:
In a sense, that sums up the problem. There is a case for votes at 16, although I will touch on that only briefly, since my noble friend summed up my position in her remarks, just as there is a case for votes for prisoners following the European Court of Human Rights ruling. However, there is no room in this Bill for doing things easily unless-this is the point-the Government accept that the legislation ought to be about reform and not just about preserving the coalition's position.
Perhaps I may deal briefly with why votes at the age of 16 are important. For many years I have felt that, if you can serve in the Armed Forces, you ought to be able to vote. Also, as my noble friend pointed out, if you pay taxes, you ought to be able to vote. However, the important point concerns the Armed Forces. Secondly, it should be understood that many young people start to get interested in politics at this age. However, if they are not allowed to express that interest, if anything they are put off later. It is no accident that in this Chamber either last Friday or in a previous Youth Parliament, I cannot remember which, the young people voted in favour of votes at 16. I might add something that will encourage Members on both sides: they also voted by a majority of between 60 and 64 for a largely appointed House as opposed to an elected House. There are all those wise young people out there, wanting to vote and to keep an appointed House because they recognise some of the strengths of that. The arguments in favour were interesting because the young people were wise enough to support the concept of, at least, a largely appointed House.
I suppose that we all think of our own backgrounds. My noble friend was remembering where she was for her first election, albeit with some uncertainty. I remember mine clearly. It was in 1955. When I had campaigned in the previous election, I was belted round the ear by someone with a rolled-up poster who told me that I was too young to be thinking about such things. All that did was to reinforce my view that I ought to think about it a bit harder, if only to deal with people who belted you round the ear with a rolled-up poster.
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I should not need to exercise these arguments with the Minister, because his party supports this policy and I believe that I am right in saying that he does. The only thing standing in the way is this attempt to get through a Bill that is about the survival of the coalition, not the reform of the parliamentary system. The Government really need to do better on this. It is just not good enough to duck this issue in the way that he ducked the issue of votes for prisoners.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend Lady Hayter. I came to this issue rather sceptically but changed my mind when I was chairing the Power inquiry, as we took evidence from around the country and heard from young people and their teachers. One thing that this House should have in mind is the alarming way in which we in this country are losing the habit of voting. What we are finding is that young people, if they do not establish a habit of voting, do not turn to it. People would say to us, "Well, they soon start voting once they start having children of their own or a mortgage, or when they start paying tax"-often, they were Members of Parliament. Yet the reality is that, if the habit is not established before, very often people do not end up voting at all.
Teachers were telling us that already, in schools, there is talk before age 16 about why the vote is so important and about the history of the vote. Then there is a gap, where a substantial number of our young are still not staying on at school to 18, so when they leave school there is a period of non-participation in the public arena. They do not vote, so they never establish the habit of voting. We should move from knowing about voting at school-understanding its history and its importance in our firmament and why it is at the heart of our democracy that people should vote-to harnessing that while people are still young and interested. That is vital.
Hearing from young people who were clearly interested in how their country worked and in the issues of the day, yet then hearing from teachers about the terrible loss of interest between the ages of 16 and 18-sometimes, it is as long as four years before these young people get the chance to vote-was a lesson that convinced me that people lose the habit of voting. We should take this opportunity to reform the system as soon as we can. I know that many people, certainly among the Liberal Democrats, share this view. We should be harnessing that interest in politics before it is lost. Now is a good time to do it, when we are in the process of engaging in some reform of our electoral system.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Kennedy referred to instilling the habit of voting. My fear is that the subject of this referendum
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The genesis of this whole thing is the Faustian pact between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. The Liberals have this magnificent obsession with structures. It is not an obsession that a great number of people in this country share but they consider it the unfinished business of Lloyd George. They were prepared to do anything to change the voting system, while allowing the Conservative Party to have free rein in all its attacks on our welfare system.
I cannot imagine young people for a moment being interested in going to this vote. From over 30 years as a Member of Parliament in the other place, trying desperately to get people to vote in difficult parts of the constituency-we sometimes had, alas, a very sad turnout-I cannot imagine even a tiny proportion of those individuals bothering to vote and, if they do not, I certainly see no serious interest or enthusiasm among younger people. That is my starting point.
However, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hayter. She led me along a silken path with her felicitous words until I was almost persuaded; alas, not quite. I have form in this, because many years ago I promoted a Private Member's Bill in the other place to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18. I was before my time, as it were, because it was before that view became a consensus. Sadly, the Bill was talked out, but there was a very logical case to move from 21 to 18 at that point because, about then, the legal age of majority had been changed-I believe that it was by a royal commission-and it was wholly consistent with that that the voting age should also be reduced from 21 to 18.
Lord Rooker: I should like to bring my noble friend Lord Anderson around to supporting my noble friend Lady Hayter because, while I am sceptical as well, this is not about votes at 16. It is about allowing the people who will be 18 at the end of a fixed-term Parliament to vote for the voting system that will be used then. If it were not for the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, which gives this some intellectual credence-and it is the same gang bringing in that Bill-we would not be asking the people who we know will be 18 at the end of this Parliament to choose the voting system. This is not about votes at 16, so my noble friend can support my other noble friend if this matter is pushed.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: I look on my noble friend's intervention with considerable respect, as I do all the matters that he raises. Clearly, he raises an important point. The essence of what I was saying is that, whereas from 21 to 18 there was a logical stopping point, I see no such point in going from 18 to 16. Indeed, I ask rhetorically where it will stop. The real reformers-the people trying desperately to be radical-will ask, "Why stop at 16?". It may not perhaps go down to babes and sucklings but next they will suggest,
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: That is one factor. One could say, for example, why not 17? That is the age at which one can be on the front line in our armed services. One can make a plausible, or semi-plausible, case for reducing the age from 18 to 17, then to 16, but although there are pointers at each little watering place and stopping point along the way, in my judgment there is no sufficient reason to say that one should stop at 16.
I have heard the argument in favour. Of course there are some points to be made for it, but in my judgment it would be wrong in general and, in response to my noble friend Lady Kennedy, certainly wrong to have the change on a matter that is, frankly, of little or no interest to the younger generation-the nature of the voting system. It would be a bad precedent and, if it is to be justified at all, a bad starting point for the younger generation.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I support the amendment. I want to say two things. The thrust of my main argument is that, without doubt, 16 year-olds have a sufficient knowledge and understanding of the world to have a valid opinion on this referendum and to be able to make a valid decision about it. Moreover, a 16 year-old today has a level of sophistication significantly greater than 18 year-olds of even 20, but certainly 30, years ago. You have only to see the parliamentary youth debates on TV to witness a standard of debate unthinkable in teenagers of a previous era. If 16 year-old students and younger can demonstrate on the streets and know what they are demonstrating about, which they do, then they are certainly able to participate in this referendum.
My second point concerns public indifference to politics, and specifically to Parliament. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. While the voting age remains at 18, it is all too easy for schools to slide out of providing education about Parliament. However, if 16 year-olds were able to vote in this referendum then not only would the teachers become enthusiastic about a reality that took place while their pupils were still at school, but the students themselves would feel they had a real stake in their Parliament and would demand the education on voting systems and on Parliament to go with it.
The referendum is a highly appropriate moment to test out voting at 16. It is a specific issue, though one of paramount importance, and, crucially, it is about
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Lord Tyler: My Lords, in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, I have found that young people are very interested in the way in which we elect our Members of Parliament and feel as cheated as many other members of the electorate about the way that the system works. I was with 120 sixth-formers on behalf of the Lord Speaker's outreach programme on Friday, and I assure the noble Lord that they are extremely interested in this issue and indeed many others. I agree with the noble Earl that many of them would like to express an opinion.
The issue today is the one addressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws: what is the appropriate time to make this change? How can we do it? How soon can we do it? Can we do it before May? There are two major problems about the otherwise very persuasive case that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has put before us. The first, I am afraid, involves the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. He is my good friend in these matters; he so often provides me with ammunition. Those who might be voting in a referendum on 5 May 2011 will not just be the 16 and 17 year-olds who will become 18 before 2015-they will also include the 14 and 15 year-olds. The logic of the case that is being put from the other side is that if we are trying to identify those who will have a vote by 2015, we have to include those who are 14 and 15. That is the case that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made just a few minutes ago.
Lord Grocott: I must caution the noble Lord, if that does not sound too presumptuous, against assuming that the Bill, which has not even arrived here, to extend the parliamentary period to five years-I think that that would be about one and a quarter years longer than the average Parliament since the war, in an attempt to increase substantially the length of this coalition-is as good as an Act of Parliament. We simply cannot have this debate on the total assumption that a Bill that has not yet arrived has become law.
Lord Tyler: It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, to change the whole basis on which others on his side of the House have been arguing. The case was made a few minutes ago that those who are going to vote in May 2015 will be 15 or 16 next year. They could also be 14. That is the simple point that I am making-no more than that.
There is another practical problem. It is almost inevitable, I believe, that the referendum will take place on the same day as some other elections-others may take a different view on which other elections. It would be ridiculous to have a completely different electorate for two different purposes, with the referendum in one ballot box-
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: What an opportunity I have been given. Is the noble Lord not aware that there are already two completely different franchises for this election, as some people on this side have been arguing?
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Lord Tyler: No, it is not. That is an absurd point. I am simply talking about putting in place a major change in the electorate, changing the whole qualification for voting in parliamentary elections between now and 5 May. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that that is a reform that I supported and that I hope that the Government will get around to. Incidentally, her own Government, I am sad to say, did nothing to move in this direction. I hope that our Government will make progress on it before the general election in 2015 but it would be totally irrational to attempt to do it before 5 May, and that is my last word on the subject.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: Before the noble Lord sits down, the deftness of his footwork in response to my noble friend was good enough to ensure that those who are putting together the next "Strictly Come Dancing" competition should approach him. Not only did he change horses between the point that he was making, the intervention and his response to it, he moved to a different racecourse altogether. The point that he was making, as I am sure that the record of this debate will show, was that it is entirely inconsistent and confusing to have two separate electorates approaching the same polling station for both a referendum and the contemporary election. That is exactly what he was defending, time and again, from those Benches, if not from that exact spot, as we were making that very point to him.
The amendment does not propose to fundamentally change the electorate for future elections. It proposes to change the electorate for the referendum. That is exactly what the noble Lord has been supporting up until now in relation to Peers, with a distinction between those who can vote, perhaps in local government elections, and those who are citizens of the EU or whatever and cannot vote. We will have an opportunity to address that issue. Will he address why he has now been persuaded by our argument and is now parroting it back to us? What will the consequences of that be for his future voting intentions towards the Bill in Committee?
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am just making a simple point. I want to change the qualification for voting in parliamentary elections. If it is possible to do that between now and 5 May, and I very much doubt it, there is of course a case for it to be part of the qualification of voting on the referendum that, as is in the Bill, you are already qualified to vote in the parliamentary election. That is my simple point. I was taking up the very proper challenge from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that for those who want to vote in general parliamentary elections we should make this change and reduce the age to 16. I accept that. I do not believe that we can do that in practical terms before 5 May, and I was making a simple point about the confusion that could arise if we were to attempt to do it just for the referendum and not for any other purpose. That is all.
Lord Monson: The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made her argument extremely well but are she and her supporters aware that, 50-odd years ago, only two groups of people in the world could vote at the age of 18? The first comprised citizens of the Soviet Union, where you could vote at 18 provided you voted for the Communist Party. The second group consisted of white South Africans, who made up about 20 per cent of the population of that country. In most other parts of the world the voting age was 21 but there were at least four exceptions. These four exceptions were countries that are generally regarded by progressive opinion as highly praiseworthy, with superb welfare states and high standards of literacy, healthcare, education and so on. They were the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, where the minimum voting ages ranged from 23 to 25. That is not a preclusive argument against lowering the voting age but it is certainly something to reflect on.
Baroness Kingsmill: I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Hayter. My reason for this is that 16 year-olds today are a very mature bunch of people. They have been well educated, on the whole, and many of them have studied current affairs to a far greater degree than I did when I was at school. We encourage our 16 year-olds to take responsibility; we wish them to behave well and to pursue active citizenship. I can think of no better way of doing so than exercising the vote responsibly. It is patronising in the extreme to think that 16 year-olds are not interested in how our Government are run. Most 16 year-olds I know are extremely interested in this area, as were most of my children's friends when they were 16. Some of the frustrations that we see on the streets today may well have arisen from the fact that people have not had the opportunity to be active citizens or to exercise the vote. This is, therefore, a wholly worthy amendment and one that I support.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: In opening the debate on active citizenship from these Benches two weeks ago, I made clear my view that votes at 16 would be timely. I do not resile from that one little bit. I served in the mid-1960s on the Latey committee on the age of majority, which reduced the age of majority for certain civil purposes to 18. A year later I also served on the Speaker's Conference on electoral law, which recommended that the age of voting should be not 18 but 20. None the less, Parliament rejected that advice and the following year voted for votes at 18. So, I have a track record of involvement in this debate.
However, it appears that what we are talking about in this amendment is not giving people votes at 16 but giving them the right to participate in a one-off referendum. That raises somewhat different issues. It is also clear that, throughout the debate in Committee, there has been lengthy opposition to and debates on amendments, which-if the process goes on in this manner-will have the effect, whether it is desired or not, of postponing the referendum. As many people as possible should take part in the referendum, so that we have a clear indication of what the public view is. Whatever side of the argument we may be on, to have the maximum turnout for the referendum is highly
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The second issue that causes me to hesitate about having 16 year-olds voting in the late spring-as is implicit in the Government's attitude-is that it seems improbable that many of them would be on the register in time for that. Even if the decision were taken by this House to change the provisions and allow them to vote, it would have to go back for approval to another place. Consequently, we could expect substantial delays. Practically, their being on the register-which they would need to be if their votes were to be validated-is very improbable.
Lord Rooker: There is an easy solution to that. I think it is the case-I do not have children but I was at the DSS-that when you are 16 you are issued with your national insurance number. You are known about on the system. It would be easy for the DWP to know where all 16 year-olds are because it would be about to issue their national insurance numbers. That argument, with respect, is not a valid one.
Could the noble Lord also address the London issue? He skated over that when talking about the second election. The greatest density of voters in this country is in the 100-odd constituencies in London-the capital of the country, where there is no other election next May. The damage to possible turnout because there is not another election could be catastrophic. The 15 per cent who will not be voting are not evenly spread over the country. Has the noble Lord thought about that?
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I take the noble Member's point. However, the concentration of the media-the London-centred media-makes it highly likely that London is the least likely part of the country to be unaware of what is happening, or not to have been stimulated by the press, including television and radio, into recognising the importance of the issue. I envisage that being the proper possibility in other parts of the country, where other elections are happening. It is conceivable in Scotland, for example, that the voting system for Westminster will not be regarded as the first priority; rather, the structure of the Scottish Parliament and which Government will take their place in Scotland will. So, I do not altogether go along with the noble Lord.
Lord Rooker: Forgive me but that was not my point. The noble Lord was saying that we could not get 16 year-olds on to the register in time. The fact is that they are on a register now. It would be very easy to transfer them to the electoral register. It is known in government, electronically, where they are because they are about to be issued with an NI number. I am not suggesting that the NI number is used for voting but it would be very easy to put them on to the electoral register.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I would be interested to hear the views of the Electoral Commission on that. I do not regard myself as an expert on these matters but I doubt it is quite as easy as that, given that the timing for the Bill becoming law is decreasingly clear.
My final point may not carry so much weight but I believe that our 16 year-olds are increasingly very interested in politics, which is why I want to see a change in the voting age. However, I do not believe that in a few months' time they are likely to be able to discriminate between different electoral systems when they have not been thinking about voting. It is highly improbable that even their teachers would be in a position to give them guidance on the virtues and merits of different electoral systems. We have heard arguments being put forward on the Benches opposite and conflicts between the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and others about the merits of the supplementary vote as opposed to the alternative vote, or various kinds of alternative vote. Without prior discussion or only the most minimal educational input on this issue, it is extremely improbable that 16 year-olds would add greatly to the authority of the decision to be taken next May, if that is the date decided upon. Therefore, for the three reasons that I have given, I would prefer to see the system of voting change and for subsequent referenda to follow the electoral register.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: I would like to ask the noble Lord a very simple question. Can he tell your Lordships' House which members of the public he thinks have been thinking about these issues with the necessary intensity to make the decision he has just proposed needs to be made?
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: A large number of people who have voted in previous elections feel that their vote did not count and that the relevant constituency remained dominated, come hell or high water, by the party which had been there for over a generation. I am bound to say that those people are likely to look at alternatives with a passion and concern not shared by a new voter, who may simply be mystified by what could appear to be a very academic debate. Consequently, I do not think that the noble Lord's intervention has much substance.
Lord Desai: My Lords, it never fails to surprise me that when people want to resist an advance in the franchise all the same objections are made. They say, "These people do not know how to vote. They are not interested in politics; they are just not good enough".
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In proposing this amendment, my noble friend has done a very nice thing. Given that we are talking about a referendum, we are not so worried about which constituency people are registered to on the electoral register. The constituency does not matter; this is a nationwide election. Therefore, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said in his imaginative intervention, once you have your national insurance number, people know that you are 16 and then you are eligible to vote. One could even experiment with e-voting given that we are not electing Members to represent constituencies but asking the nation a question: "Are you for AV, or not?". We should not be so conceited as to presume that students, or their teachers, do not understand the issues surrounding AV. They can all read and write and people have been reading about this stuff for ages.
I remember that in the 1960s the only party which publicly supported voting at 18 was the Monster Raving Loony Party, and it was far ahead of the electorate in that respect. These really radical reforms always come from the outside, as it were. For some strange reason the Government want to hold the referendum on 5 May 2011; perhaps it should be held in 2012, but they want it on 5 May. However, they should not let that one little thing be an obstacle to achieving a good reform. If we can achieve this reform, it will make a tremendous difference. As regards the point about today's 14 year-olds being eligible to vote by 2015, that is a great idea. We could easily amend the noble Baroness's amendment to say that anybody who is likely to be 18 by 2015 should be eligible to vote in the referendum.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, this amendment concerns the age at which one should be eligible to vote in the referendum. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, convincingly to separate out the arguments for allowing people to vote at 16 on the referendum and lowering the voting age for other elections. Indeed, in the speech in which she so ably moved this amendment, my noble friend Lady Hayter engaged with those wider considerations, as did my noble friends Lord Soley and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws.
My observation of young people's views on what the voting age should be is a little at odds with the experience of my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Like many Members of Parliament, I used regularly to have meetings with sixth formers in my two former constituencies. They were very different constituencies situated in different parts of the country with very different socioeconomic make-ups. I expected my youthful constituents to be enthusiastic about
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We have noted at a series of elections that the lowest turnouts are among those entitled to vote for the first time, which worries us all. That should not necessarily be interpreted as disaffection from politics, but it is a matter of concern that those in the youngest age group eligible to vote are not conspicuously prone to exercise that right. If we lowered the voting age, I worry that that trend might intensify and become extended. Therefore, there is a case for caution. I would be interested to know whether my noble friend Lady Hayter thinks that my observation is correct and that there is not a great demand among young people for the right to vote at a younger age than 18, whether on a referendum or in other elections.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, since there has so far been silence from these Benches, I want to offer my noble friend on the Front Bench a modest bit of encouragement before he replies. I might frighten him by saying that I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, in that I did not get my first vote until I was 22. I am not going to tell noble Lords how I cast it, except to say that it was consistent with my being a supporter of the coalition. I am more or less agnostic on whether the voting age should be reduced further, although I am bound to say that the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Howarth, have made some powerful points on the sceptical side.
The key point I want to make to my noble friend is that, whatever my view might turn out to be were we to have a properly considered and consulted-on proposal brought before us, I do not think that an amendment in your Lordships' House to this Bill at this time would be an appropriate way to bring about a reduction in the voting age. So if my noble friend wishes to resist the amendment, whether in the terms forecast by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, or in any other, he will have my support.
Baroness McDonagh: I see the issue in a rather different way. It is part and parcel of our long march to democracy. I take as a starting point the situation 537 years ago, with the enfranchisement of some men on a property basis. We talk of the Great Reform Act 1832, where we enfranchised only some 14 per cent of men. The great reforming Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, represented a rotten borough that was bought for
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The first voices on the enfranchisement of women were heard in the mid-1800s. Disraeli wrote the novel Sybil and began to talk about votes for women. It was not until 1885 that the women's suffragette movement started. However, it was not until 1928 that all women were able to vote on the same basis as men. I suppose that my sisters in this House have to think ourselves lucky that we were not French, because it was not until 1945 that women in France could vote.
We set ourselves up as a paragon of democracy that the rest of the world can look to. When we look back, we have actually taken quite a long time to come here. It was only in the last century that we started to look at age. It was only some 40 years ago, in 1969, that all 18 year-olds were allowed to vote. I look around the Chamber and I do not wish to be disparaging to anyone, but that happened probably within all our lifetimes.
Various noble Lords have talked about why 16 year- olds should be brought into the franchise because they can, for example, leave school, work full-time, pay tax, serve in the Armed Forces, and so on. However, we are at a unique point in our history dealing with serious issues that affect only this age group, including, for example, tuition fees. This issue is a huge departure and is not about a contribution to student fees, which were brought in by the previous Labour Government, but is about a Government who are wholly standing back from contributing to teaching in universities. We are in a wholly different situation which relates to an issue that will be faced uniquely by this age group. That has never happened before.
Look at today's announcement on the education maintenance allowance. We hear a lot from the Government about how everything they do is progressive. Even though outside bodies always fail to agree, the Government say they want to be fair and to help those who find it hardest. Getting rid of the education maintenance allowance will hit the poorest members of our society. Issues such as these are unique to that age group. We have a choice as to whether we bring people into democracy and let them have a say about the big issues of the day.
The Electoral Commission has carried out much research in this area. It shows how 15 to 17 year-olds are much more interested and likely to vote than their older contemporaries. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, said he was 22 before he voted. If the voting age remains at 18, someone's first vote is likely to be cast when they are between the ages of 18 and 24, rather than near their 18th birthday, depending on when there is an election. It looks like members of that age group are more likely to vote. I personally feel-and research bears this out-that if you vote in your first election when you are young, you gain a habit of voting and vote throughout your life. I think that the whole House would want to join me in agreeing with that.
Another social impact is that when young people are 18, they are now much more likely to move away from home to university than they were 20, 30 or 40 years ago. They are not given the same parental guidance that perhaps we were at that age when we were taken to the polling station to vote. Something struck me for the first time on polling day in the 1997 general election-and I have been active in politics since 1978. It came home to me that that was the first election, after the previous four general elections, when more than 50 per cent of first-time voters voted. I was very pleased to be out of Millbank Tower for the first day in many months. When I was knocking on doors and talking to young voters in the streets, I discovered that it was not older people who needed help getting to polling stations, but first-time voters, who asked, "Where do I go? How do I vote?". I was struck by the number of people who were not sure of the practicalities, whether they had to pass a test, or whether they should vote electronically. A younger person will be given more parental guidance and be told that voting is a right of passage as they grow older.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I have been persuaded to make only two brief points, encouraged by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Newton. I am always slightly nervous about suggesting that I am an agnostic on a subject, but as he has given me courage, I shall begin by saying that my instinct on this is one of agnosticism. I am not sure whether I have been helped or hindered by listening to the debate and hearing what I thought were two weak arguments-one on each side of the debate.
For those who favour votes at 16, I found the argument that there was an intense interest in different forms of electoral systems among 16 and 17 year-olds very unconvincing. I acknowledge that there is tremendous interest in issues such as those to which my noble friend referred-student fees and the like, and, over the years, in bigger issues such as war and peace-but, please, not in different electoral systems. If such interest exists, it is in a parallel universe to the one that I have inhabited. I have found hardly any adults who are interested in different electoral systems, let alone people aged 16 and 17. I used to think that I understood electoral systems but, having listened to nearly all of the debates so far in the Committee stage of the Bill, I have become more confused as the debates have gone on. I did not realise that there were three types of alternative vote systems and I certainly could not answer in two sentences how the d'Hondt system operates. I find it an unconvincing argument that there is a clamour for votes at 16 and 17 on electoral systems.
However, I find it equally unconvincing to challenge the right of people to vote at 16 and 17 on the basis that they are not yet well enough informed. I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lord Desai that it is a dangerous path to tread to say that there should be a test of someone's knowledge, ability and awareness before giving them the right to vote; it should be a universal right. We all acknowledge that there has to
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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the effect of the amendment of my noble friend Lady Hayter would be that the voting age for the referendum would be lowered to 16. Two bases are put forward to support the amendment: first, that those who vote at between 16 and 18 in the referendum will be voting on the voting system that they will be using in a general election and therefore they should be allowed to contribute to choosing it; and, secondly and separately, that 16 is the right age for people to be able to vote in a general election and therefore they should be able to vote in the referendum. I do not regard the first basis as a strong argument. If we as a nation conclude that 18 is the right age to vote in a general election, 18 is also the right age to participate in the referendum.
In those circumstances, two issues are raised by the amendment: first, should the voting age be 18, which should be addressed as a matter of principle; and, secondly, if the House were to conclude that 18 is the right voting age, are there practical reasons why people should not be entitled to vote in the referendum because, for example, it is too late, too complicated or too confusing?
Let me address those two critical issues. First, should the voting age be 18 or 16? The Labour Party position is that there should be a free vote in relation to this. In my view-this is a personal view; I am not expressing the view of the Labour Party-the voting age should be 16 for the following four reasons. First, we allow people of 16 to do things that are only consistent with being an adult-joining the Army, marriage, paying taxes. In those circumstances it is quite difficult to see a basis on which not to allow them to vote. A possible basis could be that we think 16 year-olds are not mature enough to vote whereas 18 year-olds are. However, I do not think there is much evidence in relation to that. Secondly, as a matter of history, we have always taken a time to recognise that younger people than previously are capable of doing things. My noble friend Lady McDonagh made the point that in 1918, when we allowed women the vote for the first time, we said that they had to be 30 before they could vote. That was not a view about how mature or otherwise women were; it was society's attitude to people. I suggest that the position now-just as it was in 1969, when Parliament rejected the view of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, who is no longer in his place, that the age should be 20-is that society is much more trusting of people than it was before.
I think that 16 is an age at which people can vote. I speak as an expert in that I have a 17 year-old son and a 20 year-old daughter, one of whom is completely
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My fourth point is that this matter was debated in the other place; there was a vote and 200 Members of Parliament voted in favour of reducing the age from 18 to 16. So I, like the Liberal Democrat Party, am in favour of reducing the voting age from 18 to 16. I suspect it will happen at some stage and we should grasp the nettle as soon as possible.
On the second issue-are their practical reasons which indicate that it should not be done at the referendum stage?-three points have been raised. First, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said that there would be confusion. There is scope for confusion in relation to this but the people who are likely to be as little confused as anyone are those between 16 and 18 who know that all that he or she can do is vote in the referendum. So I find the confusion argument unpersuasive.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked how you will get 16 year-olds on the register by 5 May 2010. That point needs an answer. I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in relation to that. He believes that it could be easily done because the Department for Work and Pensions has a list of all 16 year-olds because it is sending out national insurance numbers to them. I do not know whether that is the answer and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says in relation to that.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, delivered a magisterial statement along the lines of, "Don't be ridiculous. Don't put it into this Bill". In my view, if the practical difficulties can be overcome-I shall listen to what the Minister says in relation to this-then, because I favour votes at 16, as do the Liberal Democrats, I will support the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. However, I make it clear that I do that in a personal capacity, not on behalf of my party which has indicated that there should be a free vote in relation to it.
Let me make one final point. I regard this as a wholly appropriate issue to be debated in relation to the Bill. I find the suggestion that there is something wrong about debating this issue both offensive and wrong. I regard the debate that has taken place as good and worthwhile; I do not regard it as a worthless debate because no Tories took part, except for the noble Lord, Lord Newton. This is the kind of thing we should debate in relation to a Bill whose self-stated purpose is to reform the way in which we elect MPs.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, as ever it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, not least because his speeches never fail to give the feel of how he tries to persuade the House. To give an example, he said in his summing up that 200 Members of Parliament voted in favour of votes at 16. That is an impressive statistic, but actually 196 voted in favour, on 18 October, while 346 voted against. Occasionally, in his wonderful summings up, the noble and learned Lord leaves out the odd fact that the House might like to have and I think that knowing that 346 Members voted against might help this side of the House.
I do not object to the debate, as I found it absolutely fascinating. The span of it, on the Benches opposite, illustrated why the amendment should not be pressed. The noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Howarth, were against, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord Soley, were for, while the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was agnostic. That is the kind of spread and I can see why the Labour Party wants a free vote. It is a very interesting issue to debate.
Lord McNally: These shafts of wit will throw me one of these days. In the mean time, I address the problem with this proposal. I am surrounded by parliamentarians of great expertise, who know that there are two kinds of Bill. There are the Christmas trees, which people hang things on-I have hung many a thing on a Christmas tree Bill and had great pleasure doing so-but then there are the clear, simple Bills, whose beauty and simplicity are their major strengths. As has been said on this side of the House since this debate began-it seems like years ago, but apparently it was only four parliamentary days ago, as we gallop into Clause 2-this Bill is about fair votes on fair boundaries. All the other things are interesting and will undoubtedly continue to be debated as this Government carry forward their constitutional reform agenda.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is constantly asking to see the big picture. Tomorrow I am speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Legal and Constitutional Affairs, when I will give the constitutional big picture, or big vision, from this Government. I hope that the noble Lord will come along. In the mean time, what we are trying to do is to keep this Bill clear and simple in its objectives.
Lord Soley: I invite the noble Lord to remember his Christmas tree. There are only two things hanging on it-one is the Liberal Party and the other is the Conservative Party. It would be better if he just admitted it and then we would all know where we were coming from.
The amendment seeks to amend Clause 2 to enable 16 and 17 year-olds to participate in the referendum. As I have said before, the amendment is similar in
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There is a wider debate to be had about the voting age more generally and we need to consider the arguments for and against. I recommend that, when there is a Bill to bring the voting age down to 16, tonight's Hansard should be required reading for anybody persuaded in that Bill. My noble friend Lord Newton, to whom I can almost say "Welcome home", is right-this Bill is not the right forum for that debate. I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: If this is not the right Bill, could the Minister deal with the practical issues to which I referred, as that would influence me in relation to whether it was the right Bill? He has not dealt with any of the arguments; he has just said, "Wrong place, close it down". But it would be of interest to the House to hear the practical objections to putting this measure in.
Lord McNally: On the practical objections, I could almost refer to the opening three or four lines of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, when he summed up my arguments perfectly. We are determined that this Bill will not be a Christmas tree. It is a simple Bill in its objectives of fair votes on fair boundaries. That is what we are aiming to achieve.
One interesting thing was that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised the issue of using the national insurance database to register all 16 year-olds. Almost as an example of how this Government are thinking about the broader issues involved, we are running data-matching pilots next year and we will be looking at how we can use the wider government database to get more people on the register. As the Minister responsible for data protection, I would like to see some of the implications of that. That is why some of these things cannot be rushed.
Baroness McDonagh: I thank the Minister for giving way. I wanted to give one point of information. To date, all voters in the UK are registered from the point when they are 16 years and three months. Would the Minister agree that that is why it is important to retain household registration and not move to individual registration? As I am on my feet, I shall ask a second question. Given that the noble Lord thinks that it is not right for this Bill to reduce the voting age to 16, does he have any intention to bring forward another Bill?
Lord McNally: As Lord Peart used to say, "Not next week". I am not looking forward as far as that. On the question of the 16 year-olds, according to this amendment we would also need to identify all those who are now 15 but who will be 16 on 5 May. Registration officers have no power to do that and it would be a real practical burden to do it in such a short timescale. I could not quite work out whether the noble Baroness was backing off individual registration. This Government are certainly not doing that.
Lord Soley: The noble Lord misquoted me. I certainly did not say that this was the wrong sort of Bill for the proposal; I said that he would say that the Electoral Commission would have difficulties with it. I would like to know-as, I suspect, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer would like to know-whether that is true or not. Secondly, I said that it would be difficult to deliver this proposal in such a way that the votes could be put into effect. Those were the two things that I said and that was what my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer was asking about.
Lord McNally: It would be difficult. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, indicated, the implications of the amendment go far beyond normal electoral registration and far beyond what it would be proper to debate in a House of Lords amendment. My noble friend Lord Newton wisely guided me on that. I will keep bobbing up and down as long as other noble Lords do, but I emphasise our determination to keep the Bill simple and clean. I feel a tingle between my shoulder blades and will sit down.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord referred a few minutes ago to data protection issues arising over the transfer of information from departments for the purposes of registration. Is he suggesting that the Department for Work and Pensions has reservations about the transfer? The issue was raised during the passage of the Bill when the matter of electoral registration was discussed. Is there a problem looming with data transfer?
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I thank noble Lords, including the noble Earl, for their support for this amendment. As a new Member, I was amused by the description of this as a simple Bill-I am dreading the next ones-and by the idea of a Christmas tree. My noble friend Lord Soley said that there were two things on the Christmas tree. I now picture the Minister as the fairy on top. The image will remain with me.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, is not in his place, but I think that at one point he suggested that this was an attempt to delay the referendum. It is absolutely not that. I am particularly interested in a high turnout for the referendum and in catching the
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The noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, said that he had already voted for two parties. If in the local elections he would like to go for a third, I can suggest one that would be very attractive. He said that this was not the right vehicle. I had not thought about that argument, but my noble friend Lord Soley was right: the Bill is about reform of the parliamentary voting system and there is almost nothing more important than who has the vote in that system. Whether the voting age should be 16 is a key issue, even for those whom I may not have persuaded. I was asked whether there was a demand for this. I cite the Youth Parliament and the research of the Power inquiry, which suggest that there is. I was horrified by my noble friend Lady McDonagh saying that it was 40 years since the voting age was lowered to 18. I would have guessed that it was about 20; that says something about one's age. It is time to look at this issue again.
Basically, those of us who put our names to the amendment won the argument. There is general support for voting at 16. The objections that were thrown up were practical ones rather than issues of principle. The practical objections could be overcome if there was a desire to do so. As my noble friend Lord Desai said, this is not a constituency-based vote but a national one-although I may challenge that in future. The real issue is that nearly everyone supports the idea of voting at 16. I would hate to embarrass my former friends on this side, the Liberal Democrats, by forcing a vote, because it would be difficult for them to vote against what I know they believe in. Therefore, I will not test the opinion of the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I am pleased to have the chance to raise this important topic. I do so with some trepidation, because it is an issue on which one can be misconstrued, misreported, misquoted and misunderstood. To avoid this, I will begin by saying what the debate is not about. This is not a debate about immigration under another name; it is not a debate about relative population sizes, and whether there are more white people or black people;
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What is the size of the problem? The growth in world population peaked at 2.2 per cent in 1962-63. It is now between 1.1 and 1.2 per cent. That may seem a small number, but in absolute terms it meant that in 2009 the world's population increased by 74.6 million. This equates to an increase of 204,000 people per day. In the short hour of this debate, the world population will go up by 8,500. Is this not a declining figure? It is-a bit. Projections suggest that by 2050, the annual increase will have slowed to about 40 million-that is, 4,500 people per hour. I invite noble Lords to consider what even that reduced figure will mean for the need for housing, health, education, employment, resource use and the CO2 footprint. Because of this annual increase-whether it be 74.6 million or 40 million-the world's population will have increased in 2050 from 6.8 billion today to 9.2 billion then. That is a staggering increase of 35 per cent, or 2.4 billion people.
Some may be inclined to dismiss this as somebody else's problem-other countries, other continents. However, not only would that be short-sighted, as I shall show in a minute, it would also not be true, for we in the United Kingdom also have a microcosm of the world's population issue. In 1840, the population of the United Kingdom was about 10 million. In 2009, it was 62 million and is increasing by just under 400,000 a year-that is 45 per hour, or 45 during this debate.
Some may say that this is an immigration problem. Again, this would be short-sighted and, again, it would not be completely true. In 2008-09, of the 393,000 increase in the UK's population, 217,000, or 55 per cent, came from a surplus of births over deaths. Immigration accounted for only 45 per cent, or 176,000. What makes this figure particularly alarming is that the figures for 10 years ago-2001-02-show that the net excess of births over deaths then was only 62,000 compared with 217,000 today, so there is a real non-immigration issue for the UK and its population.
But, people will argue, the real problem is overseas-particularly in Africa-and that is true. Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan all have fast-growing populations. The argument goes: should we be concerned about the growth of population in these overseas countries? Some may say that there is a case for a moral duty-for us to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves-and I personally regard this as a powerful argument.
However, even for those who adopt a more laissez-faire, sauve qui peut approach, there are compelling arguments to be concerned. Impoverished people are desperate people, and desperate people do desperate things-for themselves and for their families. I am a member of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee F, which is concerned with home affairs. Last year, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Jopling, we looked at the operation of FRONTEX, the European border agency. The evidence that we received about the lengths to which people will go to reach Europe was truly alarming. Time does not permit me to go into detail but one example will suffice. It is clear that boatloads of refugees are prepared, once they reach the territorial waters of a European country, to sink their boat and risk drowning as a means of ensuring that they reach Europe and are not returned to their country of origin. As population rises, so will the number of people trying these desperate remedies.
Finally, there are those who argue that we need more young people to fund the pension provision and lifestyle of a population with a higher proportion of older people-a sort of gigantic Ponzi population scheme. Such people forget about the inexorable implications of compound growth. It has been calculated that such an approach will require the population of the United Kingdom to reach between 125 million and 150 million by the end of the century.
In recent years, there has developed the concept of "carrying capacity". Carrying capacity, at its most basic, is about survival-how much food and water the population of the world needs to survive. One estimate is that in 1999 humanity's demand exceeded the planet's biocapacity to supply by more than 20 per cent. This excess is not immediately disastrous because biocapacity stocks can be run down or liquidated by things such as overfishing and deforestation, and indeed by filling up sinks-over-emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. Further, nation by nation there can also be imbalances with countries exceeding the average carrying capacity, balanced by others which do not. However, for the world as a whole there is no such easy outcome, because we have as yet no possibility of interplanetary trade.
So much for the problems; what would I like the Government to do? First, I should like them to agree that population growth is an issue both abroad and at home, and that the taboo on even discussing this issue needs to be ended. We need, as someone has said, to "detoxify the brand", for the people of this country are entitled to know about the seriousness of this challenge and its implications for them. Secondly, I should like the Government to disavow the idea that we need population growth to support our society. That way madness lies. Thirdly, we need to redouble our efforts to give women all over the world the power to control their fertility. That is why I believe that ring-fencing the foreign aid budget was such an important policy decision and likely to help to bring incalculable benefits at every level.
None of this will be easy. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is a complicated, uncertain, messy issue hedged about with traps. Those of us who cut our political teeth in the 1970s remember the example
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"Joseph's intentions, if not his words, were right. All the world over, a new generation of political leaders must return to this. Look beyond insulating your roof. Look beyond recycling your tins. Look beyond buying a charity goat for a Kenyan village for Christmas. It's population, stupid".
Lord Rea: My Lords, I think that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for raising this Question and for his thoughtful and thought-provoking speech. The fact that 11 speakers have put their names down for this one-hour slot gives an indication of the importance of the issue.
I am going to talk mainly about population and economic migration but, on the way, I should like to flag up briefly the way in which rapid population growth will affect not only this country but the rest of the world through its impact on the environment by accelerating resource depletion and climate change. We are already faced with a time bomb since, although the output of greenhouse gases per head in the developing world is low at present-about one-20th of ours per head-this will inevitably increase with rising standards of living. China is already providing us with an example.
I should declare an interest in that I am a long-standing member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. In January 2007, we published a report, Return of the Population Growth Factor, Its Impact upon the Millennium Development Goals. This was a distillation of a series of parliamentary hearings of experts in the fields of population and demography. Its conclusions, in brief, were that each of the first seven MDGs was adversely affected by population growth when it exceeded the rate of economic development. This applied particularly to sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth rates are the highest in the world and economic development the slowest. With regard to MDG 1, which is to,
an increase of 22 million. The pressure to seek a better life in another country comes not so much from overcrowding and population growth per se but from lack of employment and poverty-in other words, "the economy, stupid". Initially, employment is sought in the rapidly increasing slum cities of the developing world, but when this is not forthcoming the most enterprising citizens seek it elsewhere-perhaps in the El Dorado of the prosperous north and west. As the noble Lord said, the populations of some of those
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Of course, there are reasons other than poverty for migration-conflict and political persecution are two. In the past, this country has benefited greatly from migrants from Europe fleeing political persecution. The largest number of immigrants, as the noble Lord pointed out, are seeking their way out of poverty.
There are two approaches to the problem, which are equally important. We must make more efforts to boost the economies of the developing world and diminish poverty. This in itself will result in fertility rates coming down. We all accept that that is a gargantuan task and inevitably slow. In the mean time, much can be done to assist mothers to have fewer children. The two most important are to aim to boost female education and to ensure that contraceptive supplies are made available to the 220 million women who wish to use them but at present cannot obtain them. There is no time to develop these themes. Suffice it to say that DfID is well aware of the needs of the developing world in reproductive health and family planning-not least because our group makes sure that they are aware. DfID devotes a greater proportion of its budget to it than most other countries. I am sure that the noble Baroness in her answer will take the opportunity to describe DfID's work in this field.
Instability costs the country money, especially when it occurs in areas where there is already significant UK engagement or interest, such as in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Timely implementation of preventive measures is important so that a combination of rapid population growth and unstable environments do not result in unrest or conflict, undoing the progress made to date by the UK's aid investments and, in the long run, costing our country more.
A number of academics argue that when populations increase, some societies overuse resources, leading to environmental degradation and social collapse. Jared Diamond and others have made this case about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the deaths of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Great Lakes region is extremely resource-rich, with vast copper, oil and diamond reserves as well as water and, crucially, land. However, some of the region's countries-most notably Rwanda and Burundi-have extremely fast-growing populations for what are themselves very small countries. The land resources in each of
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Tangible poverty reduction at grass-roots level will help strengthen social cohesion and internal stability in Rwanda. There is evident and laudable growth in Rwanda today, and the Government have ambitious plans for Rwanda to become a middle-income country. Due to high levels of domestic political commitment and with international support, Rwanda has made progress towards the millennium development goals, particularly in health and primary education. However,growing inequality risks undermining efforts towards poverty reduction and human development. The majority of Rwandans continue to live in poverty, especially in the rural areas where people struggle to make a living from agriculture. The United Kingdom should promote more by increasing pro-poor investment in agriculture and other rural sectors. This should include policies to promote the growth of micro-enterprises and the pursuit of economic growth strategies beyond the capital, Kigali. More donor funding is needed for civil society budget transparency work and participatory government policy-making and planning.
Another case study is in Burundi, which in 2007 had a population of some 8 million. In the four years from 2004 to 2008 the population increased from 7.4 million to 8.2 million-a 10.8 per cent increase. The economy in Burundi witnessed a contraction in growth in 2009, from 4.3 per cent in 2008 to 3.3 per cent. These are the pressures that exist in these countries.
However, there are some very good examples of grass-roots interventions which have given local people access to the means of production and, therefore, to economic self-sustainability. For example, in 2005 Burundi identified mass deforestation as a problem created by the local Burundian population and as a primary cause of a change in the microclimate. They themselves introduced a planting programme of well over 5 million trees which not only had to be effective in addressing the original problem but had to provide food security and create work. So it is not all bad news. Things can be done.
Baroness Flather: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this subject, so I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for introducing it. I think that we can no longer call this a toxic subject. I have always been involved in the issues of population and family planning, because I come from India, where you cannot avoid worrying about population increase. Until even 10 years ago, population was not a subject that people talked about as we are doing today. Even three or four years ago we were not quite so open about the issue. It is one of the most important issues that we have not tackled or considered and, as has been said, we really do need to think about it.
I should just like to say a few words about the history of Britain's contribution to family planning. DfID has had some very strange Secretaries of State. Clare Short, for example, dropped family planning completely when she was Secretary of State. Hilary Benn took it up again, and since then DfID has been in a very good phase. It has given £20 million per year under a five-year grant to the UNFPA. Bilateral aid has also increased from £55 million under a three-year programme to £80 million and then, this year, to £110 million. That is for family planning and commodities, which is not bad for this country. I am very pleased to say that Andrew Mitchell's heart is in the right place on population issues.
I commend DfID for another thing: this year it had a policy paper on abortion and now our Government and DfID accept it. It is an extremely important thing that women have access to safe abortion because so many of them die from botched attempts. And if women cannot feed their children, their children will die, or they themselves will die. That is simply not acceptable.
What is missing in all the words that have been said this evening is the position of women. Women make up half of the world's population but in the poor countries they have no status and no ability to look after their own affairs. They cannot do anything or say anything because they have no power. We must help them gain some of the power, which we can do by helping them to earn money rather than through education. For 45 years people have been talking about educating women, but how do you educate each woman in a poor country? Let us start by giving them an opportunity to earn money. When they can do so, they will send their children to school and the next generation will be educated. That is the only way that education can come to poorer countries.
I was a little surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, brought up the situation in the UK. The situation here is also worrying. I was not going to talk about it this evening but, now that he has mentioned it, I feel that I can as well. Some of the minority communities have very large families and the health of these women always deeply concerns me. I do not care how many children people have but I care about the fact that women here suffer from the same health problems as they do in their countries of origin. When the cap comes in I do not know how they will manage.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, as a farmer, I take this opportunity to make a few remarks about food security. As the world population continues to increase, the reality is that global agricultural production will be hard pressed to keep up with the ever-rising global demand for food.
The world population is anticipated to rise to 9 billion by 2050. The anticipated patterns of economic development, particularly in large parts of the developing world, should cause us to ask serious questions about our national resilience, our dependence on food imports, and what we should be doing to ensure that our agricultural sector can deliver what we will need.
In the year leading up to June 2010, the forecast estimated cereal stocks had fallen from 73 days of consumption to 67 days. We should be asking the question about food security and putting in place the policies that will provide satisfactory answers. Meanwhile, in recent years our national dependence on food imports has increased by about 8 per cent. We have seen a widening trade gap in food, feed and drink; a reduction in our national self-sufficiency in indigenous food to below 59 per cent-the lowest figure in 42 years; and a reduction in the number of dairy cows, beef cows, pigs, sheep and poultry. The area of land for producing fresh vegetables has fallen, including a 15 per cent reduction in the area of land for producing potatoes in the 10 years leading up to 2008. The land for producing fresh fruit and cereals has also fallen.
The global growing levels of wealth and patterns of changing demand will require the UK to make sure that its agricultural sector is configured to compete: and that needs to include consideration of the impact of the common agricultural policy. This needs to look to the future and not to the past, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to update the House on these matters.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I have always been an enthusiastic student of history. One of the people whose name often comes up when we look at economic history is Mr Malthus, with his Malthusian concerns on population growth and the ultimate issues around poverty coming from population rise. It is rather ironic that during Victorian times it was quite the opposite of that. In fact, he has so far been proved to be wrong as population growth and world wealth, although badly distributed, have acted together.
However, it is interesting that we are having this debate on the same day as hearing a Statement on next year's hoped-for treaty on climate change being debated in Cancun. In bringing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, to the fore, an area not mentioned in that Statement-and I suspect mentioned openly hardly at all in the conference-was population growth. The subject is, on the whole, difficult to talk about on a national or international level. However, in terms of carbon emissions it is a major concern because carbon and climate are functions of economic growth, which is also a function of population. Carbon footprint is a measure we often think about in terms of individuals as well as of nations. Population growth must therefore be taken into account in climate change. In that area, world population growth is a major issue that needs to be factored in to those negotiations.
It is perhaps ironic that the nation at which we point our fingers as regards its carbon emissions, targets and the way in which its emissions have grown, is China. With its one-child policy, China has had the highest profile population control measure. Since its introduction in the late 1970s, it is estimated to have lowered world population growth by some quarter of a billion. As China becomes less centralised and more democratic-or more assertive in individual rights over a long term-I am sure that that policy will disappear and perhaps exacerbate this problem. I certainly
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The point I really want to make is that I am a fundamental believer in those old maxims that population growth will be solved when we solve worldwide the status of women, have economic developments in low carbon in developing countries and a much more equal economic system that will overcome some of the problems that we looked at in the sub-committee discussing Frontex and the limits to which people will go.
In conclusion, I want to congratulate both this Government and the previous Government on ringfencing and ensuring that DfID and development expenditure are a national priority. That often comes as a criticism, whether from the tabloid press or from a more populist wing in this country, when it is one of the most selfish but best policies that any Government of this country can have.
Viscount Craigavon: My Lords, I should like to be positive, but not complacent, on the potential of this subject of world population. I am led to do so by the remarkable conversion of this Government, and in particular the person of the Minister, Mr Andrew Mitchell, to the fundamental importance of the matter that we are today discussing. I realise that this occurred well before the current coalition took office, but the addition of the Liberal Democrats should add impetus on this subject.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, will no doubt tell us, DfID will shortly be coming up with the results of a major review of departmental priorities. It is hoped that that could be the occasion to consolidate the importance of reproductive health in DfID programmes. It could also be the occasion to enlarge and properly define the scope of bilateral family planning projects.
I also hope that, following the lead of DfID, it might also be the occasion for many British and international NGOs and charities at last to recognise that family planning and the size of population is a relevant and cost-effective consideration. As a departmental Minister, Mr Stephen O'Brien, said to us on World Population Day in July,
To add to the above, it is also the case that the European Commission has produced a Green Paper consulting on its overseas development aid and asking for responses next year. It is subtitled "The future of EU budget response to third countries". Again, for those of us who have been critical of how some of that aid is used, that could be a useful starting point for serious reform. It is also to be hoped that DfID could use its influence with our EU colleagues to raise the profile and effectiveness of reproductive health in helping to meet MDGs.
I shall come down to some of the detail that I have just outlined. I believe that our country has recently had a good record on reproductive health and related
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For some time now, the considerable resources understandably devoted to HIV/AIDS prevention have tended to be at the expense of family planning. Sometimes that is the reason that the two endeavours overlap in their aims, but the importance of autonomous support for family planning must not be forgotten.
There is a tendency in the European Commission Green Paper on development aid, which is now out to consultation, to avoid using particular words, as was mentioned earlier. Reading that document, one begins to realise that there must be horsetrading among so many nations to get any agreement on priorities on such diverse subjects. In this case, focusing on MDGs provides some sort of common, binding aim, but there is reluctance seriously to consider or talk about one aspect of recorded MDGs. That is the contribution that reproductive health can make to many other related MDGs. I hope that we can all grasp the opportunities that will present themselves in the coming year.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I rather like these short debates, particularly when the charming mother hen on the Front Bench tells me not to crow for too long. I was always told to do everything in threes: Tripos, Church, law and Parliament and Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In this case, it is land, air and sea.
I will adopt a slightly different approach. I regard human beings as an asset, not a liability, and I regard a population as an opportunity, not something to fear. For example, as was mentioned just now, we have two great economies in fast growth in the world: India and China, who, together, have 37 per cent of the world's population and large amounts of high productivity. How and why? It is a question of what you get people to do and how you turn them into a benefit.
I turn to my favourite subject: the Commonwealth, which, as your Lordships know, accounts for 25 per cent of the world population. If we look at our bailiwicks, our overseas and dependent territories, we cover a large part of the globe. We have to ask: why did we ever develop a Commonwealth or an empire? It was because of the added value that we could create in various countries. Most of that added value was, surprisingly enough, related to the resources of the land-its minerals and raw materials. As we look at that development, we find to our amazement that, suddenly, the world is saying that we are overpopulated. We may look back at large chunks of Africa, where I have worked-in particular, somewhere such as the Sudan, which was to be the bread basket of the Middle East, where any amount of grain could be grown to feed the populations. As you look at a map from space, or whatever, you will find that the productivity of all those countries is roughly the same. The weather pattern may have changed, but the opportunity to produce food, which people need, is very significant.
I have even thought that in the past, when people were short of labour, the slave trade took place; now, when they are short of labour, migration takes place. That is what has been happening in this country. We need to look at the opportunities that can be created in those Commonwealth countries for the regeneration of food and products that we have long forgotten about.
Lord Patel: My Lords, population growth and its consequences is a question that crops up in daily conversations but is a subject that people find difficult to discuss. It quickly leads to polarised positions and finger-pointing as to who is having too many babies and why. To many people of the world, children are a security for support in old age.
In a recent report of a debate on the subject, "Crisis and recovery: ethics, economics and justice", participants included two highly respected members of your Lordships' House: the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the economist, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. The panel also included Larry Elliott, economics editor of the Guardian, and Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. The question of population growth arose. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, was deeply worried because he felt that although education, particularly of women, reduces fertility rates, it was too slow for population growth to be controlled in this century. The Archbishop was equally concerned. He agreed that population growth was "a timebomb" but he was worried that state attempts to control it had been abhorrent to concepts of human rights. He was "deeply perplexed". As has been said, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, feared a Malthusian population crash or a series of such crashes, resulting in bringing the population of the world down to 3 billion to 4 billion in a century.
The pessimism and confusion expressed leaves one feeling gloomy, particularly for our children and grandchildren. The population of the world is projected to reach 9 to 10 billion by 2040, by which time the UK population is estimated to be around 66 million to 70 million. Both figures are unsustainable. The impact, particularly on the environment, will be punishing and catastrophic.
What is the solution? Who will save the world and the United Kingdom? The facts have been staring us in the face for decades. Two things emerge as being important for controlling population growth. A drop in fertility rates in many parts of the world has always been linked to gender empowerment and female education. State attempts impinge on human rights, yet failure to address the problem could cause a global population crash. Gender empowerment holds the key. The answer to the question, "Who will save the world from the scourge of poverty, environmental disaster, disease and strife?" is women. Women will save the world if they have freedom of education, freedom of choice in family planning and if we eradicate gender bias. I hope that the efforts of DfID will focus on that and that its aid will produce the empowerment of women.
Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on bringing this problem to the attention of the House. I declare an interest as
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The increase in the world population is putting huge strain on the world's resources of land and water, and is leading to conflict and migration from impoverished areas. With global communication now so easily available, a struggling family in Bangladesh or Afghanistan, for example, will know that they can have a better life in the UK if they can possibly get here and be able to send money back home to poor relatives abroad.
The paradox is that we in the West and in this country must shoulder a large proportion of the blame for the impoverishment of developing countries and subsequent migration, because of our wasteful and wanton use of the world's precious resources. We may have small families here, but our consumption has led to climate change causing desertification in sub-Saharan Africa that is driving people from their homes and the people of Bangladesh are living on less and less land as the regular floods there become more and more severe.
There are two things that we must do quickly. The first is to cut down our consumption and recognise the urgency and seriousness of climate change. I hope the news from Cancun means that the West has at least accepted responsibility. The second, equally important, action is to ensure that every woman in the world is able to have access to contraception and to limit the size of her family. Children in smaller families are more likely to receive education and to improve their own lives as well as that of their country. Between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of women in the poorest countries of the world cannot access any birth control, even though they want to. We must deal with this as a matter of urgency. As has been mentioned, the present Government have recognised this need and promised to make maternal health and family planning, in particular, a top priority for international development.
Now we need to overcome the difficulties of distribution and commodity availability and answer the needs of women all over the world. It is interesting that you can get Coca-Cola wherever you go in this world, however tiny the village in Africa, but it is terribly difficult to get contraceptive supplies. Bangladesh has reduced its average family size from over six children per family to 2.7 by ensuring that all women have access to family planning. That has been done without coercion and is to be applauded.
Lord Brett: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in being grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for bringing this debate before us. It seems to me that there are two truths that arise from it: the truth that the noble Lord started with-that this should not be a taboo subject-and that it requires full debate. This debate is too short, and four minutes too short a time for anyone to develop any part of the argument.
In the developed world, education, contraceptive use, maternal and baby health, increased development and subsequent income improvement have all played a major part. That is probably why I am the eldest of six children, the father of four children and the grandfather of two children. In the developing world, we see the same needs, and they see the same needs for the things that we have enjoyed, which is why the ODA remains important and why I join others in congratulating this Government on continuing the endeavour and ensuring that we get to 0.7 per cent of gross national income.
Noble Lords have referred to the added burdens that now exist in a way they did not exist in the past: the impact of climate change on developing countries, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and conflict between states and within states. Part of the flow that comes is international migration. That provides challenges and opportunities and guarantees that the subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is worthy of a much longer debate.
Although the official ODA is important, so are the efforts of those in the diaspora from the developing world who are now part of the developed world who seek to assist their own countries, communities and families. I will resist adding to the plethora of statistics that are inevitably an essential part of these debates, but I will emphasise one point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, about the importance of remittances. They are a vital form of financial support. They provide better health and education for the family and are an aspect of the development of small businesses in so many countries. They are three times the size of official ODA aid. They amounted to some $325 billion in 2010 and were 1.9 per cent of GDP for all developing countries taken as a whole in 2009. In the small and lower-income countries, they form 5.4 per cent of GDP.
In a world in which billions of dollars can travel across the world in a microsecond, we should be able to produce a system that will reduce the cost and difficulty of people transferring small amounts of money. If you are living on a dollar a day or less, £10 in the United Kingdom is a week's wages or more once it is transferred to the recipient. At the moment, it is difficult and costly to do that, and we should be able to make an impact on that as we are part of the most developed world of banking, even if bankers are not very popular at the moment. A fall in the cost of transfers of some 5 per cent would free an extra $15 billion a year for increased development.
I could go on, but time will not allow me to do so. I will also not pepper the Minister with a series of questions, which is what normally happens at this time. I do not think that anyone disagrees with the aim, although we probably have different ideas about how we go forward. My questions to the Minister are simply these. What is the Government's long-term thinking in this area? Post the MDG period and 2015, where will we go and how will we take this forward? Finally, does she support my view and that of many others that we need a full debate on all aspects of this? The great expertise around this House could assist the Government in a joint endeavour that I believe we all support.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts for securing this important debate, and I congratulate all noble Lords on some excellent contributions. Time will not allow me to respond to all noble Lords tonight, but I hope, through my contribution, to be able to provide answers to some of the questions. I undertake to write to noble Lords in answer to the remainder.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson is right that some people describe global population growth as too difficult or too sensitive a subject to tackle or even to talk about. Many shy away from discussing it in case they are accused of wanting to remove free choice from individuals or to force individuals to have fewer children. We think that the time is right to bring the debate out into the open and for us to engage in a debate that looks at the bare facts.
The world's population is projected to increase to 9.2 billion by 2050. Almost all this growth-99 per cent of it-will occur in developing countries. Most sub-Saharan African countries will see continuing and rapid growth for several decades. Some countries' populations are likely to double; the population of Ethiopia is projected to increase from its current 82 million to 173 million by 2050. Some may even triple; some may even quadruple. Let me make it absolutely clear: the coalition Government do not support programmes that coerce people to have fewer children, but we are proud to revitalise efforts to give women the choices that they crave: to choose whether, when and how many children they have.
Some 215 million couples who want to delay or avoid a pregnancy currently lack access to effective methods of contraception, and we believe it is high time that their needs are met. The largest generation of adolescents in history is entering its reproductive years. With the demand growing for basic services such as water, sanitation, education and health, we will need to address this very soon. Not only basic services will feel the strain of rapid population growth; natural resources such as water, fuel, wood and land for growing will all come under increasing pressure. The poor, who are the most reliant on the natural environment for their basic survival, will feel the greatest impact.
Some noble Lords talked about climate change, which of course poses an additional threat and cost to the world's most vulnerable people and their countries. Without efforts to adapt to the adverse impacts of a change in climate, even more livelihoods and lives will be lost. We need to work with low-income countries to help them to plan their future in a carbon-constrained world and to identify where low-carbon development can support economic growth and poverty reduction. Investments in low-carbon development can have significant benefits for all, but particularly for women. Increasing access to renewable energy has health benefits, including reducing local air pollution, reducing expenditure on kerosene, and reducing the time spent collecting firewood.
Improved energy supplies can also help rural incomes and provide new jobs, especially in sectors in which women are traditionally employed, such as agroprocessing. By supporting gender equality and women's and girls'
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The unmet need figure of 215 million couples is really very important. The United Nations medium population projection to 2050 of 9.2 billion is firmly based on the assumption that the unmet need gap is closed and that people are given the services that they demand. If we do not work harder and renew our emphasis on reproductive and maternal health outcomes and do not invest in better and more accessible family planning, the higher UN projection of around 11 billion people becomes more likely.
The coalition Government will announce plans for improving reproductive, maternal and newborn health in developing countries in the next few weeks. We will invest in family planning because it is what women say they need; because it saves the lives of women and children; because it can help us reach the millennium development goals; and because it offers value for money. We will double our efforts for women's health to save the lives of 50,000 women and to enable at least 10 million more to use modern methods of family planning.
I am delighted that the coalition Government are already playing their full part. This year DfID funded the procurement of 40 per cent of Uganda's national requirement for contraceptives, condoms and long-term family planning methods, such as injections and implants. Currently, 41 per cent of women in Uganda who want to use family planning cannot do so. DfID's support will help to avoid 250,000 unintended pregnancies, which would otherwise result in 75,000 abortions and 750 maternal deaths. A broader programme with the United Nations Population Fund is under design. It will address more of the cultural and social barriers to accessing family planning services.
As to the implications for the UK, the population of the UK was 61.8 million in mid-2009, an increase of 2.7 million when compared with mid-2001. That increase of course has been partly due to migration to the UK. Controlled migration benefits the UK economically and culturally, but recent levels are unsustainable in terms of population growth and the consequent pressure on key public services, such as schools, the health service, transport, housing and welfare, as well as the impact on community cohesion. This causes understandable concern. By focusing on reducing net migration, we aim to make a significant impact on population growth.
The Office for National Statistics projects that the UK will reach a population of 70 million by mid-2029. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced in the other place three weeks ago, that is why we are taking comprehensive action to tighten our immigration systems. We are introducing a new permanent limit on non-EU economic migrants. We will refocus student visas to create a more selective system and to stop abuse. We are cracking down on sham marriages and will consult on extending the probationary period of settlement for spouses beyond
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These changes to the work route and some of the settlement changes will be introduced from April 2011. We will move forward on other changes soon after. These proposals do not mean bolting our borders shut. We want an immigration system that has in place properly controlled migration. There is no doubt that we benefit from the brightest and the best coming to the UK. Of course we need to offer protection to those who fear persecution or serious harm. It has to be measured against the backdrop of the questions posed today.
Noble Lords raised one or two points about the presence of women in discussions. They will know that, in the summer, at the G8 summit in Canada, our Prime Minister noted that this Government will reorientate their aid budget to put women at the centre and the front of our development efforts. All noble Lords are absolutely right: unless women are at the heart of policy development, it would be extremely difficult to address the serious issue of population growth.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brett, that this debate is not long enough to discuss the fundamental difficulties that we face. It is crucial to have much longer debates so that we can iron out some of the great difficulties that we as a nation face and that the globe faces collectively. A note should be made for the usual channels of the need to ensure that we address all these issues. If I have failed to satisfy noble Lords, I undertake to write to them.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I was going to say that it is a good job that the Government Whips Office is not in charge of snow clearing, but I thought it might not go down well with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, so I will certainly not say anything.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The noble Lord is absolutely right because the Minister who had to resign did not come from Edinburgh; he was from the north-east. He used to drive Alex Salmond because he was his chauffeur, which is how he got the job as a Minister. If noble Lords want a hint, that is not the best way to choose a transport Minister, by the way. However, that has absolutely nothing to do with Amendment 36A.
I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, in his place. In the previous debate the noble Lord was deeply concerned about confusion. He did not want those 16 and 17 year-olds to turn up at polling stations and be confused or cause confusion because they would not be able to vote in anything other than the referendum. I could see his deep and intense worry about confusion. That is why this amendment is very helpful to the coalition Government.
As I said on a previous amendment, one of the problems with the Bill is that it is going to result in confusion not only in campaigning, but in this context also in confusion at the polling station because we will have two separate franchises. One will be the local government franchise which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, knows only too well, is used for the Scottish Parliament, and the parliamentary franchise, with one alteration at the moment, which will be used for the referendum. How do we deal with the confusion at polling stations? I suggested in an earlier amendment that we should not have the elections on the same day. We discussed that at length, but it was not accepted by the Government. I went on to examine the variations in the franchises to see whether something could be done to bring them together so that we would have one franchise. That would be much simpler for polling officers.
Noble Lords will recall from previous debates and by looking at the Bill in detail that in some cases polling officers can opt for two registers, in which case as the different franchises come in they will have to be checked and then ticked off on one or the other of the registers, or they can opt for a single register for the two franchises, in which case they would have to mark on the register which ballot papers the elector receives. They will be given one ballot paper for the referendum, or two ballot papers for the election, or three ballot papers for the election and the referendum. I can already see the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, realising how confusing it is going to be and imagining himself sitting as a polling officer and carrying that out. It would be much easier if we conflated the franchises so that they were just one. Although there are other arguments in favour of it, that was the basis for this amendment.
If we look at the variations, first, overseas voters are able to vote in the parliamentary elections-in other words, they would be able to vote in the referendum-but not in the local government election. However, I do not imagine that there will be many people coming from overseas seeking to vote and if there are, they are more likely to have postal votes. I would not have thought that they would actually turn up at the polling stations. The overseas voters, who are not able to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections, should be of no great concern to us as far as the conduct at the polling station is concerned.
The second category, with which noble Lords will find they have a complete understanding, is Peers. Peers are not able to vote in the parliamentary elections so they would not be able to vote in the referendum. Yet the Government, in their wisdom, have included a special arrangement for us Peers to vote, exceptionally,
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They all vote in the Scottish Parliament elections, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, will also know. We get Poles, French and Germans who are living and working in Scotland-and paying UK taxes-and who will turn up and vote in the Scottish Parliament elections. Yet they would not be able to vote in the referendum unless my amendment is agreed today. If we do that, it will deal with the third category which means that we will then have a combined register, by conflating the two franchises, and that things will be much easier for the polling officers.
There is another logical part to it. We were talking about the 16 year-olds and how they were paying taxes at 16. These European citizens who are living in Scotland, Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom and who are resident and working here will also be paying taxes in the United Kingdom. They will be paying income tax if they are working, council tax for the house that they live in, corporation tax if they have set up a company and value added tax in the shops when they buy things. In a previous debate it was said that there should be no taxation without representation, and yet all these European citizens are paying tax and are able to vote in the local government elections, in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections and in the European elections but not in the Westminster elections, and now not in the referendum.
Lord McAvoy: My noble friend is advocating that European Union citizens who are resident here should vote in referendums in the United Kingdom. Can he tell me of any reciprocal arrangements where UK citizens can vote in any referendum being held in another EU country?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Indeed, but that is just one example; I was asked for only one example and I gave it to my noble friend. I knew what he was getting at but I was not going to fall into that trap. Maybe he would like to come back.
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