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Now, because for the first time ever there is a government Tory-led coalition majority on the Benches opposite, there seems to be a belief, which I hope is not shared by all Members opposite, that numbers count and arguments do not. I hope therefore that noble Lords will reflect that there is virtue in negotiation, not just because of numbers but because wisdom-judgment, as my noble friend said-does not belong to any one section of this House. That is why we have been so effective as a revising Chamber over the years. There is wisdom and judgment around the House, and any Government, if they are wise, listen to it, reflect upon it and, I hope, adjust their position accordingly. I hope that we never see the disgrace of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, today to bring closure on a particular amendment and thus to cut out the possibility of the negotiation that
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Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, it is with considerable difficulty that I find myself addressing this position which, as far as I am concerned, has never happened before. We have come to this position as a result of a government Bill which deals with very important matters-I am the first to concede that-which require discussion, and we have had a good deal of discussion. Yesterday, for example, there was a concise and effective debate on the amendments proposed by the opposition Front Bench. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness explained that he could take the matter away for consideration but no undertaking could be given. That was what ought to have happened and the response by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, was warmly accepted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. I see no reason why we should not be able to proceed in this way.
The other day the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood, said he had taken a Bill on the digital economy through Parliament. It was a very interesting Bill. I took part in the early more general clauses but once it became technical, it was beyond me, so I was not able to assist and had to desist from taking part. But there were 700 amendments. If these amendments had all taken the time that was taken by the first two or three amendments in this week's Committee, he would certainly not have got his Bill through that Parliament. I am all in favour of scrutiny and I value the right we have here to raise every amendment for discussion and get a government answer to it. That is extremely valuable and I have explained it often in answer to people who ask what the function of the House of Lords is in relation to legislation. I am able to say that anyone who has a reasonable point and can get a Peer to see it as a reasonable point has an opportunity to get an answer from the Government on that particular point. It may not always be a satisfactory answer or the answer that one wants, but at least we have the right to get an answer from the Government on every point that is made.
The total number of amendments on the Marshalled List for this Bill is quite large and I would think that quite a number of them have substantial points. I have listened with care to a substantial proportion of the discussion in this Committee and I have been interested in the points made from the opposition Benches, most by people of considerable experience. I have paid particular attention to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, in relation to the possibility of improving the electoral register. However, as the time has gone on and the same amendment is still being debated, my interest has slightly waned as a result of the extraordinary amount of repetition. It is not for me to judge always, but I have a feeling that not every
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I make no apportionment of blame as to where this has happened but there has crept into the debate an extension of discussion beyond what is reasonable if we are going to get through this Committee stage in anything like a reasonable time. For example, one of the amendments took something like three and a half hours. If you take the total number of amendments on this Marshalled List and multiply it by three and a half hours, we will be using most of this extended parliamentary Session for this Committee. Whatever one thinks about the merits of the Bill, that is really quite excessive in terms of discussion. I feel that we have got to a stage where we have lost the complete adherence to relevance and succinctness which are the advantages of this House's procedure. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, made some reference to this the other day and was regarded as having threatened people, which I certainly do not think he did, but he mentioned the point that in the other place this had been lost. The reason we have had it for all the time that I know of, and I hope that it will continue for a very long time to come, is that we have exercised self-restraint and discipline in relation to the total number of amendments that are on the Marshalled List with a view to succeeding that the points are understood. When I have listened here, I have understood very well and quite quickly most of the points that are made from the opposition Benches, but by the time they are repeated five or six times, one begins to feel, possibly, that they have lost their impact. I am afraid that is, at least to some extent, what has been happening in the discussion.
Not everyone has the same level of patience but we have to exercise a certain amount of patience with one another. I greatly regret that we have come to the position where this closure Motion has happened on two occasions.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I have a tremendous regard for the noble and learned Lord and the advice that he proffers, but is it not essential in pretty well every Bill that there should be some discussion between the opposition Front Bench and the Government? He has not referred to that.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: I am not a member of the usual channels and I never have been, unlike my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who came from Tyne to Thames via the usual channels. However, I feel that we have come to a stage at which we need to reconsider. I hope that there will be no further Motions for closure. I also hope that all of us, me included, will conduct ourselves in a practical way and make points that we believe will be listened to.
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I understand the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and the proper course for us to take now might be to have a very short Adjournment so that we can consider the position. I believe that there have been negotiations through the usual channels-I do not know exactly to what effect. I hope they may continue, because it has always been the way to work. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, suggested on Monday as a condition of negotiation that the Bill should be split. I understand perfectly the very great difficulty with that, and I do not think that the condition will necessarily be met, but other things could happen. I suggest that the House resume for a short Adjournment and that we resume Committee in a spirit of real co-operation-I hope to speak on the next group of amendments, I have to say-whereby we will be able to have some concessions from Her Majesty's Government, at least to the extent of considering amendments, which should be the usual method in Committee.
Some people have said, "Well, we haven't called votes". That is one advantage of Committee. When I had personal responsibility for running Bills, I tried to make Committee on the whole exploratory, within reasonable limits of self-restraint. When it came to Report, we had considered the matters concerned, and very often the Government reached an accommodation that was acceptable to all sides. I hope that, if we need to carry this Motion, there will be an Adjournment and that we resume refreshed and reconciled.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this important debate, not least to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for his wise comments, which included criticism of the Opposition as well of his own side. The point that I seek to make in moving this Motion is that you cannot begin to have a system of regular guillotines and at the same time hope to retain a scrutinising House that holds the Government properly to account. We cannot go down the route of regularly using guillotines as a tactic in Bills. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, put that point so much better than I can, and it came from those on the Cross Benches, who sometimes look at us, I think, from on high and make judgments about us that we do not make about ourselves.
I was minded to put this Motion to the vote, but, having heard the spirit of this debate and speaking in a spirit of desire for negotiations, it seems unnecessary to do so. I hope I get the feeling of the Committee right in deciding not to put the Motion to a vote. I think we want to continue, particularly with the debate that is about to take place on the next amendment on the Marshalled List. With the Committee's leave, I will withdraw the Motion, but I hope it is on the understanding that neither the government Front Bench nor their Back-Benchers will indulge in closure Motions of this kind. It is just not acceptable.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 89, which deals specifically with the Isle of Wight. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for the action that he has taken, which enables this amendment to be debated earlier. I hope that I can bring the Committee on to a happier and more consensual road than during the past hour.
Perhaps I may say gently to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that I do not consider the Isle of Wight, a sprat of an issue, to use his phrase. It has support from all parts of the House, very much including his own party.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: I wholly accept that the Isle of Wight deserves to be treated in the way in which the noble Lord wants. I also accept that the same principles should apply to other areas, such as Ynys Môn in Wales. My position was that if that was to be the only concession the Government made, it would be insufficient to show the spirit, which they should show, of give and take.
Few issues in politics-many of us who have been in the other place will understand this-are more important or sensitive than constituency boundaries. I speak with some experience on this. My first constituency was not Sutton Coldfield but Nottingham South. Sadly, when I entered the other place in 1970 for my first Queen's Speech, it was to hear that the boundary review was to be implemented and that, as a result of that, my seat was to be abolished. It is not exactly what you hope and expect to hear on your first day in Parliament. Things could only get better.
The seat was being abolished because the Boundary Commission thought it wrong to have a constituency that crossed the river at Trent Bridge, going from the city to the county at West Bridgford. That was in spite of the fact that it took only a couple of minutes to walk over the bridge, there was no toll on the bridge and you certainly did not need a ferry to make the crossing.
When it comes to the Isle of Wight, of which I have been a resident for more than 25 years, the theory is exactly the opposite. The consequence of what is being proposed in the Bill is that a new constituency would be formed that would be partly on the mainland and partly on the Isle of Wight, in spite of the fact the two parts would be eight to 10 miles apart, over a stretch of sea and with expensive ferries being the only means of communication. It is claimed that there must be this kind of new constituency because it is essential that all constituencies should have electorates
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My amendment would allow there to be one or two constituencies on the Isle of Wight. Most importantly, it follows the amendment put down in the other place by Andrew Turner, the excellent Member of Parliament for the island who was elected on a manifesto that promised opposition to a cross-Solent constituency. You might think that his amendment would have been carefully considered in the other place, but you would be absolutely wrong. Due to the timetabling arrangements in the other place, which perhaps underlines a little the debate that has gone before, he was allowed no time at all in Committee, four minutes on Report and no opportunity to bring the proposition to a vote.
I cannot believe that this is a sensible way of governing this country. If nothing else, this amendment gives the other place the opportunity at least to consider the proposition concerning the Isle of Wight. I emphasise that the proposition is supported by every political party on the island; we speak as one on this. It would be the first time since the Reform Act 1832 that the unity of the Isle of Wight in parliamentary terms would be destroyed. It would be a bad deal for the island and for whatever area of the mainland forms part of the proposed new constituency.
There are several practical reasons why the proposal is not in the public interest. The most basic point is that however you put together a new, divided constituency, no one believes that you can create a community, yet all the political parties in this country talk at some length about the importance of building communities. This proposal goes smack against that objective. If a new constituency was created out of part of Portsmouth and the east of the Isle of Wight, the travel difficulties involved in moving between one part and the other would be both immense and expensive. We are not talking about walking over Trent Bridge but about having to take a ferry or a hovercraft. A return journey by car ferry is likely to cost £50, and it could cost £100. A trip by hovercraft is less expensive but presents the problem of how to get about on the other side. The bus service tries hard but everyone would concede that it does not meet all the needs of the public. The internal rail service is typified by the provision of antique, cast-off London Transport carriages, as everyone who has been to the Isle of Wight knows. None of this is a recipe for free and easy movement in the new constituency or in a community.
Nor are the interests of the island and the mainland necessarily the same. For example, on another part of the island, the islanders want an improved ferry service from Yarmouth to Lymington, but they are strongly opposed by the mainland Lymington River Association, which wants nothing of the kind. There is no community of interest.
There has been no consultation with the people on the island about this proposal. Had there been, the Government would have discovered that all three political parties are opposed to a cross-Solent constituency-as
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Two points in particular need to be borne in mind. First, given the electoral size of the island constituencies that are made exceptions to the 76,000 size rule in the Bill-Orkney and Shetland and what used to be the Western Isles; Orkney and Shetland has 33,000 constituents and the other constituency has 22,000-if there was only one constituency on the Isle of the Wight, the difference from the standard would not be anything like as great as that, and the same would be true if there were two constituencies.
However, a second and perhaps even more fundamental point is that the Boundary Commission looked at the proposition of a cross-Solent constituency in 2007, using figures from 2000. The electorate in 2000 was, even then, 103,000-33 per cent larger than the average-and the commission considered severing part of the island and putting it with a mainland constituency. However, it concluded that to do so would,
I say directly to the government Front Bench that both coalition partners promised an end to the "politics of ignoring the people"-and I dare say that the Labour Party has made a similar pledge. Frankly, it is no more than common sense. Yet the proposal to preserve the position of the Isle of Wight and to give it similar consideration to that of the Scottish islands has the support of its Member of Parliament, of neighbouring MPs, of political parties on the island, of the councils, of the business community and, above all, of the public. I do not think that the public and the community on the Isle of Wight could have made the position any clearer than they have. I very much hope that in the debate today and tonight the Government will not try to ride roughshod over this public opinion and ignore it.
My hope is that the Minister will today give a commitment that the Government will look at this again; that they will consider the arguments that I have put, and which doubtless others will put, in the debate; and that he will meet me and others and consider how we can make progress before Report. It should not be beyond the capacity of the House to correct the present deeply unsatisfactory position. I beg to move.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have holidayed on the Isle of Wight for some 40 years in a family cottage, I have been a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes for 30 years, I lived in Southsea and Portsmouth for some 20 years, I am the chancellor of Southampton University and know that town well, and my family come from the New Forest. So I know both sides of that not inconsiderable patch of water. A battle was fought at Spithead and I parked more than 170 ships in the east Solent for the bicentennial. It is a large stretch of water.
I can assure the House that there is a huge difference between the people who live on the Isle of Wight and those who live on the shores of the mainland. I am sure that this is an oversight. It is extraordinary that the Government could even consider having a constituency across a piece of water such as that. I do not intend to speak for long because I think it is an oversight. It makes absolute sense to leave the Isle of Wight as one constituency-or two-but certainly not to stretch it across the water.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. Having worked in the diocese of Portsmouth, which included the Isle of Wight, for some seven years, I always saw it as my international ministry.
I made several mistakes when I first got there. I remember going over there for the first time overnight and saying to some people, "Perhaps one of the best things that could be done here is to build a bridge". There was total silence at the table and I was never invited back.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asked what the people on the mainland would think. The divide is seen just as seriously from the mainland as it is from the island. It was baffling that when people phoned me up in Portsmouth and asked "Is he there?", they were told "No, he is on the island", as though there was only one island in the world. I remember, for example, that we would organise diocesan synods to gather the whole of our diocese together, and that they were almost always held on the mainland. There were complaints about their being poorly attended by those on the Isle of Wight.
On one occasion I made the radical suggestion that the diocesan synod might be held in Ryde, which is the nearest place to anywhere on the mainland and the easiest place to get to. It was very well attended by members from the Isle of Wight, but there was a devastatingly low attendance by those on the mainland. That was because it requires a significant effort to make your way across to the island, and as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, pointed out, it involves considerable cost. One of the things about living on the island is that there are more favourable ferry fares for those who live on the island to come across to the mainland.
As has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, I assume that this was an oversight, but if it was not, it jolly well ought to have been. I hope that the Government will consider rethinking this one.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, I am proud to put my name to this amendment, which has been moved by my noble friend and neighbour in
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My noble friend Lord Fowler ran briefly through the numbers, as I did at Second Reading. The important point is that the Isle of Wight as a single constituency, which is how I imagine it would come out, is closer to the quota than either of the Scottish island constituencies. It will be 1.45 of the quota, whereas Orkney and Shetland will be 0.44 and the Western Isles only 0.29, which is barely a quarter. I support the exceptions made for the Scottish seats, but there is clearly an even stronger argument for making an exception for the Isle of Wight.
I stand shoulder to shoulder with my noble friend Lord Fowler. I hope that the Minister will listen to our concerns and give us some hope of substantial movement in the later stages of the Bill. If he does not, let me give him a word of warning. Anyone who has seen my noble friend Lord Fowler, resplendent in his beach shorts directing operations in village sports which take place in front of our cottage in Seagrove Bay, will know that you cross him at your peril. On the beach, his word is law. When we make law in this House, we cannot ignore a real people's campaign like this. It unites the Wight, and it is as determined as I am to keep it whole.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I have the honour to have been granted the freedom of the city of Portsmouth. In my years in the other place, again I was honoured to represent part of the community of Portsmouth. Of course, Portsmouth is very much involved in the implications of what is being proposed in the Bill and in the amendment. I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that he could not have put the case better. It was a well argued and most convincing presentation, so really I would just like to say that I fully endorse it.
However, I want to make one other point. I now live in Cumbria, at the other end of the country, but last Sunday I was back in Portsmouth for a memorial service in the cathedral for the victims of the blitz. Portsmouth suffered a terrible blitz which wrought tremendous damage on the city with a large number of deaths and injuries. On the occasion of that memorial, one could feel the great sense of community in what is often rightly referred to as Portsea Island, because in many ways Portsmouth itself has the characteristics of an island community.
I made a point of gazing across the Solent. My wife asked, "Why we were taking this route?", and I said that I just wanted to look at the Isle of Wight. I thought about the occasions when I have been able to cross the Solent and visit the Isle of Wight. I thought to myself, here we have the epitome of two rich communities. In every sense, they really are communities.
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I assure noble Lords in all parts of the Committee that in many ways Cumbria feels itself to be distinctive and very much apart from mainland, industrialised Britain. It has a real sense of community and therefore wants its representation in a political system to be based on communities. We cannot have a healthy democracy if it is simply a relationship between Government and a number of individuals thrown together in a constituency formed by some mathematical calculation. The dynamics and strength of a democracy are when people in communities are able to come together, collectively assert themselves and examine the implications of what is being proposed for legislation and how it will affect them. That is how individuals become strengthened-not by being given rights by central Government, but by being able to get together and assert themselves. All those who have been Members of Parliament know perfectly well that while of course we wanted to listen to and respond to the individual irrespective of how they voted, we also knew well that it was when the community asserted itself that we were really being held to account.
In that sense, the dynamic social and historic reasons for the amendment before us are unanswerable. However, they also have a far greater significance for the other issues that we are debating in this Bill.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Fowler. Anyone who is even an occasional visitor to the Isle of Wight, as I am, will realise that there is a special sense of community there because it is an island. It is difficult to get to and occasionally, if one is there in the winter, it is quite difficult to leave. It has an important and special identity, and I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will consider the amendment very carefully.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on having put the argument so clearly. I dare say that in the far reaches of the Government they are saying, "This is a big mistake. We have got to get out of this one", or at least I hope that that is what they are thinking. My connection with the Isle of Wight is that my mother lived there for many years, until she died. I used to go there a great deal. However, she was not of the Isle of Wight, and those noble Lords who know the Isle of Wight will also know that the people there call everyone from elsewhere "overners". They are quite contemptuous of overners in the friendliest possible way.
It is a lovely island, with above all two characteristics that have been mentioned in part. The first is that communications are difficult. There was no hovercraft in the days when my mother lived there, but I remember going down to Portsmouth Harbour on a Friday
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The other thing is what my noble friend Lord Judd said: there is a tremendously powerful sense of community on the Isle of Wight. One has only to talk to the local people to get a sense of that very quickly. It would be a travesty of geography and of community if the Isle of Wight were not to be one constituency. The evidence shows that the people of the Isle of Wight would resent it deeply, and we would be doing them a disservice. Many of us who have represented communities at the local or the national level know the importance of representing a community. It makes for a better and more effective political process that works well. I totally support the noble Lord and I hope that the Government will think again.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, it is a pleasure to support my noble friend Lord Fowler in his amendment, and to support Mr Andrew Turner, the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a Member of a governing party, or a party in a coalition, and find that a proposal is put forward to link your constituency with a part of the mainland for which there is no logical link. He has behaved with very considerable restraint. I have personally appreciated the way in which he has briefed us about the background to those issues.
At Second Reading, I made it clear that I do not like this Bill very much. Ideally, these issues of reducing the size of Parliament and deciding on how the boundaries are achieved would have been done by a Speaker's Conference and not by a Bill of this kind. Ideally, there should not have been the two separate issues of AV and the reduction of the size of Parliament in the same Bill. That, however, is all water under the bridge. I confess I looked at the Bill with a certain degree of hostility, and perhaps because I am cynical, when I saw that there was an exception for Orkney and Shetland, I thought that that must be a bit of a deal with the Liberals, because that is a Liberal constituency. I realise that that was a wicked and improper thought. The Western Isles, of course, is a nationalist constituency. Then I had lunch today with Mr Charles Kennedy and I said, wrongly, "Of course, your seat is not affected". He quite rightly pointed out that that was a widely held mistaken belief; although his seat is the largest-Ross, Skye and Lochaber-it is, of course, not exempted because the Boundary Commission simply has that as a size. He is in the same boat as everyone else. I accept that the reason that the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland are made exceptions in the Bill is that, quite rightly, somebody recognised that they are distinctive communities. There are many islands that form part of Argyll which have all the problem of ferries and the rest that affect the Isle of Wight, but the key point is whether it is a distinctive community. Clearly the Isle of Wight is a distinctive community.
I do not wish to detain the House, but I would like to make one other general point. I return to what I had to say about Mr Andrew Turner. All of us in this
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One of the reasons for that is because the Member of Parliament is seen to be the Member for their area or community. I was a Tory in Sterling where two-thirds of the voters had never experienced or wanted a Tory but, as such, you were respected as the Member of Parliament-their man or their woman in Parliament. Even in the days of the rotten boroughs people came to represent the rotten borough, they did not come to represent a block of so many voters on the map. I support my noble friend's amendment in the hope that the Government will listen-
Lord Martin of Springburn: I am sorry to disturb the noble Lord's thought, but I would also like to say that I have a very high regard for Mr Turner. Andrew is a lovely person and a very hard working individual. It disturbs me that he had only a few moments on the Floor of the House to put the arguments that the noble Lord has put so succinctly. The noble Lord touched upon Argyll, and this disturbs me too-a great island community; I think we are talking about 15 islands-as the same went for Alan Reid, who was unable to speak or had very little say. The noble Lord is quite right that a Speaker's Conference would have allowed those Back-Benchers to put the case for their communities.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I bow to the noble Lord's very great experience, not just as a former Speaker but as a parliamentarian. But, of course, we are where we are. The point that I wanted to make was that the identity between communities and Members of Parliament is very important. I am supporting my noble friend in the hope that the Government will recognise that the Isle of Wight has just as strong a case. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, that it should have one constituency; it could have two and still be closer to the criteria set under the Bill than either the Western Isles or Orkney and Shetland.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Martin, the Government, in looking at the Isle of Wight, should also think about this point about the identity between Members of Parliament and constituencies. This is not just a numbers game. If we end up making it a numbers game, we may very well find that the respect, support and influence that Parliament is able to bring to bear through its Members in their constituencies are greatly diminished at a time when we need to strengthen Parliament. That seems to me to be a very retrograde step.
On the other point that the noble Lord made, we have had a long debate about the procedure which in effect is bringing a guillotine to this House. That would, of course, bring all the disadvantages that we see in the Commons, which is why our workload has gone up. It was Robespierre who invented the guillotine
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Lord Pannick: The strength of the case for this amendment confirms the mischief in this part of the Bill which we debated in Committee yesterday. The rigidity in the formula contained in rule 2 allows for these vital geographical and local considerations to be taken into account only in the two specific cases or within the rubric of the 5 per cent tolerance that the Boundary Commission has. We can seek to address this specific case, and there are many other examples-perhaps not quite as strong as the Isle of Wight-of particular local and geographical considerations, by adding one or two more exceptions to rule 2. Or, as I would prefer, the Government could now recognise that the rigidity of the Bill is quite indefensible. We desperately need a broader exception which allows the Boundary Commission to take account of these factors in what it regards as exceptional cases, of which the Isle of Wight is plainly one.
Lord Desai: My Lords, just before the closure we were talking statistics, and I make a small statistical point. The Government want to equalise the constituency boundaries, which is a very laudable aim. With the best will in the world, they may be able to do it in 99 per cent of the cases within three standard deviations; that still leaves six spare seats out of 600. The Government should not feel too nervous about having one more exception. The Government should say that it is just not humanly possible to fit everything within 598 seats. It is possible to allow a little bit of slack and, if the Government do, they will not lose the thread completely, and it will help many Members of your Lordships' House to breathe easy.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, my connection with the Isle of Wight is that when I was Lord Chancellor I was invited to open the new magistrates' court there. My host was the late Lord Mottistone, who was a Member of this House and at that time the governor of the Isle of Wight. I gather that the governor's post has fallen into desuetude, but at any rate that shows that it was a separate-whatever the right noun is for whatever the governor has to rule over. I was shown very well over the island during that visit. My noble friend has succinctly explained the powerful case for separating out the Isle of Wight, and I hope that the Government consider it.
On the wider point made by the noble Lords, Lord Judd, Lord Forsyth and Lord Pannick, I believe that the amendment moved yesterday and dealt with so expeditiously yesterday afternoon, which is to be considered by the Government, would provide a pretty good answer to most of the difficulties, if the Government are pleased to accept it.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, without injecting too much of a sour note, I would like to follow up some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Judd, who made them far more eloquently than I will-I have never claimed to be eloquent.
Community is certainly to the fore in these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, rightly explained the sense of community that people feel for the place where they live and where they may have stayed all their lives. Noble Lords will tell me if I step out of order, but I shall run the risk of perhaps bringing in things that are for a future amendment but that are, nevertheless, relevant to what is being discussed here today. I make no apology for attempting to do that.
In 1973, a Tory Government ripped apart the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen and shoved us into the new City of Glasgow District Council, with no regard for the community or the political unity of the burgh, the Cambuslang or Halfway areas-absolutely nothing. "You're going in and that is it", was the attitude, as the Government did not listen to a single thing. Many years later in 1993, 1994 and 1995, with the help of a more benevolent Conservative Minister, Allan Stewart-who was a first-class Minister and a first-class community man as well-the towns of Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway were taken out of Glasgow and put back into their natural home of the county of Lanarkshire. Although there is not the obvious geographical case for Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway that is apparent for the Isle of Wight, nevertheless we also have a sense of community. The difficulty for me is that the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight has made an outstanding case; I hope to make an outstanding case for my community at a later stage, but-there is always a but, and this is where I might do myself a bit of damage personally, but there we are-first and foremost I am a Rutherglonian, and I shall represent that burgh to the best of my ability in matters where the law is being changed.
In the Minister's response, he must surely take a consistent, logical approach to such matters. Colleagues on both sides of the House have remarked on the rigidity of this Bill and the fact that the Government have not given any leeway. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, indicated that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, by agreeing to consider an amendment last night injected a note of being prepared to listen. Well, we will see. The difficulty for me is that if I sit quiet here tonight and the Minister in his response indicates some leeway or special consideration for the Isle of Wight because of the case that has been made-this is a rotten situation, but it has been caused by the Bill-I will certainly need to intervene. I have put a ban on myself intervening-I have picked up on the point that interventions are not appreciated in here-and I will otherwise conform to that, but I will need to seek from the Minister the same concession for Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway that is offered to the Isle of Wight. Frankly, I cannot sit here and not vote against special concessions for the Isle of Wight if there is not going to be any special concession for the area where my heart lies. The same will go for other people.
I know that my own Front Bench will not be very pleased about that-and I am not one of life's natural rebels-but I am making a serious point about how strongly I feel about this. I am sorry if this damages or
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Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, having sat silently through the long night watches, I am grateful that by accident this important debate is taking place at a more reasonable hour than I had originally anticipated. I am also grateful for the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Bach, withdrew his earlier Motion, which has enabled us to carry on with this debate.
I have no need to say anything at all at length, because all the points have been most effectively made. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and to his colleagues for having tabled these amendments. I will add one word.
For many years in my life, I have occupied one part or other of the coast of Hampshire-for many years I represented the constituency of Bournemouth West-and now live not too far from there. Prior to that, having lived for decades in the New Forest, I have constantly looked across and seen the outline of the Isle of Wight, which has always been over there, almost beyond reach. If we ever contemplated visiting the Isle of Wight, it was the subject of quite a lengthy discussion beforehand, and we knew that the visit would write off a complete day, whatever else took place. So it was not something that you just popped down the road or hopped on the bus to visit. It was a big excursion and a considerable undertaking.
To contemplate having to represent such a constituency as a Member of Parliament would be very exhausting and frustrating. I can quite see the enormous practical difficulties that would arise from that. I hope therefore very much that my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness will be prepared to do what my noble friend Lord Fowler asked and give these amendments very serious consideration. I see no reason in the timetable, or for any other purpose, why we should not have an amendment that makes common sense-and it is common sense that we want in all our legislation.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: As everybody will know, I have spoken in the debate on the first half of this Bill only against the Government and, indeed, have voted against the Government. This is a time when I intend to support the Government-or I hope that I am supporting the Minister. If he makes an exception over the Isle of Wight, the argument about communities will be rerun about every conceivable constituency
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Lord Hamilton of Epsom: No, I am not in favour of them either. I agree that they have breached the principle, but I suppose that there is a greater argument for an enormous land mass with a very small electorate in Scotland being represented by one person.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: That is absolutely true. That is why I hope that the Government do not give way on this issue. That rules out any question of creating an exception for the Isle of Wight. It may be uncomfortable for the constituents of the Isle of Wight to be represented by two Members of Parliament, but it would not be the end of the world. I sincerely hope that my noble friend holds out on this.
Baroness Nye: I support the noble Lord's amendment. I told him that I would do so and I had not intended to speak in the debate, but a few points arose from his speech that I want to take up. He said that the Member of Parliament campaigned at the election to keep the Isle of Wight as a single constituency, but the same candidate must also have campaigned at the election to have a 10 per cent reduction in the number of seats. That gives a new twist to the phrase "not in my constituency".
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who is not in his place, said at Second Reading that the problem is that equal votes are a good idea and people support that, but people can believe two things at the same time. People want fair votes, but experience in the Isle of Wight and Cornwall shows that they might want something else as well. That is partly why we have tabled these amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, we have been trying to change the nature of this threshold to give constituencies such as the Isle of Wight more flexibility.
The noble Lord also said in his speech that there had been no consultation with the residents of the Isle of Wight, which is one of our objections to the Bill. More important, there will be no consultation when the Bill is passed because the Bill will also abolish public inquiries into Boundary Commission decisions. We would like people to have a say both at the beginning and at the end, but this Bill will abolish that. I hope that, for the reasons that he gave in his speech, the noble Lord will support some of the amendments that we have tabled because they apply in other cases. I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken-in certain respects-because if we amend the Bill so that it is fair to all constituencies, that would be better than having specific exceptions.
Lord Selsdon: I speak as treasurer and secretary of the House of Lords Yacht Club and I am an islander. Historically, I come from Islay. My family are normally buried at sea and the female line like to have their caskets dropped off the Nab Tower-perhaps the Government can advise me on whether the Nab Tower is, or is not, part of the Isle of Wight. However, I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Hamilton, with whom I have the advantage of sharing an office.
I recognise that the two householders who tabled Amendment 89 have a certain interest because they live on the Isle of Wight; my interest lies in the fact that, when I was a Pompey rating, I had to row across the Solent from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight and back-I had to sail in a single cutter-and, just before Suez, I was shoved on an aircraft carrier and made to be ballast in a helicopter as we were dropped off on the Isle of Wight because plans were being made to invade Suez later. My feeling is this: there are some 70,000 islands and atolls in the world. All islanders are islanders; they do not like anyone else and they are a united community. It is not the same as a community that is divided on the mainland. There are islanders who have suffered from weather, affliction and everything else.
The thing about an island community is that, when you connect it to a mainland politically, you create divisions. Even within an island, when you split it-as in Cyprus or any of the other islands in the world-you create divisions. You need a united community, which can be united only if it has the sea around it. Therefore, I support the amendment.
I also feel that there is something quite remarkable about what my noble friend Lord Mackay has done. He has taken the heat out of the debate. We are all debating on the same side. Yes, noble Lords opposite will want to protect certain constituencies and claim that they are all of one ethnic group or different ethnic groups, but communities are communities. Island communities are-I promise you-individual communities. I therefore support the amendment. I encourage the noble Lord who moved it to press it to a Division and I will vote, because it is about time that we had a vote on something worth voting on.
Lord Touhig: If the Government concede on this amendment, of course it could be said that they are setting a precedent. That does not bother me. I rather think that, when the first human being stood up on his hind legs instead of crawling around on all fours, people tut-tutted and said that that was setting a precedent. The argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is important because it goes to the heart of the Bill. As we discussed to some extent at Second Reading,
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The fact that the Isle of Wight is an island is down to the handiwork of the creator and we cannot do much about it, but we can inject some common sense into the Bill and say to the Government that this makes sense. Parts of the Isle of Wight should not be joined to a constituency on the mainland. We could argue the same case, I am sure, for Ynys Môn-there will be other examples I have no doubt-but this makes sense and I hope that the Committee will support it.
Lord Bach: I say from the Front Bench that my party's view is clear that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, should be supported. The Isle of Wight seems evident to us to be a prime candidate for exemption. It meets the island criteria of the other two preserved constituencies. It has a historic basis to its case for being looked at somewhat differently.
Many noble Lords will have received a letter from the Isle of Wight Council, to which I pay tribute for the way in which it has run its campaign. The letter informs us that there has not been a cross-Solent seat, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said in moving his amendment, since 1832-a date that regularly appears in our debates on this Bill-and successive boundary reviews have very strongly rejected any such consideration. We are in favour of his amendment.
The debate has been of interest beyond the Isle of Wight, because of the two different strands of opinion on whether the Bill is too rigid. The Forsyth/Pannick strand-I do not mean "panic", but that shows what happens when you break the rules and do not say the "noble Lord, Lord Forsyth", and "the noble Lord, Lord Pannick"-argues that the Bill is much too rigid in terms of constituencies and begins to lose common sense as a result. Then there is the purist view-although I did not think I would ever say that about the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton-that says that, if the Government mean what they say about numbers being everything, they had better keep to their word. I know which side of that argument I am on.
As the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, said, I encourage the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, to press his amendment to a vote. Whether he does so is entirely a matter for him. I never thought that I would be in a position to advise the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, with his vast experience, but he should beware of being offered something in the next few minutes by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who I am sure will make such an offer with huge skill. The Minister will mean every word that he says, but the noble Lord should beware. If he decides to pay a visit to the ministry in order to hear what the Government have to say in the way of compromise, he should know that he has us at his back, as it were. He has our word that if he does not get what he wants we will support him in the Lobbies.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, by my calculation this has been a debate in which 18 noble Lords have taken part and have made some compelling arguments for the case put forward by my noble friend
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I am acutely conscious that the islands community which I represented is one of the exceptions in Rule 6. When the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield commented about someone having phoned up and being told, "No, he's on the island", it brought to mind my first ever visit to Orkney when I went as a prospective candidate. Talking to some people, I said something about the mainland-meaning that landmass south of the Pentland Firth. I was taken aside and told, "That's not the mainland, that's Scotland. We are on the Mainland". That was a valuable lesson, which I learnt, so what I say here is against that background.
I am acutely conscious that residents in the Isle of Wight have been taking a very keen interest in the provisions set out in the Bill. A range of views has been expressed in correspondence to the Government, and I understand that those views were made known to my honourable friend the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform when he visited the island on 1 October. I know that he takes an acute interest in the Official Report on the proceedings in this House, so he will no doubt see what has been said in this debate.
As has been made clear, the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lord Fowler and Lord Oakeshott would prevent the constituencies being shared between the Isle of Wight and the mainland and allow the Isle of Wight constituency, or constituencies, to be outside the 5 per cent parity rule. I readily acknowledge the strength of feeling that has been expressed in this debate-it has been expressed by many on this matter: by the Member of Parliament, Andrew Turner, by the council and by the political parties-but I also believe that it is practical to have a constituency representing part of the island and part of the mainland and for that to be done. While I am not in any way trying to suggest that the letters have been in equal number, it is important to put on the record that there has indeed been correspondence to the Government from people resident on the Isle of Wight indicating that they do not necessarily support the OneWight campaign.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I cannot, at the moment, but I clearly conceded that I am not suggesting, and I would not wish to suggest for a moment, that it has been equal. When people actually make their views known, it is perhaps easy to suggest that there is no one there. It is important that that is recognised.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Perhaps the Royal Mail might find that useful for their coffers, but I am not sure whether that is going to happen. Perhaps I might draw it to the Committee's attention that the Isle of Wight shares its police force with Hampshire and that, in other areas, the island is already making the most of its links with the mainland. On 28 October last, the Government approved a bid to create a Solent local enterprise partnership covering the economic area of south Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Indeed, one of the expectations for successful bids was whether the geography proposed represented a reasonable, natural and economic geography. I am confident that an MP would be able to represent a constituency that meets those criteria, such as in a cross-Solent seat. The island has indicated a willingness to develop its long-term interests, where appropriate, in conjunction with its mainland neighbours.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I find the point that my noble and learned friend has made about the police force curious. Orkney and Shetland share a police force with the mainland. What is the relevance of the police force?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I was acutely aware of that. I was just indicating that there were links. I was almost immediately going to come on to the point that the distinction which we believe that there is between the Isle of Wight and the two named exceptions in the Bill is that they cannot readily be included physically in a constituency with the mainland, owing to their distance and to the dispersed nature of those constituencies, which we believe are distinctive. Indeed, as has been said-the Committee was reminded of this by my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom-there is the principle in the Bill of equal votes and equal value. The Government recognise the strong views that have been expressed and believe that, at the end of the day, the principle which I have articulated would not be achieved by this amendment. I nevertheless want to say in conclusion-
Lord Winston: Forgive me, for I am not a politician, but I find myself really quite confused. I promise the Minister that I am not trying to timewaste, given the accusations that have been flying about. I am genuinely puzzled, because on Monday night-I forget what time it was-my noble friend talked about the importance of not crossing county boundaries, because of the nature of constituencies and the unique influence of community. That question was never answered, yet here we have an exception possibly being made for the Isle of Wight. That is a very apposite and appropriate thing to do but I am worried that we have still not really addressed that question. I would be hugely grateful if the noble and learned Lord could try to address this confusion which I feel, as I suspect some others of my noble friends do, about why the Isle of Wight should be a unique example, as has been discussed.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I apologise very much if I have confused the noble Lord, because my point was that I have not actually conceded that it should be a unique example. I think that that has been recognised. However, the Government recognise the considerable interest and concern which the impact of a boundary review could have on the Isle of Wight under the proposals in the Bill. The Government have, nevertheless, been consistently clear that there are not compelling reasons such as those that apply in the two exceptions to make an exception for the Isle of Wight. My ministerial colleagues in the other place have indeed met with representatives from the Isle of Wight. My noble friend Lord Fowler asked whether I would be willing to meet him. I would certainly be very happy to do so to discuss this matter further, but I am afraid that I cannot go further than that.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I have made it very clear what the Government's position is. Obviously, I would not ask my noble friend to come in for a meeting as a waste of time but I hope that he will take up the offer of a meeting.
Lord Crickhowell: Last night, I supported an amendment on the 10 per cent question that was moved from the Opposition Front Bench, which had wide support in the House. Very wisely, on that occasion my noble and learned friend said that he would take on board very seriously the arguments and take them back to his colleagues for consideration. He made it very clear that he was making no commitment. He could not assure us that we would get what we wanted but he assured us that he would take the argument back. The Minister does not seem to be doing the same thing tonight. I beg him to take the same view tonight and to take the argument back. Otherwise, I will join noble Lords very firmly in the Lobby against the Government.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I do not wish to suggest that by doing so the Government are about to change their mind. Equally, I would not ask the noble Lord to come in for a waste of time. As I indicated in my opening remarks, this debate will be read by my honourable friend in the other place. I have indicated a willingness to meet the noble Lord and would not ask him to waste his time by having such a meeting. I hope that he would be willing to take up that offer.
Lord Fowler: On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in the debate that ended yesterday, the Minister is not making the same guarantee to me that he made to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on the amendment that was passed. That is the fact of the matter. I am always interested to talk and to have a meeting-I am sure that it would not be a waste of time-but, to be frank, I do not think that that goes far enough as an assurance to this House.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Indeed. I said that because I know for a fact that he does read these debates. I will certainly ensure that, before I have any meeting with my noble friend, my honourable friend, Mr Mark Harper, has read the terms of this debate and that would then inform the discussion that I am offering to have.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I will put this very gently. What are we doing here? This is a Chamber of Parliament. We are debating legislation. My noble and learned friend speaks for the Government and says that a Minister in the other place reads our proceedings and will have a meeting. I am sorry, but that is treating this House with contempt. None of us wants to create a Division here, but the arguments have been put, this is Parliament, and surely the Minister's duty is either to say "Your arguments are rubbish and we do not accept them", or "I will go and talk to my colleagues to see if we can get collective agreement to meet them". Simply to say "We will have a meeting" is not acceptable and not treating this House as a House of Parliament.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: In response to my noble friend, this is a Committee stage, there will be a Report stage and there will be an opportunity-the opportunity I offered-for the outcome of the discussions that take place to be considered. The House will return to it and if my noble friend Lord Fowler is not satisfied with the outcome of that meeting, I have no doubt that he will be willing to table an amendment again.
Lord Mawhinney: For the first time since the Bill started, my noble friend has me confused. Until now I have been giving him very high marks for clarity and sensitivity, but now I am confused, so I put a question in the hope that he will be able to "unconfuse" me. When he draws the attention of his honourable friend to this debate and they discuss it, will he urge his honourable friend to think again with a view to making an amendment, or will he simply talk to him without any motivation of change? I think this House would be pleased to know what the words actually mean.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I will undoubtedly express to my honourable friend the strength of feeling and the argument that has been put in this House. I indicated yesterday that I am not in a position to make any commitment and that is why I hesitate to go further. The most I can do is to ensure that ministerial colleagues-not only Mr Harper-are made well aware of what has been said in this debate and of the strength, the conciseness and the power that have lain behind the arguments that have been put. That is the spirit in which I will take what the Committee has said today back to Government and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, will be prepared to follow that up with a meeting. I cannot make a commitment; equally, I would not ask the noble Lord to do it if I thought it would be a complete waste of his time.
Lord Davies of Stamford: Will the Minister consider, as part of the further consideration and in the course of discussions with his honourable friend, the very real danger that if the Government make two concessions in the Bill in respect of Scottish islands and give no consideration to the case for making an exception for an English island-the only substantial English island-a very unfortunate impression will be created in England that English electoral sensibilities of this kind are being dismissed very lightly?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I hear that point. I have heard more compelling, stronger arguments than that, but it is a point of view. I would not have thought that it would necessarily cause a rift within the union, but other arguments, not at least in terms of community, have added weight to the case for this amendment.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, I confess that I am disappointed by the noble and learned Lord's response. I do not think that it goes as far as the commitment that was given yesterday to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I said that my hope was the Minister will today give a commitment that the Government will look at this again and that they will consider the arguments that I have put-and, doubtless, others will put-in the debate.
Incidentally, the noble and learned Lord referred to 18 speakers. He is quite right-17 speakers supported me. Only one did not. I hope that we can have a sensible commitment to take things further on Report. I do not think, frankly, that I have any alternative, because the one thing I can do is to underline to the Government just how strongly people feel on this. I found the Minister's argument on the substance of this case to be not all convincing.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
"With permission I should like to make a Statement to accompany the publication today of the coalition Government's White Paper on local transport and the simultaneous publication of bidding guidance to accompany our new local sustainable transport fund. Both documents are available to colleagues in the Vote Office and have been placed in the Library of the House.
This Government's vision is for a transport system that helps create growth in the economy and tackles climate change by cutting our carbon emissions. The launch of this White Paper and the associated local sustainable transport fund represents a significant step towards meeting these two government objectives. In both the Budget and the spending review the Chancellor pledged to make the tough choices that will allow us to maintain investment in new and existing infrastructure to support a growing economy while eliminating the structural deficit over the lifetime of the Parliament. The spending review reflected transport's vital role in this. I am pleased that we were able to secure significant investment to allow us to go ahead with important transport initiatives. The investment we have committed to in rail, low-carbon vehicles and public and sustainable transport reflects the determination to secure growth while cutting carbon.
In the medium term, our transport decarbonisation strategy centres around the progressive electrification of the passenger car fleet, supported by policies to increase generation capacity and decarbonise the grid. By also prioritising spending on key rail projects such as high-speed rail and rail electrification, we will be providing travellers with attractive new options instead of the plane and the car. In the immediate term, addressing shorter, local trips offers huge potential in helping to grow the economy and tackle climate change. Shorter trips are important-two-thirds of all journeys are under five miles. Walking, cycling and public transport are all real, greener alternatives for such trips.
What is more, we know that people who travel to the shops on foot, by bicycle or by public transport can spend more per head than those who travel by car and research shows that improvements to the public realm can increase turnover in the high street by 5 to 15 per cent. Increased sustainable travel also helps tackle congestion, which is a drag on business and causes excess delays in urban areas at a cost of around £11 billion per annum. And let us not forget the further benefits that follow a shift to more sustainable transport-benefits to the air we breathe, to our levels of fitness and to the money in our pockets. Investment in sustainable transport helps make our towns and cities healthier and more attractive places to live, work and shop.
This White Paper sets out how we can encourage the uptake of more sustainable modes at local level, and the unprecedented £560 million we have allocated in our new local sustainable transport fund will support this. Our commitment to helping local authorities with this vital agenda is reaffirmed by the amount of money we are making available. The local sustainable transport fund forms part of a wider picture of more streamlined and simplified funding to local authorities. This will give local authorities more power and flexibility to meet local transport needs.
Across the Government we have demonstrated our commitment to ending the top-down decision-making and the tendency in Whitehall to develop one-size-fits-all solutions that ignore the specific needs and behaviour patterns of local communities. The Government have already taken significant steps to hand back power to local communities. These include replacing regional development agencies with local enterprise partnerships, giving communities a much greater say over planning decisions and ending the top-down imposition of housing targets.
Today's White Paper is about extending the decentralisation of power to local transport, putting into context what this means for local authorities. We are particularly keen to receive bids for the local sustainable transport fund from local authorities who are in partnership with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector and have the support of local businesses. We believe that by encouraging bids in this way we will be able to capture innovative solutions to local transport needs in all areas, rural and urban. Wheels to Work schemes provide transport to people who are unable to access training, employment or education due to a lack of suitable public or private transport. Schemes can, therefore, particularly benefit people living in isolated rural communities and can play an important part in helping people to come off benefits and regain their independence. These are real examples that are happening right now, and we want to enable similar stories to unfold in other areas across the country.
In addition, we also recognise that some initiatives benefit from a single national approach. These include: providing £11 million for Bikeability cycle training next year to allow 275,000 10 to 11 year-olds to benefit from on-road cycle training and a commitment to support Bikeability for the duration of this Parliament, which will allow as many children as possible to undertake high-quality training; improving end-to-end journeys by encouraging transport operators, and those involved in promoting cycling and car clubs or sharing, to work together to provide better information and to integrate tickets and timetables; and delivering, with operators and public sector bodies, the infrastructure to enable most local public transport journeys to be undertaken using smart ticketing by December 2014.
We will work with the transport industry to support the development of e-purses and other technology related to smart ticketing and to support the infrastructure to make this happen: reviewing the way in which transport investment decisions are made to ensure that the carbon implications are fully recognised; transferring responsibility for local roads classification to local authorities, giving them the flexibility to adjust
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We want to build a transport system that is an engine for economic growth, that is greener and that creates growth and cuts carbon. By improving the links that move goods and people around, encouraging people to travel sustainably, and targeting investment in new projects that promote green growth, we can help to build the balanced, dynamic low-carbon economy that is essential for our future prosperity. This White Paper, with the associated local sustainable transport fund, demonstrates our commitment to taking this agenda forward. I commend it to the House".
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I suppose I ought to congratulate the Minister on the good intentions expressed in the White Paper. After all, good intentions are better than nothing, although we all know where the path of good intentions can lead. A White Paper that is not backed by any bank directives or papers is not worth a great deal. This is full of good intentions and objectives on sustainable local transport to which the Opposition also subscribe. The problem is that the Statement takes no account of the fact that the Government are neither able nor prepared to will the means, thereby rendering the Statement almost valueless.
The Minister talks of a new £560 million local sustainable transport fund, but he knows that it is just a sticking plaster to cover the 28 per cent cut to local government transport spending. He knows that his own White Paper says that local transport is largely subsidised by local authorities, as indeed it is. However, the local authorities do not have the wherewithal to maintain what they have-they are engaged and will be engaged in extensive cuts-let alone to begin to approach the noble ambitions of the White Paper's good intentions. Will the Minister confirm that the cuts have been front-loaded, which means that local government transport was cut by £309 million this year, and that he is giving £80 million back next year? No wonder his objectives cannot be realised.
I have some sympathy for the Minister. After all, his burden is to repeat the Statement that has already been presented in the other place. He is all too well aware of the bad hand he has been dealt. However, he must realise that the 20 per cent cut to the bus service operators' grant is having a devastating effect on local bus services. With fuel prices at record levels, he must surely understand the impact of cutting this fuel cost subsidy on bus operators. How will they be able to sustain unprofitable services when the subsidy of which the White Paper boasts for the role of the local authorities is being savagely reduced? Has he not seen that, up and down the country today, councils are withdrawing services? Half of subsidised services are being axed in Somerset. More than 70 rural services are being scrapped or reduced in Durham. Nearly 30 services are threatened
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Does the Minister appreciate the social consequences of that? Is he aware that 94 per cent of colleges believe that scrapping the EMA-the educational maintenance allowance-and cutting local transport will see students unable to get to college and unable to complete their courses? We should, I suppose, praise this more recent coalition Government for not saying that those without jobs should "get on their bikes". They have progressed to saying that they should take the bus. Which bus-the bus that is subject to being cut entirely, or the bus whose punctuality cannot be guaranteed because of the reduction in resources?
This White Paper points out, accurately, that two out of five jobseekers need to use public transport to try to find jobs and put that as the key priority in their ability to make themselves available to prospective employers. How will they look for these jobs when the services on which they depend are being cut? Is the Minister aware that his own department's figures show that without the grant we will see a 6.5 per cent increase in fares and, consequently, a likely 6.7 per cent fall in bus use? Who are the people who will reduce bus use? They are those who either cannot get a bus or will not be able to afford the fares because they are jobless and were using the bus to try to find a job.
The Government emphasise the green agenda and the improvement in the carbon count. Is that why rail fares are to go up by 30 per cent over the four-year spending period before us? Does the Minister accept that the consequence of hiking up the cost of using public transport will be to force people to use cars more intensively? Where is the green agenda when we force people to use private transport, as opposed to what we all know are the advantages of public transport in those terms?
Finally, I note that the noble Earl indicated that he was looking forward to bids for the local sustainable transport grant. To judge those bids, the Government will have a little panel. Will it be a little quango?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's response to my Statement, although it was a little gloomy. I am surprised he did not cover some of the good news. For instance, the child fatality rate was quite high by European standards. Over recent years, for which the noble Lord was responsible, our child fatality rate has fallen. I am not sure that it is the lowest in Europe, but it has been driven down so that it is nearly the lowest. That is seriously good news.
The noble Lord made much about the bus service operators' grant-the BSOG. Yes, it has been reduced. However, my honourable friend Mr Baker has fought long and hard, and successfully retained 80 per cent of the BSOG when some in the other place were suggesting that it might be removed altogether. It has not; it has been retained.
The noble Lord mentioned several alterations to services and made some fairly detailed points. I was surprised because I very rarely sign Answers to Written Parliamentary Questions from the noble Lord on these points. However, I will look forward to future Questions from the noble Lord on these issues.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, in other circumstances, this would be a Statement of intentions that one could welcome, but its credibility, at a time when local authorities are having to make considerable cuts, as my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham pointed out so eloquently, means that the most vulnerable in society cannot use public transport-which ostensibly is what the Government want them to do-and these vulnerable people will therefore not add to the green economy at all. My question arises from our disappointment that the aspirations of the White Paper cannot be met. I was chairman of a government inquiry into sustainable journeys to work. Does not the Statement add up to less opportunity for the most vulnerable? Can the noble Earl enlighten me as to whether there is anything about bus services being the alternative to the school run and one person in a 4x4? Is that sustainable? Finally-this is the heart of the contradiction-will the Government revisit the financial settlement? Without doing that, none of this will be possible.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord suggested that the aspirations cannot be met. They can be met if one is determined enough. The noble Lord said that we have not got the money. Any money problems we have arise from the deficit, and I will not say where that came from.
Earl Attlee: I always wait for that groan. The noble Lord talked about the school run. That is precisely an issue we want to address. I mentioned Bikeability in the Statement, which will receive £11 million a year to encourage children to take up bicycling, and to encourage adults to take it up for short journeys which would otherwise produce disproportionate emissions. The White Paper deals with precisely the issues that the noble Lord raises.
Lord Mawhinney: My noble friend will know that I have transport interests in my curriculum in this place, which may help to explain why I am the only Conservative Back-Bencher present for the Statement. He will appreciate that because we have been busy in the Chamber, I have not had a chance to read the White Paper, so my question may be a little simplistic. I hope he will forgive me. He talked about a fund for local authorities. I was not clear-it is my fault and I apologise-as to whether that fund would be given to local authorities or be centrally administered on the basis of local authority bids. Whichever it is, as a former Secretary of State, I am sure that there will be rules, regulations and guidance applied to the dispensing of funds. Will my noble friend be kind enough to place in the Library, if it is not in the White Paper, the list of rules, regulations and guidance against which local authority bids will be measured?
Earl Attlee: My noble friend makes an extremely important point. I confess that, like him, I have not yet read the White Paper in full. Whether I will ever read every page is doubtful. Local authorities will bid directly to the Department for Transport, but we have devised
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Lord Palmer: My Lords, I very much look forward to reading the White Paper. I am a resident of Scotland, and I have a particular worry relating to my part of Scotland, which I know does not come under the noble Earl's jurisdiction. In northern England, a number of local authority-funded coaches travelling from X to Y and A to B are nearly always empty. I hope that the White Paper will look at this most carefully to make certain that we have a really good public transport system which will actually have people travelling on these buses.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting and important point. I have started to use a bus service from Alton to Bordon in Hampshire, and it always surprises me how very few people are in the bus, despite it being quite large. However, part of the policy is to allow more suitable vehicles to be used by a variety of schemes.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, I have not had time to read the entire White Paper, but I thank the Minister for including a section at the back on heritage railways, which is a subject close to my heart. I hope it is an indication that we shall have a satisfactory outcome to the debate on the future of the Railway Heritage Committee when we finally return to consideration of the Public Bodies Bill. I have a particular question about sustainable transport. I was going to ask about the school run, to which my noble friend Lord Lea referred. However, does the Minister believe that the Mayor of London's decision to cut the congestion charge area is a helpful contribution towards sustainable transport in London? Is any consideration being given to road pricing, which is a further way in which more people could be encouraged to use sustainable transport and public transport, rather than get into their cars?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, a heritage railway could bid for a scheme. Although it might not be able to bid for its operating costs, it might be able to bid for certain facilities. The noble Lord will have to look closely at the criteria, given that some things cannot be bid for under the LTSF, because they relate to other types of grant. I very much hope that the noble Lord is successful in finding an alternative location for the legislative powers associated with the Railway Heritage Committee. We will have to see how that unfolds; it is a matter for my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. I think I am correct in saying that we have no plans at all for road pricing in this Parliament. We have made more detailed statements elsewhere, but it is not on the cards. However, the noble Lord will be aware that it is possible to have a local scheme, such as the mayor's congestion charge scheme.
Lord Bradshaw: I thank the Minister for what he has said. It puts me in mind of a period about 13 years ago when I attended several presentations by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, who is not here. He provided documents like this White Paper, although his had
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I particularly want to know about the assessment criteria, which I have read. This document strikes me as more or less the usual stuff that we get served up by the Department for Transport because although there are a lot of warm words about saving carbon, for example, at the end it mentions the method of assessment that the department will use and-surprise, surprise-there is a reference to it being in line with the DfT's appraisal framework, NATA. We all know that that is used to measure small time savings, which are then put together. There may be lots of people-say, 10,000-who save half a minute each, and the department has some magic way of turning these into money. However, it is fool's gold because no one can predict whether they are going to save half a minute or a minute on a journey. People need to get to wherever they are going and they allow time to get there. Therefore, I ask the Minister to read the assessment criteria very carefully and to impress on his colleagues in the department the need to include achievable things and common-sense ways of measuring the benefits of these many initiatives. If they are all delivered, they will be useful, but I am afraid that here we have a blueprint for a great deal of bureaucracy.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I did not manage to write down the noble Lord's last point, so I shall answer it first. This is not a blueprint for bureaucracy; it is a blueprint for doing things more efficiently. The noble Lord initially said that it would not be productive. However, it is for local authorities to deliver the scheme and it is for the department to assess the scheme and fund it. The noble Lord talked about this being the usual stuff that is served up. I am a little disappointed about that but I say to him that every scheme has to meet two criteria: it has to provide for both growth and carbon reduction. A scheme may provide for carbon reduction indirectly but it has to show carbon reduction as well as growth. As for the noble Lord's point about NATA and the detailed assessment, he has been on at this Government and the previous Government for some time about this but I assure him that my department is working on it.
Does he not agree that it would be more honest to include the word "reduced" in that sentence? Although I welcome extending the decentralisation of power to local transport, which the Statement also mentions, does the noble Lord not agree that there is a regional dimension to transport and transport infrastructure which the abolition of the regional development agencies will make more difficult to realise than otherwise? Will he indicate whether the Government have any intention of making the Highways Agency more accountable, and, in particular, will he indicate how, under the system of very localised transport, authorities in the north-east will be able to put pressure on the Government
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Earl Attlee: It is my turn! The noble Lord initially asked whether I would look again at a part of the Statement, and he said that funding for transport is reduced. It is, although I shall not generate a groan from your Lordships by saying why. He talked about the abolition of the RDAs but he will also be aware of the local enterprise partnerships. They are not primarily a funding vehicle but they are a means of putting together stakeholders, who can then get on to the local transport authority and bid for money. The noble Lord talked about the Highways Agency and, in particular, the A1 in the north-east. That is a very important point. We have made a start, in that the A1 is now on the strategic route network and is therefore managed by the Highways Agency, although it will still be a long time before it is dualled.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, perhaps I might ask the Minister a quick question about smart ticketing, which he mentioned. I declare an interest as a director of LASSeO, the Local Authority Smartcard Standards e-Organisation, which looks after and promotes SNAPI, the Special Needs Application Program Interface. This is a very useful thing that is underadopted. It tailors the terminals that people use to put credit on their cards, the gates that people go through and things like that, to the special needs that individuals might have when they use the system. In the transport system, gates may close too quickly if someone is a bit slow. People who are colour-blind also need special help. The system is useful but has been largely ignored. Will the Minister look at allocating a small amount of money-not a lot is needed-to encourage the take-up of this standard for smart ticketing systems that are introduced? If the Minister would like to look it up, the system was developed by Dr John Gill.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Earl makes an important point about smart ticketing. There is no doubt that better ticketing systems encourage the use of public transport. They encourage me, and I am sure that they encourage many others. He talked about better systems. We are aware that what technology can do for us will rapidly improve. Noble Lords will be aware that the power of laptop computers doubles every 18 months. I would appreciate it if he would brief me on these matters; I would find that very useful.
To that I would add urban services. I live in Colne in Lancashire. If one wants to go to the centre of Colne-to a doctor or to the shops-it is called going up Colne. That is what people say, for the good reason that the town is built on a hill. Many people live on the other side of the valley. They have to go down and up. I am a councillor there, and in my ward we started the route 16 bus service, the Lenches and Bunkers Hill circular, in 1986 after bus deregulation. It has been quite successful. There are only five journeys a day. However, you cannot make it more sustainable if you take it away. Lancashire County Council has now decided that it will take away the service, which is much needed by old people, those with less mobility and so on, to get up Colne. Will the Government, as well as cutting money to local authorities, make some of this fund available for more innovative ways of providing services when current services are reduced for financial reasons?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I have the same problem; I live on a hill. I am not sure that I would like to ride a bicycle up it, but I will try in the summer. The noble Lord will know that bus routes and bus provision are matters for the local transport authority. He talked about the need for innovative solutions. I agree with him, but it is for local transport authorities to develop these solutions. Our role is to encourage them, not to tell them exactly what to do by means of a long screwdriver.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister on the Statement. The first concerns the carbon implications of transport investment decisions. Does he not accept that one of the great successes of the previous Labour Government was the over-60s bus pass, which ensured that many pensioners either leave their cars at home or use them less frequently, and use buses a great deal more? Will he give a guarantee and a commitment that that bus pass is safe and will not be removed or reduced, or the terms altered to the detriment of the over-60s, to ensure that we keep people on buses and not in their cars?
Secondly, as a former Road Safety Minister in Northern Ireland, I take a great interest in road safety measures. The Minister was right to highlight the reduction in the number of young people and children who have been killed or seriously injured. One of my concerns is the reduction in the number of safety cameras across the country, which many in his party support. Does he feel that the number of young people-or people of any age-who are killed or seriously injured on the roads will increase as a result of the reduction in the number of safety cameras?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Baroness talked about carbon implications and the over-60s bus pass. She asked for an absolute commitment. I confess that I had not anticipated the question. Perhaps the best approach would be for her to ask a Written Question, whereupon she will get a categorical answer. She also talked about safety cameras. Speaking for Her Majesty's Government, I say that we will watch very carefully what happens and monitor the accident statistics. That is the only thing that we can do.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, perhaps I might press the Minister on the issue of the Highways Agency, and the powers on the classification of roads-particularly A-roads-that will be passed to local authorities. Trunk roads controlled by the Highways Agency run through urban areas but are treated in practice as local roads. I declare an interest as a member of Newcastle City Council, but I am talking in particular about our western bypass. Issues arise over the powers of the local authority, particularly where the council's roads dissect the Highways Agency's trunk roads. I would appreciate guidance from the Minister on what additional powers local councils might have over the Highways Agency in situations such as that.
Earl Attlee: I do not think local transport authorities will have powers over the Highways Agency. I do not think that there is any superiority issue with the Highways Agency or the local transport authority. We would expect them to consult each other, particularly when the local transport authority is reclassifying a road. Sometimes it may be considering reclassifying a road that is nowhere near a Highways Agency road, and I am not sure that it has to consult the Highways Agency. Clearly, when it could affect a Highways Agency route-routes on the strategic road network-I am sure it would consult.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, the Bill provides for an equalisation in constituencies so that their electorates have to fall within bands of plus or minus 5 per cent, with only two exceptions. This amendment proposes a small but important change that that should be not plus or minus 5 per cent of the electorates but plus or minus 5 per cent of a notional electorate, which is calculated to provide for shortfalls in registration.
I will turn to the substance of the argument in a minute, but I want to make one point that pervaded our earlier debates and which, as the House's resident statistical geek, rather grates on me: the tendency of people to prefer an exact figure, however ill based and
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I cannot help but contrast the imprecision of that number-not that it is a precise number; it is a meaningless number-with the precision of the 5 per cent that is allowed each way. I have argued in various contexts that the Bill is too inflexible for the purpose that we all share, which is equalising the size of constituencies. That led me to wonder whether there was not a way of coming up with a notional figure for electorates that more nearly reflected both up-to-date figures and the actuality of the number of should-be electors in each constituency that also deals with non-registration.
I remind the Committee of the figures. Non-registration is very serious, but it is concentrated in particular groups. The Electoral Commission published in March 2010 a study, The Completeness and Accuracy of Electoral Registers in Great Britain. The figures given in it are striking: 56 per cent of 17 to 24 year-olds are not registered. Of private sector tenants, 49 per cent are not registered. Of people from black and ethnic minorities, 31 per cent are not registered. That distorts the figures on which we are trying to base size of constituency in the future.
If those figures are soundly based-everyone can look at the Electoral Commission's study and see how soundly based they think they are, but it seemed a good piece of work to me-it would be possible to construct mathematically and with no great difficulty a model that provided a decent estimate of what the electorate in each constituency would be if everyone who is eligible to register had done so. This would have certain effects. For example, it would mean that inner-city areas tended to have rather more representation, while stable suburban areas had rather less.
There are various advantages to this. First, MPs represent everyone. Therefore, an estimate of the notional electorate-actually, the number of people who really live in their areas-would be nearer to the number of everyone whom they represented than the actual registered electorate. Secondly, it would be a more robust measure in a system of registration that will have great noise and perhaps instability injected into it. In principle, individual registration is a great thing. As we know from Northern Ireland, the reality, at least at first, can be very different from the theory.
Lord McAvoy: The noble Lord's amendments are always very clever-first class; a lot of work goes into them. Who would establish the model to apply to constituencies, who would decide which model was applied to which constituency, and how long would the noble Lord propose for that to take?
Lord Lipsey: The Electoral Commission would be the obvious body to do this work, because it has done the original study and is very familiar with it. I do not think that it would take long at all, given a decent
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Lord Rennard: Before the noble Lord develops his argument much further, perhaps he could tell us what consultation he has had with the Electoral Commission about this rather unusual proposal, which gives the Electoral Commission potentially tremendous power that could involve it in huge political controversy? We have always agreed in this House that it is important that the Electoral Commission is seen to be above party political controversy wherever possible. Does the noble Lord not think that conferring on the Electoral Commission the power to make crude estimates of the electorate for the purpose of redrawing constituency boundaries and somehow to define socio-economic profiles in making those estimates would embroil it in such huge controversy that it would undermine much of the rest of its work? Perhaps he could tell us what consultation he has had with the Electoral Commission.
Lord Lipsey: I am happy to: I have not. I was going to suggest that the Government should now embark on such consultation. The noble Lord seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill. The Electoral Commission and the Boundary Commission already deal with matters of extraordinary-
Lord Lipsey: The commissions already deal with matters of extraordinary complexity and political controversy. On the basis of the evidence that I have seen, this would seem to be not a difficult exercise and not necessarily very controversial in its outcomes. It is more a matter for mathematicians and statisticians than for politicians, and that is how it should be.
I was going to invite the Government to consult on these proposals before Report-there may be some hitch to them that has not occurred to me-but it would be a very sad day if you were not allowed in Committee in this House to raise a proposal unless you had bottomed it out with every interest group and authority that might be involved. I think that occasionally one is allowed to play with one's bright ideas.
Lord Maxton: My Lords, the noble Lord opposite referred to "crude estimates" landing in the political arena. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who is not in his place, and I have had a
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Lord Lipsey: The noble Lord sustains the point I am making. This is not a completely impossible exercise and other data sources could be brought in to meet the point. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene again?
Lord Rennard: The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said that I was suggesting that every organisation had to be consulted before we could consider something like this, and I was not. I was suggesting that it would have been proper to discuss it with the Electoral Commission. The noble Lord said that the Electoral Commission deals with Boundary Commission matters, but of course it does not. As it was set up in 2000, it was going to be responsible for boundary committee reviews but, when this House considered the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, it felt that the Electoral Commission was dealing with too many and too wide a range of issues. The commission itself suggested that it should have its remit narrowed and that it should concentrate on what was really important and not be responsible for matters such as Boundary Commission reviews. I suggest the Electoral Commission would not welcome being tasked with this purpose.
Lord Lipsey: The noble Lord might be right. I did not say that this particular proposal should go to everyone for consultation. I said, in general, that I did not agree with the proposition that you could not raise an issue in this House in Committee without first consulting everyone who might be affected. This amendment has been on the Marshalled List since the moment I tabled it.
The amendment has been on the Marshalled List for two or three weeks. We have had briefings from the Electoral Commission in the course of the proceedings on this Bill, and if it thought this was nonsense it could have said that it was nonsense in one of those briefings. It has not done so and I do not intend to apologise for raising the matter this evening.
Lord McAvoy: I urge my noble friend not to give too much-if any-credence to anything the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, has to say about political controversy and lack of consultation. He supports a constitutional Bill that is being rammed through this House and that has had no pre-legislative scrutiny, no consultation and no appeal. I urge him not to pay too much attention to the noble Lord. In fact, I would not pay any attention to him.
Lord Lipsey: I have been paying great attention to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for many years and I have learnt many things from him. Although I cannot say that I agree with him on absolutely every issue, the noble Lord and I agree privately on more things than we disagree about.
I wanted to be brief but, because of the interventions, I have been a bit too long. I think that any moment now someone will move that the Question be now put and so I must try to draw towards a conclusion.
The Government might be a little nervous of this because they think it will affect them adversely, but I do not think it would. In fact, some of the constituencies that would be likely to gain greater representation as a result of my proposal are held by Conservatives, the Cities of London and Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea being very good examples. In any case, as we established in the valuable discussions that we have had on the Bill, size of constituency is not the crucial factor in the bias that exists within the electoral system, and therefore it is unlikely that changing size will make a big difference to the actual results in a general election.
I have tried to put this forward in a tentative spirit, although some have tried to elevate it into a proposition that requires a 100 per cent justification before it is raised in Committee. It would represent a minor but important change to the Bill. I look forward to the Minister's response and I hope that, in the spirit that Ministers have been applying to most debates more recently-if not that on the Isle of Wight-the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will at least give a considered response. If he feels it would be fit to give it a further whirl around, he has the necessary expertise and I hope he will agree to that. I beg to move.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is splitting hairs. There is a principle behind the amendment, which my noble friend is saying is that the register is incomplete and there must be some way of adding to it those groups of people who should be on it but who are not for all sorts of reasons. In trying to identify them, socio-economic data based on the profile of any particular constituency should be taken into account. That is a perfectly reasonable argument, but the noble Lord is splitting hairs on whether the Electoral Commission is equipped to carry out that function.
This is a particularly important case. It goes to the heart of many of the amendments that we have moved and dealt with over the past few weeks and no doubt will deal with over the next few weeks as well, which is that the register is inaccurate and that population is important. Therefore we have to find a formula for establishing what the population is in any given constituency in the United Kingdom.
I have been following the debates on the question of the census. Last weekend I had the pleasure of reading a report from the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. I suspect that Ministers have not read it. Indeed, I would ask the noble Lord whether he has actually ever read it. It is
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I refer to a particular section in which the Minister responsible for the Bill in the House of Commons was asked questions by Ms Catherine McKinnell on the census. At the end of the quotation, I ask the Minister to note what I am asking for because it would be helpful to have the answer set out. I will read out what is unhelpful to my case and what is helpful. On the 2011 census, Mr Harper said:
"There are two difficulties with using Census data. The first is that Census data is of population and does not look at whether people are eligible to vote, and of course many people who live in the UK are not citizens and are not eligible to vote for various reasons. The second difficulty relates to the level of detail of the information collected in the time available. Clearly, Electoral Registration Officers are able to access Census data and use it, but Census data at the individual level that could be used to track whether actual people exist, so that they could be approached, is not published at that level of detail, but it is aggregated".
"Therefore, with regard to electoral administrators using it as a source to identify people who exist in an area and who are not registered, they can look at overall number and make some assumptions, but it does not really give them the detail to drill down".
That is based on the aggregated data. Again, what is the material behind those aggregated data? He then says-and this is where my noble friend Lord Maxton has become involved in the debate, unless we are talking about other matters here:
Can we have a list of all those sources of data? I have seen references in various documents to bits and pieces of data, but I have not seen an aggregate list of all the additional sources of data that can be taken into account by registration officers when they carry out their functions.
I am also trying to establish whether there is some way in which those additional data can also be used by the Boundary Commission in carrying out its work, or are those additional data somehow excluded because of the fact that we seem to be confined to the use of data that were drawn up in 2010? We should have a very clear statement as to what actual data the Boundary Commission can take into account when it draws up its reports on individual constituencies.
I have always presumed that when the Barnett formula was established, the allocations for Scotland took into account the data that my noble friend is referring to, but perhaps I misunderstand how the Barnett formula is calculated. I also understand that some areas of local government finance are also influenced by socio-economic data at the local level. Is that not
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We have been talking about the 3.5 million who are not registered. I think in a modern democracy everybody has a right to be on the register and therefore a right to vote. It is not just a matter of taking the 3.5 million people into account in dividing up the various constituencies. It should be their right. Whether they vote or not is a matter for them; that is their right. But in my view-and as I listen to these debates it has increasingly become my view-that it should be the responsibility of Government to make sure that people are on the register, not the right of the individual to take that decision. It should be the Government's decision.
In the modern world that is now possible. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and I have been having this ongoing debate-it has been a very friendly debate-about the use of other databases to find people who are not on the register. When somebody is found through another data source-social security records, medical records, local government records, housing records, school records, or whatever else-it seems to me that the Government's view is that it is useful to check the register that exists. It is not to be used to ensure that people go on the register. If you find an 18 year-old who has left school and has not registered not on the register when he is clearly living at that address-because that was where he was at school, and as far as you know he has not moved-do you put him on the register? In my view, that is exactly what should happen. He should be put on the register so that we have a register that is much more accurate than the one that we have at present, and we are also fulfilling our democratic duty of giving people the right to vote if they wish to use it. That should be key to what we are doing.
The argument in the past would be that of course you had to send people round to houses and check the register. It was the argument in the past-and listening to these debates, I sometimes wonder what world people in this House live in. It was a physical act, but it is now electronic. You do a search for a particular name on your computer, in the electoral register that you have there, and up will come the name and address. You can then cross-reference that without moving from your desk on your computer with another data source that you have, and you can see whether the names and addresses marry up. That takes a few seconds, not the hours and hours that many noble Lords seem to think it would take to carry out that task. Yes, the records exist and, yes, we should be using all the databases not just to check the register but to put people on the register when we get the opportunity to do so.
Lastly, as I know noble Lords will expect me to say, this whole process would have been so much easier if we had had compulsory ID cards from the beginning. If we had everybody with an ID card who was a British citizen, that would have become the easy, straight source of an electoral register.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, would my noble friend agree with me? My title is Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton. A very strong resistance to being on the electoral register developed as a result of the preceding tax to the council tax, the poll tax, which led to many people refusing to put their name to the electoral register. We still have a remnant of that about, in that people fear that, given a Conservative Government with Lib Dem support, it could come back.
Lord Maxton: I entirely agree with my noble friend. In a previous existence, I was the Scottish Office spokesman for the Labour Party on the poll tax in Scotland. Nowadays there is no fine at all and no compulsion on anyone to register in terms of the law, but the Conservative Government of the day increased very considerably the fines that were available to the courts to fine people if they did not fill in the registration forms. Why? Because they knew that the register was the best way of trying to ensure that they got the poll tax paid. Some people were advised not to go on the electoral register. I think that was wrong, but large numbers of young people did exactly that.
I think that we should have had compulsory ID cards. This whole question of who was or was not registered would have been solved, and it would have been to the benefit of our society. Yes, it would have cost money, but the registration process would have been much cheaper and the health service might well have been considerably better and cheaper, and there would have been a whole range of other benefits that would have accrued from having it.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Does my noble friend agree that were all these people to be registered, support for local authorities that is grossly weighted towards the south of England might have better reflected the needs of the north?
Lord Harris of Haringey: I originally planned to make a very straightforward speech in support of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lipsey. I will not rise to the helpful and interesting trail that my noble friend Lord Maxton has dragged along the ground about ID cards, but his analysis is accurate. We would have had a much clearer database that could inform the electoral registration process and much else besides. However, I will not go down that road.
I cannot allow the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, about the north being disadvantaged because of the south. However, the point that I want to make about the amendment is that it is accepted throughout the House that there are
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If noble Lords look at the register, they will find that there is a shortfall that is variable throughout the country and in different types of area. If we accept, as no doubt the noble Lords opposite all do, that the objective of this legislation is to create fairness across the country, the Bill has to address the shortfalls in electoral registration and, in particular, the variables between different parts of the country.
In the Electoral Commission's March 2010 study there were a number of case studies in various parts of the country. One was in London, in Lambeth. It has a population of 266,169 and a population density of 99.2 persons per hectare. There is an ethnic minority population of 50.4 per cent and worklessness of 16 per cent and so on. In particular, figures were quoted for the percentage of households that were in the private rented sector and the percentage of residents who had moved in the past 12 months.
In the London Borough of Lambeth, 17.7 per cent of those on the register had moved in the previous 12 months. That is a substantial degree of turnover and churn. In my experience of being an elected politician in London for many years, that degree of churn and turnover was a particular facet of many parts of London. It would be true of many other inner-city areas and parts of the country, but it was not uniform. It was not uniform in London and it is not uniform around the country. Therefore, without the sort of amendment moved by my noble friend-or an alternative because there are a number of other possible ways of addressing this-the Bill is in danger of institutionalising poorer representation in certain sorts of area.
I looked at the paper produced by London councils in the past few months which examined the 2001 census. This paper tries to ensure that next year's census will be a better one. Yet even if we use the census data as the source of information about what the population and the registered electorate ought to be, there are problems. Kensington and Chelsea-not, I have to say, the typical example of a rundown inner-city area-had the lowest response rate in the country to the 2001 census. Its response rate was 64 per cent. I suspect that the good residents of Kensington and Chelsea might
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: My credentials are that I was an elected councillor for the ward of Golborne in north Kensington. My noble friend will have to be a little careful in talking about Kensington and Chelsea as an affluent borough, when the northern part of Kensington has some of the areas of highest deprivation in the country. It was a cauldron of social movement, with fair housing and the first legal advice bureau with Peter Kandler. It was an area of multi-deprivation, so there must be considerable variations within the one London borough from the affluent south to the relatively disadvantaged north.
Lord Harris of Haringey: Indeed, that is the case. The interesting issue about that, since we were talking earlier today about the importance of community, is that that is one area where we now see parliamentary constituencies straddling local borough boundaries in London. I think that the MP for the area that my noble friend described is Karen Buck, who also represents part of Westminster. It is a bad idea to cross London borough boundaries; I suspect that we will return to that at a later stage in this Committee. However, my point is about the degree of underrepresentation. I picked on Kensington and Chelsea because, apart from those pockets which my noble friend knows so well, it is not regarded in most people's minds as being an area of acute deprivation-although parts of it are.
The figures are: in Hackney, there was a 72 per cent response rate; in Tower Hamlets it was 76 per cent; in Hammersmith and Fulham, 76 per cent; in Camden, 77 per cent; in Southwark, 77 per cent; in Islington, 78 per cent, and in Lambeth, 79 per cent. The point is that the work which has been done where there are concentrations of poor response, either to the census or to electoral registration, demonstrates a number of characteristics. First, the highest non-response rates come from those who rent from a housing association or a council. There are higher non-response rates: where the occupants are from black, Asian or mixed ethnic groups; where the household contains a single-parent family; where the average age of the people in the household is 70-plus; and in areas with higher income deprivation scores.
I am not making any moral judgment about people in those households. I am only reflecting the research that has been done, which demonstrates that there are certain socioeconomic characteristics suggesting, as my noble friend Lord Lipsey has identified, that there will be lower rates of registration.
Lord Rooker: My noble friend makes an interesting point and I am not gainsaying anything that he has said, but the other propensity among the groups that he has just listed is that of knowing how to apply for housing benefit. Therefore, they are on a list and the local authorities know, because we know the propensity and the distribution. I cannot see what the problem is or why, on the census, we put up with this low rate
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Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I do not disagree with anything that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has said. He is right-it is not something that we should necessarily tolerate. If there was much more of the passing of these registers, electronically, between the various agencies, or if we adopted the simple solution that the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, put forward-that of an identity card-we would resolve some of these problems. However, my point is not that we could resolve them like this, but that there is a wide variation, which is not standard in terms of the degree of electoral registration, and that it happens to be correlated with certain types of socioeconomic group.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I would like to correct any misunderstanding I created. I was referring to government allocation of resources to local authorities, not to a disparity between the north and the south in terms of electoral registration. Some of us believe that there are some leafy suburbs in the south-not the sort of area that my noble friend represented so well for so long-that have done quite well out of the Government's financial allocation to local authorities.
Lord Harris of Haringey: That is certainly the case in one or two parts of London, though, as a general principle, London subsidises the rest of the country, particularly the countryside, to a quite extortionate extent.
Lord Harris of Haringey: Well, you did draw me on to it. When you bear in mind that the population of London is the same as the populations of Scotland, Wales and, I think, Northern Ireland combined, there is underresourcing of London, which is, after all, the economic engine of the United Kingdom. However, that is not the point that I wish to engage with and I suspect that, if we persist in it, it will offend Members opposite.
Lord Harris of Haringey: The point I am trying to make, which is very important, is that there is a variation in the registration that it is linked, for whatever reasons, to certain socioeconomic groups and may be linked to the history of the poll tax and the community charge. I well remember the way in which official statistics on the number registered plummeted in the time of the poll tax. I was the leader of a local authority at that time; we had the distinction of setting the highest community charge in the country, because of the underresourcing of a borough such as mine-no doubt akin to one or two of the areas that my noble friend refers to elsewhere in the country. The point is that there is a variation.
If noble Lords believe that we are trying to create a fairer electoral system-and we are all, presumably, signed up to that-we have to address that problem. It might be an acceptable argument to say that we would simply go with the last electoral register, if the degree of underrepresentation were consistent in every constituency-but it is not. It is biased towards specific areas. I am not going to suggest that the reason there is a reluctance to resolve that issue is because it is biased against certain types of community which might have a propensity to vote in a particular way. I am not going to make that suggestion, I am simply going to make the point that, if we really believe in a fairer electoral system, we have to address this issue of underrepresentation.
It will take some time to deal with it, whether we go down the identity card route recommended by my noble friend Lord Maxton, or whether we try to cross-reference different registers. Therefore, if the Government are intent on going ahead with this legislation at this speed, they have to put into the system some mechanism for making the adjustment that my noble friend Lord Lipsey has put forward, and I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, replies to this debate he will acknowledge that there is a problem with underregistration, that that is variable and that the Government must address it.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, one of the consequences of this Bill is that it forces the Boundary Commission to construct a new electoral map on the basis of the electoral register as it stood last month, December 2010. There is no dispute between anyone in this House that millions of eligible voters are missing from that register. In 2005 the Electoral Commission estimated that 3.5 million eligible voters were missing from the electoral roll in England and Wales alone-that was based on five-year-old figures. A more recent estimate by Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg, the leading academic expert on electoral registration, suggests that the figure for the whole of the United Kingdom today could be closer to 6 million potentially registrable electors.
According to the House of Commons Library, in excess of 400 parliamentary constituencies have a registration rate of at least 95 per cent, but over 200 seats have a rate below that number and around 100 seats have a rate below the national average of 91 per cent. In a significant number of cases, mainly in urban constituencies, around 80 per cent of the eligible electorate is registered to vote. That means that one in five voters is missing in some constituencies, predominantly those with a lower income profile.
The Electoral Commission investigation that I have referred to before, which was published in March last year, shines more light on the socioeconomic characteristics. In the course of these debates, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, has explicitly agreed that,
"The highest concentrations of under-registration are most likely to be found in metropolitan areas, smaller towns and cities with large student populations, and coastal areas with significant population turnover and high levels of social deprivation".
Given that the Government's stated aim is to create more equal-sized constituencies and has always been fairer votes, one assumes that they are concerned about using an unequal register to pursue that objective-unequal in that there is not a consistent level of underregistration right across the country. By excluding the missing voters from this rigidly arithmetical review of constituency boundaries, the Government will inevitably and in practice distort the electoral map of Britain and dilute the representation of people who come from the specific groups that I have just identified. That would be unfair and fundamentally undemocratic. It is difficult to see how the Government want knowingly to proceed with a process that will deliver that outcome, particularly in the light of the stated fundamental aims of the review.
It is true to say that, over the past decades, boundary reviews have been conducted on the basis of the existing incomplete electoral registers, and previous electoral registers will have been more inaccurate than the electoral register now. So why change from that process? The answer is that in recent times there has never been a review of the scale being proposed here, with probably every single constituency being affected by the review that will take place, at some speed, up to October 2013, and of course 50 seats being chopped in the process.
In addition, under the previous arrangements-this is a secondary point-the process was always balanced by the opportunity for genuine public consultation, via the local public inquiries that this plan does not just abolish but forbids the Boundary Commission to conduct. Moreover, under the previous arrangements, the Boundary Commissions had the ability to take into account at least the direction of travel of the populations of these places. Therefore, they were able to take into account over a period of time what the likely population was going to be. There has never been such a large-scale review in the past. There will be no local inquiries at which these points can be made and, because numbers have to come first in all save three constituencies, there is no scope to try to build them in as one of the discretionary factors.
Two options are open: one is to pause and work to get the missing eligible voters on the register. That has been persistently and aggressively rejected by Ministers from the Dispatch Box in this House. If the timetable cannot be altered, why not do as the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Lipsey proposes and ask-or instruct through this statute-the Boundary Commission to use a formula that would enable missing eligible voters to be factored into its deliberations? A range of data sets can be used. There would be inaccuracies but I respectfully suggest that the probably minor inaccuracies that would arise would be a very worthwhile price to pay to get greater equality and fairness in our electoral boundaries, as they would reflect more accurately not just those who were registered but those who were entitled to be registered.
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