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All I was doing in my amendment was drawing attention to the fact that no work has been done and that all the electorate have to say is, "We do not want first past the post any more". Then, Parliament could, by whatever means, with the aid of Government, establish inquiries to examine and evaluate all the systems and then come forward with recommendations. Let me be absolutely frank: once you have got rid of first past the post, due to the complexities of alternative electoral systems, it needs Parliament to decide on what system is selected. You cannot leave that very complicated question to the public. A complicated series of options-a whole of spectrum of systems-has to be placed in the event that you widen that offer to the electorate.
I stand by my amendment. Unfortunately, for whatever reason and the time factor, I will not have the opportunity of voting upon it today. After the next amendment, when I produce evidence of what happened in 1997, some Members of the Committee might well think, "I wonder what we are doing". If I might put it bluntly, they know not what they doeth. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I had hoped to speak at some length on this amendment on Report but understand that agreements have been made on Part 1 so I do not intend to delay the debate. Perhaps I can start by explaining why I have been pushing SV during the course of this legislation.
The supplementary vote is a variant on the alternative vote. It is one of the three systems which we have discussed at length in Committee. We have the Australian system, the Queensland system, and the supplementary vote system. It is not my favourite system for electoral reform-my favourite is a PR list system or an AMS system-but is a compromise. If you have two options on the agenda-alternative vote, Queensland, or alternative vote, supplementary vote-then I will always pick the supplementary vote. The reason I want to present the preamble to my case today on that basis is that I intend to criticise some aspects of SV along with AV. I am criticising a family of systems which generally come under the alternative vote.
To get the preliminaries out of the way, the supplementary vote is already used in 13 cities in the United Kingdom. It is used in the mayoral elections, and it was used in the London election to elect Boris Johnson. Many people think when they walk into the polling booth in London and vote for a mayor for London they are voting under an AV system. They are not. They are voting under a particular system within the family of AV systems, the supplementary vote, which is not what is on offer in this legislation.
The key question we have to ask about those 13 mayoral elections is whether the supplementary vote changes election results as against a first past the post system. It has done on four occasions, where the second-placed candidate on the second count has won the seat and where the first-placed candidate on the first count has, therefore, lost. In that sense, therefore, it can influence election results.
Furthermore, the supplementary vote was the recommendation of the Plant commission, which was established by the Labour Party in 1990 to evaluate different electoral systems. In Committee I read on to the record a part of the Plant commission's report and its recommendations.
The next debate that took place on the supplementary vote took place in 1998, when London mayoral elections were established in the system in legislation. Nick Raynsford, who was then the Minister, in conjunction
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I now want to move the debate from pushing my system within the family of AV to another argument. Within the family of AV systems there is a problem which has never been debated in Parliament. To know what the problem is you have to look at a paper produced immediately after the landslide victory for the Labour Party in the 1997 election. It was called Remodelling the 1997 General Election: How Britain Would Have Voted Under Alternative Electoral Systems by Professor Patrick Dunleavy, Helen Margetts, Brendan O'Duffy and Stuart Weir. This is the only piece of good, clear evidence of what happens when you introduce alternative vote systems within the United Kingdom. Again, however, it is an extrapolation.
I could spend an hour quoting from the paper but I have taken out the salient paragraphs which should influence opinion. The writers simulated what would happen under AV under the landslide victory for Labour in 1997. They said:
"Our simulation approach developed over the two 1990s elections seeks to get as close as possible to how a new system might work via several innovations ... asking survey respondents to complete alternative ballots for the rival systems, immediately after they have voted in a general election".
Lord Campbell-Savours: My noble friend might ask, "What's wrong?", and there may well be people in the Labour Party all over the country repeating, "Yes, what's wrong?". I will tell you what is wrong: we know
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So here we have it. This system, we are told, is about fair votes; it is about somehow matching the number of seats with the votes cast in a general election, turning out in 1997, in the Labour landslide victory, 19 per cent of seats in Britain compared with their vote share of 31.4 per cent. That is a huge difference, and it is wrong that we should be introducing a system that potentially can lead to results on that scale.
It might well be there would be those who would argue, "Well, they are only Conservative seats that are being lost", but it works both ways because AV exaggerates results and swings. You can get huge swings against a party which could just as well be the Labour Party and we, too, could be reduced to a rump. The Conservatives have simply failed to understand the dangers inherent in the system they want to introduce.
"Under SV Labour would also have gained 17 more seats, buoyed up by extra transfers from supports of eliminated Liberal Democrats, further boosting their already disproportionate majority, giving them over 68 per cent of British seats in Parliament on the basis of 44 per cent of the vote".
This is this super system that we are introducing. This is the system we are told is fair votes. On the basis of the 1997 general election, the landslide victory for Labour, we would have won over 440 seats. What a ludicrous system. What a ludicrous proposition has been put before Parliament.
I go back to the amendment and the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree. People have not done their homework, and something needs to be done about that. We need a referendum question that invites people to say no to first past the post. Then let us get the inquiries established because the homework has not been done.
"We assessed AV's impacts by examining whether the tiny differences in second preferences from the SV ballot would have changed any of the SV simulation outcomes in any constituency but we could not identify any such cases".
The proposition before the House is that we do something we should not be doing. The Tory Government should stop this, and stop it now. We are on Report. They should go away and come back at Third Reading having fully considered the implications of the Dunleavy work from 1997. I know that the Minister will get up and say, "It doesn't matter. It's all gone through. It was approved by the House of Commons", but they did not know what they were doing. They did not understand the implications of this system. We are dealing now with a major change in the constitutional arrangements
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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: That was a very powerful speech by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. He certainly does his homework very effectively. Like him, I wish that some Members of Parliament had done it. In the past few weeks, I have listened to a number of Conservative Members of Parliament and to some Labour Members of Parliament, and I am not sure that they know exactly what they voted for and its implications not just in terms of the voting system, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said, but of the reduction in the number of Members from 650 to 600. That is something we will come to later. The purpose of a revising House is to try to draw attention to this, so I am really grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, as I am sure the House is.
I want to raise one point. What can we do to stop this misapprehension that everyone elected under this system of AV has achieved the support of 50 per cent of the electorate? We discussed this in a previous debate, and I think it was my noble friend Lord Rooker, in his usual eloquent way, who pointed out the various systems. As I understand it-I am open to be corrected if I am wrong because I do not want to go on if I am-if the system used is that everyone is required to use all their votes, so that if there are 10 candidates, they vote from one to 10, that does apply. However, as I understand it, in the system that has been proposed and that we are being asked to approve, that is not required. You can vote one, two or one, two, three or one, two, three, four and so on-
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Or just one, which my noble friend Lord Grocott and I would prefer. Yet again last week, in spite of the fact that this House has said it on a number of occasions and other people have said it, the Liberal Democrats-and I absolve the Tories of this-were saying, and the Guardian was repeating, that everyone elected under the system being proposed will have the support of 50 per cent of their constituents. That is manifestly untrue, and it is about time that the Liberal Democrats stopped spreading these lies.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has moved an amendment which would change the referendum question to ask voters whether the supplementary vote system should be used instead of first past the post rather than the alternative vote system. It will come as no surprise, because it is the content of the Bill, that the Government are committed to providing for a referendum to be held on whether the alternative vote system should be introduced for elections for the other place. We had these debates on a number of occasions in Committee.
I know the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has a degree of authorship of the supplementary system that is used in the London mayoral election.
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Clearly the noble Lord's amendment to adopt the supplement vote system will limit voters' choice in expressing preferences for candidates standing at the election as they would be able to express a preference for one or two candidates only. The Government are not persuaded that the AV provisions in the Bill should limit the number of preferences that any voter may express at an election. We consider that not limiting the number of preferences that a voter may express under the alternative vote will enable MPs to be elected with a broader level of support, although I make the qualification that as you can cut off and do not need to vote for everyone, it will not necessarily mean that an MP will achieve 50 per cent.
As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde explained in Committee, the Government believe that the optional preferential form of the alternative vote is the right form of AV to be put before the people. For elections to the House of Commons, voters will be able to express preferences and should be able to express as many or as few preferences as they choose. They should not have their ability to express preferences constrained in the way proposed in the noble Lord's amendment. The optional preference form of AV avoids voters being forced to vote positively for political parties that might be distasteful to them, such as those on the extremes of politics. There is no indication in the amendment about how in detail the supplementary vote system would work. The attraction of the Bill as it stands is that for all the arguments that might take place about how AV works, the Bill sets out that process in Clause 9 and Schedule 10. Questions about how AV works can be resolved by looking at the Bill. That would not be the case with the amendment, which lacks clarity. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw it.
Lord Bach:I understand that the supplementary vote system is used in mayoral elections. Indeed, on 5 May, there will be a mayoral election in what I describe as God's own city, Leicester. It is the first mayoral election that will presumably be under the supplementary vote system. If the Government get
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I think the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, helped to devise the system for mayoral elections that we have inherited. There are no proposals to change it. We are talking about elections to the other place. I have made it very clear that we see the merit of a system where preferences can be expressed as far or as little as individual voters wish. For the purposes of electing the House of Commons, we prefer it to the supplementary vote which by its very nature limits the extent of the preferences that the individual voter can indicate. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said that the Government believe that it is the best system. I dispute that. If he looks at his notes, he will see that that is what he read: the Government believe that it is the best system. Perhaps he would like to check his notes, but I wrote his words down. I will stand corrected if I misunderstood what he said.
All I am saying is that the Government may believe it, but Conservative Back-Benchers in the House of Commons have never been confronted with a real discussion. People do not know how this system works. I challenge any Conservative Back-Bencher here today to tell me, to assure the House, that Conservative MPs in the other place know how this system works. When these matters were debated in the other place, there were about five Conservatives in the Chamber. Everybody was whipped in to vote as part of a contractual agreement within the coalition. There has been no discussion. I cannot understand why Ministers are not listening to their own people. Why not carry out a consultation even in these last days of dealing with the Bill. Why do they not carry out a consultation on their own Back-Benches? They may even, if I might modestly suggest, send them a portion of the contribution that I have made to the debate, drawing on the statistics that have been produced following the sample poll of 8,500 people in 1998. Maybe it is then that they will realise what they are doing. Ah, finally we have tempted one out of the box.
Lord Tyler: If the supplementary vote is so persuasive and so self-evidently the best system, how was it that the noble Lord was unable to persuade his own party over many months that it was the best system? On several occasions, his own party produced proposals for the alternative vote, in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, at the general election and then following the general election. If the noble Lord wants to be persuasive, why does he not start with his own colleagues?
Lord Campbell-Savours: I can give the noble Lord a very honest answer. It is because I, like many people in the Labour Party, woke up one day-I think that it was in December 2008-and read in the Guardian newspaper that we were going to insert an amendment into the Bill to introduce the alternative vote. We had no notice whatever that that was the intention of the Labour Government. That is the answer to the noble Lord's question. We did not know anything, and if we had known we would have set out to block it-as happened in 1998 when Nick Raynsford was faced with having to take the decision on whether we picked SV or AV.
I shall deal with one point that the Minister raised, when he talked about giving everyone the opportunity to use all their additional preferences. In the work by Dunleavy with the 8,500 samples, this was the conclusion that he drew on exactly that question-that AV would have produced the same results as SV in 1997, so far as could be determined. That conclusion raises an interesting question about whether the multiple ranking of candidates under AV is really a worthwhile feature, compared with the simpler and perhaps easier-to-explain ballot paper and counting methods used in SV. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, shakes his head, but that is based on a sample of 8,500 people in 1998. Where is the evidence to the contrary? There is none, because the homework has not been done.
I have made my case. If I am still alive in 10 years' time, and if this referendum question comes back in the affirmative on the AV system, I will have the pleasure of saying, "I said that it wouldn't work and I was able to forecast that freak results would completely discredit the system and lead to a further review of it". I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) the persons who, on the date of the referendum, have attained the age of 16 and who would be entitled to vote as electors at the subsequent parliamentary election,"
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town is unable to be in the Chamber this afternoon. She expresses her regret and asks if I might move Amendment 3, which is down in her name. I have another amendment in the group, Amendment 3A, which is intended to provide words to the same effect as my noble friend's amendment, although my noble friend's amendment does so more felicitously than mine.
should have the right to vote in the referendum that will determine the electoral system under which the subsequent parliamentary election will be fought. For my part, I do not favour lowering the voting age to 16 for general elections. However, I submit to the House that the situation at this referendum will be entirely exceptional. I imagine and rather hope that it will be the only such referendum for many years, although one must acknowledge the possibility that if the choice of electoral options is not widened people may find themselves deeply dissatisfied, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has warned. So it is possible that there would be a public move to hold a further referendum before so very long, but at least we would not expect another referendum this side of the general election.
The future constitution and electoral system under which candidates are returned as Members of Parliament is the constitution and the system that will belong to the new generation in this country. It would be appropriate that those who have attained the age of 16 by 5 May should be entitled to participate in making this particular decision so that when they come to be able to exercise their vote for the first time at a general election, presumably in May 2015, they will have shaped the decision that determines how the election will be fought and what the voting system will be on that occasion. It is a simple matter of fairness. It would do something useful in engaging the interests and involvement of a new generation of young people, and I hope very much that the proposition will find favour with the House. I beg to move.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I shall speak to the amendment in my name, Amendment 4, which is on a somewhat different issue, although it has been put in the same group-so, for the sake of speed, it is probably better that we discuss them as part of the same thing. I would not normally want to raise an issue like this, but there are two reasons why I feel it appropriate to do so on this Bill. First, we are being asked to agree to a referendum-and we as Members of this House will be allowed to vote in that referendum-that will determine how the voters of this country choose their MPs. Yet we in this House are not allowed to vote for MPs. This is a total anomaly. I do not want the Government to say, "That's fine", that they are persuaded by my argument, and then take away our right to vote in the referendum. But it is an anomaly in terms of logic; in the way that the provision is drafted, we have reached this somewhat illogical position.
My second reason for raising this matter is that I had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The chair of the committee wrote about the issue of Members of this House voting and received a reply from the Deputy Prime Minister. I shall quote three sentences from the letter, because they are relevant to this Bill and this amendment. I quote from the middle of the letter from the Deputy Prime Minister to the chair of the Human Rights Joint Committee on 25 January. He said:
"The Lords sit in their own right. The Commons are elected by the remainder of the estate of commoners to represent them in Parliament. There was therefore no case for the Lords to vote to elect representatives, since they were able to sit in Parliament anyway".
"The fact that members of the House of Lords have a voice in Parliament makes it legitimate to deprive them of a right to have their voice also heard through their elected representative in the Commons".
That is also not a very logical argument, I say with respect to the Deputy Prime Minister. The issue about voting in elections is about choosing a Government, not about having a voice here. Of course, we have that after the election, but this is about deciding and helping to influence who will vote. I appreciate that if we did have the vote, the turnout of Lords voting in elections would be pretty well 100 per cent, because I know that we would jolly well rush off and vote. But that is not the key point in the argument. It is rather anomalous, when many of us here canvass hard for our parties in elections, that we have to admit to our fellow canvassers that we do not have a vote at all-"I'm just doing it for you lot". That is how it works. It is an anomaly.
I do not think that the Government will bow to this argument now but I hope that they will accept that the Bill is illogical in this respect, and say that it is something that we should be able to consider at an early stage in order to put right this anomaly. If the House of Commons decides to give prisoners the vote-I hope that they will, although many people do not agree-it will be even more anomalous for us to be left out of the equation.
Lord Strathclyde: I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken, and I wholly understand why the noble Baroness could not be here to move her amendment. It will be no surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that the Government have no current plans to lower the voting age. I recognise that there are different views on the question of whether the voting age in this country should be lowered to 16, but if we are to have that debate, it needs to be had in relation to elections more generally, and the passage of the Bill does not provide the right platform. It was ingenious of the noble Lord to say that, because the referendum is of constitutional interest, the voting age should therefore be lowered on this one occasion, but I am afraid that it cut no ice with me.
We do not think that these amendments would be practically sensible in the context of this referendum. No doubt, when the dust has settled on the Bill, there will be opportunities seriously to debate longer-term issues on voting age. Although the noble Lord has had a good go on the Bill, we do not believe that this is the right place for such a provision. The same goes for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. He very carefully avoided the trap of saying that if we were to be logical, we should not give Peers the right to vote on the referendum. If we had done that, of course, he would have been the first to say that we should; and I think it is fair enough that we should.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, may not have realised, and I do not think that it was his intention, but the way his amendment is drafted would in effect make it impossible to run the referendum properly. The amendment leaves the date for the referendum intact, but because of the way it is written at the moment, no one would be able to vote in the referendum. The amendment's intention is that Peers cannot vote in the
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These two amendments are grouped because we believe that it is right that we should not muddy the water on the Bill by dealing with these issues differently from the way that we have done. The House knows that the Deputy Prime Minister hopes to come forward soon with proposals on the future of this House and that he is chairing a committee which comprises Members from all three major political parties. I am sure that in the course of debate on that subject we will, over time, reach greater clarity on the subject of Peers voting-if they are still to be called Peers-in general elections and in other elections as they come up. I hope that, on that basis, noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.
Lord Howarth of Newport: The Leader of the House is a hard man to cut any ice with, as he has shown consistently throughout proceedings on the Bill. He has stated rather than made his case that eligibility to vote in the referendum should be determined by the same principles as eligibility to vote in a general election. However, faced with his adamantine opposition, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, Amendment 5, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Boateng, seeks to remove subsection (1) from Clause 4 and returns us to our debate in Committee on whether it is appropriate to combine the referendum with other voting: in this case, local authority elections in England, a local referendum in England or a mayoral election in England. I confess that I am currently not sure how I would choose to vote in the referendum. In many ways, I would like more time to consider the issues and balance up my feeling that the current system is probably not that fair with my unwillingness to get that worked up about it. Probably, therefore, I should just let the status quo ride, given that I am not that fussed about the change, but I need to think about that.
That is one basic, straightforward argument for not having this on 5 May, but we have had that debate already. There are specific problems with combining the poll with other elections that come down to two principal things-confusion in the campaign and confusion at the ballot box. Taking the first, I put a scenario to your Lordships, many of whom are familiar
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All this activity is geared towards polling day, when electors are to be turned out in one's cause behind the candidate of one's choice. I am concerned as to how, if there is a referendum on the same day as all that activity, political activists on the ground can simultaneously campaign on one or the other side of a very important question about how MPs get into the House of Commons and for their political party. They will be simultaneously what we might describe as comrades and opponents. It is very difficult to understand how that will work in practice.
I know that he is not in his place, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, told us that he does not pay too much attention to Members on this side of your Lordships' House trying to be helpful to the Liberal Democrats. I do not believe that this combination is at all in the interests of the Liberal Democrats. Among political activists, those volunteers on the ground who one would expect by and large to do a lot of the work in a referendum campaign, I do not believe there will be so many in the Conservative ranks or massive numbers in the Labour ranks-I do not believe that the majority of Labour activists will be campaigning for a yes vote. That will leave the Liberal Democrat activist base having to carry a substantial part of the workload in the yes camp in an AV referendum, and it will simultaneously have to defend actions that I will not go into but which have proved slightly controversial in their association with this coalition Government. I do not think, therefore, that this gives this question the chance to be properly debated and put to the country, because I do not think we will have a sufficiently resourced and balanced set of campaigns on both sides. Thinking through the practical implications, noble Lords, with their understanding of how elections and referendum campaigns work, will see that this is not very practical.
My noble friend Lord Bach of Lutterworth raised the Leicester mayoral election on 5 May. The same issues will arise there-this is not just about trying to combine local council elections on the same day as the referendum. Mayoral candidates might be asked to take a position on the referendum, and their political parties feel that it is appropriate to put on leaflets what their position is on the referendum question. We then get into complicated questions as to how election expenses are accounted for on those leaflets. Should a mayoral candidate be endorsed, we could continue to go on and on about the consequentials, and that is not the order of the day.
There is a fundamental danger that the referendum will be ignored by electors in terms of thinking about it, but they will participate in the end because they will turn out to the poll, the paper will be given to them and they will feel that it is their duty to vote. They will not have had the opportunity to give the proper
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The second question is confusion for electors in the ballot box itself. Most of us are not used to referenda. I voted in the referendum-no, I did not; I was not old enough to vote in the referendum for membership of the European Union, and I do not think that a referendum question has been put to me since in any of the areas where I have lived, so I have never taken part in a referendum and I am not used to that scenario. It is probably straightforward enough to work out how the mechanism of the ballot paper works, but I am familiar with the scenario of being given quite a few ballot papers on polling day.
I live in a wonderful area of Dorset where we have both a borough council and a county council, and I have lived in areas where I have served on a town council. On 5 May, in parts of the constituency in Dorset that I used to represent-Purbeck-there will be town council elections and district council elections. I do not think that there will be any local referendum questions, but I would not put it beyond the wit of the people of Swanage to want to have a referendum on whether or not they want a free school in the town, because there are some people campaigning for that, so they might already have been given a third ballot paper. To add a fourth starts to create logistical challenges for the people who are administering the elections. How many ballot boxes do you need? Should you separate them off at the point of the votes being cast? In that case, you will need four in each of the polling stations. Should you go for one ballot box and then separate them all out, with all the potential for error that goes with that? Doing this creates all sorts of logistical problems for running an election and, most importantly, it has the potential to confuse electors with all these different pieces of paper that they will have to express their opinion with.
Clearly, this referendum should go ahead. It is very important that the question should be properly debated, with a well informed campaign. I do not believe that we can have that well informed campaign by 5 May. Thanks to the excellent work of my noble friend Lord Rooker, we now have the possibility of being able to have it between now and 31 October, with a whole set of amendments voted on by this House to make that feasible. I encourage the House to say that as a matter of principle it is too confusing to combine the polls. I beg to move.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth. The issue at the referendum is simply too important for it to be right to confuse it with all the other campaigning issues that will be abroad in the land on 5 May. Campaigning armies stir up a great deal of dust, and we should not cloud this issue. It is a most important moment in the national life when people have the opportunity to decide whether they wish to change the electoral system for returning Members of Parliament. They should be allowed to consider that question in isolation, calmly and at reasonable length.
As we have noted again and again, there has simply been too little earlier and wider debate as a prelude to holding this referendum. There was no Green Paper or White Paper and no adequate scrutiny in the other place, while Select Committees of both Houses were obliged to produce their reports in some considerable haste. The quality of journalistic discussion of the issues of the referendum remains poor; as my noble friend Lord Foulkes observed just now, it is still being trotted out as a commonplace that the virtue of the optional preference system of the alternative vote will be that at any rate every Member of Parliament will be returned with no less than 50 per cent of the vote. That is not true, but journalists keep on recycling this inaccurate account of what the optional preference system of the alternative vote will provide, so we and the Electoral Commission will need longer to inform the people about what is at issue. If the people are distracted and confused by a whole lot of busy, energetic vocal contention about a series of other electoral issues, I do not think that they will be able to reflect with the care that they need and gain the clarity of view that they ought to have when they take this immensely important decision.
One of the Government's justifications for holding the referendum on the same day as other elections on 5 May is that it will improve turnout. I question that. There will of course be plenty of voters willy-nilly in the polling booths-they may or may not wish to use all the different bits of paper that are handed to them as they go towards the booths-but I am not sure that, not having had the opportunity to consider with the care and thoroughness that responsible citizens would wish, they will necessarily be disposed to vote in the referendum as well as in the other elections. In all events, we will get a better quality of turnout and a more thoughtful one if we have the referendum on a separate date.
It seems wrong in principle and particularly inappropriate that the case should be made that having a referendum on the same date as other polls will cause a higher turnout when in London, this capital city, there will be no local elections on that day. There will be differential turnout and there will be the most detrimental effect; if the proponents of the argument that it should be held on the same day in order to improve turnout are correct, it will follow that Londoners will have less of a voice in this crucial decision.
Additionally, there is the question of respect to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The Scots have expressed themselves already in no uncertain terms; they consider that it was disrespectful to them that the coalition Government simply decided that they were going to impose a requirement to hold a referendum on the same day as the elections to the Scottish Parliament, and your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution was also censorious on that point. The Welsh, similarly, do not like it; they had already decided that the other referendum to be held in Wales in the early months of this year, on the question of whether there should be an extension of primary legislative powers to the Assembly, should be held separately in March so that it should not be confused and clouded by the other campaigns and the other voting on 5 May.
There will be problems at a practical level for returning officers and counters, and in determining what expenditure is to be attributable to which campaign. These are not negligible considerations either. Even at this stage, it would be the right thing for the House to recognise that it would be detrimental to all the campaigns-detrimental to the clarity of conduct of the referendum campaign, but equally so to the clarity of conduct of the local, Scottish parliamentary and Welsh Assembly election campaigns-if they were all to be cluttered and confused on the same day. It would be better to draw back, have a better quality of campaign over a more sensible timescale for the referendum and hold it on any of the dates that are now made possible in consequence of the amendment that the House made in Committee about the requirement regarding the date on which the referendum should be held.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, briefly, my Amendment 5B would leave out subsection (2) and prevent the AV referendum being held on the same day as the Welsh Assembly elections. As in other parts of the country, the people of Wales will face voter fatigue. On 3 March, as my noble friend Lord Howarth has mentioned, we have the referendum on more powers for the Welsh Assembly. That is very important; it could change the way in which the Assembly works in its relationship to the Government and Parliament and might have long-term implications for our constitution. On 5 May, we have the elections for the Welsh Assembly, and now the Government want to hold the AV referendum on that date as well.
It is with a heavy heart that I say to the Government that throughout this debate they have shown nothing but contempt for Wales and its people. Wales is to lose one-quarter of its parliamentary constituencies. Twenty per cent of the whole reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies throughout Britain is expected to come from Wales. However, despite our debate on Wales, which some noble Lords said was the best debate we had in the House throughout this Bill, the Government were not prepared to move. I say to the noble Lords on the government Benches that Wales is not a colony run by governors-general. We are used, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, to Conservative Secretaries of State who do not represent Welsh seats sitting in London in government, but Wales is not a colony. We are part of the United Kingdom and a nation in our own right. We deserve to be treated better than this.
The Government have so far been unwilling to move. If they are not prepared to move on this matter, households in Wales will, over the next few months, face a deluge of material through their letter boxes-material saying yea or nay to more powers for the Welsh Assembly, material for the Assembly elections from all the parties and material saying yea or nay to AV. Our National Assembly is still young and still growing. It still has a long way to go to win the hearts and minds of the people of Wales and establish itself in the way that its Members would wish. However, its role may change even further after the referendum on 3 March. We should give the Welsh Assembly election the dignity and status it deserves. It should be held alone, without any other election that day.
What really annoys me about this whole issue is that the Conservatives do not support AV; the Prime Minister says that he will campaign against it. The Liberal Democrats do not support AV; their leader has described it as a "miserable little compromise". Yet such is the Government's opinion of Wales that they are prepared to treat its people in this most disrespectful manner and push through holding a referendum on AV on the same day as the election for the Welsh Assembly. I say to the noble Lords on the other side only that if they persist in this way, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will pay a heavy price come the next election-and they will certainly deserve to.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, that is almost a reason not to support the amendment to which my noble friend Lord Touhig has spoken. I will say just a few words in support of Amendment 5D in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McAvoy. As my noble friend Lord Howarth said, the Scottish Parliament, by a substantial vote of 90 to 30, called on this Parliament and the Government not to hold the referendum on the same day as the elections to the Scottish Parliament. The Prime Minister Mr Cameron, when he was elected, spoke about an agenda of respect-of mutual respect-for the Scottish Parliament. However, one of the first things that the Government did was to ignore the views of the elected Scottish Parliament-the people who know best because they are there on the ground and will campaign in the election. That is one strong argument in favour of the amendment.
The second is that there will be two confusing campaigns. In a previous debate, when I indicated my total support for the sane and sensible remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, even Members of this House drew a sharp intake of breath at that unusual alliance. That alliance will be there again-campaigning in Scotland against AV, which the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and I are both against. However, we will be campaigning on opposite sides in the Scottish parliamentary election, and that will cause confusion. I use the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, as just one example. There will be many such people. Indeed, I previously said that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde-whom I remember saying he was against AV early in the debate-and I could be tramping the streets of Mauchline together on the same side in the referendum but on entirely different sides in the campaign for the Scottish Parliament. That will cause confusion. The posters will be confusing, as will the campaign with loudspeakers. I am not allowed to repeat arguments but, as I said previously, the two campaigns will cause confusion.
My last point is about the franchises. I have made the point before but will make it in a different form now because the Ministers have still not addressed it. There will be difficulty in dealing with two substantially different franchises when in Scotland, as my noble friends know, many Polish, German and French people will be entitled and able to vote in the Scottish Parliament election but not in the AV referendum. It will cause great confusion, which would not arise if the polls were not held on the same day. Respect for the views of
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Lord Dubs: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Knight and others have indicated clearly why it is not appropriate to hold the referendum on the same day as these other elections. My amendment refers to Northern Ireland, and I briefly add a Northern Ireland dimension to further the arguments that have already been made. I remember, about 11 years ago, the referendum in Northern Ireland on the Good Friday agreement. It also took place in the Republic on the same day. The build-up to that referendum was enormous. Everyone in Northern Ireland knew what the issues were. A brochure on the Good Friday agreement had been put through their door. Friends of mine who lived there discussed at home how they would vote in the referendum. It was very clear. It was a single issue and one of crucial importance to the people of Northern Ireland.
I contrast that with what will happen this time. Very important elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly and for district councils are to take place in Northern Ireland. A great deal has happened since the last Assembly elections to the balance of power between the DUP and the Ulster Unionists and so on. These elections will be very important and rather different in tone, content and substance from a discussion on the voting system for general elections.
The political parties in Northern Ireland are also entirely different from those here. I am not sure where the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionist Party will stand in the future. They were together at the previous general election; that agreement may or may not last into the future, but this is not the occasion to debate that bit of folly. The parties are different, so there is no carry-over from, say, Lib Dem policies to what will happen in the referendum.
As was mentioned earlier in a brief discussion between the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and the noble Lord, Lord Reid, the voting systems in Northern Ireland are different anyway. STV is used for both the Assembly elections and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, the district council elections. The starting point is very different, and that is what will be in people's minds-not the election process for general elections. The possibility of confusion will be enormous. The Northern Ireland argument is at least as strong as, if not stronger than, the arguments that have been put forward by my noble friends. It will be confusing and I do not think we should do it.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, I support the amendments of my noble friends, but I also ask a specific question of the Leader of the House. Over the weekend the Scottish media brought to my attention the speculation that the budget of the SNP minority-controlled Administration in Scotland could be defeated, and that that could lead to an early dissolution of the Scottish Parliament. Given that everything we have debated in Part 1 of the Bill is predicated on the Scottish Parliament elections taking place on the same day as the referendum, what is plan B if it transpires
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The noble Lord deployed a very powerful argument that the reason for putting both on the one day was because of the £12 million cost of the referendum. It would seem that we might have a general election in Scotland in March and then a referendum on 1 May at a quite disproportionate additional cost. I would therefore be very interested in plan B.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I understand the current position to be as follows. The AV referendum can, but does not have to, take place on the same day as the other elections that we have been referring to in this group of amendments. As I understand it, Clause 4(8) deals with the position if they do not occur on the same day. The amendments on the local authority elections, local referendums, Northern Ireland Assembly elections, Welsh Assembly elections and Scottish Parliament elections would all, in effect, forbid those elections to take place on the same day as the alternative-vote system. That is the issue; we should not be allowed to combine. The Opposition support all the amendments that would prevent combination, in effect, for the arguments that we have already heard.
First, there is a swamping of the AV issue. The Constitution Committee of this House wrote a report that said that, where you combine elections with a referendum, the evidence from other experiences shows that there is a tendency that the elections to Assemblies that affect peoples' lives will swamp the question. This is a bad conclusion to reach because we all agree upon the importance of the question. Secondly, if you have so many elections in so many places, it puts pressure on the organisation-see what happened in the 2007 Scottish elections as a result of more than one occurring on the same day. Thirdly, there will be differential turnout-namely, some places may have higher turnouts than others because there are elections. It would be wrong for the result of something as important as this to be determined simply by the coincidence of elections of another sort being held. Fourthly, there is a lack of clarity. It becomes more difficult for the public when a person who is standing for election says one thing that people support and then opposes a particular proposition that the public might otherwise agree with. Fifthly, there is a lack of respect. Respect between the Parliaments is important. The decision was made to combine without there being any consultation whatever.
There appears to be only one argument in favour: the saving of approximately £12 million. This is a significant amount of money. It is worth ensuring that having a clear and simple vote on the question of whether there should be an alternative vote system is dealt with properly and with clarity. The Opposition support the whole range of amendments that would prevent combination.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, noble Lords opposite have expressed a clear and consistent view about combining these elections on the same day. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, used the word "confusing". The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, used the word "swamping". The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, also said that it was confusing and so on. There is this thought-this idea that I have picked up loud and clear-that it will be difficult and awkward for the electorate to take a view and for the various organisations to campaign effectively. I am not saying that noble Lords opposite do not have a point, but I think that we have dealt with them. Indeed, the Electoral Commission said recently:
"We have always recognised that there would be both advantages and disadvantages associated with holding elections and referendums on the same day ... On balance, we believe that it should be possible to deliver the different polls proposed for 5 May 2011 if the key practical risks to the successful conduct of the scheduled elections and a UK-wide referendum are properly managed".
There are good reasons to combine them all on the same day. It is significant that we will increase turnout. That is one of the many good reasons for holding a referendum on this date. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned London. It is true that there will be no elections in London. However, in other parts of the country, there will be, which means that 84 per cent of the electorate of the United Kingdom will be going to the polls on 5 May. This strikes me as an important and significant reason to have them on that day.
Crucially, all the amendments seem to misunderstand the nature of combining polls. I know that some noble Lords would rather not have the referendum on 5 May. However, preventing it from being combined with other polls is not the way to express these concerns. The simple administrative process of combination allows polls that are happening on the same date to be taken together, polling cards and polling stations to be shared and so forth. The consequences of these amendments would be that the referendum and scheduled polls could take place on the same day but that they would not be combined administratively. Naturally, this would result in a waste of money, in logistical difficulties for electoral administrators and in inconvenience to voters.
What is the reason for combination? The first is money. It will save the taxpayer approximately £30 million, which is a significant amount of money when compared with the cost of holding the referendum on a day when no other polls are taking place. The savings will be made because the costs of particular relevance can be shared between different polls being held on the same day. For example, costs of providing polling stations, hiring premises and equipment, paying polling station staff, and the savings can and will be shared between the referendum and the other polls taking place on 5 May. I also advise that the referendum will be administered on the same boundaries as the elections that are scheduled to take place across the whole of the UK on 5 May. From an administrative and cost point of view, it therefore makes sense to run them as combined polls.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, specifically mentioned the situation in Wales, where, unusually, there will be a referendum and then elections. My understanding is that the coalition Government and the Welsh Assembly Government agree that it would not be to anyone's advantage to ask electors to vote in three polls-for the Welsh referendum, the AV referendum and the Welsh elections-in the space of a few months. The so-called respect agenda in Scotland is also an important question, but again I think it was right for the Government to make the announcement to Parliament. This showed a respect for Parliament rather than to the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments.
There will be the scope for confusion. However, I believe that those who are running the yes and no campaigns have ability and judgment. In fact, the noble and learned Lord is taking part in one of those campaigns. I am sure that he and his colleagues will be able to see their way through this and run a successful referendum combined with the other elections on 5 May.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, the Leader of the House has attempted to justify this combination and has tried to respond to some of the points made in the debate. However, his central argument hangs around money and convenience more than anything else. He said that the Electoral Commission considered that the situation we are discussing is just about possible provided all the risks are managed, but we needed to hear more about what those risks are and how they are to be managed. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, referred to differential turnout, and the noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Foulkes, discussed competing franchises, the problems with the respect agenda in Wales and Scotland and the acute confusion in Northern Ireland. However, I did not hear how those risks, and the ones that I raised, would be managed. Therefore, I am not minded to withdraw the amendment. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I move this revised amendment in substitution for the original Amendment 5F. I thank the Clerks in the Public Bill Office for helping me to revise the amendment and bring it into order. It appears before noble Lords rather late in the day, but that would not have happened if there had been the normal period between Committee and Report stage. I hope that the House will forgive me for moving this revised amendment. I am most grateful to the Clerks for their speedy revision on my behalf.
Last Monday, following a report in the Scotland on Sunday, I said that there was great concern throughout Scotland that-as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said earlier, and as my noble friend Lady Liddell of Coatdyke has also said-if the count is not taken immediately after the close of polls in the Scottish parliamentary election, some of the excitement, and a speedy follow-up with the announcement of the result, could be lost as a result. As noble Lords who have participated directly in elections will appreciate, the public's interest in the election is important. It is an entirely separate issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, pointed out, from the question of whether the count for the parliamentary
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As noble Lords from Scotland will know, I am not one to kowtow to the Scottish media-far from it. There are some people in the Scottish media for whom I have great respect. There are others for whom I do not. Nevertheless, it is an important part of elections that, immediately after the casting of votes, people go to the count with adrenaline coursing wherever adrenaline courses. They take part in the count and see the way things are going, and the result-in particular in Scotland in the 73 first past the post constituencies. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, rightly said, after this election there may not be a coalition that will take some time to form; there may be a clear result. The way that the polls are going, with a substantial lead for Labour, a clear result is becoming more likely. People will want to know how things are going in the constituencies.
This would not be an issue, but some-although not all-returning officers have said that it will be difficult to carry out the count immediately because the counters will be too tired. They may have been polling officers in polling stations before moving on to do the count. Of course, that problem can be dealt with if different people are used for the count. Fresh people can be brought in, if necessary, so that we get the result. The candidates, agents and supporters of the parties will stay up late into the night for the results to come through. It is part of the British and Scottish tradition that we see the results come through. The TV will cover it. It will get more people interested in the Scottish elections and make them more likely to take part in future.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Perhaps I have misunderstood this. Obviously the noble Lord has studied it more carefully than I have. Perhaps he can explain why this could not be resolved simply by having two ballot boxes, one for MSPs and one for the referendum. Would that not resolve the problem of tiredness? I do not think that people will be waiting anxiously for the result of the poll on AV.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: That question was raised on a previous occasion in Committee. The Minister-I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness-said the problem was that some electors might inadvertently put a ballot paper for the election into the ballot box for the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, sighs and shrugs his shoulders, but that was the explanation given by the Minister. I agree that the first thing that needs to be done is the validation of ballot papers. However, once they have been validated, which should not take very long, the referendum ballot papers can then be put aside for whenever that count will take place, and the count can be started of all the ballot papers for the Scottish Parliament elections. I do not think that opening ballot boxes and verifying ballot papers will cause
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I return to the point about people putting ballot papers in the wrong boxes. Surely it is not beyond the wit of returning officers to organise a polling station in such a way that that is avoided.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I agree with the noble Lord. I was going to say "my noble friend": that is the way things are going. There are some strange bedfellows already in the coalition, but I am not suggesting that there should be any others. If the amendment is passed, accounting officers and returning officers are more likely to ensure that all the ballot papers go into the appropriate boxes. It will put greater pressure on them if, in the terms of my revised amendment,
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, if the count for the Scottish Parliament gets priority over the count for AV, does that mean that the results for AV in Scotland will be revealed much later than the results for AV in England?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: No. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the sequence is that the AV count will follow. The sequence is the same in each part of the United Kingdom. I propose not to change the sequence but to bring further forward the AV count in Scotland, because we will have the Scottish parliamentary election count earlier. If that takes place immediately, the AV count will be brought forward. This excellent amendment has that limited advantage as well. I am most grateful to the Public Bill Office for advising me. Strong views on this are held in Scotland. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who is replying to this debate, takes as much interest in the Scottish parliamentary elections as I do. I have seen him at counts in Ayrshire on occasions. Usually I am smiling and he is not, but I am sure that he will not worry about that and will give the amendment sympathetic consideration.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, my Amendment 35 in this group has much the same purpose, namely to deal with the worries that have been expressed in the Scottish press and in this House about the count in Scotland. It has had the effect of flushing out some reassurance. The Electoral Commission has publicly stated that instructions to the returning officer in Scotland will be that the count on the AV referendum is not to start until 4 pm. There may still be a case for putting this in the Bill. I look forward to the Minister's response to this short debate.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, say that he did not kowtow to the press. He agreed to sponsor me in this House. We had a discussion a fortnight beforehand and I said: "George, try to keep your name out of the newspapers". He did, but hard as he tried, he could not keep his name out of the papers. He certainly does not kowtow to them, but he does make sure that he is in them.
There is an important principle here about the count taking place in a few hours after the close of the poll. Every political party represented in this House and in the other place depends largely on volunteers giving up their time to help in the political process. Without them, we would not have the political parties or the democratic process that we have. These men and women work months in advance-they are working now-to try to win their party a seat in their constituency or, in Scotland, on the list. They give of their time and sometimes they take holidays in order to do so. They negotiate with their employers to take a holiday that they are due and, when election day arrives, they take the day off. For manual workers and blue collar workers, that means giving up a shift, and they can well manage to stay on till the small hours of the morning and hear the result for which they have worked so hard. Sometimes they are disappointed; on other occasions, they are over the moon. However, it would be different if the count were left until later. It would not be practical for people who are paid an hourly wage to stay on and lose another day's income. For that reason, it is important that we keep the tradition.
There is also the comradeship that one finds at the count. It is a great gathering place. Perhaps you will not have seen party workers with whom you are friendly other than at a conference and you ask how things are going in their constituency. There is banter and even friendly rivalry between the parties. It is a good time for political people to all be under one roof, and I think it is a tradition that we should keep. For young people, it is a way of learning about the political process-how to take guidance from the agent or how to be a count agent-and to see the process in action.
I do not think it will have been forgotten that the last count at the Scottish elections was an absolute shambles. Electronic equipment had been brought in to do the counting, although everyone was used to manual counting. The machines did not work and, as a result, at certain constituencies the counters and returning officers had to seal the boxes and even the whole building, allowing the workers to go home to rest and come back the following day. I ask the Minister to ensure that that shambles does not happen again.
During the debates on this Bill, I have mentioned the Electoral Commission. I have no reason to pick on the commission but it will have to learn from its mistakes. It had some input into the decision to use electronic equipment at those Scottish elections and, because of that, it was not possible for independent adjudicators to find out what went wrong-in other words, they could not carry out an investigation. The taxpayer had to pay for a gentleman called-if my memory serves me right-Mr Gould to come from Canada to do the investigation, and the cost involved
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Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, earlier I raised the concerns that exist in Northern Ireland. I can understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, regarding how the count will proceed in Scotland, where two elections are held on the same day. The position in Northern Ireland is more confusing because we have three elections on the same day. I warned that this could cause confusion and over the past few days I have certainly experienced increasing unease in Northern Ireland about the count following these three elections. Two will be based on STV-one to the Northern Ireland Assembly and one to the district councils-and the third one on AV.
When I raised this matter with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, he said that when he came to respond to this amendment we would get an answer on what priority would be given to the counts for the three elections in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I should like to know in which order the counts for the three elections in Northern Ireland will take place, and whether we will have to wait for the result on AV to come through in Northern Ireland or whether it will come out at the same time as in England, Scotland and Wales.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: We support the principle behind these amendments, which is for the AV count to take place after those for the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and local elections, the local elections count being caught by the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lipsey. Whether that requires an amendment to the Bill or whether it can be dealt with by a clear statement from the Minister depends on what the Minister says, but we support the approach of these two amendments.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is useful to have had this short debate on this subject and I hope that what I say will be welcomed by the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Lipsey, in whose names the amendments stand, and by others who have spoken in the debate. It is always good to hear the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, talk about great traditions. He finds great comradeship-if that is the right word-on traditional matters. In the dim and distant past I have been present at Glasgow counts, as well as at Ayrshire counts, so I understand what he means about the comradeship that occurs.
We debated this matter in Committee, when my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace made it clear that the parliamentary polls will, once everything has been verified, be counted ahead of the referendum poll. That is the principle that will underlie everything. The Government's policy is very clearly that the votes relating to the elections, wherever they take place, will be counted before those of the referendum. The
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I refer noble Lords to the paper published by the Electoral Commission in December 2010, which is also available on its website. It sets out the chief counting officer's intention to direct that the referendum count should not begin before 4 pm on Friday 6 May. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, referred to that. The decision to start counting the ballot papers cast in the referendum poll at 4 pm was reached in the light of discussions with the senior returning officers from all areas of the UK and followed consultation with a number of interested organisations and affected parties, including electoral administrators.
The timing of the count is ultimately a matter for the chief counting officer to direct. I understand that the Electoral Commission is satisfied that the assumptions underpinning this direction will mean that the referendum count should not delay the results of the scheduled elections. I am also aware that specific discussions between the commission and administrators are taking place to ensure that counting officers in Northern Ireland are equipped to carry out concurrent counts and that, in any event, this should not result in a delay in the results being announced for any poll. Therefore, I do not consider that this issue needs any further clarification in the Bill.
To those such as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who would like a quick result, I say that the Gould report, which he will know well and has prayed in aid, considered overnight counts and came out clearly against them. Gould said:
"We recommend that if the polls continue to close at 10:00 pm, there should be no overnight count of the ballot papers ... To achieve the highest level of confidence in the counting process, it is essential that the emphasis is on the quality of decision-making related to the count, not on the speed with which the count is conducted".
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, different bodies have said different things on different occasions. We are entirely happy that we have the confidence of the Electoral Commission and other bodies to do it in this way.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, asked about later announcements-how they would be made across the United Kingdom and whether they would all be made at one point. I can confirm to the House that there will be one announcement for the whole of the United Kingdom. That is one of the reasons why the Electoral Commission is organising the counts.
Any provision that seeks to add specific provisions to the timing of the count may well be complex and would be apt to confuse administrators at this late
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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I have received the Minister's response with mixed feelings. He prays in aid of Lord Gould-it was the noble Lord, Lord Martin, who mentioned Lord Gould-and I remind him that, although the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, was shaking his head, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was right to say that Lord Gould recommended that the polls should be separate.
Mr Gould, the Canadian, suggested that the elections should be separated. In fact, the Scottish Parliament took a decision to delay the local government elections for a whole year as a result of that and suddenly it finds the referendum spatchcocked in to create extra problems for it. Although extra problems will be created, they are not in any way as bad as the problems described by the noble Lord, Lord Martin, where the electronic counting came on top of the voting on two ballot papers, one of which was the most confusing I have ever seen in my lifetime-and I have seen ballot papers in the Soviet Union, the United States of America and elsewhere. It was a crazy ballot paper. I hope and expect that these ballot papers will be simpler and that the count can take place.
I am disappointed that the Minister still presses that the count should not be held overnight. I am worried that the chief counting officer will have responsibility for this. As I understand it, the chief counting officer is the chair of the Electoral Commission. What the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said about the Electoral Commission will be echoed by a number of Members in this Chamber. However, it has improved with the recent addition of political members and, I hope, will now be more sensitive.
Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, I hope that the chief counting officer and the chair of the Electoral Commission will have heard this debate loudly and clearly and will recognise the pressure to have the count overnight, not only from this House but also from all political parties in Scotland. Although I accept that, as the Minister said, it may not be best to have that written into the Bill, I hope that it will be taken into account-otherwise the chief counting officer will be even more unpopular in Scotland than Mr Alex Salmond. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) if that day is the same as the date of a poll mentioned in subsection (1), the Minister may by order make provision disapplying that subsection or any of paragraphs (a) to (c) of it;
(b) if that day is the same as the date of a poll mentioned in subsection (2) or (3), the Minister may by order make provision disapplying the subsection in question;
(c) if that day is the same as the date of a poll mentioned in subsection (4), the Minister may by order make provision disapplying that subsection or either of paragraphs (b) and (c) of it.
(a) provide that the polls are to be taken together, and
(b) make provision for and in connection with the combination of the poll.
(a) may make supplemental or consequential provision, including provision modifying or amending this Act or another enactment (and, in particular, provision modifying or amending this Act as regards the meaning of "voting area" or "counting officer");
(b) may not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament."
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.
"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week's European Council and comment on today's review by the Cabinet Secretary of the papers relating to the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, which was published at 1 pm today.
Taking the Council first, three issues were discussed: first, the continuing efforts to tackle instability in the eurozone; secondly, the role of energy and innovation in delivering a comprehensive growth strategy for the European Union; and, thirdly, the situation in Egypt.
Let me take each in turn. First, eurozone members are quite rightly looking at ways to resolve some of the underlying problems of the euro crisis, including by strengthening economic co-ordination arrangements. My job is to protect and promote Britain's interests. As I have said before, it is in our interests that the eurozone sorts out its problems. A strong and stable eurozone is in Britain's interests.
But in my view there are three absolute essentials for Britain. First, we should keep out of the euro. Secondly, we must make sure that we are not dragged into a new mechanism for bailing out the eurozone in future-and, as I described from the last Council, we have achieved that. Thirdly, and most complex, while we should not prevent eurozone countries from coming together to deal with the problems that they face, we must make sure that this does not compromise the single market, which is an important British success story in Europe and remains one of our key interests.
There is a danger here, which is that in developing stronger co-ordination eurozone countries start affecting things that are more properly part of the single market of all EU members. I made sure that this point was recognised at the Council and secured specific assurances to protect the single market. As the statement by eurozone countries, which we all debated, makes clear:
'Building on the new economic governance framework, Heads of State or government will take further steps to achieve a new quality of economic policy coordination in the euro area to improve competitiveness, thereby leading to a higher degree of convergence, without undermining the single market'.
The next issue is energy policy. Extending the single market to energy has been a long-held objective of recent Governments of all parties. Achieving this could add up to 0.8 per cent of European GDP and mean another 5 million jobs across Europe by 2020. Also, if we make a 20 per cent improvement on energy efficiency by 2020, that could significantly reduce the pressure on household bills. A single market in energy is good for jobs, competition and energy security, so practical co-operation with the rest of Europe on this is firmly in our national interest.
The conclusions on innovation are also completely in line with what Britain supports and has been trying to achieve. Innovation and energy policy are part of the growth strategy being developed in Europe and we will publish our own proposals before the next European Council, which will specifically be discussing that subject.
Next, let me turn to Egypt. I was determined that the Council would not produce one of its heavily caveated and unclear statements and I believe that the declaration has a number of very positive aspects. The first is that the Egyptian authorities should,
The European Council was clear that this has to involve the building blocks of free and open societies
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There is a strong case-and the statement reflects this-that the EU needs to look hard at its role in the region. We have spent billions of taxpayers' money in Egypt and neighbouring countries, with carefully crafted association agreements and action plans offering funds, access to our markets and other assistance in exchange for progress on the rule of law, democracy and human rights, but in Egypt there has been little or no progress on torture, the judiciary, democracy or ending a 30 year- old state of emergency. It is time for Europe to take a more hard-headed approach, where the conditions on which we give money are real and insisted on. I reaffirmed this message in a call with Vice-President Suleiman this afternoon and I urged him to take bold and credible steps to show that the transition that they are talking about is irreversible, urgent and real.
Finally, let me say a word about the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and the report that has been released today by the Cabinet Secretary. I have not altered my view, which I expressed at the time, that releasing Mr Megrahi was a very bad decision. He was convicted of the biggest mass murder in British history and in my view he should have died in jail. It was a bad decision and the previous Government should have condemned it rather than going along with it.
I commissioned this report during my visit to Washington last July. At the time, there was renewed controversy around the decision, with a congressional inquiry into it and calls for a UK inquiry, and concerns were being put forward, quite forcefully, in America that the whole release may have come about as a result of pressure by BP on the British Government to pressure the Scottish Government to make that happen.
I do not believe that that is true and this report shows that it is not true. It was a decision taken by the Scottish Government-the wrong decision, but their decision nevertheless. But in view of the continuing speculation in the UK and the US, I thought it right that all the British government paperwork should be re-examined to assess whether more should be published and I asked the Cabinet Secretary to do just that.
That is what Sir Gus O'Donnell has now done. In order to address the concerns that were being expressed, he was asked to look at three specific areas: first, whether there was any new evidence that the British Government directly or indirectly pressured or lobbied the Scottish Government for the release of Megrahi; secondly, whether there was pressure placed on the Scottish Government by BP for the release of Mr Megrahi; and, thirdly, whether the Libyans were told that there were linkages between BP's investment and the release of Megrahi either under the prisoner transfer agreement or on compassionate grounds.
The report and all the paperwork, running to 140 pages, have been placed in the Library of the House. All decisions on the declassification and publication of papers belonging to the previous Administration were of course taken independently by the Cabinet Secretary. Under the convention covering papers of a previous
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The Cabinet Secretary concludes that it is clear from the paperwork that the former Government were clear that any decision on Mr Megrahi's release or transfer under the prisoner transfer agreement was one for the Scottish Government alone to take. He finds that none of the materials that he reviewed contradicts anything contained in the former Foreign Secretary's Statement to the House in October 2009. He makes the same finding with respect to the current Foreign Secretary's letter to Senator Kerry in July last year and with regard to statements made by the former Prime Minister on this matter. He notes that it is evident that the Libyans made explicit links between progress on UK commercial interests in Libya and removal of any clause on the prisoner transfer agreement whose effect would be to exclude Megrahi from it. He notes that, after Megrahi had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 2008, the then Government's policy was based on an assessment that UK interests would be damaged if Megrahi were to die in a UK jail.
Frankly, this tells us something that was not made clear at the time. It goes further than the account that the former Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary gave. We were not told about facilitating an appeal, about facilitating contact or game plans. Indeed the Cabinet Secretary's report states:
'Policy was therefore progressively developed that HMG should do all it could, whilst respecting devolved competences, to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government for Mr Megrahi's transfer under the PTA or release on compassionate grounds as the best outcome for managing the risks faced by the UK'.
Honourable Members will be able to study the paperwork and consider these issues for themselves. However, I do not believe that these papers justify calls for a new inquiry. What they provide is further evidence
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The key point to me that emerges from reading the paperwork is that consideration was given to the most basic question of all: was it really right for the British Government to 'facilitate' an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government in the case of an individual who was convicted of murdering 270 people, including 43 British citizens and 190 Americans, and 19 other nationalities? That is, for me, the biggest lesson of this entire affair.
I start with the conclusions of the European Council on Egypt. The Egyptian people continue to show enormous courage and great steadfastness in their desire for fundamental and lasting change in their country. We support the call for a clear and transparent path towards transition as soon as possible. I also join the Government and leaders of the European Union in condemning any attacks on peaceful demonstrators and urge the authorities to allow the people of Egypt to continue to exercise their right to free and peaceful protest in their own country.
We also welcome the European Council's condemnation of attempts to restrict the free flow of information through the blocking of e-mail and the internet, as well as the intimidation of those who are endeavouring to defend human rights and of journalists. I am sure that many of us regret the blocking of the broadcasting by Al-Jazeera and the blocking of its ability to broadcast what was going on. Many of us often disagree with Al-Jazeera; it has none the less played a significant role in opening up freedom of the press in the Middle East.
The process of transition is undoubtedly under way in Egypt. It must be guided first and foremost by the people of Egypt. We in Britain must also be prepared to stand up and speak out against any techniques that are deployed in that country which amount to the repression that has been used in recent months.
Can the Minister update the House on the Government's views about the talks involving Vice-President Omar Suleiman and the opposition parties, and whether the Government believe that these may lay the ground for a transition? We knew at the weekend -I am sure that the Minister, as did I and many others, received reports coming directly out of Egypt-that
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Can the Minister also offer us the latest thinking of the European Union and its allies on the difficult issue that may now pertain around the role of President Mubarak during this transition? I recognise that this is a very sensitive point, but we all know that opinion is enormously divided in Egypt over what should now happen to President Mubarak. This is not a straightforward point that the western powers can dictate. There is an enormously difficult point about reaching a settlement which will run in a way that will have some real resonance and lasting ability to command the central ground in Egypt.
On the nature of the transition, do the Government agree that any transition has to include not just the provision of free and fair elections, but also the building up of democratic structures? I am thinking in particular of an independent judiciary, diverse political parties, and a free press. Democracy is not just about elections-although of course elections are an essential prerequisite -but it is important that the structures of the rule of law and respect for human rights are also part of the mix of what we consider to be a democratic state.
Can the Minister also update the House on the steps the Government have taken to ensure the safety of British nationals in Egypt during the current turbulence? Is the Minister satisfied that all British nationals wishing to leave Egypt have been contacted and have been facilitated in this respect? Can I also, on behalf of the Labour Benches, thank all our staff in the embassy in Cairo-our enormously able, outstanding ambassador, Dominic Asquith, and the diplomatic team that he leads?
Perhaps I may turn to the other matters discussed in the European Council last Friday. On energy policy, we welcome the Council's conclusions on the internal marketing of gas, electricity and the North Sea grid. We also welcome the Council's plans for the improvement of Europe's energy infrastructure, and the routes for energy across the globe, which in many ways were so disrupted during the dispute between Russia and Ukraine in 2008. This is a very important matter. We have touched upon it in recent debates in your Lordships' House and I am sure that the Minister will wish to expand on his remarks on that.
May I also ask the Minister two questions about how our policy at home relates to the discussions in Europe? First, we note the Council's conclusions on the importance of renewable energy. Will the Minister update the House on the implementation of the renewable heat incentive, which is a crucial part of Britain's energy strategy? The incentive was due to come into force in April this year, but it has now been delayed. Is the Minister now in a position to tell us when it will be introduced, and, if he is not, perhaps he will be kind enough to write to me about that afterwards?
Secondly, on the financing of energy investment, which the Council rightly flags up as an important challenge, can I ask the Minister to update the House on the green investment bank? The Government committed themselves to build on our plans when we were in government. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government now plan it to be a fully fledged bank, as many have argued?
I fear that for many families and young people in the United Kingdom, it really does not feel quite like that at the moment. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Prime Minister shared with the members of the Council the recent experience of the United Kingdom and whether he went so far as to warn his colleagues that cutting budget deficits too far and too fast can have damaging effects on growth and on employment? It is a serious point-it is the point of real difference between us in this House.
I turn to end with the case of Mr Megrahi. The Lockerbie bombing, as we all acknowledge, was a terrible atrocity. It destroyed hundreds of innocent lives and it scarred the lives of many families. When I was first a Minister, I remember so vividly meeting with the Lockerbie families and discussing with them what could be done to try to bring those responsible to justice. It was a humbling experience. Those families were not seeking revenge. They were seeking justice. Many of them had a breadth of vision over what they wanted to happen, which did them enormous credit and which I have always remembered.
The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, has researched and written a serious and thorough report into the papers relating to Mr Megrahi's release. There are three significant conclusions to Sir Gus's report which pertain to Mr Megrahi's case. First, the United Kingdom Government were worried about the impact on British interests of Mr Megrahi dying in jail, precisely as the former Foreign Secretary said in his Statement to the other place on 12 October 2009. Secondly, the report makes it clear that there is no evidence that,
That is an enormously important point and one which I make no apology for stressing in making my reply to the Statement. Indeed, Sir Gus concludes that the former Government went to great efforts not to communicate to the Scottish Government their view. I think that that point might have been stressed a little more in the Prime Minister's Statement. Thirdly, Mr Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds was a decision that Scottish Ministers alone could and did make.
Those are the fundamental points, not perhaps the extraneous matters of which the Prime Minister spoke so eloquently in another place. That is because the message of today's report is that Mr Megrahi's release was not influenced by the then UK Government. It is a crucial point for us in this country, and I hope that when the Minister replies to the points I am making, he will acknowledge that as a central fact.
The Statement talks about the broader issues, but I am bound to say that on this it misses the central point, the one that matters above everything else, and that is that the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 must live in the memory of this country and the United States as a dreadful atrocity. It was the duty of the Labour Government and now it is the duty of the coalition Government to take every step they can to ensure that this never happens again. That is the central point we should concentrate upon.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and I will try to answer as many of her questions as I can, given the obvious time constraints. What she has to say is highly relevant and I hope that I can cover her remarks in detail. First, I am grateful for her support for the broad approach both of Her Majesty's Government and of what was agreed at the European Council-that an orderly transition is the right posture and that we insist on the right of the freedom to protest. We are concerned, as we would be in any political evolution in any society-this is a global age-about anything which restricts e-mail, blocks the media or undermines the position of journalists to go freely about their tasks in a way consistent with liberty and freedom. We are at one and there is nothing to debate in that because clearly it is the right way forward.
On the new talks, the noble Baroness will appreciate that things are moving all the time and that the process, chaired by Omar Suleiman and including the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, has only just begun. She asked whether they will lay the ground for progress. I hope so, and we think that this is the right way forward, but we are watching from outside and obviously these matters must be dominated and controlled by the people of Egypt themselves as they work out their new political destiny.
I would have to give the noble Baroness the same answer to her question about the position of President Mubarak. This is a matter for the people of Egypt to sort out in ways that we hope will be consistent with the core principles that she has enunciated and I have agreed with. However, it must be for the Egyptian people to decide. There is quite a broad point to be made about the danger in the west, and perhaps with our transatlantic allies as well, of assuming that western values and templates are going to shape the pattern of events in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. That is not necessarily so. Those ideas might have been relevant during the 20th century, but in the 21st century we are dealing with a new landscape where there is both a dispersal and a new distribution in the transfer of power and influence to other forces, not least the gigantic forces of the internet, the mobile telephone, mass television and instant communications enabling protests to be e-enabled and rapidly organised. This is a different scene and it seems that not every policy maker in the west has fully understood that.
She asked whether we can help with the creation of democratic structures. We do help through our programmes and those of our fellow EU members, both through the UN and directly. They assist with helping democratic patterns and attitudes to grow, but there is always a problem. Just as someone said that you cannot create a tree because it must grow, so you cannot create and build a democracy out of nothing. As the noble Baroness very acutely observed, it is about a lot more than elections, voting and ballot boxes, and it is indeed more than about concerns for human rights and the rule of law. It is about the idea of those who have power or authority using them with restraint. In the language of Edmund Burke, if I may quote him given my own party antecedents, I think he said that there is a policeman, or a policewoman I should say, in each one of us. If there is that inner restraint within individuals, there will be democracy. If that restraint is not there, democracy can become warped and produce quite the opposite result, as has certainly been the case many times in the tragic history of the 20th century.
The noble Baroness went on to ask about travel advice, so let me give her the latest information as I understand it from my brief. We are currently recommending that British nationals in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez leave by commercial means if it is safe to do so. We advise against non-essential travel to Luxor. We are keeping a close eye on the Sharm el-Sheikh situation, where the majority of British nationals are, and we continue to judge that the situation in the Red Sea resorts remains calm and peaceful. Further, as I was able to tell your Lordships the other day, we have very substantially reinforced our embassy team on the ground, and since 29 January we have helped more than 2,000 British nationals to leave Egypt. We also have a hotline for distressed nationals to call for advice and we have chartered two planes to provide additional capacity. That is the latest travel advice, and I would be happy to try to elaborate on it. However, it seems to be fairly straightforward at the moment.
I turn now to the other questions raised by the noble Baroness about Europe. She asked whether we support the need for energy infrastructure, and I can say that we most certainly do. It is fundamental that if there is going to be a competitive energy market in Europe, it must be possible for energy in the form of piped gas and interconnected electricity to move east, west, north and south in the continental European system, to part of which we are actually attached. That must be possible without regulations and controls at every border and it requires the pipeline and electricity cable infrastructure to do it. However, it is not yet in place, so we have seen the extraordinary pattern of gas shortages in one part of Europe while another part has ample supplies. It means that reliance on monopoly suppliers further east-namely, from our Russian friends-is unnecessarily great. None of that points to the kind of balance we need, so we say yes to the infrastructure.
As for the renewable energy commitments, I can give the noble Baroness some, but not all, of the information she asked for. The green investment bank allocation of £1 billion from departmental budgets and the significant asset sales are proceeding. We are
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Her final remarks were on the eternal economic debate, and the pace at which one seeks to cut deficits. All I would say is that the overwhelming view of the rest of the European Council was that of support for the British strategy. The point was made again and again by a number of leading authorities throughout Europe that this is the right way forward, and the point was also made that it is the confidence of the international markets and the necessary confidence in our international credit which are the absolutely vital aims. Once those are weakened, the real job destroyer would click in. That must be the prime aim and any deviation from that would be quite disastrous, in terms of jobs and human suffering in this country and weakness in our economic recovery, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor has also made vividly clear on many occasions.
Finally, on the difficult issue of Mr Megrahi and the Cabinet Secretary's report, the noble Baroness asked me to acknowledge certain points which I gladly do. I reiterate that the report makes absolutely clear that there was no conspiracy between BP, the British Government and Scottish Government, as some people allege. That is made absolutely clear. There is no contradiction in the report with anything said by the former Foreign Secretary or by the former Prime Minister. That is also clear.
I think it is right for those who were involved to react and make clear their views as they wish. It seems that we now have to look back at what is for many people the most tragic and terrible situation with greatest sympathy but also look forward to better and wiser times in the hope that nothing so terrible, so appalling, will ever happen again. I hope that meets most of the noble Baroness's questions.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for being a fraction late for his opening words. However, I read the whole of the Statement earlier today. I
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First, what information have the Government received, if any, concerning the safety of Mr Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and also a leading protester? He is thought to have been arrested in Cairo. Are the Government making representations about extra-legal detentions, both of Egyptians and foreign journalists, together with allegations concerning disappearances of people in Egypt?
Secondly, would the Government favour a three-man presidential council, which would only include one military person, to supervise the transition? Finally, have the Government noted a possible serious conflict of interest over the United States' special envoy and his business interests?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I will answer the first point in general terms. Of course we are concerned about all extra-legal detentions and even more about reports, which existed long before this revolutionary situation began, of torture and other illegal practices. Of course, we make constant representations through our posts on that. As to the specific individual to whom he referred, I will write to him about the very latest information we have on that.
Secondly, on the three-man presidential council, that is taking us deep into the kind of arrangements that it is up to the Egyptians to develop for themselves. As a student of history, the talks of three-man presidential councils coming out of revolutions has a slight tinge of 19 Brumaire 1798 and the first three consuls-of which Napoleon Bonaparte was one. We all know where that went. I think it is much better for us not to advise the Egyptians on these matters.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I imagine the noble Lord is talking about Mr Frank Wisner. In the interests of diplomacy, I should be careful to avoid any specific notes except to say, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister did in another place, that the special envoy's views on the internal matters of Egypt and the position of the President seemed to deviate slightly from those of the American Secretary of State. I think I can say no more than that on that particular issue.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will understand that the trauma and horror of the downing of the Pan Am flight was felt particularly strongly across the south of Scotland, where we all felt sympathy with the people in Lockerbie. For that reason, I will confine my questions to that issue.
He will recall, as he said a moment ago, that the previous Government told the public and the House of Commons that this was entirely a matter for the Scottish Government and that they were not putting pressure on them. That is true. Would he agree that Sir Gus O'Donnell has shown, as he quoted a moment ago, that policy was developed whereby the UK Government were doing everything short of telling the Scottish Government what they had to do to secure Mr Megrahi's release and that we have to conclude that the Government were telling the truth but not the whole truth?
The other part, not mentioned in the prime ministerial Statement which the Minister repeated just now, is that Sir Gus O'Donnell's report also tells us that the Scottish Government were raising other policy issues with the UK Government at the same time as dealing with that difficult and grubby issue. That had not come out before, either. Sir Gus's report appears to cast some doubt on not the veracity-because lies were not told-but the straightforwardness of both the UK Government and Scottish Government at the time. In the words of the final sentence of a Scotsman leader this morning, "Something is being concealed".
Lord Howell of Guildford: I do not want to move further than the words expressed by Sir Gus O'Donnell and the conclusions drawn by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. My right honourable friend said that the report indicates that while there is-to repeat the words of my noble friend-no doubt at all about the veracity of the statements made by senior members of the previous Government, it is clear that there was more to tell and that some pieces of the total picture were lacking. That is where my right honourable friend and the Government stand on this matter. It must be for all those who were involved at the time to establish what they believed to be the position. Indeed, some of these remarks were made with force and feeling by the people who were directly concerned when the matter was discussed in the other place earlier this afternoon. I am not going to go further than that.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the Statement sets out a more hard-line approach in respect of assistance to Egypt. Was this co-ordinated in any way with the US? I am recalling that Condoleezza Rice said in Cairo in 2005 that the US would no longer give priority to stability over democracy. Is the implication that, had there not been a revolution in Egypt, we would still have continued to spend billions of taxpayers' money in Egypt and neighbouring countries with no reciprocity in terms of progress on torture, the judiciary, democracy and so on? Secondly, it is of note that the Prime Minister spoke to Vice-President Suleiman. It is the Vice-President who is co-ordinating the discussions with a number of the opposition parties. Is there any implication that, as some are suggesting, the President himself is fading more into the background, leaving the lead to the Vice-President?
Lord Howell of Guildford: On the question of co-ordination with the United States, my honourable and right honourable friends, both in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, obviously, in the Government
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The pattern of the past produced a sort of stability, but it was the kind of stability that could be upset at every moment, as it was. The combustible materials were there; it was a question of when someone threw in a match. That is what happened in Cairo. That raises for the most balanced and clear-thinking people a dilemma as to whether the new pattern is going to improve on the old pattern or, indeed, where the new pattern will take us. We all know the adage about revolutions devouring their own children. They can turn into an opportunity to be seized for the good, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was rightly saying the other morning, or they can slide away in an unpredictable series of sequences, like the French Revolution, to which I referred earlier.
It is hard to answer the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about how we and the Americans can be totally accurate in our predictions and the certainty of where to go. It is very difficult. We are monitoring and watching the situation very carefully, as are the Americans. We are reinforcing our concern in this nation and the American concern in their nation for liberty and freedom and the basic principles of civilised existence. We are hoping that these patterns will be reflected in whatever emerges in Egypt and, indeed, in other turbulent political scenes in the region. There is no guarantee or certainty, however, and this must be realistically and reasonably understood.
As for the pattern of power deployment inside Egypt and whether Omar Suleiman is now taking the reins, I do not think that I can comment beyond what we have all read in the newspapers. Mr Mubarak clearly wants to stay a few more months. He has appointed Omar Suleiman to take the lead in these negotiations. It is right that our leaders should contact him to understand as much as we can of how he sees the situation. This must be a dialogue that will, I hope, develop further in the future as we see what path these discussions take and what part the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and other political forces in Egypt play in them. This is really, for us, a matter to hope about rather than a matter in any way to interfere with. This is for Egypt to decide.
Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, I refer to the energy section of the Statement. I hesitate to ask my noble friend this question in light of the fact that we have shared views on energy policy over many decades. The Prime Minister's Statement sets out that 5 million extra jobs will be created over the next nine years, by 2020, by virtue of this new energy policy. On what basis and by what calculation does the Prime Minister reach this figure, bearing in mind that even the communiqué issued by the European Council did not state how many extra jobs would be created? Can my noble friend also explain to me on what basis the Prime Minister has worked out that there will be a reduction in the pressure on household bills by virtue of the policy that he has set out this afternoon, bearing
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Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to my noble friend for a series of near-impossible questions. These estimates are inevitably estimates. They are based on what one hopes is an unfolding sequence of policy, which leads first-and one must recognise this-to the incentives for fossil-fuel energies to be replaced by more efficient use of those same energies so that eventually higher bills become lower bills, and, secondly, to the replacement of fossil fuels in a number of areas by non-fossil alternatives and renewables. At this moment, my noble friend says, "Ah, but that means all renewables are far more expensive than fossils fuels". At this moment, pound for pound and kilowatt hour for kilowatt hour, he may be right, but how is this going to evolve in future? The world is concerned about the high-carbon situation now and its effect on climate. The world is aiming for a low-carbon, greener world, and this Government are determined to move along that path to greener, cleaner energy and greater energy efficiency. That will lead in due course not to higher bills but to lower bills. I emphasise "in due course" because in the mean time, as he probably knows from receiving his monthly or quarterly energy bills, all our energy bills are looking a bit more expensive. We have to look through the present situation to a longer term where we can see new products and new patterns developing to support a low-carbon, secure, affordable energy pattern that would benefit not merely Europe and our own country but also the developing world, which, of course, has an enormous thirst for abundant but cheap and affordable energy.
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, because of the shortage of time, I shall ask two brief questions. One relates to corporation tax. It is widely reported in both the United Kingdom press and the southern Irish press today that both President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel have recommended a standard rate of corporation tax. Was that proposal to apply to eurozone countries only or to all member nations of the European Union? Was the principle of a common corporation tax agreed or opposed by the United Kingdom?
My second question relates to Egypt. If you watch Al-Jazeera television or Press TV, you will see increasingly that the European Union and the United States are coming out of this problem very badly indeed. For example, when you see that the United States provided tear gas canisters to the Egyptian police to fire on the demonstrators, that is very bad publicity. In fact, the United States seems to be in total disarray about what to do about Egypt, and the European Union is not very clear either, even in the Statement repeated this
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Lord Howell of Guildford: I believe that we are no longer selling firearms or weapons of any kind to Egypt, but I would certainly have to double and treble check that in every aspect, because-who knows?-there may be some channels where that is not absolutely secure.
On the second part of the noble Lord's question, I think that his words are a shade impetuous, if I may say so. We are watching a very rapidly changing pattern-a wind of change, as some have said, blowing through the whole of this area. None of us knows what will happen. Anyone who claimed that they knew exactly what would happen next or what pattern would be involved inside Egypt, Tunis and other areas, including Yemen, would be putting forward a false prospectus and making claims about which they could not be certain. There are doubts and debates in Washington policy circles; we can see that-it is perfectly obvious, as I have said to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. In the European Union countries there are the same concerns. We want to see a balanced democratic pattern emerge in these countries; we want to see prosperity, stability and an orderly transition. Who can lay down exactly what the path should be-which leaders should stay in authority, which should hold or surrender power or how it should be done? We pray and hope that it is done with minimum bloodshed and maximum concern for individual freedom and democracy and all the things that we value.
In the noble Lord's first question, I think that he is referring to the much commented-on Franco-German competitiveness pact, which does not seem to be very widely supported by other EU members. Certainly, the idea of a single pattern of corporation tax or some of the other suggestions, such as harmonisation of detailed aspects of labour markets and wages, did not go down at all well at the European Council meeting.
Lord Bew: I thank the Minister for reading out the Statement. On the Libyan aspect of the Statement, I declare an interest as having been a member of the parliamentary delegation for Libyan and Northern Ireland reconciliation, led by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, who is in his place. One thing that emerges very clearly from the Cabinet Office report today is that the Libyan Ministers to whom we spoke knew more about recent UK policy on this matter than those of us who were on that delegation. As long as the noble Lord is a Minister in the Foreign Office, will he ensure that those who go as part of future parliamentary delegations to Libya know the full background of recent UK policy to the country that we are dealing with? Otherwise, one is at a disadvantage.
One interesting thing raised by the Cabinet Secretary at the beginning of the document is the issue about anticipating American reaction. This is quite a remarkable thing; after all, it was not hard to calculate that the United States' reaction to the release of Mr Megrahi
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Lord Howell of Guildford: To be brief, because time is out, of course I will ensure that my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office make every effort, as they always do, to provide the best possible up-to-date briefing. Sometimes matters are moving so fast that it is hard to be absolutely up to date and sometimes when one is on a delegation in another country-and I have led many in the past, as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place-one finds the local view and perspective seemingly different, even with a conflict of facts. We will do our best.
As to the US reaction to the release of Mr Megrahi, I think that it was generally realised that this would be greeted with great concern by the United States; everyone was fully aware of that. Many people thought, probably not just as a result of that, but for other reasons, too, that it was wrong to release Megrahi-those many included my right honourable friend the Prime Minister-but we have our own views in this country. I am not saying that in this case the decision was right-I think that it was wrong-but we are entitled to develop our own world perspective and our own views on how the new landscape is changing, as well as to remain very close to our allies and friends in Washington while being in a relationship that, to quote my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, is "solid but not slavish".
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, Amendments 8 and 9 are in my name and the name of my noble friend Lord Bach. Clause 5 refers to exceptions to the spending rules in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 for the proposed referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. Amendment 8,
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The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and the Bill seek to create a level playing field where expenditure should not be the determinant of who wins. If that can be got around, because of the combination aspect, it leaves the possibility of the expenditure being distorted. Everyone agrees that the referendum result should be determined on its merits, not on who can spend the most money. The changes that are recommended by our amendments are important. It should be in the interest of all parties and none that clarity over the administration of press coverage and expenses during the election period is maximised.
I can inform the House that there have been no such discussions. We have not been approached by the Minister or by his officials, and I have seen no draft amendment. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, continued:
"There would have to be discussions without preconditions on either side. If the noble and learned Lord wishes to press the amendment, I shall resist-and that would be a mistake for both of us".-[Official Report, 15/12/10; col. 621-22.]
We withdrew our amendment in Committee, relying on the good faith of the Minister, but there has been nothing since then. I read the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whom I admire and like and am happy to see back, as being someone who would do something about this, so I would be keen to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness-I assume that he will be responding to this, only because there is no other Minister on the Bench apart from him-what has happened about this.
The position in Committee was that the Government were acknowledging that there was an issue-namely, that a political party could use its party political broadcast to promote one side or the other in the referendum campaign, thereby getting around the expenditure limits, which we all agreed to be equal for everyone. That is why I withdrew my amendment, but we have heard nothing. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us about what happened.
Lord Soley: I support my noble friend on Amendments 8 and 9; they are important. I do not want to spend time on this, but I re-emphasise what has been said; on several occasions we have been promised changes and concessions that have been needed throughout the Bill, but we have had nothing. This does not reflect well on the Government; it reflects very badly, and it is a large part of the reason why we have problems on this.
I shall address the issues in the amendment. There is no doubt in my mind that it is important to keep the funding and the financing separate between elections. My noble and learned friend has made that point. The issue is also covered by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 in that-and I understand that the Electoral Commission has this view-the Act makes it clear that there should always be a distinction between the various elections in the funding available for them. Along with the Electoral Commission, we make the point-I certainly want to emphasise it-that we should continue to make sure that there is a separation in the funding of elections. A referendum should not be muddled up in a party election broadcast that is actually talking about the election of people as opposed to the outcome of a referendum.
The other thing that the Electoral Commission drew attention to-and this was the first time that I had had a chance to think about it-is that Section 127 of the 2000 Act to which we are all referring currently prevents broadcasters from transmitting,
to further a referendum campaign. That is what we want to avoid, and my anxiety-this is the point that the Minister has to answer-is whether that wording in the Act would cover all aspects of an inclusion of statements about the referendum in any party political broadcast. It would clearly exclude a party political broadcast that focused particularly strongly on the referendum. It would stop a party putting out an election broadcast that focused maybe 50 per cent of the time on the referendum. I am not sure, however, that that section of the 2000 Act would prevent a reference to the referendum in a way that might encourage people to vote one way or the other. For example, the party political broadcast could be almost entirely on that party's general policies but could end with a statement at the end that, for example, "We also believe that by voting this way or that on the referendum, you will assist our policies", or, "You will assist this change". In other words, it is not clear to me that one sentence in that broadcast would be excluded under the 2000 Act. We need some clarity on that.
You do not need to be too clever to work out that if you spend most of the time and argument on your party's policies, but then put in one or two sentences about how people should vote in the referendum, you can sway opinion. As well as generally supporting this amendment, I want to know whether it is true that Section 127 of the 2000 Act would exclude any reference at all to the referendum, or whether you could have one or two sentences in the broadcast that would support one view or the other. If Section 127 is not clear enough to exclude that, these two amendments
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The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, these are important amendments. I immediately take the point made by the noble and learned Lord on the follow-up to Committee. I regret any discourtesy that has been felt by the noble and learned Lord. While he was making his comments, I had the draft of a letter to him; I have now had it confirmed by the Leader of the House that it has been issued. It is dated with today's date, so he might not have received it yet, but it is a fairly comprehensive letter that runs to almost three pages. I will not read it out or put it on the record. I apologise if the noble and learned Lord has not yet received it.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I can only confirm the factual position. I fully take the point that the noble and learned Lord has not yet had an opportunity to consider the letter. I have no idea when it was put into the system. I saw a draft earlier but was not in a position until now to confirm that it had been issued. As I indicated, I apologise for any discourtesy to the noble and learned Lord.
I turn to the two amendments. On the first one, as we explained in Committee, the Government introduced the clause to which the amendments relate in the other place after the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee identified an ambiguity in the current legislation-the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000-over whether publication of material about the referendum by a media organisation in favour of a specific result would be caught by the spending restrictions that apply to the campaigning groups. Clause 5 provides that the costs of covering and reporting on the referendum in the media are not referendum expenses. In the interests of the freedom of the press, it would be wrong for the spending restrictions to apply in this way. I think that is common ground across the House.
The amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord seeks to add "referendum campaign" before "broadcasts" to line 7 of page 4. This would go against Schedule 13 to the PPER Act 2000, which sets out that,
referendum campaign broadcasts are to be included as referendum expenses. I am not sure whether it was the noble and learned Lord's intention to exempt such expenses from counting, but the Government do not agree that this should be the case. Designated lead campaign organisations are entitled to free referendum campaign broadcasts in terms of airtime, but the expenses incurred in respect of the production of these referendum campaign broadcasts do and should
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Another reason why we do not agree with the first amendment is that it would bring back the ambiguity that we sought to remove through Clause 5 by limiting the provision to referendum broadcasts only. It would not therefore cover other types of broadcast, as it was designed to when we added it to the Bill. The result would be to reactivate the question of whether any broadcast other than referendum campaign broadcasts would be caught by the spending restrictions as they are currently drawn. It would then be ambiguous as to what would and would not count as referendum expenses in other types of BBC or Sianel Pedwar Cymru broadcasts-such as news programmes and politics programmes-other than those for the referendum campaign. We all agree that the media play a vital role in building public awareness and presenting facts and opinions on the matters raised by the poll. This amendment could prevent media comment if the spending limit for referendum expenses was reached. This would not be right. That was also the view of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the other place. We believe that accepting this amendment would go against the Committee.
We agreed in Committee to consider carefully the second amendment. I can assure the House that the Government have done so. I regret the lateness of the letter, but the position is set out in it. The Government agree with the principle that party election broadcasts should not be used as referendum campaign broadcasts. As was highlighted in Committee, there is a clear definition of what constitutes a referendum campaign broadcast under Section 127 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act-to which the noble Lord, Lord Soley, drew our attention. Any broadcast whose purpose or main purpose is to procure or promote an outcome in the referendum is a referendum campaign broadcast. Referendum campaign broadcasts can be made only by the designated lead campaign organisations. The current law therefore already provides that the purposes-or main purpose-of party election broadcasts must not be to promote or procure a referendum outcome. Therefore, we can be assured that party election broadcasts cannot be used by political parties as a significant referendum campaign opportunity. In a moment, I will come to the crucial point that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, raised.
Section 127 of the PPER Act provides a safeguard against a political party using a party election broadcast as a referendum campaign broadcast. However, it also provides appropriate leeway for broadcasters to make a judgment call as to whether material that a party might want to broadcast strays beyond mentioning the referendum in passing in an election broadcast and into the realms of what would become a referendum campaign broadcast.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Is the noble and learned Lord saying that, if one of the purposes of a political party's broadcast-though not its main purpose-was to encourage people to vote in a particular way in the referendum, it would infringe Section 127 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act?
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