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It is also clearly right that there should be ways of recognising the need for early elections in the event of political crises. These happen in the best organised countries. The change from the 55 per cent cut-off to the two-thirds requirement for parliamentary voting for dissolution was a sensible step. I have not heard much criticism of that that seems to me to have stuck. As for the passing of the vote of no confidence in two weeks followed by the automatic dissolution if a vote of confidence in a new Parliament is not put in its place, we can deal with some of those issues at later stages of the Bill. I suggest that the case is very strong for defining the terms of the vote of no confidence that would bring about the dissolution. Looking back through the motions of no confidence over the past 100 years, I see that only four led to the downfall of a Government but there were many other cases when the language was such that it might have been construed by the Speaker as having been the equivalent of a vote of no confidence. I also think that the Speaker's position would be extremely uncomfortable if he had the power to exercise discretion in these matters. I do not think that that would work effectively, notwithstanding the precedents that we have had. The Bill has to be a great deal more precise about what is required to enable a dissolution to occur.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, referred to possible manipulation by the Prime Minister of the day as being a serious danger. He has a real point there. We have to consider how to avoid the possibility that a resignation by a Government to force a dissolution would be made impossible. Two weeks may not be
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I take a less fatal view of the possibility of clashes with the other election date in May. It appears to me that in the United States at least the electors are capable of voting on many things on the same day-on individual appointments, elections at different tiers, the election of judges-and I have not noticed that that does not work very well. In the devolved Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales it is feared that electors might be distracted by focusing on national, United Kingdom issues. Those thoughts have to be listened to very carefully. However, as my noble friend Lord Rennard said, it would be possible to adjust that slightly. Again, that is not a reason for opposing the Bill and it seems to me that it is a matter to which we can return in Committee.
I very much welcome the general principle of the Bill. It is a forward looking step. It intends to-and, I believe, does-transfer to Parliament from the Executive the responsibility for elections and when they should occur. I very much welcome that. There have been too many opportunistic, manipulative moves by Prime Ministers for party advantage. The Bill enables us to depart from that.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on his maiden speech. I note with pleasure that he now seems to be in robust good health. I have known him for 10 years in two capacities, one is his chairmanship of the all-party group that has been indefatigable in sustaining the arguments against an elected second Chamber and for a reformed appointed Chamber along the lines of the Bill introduced-I cannot remember how many times now-by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The second capacity is his chairmanship-for many decades, I believe-of the All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group, which has given such great pleasure and, indeed, education to so many of us.
In preparing my speech I have been very much assisted, as we all have, by the report of the Constitution Committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington. I look forward to a riposte to the Government's riposte. I hope that she will add her own recollections-perhaps this has been mentioned-of her father's very relevant experience in 1979.
The central scenario that I want to consider is to some extent my response to the very fair question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart-this is not said in a partisan spirit, although it might be viewed as such-namely, what happens when the coalition collapses? That is the central question. The whole Bill is framed to try to ensure that it cannot collapse and that it can be nailed down as if by President Mubarak. People say it is like being locked in a loveless marriage, but the idea that it was dreamt up in heaven does not quite tally with one's instincts.
Why were some of us quite content with the Labour party manifesto one minute and then appearing to say something else the next? In the case of two recent Bills, many of us were supportive. My reaction to the Bill
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There is going to be a degree of sophistry in the arguments that are put forward. I would compare the central argument to the famous Catch-22 in Joseph Heller's novel. Once one has nailed down the idea that there has to be a fixed-term Parliament for five years, obviously all the arrangements for votes of confidence and the question of whether the Prime Minister has to agree with the Speaker and whether anyone can turn up at Buckingham Palace or whatever are secondary to ensuring that the scheme cannot fail. Five years, again, has been designed clearly to maximise the period of this particular coalition, because not until five years have passed-it is hoped on the other side-can the economic and social crisis facing this country possibly turn around so that not everyone on the other side will be decimated at the next general election. If bets were taken on how the public would view a vote on five years versus four years at the moment, I do not think the bookmakers would agree to take any bets other than one way for very long.
The little exchange between the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Rooker, was very informative. As I understand it, the argument is that we have made arrangements on party funding in a five-year cycle and somehow it would be very inconvenient if the electoral cycle did not match that cycle. What an extraordinary way of putting the tail before the dog. Without necessarily repeating every word my noble friend said-I agree with the sentiments and the language-I must say that he made a very fair point in his question. I think the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, made an inappropriate remark. He is forensically very able in dealing with all these matters, but I did not think that that remark was particularly apt.
I have one question about how this would work in practice. We all remember 1974 and everything that happened in January, February and March that year, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who will have it branded on his soul; he was Principal Private Secretary to Mr Heath. Let us say that this Bill had been an Act. The Labour Government came in with a majority of minus one or plus one or whatever it was.
Lord Lea of Crondall: Minus three, jolly good. Can someone just spell out what the scenario would have been then? Who would have done what, with which and to whom, and would not the royal prerogative have somehow come into it at all? I ask the question in all innocence because I just cannot work out the answer looking at this Bill. I suppose that Harold Wilson would have been able to manufacture Dissolution by manufacturing a confidence vote that he would lose. Is that what we are supposed to believe? I would
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Finally, as an aside, how many of the IPU 77 countries cited by the Government in their reposte to the memorandum of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, can change their whole constitution by a single vote in the House of Commons? That worries me as well because many of them, I am sure, have a two-thirds majority to change the constitution. We have in this Bill a two-thirds majority to instruct the Speaker to sign a piece of paper, like Cromwell or someone, to say that this is now a lost vote of confidence. If the principle of a two-thirds majority is so important for that, why do we not have some sort of two-thirds majority provision on constitutional Bills generally? I am happy to echo what my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton said in this characteristically superb forensic speech: that we will be protected only by the fact that unless the Government make some significant changes, they will be up a gum-tree so far as the Parliament Act is concerned. They could get away from under the Parliament Act if they do another U-turn on all the arguments that they have been advancing today, but that is something else. It is against that background that we will, I am sure, have a very interesting Committee indeed.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I echo those who have expressed their pleasure at the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in this House and welcome him here among us. I did not have the pleasure of working with him in the other place, but I have enjoyed his friendship for a number of years and I believe that he will add greatly to the light as well as the enlightenment of our proceedings.
None of your Lordships would query the need for a statutory limit on the maximum term of a Parliament, even if there is room for disagreement on how long that maximum term should be. However, the case for a statutory fixed term seems to be much less clear. It would have been beneficial to have had much more pre-legislative scrutiny of these proposals, although that would mean that we would be talking about something else today.
If one introduces statutory provisions for fixed-term Parliaments, one immediately has to try to define, and prescribe for, the circumstances in which, despite that provision, political conditions make it necessary for there to be Dissolution before the end of the statutory fixed term. It is almost certainly impossible to define in the statute all the possible circumstances in which premature Dissolution should be permitted. As the
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When a situation arises that is not covered by the statute, politicians will be obliged to devise some clever way of stretching the statute and precipitating the Dissolution of Parliament and a general election. While that process is going on, no doubt in an atmosphere of crisis, there will inevitably be doubt and uncertainty. I would be inclined to argue, therefore, that a fixed term for a Parliament is a political objective that can be considered only in the political circumstances of the time. If with a statutory fixed term in place that objective became for whatever reason unattainable, in circumstances in which the statute did not permit Dissolution, the Government would presumably have to introduce emergency legislation to override the statutory provision and take whatever time was required for that: or, conceivably, the Sovereign would have to be requested by the Prime Minister, or perhaps by Parliament, to grant Dissolution despite the legislation.
It is argued that the present system, which confers on the Prime Minister the right to request the Dissolution of Parliament at a time of his choosing, gives an incumbent Prime Minister an unfair advantage over his political opponents. As one noble Lord suggested, this is a matter as much, or more, of media speculation as of reality. In practice, the issue is rarely as simple as that. For one thing, a Prime Minister who exercised that right prematurely and purely to seek political advantage over his political opponents would run the risk of being punished by the voters for his opportunism. The exercise of the right imposes upon a Prime Minister, as I have seen, an agonising choice, in deciding upon which he puts his party's future in government and his own political career on the line. In practical terms, whether and when to exercise the right to request Dissolution must always be a very complex question. It is a lonely decision, but one that can be taken only after extensive consultation.
I recognise why it suits the present Government to create a presumption that the next general election will not be held until May 2015, but I question whether that justifies the introduction of this legislation. The objective could be just as effectively achieved by a commitment in a White Paper or even a Statement by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons that for the duration of this Parliament he will not exercise his right to request Dissolution before the end of the maximum period that he has stated unless ineluctable circumstances arising from unforeseen changes in parliamentary or political circumstances oblige him to do so.
I take some consolation in the thought that, even if this Bill is passed and this Parliament runs its full statutory course, no Parliament can bind its successors. The next Government and the next Parliament will not be bound by this statute if they do not want to be; they will be able to repeal it and revert to traditional practice. I therefore suggest to your Lordships that the question whether and, if so, when a Parliament should be dissolved before the end of its statutory maximum life should be determined pre-eminently by political process and is not really amenable to statutory provision.
If this proposal for a statutory fixed term goes forward, there is then the question of how long that term should be. I share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. Experience shows that the imminence of a general election casts its shadow over government and Parliament for many months. Even with a term of five years, that shadow extends over the last year of the term and tends to reduce to no more than four years the period during which government policy-making and parliamentary debate can effectively be pursued without too much looking over the shoulder at electoral considerations. If legislation were to set a fixed term of, let us say, four years, that period would be reduced to more like three years. That would not leave enough room for sensible policy-making and good parliamentary debate before the imminence of the forthcoming election began to cast its distorting shadow. So I hope that, if this Bill becomes law, the fixed term will be five years, as is proposed in the Bill, and not some shorter term.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, before indicating my thoughts about the Bill, perhaps I may say gently to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, that between 1832 and now there have been a number of extremely significant constitutional changes, not least the giving to the people of Scotland and Wales a voice in their own decision-making and, perhaps even more significant, the introduction of the universal franchise and the giving of the vote to women.
It has been fascinating to listen to some of the lessons from history that we should take on board as we go through the process of scrutinising the Bill and to hear of some of the problems that have arisen when previous elections have been declared. As many noble Lords have said, this Bill has been cobbled together in haste, clearly with narrow, short-term party interests in mind, without a Green Paper, White Paper or pre-legislative scrutiny, and to a very tight timetable-what the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee in the other place referred to as a "scrutiny bypass".
I can see no cause for speed, not least because of the longer parliamentary Session. It was clearly no coincidence that the Leader of the Commons announced the extension of the Session on the day of the Second Reading of this Bill. According to the Deputy Prime Minister, it was done to align the Sessions of this Parliament to the fixed-term provision. That produced ill thought-out proposals, as was clearly shown in the embarrassing U-turn that had to be done by the Deputy Prime Minister in response to the furore that followed the coalition agreement's statement that a "binding Motion" would be put before the House of
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A statement made by the current Prime Minister during the general election campaign has also disappeared. He said that if there was a change of Prime Minister during the course of a Parliament-clearly he was trying to have a go at Gordon Brown-there should be a general election within six months. That, we are told, has been superseded and improved on by this Bill. It may have been superseded, but nothing could be improved by this flawed piece of legislation.
It is a great pity that a Bill that I support in principle is so flawed in detail. I have been committed to four-year fixed-term Parliaments since it became Labour Party policy in the early 1990s, as ironed out by the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Plant, in which both the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I were involved. The policy was ultimately carried by the Labour Party conference. We had long discussions as to how to arrive at a fixed-term Parliament and how to arrive at a four-year fixed-term Parliament. We had to ensure the integrity of the proposal. It was made clear that it would have to be built into legislation to allow for an election to be triggered when a Government lack the support of Parliament and would operate under a strict, clearly defined set of rules, unlike the sort of confusion that we seem to have in this Bill.
As has been said, there is nothing unique about the introduction of fixed-term Parliaments. They apply to our devolved Parliaments and Assemblies and to local government. They have been introduced in most western European states, the US, the EU, most of the Australian states and in most of the provinces of Canada, as well as at federal level. But in all those instances there are safety valves that have been either legislated for or provided by constitutional conventions of no confidence motions leading to dissolution.
There are reasons why, as a past party organiser, I think that a fixed-term Parliament is a good thing. As well as removing the power of the Prime Minister, it gives clarity to our electoral procedures. It will enable electoral registration officers to schedule their work and put current deadlines into a more coherent timetable. It will give time to increase voter registration and without doubt it will bring clarity to the timing of the electoral expenditure limits, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, referred, by enabling people to work to fixed dates. It might also bring some sensible construction to the legislative programme, building in time for consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny-something denied to this and the other constitutional Bills that have been rushed through Parliament.
My main objection to the Bill is the proposal to turn a five-year maximum into a five-year norm. Well, it might be five years, or it might be five years and two months in exceptional circumstances. I ask the Minister whether it can be envisaged that those exceptional
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As has been spelt out, since 1945 three years and 10 months has been the average for a Parliament. Since 1979, four Parliaments have been around for four years and, exceptionally, three lasted for five years. Overall, four years has been the norm. The Deputy Prime Minister tried to negate these facts by misinterpreting the words of Lord Asquith during the passage of the 1911 Parliament Bill. The words to me are quite clear. Lord Asquith said that a five-year term,
Here we have yet another somersault by the Liberal Democrats, who were long-term supporters of four-year fixed-term Parliaments, as approved by their 2007 party conference, and who vehemently supported the Bill introduced by David Heath MP for four-year Parliaments. When and why in the negotiations between the Conservative and Lib Dem teams did four years become five years? We are told that it was a matter of judgment, but perhaps we could have a little clarification of how that judgment was arrived at. I am not sure whether we will get it, because we are still waiting to be told why the number of MPs had to be 600.
The arguments for four years as opposed to five are quite evident. They reflect devolved control and international experience. As several constitutional experts made clear as witnesses to the Constitution Committee, that period is by far the most accountable time for a Government to sit. I hope that when we have the debates in Committee we can have much further discussion as to the benefits and values of a four-year Parliament. I do not accept the argument that we would end up having the last year solely discussing when an election would be. That happens even with fixed five-year Parliaments. There is a lot more confusion about when the election might be and a lot of pressure is put on. I cannot accept arguments that say that we should not have any timing or that we should go for five years.
I do not wish to intrude on the question of the date, because I am sure that my friends from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will wish to do that for themselves, but I make reference to the Scottish elections review that was carried out by my namesake, although no relation, Ron Gould. The review followed the holding of the Scottish Parliament and local elections on 3 May 2007, when 140,000 electors lost their vote. His comments are equally applicable to this debate. He said that,
The Scottish Parliament decoupled the Scottish parliamentary elections from the local elections only to find the principle undermined by the fact that the general election will be held on the same date. I appreciate that an offer has been made for discussions with the Scottish Parliament and the devolved Assemblies to ask and perhaps suggest that they might wish to look at their dates, but it would be much simpler for this Bill to change its date than to go through the complicated process of asking the Scottish Parliament and devolved Assemblies to look at their dates. It is a great pity that it did not occur to the Government to have discussions with the devolved areas prior to the introduction of this Bill. Whatever happens, whether we change the date in this Bill or whether the Scottish Parliament and the devolved Assemblies change their dates, there will be a serious impact on devolved institutions. Asking people in those areas to elect two different Executives on different electoral boundaries-and there may well be different manifestos-on the same day could be a recipe for disaster.
What I find absolutely confusing about this Bill-I have a very simple mind and I like things to be simple-are the provisions in Clause 2. I do not intend to go into them as so many have done, but the complexities of that clause and the debate that we have had today have made my confusion even worse. I would like somebody to say why we cannot have a simple solution. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in his excellent maiden speech, made that point very clearly. It seems to me that what we are looking for is simplicity, not confusion, when we are building legislation. Surely there is something wrong if we can have confused legislation. My other point is that, if there is to be a vote of no confidence in a Government, surely it is then for the electorate, not MPs, to decide who the new Government should be.
My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said that he did not think that there was any difficulty or problem in respect of the courts on what is a vote of no confidence and who can take a confidence Motion. However, I would like greater clarity. I absolutely respect his knowledge as compared to mine, which is nil, but this is all the more reason why I would like him to explain why he thinks that the Speaker's certificate could not be challenged in court. The paper from the House of Commons Library goes even further. The lack of clarity creates the remote possibility of a lame-duck Government unable to secure their business yet imprisoned in office by an Opposition unwilling to trigger an election.
The legislation also fails to deal with the issue of prerogative powers. On the one hand, the Bill removes the prerogative powers of the Queen to dissolve Parliament, but on the other hand it does not remove the Queen's prerogative power to prorogue Parliament. That surely cannot be right. This could be interpreted as a get-out for a Prime Minister, as it makes it possible for a Prime Minister facing a vote of no confidence that he is likely to lose to go to the Queen and seek the prorogation of Parliament to avoid that crisis and to buy time to restore a coalition. Another scenario could be where the Government had lost a vote of confidence. During the 14-day grace to form a new Government, they would have an opportunity to prorogue Parliament expressly to prevent an alternative
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There has been no consultation and scrutiny. The Bill is a short-term compromise to hold together two coalition parties. Far from being a careful analysis of how to redesign our constitution, it is the product of a political imperative in an attempt to ensure survival of the coalition to a full term. To me, it seems like a piece of-and I use the word advisedly-gerrymandering in that it does not, as has been stated, take the absolute power from the Prime Minister that we are told it should do. It gives extra power to the Speaker and I wonder whether that is appropriate-I do not accept the analogy given by the Minister in relation to money Bills. Nor does it strengthen the powers of MPs in the other place. I hope that when the Bill leaves this House it will be more coherent and completely simplified and that it will provide for four-year fixed-term Parliaments.
"Mr Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a Statement about the Government's bilateral and multilateral aid reviews which are published today. The coalition Government's decision to increase the UK's aid budget to 0.7 per cent of national income from 2013 reflects the values that we hold as a nation. It is also firmly in Britain's national interest. But this decision imposes on us a double duty to spend this money well.
On my first day in office, I took immediate steps to make our aid as focused and effective as possible. I commissioned reviews of DfID's bilateral programmes in developing countries, and of the UK's aid funding to international organisations. These reviews have been thorough, rigorous, evidence-based and scrutinised by independent development experts. They will fundamentally change the way that aid is allocated.
Recent events in north Africa and the wider Middle East have demonstrated why it is critical that the UK increases its focus on helping countries to build open and responsive political systems, tackle the root causes of fragility and empower citizens to hold their Governments to account. It is the best investment we can make to avoid violence and protect the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
The bilateral aid review considered where and how we should spend UK aid. Each DfID country team was asked to develop a 'results offer' setting out what it could achieve for poor people over the next four years. Each offer was underpinned by evidence, analysis
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As a result of the bilateral aid review, we will dramatically increase our focus on tackling ill health and killer diseases in poor countries, with a particular effort on immunisation, malaria, maternal and newborn health, extending choice to women and girls over when and whether they have children; and polio eradication. We will do more to tackle malnutrition, which stunts children's development and destroys their life chances; and do more to get children-particularly girls-into school. We will put wealth creation at the heart of our efforts, with far more emphasis on giving poor people property rights and encouraging investment and trade in the poorest countries. We will deal with the root causes of conflict and help to build more stable societies, as people who live amidst violence have no chance of lifting themselves out of poverty, and we will help the poorest who will be hit first and hardest by the effects of climate change-floods, drought and extreme weather.
As a result of the review, we have decided to focus UK aid more tightly on the countries where the UK is well placed to have a significant long-term impact on poverty. By 2016, DfID will have closed significant bilateral programmes in 16 countries. This will be a phased process honouring our existing commitments and exiting responsibly. The countries are: China, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Moldova, Bosnia, Cameroon, Lesotho, Niger, Kosovo, Angola, Burundi, the Gambia, Indonesia, Iraq and Serbia. This will allow us to focus our bilateral resources in the following 27 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Together, these countries account for three quarters of global maternal mortality, nearly three quarters of global malaria deaths and almost two thirds of children out of school. Many of them are affected by fragility and conflict, so we will meet the commitment made through the strategic defence and security review to spend 30 per cent of UK aid to support fragile and conflict-affected states and to help some of the poorest countries in the world address the root causes of their problems. We will also have three regional programmes in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, and an ongoing aid relationship with three aid-dependent overseas territories; namely, St Helena, the Pitcairn Islands and Montserrat.
The multilateral aid review took a hard look at the value for money offered by 43 international funds and organisations through which the UK spends aid. The review considered how effective each organisation was at tackling poverty. It provided a detailed evidence base upon which Ministers can take decisions about where to increase funding, where to press for reforms
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First, I am delighted to tell the House that nine organisations have been assessed as providing very good value for the British taxpayer. These include UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, the Private Infrastructure Development Group, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We will increase funding to these organisations, because they have a proven track record of delivering excellent results for poor people. But of course there will always be room for improvement and we will still require strong commitments to continued reform and even better performance.
Funding for the next group of agencies-those rated as good or adequate value for money, such as the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organisation-will be accompanied by specific pressure from the UK for a series of reforms and improvements we expect to see in the coming years.
We are placing four organisations in special measures and demanding they improve their performance as a matter of urgency. These organisations are UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the development programmes of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Organisation for Migration. These organisations offer poor value for money for UK aid but have a potentially critical niche development or humanitarian role which is not well covered elsewhere in the international system or contribute to broader UK Government objectives. We expect to see serious reforms and improvements in performance. We will take stock within two years and DfID's core funding may be ceased if improvements are not made.
The review found that four agencies performed poorly or failed to demonstrate relevance to Britain's development objectives. The review therefore concluded that it is no longer acceptable for taxpayers' money from my department to continue to fund them centrally. So, I can tell the House today that the British Government will withdraw their membership of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and that DfID will stop voluntary core funding to UN-HABITAT, the International Labour Organisation and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. This will allow over £50 million of aid money to be redirected immediately to better performing agencies.
We are working closely with other countries to build a coalition for ambitious reform and improvement of all multilateral agencies. As a result of these reviews, over the next four years, UK aid will: secure schooling for 11 million children-more than we educate throughout the UK but at 2.5 per cent of the cost; vaccinate more children against preventable diseases than there are people in the whole of England; provide access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation to more people than there are in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined; save the lives of 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth; stop 250,000 new-born babies dying needlessly; support 13 countries to hold freer and fairer elections; and help 10 million women get access to modern family planning.
I believe that these results-which will transform the lives of millions of people across the world-will make everyone in this House and this country proud. They reflect our values as a nation: generosity, compassion and humanity. But these results are not only delivered from the British people; they are also for the British people. They contribute to building a safer, more stable and prosperous world, which, in turn, helps keep our country safe from instability, infectious disease and organised crime.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made earlier by the Secretary of State in the other place. It is indeed encouraging to note the emphasis on value for money-who would not agree with that? This objective was a central plank of the Labour Government's policy from the very first DfID White Paper in 1997, so talk of value for money is certainly not a new thing. While welcoming the emphasis on maternal mortality and on girls' education, I would like the noble Baroness to confirm that the Government's view is that it is essential also to promote the rights and empowerment of women and to encourage their leadership and participation. Should women not participate equally in public dialogue and decision-making?
As the Secretary of State listed the countries with which we shall no longer engage, is the noble Baroness aware that bilateral aid to Russia ended in 2007 and that the Labour Government were also committed to closing programmes in China? Last week I travelled with members of the APG to the north and the south of Sudan and can confirm that there are enormous needs and very high expectations in the south. Will the noble Baroness comment on the fact that aid to Sudan is not set to increase-it is currently £140 million a year to 2015-despite the fact that that aid will now be dealing with the needs of two countries, especially, of course, the south?
Sixteen countries have been listed as ones that the Government feel no longer need the support of Her Majesty's Government, including, for instance, Burundi, which has enormous needs and is in the Great Lakes region of Africa, where the whole situation is always very vulnerable; and Lesotho, a very small country in the south of Africa, which is very much supported by Wales, where many of us are very much aware of its needs. Will the noble Baroness tell us whether adequate donor co-ordination will take place to make sure that the needs in these countries-which will undoubtedly still exist when we exit-are picked up? This very serious point was raised today in a press release from Save the Children.
The agency UN Women urgently needs long-term, predictable funding. Thirty countries have contributed already-Spain, a country experiencing enormous financial difficulties at the time, was the very first country to contribute to UN Women. Michelle Bachelet,
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Will the Government make a commitment to increase cross-border aid to reach parts of Burma where the dictatorship refuses access for aid to people there? Is the noble Baroness aware that DfID aid to Burma under the current circumstances is almost entirely channelled through registered organisations that have been vetted by the regime? Should DfID not seek other channels to achieve a more equitable outcome?
Finally, after the funding of part of the Pope's visit and the loan to the Turks and Caicos Islands, can we feel sure that our aid programmes will not be driven by the priorities of other departments of state?
Baroness Verma: First of all, I thank the noble Baroness for her opening comments. We all accept that DfID did some fantastic work when the Opposition were in government. However, the focus there was on inputs. We want to try to reshape the programmes and put the focus on outputs as well as inputs, so that we can measure the results and see that, where programmes are working, they are working well. The noble Baroness has asked a number of questions and I will try to answer as many of them as I can. Where I do not answer, I will of course write back to her.
A larger scale-up of aid for Burundi would have required us to show a significant impact on value for money and we believe that there are other comparative partners and donors in Burundi who will do far better than us. We would not have been able to achieve the sorts of results that we would have wanted by scaling up in the short term. We want to deliver value for money and results-based aid through larger existing programmes. From 2012, DfID will focus exclusively on supporting Burundi's integration into the East African Community, as we believe that this is a critical factor in the country's medium-term growth. All of DfID's regional integration work will be managed by TradeMark East Africa, which has an established office. DfID will continue to support Burundi from Rwanda and Nairobi through those organisations.
The noble Baroness asked about UN Women's funding. We have agreed to support transitional costs but, when I spoke to Michelle Bachelet at the launch of UN Women, we made it clear to her that we wanted to see a strategic framework and, based on that framework, most major donors want to see what the priorities will be. She has readily accepted that and she has accepted that, if we are to be key donors to UN Women-the noble Baroness will be aware that we were through UNIFEM-we need to ensure that the money will be spent and directed through a strategic plan which will deliver the outcomes, as I am sure the noble Baroness would wish.
I noticed that the noble Baroness raised the Pope's visit again. I remind her that the funding for that was agreed to by her Government in March 2010; they
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On the Sudanese question, we agree that there are enormous needs there. It will take a lot of time and intervention but we will be very supportive of both sides in Sudan. We want to ensure that we build capacity for them. Noble Lords will understand that we shall be delivering in very difficult environments, but we shall continue to be responsive on the ground and see where we can deliver better and more.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I broadly support my noble friend in describing the outcome of the two reviews. The Government should be congratulated on becoming, by 2014, the largest rich economy to attain the United Nations target of providing 0.7 per cent of GDP in aid, which in the light of our very straitened circumstances is noble indeed. Fourteen years since the establishment of DfID-I pay tribute to the Labour Government for having set up that department-it is right that there should be this level of comprehensive review to look at the focus of its expenditure. I particularly welcome the emphasis now on fragile and conflict states. It is right that we focus on those where the need is greatest.
I have two questions to put to the noble Baroness. One is on the bilateral review and concerns India. I am somewhat concerned that a country which is in the queue to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a country which has a £20 billion space programme and which gives aid to other countries, should still continue to be a recipient of hard-pressed aid which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, pointed out, should be going to other organisations, such as UN Women. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's response to that. It leaves one slightly uncomfortable.
On multilateral aid-I declare an interest as a former employee of the Commonwealth Secretariat until 2003-I notice that the Statement suggests that those organisations in special measures will be given two years to show significant improvement. I wonder whether two years is too short a period and whether there have been any conversations with those organisations in special measures to see whether they believe that they can show significant improvement in just two years or whether they need longer.
Baroness Verma: I thank my noble friend for both her questions. I know she has some concerns about aid going to India. Perhaps I can point out to noble Lords that India has one-third of the world's population living on less than $1.25 a day. Last year, DfID spent 58p per poor person in India compared with £3.50 per poor person in sub-Saharan Africa. We shall have to shift our focus and, therefore, the Secretary of State has decided to shift it to three states in India-the poorest states-to ensure that we are able to maximise our aid there.
India's space programme adds up to 0.1 per cent of the country's overall budget, but the issue is not just about the space programme. From that programme, the Indians are able to use the technologies to deliver mobile technology to villages and particularly to women who are able to access information which they would not otherwise be able to access. The programme is not just about space but about using the technology for other things as well. I completely understand that the noble Baroness has concerns, but she would perhaps also agree that we have a special relationship with India. If we are to see the aid programme go down, we must be able to lift far more of the people of India out of poverty.
On the organisations in special measures, I respond to the noble Baroness by saying that two years may seem a short time, but the organisations are fully aware that they have to make some serious reforms. Of course we will keep in constant dialogue with the Commonwealth Secretariat to see where the improvements are taking place. The secretariat reaches out to places where we, as a single country, would not. It has special niches and therefore it is important to support it fully.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: What the Minister has said is very encouraging indeed and, I am sure, will enjoy widespread support across the House. I have two brief questions. Will she say something about how this review is affecting non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and CAFOD? As she will be aware, they are sometimes able to provide the most sharply focused and effective forms of aid and they are often in receipt of government grants for their projects.
The second question follows up on India. As the noble Baroness knows, the poorest section of the Indian population is the Dalits, of whom there are 200 million in the world, most of whom are in India. They are not only desperately poor but are shunned and humiliated. Would she say something about how the Government will support the Dalits in raising them from the very bottom of Indian poverty?
Baroness Verma: I thank the noble and right reverend Lord. On the NGOs, the Secretary of State has made it very clear that much of our aid, particularly in countries where there is conflict, is delivered through NGOs, and we want to strengthen that ability. We recognise that there will be times when we will work in partnership with NGOs to ensure that we can reach a much wider population. The Secretary of State has made it clear, time and again, that the major NGOs are key to the success of development programmes at grass-roots level, and therefore we will work hand in hand with them to ensure that that is strengthened.
I accept what the noble and right reverend Lord says about the Dalits. Through the programmes, we will continuously see that monitoring is in place to ensure that all the poor benefit from our programmes and that no one who needs a beneficial response is excluded. I hope that he is reassured by that. I am very aware of the difficulties that the Dalit community faces, and I raise it constantly.
Lord Judd: I declare an interest as a former director of Oxfam and as a current trustee of Saferworld. There is a great deal of material in this Statement. Can the noble Baroness give us an assurance that we shall be able to have a proper and full debate on its implications at an early date?
Reference was made to the desire to see poor people being able to own property. Does that also envisage a stake in land and land reform to ensure that poor people can farm for themselves and engage in their own agricultural production? Can the Government also assure us that priority will continue to be given to the whole issue of security sector reform that we can see is essential for providing the context within which development can take place?
More specifically, does this Statement cover the immense needs that will now arrive among the impoverished homeless, in many cases in effect stateless refugees from Libya and elsewhere in north Africa? If there is concern about conflict resolution and areas of conflict, why is there no mention in the Statement of the north Caucasus?
Baroness Verma: On the noble Lord's question about the debate, this is, as I have always said, in the hands of the usual channels. If he feels that a debate is required, we need to address that through them.
We have already distributed some humanitarian aid to Libya. We were already placed to ensure that refugees fleeing could have some humanitarian aid. The noble Lord is absolutely right that this will develop into looking after many thousands of people who are fleeing a very unstable place. We chartered an aircraft that left Dubai this morning with blankets for 36,000 people and 300 tents to shelter at least 1,500 people. This was in response to a request from the UNHCR. As of yesterday, at least 126,000 who have crossed international borders out of Libya, including Egypt and Tunisia, will we hope be helped by some of the humanitarian aid that we will be providing them.
As you know, this is a moving picture. A lot is going on, and it is very difficult to be able to comment further. We also need to be very mindful that whatever we say in this country is immediately responded to elsewhere. However, I reassure the noble Lord that humanitarian aid is at the forefront of our thinking.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK. We very much welcome the announcement that the Government are doubling our core funding for the next two years because of the results that we have had in tackling child mortality, maternal health issues, HIV and AIDS. I pay tribute to UNICEF, NGOs and all our aid workers throughout the country who do amazing work in challenging circumstances.
I also welcome in the Statement the help that will be given to countries that are trying to build open and stable societies. Events are moving fast and furiously in the Middle East and north Africa. I therefore welcome the extra money that will be given to the occupied Palestinian territories. Over the last few years, DfID has been withdrawn from some countries in the
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Baroness Verma: I thank my noble friend for her very warm words. I also pay tribute to UNICEF and many of the great NGOs that do incredible work often in very difficult circumstances. She raised some points about countries from which DfID money was withdrawn. We are going continuously to countries that will need our assistance. However, the infrastructure must be in place to be able to deliver it on the ground. If it is not, it is often difficult. I very much take on board what my noble friend has said and will take it back to the department for the Secretary of State.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister accept a very warm welcome for the way in which the Government have withstood the slings and arrows of the tabloid press, who have asked them to cut our aid programme? How welcome it is that they are sustaining it, particularly given that, if you do a mathematical calculation, you will find that, because of the crisis, the 0.7 per cent of GNI will be worth less in 2013 than when it was pledged in 2005. These countries have already taken a hit. It is very good that the Government are standing up to that.
Does the noble Baroness recognise that seeking reforms to these multilateral organisations, which is entirely legitimate, depends crucially on getting allies in other countries who take the same view as us and press for the same reforms, otherwise it is just a concealed cutting operation? I hope she will be able to say that the Government put a lot of effort into that.
India, Brazil and China are now becoming aid donors. They are countries with a lot of working experience of how to lift people out of poverty. I hope that we will work closely with countries such as Brazil, India and China in future because we have both a lot to contribute and a lot of work to do with them.
Baroness Verma: I thank the noble Lord for all his comments. In fact there was very little that I could disagree with. As he is very well aware through his own experience, building good partnerships is very important. He is absolutely right; we will be working with China and Brazil and, hopefully not too far into the future, with India, too. We are having very constructive conversations with our other partners who provide donor aid. Many have shown a very keen interest in how we have gone through our review process and are looking very closely at what we have managed to do to ensure that their programmes are also going to be targeted and focused so that we all work toward the same end, which is getting people out of poverty.
Lord Boateng: My Lords, there is much to be welcomed in the outcome of this review, not least the new-found emphasis on agriculture, food production and wealth creation. Does the Minister recognise that there will be widespread concern in southern Africa, in particular, at the decision to end the bilateral programme in Lesotho, a small state that has been fragile in the past,
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Will the Minister assure the House that these two countries in particular will be the subject of concerted effort to improve donor co-ordination, particularly from the multilateral organisations that we fund, and will also be the beneficiaries of the southern African regional programme, within which region Angola and Lesotho quite clearly fall? Will she assure us that resources to that regional programme will be enhanced and will be delivered to those two countries?
Baroness Verma: The noble Lord maybe missed the part of the speech that said that the Secretary of State has committed to supporting regional programmes. As he absolutely rightly points out, some of the smaller countries will have greater responses from their regional areas than from bilateral programmes, which are smaller and less able to reach widely. We support the regional programmes very much.
I come back to the point about Burundi and Lesotho, which I keep pronouncing wrongly. We believe that they have comparative partners that are far better placed than us to deliver aid. Therefore, we will help them through the regional programmes.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, I should say that our regional integration work, which is managed by TradeMark East Africa, which has an established office in Bujumbura, will provide support for Angola and Burundi, so that is covered well. We will not just leave them out there and we are not suddenly going to stop-the process will phase down by 2016.
The noble Lord is absolutely right that we have a keen focus on agriculture, which is really important for food security, not only for that area but for us, too. We have pledged from 2009, when the Opposition were in government, £1.1 billion over three years. We are therefore taking agriculture sustainability very seriously. We are committed to food security and agriculture and are working with the FAO as well as other multilaterals, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme, to ensure that we have a strong programme in place.
In the conclusions there is simply a reference to holding "freer and fairer elections", but building democracies is about more than just helping countries to hold elections; it is about helping to build institutions in a society that support democracy. Could the Minister say a bit more about that?
Baroness Verma: I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question. Of course this is about more than just fairer elections; it is about making sure that the institutions in countries where there has been corruption and where unstable Governments have held office are removed or strengthened. Therefore, DfID, through
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We have also put into place a watchdog that will monitor all our aid-where it is spent, how it is spent and what the outcomes and results are-so that people across the world can just log on and see for themselves. If that aid is not reaching them, they have a place to come back to and ask for recourse.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, with permission I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The Statement is as follows:
"I wish to make a Statement on the Government's plans for the extension of the electrification of the Great Western main line and for the procurement of a replacement for the existing diesel intercity trains. These two issues are closely connected.
I turn first to the provision of a new generation of intercity 125 mile per hour trains to take advantage of the electrification of the Great Western main line and to allow for the phasing out of most of the ageing diesel InterCity 125s.
In February 2009, the intercity express programme, launched by the previous Government, identified Agility Trains, a consortium of Hitachi Rail (Europe) Ltd and John Laing plc, as the preferred bidder to provide a new fleet of intercity trains. Subsequently, the previous Government placed this process on hold and ordered a review of the procurement by Sir Andrew Foster. Last summer, recognising the fiscal challenges that the UK faces and the challenges that the new Government's plans for high-speed rail to Leeds and Manchester introduce, Agility put forward an improved, lower-cost proposal, which provides the required service through a mixed IEP fleet-some all-electric trains and some with a combination of electric and diesel power, allowing them to operate through services beyond the electrified railway. This proposal retained the more modern electric InterCity 225s on the east coast main line, as the previous Administration had proposed.
We have reviewed this proposal against the alternative of an all-electric fleet with purpose-built diesel locomotives being coupled to trains to haul them beyond the electrified railway. Either way, this would represent a multibillion pound investment for this country,
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As I said at the time of my Statement to the House on 25 November, there were complex legal, technical and commercial issues to be addressed. Both the Government and Agility Trains as preferred bidder recognised this. Over the past few months we have worked together on these issues and I can now announce that I am resuming the IEP procurement and proceeding with the proposal that Agility Trains put forward as preferred bidder. We will now work with Agility Trains with a view to reaching financial close by the end of the year. This is, of course, subject to the Government continuing to be satisfied that the proposal offers value for money as the commercial negotiations are concluded and that the final arrangements are compliant with the United Kingdom's EU obligations.
This deal will allow us to provide better, faster, more comfortable services and to continue providing through journeys between London and parts of the rail network that are not electrified. In total, there will be over 11,000 more peak-time seats each day on the Great Western main line and east coast main line on the IEP trains, compared to today.
Hitachi is today confirming its plans to locate its European train manufacturing and assembly centre at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham. This investment is expected to create at least 500 direct permanent jobs, as well as hundreds of temporary construction jobs. Thousands more job opportunities will be created in the UK manufacturing and service supply chains. Coming just days after the news of the reopening of the Redcar steelworks, this is a massive and very welcome shot in the arm for the skilled workforces of the north-east's industrial heartland.
I turn now to the related issue of electrification of the Great Western main line. I announced to the House on 25 November that, over the next six years, Network Rail will electrify the commuter services on the Great Western main line from London to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury. I recognise that this announcement, although welcomed in the Thames valley, left unanswered the clear aspirations of rail users further west for the extension of electrification to Bristol and into Wales. I and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales have subsequently considered the options for extending electrification alongside the Government's consideration of the proposals for replacement of the current diesel intercity trains, and in close consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government.
We have concluded that there is a case for extending electrification westwards to Bristol and Cardiff and I am today asking Network Rail to add this major extension to its electrification programme immediately. This is good news for Wales and the south-west against a backdrop of public spending constraint, as we deal with the legacy of debt that we have inherited. Bringing electrification to Cardiff will mean that we are linking, for the first time, the capital cities of England, Scotland and Wales by electrified rail. These measures will deliver a London to Cardiff journey time of one hour and 42 minutes and will shave 22 minutes off the London to Bristol journey.
I have received representations calling for electrification of the Great Western main line to be extended as far west as Swansea. We have looked carefully at the arguments. The business case for electrification is heavily dependent on the frequency of service. Services between London and Swansea currently operate at a frequency of only one train an hour off-peak. There is no evidence of a pattern of demand that would be likely to lead imminently to an increase in this frequency. Consequently, I regret to say that there is not, at present, a viable business case for electrification of the main line between Cardiff and Swansea.
Because of the decision to proceed with Agility's proposal for a bi-mode train, journey times from London to Swansea will be shortened to two hours and 39 minutes-20 minutes faster than today-with trains switching automatically to diesel power as they leave Cardiff. Because the constraining factor on the south Wales main line is speed limitations dictated by the geometry of the line, there would be no time-saving benefits from electrifying the line from Cardiff to Swansea. However, the policy of the Government is to support a progressive electrification of the rail network in England and Wales, for environmental among other reasons. My right honourable friend and I will therefore keep under active review the business case for future electrification of the Great Western main line between Cardiff and Swansea in the light of future service patterns.
I have a further announcement to make to the House. In the course of the examination of the case for electrification in south Wales that my right honourable friend and I have undertaken, we have established, at an initial high level, that a good case appears to exist for electrifying the key valley commuter lines north of Cardiff via Pontypridd and Caerphilly to Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, Coryton and Rhymney, as well as the lines to Penarth and Barry Island to the west. My department will therefore work with the Welsh Assembly Government to develop a full business case for the electrification of the Cardiff valley lines within the next rail investment control period, beginning in 2014. The Welsh Assembly Government will need, in parallel, to consider the case for specifying suitable electric trains for these routes when the Wales and Borders franchise is relet in 2018. This would, of course, be a prerequisite for electrification to proceed, and the timetable for franchise reletting and respecification necessarily dictates the timescale of this proposed electrification.
On the basis of our preliminary evaluation, the valleys electrification represents the best value-for-money rail electrification investment that can be made in Wales. It promises to bring all the benefits of electric commuter trains-faster acceleration, greater comfort and cleaner, greener travel-to rail users in south Wales. It would have a significant effect on the economy of Cardiff and the valleys, deepening labour markets, improving connectivity and significantly enhancing the attractiveness of the area to investors. Coupled with the electrification of the Great Western main line, this represents a major boost to the economy of south Wales as a whole.
These three decisions-on intercity express, Great Western main line electrification and electrification of the valley commuter lines-represent a major further
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made earlier this day in another place, particularly as I understand that he is a late stand-in for the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who is indisposed. We wish the noble Earl a full recovery to health as quickly as possible. I commiserate with him. In the past I have been somewhat critical of transport Statements presented by the noble Earl from the Dispatch Box, but today the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, has drawn the long straw, because this is a Statement on which we can offer some commendation and approval. In fact, there is much in this Statement that the Opposition welcome.
We welcome, of course, the news about the intercity express programme. I hope that the noble Lord will recognise the perspicacity of the previous Administration, who last year asked Sir Andrew Foster to carry out a review of the situation. This was important, because the original bid contained unsatisfactory features. We are glad that the Government have been able to take advantage of the review and the additional time to agree a deal with Agility Trains that is a substantial advance on what otherwise would have been the case. It also means that they will be producing not just all-electric trains but a combination of diesel and electric power. As the noble Lord indicates, with the rejection of the case for electrification through to Swansea, this dual capacity is of great importance.
We also welcome the fact that Agility Trains and Hitachi have planned to locate their European train capacity in the north-east, at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham. We all know the present difficulties of many parts of our economy; all our regions are due to have very difficult times but particularly the north-east, so this will be a welcome development in terms of the number of manufacturing jobs created in County Durham.
We are somewhat concerned about the Government's argument with regard to Swansea. After all, south Wales shares with the north-east difficulties with regard to its economy and a degree of remoteness from the centres of financial power in the United Kingdom. It may be regarded as a relatively short distance between Cardiff and Swansea, but the noble Lord must recognise that they are two different economies. This will inevitably be looked on in Wales as a gain for Cardiff-I will come on to the valleys in a moment-but as a rebuttal of the needs of Swansea, where links with London are
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We very much appreciate that the opportunity was taken to look at the valleys economy. There is no doubt at all that it is important to improve communications between the valleys and Cardiff-and, to that extent, Newport, too-and then the links to London. The House knows only too well the struggles that the valley towns have had in trying to replace industry, as the original, vast coal-mining activity is now long since gone. The extent to which effective communication between the valleys and Cardiff is absolutely essential has only more recently been appreciated, with regard to employment in the valleys. Effective communication gives the opportunity for people who live in the valleys to get to Cardiff and to that part of southern Wales where rather more jobs are available.
We welcome this Statement. It is a reflection of essential investment. It also reflects something of which we must all take due stock. We will all have our differences about economic strategies and policies and there is, of course, a fairly obvious division between the perspective of my party and that of the coalition on how to handle the present crisis. However, we must renew our commitment to long-term investment in infrastructure, which must survive changes in government if we are to build the crucial infrastructure that the nation requires. That is why I have not the slightest doubt today about the importance of this Statement and the fact that the House should take pleasure in it.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for his comments regarding my noble friend Lord Attlee, who I certainly hope will soon be fit and well. It is of course a joy to be presenting a good-news story, which is exactly how the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has seen it, too. I thank him for that and for having the grace to understand that good-news stories can emanate from this Dispatch Box.
The noble Lord raised an interesting point about Swansea. I understand the disappointment, but the two things are linked, in that getting the intercity express train, which is electro-diesel, means that no one has to get out at Cardiff to get on to a connecting train, nor do they have to wait the 10 minutes or so for a diesel engine to be put on to the front. The train goes straight forward. Because of the nature of the track between Cardiff and Swansea, that journey time will be the same whether it is electrified or not. To that extent, there is no sense in these proposals that Swansea is being done down. Indeed, as I said in repeating the Statement, although the case is not at present viable, the Government propose to go on with further electrification and it may well be that an extension comes at some future time. I am grateful that the noble
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I particularly want to comment on the noble Lord's concern about the long-term infrastructure. It is quite interesting that this is an interlude from talking about the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, on which I make no comment whatsoever. Yet however long the term is, of the terms that have been mentioned, those terms are often longer than it takes to get a major infrastructure project going. It will be towards the end of this Parliament that we see some wires and trains in some of the electrification proposals being put forward. It will certainly be into our next Parliament when we see more of that.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will my noble friend convey to the Secretary of State in another place our warmest congratulations for a surprisingly upbeat Statement? It is probably one of the best that I have ever heard, but will he take back two or three small points? First, if we are to have electrification to south Wales, before anybody starts any engineering work we must have the line between Swindon and Kemble doubled so that we maintain a reliable connection between London and south Wales and vice versa.
Secondly, the procurement process for Agility Trains has been extraordinarily long-winded and expensive. It has employed a lot of consultants. Will my noble friend try to convey to the Secretary of State the need, in the new franchises, to simplify the acquisition of new rolling stock? That is something which the Department for Transport is singularly ill-equipped to do. I believe that we need to bring the train operators much closer to the process.
Lastly, would my noble friend remind the Secretary of State that there is no reason why some of the journey times between south Wales and London should not be shortened by, I believe, up to 15 minutes? That could be done by using the current equipment but taking out the intermediate stops which have been placed on those services at places such as Swindon, Didcot and Reading-again, I believe, at the behest of his own department.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments. I immediately looked at my railway map and thought, "What does this mean in terms of the construction period?", particularly for the tunnel to south Wales and the electrification thereof. Clearly, there is the problem of that single line between Swindon and Kemble. I am told that much of the work is likely to take place at night. However, there is work going on at the moment, with Network Rail looking at its next programme of work from 2014-19. There is still a possibility that, if it is really believed that it would enhance the diversionary route for that period when work is taking place, it could be considered or, indeed, brought forward.
Secondly, on procurement, the likelihood is that there will be longer franchises in future, which may well mean that my noble friend Lord Bradshaw has his wishes in that regard. One feature of this procurement
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Concerning the third item, the journey times on the Great Western main line, we all know that the Thames valley has, over the years, become something of a honey-pot. Places such as Swindon and Reading have grown and grown, so commercial reasons have meant that more trains have stopped at those places rather than being express trains. With electrification, the likelihood is that there will be more trains-there are plans to have them-and fast trains. I cannot guarantee that there will be any enhancement in services prior to electrification but I will pass back to the department the comments that my noble friend has made.
Lord Berkeley: I congratulate the noble Lord on this Statement, which is very positive, as my noble friend has said. It has resolved many of the uncertainties surrounding the whole of the Great Western network in terms of electrification, new trains and everything else.
I just draw his attention to one issue that needs a little more resolution: the section between Reading and London and the relationship with Crossrail. As noble Lords will know, Reading station is being subject to a major upgrade, which is very welcome too. At the moment, however, the Crossrail services are due to stop at Maidenhead, where I believe construction work has started on a big maintenance facility. Most people think that it would be much better if Crossrail trains went on to Reading, which is a major interchange; I do not think anyone would suggest that Maidenhead was the centre of the universe when it comes to changing trains. That would also avoid having a separate shuttle train, which I think is still planned to be a diesel, between Reading and Slough, stopping at Maidenhead. Reading station is being extended to take Crossrail trains, but there has been no decision on where they will go.
I have one final suggestion that my noble friend could pass on to the Secretary of State. It is very welcome that there will be 11,000 more peak-time seats with these new trains, but there is still an enormous demand for fast services between Reading and Paddington. It may be that there should be some faster services as well as the stopping Crossrail services to take up some of the slack, so that the seats are not empty all the way from Reading to Swansea.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his comments and hear what he says about Reading and the extension of Crossrail beyond Maidenhead. Of course, until there was certainty of the electrification, I do not think that that could have been planned; clearly, it can now be planned. I am not sighted of any specific plans of
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Lord Walpole: I would like to take the Minister on a little trip. If he went to Westminster station and got on the Circle line, he would end up somewhere near Liverpool Street station. Liverpool Street station and Norwich are 111 miles apart and the line is electric, but the trains that we have there are-I was told yesterday-well over 40 years old. The rails and the catenas are frankly not of the quality that one would need for a fast train. The signalling is still very bad. It is appalling, in fact. The staff on the trains and the station have been trained to be nice and to keep you informed the whole time, which is wonderful; I think they deserve something for that. Every time the train stops in the wrong place, someone tells you why you have stopped there-or at least he tries to find out. Also, on this line is the rather important train for the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which runs from Felixstowe to the Midlands, but you cannot go from Felixstowe to the Midlands yet. You can get under the bridge-through the tunnel-at Ipswich, but you have to come all the way down to London to go all the way back again. You have to do another 20 kilometres. Minister, this is a very important bit: it would relieve the main line to Norwich.
Lord Walpole: I am coming to the question now. If you go to Norwich, you can go to Liverpool Lime Street or London Liverpool Street, but you have to get on the right train-they are not in the same place.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, it is good to have the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, and for him to extol the virtue of rail travel to Norwich. I am afraid, however, that I cannot say much about that. I leave that to someone else on another occasion. What the announcement means is that the new train will be electro-diesel. At some point you may even be able to go from London to Norwich and then a diesel will take you on to Great Yarmouth. That could well be possible because of this new way forward. He can at least have the comfort that there are these possibilities of enhancement. I have nothing to say at the moment, I regret to say, on further electrification beyond that which has been announced-or indeed on any other enhancements other than those in the Statement. However, the noble Lord knows about campaigning and knows how to make the case, and I am sure that he will continue-just as he has this evening-to do that.
Lord Bates: My Lords, is my noble friend aware how warmly welcomed this announcement will be in the north-east of England, which is the home of the railways, of Stephenson and of the Stockton and Darlington Railway? This is a fantastic announcement
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Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments my noble friend Lord Bates. Clearly, as a north-easterner, he is very concerned and happy that there is to be investment there. He is quite right to point out the change that has taken place. This positive piece of work will go on there. Not only will north-east England benefit from new employment opportunities, there will be the possibility of even greater employment opportunities because of the railway factory and other places that will enhance and put further work there. He is right that this is a real piece of work about which the coalition Government can be really be proud. As I say, this is a real good news story.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, it is not often that I welcome a decision of this Government, let alone feel inclined to congratulate the Government on anything. The only other major infrastructural decision they have taken over the past nine months-the decision to veto the third runway for Heathrow-was absolutely deplorable. However, today I really congratulate them. Those three projects are going to be enormously important for the economy of the country and clearly the most important one of all is the high-speed rail link. Will the Government do everything possible to accelerate these projects now this decision has been taken? We in this country generally take far too long to implement infrastructural projects. The longer such projects take to be built and to be commissioned, the more you postpone both the internal return and the external return and the more you damage the economics of the initial decision. Will the Government take a close look at the lead time for such projects in France, Germany and Spain between a decision being taken and the first high-speed train running, and will he try to make sure that they treat that as a target, which this country should seek to beat?
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for his contribution. I hear exactly what he says about lead time, and I will take back to the department his comments on that. Let us hope that these things can be speeded up.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, future travellers to Swansea will have to travel in the bimode train for about 35 miles. By comparison, London-to-Inverness travellers will need a bimode electro-diesel for 180 miles and those who travel on the hard road up
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Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I am not able to give details of the power that the trains will have to tackle the road to Inverness, but they are going to be brand new and had better be right for purpose. My noble friend makes a good point. Although I suppose he would love the electric wires to go to Aberdeen and Inverness, I do not think that that is on the list at the moment. However, the beauty of the bimodal system is that diesel trains will not go from London to Inverness under the wire; they will be electric to Edinburgh and will then turn to diesel on the way to Aberdeen. Therefore, the people in Aberdeen and Inverness, and those at points between Edinburgh and those places, will benefit from the electric railway between London and Edinburgh.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, a popular pub question is: what do Albania and Wales have in common? The answer is that they are two nations in Europe without a single mile of electrified railway. I warmly welcome the Statement that the Minister has made today because that is now going to be put right so far as concerns Wales, and I am delighted that the decision has been taken, after initial hesitancy some months ago, to extend the wires through the Severn tunnel into Cardiff. I think that the Minister or his colleagues will have to deal with the Welsh Assembly Government's disappointment. They have certainly been campaigning very hard for the electrification to continue to Swansea. However, the news of the valley electrification is particularly welcome. The diesel multiple units that currently serve those lines are already life-expired, and the opportunity for new journeys and new trains is very welcome.
Perhaps I may be allowed one further comment. Today's Statement is a very welcome, and clearly bipartisan, extension of the policy concerning the railway begun by my noble friend Lord Adonis. It was he who got the debate on High Speed 2 up and running and it was he who made the announcement on electrification. I certainly commend the Government for picking up the baton where he laid it down in May. I warmly welcome that and I think that my noble friend deserves some credit for it as well.
Perhaps I may ask a specific question, which the Minister has already been asked by his noble friend Lord Bradshaw, concerning the need to improve the line between Swindon and Gloucester. It is not just a diversionary line; it is an important service which already has an hourly train in each direction. However, when the Severn tunnel is closed, as it will be for part of the electrification works, it is going to be crucial that that line is double-tracked again. It was a very short-sighted decision to take the double track out.
I have one other specific question. Is it intended that the bimodal train which operates on the Great Western main line will be electric as far as Oxford and
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Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and pay tribute to his service, and indeed that of his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in the latter part of the previous Government at the Department for Transport. There may be disappointment in Wales about the line from Cardiff to Swansea but there will of course be rejoicing about the valleys. The Government have looked at this matter in great detail and have concluded that, in terms of value for money and the return, it is a better bet to look at the valleys than at Cardiff to Swansea, particularly when there is now a prospect of a bimodal system for Cardiff to Swansea.
I note the noble Lord's comments about the Gloucester line. Indeed, in the couple of hours that I had to look at this issue and discuss it with the department, I said, "Just a minute. Not only is there the prospect of this line being needed because of the tunnel being closed and construction work and so on, but, as I understand it, this is being looked at in its own right anyway". Therefore, there could well be double the case for improving this line. I hope, and believe, that it will be considered very seriously.
I am not sighted on any proposals for bimodal trains to go beyond Oxford, although of course that is a possibility. Bimodal means that the wire can be used to Oxford and you can then go beyond that with the diesel system.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, by the end of the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, I had almost forgotten that he had opened it by reminding us that the Labour Party supports fixed-termed parliaments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, I was surprised that he omitted to say how he would legislate for fixed-term parliaments. I look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, telling us.
I will be very happy to subject the Opposition's Bill to the same critical scrutiny that I now plan to bring to the Government's Bill. I share the scepticism of my noble friend Lord Cormack, a fellow son of Lincolnshire, who I have known for well over 40 years since I was a young and precocious schoolboy.
I propose to discuss the Bill in terms of process and substance. I begin with process and the Government's response to the report on the Bill from the Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House. I declare an interest as a member of the committee. In our report on the Bill, as various noble Lords have noted, we drew attention to the speed with which it had been prepared. It was introduced with no Green Paper, no prior consultation and certainly no formal pre-legislative scrutiny. We had to move extremely quickly, as did the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the
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Really? Some Private Members' Bills have been introduced on the subject-three in the past 10 years-but what academic debate has there been? Perhaps the Minister can tell us what academic literature, since Owen Hood Phillips's Reform of the Constitution, published in 1970, has addressed the issue of fixed-term parliaments and done so in any detail, never mind great detail? There is some work by Robert Blackburn, not least a section in his book, The Electoral System in Britain, but, apart from that, what literature is there and to what extent has that literature engendered debate? Can my noble and learned friend identify any substantial academic debate that has taken place?
The claim that there has been such a debate is taken as the basis for the Government not accepting that there has been no mature assessment of the constitutional principles relating to fixed-term parliaments. Perhaps, then, my noble and learned friend can explain why this Bill derives from a coalition agreement that said that there would be a "binding Motion" placed before the House of Commons stating that the next election would be held on the first Thursday of May 2015? At what point was it realised within government that there was no one to be bound by such a "binding" Motion?
The agreement also stated that legislation would provide for Dissolution if 55 per cent or more of the House voted in favour. Any suggestion that this derived from any clear constitutional principle is somewhat undermined by David Laws in his recent book, 22 Days in May, where he writes:
"After some work on Ed Llewellyn's calculator, and consideration of by-election risks, it was decided that a 55% vote of MPs would be required to provide a dissolution. This was just greater than the combined opposition and Lib Dem parliamentary parties, thereby safeguarding the Conservative position".
"It is also wrong to say that there is not public support for the principles of fixed-term Parliaments. There was a very strong demonstration at the 2010 general election that political reform was a high priority for the electorate".
The committee report did not refer to public support-we know that people when asked say they support fixed terms-but to "sustained public demand". Again, can the Minister kindly provide evidence for that claim? Were fixed-term Parliaments really an election issue? I remind him of what Dennis Kavanagh and Philip
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The Government in their response also refute any claim that the Bill is being rushed. We are told that the Bill was introduced in the other place on 22 July last year and did not complete its Commons stages until 18 January of this year. That may be because of the delay in scheduling the Bill. It had its Second Reading on 13 September and had three days in Committee, the last of which was an extra day that had to be allocated. We are told that at Report stage,
This is by way of failing to engage properly with the Constitution Committee's observation that, save where there are justifiable reasons for acting more quickly, the proper way to introduce a constitutional reform proposal is to publish a Green or White Paper, or a draft Bill, and to take the comments and concerns raised in the process of consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny into account in the legislation that follows. As it stands, there has been no time for thorough scrutiny and examination. Why in any event is there a need to move so quickly? It is not like the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill where there was an obvious time constraint. In this case, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, it is sufficient for the Prime Minister to announce that he will not be inviting the Queen to dissolve Parliament until May 2015. There is then the rest of the Parliament available to get the Bill through. I shall be interested to hear why this is a measure regarded as requiring such speedy passage.
I turn to the substance of the Bill. I have a particular concern with the definition of a vote of confidence in Clause 2(2). As we have already heard, an early general election is triggered if the Speaker of the House of Commons certifies that on a specified day,
As has been noted, there is no definition of what constitutes a vote of no confidence. The elephant definition is assumed-that is, one knows one when one sees one, or rather that the Speaker knows one when he sees one. But will he? A vote of confidence takes different forms. It has not been confined to an expressly worded Motion. I did research looking at every vote for most of the 20th century. The Bill stipulates that a certificate is issued when the House has passed a Motion of confidence. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, asked, what happens if
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However, I wish to focus on those Motions which the Government believe are so crucial that the Government cannot sensibly continue if they are defeated. I remind my noble and learned friend what the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, said at the conclusion of Second Reading of the European Communities Bill in 1972. If the Government lost the vote, he said,
If this Bill is passed and a similar measure comes before Parliament-one crucial to the Government's programme-what does the Speaker do? Bear in mind that the situation is not comparable to the Speaker certifying a money Bill. There is a statutory definition of a money Bill and, for quite understandable reasons, the Speaker waits until a Bill has cleared the Commons before certifying it as a money Bill. This is all clearly explained in the Constitution Committee's recent report, Money Bills and Commons Financial Privilege. Under the Bill before us, the Speaker will have to act prospectively without any statutory guidance. The Government's response to the Constitution Committee report states:
"Where there is doubt about whether a motion is a no-confidence motion, we would expect the Speaker to inform Members before they vote on it whether, were it to be passed, he would certify it as a no-confidence motion".
So, on a Bill similar to the European Communities Bill, what would he do? Would he check with Government as to their stance? Would that not raise the prospect of drawing him into political controversy? What if he failed to consult and took a view at odds with that of the Government? Again, there would be the prospect of being dragged into political controversy. Also, what happens if the Speaker fails to certify a vote as one of no confidence but the Government regard it as a matter of confidence and, on losing the vote, resign? In that situation, the 14-day rule does not apply. The quest to find a new Government, as the Minister, Mark Harper has confirmed, is not time-limited. If the Opposition wish to avoid an election and oppose a Dissolution Motion, what happens? The situation may be unlikely, but as long as it is not impossible, we need to consider whether more needs to be done to cover such an eventuality.
The Explanatory Notes refer to the House passing "a" motion rather than "any" motion. The wording appears more flexible than that in subsection (2)(a). Can my noble and learned friend explain the reason for that particular wording in subsection (2)(b)?
I turn briefly to the provision for a five-year rather than a four-year fixed term. The Deputy Prime Minister said that a five-year term flows with some of the founding texts of our unwritten constitution. When I asked him what these were, when he appeared before
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We are told that for most legislatures around the globe, a four-year term is the norm, although the data appear to cover terms rather than necessarily fixed terms and do not distinguish by type of regime. Can my noble and learned friend confirm the evidence offered to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the other place by Professor Robert Hazell that a four-year term is the norm in continental Europe and in Westminster systems?
I was also going to quote Professor Hazell's evidence in which he lists in some detail the commitment to four-year fixed terms by both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party, but that is no longer necessary as others have made the point. I was also going to respond to the Government's response to the Constitution Committee's report asserting that the reason that some Parliaments are ended after four years is political opportunism. I was going to point out that exactly the same observation could be made about Parliaments extending to five Sessions, but I no longer need to do so as my noble and learned friend conceded exactly that point in his opening speech. I heard nothing in his speech that constituted a compelling argument for a five-year term. I think it would be difficult for a Government to generate a full five-year programme and remain vigorous by the fifth Session. I do not think that it is necessarily healthy for the Government, as government, or for the electorate.
As we have heard, the Bill is supposed to restore trust in politics, but I am not sure how pushing ahead with it, with no pre-legislative scrutiny and no attempt to consult the public on whether they would prefer a five or a four-year term helps bolster trust in the political process. I know the argument that the measure reduces the power of the Prime Minister, but that is not relevant to the point I am making. Does one restore the trust of people in politics by leaving them out of the process?
That brings me full circle. Why the hurry? My noble and learned friend may feel that I have put a lot of questions to him but that is a necessary consequence of the absence of any consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny. There remain a lot more questions still to be put.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I feel privileged to join all those who have tendered their congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I think it was 41 years ago when he joined me in the House of Commons. He was then a callow youth, but I remember that within a very short time he had made a considerable impact upon that august body. I am very proud indeed to follow the address of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. I agree with everything he says, but putting it that way would almost make it seem as though we are speaking as equals; we are not. He has given a scholarly and professional analysis of the situation and a most magisterial and utterly justified rebuke to the massive, porcupinal difficulties with which this piece of legislation bristles.
Somebody asked the Abbé Sieyès at the end of the French Revolution, "What did you do, Father Abbé, during the great upheaval?". He said, "I survived, my son". That is the great thing, in politics and in life; survival. I have no doubt but that, in those heady hours and days after the election of May last year, survival must have been foremost in the minds of Conservatives, who realised that they could not govern, certainly not govern credibly or effectively, for any period of time without some form of alliance. The Liberal Democrats suddenly found themselves, for the first time since December 1917, in Government-that excludes the rather artificial period of coalition during the Second World War. One can well understand, therefore, that flashing like a light in the minds of the two parties would have been the question of survival. There is nothing disgraceful in that; nothing wrong at all.
That, of course, could have been done quite simply, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, with his vast experience and understanding, made perfectly clear. It would only have needed, possibly, a White Paper-not even that; a solemn undertaking given by the Prime Minister, joined by the Deputy Prime Minister, would have made it perfectly clear that this was an arrangement that would last for five years, unless there were unforeseen circumstances. A binding motion would not have been any more binding than either or both of those two methods. That, I think, is where the problem began. Whereas they could so clearly have declared to the whole world what was a perfectly understandable and, I think, honourable agreement, they nevertheless sought to improve upon it. They sought to elevate what was a perfectly practical piece of day-to-day politics to a principle. They sought to graft what was a political agreement of mutual benefit to them onto principle and when you do that, you sometimes get some very strange fruit. That, I think, is the problem the House faces at the moment with the Bill.
I do not consider that it is either necessary or, indeed, appropriate, that there should be fixed-term Parliaments. They have a superficial attraction, but there are many dangers inherent in the whole principle. I cast this gauntlet down to the Government, both parts of it, if I may do so without impertinence. The case that has been put forward for a fixed-term Parliament is that there is an abuse that has been perpetrated by more than one Prime Minister from time to time in dealing cynically with the British electorate and going to the country when there was no need to go to the county, but in order either to safeguard or, indeed, to further advance his or her political advantage. Where is the evidence? I do not believe that one can properly point to any situation since the Second World War when there has been any clear evidence of such action.
In 1951, Attlee's Government had, I think, a majority of six or seven, if I remember rightly. On top of that, of course, many Members, especially leading figures of the party were old and ill and, indeed, to cap it all, a very brilliant young Minister by the name of Evan Durbin died tragically in a swimming accident. That was the last straw for Prime Minister Attlee and he went to the country. That was not a case of jumping the gun, or anything like that. It would have been
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In 1964, Harold Wilson had a majority of three and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before he would have to seek a proper mandate from the people, which he did and which he obtained. In 1974, the situation was even clearer. In February/March of 1974 there was an election which yielded a hung Parliament. What else could he do but to go to the country? He soldiered on for six months and a second election was held. That election gave him a majority of the order of only three, four or five. Then there was an agreement, a very proper agreement, with the Liberal Party for some period of time. It was a brave act, to soldier on until 1979.
Where is the evidence of abuse on the part of a Prime Minister jumping the gun and therefore creating a justification for this legislation? It simply is not there. Of course, one may very well argue that it not just the case of the actual abuse; it is the threat of it and there is some truth in that. The Liberal Democrats have been saying from time to time that it was utterly wrong-as, indeed, did the Conservatives-for there not to have been an election when Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair. There was precedent for an election, as when Anthony Eden took over from Churchill in 1955. There were other situations, as when John Major succeeded the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when there was no election and there was no great upheaval about that.
It is a fair point, but it is a point which has been totally destroyed by the fact that Mr Cameron blew hot and cold and hot again about it. When the succession took place in June 2007, his first reaction was, "Well, there must be an election". At the time, Labour was well behind in the polls. Then Labour caught up in the polls and Mr Cameron said there need be no election at all; it would be a waste of time. Then the polls changed, as they have a habit of doing from time to time, and Mr Cameron said, "Come, come-we must have an election, because the polls now point to a possible Conservative victory". There is no white sheet of purity in which he can clothe himself in relation to this matter.
I believe that the Bill is wholly unnecessary; it comes from pragmatism that has been wrongly grafted onto principle and is creating a situation that is utterly impossible. I need not seek to add to the very erudite speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. He described the statutory straitjacket that the Bill creates for a Prime Minister. There are situations in which a Prime Minister would wish to go to the country and should go to the country, but will not be able to go to the country because of that impossible straitjacket. I do not need to say any more about that matter.
One matter that I will touch upon is that of how much harm the Bill will do to the whole concept of parliamentary democracy. I put it in this way: generations of schoolchildren are taught that with the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights at the end of the 17th century there was a massive transfer of authority from monarch to people. That is not so. It was a
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Our situation is not the same as that of a Greek city state or a Roman republic, where there was direct involvement of the public. We do not have that except in general elections, by-elections and, very occasionally, in referendums. However, that is the situation. It is the people who have the sovereignty-not Parliament and not the Executive. Many will remember the book by Quintin Hogg, the late Lord Hailsham, Elective Dictatorship. He was right in most of his submissions. Whether he would have made them in relation to a Conservative Government is arguable, but that was his verdict on the constitutional situation. My point at this stage is this: anything that comes between the sovereignty of the people and Parliament is, of itself, bad. It reneges on and betrays the trusteeship that Parliament owes to the people.
William Lovett, in his charter of 1836, wanted annual general elections. God forbid. However, his heart was in the right place. He realised that the more you place Members of Parliament at the mercy of the electors-the more you expose them to the arbitrament and verdict of the electors-the better it is. The more you cosset them and hide them from the electorate, the worse it is. It is as simple as that.
I make one other point about the situation of the Assembly of Wales and the Scottish Parliament as regards a May 2015 election. I have raised the question before and I do not ask it impertinently of the Minister. Was that a deliberate slur-a deliberate attempt to avoid consultation with those bodies beforehand-or was it mere forgetfulness? Does he not agree that it would be entirely wrong at this stage for the United Kingdom Parliament to say to the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, "You do this. You rejig your programmes and we will accept that"? No, it should be the other way. It is the United Kingdom Parliament that has created the problem and it is the United Kingdom Parliament that should avoid the duplicity of having both elections on the same day.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, made the point that in America people vote for dozens of different things. I understand that; they vote for a Congressman, a judge, a fire chief, et cetera. However, they do not vote in two general elections on the same day. There would be a general election in Scotland and a general election in Britain; and a general election in Wales and a general election in Britain. That is the issue. It is clear to anybody, bearing in mind that there are different constituencies and different issues altogether, that they simply should not be held on one and the same day.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I join noble Lords all around the House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on his sparkling maiden
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I declare my interest as chairman of your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution, of which we have heard much this afternoon in contributions from Members-again, on all sides of the House-who referred to its substantial report. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who reinforced many of the points that the committee made about the historical problems that it saw with this legislation. We took the view that this was of sufficient importance that we needed to hold a full inquiry into fixed-term Parliaments, and not simply scrutinise the Bill. Therefore, our report contains reference to the general issue as well as the particular issues in this legislation.
It is worth, even at this stage of the debate, simply elaborating some of the process and outcome of what the committee discovered and heard from witnesses, who included people from many of the countries that already have fixed-term Parliaments. It is important to say that we have, as the House knows, now had a response from the Government, although I must say to the Minister that this was published only yesterday. It was therefore again outside the convention that responses to Select Committees should be made within two months. As we have heard from, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, the committee's report was published in the middle of December. Within the two-month limit, we should certainly have heard from the Government by 14 February. However, at least on this occasion-I am sorry to go back into the past-it was here in time for Second Reading. The House will remember that on the previous constitutional Bill-the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill-the Government response was issued only at Third Reading. In another place the Government failed to respond in time for the consideration even of your Lordships' amendments.
At the time, Mr Graham Allen MP, the chairman of the committee of a similar nature to ours in another place, described this as a failure of duty to Parliament. Noble Lords will remember that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, referred to it as being a "deplorable occurrence". I do not emphasise these points of process to go over old ground. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, was kind enough to apologise for the Government's dilatoriness on the previous Bill. Nor do I have an exaggerated opinion of the Select Committee's significance. However, as has been said time and time again today, in the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, as in the previous Bill, we have before your Lordships a Bill of great constitutional significance, about which virtually every speaker has made the point that there has been no formal public consultation beyond the rather random opinion polling. No Green Papers or White Papers have been published and there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny-all of which the committee unanimously thinks should be undertaken before Bills of this nature are ever introduced.
I know that the Deputy Prime Minister has said, as he told your Lordships' committee, that he must move ahead rapidly with proposals for what he sometimes
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I have not had time to discuss my comments on the Government's response with my colleagues on the Select Committee. As I have said, this report was published only yesterday, which was at the end of our week's Recess. However, I was interested in the useful and forensic dissection of it by my colleague on the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. I find both the timing and content of the Government's response to the fixed-term Parliaments inquiry disappointing. It is slightly sketchy. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, has said, the committee is concerned that the constitutional relationship between the provisions of this Bill and the Government's other proposals for constitutional reform has not been adequately thought through. In reply, the Government simply reiterate that as a package they will provide for a fairer and more stable political structure. Frankly, that is not very adequate. Indeed, that same paragraph goes on in a rather worrying way to say, for example, that the provisions of the boundary reviews in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill require them to be held every five years, consistent with the five-year cycle of elections set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. This seems to me precisely to confirm the worry and concern that was expressed by my noble friend Lord Rooker when he intervened in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard.
When we turned to the policy issues, we as a committee considered two major issues of principle, as is our formal remit. The first was whether the Government's case in favour of fixed-term Parliaments had been made and what the length of the fixed-term Parliament, if introduced, should be. I must tell your Lordships that on both these two issues the committee simply did not accept the case made by the Government. The Deputy Prime Minister told us that the basic motive was, as we have heard this afternoon,
We recognise, of course, that in promoting this Bill, the Prime Minister is prepared to relinquish an important prerogative power. This has been emphasised round the House this afternoon. However, the evidence we received-I would like to speak a little about that-showed us that there is another important side to this argument. Authoritative academic witnesses and witnesses from other countries with fixed-term arrangements suggested that in practice the advantage to the Prime Minister under the current system had been "greatly overstated". We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, put that in a historical context. The witnesses told us that on most occasions when a Prime Minister "went early", in the jargon, he or she would have won anyway. More importantly, the case was put to us that fixed terms could actually undermine the democratic process
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"Most importantly of all, because we could be moving into that situation with our hung Parliaments, it means that coalitions can change in the middle of a Parliament without the people being allowed to pronounce on that".
This again raises the question to which several noble Lords have referred of whether it is important that Parliament should decide whether a Government continue or are reformed, or whether that decision should be taken by the electorate.
The Government argue that the Bill provides for the other place to vote in favour of an early election where there is a need for one, but it may be that in the circumstances I have described-they have been illuminated by several vivid examples from other speakers today-particularly in a hung Parliament, it would not be possible for the House of Commons to achieve a two-thirds majority for dissolution, as the Bill demands. The committee recognised that the arguments for moving along the spectrum-it is a spectrum-from a fully flexible to a fully fixed Parliament, as the Bill does, are, in practice, finely balanced. We must remember that the Bill provides only for a semi, not a fully, fixed arrangement.
However, as noble Lords have said several times today-the committee was very sure that this was the case-if the original proposal was designed, as the coalition agreement appeared to suggest, as a confidence-building measure to the Liberal Democrats to ensure that this Parliament lasted a full five years, it could certainly have been achieved under existing statutes. Witnesses suggested to the committee that it was not appropriate-we have heard this again several times-to confuse this short-term political motive with the fundamental decision to change the constitution. This leads, of course, to the question of the length of any fixed parliamentary term and here the Constitution Committee agreed with all those noble Lords who have said that they preferred the original 2007 Liberal Democrat proposal of four years rather than the five years which is now in the Bill. Most members of the committee thought that fixed five-year Parliaments were more likely to reduce democratic accountability than increase it, in the way that Ministers have said that they intend. It is, after all, worth noting, as our report does, that had all Parliaments since 1945 lasted the full five-year term, there would have been four fewer general elections.
The weight of evidence from British and international experts to the committee was against a five-year norm, as against a five-year maximum. My noble and learned
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On the practical side, the Constitution Select Committee's report notes with concern the potential clash-this has been raised by several noble Lords-about the five-year term being adopted for Westminster elections and this clashing with the devolved institutions. Again, we unanimously think it is regrettable that the coalition Government did not try to consult those institutions to sort this out before the Bill was introduced. On another practical, but important, issue of the safety valves proposed in the Bill, we broadly accept most of the Government's proposals but I agree with my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton that we felt that it was extremely complex. We have asked as a committee for clarification of a number of detailed points, especially on the question of what constitutes a vote of no confidence and what the result of that would be. I hope very much that these points will be examined fully as the Bill progresses.
As noble Lords all round the House, particularly in the most recent stages of the debate have said-the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, mentioned this-there will be a large number of issues and questions which need to be answered and scrutinised in Committee and on Report. I very much hope that there will be sufficient time to do so. I recognise that the Government, as they say in their response to our committee, have already given additional time for scrutiny in the other place but I still think that this House has a considerable amount of work to do. After all, the Deputy Prime Minister has already conceded to us that,
I hope that the House will be encouraged to learn that the Constitution Select Committee is now embarking on a new inquiry looking at the whole process of constitutional reform. We have sent out a call for evidence and it would obviously be very valuable if any noble Lord wished to contribute. The committee hopes that, at the end of this inquiry, we will be able to bring forward some constructive proposals for improvement.
However, in the mean time I do not wish to repeat the quote that both my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton and my noble friend Lord Lea
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"The policy behind the Bill shows little sign of being developed with constitutional principles in mind ... We acknowledge the political imperative behind the coalition Government's wish to state in advance its intent to govern for the full five-year term, but this could have been achieved under the current constitutional conventions".
As a preliminary point, the monarch's ancient prerogative power to dissolve Parliament may on one view be a constitutional power only, but we should not forget the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, the Australian Prime Minister, by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr in 1975. One effect of this Bill is that on its enactment the Dissolution of Parliament will be a matter that is governed by statute, subject to the will of the elected House of Parliament, as I believe it should be.
There is an important distinction between the position in Canada to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, referred and the position in the light of the enactment of this Bill, which is that the Canadian legislation specifically reserved the power of the Queen to dissolve Parliament by the Governor-General, whereas this legislation abolishes that power-an approach with which the Constitution Committee expressly agreed on the basis that we had a fixed-term Parliament system.
On the principle of the fixed term, it has been an anomaly that to this day we have a system whereby it is for the Prime Minister alone to decide when to seek the Dissolution of Parliament. It has therefore been open to Prime Ministers and Governments to tailor policy, including economic and fiscal policy, to electoral plans of their own choosing without any figment of transparency. Indeed, it has been quite the opposite. The elements of secrecy and the teasing of the Opposition and of the electorate have been at the heart of the system, obliging Oppositions to expend time and money preparing for elections without any information as to when they will take place. The game for Governments has been to decide when their opponents are at their least effective and then to time the start of the race on that sole basis-that it is to be run when the incumbent Government's chances of winning are at their highest.
These things are too important for a game. We would not accept such a system as fair in sport and nor should we in politics. That is the answer to the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, as to why we should leave the present system alone. The Constitution Committee quoted the former chair of the Constitution Committee of this House, the late Lord Holme of Cheltenham, who rightly described a British general election as,
The present system, I suggest, damages stability-witness the events, or rather the non-event, of November 2007. It damages confidence among the electorate in the integrity of our democratic process, and it damages the image of British democracy abroad. These are no doubt among the reasons why both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party had a commitment to fixed-term Parliaments in their 2010 manifestos. It is a concept that the Labour Party has long supported and why our Conservative colleagues were pleased to include such a commitment in the coalition agreement.
There is a further point, which we concede and assert. Where government is by coalitions, of whatever political make-up, a fixed-term Parliament enhances stability and confidence. That is a serious point. It is not an illegitimate glue or odd nails for coalition politicians; it is a legitimate arrangement to secure political stability for the country. A programme for government can then be planned, agreed and implemented on that basis in the event that no one party has an overall majority.
Should the fixed term be four years or five? The Bill commits to five-year terms. It has been the policy of my party in the past, as has been pointed out, that they should be four years, but I suggest that, on balance, five years is the better solution. Parliament is at present elected for a five-year term. Parliaments have lasted for less in the past precisely because Prime Ministers have cut short their terms, thinking that they could win an early election, not because the shorter term is for the objective benefit of the country at large.
The argument is sometimes made, as it was by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, that where Parliaments have run their full five years, it has led to lame-duck Governments in the final year. However, if that is right, the reason is the same: that where a Prime Minister has seemed to be in a winning position after four years, he or she has then gone to the country early. Only when the Government have expected to lose have recent Parliaments gone to full term. The catalogue of those elections cited by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, bears that out. In the elections of 1964, 1979, 1997 and 2010, the likelihood of losing was the reason for the apparent ineffectiveness of the last year, not the fact that the Government was a five-year Government.
Once we have five-year fixed terms, there is no reason to expect lame-duck Governments in the last year. On the contrary, the electoral cycle will be clear, and that of itself should increase effectiveness. Government planning can be more confident and effective, as has been pointed out. Five years allows an appreciable time between a Government becoming established and the next election inevitably starting to dictate the course and pace of political life. We have much of benefit to learn from the United States and its constitution, but I suggest that choosing a four-year electoral cycle over a five-year cycle is not one of them.
It was the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who pointed out forcefully, and rightly, that every election has a pre-election period that clouds the judgment
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I accept that those of us who advocate a five-year rather than a four-year term must concede that there is a price to be paid for the stability that derives from the longer period; the electorate is consulted less frequently, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, pointed out. However, against that, I would argue that the electorate needs time to make an informed judgment both on the performance and competence of a Government and on the consequences of that Government's policy and actions as they develop. In particular, the management of the economy through difficult times, the effects of fiscal policy and the changes that are made by Governments of every colour in delivering public services take time to be capable of thorough assessment. I would argue that the electorate can make a significantly better judgment after five years than after four of the long-term effects and effectiveness of government policy.
On the two trigger mechanisms for an early election, I suggest that the two alternatives strike the right balance between establishing a secure five-year electoral cycle and allowing for an early election when either the overwhelming view of the House of Commons is that one is necessary or it is clear that no Government can be formed who command the support of the existing House of Commons.
The two-thirds majority required for early Dissolution would ensure that there would have to be broad cross-party support for an early election before the cycle could be broken. In February 1974, that might well have been achieved.
The 14-day period after a vote of no confidence would ensure that a reasonable although necessarily restricted time would be available to explore alternative Governments in the event of a coalition breaking down. Two points arise from that. The first is that if you accept the principle of fixed-term Parliaments, as the Labour Party does, then it is consistent with the principles of representative democracy for Members of Parliament who are elected for five years that if a new Government can be formed quickly following a no-confidence vote, and if that Government commands the confidence of the House of Commons, they should govern for the balance of the five-year Parliament. That system might lack the elegance and simplicity of the late Lord Callaghan's resignation, but it is none the less a valid system for that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, sees the Machiavellian possibility of a Government proposing a vote of no confidence in itself and then allowing the 14 days to elapse to preserve the Prime Minister's power. One view that has been expressed is that were a Government to seek to make such a mockery of the provisions of this Bill, that Government could expect to be punished at the ballot box. However, if the fact is that Machiavelli is alive and well on whatever Benches he or she might sit, some amendment to the Bill to prevent this happening could be considered.
It is significant that the Scottish and Welsh provisions are in almost identical terms, except that 28 days rather than 14 days are allowed to explore forming an alternative Government. In neither Scotland nor Wales have the triggers for an early election yet been required, nor has there been any attempt to manipulate votes of confidence in the way suggested by the noble and learned Lord. I suggest that it is sensible to accept the shorter period of 14 days for the United Kingdom rather than the 28 days because of the desirability of stability, and the desirability that the country should know the consequences of such a vote of no confidence as soon as possible.
This is an important Bill. There is of course scope for clarification of some of its provisions, but that is the function of this House at the later stages of the Bill. The Bill is short because the concept is a simple one, but it is none the less necessary and commendable for that, and it should be given its Second Reading.
Lord Morgan: This has been a very enjoyable debate, notable for the criticism from eminent Conservatives: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who are not in their places, and most certainly the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in his splendid maiden speech. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, shredded the Bill entirely and left it just a pile of ruins. I particularly wish to say how much we all appreciated the admirable maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I have had the privilege of being one of the trustees of the history of Parliament group under the genial presidency of the noble Lord, which has been very strongly marked by a sense of historical awareness. It brings back to my mind the famous novel of my late Swansea colleague, Kingsley Amis, and the professor who observed "history speaking"; that is how I respond to the noble Lord's admirable views in welcoming him here.
It is late in the day and I want to strike one new note, at least from these Benches. There is one important feature of the Bill that I very strongly welcome: it is a step towards a codified constitution. That seems to be an admirable principle, originally brought forward in his last months by Gordon Brown, now being considered by the House of Commons Constitution Committee. It is a further nail in the coffin of the royal prerogative, which has always been an obstacle to a more democratic constitution. In the sense that the Bill creates a stronger sense of citizenship and a stronger sense that the people are in ownership of their own institutions, I welcome it.
As has been said, there are arguments in favour of fixed-term Parliaments, but some features of the Bill seem to be less admirable. It is, first, like other aspects of the constitutional programme that we have had, a contrived measure put together, as the Select Committee said, not after mature long-term reflection, but hastily during the behind-the-scenes discussions that led to the agreement. It is reflective of short-term consideration, as was the original proposal, happily now jettisoned, to have a 55 per cent vote to trigger a Dissolution. The purpose of that was to give an instrument to the Liberal Democrats so that they would have a significant role to play in the timing of a Dissolution.
This is designed for the needs of the Conservatives, who did best but did not quite win the election, and the Liberal Democrats, who did extremely badly. The Liberal Democrats polled 23 per cent and lost several seats, but are nevertheless driving the constitutional agenda. It is a question of an imbalance between two parties, which they are trying to rectify, as it was in 1918 in the coalition of Liberals and Conservatives and in the 1931 coalition of Liberals and Conservatives. To quote a famous American baseball player:
It is also open to objection because other constitutional reform measures are not considered. It is a piecemeal, non-comprehensive system of constitutional change. For example, the proposal for fixed-term Parliaments rests on the proposition that we keep our present voting system of first past the post and there will be an adversarial situation in the House of Commons. However, it is perfectly possible that AV might come about, in which case hung Parliaments would become the norm and coalitions would become far more prevalent. The trigger for a Dissolution would then be far less certain in its operation.
There is no clear connection either between a fixed term of five or any other years and the timing, as has been said, of the boundary reviews and how they will relate when a general election comes about. Also, there is no obvious link between this and the elections that might or might not be held if we have an elected House of Lords. Frankly, like a good deal of constitutional reform in recent years, it has been a piecemeal and non-inclusive affair and unfortunate for that.
It has also been claimed that the purpose of the Bill is to give the House of Commons more control over the termination of a Government and the processes of devolution. In fact, the Bill will have precisely the opposite effect. It will actually strengthen the power over the legislature and make it more difficult to dissolve a Parliament. It will offer more opportunities for an Executive to stay in office. Therefore, the recourse to the will of the people will be weakened even if there is a clear wish or need to have a general election.
While other noble Lords were speaking I was reflecting on the Parliament Act of 1911. That could not have come about under this legislation because neither of the two 1910 elections would have been possible. The first was to confirm Lloyd George's People's Budget and the second was to confirm the terms of the Parliament Bill. In both cases, the Liberals had a clear majority. Therefore those elections would not have been held and what seems to have been a highly desirable political transformation would not have come about.
In addition, as other noble Lords have said, there has been remarkably little scrutiny-no Green Paper and no White Paper; and, as my noble friend Lord Anderson observed, amazingly selective quotation. I would quite like to appoint the Minister as my literary agent as he would be an absolute genius at finding the two or three subordinate clauses in a book review that said the book was valuable or interesting and being able to wave aside a whole swathe of criticism saying it was boring or foolish. It is a talent, but a political talent and one that might perhaps be used elsewhere.
Many questions have been raised, including the issue of why the period should be as long as five years. Many noble Lords have considered this from the standpoint of the effectiveness of government. I would like to look at it from a different point of view-that of the will of the people. It is perfectly clear that this diminishes the control of the popular will over government. There was lots of evidence to the Power inquiry-chaired by my noble friend Lady Kennedy-saying that people wish to have more frequent elections and that they wish to have more opportunities to give their views to the Government, but that opportunity is being whittled away. The clash with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly is really deplorable-it is a form of Anglo-centric imperialism from the 19th century, which they have just presented on a "take it or leave it" basis. I regard that as a quite contemptuous attitude and I hope that the noble and learned Lord who comes from one of these fine countries can make an observation on that. There has been no public debate on the timing. We might even have a referendum-at any rate have the popular view and not sheer guesswork-even though there is no guide as to why we have them or what we have them on.
The whole process for triggering an election is extremely unclear and an area ripe for confusion. There is no necessary link between having the confidence of the House, having a vote of confidence-and, as noble Lords have said, defining what that vote of confidence should be on-and then triggering a Dissolution. There would be 14 days of mayhem, and, if we have hung Parliaments, it would be even more inconclusive. It is absolutely central to define what a vote of confidence is. If the Government are defeated over their proposals in the Finance Bill, how can they get going? It may be less formal than that-I do not want to be too historical, but one of the various Dissolutions that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer referred to was in 1895. The Government were defeated on an utterly trivial issue, but it was their first defeat and they had lost the confidence of the House, with majorities of two and seven against them. I simply make the point that you do not need a formal vote of confidence necessarily to feel that a general election should come into play.
It will also seriously compromise the position of the Speaker, just as the definition of money Bills has latterly put the Speaker's role into some question. There are many cases when the democratic thing to do is not to defer a Dissolution, but to proceed. The alternative can be a Government meandering and a House in total stagnation. Many examples have been quoted-October 1974 and perhaps earlier in 1951. There is an overwhelming need for a proper Government who can govern without the complications and hazards of this Bill. The effect of it will be to diminish popular control. The great slogan in American politics was "Throw the rapscallions out". Throwing the rapscallions out-I think sometimes other terms have been used-will be made more hazardous and more difficult. Dissolution of a Parliament will be governed, not by the needs of the country, not by having a Government necessarily unable to govern, but by party manoeuvres in the House of Commons. Much of this is a comment on the role of Members of Parliament in deciding whether
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Much of the argument about reducing the role of a Prime Minister is highly exaggerated, and some of it is thrown in with attacks on Gordon Brown, which is what the coalition supporters do: when all thought stops, you attack Gordon Brown. Prime Ministers have not made much use of the prerogative. I can think of at least two occasions when Prime Ministers tried to cut and run early: Edward Heath in 1974 and Harold Wilson in 1970. Those uses of prime ministerial prerogative proved resoundingly unsuccessful. To a degree, power would continue to lie in the Prime Minister and in his room for manoeuvre in a divided House, but it would put power primarily in the party machines in the House of Commons rather than in the hands of the voters.
This is not a satisfactory Bill. It is not based on high constitutional principles. It is not based on the outcome of a public debate but of a private deal. It is not a fulfilment of democracy but a bypassing of democracy.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, restoring public confidence in our political system is important, is something on which all parties campaigned in the general election and was highlighted as a priority for Government and Parliament. It is that priority, that common goal, which has motivated me to contribute to the debate.
We cannot begin to restore public confidence in our political system unless and until we are willing to make significant changes to the way it operates. Introducing fixed-term Parliaments is not a silver bullet-no single measure ever is-but it is one of the most tangible and meaningful moves we can make to show the public that we are serious about putting their interests before any opportunities that we might spot for political advantage. Put simply, the change to which I refer is removing the Prime Minister's power to call an election at the time of his choosing so that the Government and their opponents have to face the electorate on a predetermined date, whatever the political conditions at that time.
There is evidence to show that the public support that. When the polling company Populus carried out a poll for the Times in 2009 at the height of the expenses scandal, it showed that 74 per cent of the public supported fixed-term Parliaments as a change to improve the political system. At that time, the only measures ranking higher among a list of 13 possible reforms were a recall for MPs found to have broken parliamentary rules, national referendums on major constitutional issues and local referendums on local issues where interest warranted them.
Like all Bills, this one requires appropriate safeguards and deserves proper scrutiny. I certainly bow to the expertise and experience of many other noble Lords
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A central issue for debate on this Bill concerns the length of Parliaments, on which point I would like to offer some thoughts. Right now, the British public elect a Government for up to five years, but a Government serve five years only if they have not identified an earlier time when they think it would be to their political advantage to call an election. This Bill offers the electorate certainty on that five-year term. In future, five years would mean five years. It would mean a Government concentrating on governing for all that time, with the exception of the period in the final year when preparing for the general election.
If we are serious about taking action to address the public's lack of confidence in our political system, we have to make changes to the system-the sort of changes that the electorate want-with the purpose of providing greater certainty and transparency. A fixed-term Parliament of five years would surely be a step in the right direction. Where it is possible to make a genuine concession that could start to give the public some confidence that the political system is willing to change and demonstrate even more clearly that it works in their interest, it is a change worth making. I will certainly go on listening to the views of experienced and expert noble Lords about points of detail during this debate and in the future stages of this Bill. However, I am happy to make it clear today that I support both the principle and purpose of the Bill to introduce a five-year fixed-term Parliament.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, as she thoughtfully made the case in support of this Bill. It is also a very particular pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on his splendid maiden speech. He showed himself to be-as we all knew he is-a fine and committed parliamentarian. As so often in the past, I look forward to working with him on causes that we both care about.
I have not been persuaded by the case for legislating for fixed-term Parliaments-certainly not in the manner in which this Bill does. I join members of Select Committees in both Houses in deploring the haste and lack of care with which this Bill has been brought forward. It was wrong of the coalition to bounce the House of Commons early into a Second Reading in September. Like my noble friend Lord Grocott, I ask what mischief this Bill undoes and what mischief it might create.
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