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However, at the end, he put it as if it was down to my noble friend Lord Hart to decide this and that no one else could have stopped the situation that we are in today. After our last debate, when this Bill was withdrawn by the Government, it would have been perfectly easy for Ministers to put down a Motion in another place or in this House saying that they wanted to proceed with the electoral review and that if it was lost they would agree that they would not introduce the orders in November. It would have been
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They did not do so and we all suspect their motives for not doing so. As we read in the papers, the Prime Minister was determined to see whether he could get the various minority parties in the other place to back the change and carry it through but it was going to take a little while. That is fine, but we should be careful about getting on too many high horses on this matter without checking that our girths are properly tightened.
My second point concerns the substance. I have heard a lot about fair votes this afternoon and the Chartists and all that. When you draw constituency boundaries you have to weigh off various things against each other. Equal weight for every vote is important but so is community integrity and so is the need to disrupt as little as possible the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents: when you take one lot away and put another lot in it takes time for the relationship to form. These are matters of balance: the balance was entirely wrong for 5%. In a sentence: Gloucester Cathedral now sits in the middle of the Forest of Dean.
Intrinsic to the original Bill were the combination of moving from 650 to 600, the decision that the boundaries were going to be changed after every single election and the dreaded 5%. If it had been 10% we would not have had any difficulties in the first place. I am not saying that this is why some Members of this House may have changed their mind, but the argument has moved on and it has got much worse for the proponents of these boundary changes.
In these debates we have often heard from the leading academics in the field-David Rossiter, Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie. They wrote on the subject in Parliamentary Affairs in 2012 and I need not add to what they said:
That is the constitutional case against this Bill and it is a case that has only come to light since we passed the previous Bill in those long winter nights two years ago. They also have something to say on the subject of individual electoral registration-the subject of this Bill-and tie individual registration closely with it. They say:
That is to say that the brand new registers we are getting under this are going to be another wholesale upheaval. As we get to grips with electoral registration and the electoral rolls are changed again and again
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Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I suspect that I am not the only Member of this House who finds this a thoroughly unattractive debate. I suspect that there may be many noble Lords on the other side of the House whose opinions I respect who will very much regret that we find ourselves in this position.
I say that for this reason. I was particularly struck because we started with a point about the inadmissibility of the amendment. It was interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, who has long service in this House and who must have worked closely with the clerks in his time in other capacities here, did not make any reference-as was pointed out in a number of interventions-to the desirability normally of respecting the view of the clerks. He just soldiered straight on, without dealing with that argument or, as far as I could see, with any respect for the basic issue regarding the Companion and the importance normally of respecting it.
I know that we have the advantage of a legal opinion from a QC, commissioned by the Labour Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, which has been made available to the House. It of course gives a clear indication as to part of the motivation behind what we are facing here today. However, in looking at that legal opinion-and I am certainly not a lawyer-one point struck me regarding the issue of scope. What the amendment does is basically de-gut an Act that has very recently gone through this House and been approved by both Houses.
The point that I would simply make is that when the coalition put forward its proposals for these parliamentary Sessions, there were two Bills. The first dealt exclusively with parliamentary voting systems and constituencies-interestingly enough, the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill. The first half of the Bill was to provide for a condition of the coalition, the AV referendum on parliamentary voting systems. The second half was to deal exclusively with constituencies. At the same time, a separate Bill was proposed to deal with electoral registration and administration. The Bills were distinct and separate.
There might be an argument that the amendment was perfectly acceptable to be introduced if the other matter had not just been dealt with by your Lordships and the other place as conclusively as was the case in the carrying of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act. It is not as though the amendment
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I respect entirely the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has, very properly, made absolutely clear that this is a matter finally for the House to decide. I would add to that-and I know that she will accept this-that it is a responsibility that this House must take very seriously indeed and not treat lightly, as though it were a matter for political advantage on this occasion.
My second point relates to the guts of the amendment, which is to delay the boundary review. I do not know whether anyone in this House any longer believes that there is not gross unfairness in the present parliamentary boundaries. We have just fought one election in 2010 on boundaries based on data that were 10 years old. If the amendment stands, we will go into the next election with data that are manifestly older still. That is a certainty.
I was struck partly because a colleague, Lord Maples, whose absence from this House we much regret, showed considerable interest in this subject. I had not realised that he introduced a 10-minute rule Bill to the House of Commons five years ago to equalise the size of parliamentary constituencies. He said in his speech in this House that he wanted to call it, "A Bill to abolish rotten boroughs", but the clerks would not let him. Perhaps they thought that that was going a bit over the top. However, he said that in 2005, the smallest constituency had 21,000 voters and the largest had 107,000; and that one Member of Parliament got elected on 6,000 votes-lucky chap-when it took someone else 32,000 votes to get elected. Those of us who had to fight for every one of those 32,000 votes knows what it feels like. Looking at the registers and the disparity between constituencies, one sees that in the last election when new boundaries were introduced on old data, there was a discrepancy of 18,000 between Banbury and Sheffield Brightside.
It is against that background that I simply say that of course there have been sincere speeches about the importance of keeping the registers absolutely up to date and making sure that the new arrangements being introduced are totally incorporated before there can be any idea of changing the constituency boundaries. However, the intervention of my noble friend Lord Naseby certainly bears out what I and anyone who has stood for election know very well-that the registers are never right. People are always missing from them. No one knows at this stage to what extent these changes will substantially alter constituencies, and it may be that the changes are not as big, but it is certain that everyone who votes for the amendment is determining that the unfairness, which has been generally recognised, published and accepted, will be maintained. This unelected House will then have determined and ensured that some votes in those constituencies will be worth more than others, and that the unfairness that existed in the 2010 election is even worse next time. What a position for this House to take. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, it is very much a decision for this House, and I hope that it will take that decision very seriously indeed.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I, too, received advice from the clerks of the House and I valued it. At the end of the day, although I did not ignore that advice, there were occasions when I said, "I will go in another direction". In effect, I did not accept 100% of what the clerks had said.
However, let me put this to noble Lords. One of the reasons that a clerk would give to me, to the Chairman of Ways and Means or to a Deputy Speaker for not selecting an amendment was that the matter had been aired fully on a recent occasion. This matter was recently aired fully. I am speaking not only about this amendment or this issue. I take an interest in Boundary Commission debates and in electoral registration legislation. I am speaking because I am interested in both issues. I spoke about Argyll and was accused by the Liberal Party of filibustering. The beneficiary of the Argyll constituency was a Liberal, not Labour, Member of Parliament.
The amendment says, "Do not implement the matter until 2018". Therefore, what guarantee do we have that by the 2020 elections, which will occur at that time because of the five-year duration of a Parliament, the boundary commissioner will be able to finish his or her business and deal with the appeals that will take place? I concur with everything that has been said about electoral registers. That argument has gone on for as long as electoral registers have existed. The first argument has been, "They are inaccurate", but that is unfortunately bound to be the case because of bereavement and transient populations. That is a legitimate argument to put before a boundary commissioner. I have been before Boundary Commission inquiries and said that the electoral register was inaccurate. I went before boundary commissioners when the famous poll tax was on the go and people were deliberately keeping their names off the register.
I would feel a lot more comfortable with the amendment if there was a Private Member's Bill of one clause from the other place encompassing the same case as the amendment. At least we would then truly be taking on our role as a revising Chamber. We are talking about passing an amendment when we do not know the view of the Members of Parliament down the corridor. If it came from the other direction, however, we would at least have had the benefit of the Hansard report of the debate. Any of us who has been through boundary changes as Members of Parliament know that it is the last possible thing you can get through in a sitting. You can lose a colleague, or colleague can be turned against colleague. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, as the Secretary of State for Scotland, had to sign off a boundary commissioner's review-a proposal made in good faith-knowing that it would have a profound effect on his political career. People down the corridor know what the boundary commissioner has already pulled out of the hat. Some are going to win and some are going to lose. That brings about the human frailties that it can bring about and we will not get the objective vote we would have got if it came from the other direction. We are in a very serious situation when we disregard the clerks without due cause. That is the important thing-without due cause.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am most grateful to the noble Lord. Could he, with his experience as Speaker in the other place, clarify the comparison being made, which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to as persuasive-that somehow the Speaker's ability to disregard the clerks' advice at the other end of the corridor is analogous to this House as a whole disregarding the clerks' advice? Surely that is not the case, because the convention in the House of Commons is that the Speaker's ruling is not challenged.
Lord Martin of Springburn: The noble Lord is quite right. However, it is not only the Speaker who gets advice from the clerks; as I said, the Chairman of Ways and Means and the chairmen of committees do as well. It is done on the basis that of course, as the noble Baroness said, a matter can be given an airing. A Speaker can put forward an amendment as a safety valve for the House, to allow the matter to get an airing, while possibly knowing that the amendment will be defeated. However, as one noble Lord said, there is no way that a Speaker or his advisers would allow a situation where the guts were taken away from a piece of legislation that had previously been passed. If we pass this amendment, we are allowing someone to say, "I wasn't happy with the last piece of legislation, so I will create an amendment and look for a near kindred piece of legislation to latch it on to". That is not a good way to run a Parliament.
As is well known, the Public Bill Office has advised your Lordships that this particular amendment is not admissible. The view of the movers is that the amendment is relevant and therefore admissible. I share that view. The first question for your Lordships today is: how is a disagreement such as this to be resolved? The Companion specifies that the Public Bill Office advises on whether an amendment is admissible and it is expected that that advice will be taken. The Companion states that the decision on admissibility-again, it makes this clear-can ultimately be decided only by the House itself. It lays down a procedure; namely, it requires the Leader to put the advice of the clerks. While normally the advice of the Public Bill Office will give rise to no difficulty and will be plainly right-hence the expectation-if the mover of the amendment has good reason to contend that the amendment is relevant, and he or she has discussed it with the Public Bill Office and still holds that view, then he or she is entitled to put it to the House.
The movers of this particular amendment have discussed it with the Public Bill Office at length. They have taken the advice of a Queen's Counsel experienced in the field who has concluded that the amendment is relevant. This is plainly a proper case in which it was right for the movers to allow the House to decide. I have read very carefully the letter from the Leader of the House-perhaps I may interject that I welcome him to his post and say how very much we will miss the previous Leader, whom I am happy to see in his new place-which proposes, in effect, that the House should always accept the advice of the Public Bill Office.
As the noble Lord, Lord King, says, we should always behave responsibly in considering the views of the Public Bill Office. We need a good reason to disagree. However, I respectfully submit that there is no convention-and it would be unwise to suggest-that we always accept that advice. This House has to decide what it considers relevant. In giving advice, the Public Bill Office is seeking to give effect to the will of the House. How can it do that unless from time to time the House discusses the issues of relevance?
The last time there was a full debate on relevance in this House was in 1968, when Lord Goodman proposed a particular amendment. It was debated by the Leader of the House, Lord Shackleton, who sat on this side, and the former Lord Chancellor, the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, whose daughter is in this House, although I am not sure whether she is here today. The idea that it was improper to have a proper debate did not occur to any of the distinguished Lords who took part in that debate.
I agree with the noble Baroness. It completely reflects how a self-regulating House should operate. I want to make it clear that my disagreement with the views of the Public Bill Office in no way reduces my respect for those in that office. I have the greatest confidence in them; they serve the House very well. This House should not feel anxiety about debating and reaching a decision on an issue such as this. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, got it right when she described her own disagreements with the clerks:
"But I took it in what I believed to be in the best interests of the democratic process, and to provide debate on a contentious issue of public interest and concern-and the roof did not fall in".-[Official Report, 19/11/2012; col. 1623.]
Why is this amendment admissible? Relevance is the test. The language is different from that of the other place, but the slightly different approaches would usually achieve the same result. The rules exist to ensure that amendments to Bills are properly focused on that Bill and not on wider issues. There are no legally defined limits to what is relevant in this context; they are to be garnered from the approach of the House to previous amendments. The Public Bill Office rightly advised me, when considering this matter, to look at previous amendments which had been debated without any issue as to relevance being raised by that office. I was told that that indicated what is admissible since the Public Bill Office considers every amendment for relevance. With respect, I agree with the approach of the Public Bill Office.
Noble Lords will remember the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 which introduced a new system for fixing boundaries focused primarily on the number of registered voters in any place. Throughout the passage of that Act, which for these purposes deals with boundaries and the alternative voting system and not with registration, through both Houses of Parliament, amendments were tabled and debated that sought to delay the timing of the boundary review until such time as the level of registration of voters had improved. Concern was expressed on all sides of both Houses about the undoubted fact that there were unsatisfactorily low levels of voter registration-perhaps as many as 6 million people who should be registered were not. There was no substantial dispute on any side of the House that this was a problem that needed to be addressed. Neither the Public Bill Office in this House nor the clerks to the Speaker or the Speaker in the Commons regarded those amendments as either inadmissible or out of scope. The 2011 Act contains no provisions about registration.
Lord True: My Lords, it was on this point that I had wished to intervene from the perspective of someone who spent 13 years in the usual channels. The question that the noble and learned Lord is putting is, I think, the wrong one. It is not whether the House can do it, but whether it is wise to be contemplating doing it. That was the point made most compellingly by the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn. I would ask this directly of the noble and learned Lord: if it is not the clerks to whom we defer for advice in these matters, then to whom? If, as was said earlier, we are now going to establish a practice whereby any noble Lord can put the case that their amendment is a good one so why do we not take it, or worse, if we are expected to go to outside lawyers or QCs for advice on what is or is not admissible, would that not be a revolution in the way this House does things and would it not advantage those with deep pockets or political parties with access? Most of the rest of us in this House do not have access.
Lord True: We are in Committee, my Lords. Is it not the case that our clerks are uniquely experienced and uniquely dispassionate, and that their advice is available
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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not suggesting a new and revolutionary approach. There is one group of people-namely, this House together-which has a better view than the clerks. I say that because the clerks are seeking, in the advice they give, to express the will of this House. I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord True, that this is a change in practice. It reflects exactly what has been happening for many years. I refer to the debate in 1968 where the idea that it was in any way improper to discuss it was wrong. The consequence of being a self-regulating House is that when significant issues such as this one arise, ultimately it is the House that decides them. This is a classic issue which the House should decide.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: He withdrew his amendment at the end of the debate, making it absolutely clear that there was no support for the idea that solicitors should become High Court judges. That was the reason he withdrew it. However, as I understand it, the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, have said that there is some convention that you should not move the amendment. The approach of the Leader of the House in urging my noble friend Lord Hart to withdraw his amendment, and as I understand it the approach of the noble Lord, Lord True, is that the right thing here is that the advice of the clerks, which I greatly respect, is not advice but a definitive ruling against which there is no appeal.
I have referred to the fact that amendments relating to registration were allowed to the boundary changes Bill. The obvious reason for that is that, in relation to a Bill about boundaries, it was accepted that registration is a vital building block in how to fix the boundaries. It is important, when applying the rules of admissibility, to show both common sense and consistency. The thing that really matters in relation to the new-
Lord Wills: Very briefly on this point of relevance, perhaps I may draw the attention of my noble and learned friend to Clause 16 of this Bill which, like this amendment, deals with electoral boundaries. It deals with the reviewing of boundaries, as does this amendment. Both Clause 16 and the amendment both deal with the timing of the reviews, not their outcome. Does my noble and learned friend agree that that makes the amendment admissible in the context of this Bill?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I do not know if your Lordships have noticed, but it is my personal view that this is an admissible amendment because it is relevant. If you fundamentally change the system of registration-the Government have described the effect of this Bill as being the most important change to registration for 100 years-that is bound to have a very significant effect on the boundaries that are to be fixed for individual constituencies. The best analogy I can think
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This is a situation where constituency boundaries are determined by the numbers of registered voters. If you are going to change the registration system, that is bound to have an effect on the boundary changes. What is the effect of the amendment? It would delay the boundary changes by five years, which does not mean that they must be changed in five years' time, but that they must be "not before" a period of five years. The consequence of such an amendment would be an opportunity to look at the effect of individual registration. As has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hart, we already have pilots which suggest that there is a low rate of striking in relation to the new individual registration. That is what you would expect. Currently, household registration allows the head of the household to register everyone. The effect of individual registration, coupled with the need to prove that you are the person you say you are, inevitably makes the process more cumbersome. There are considerable benefits, but the effect inevitably will be to reduce the coverage of the electoral register.
In addition to those arguments, it is plain that we are in a situation of limbo because it is not clear upon what basis, in terms of constituencies, the election that is bound to take place by May 2015 will take effect. This is an admissible amendment. This is a relevant amendment. It is an amendment that this House can rule on. There are very strong arguments for delaying the introduction of the new method of registration because if you do not, you will end up with a substantial group of people, mostly the dispossessed, who are not registered and will thus take no part whatever in our democracy. I strongly advise the House to feel able to vote on this amendment and I strongly advise noble Lords to support it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, I have thought hard if not long about how to respond to the debate on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hart. I recognise that many noble Lords will have their own reasons for lending their support to one side or the other. Sometimes this may be a matter of conviction. Sometimes one may see party advantage one way or another. I am going to ask noble Lords to put all that to one side. Before I challenge some of the issues raised by the debate, I would like to focus the attention of the Committee on the implications of passing the amendment.
Some might say that this is an amendment conceived in mischief. I know and indeed like all the noble Lords whose names are on the amendment, but I expect all of them will have to acknowledge that they have been disingenuous, if persistent, in seeking to include it in
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This was the manner in which the House debated the measure. It was thoroughly argued into the early hours and indeed, memorably, through the night on one occasion. Issues that I am sure are fresh in noble Lords' minds were raised, argued and resolved from the bandwidth of variation in constituency size, the historic overrepresentation of some parts of the United Kingdom and the need to reconcile that with geographical, local and historical ties. From the Tamar valley to the Isle of Wight to Orkney and Shetland, the Bill was passed. It is the law.
How stands the House should it now say, without good cause, that the provisions of the near-completed boundary review should not be implemented for the election for which they were designed? How stand politicians who argue this way? How stands politics as a consequence? Where does it put this House in the eyes of the people should the Committee choose to pass the amendment? We will not be seen, as we would choose to be seen, as the guardians of constitutional propriety or active above and beyond narrow interests and loyalties. No, we will be seen as being no different from the rest of them, motivated by hubris and cynicism. We have recently won time to demonstrate the strengths of the House. Indeed, it would appear from the comments of my noble friend who attended the Constitutional Committee that the future form of this House is the subtext as to why the amendment is here today, and I am replying to it. We should see the trap that has been laid.
I have listened to the arguments of those supporting the amendment. It is still not clear whether there is agreement on the ambiguity at the heart of it. The current review, based on the December 2010 register, is one for which current law provides. How does its deferment stand under the amendment? Is it to be kept on ice and used for the 2020 election, despite the fact that it will then be based on a register that will be nearly 10 years old or is the work to be abandoned and a new review used for the May 2020 election? Whatever, it is clear that in the absence of the current boundary review, it would be the old boundaries, based on a register as old as February 2000 as far as England is concerned, that would be used for the May 2015 general election.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I think it is clear from the wording of the Act that, as a result of the amendment, if there was a review with a boundary review date of 2018, then the register that would be taken would be 1 December 2015.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am reassured that the noble and learned Lord makes that point, but that means that this particular boundary review has been a wasted effort in his mind. I would like to challenge
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There have been lots of contributions from all sides of the Committee about individual electoral registration and, in particular, criticisms of the transitional procedures. That is perfectly proper. That is what the Bill is about. The Bill is about the process of individual electoral registration. However, they are irrelevant as far as the amendment is concerned because it seeks to defer a boundary review that is based on the old system of registration, namely the 2010 register. That is why, I suspect, the clerks found it extremely difficult to find relevance in the amendment because it does not affect the subject of the Bill that is before the Committee of the House.
There has often been mention of the differing views within the coalition on the presentation and approval of the current review, which is now more or less completed. That may be so but, as the law stands, it is not the Government, or the coalition, that decide the response to the Boundary Commission; it is Parliament and it will have the final say. However, the amendment would deny this Parliament that opportunity by preventing the Boundary Commission finishing its work and so denying the House of Commons of this Parliament an opportunity to take an informed decision on the Commission's proposals. Is it right that this House takes it upon itself to deny the House of Commons that opportunity? Herein lies the trap for those of us who believe in the unique contribution that this House can make to our parliamentary democracy and the delicate constitutional underpinning that lies beneath it. Noble Lords can, of course, ignore this and press ahead with their amendments. I hope they do not subsequently rue the day. Rather, I hope noble Lords will reflect further on where this amendment might put this House, and politicians and politics in general. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, to do so and to withdraw his amendment.
Should the noble Lord and his colleagues press on and seek the support of the Committee, I ask all noble Lords to think this matter through, as I have tried to do myself. It is a virtue of this place that I can address all the Benches and say that we in this House should be very wary of defying the will of this Parliament, as expressed in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act. I certainly do not seek to argue that the elections to another place are no concern of this House or this Committee-the Bill we are discussing is all about that-but I do say that we fail in our constitutional function if we deny another place fairness of constituency size.
Lord Rooker: With respect, the Minister has now said, on about three or four occasions, that we are tying the other place. If this amendment is passed, it has to go to the other place for agreement. The other place can choose not to accept it-we are not forcing legislation on the other place. The House of Lords cannot force legislation on the House of Commons; the House of Commons must agree to this and may choose not to.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That is perfectly correct. I was just asking noble Lords to consider where that puts this House in its relationship with the other place. Where does it put this House to provoke and to seek to deny, at our instigation, the Boundary Commission which both Houses of this Parliament determined should take place and should apply to the forthcoming election? I think it quite remarkable that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, seeks to pretend that there are not implications for this House in this particular amendment being passed. I think that there are and that it would be irresponsible of me not to advise the House that there are great dangers in this.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, it would be because we will have shown that we are not in a position to take advice from our clerks, that we seek to trample roughshod over the conventions of this House and that we are passing an amendment that is not relevant to the Bill that we were considering when we formed this Committee this afternoon. When we went into Committee, we were discussing a Bill about individual electoral registration. That is right, proper and the subject of the Committee, and there can be varying views on that. We were not seeking to overturn an Act, passed by this House less than two years ago, which provided for electoral boundaries for a forthcoming election. What we will in effect be doing is forcing the other House to reject our ill considered-in my view-and unwise amendment.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: It is indisputable that the amendment is inadmissible. The House may overrule that, but it is inadmissible. The other issue is the substance of this amendment. The noble Lord the Leader of the House also explained that we would have to resolve both issues in a single vote. I would like to remind the House of just that. If the noble Lord, Lord Hart, wishes to press this matter to a vote, and noble Lords are inclined to support him, they will be forced to decide what their greater priority is: to support the substance of the amendment, and ignore the advice of the clerks or to uphold the advice of the clerks on inadmissibility and therefore vote to defeat this amendment.
If the noble Lord insists on pressing his amendment, I am clear where I stand. I will seek to uphold the advice of the clerks. I will therefore be voting against this amendment, and I urge all noble Lords who value the customs and practice of this place, from whatever part of the House they come, to do likewise.
Lord Hart of Chilton: My Lords, I have listened carefully to all the arguments put in this debate. I am afraid that I do not accept what the noble Lord has just said. I wish to test the opinion of the House and, in doing so, I repeat that there is no disrespect to the clerks. This is a genuine difference of opinion, for which this House must take the decision.
making it far stronger. The Government argued at an earlier stage that the "reasonably practicable" test does not make any difference and that electoral registration officers will still comply. That begs the question: if it
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with, perhaps, a vexatious suggestion that an electoral registration officer should have taken an unreasonable step, such as coercing someone to fill in a form or something of that nature. It is of course understood that the steps taken should be reasonable, but we believe that all necessary steps should be taken, and to that end the words referred to in Amendment 39 should be omitted.
I would be grateful to hear from the Minister why he thinks there is merit in removing those words-or at least a reiteration that there is no intent to change the purpose of those words, even if they disappear from the legislation. We should not like to hear that there is any intention to dilute the duties of the electoral registration officers, and these reassurances will need to be persuasive if we are not to return to this issue on Report. I look forward to hearing from the Minister and I beg to move.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we have two amendments in this group. They chime with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is making; namely, is the Bill intending to dilute the powers of electoral registration officers and the Electoral Commission?
Amendment 39A seeks to address concerns held by the Electoral Commission that Schedule 4 waters down the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983 that required electoral registration officers to take all necessary steps in carrying out their duties. Our amendment proposes to remove this subsection and is intended to give the Government an opportunity to explain their thinking on this, and it very much reflects the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard.
With regard to Amendment 39C, this Bill downgrades the role of the Electoral Commission in the transition to and roll out of individual electoral registration. We have sought several opportunities to amend this Bill to give the Electoral Commission more power. This amendment aims to give power to the Electoral Commission to intervene where EROs are not performing to a sufficiently high standard.
However, interestingly, the Electoral Commission has now issued a statement saying that it feels that it does not need these further powers. We originally tabled this amendment in response to the Electoral Commission's concerns, but it now says:
"In instances where the Commission has concerns about ERO performance, following a recommendation from the Commission, the Secretary of State or Lord President of the Council has a 'power of direction' to require EROs to comply with any general or special directions in relation to the discharge of their functions. To date this system has worked well and we therefore see no need for this to change when IER is introduced".
The Electoral Commission says it is satisfied with this provided that it receives assurance from the Government that they are prepared to use the existing power of direction in cases where EROs are not fulfilling their duty to take all necessary steps to maintain the electoral register.
It is not a satisfactory position that the Electoral Commission not taking additional powers depends upon a Minister intervening in relation to what particular EROs are doing. It is a slower process; it depends upon the good will of politicians. Is it not better for it to be dealt with by a body that is independent of any political party? I would be interested to hear the Government's views on these issues.
The amendments to the 1983 Act set out in the Bill strengthen the existing duties on a registration officer while taking into account the requirements of the new registration system. The amendments to Sections 9 and 9A of the 1983 Act made by the Bill do not lower the standards that registration officers are expected to meet. Instead, they set out explicitly important requirements that are not expressly stated in legislation at present.
The qualification of "reasonably practicable" applies to the standard of completeness and accuracy of the register that must be reached-it must be as complete and accurate as is reasonably practicable. This is a high standard. To set it any higher would be to ask registration officers to achieve unreasonable or impracticable levels, which would not be right. It is simply not possible for registration officers to have perfectly up-to-date registers at all times and it would not be reasonable to introduce a requirement on registration officers which they would not be able to meet.
The Electoral Commission accepts that the changes proposed to Section 9A do not represent a watering down of the duties of electoral registration officers, but has asked the Government to make clear their intention behind the rewording of Section 9A. To offer that reassurance I will quote Mr David Heath from another place when he said that,
The change we are making does not weaken the duty in Section 9A. We have set out in draft regulations our initial proposals for what registration officers must do to encourage an application to register to vote. This includes as a minimum the sending of an invitation, two reminders, and the sending of a canvasser to encourage an application.
I believe that Amendment 39A has the same desired effect as Amendment 39. In addition, however, it would have the effect of removing the explicit duty to seek to include in the register those who are eligible to vote but are not currently on the register. Amendment 39C would give the Electoral Commission powers of intervention where they judge that registration officers have not taken all of the necessary steps outlined under Section 9A. However, it is not clear from the amendment what form this intervention would take.
We believe that the fulfilment of the requirements set out in Section 9A plays a vital role in improving the completeness and accuracy of our electoral registers, which we are committed to achieving; however, giving
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The Commission already has powers to set and monitor performance standards for electoral services, against which electoral registration officers' performance is measured. A failure to meet those standards could indicate a potential failure to meet the duty set out in Section 9A of the 1983 Act. In addition, Ministers may require registration officers to comply with directions relating to discharging their functions. It is also an offence for them to breach their official duty without good cause. To date this system has worked well and we see no need to change this or for any specific provision to be made relating to the discharge of Section 9A duties. For these reasons, I question whether the amendment is necessary in ensuring that Section 9A duties are fulfilled. For those reasons I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
I shall also speak to Amendments 43 and 45, which are minor and technical amendments. As a consequence of the changes to the canvass process under IER to be made by the Bill, we need to remove the reference to "the relevant date" from Section 49(6)(a) of the 1983 Act. That date is usually 15 October, which is currently the date of residence for the purposes of the annual canvass. Under IER the canvass will not be tied to a date. It is for those reasons that the Government will move Amendments 43 and 45.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his assurances that there is no intention whatever to weaken the duties of returning officers in relation to the registration process. I hope that any information that emanates from the Electoral Commission in due course will emphasise that fact to returning officers. On the basis of his reassurances, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 39.
"(f) reporting to the police any suspicion he or she might have that an offence had been committed relevant to the integrity of registration and absent vote applications""
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This amendment seeks to put an additional duty on electoral registration officers. Tackling electoral fraud is one of the stated aims of the Government in shifting to a system of individual electoral registration. It has been one of the justifications for speeding up the implementation. While we warn against the fast-track transition, we wholeheartedly support all attempts at addressing and seeking to eliminate the occurrence of fraud. EROs are the officials charged with the administration of the electoral register. If they see suspicions of fraud, they should report them to the police, and in this amendment we suggest that a specific duty be placed on EROs to do that. I beg to move.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, Amendment 39B would require electoral registration officers to report to the police any instances where they suspect that individuals have committed offences relating to electoral fraud when submitting a registration or absent vote application. While the spirit behind the amendment is commendable, the Government do not consider it to be necessary to make this a statutory requirement. I should like to explain the reasons for that.
The need for EROs to refer to the police any suspicions they have on registration or postal vote applications which they receive is already very clear in the guidance issued to them by the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission's Managing Electoral Registration in Great Britain guidance clearly states:
In addition to this, the Electoral Commission has worked with the Association of Chief Police Officers to produce guidance for EROs, returning officers and police officers on identifying and responding to allegations of electoral fraud around the registration and postal voting process. In exercising its powers under Section 9A of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the Electoral Commission has also set a specific performance standard on integrity which EROs need to meet in maintaining the integrity of registration and postal vote applications. In order to meet this performance standard, EROs are required to establish and maintain contact with their local police with a single point of contact and to ensure that any suspicions arising from registration and postal voting applications are reported to them immediately.
In view of the guidance, performance standards and the reports from the Electoral Commission which confirm that the overwhelming majority of EROs already take the appropriate action to report any suspicions they have in relation to fraudulent registration and postal voting applications to the police, we do not consider that this amendment will have any major impact or lead to any improvements on the ground. Although it is commendable, it is for those reasons that I ask the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 44 and 46. These amendments are all technical and consequential. They relate to anonymous entries in the register. I should make it
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Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 42. These are minor amendments and are intended to ensure that as many eligible applicants as possible are registered by removing a restriction on rolling registration applications being added to the revised register. Removing this restriction would not affect the entitlement of people to object to an application for registration or the registration officer's duty to determine objections. Rolling registration was introduced by the Representation of the People Act 2000, the provisions of which set up a 14-day period prior to the publication of a monthly update or a revised register during which successful rolling registration applications may not be added.
Under the household registration system, this 14-day limit does not cause any great problems as different rules apply to the compilation of registers used for elections, and the revised register, which is usually published on 1 December, is published following the canvass period. Because a returned household canvass is a de facto application to register, few rolling registration applications are currently made in the canvass period. However, under IER, all applications to register will be akin to rolling registration applications. Having a 14-day period when these cannot be added to the revised register could cause a problem and potentially harm the completeness of the register. The amendments remove the 14-day limit in relation to the publication of the revised register.
As I said, these are minor amendments, but they are supported by the Electoral Commission, which said that it did not believe that there was any significant rationale for retaining the current 14-day period. Indeed, the Association of Electoral Administrators did not feel that there was any administrative reason to keep the limit. For those reasons, I beg to move.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the amendment sounds reasonable. Am I right in saying that there will now be no time limit before publication in respect of which registration can take place, meaning that, if you make your application the day before the register is published, it will be included in the register? If you
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Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I think that I am getting into slightly technical territory, but my understanding is that the provision is designed so that, about five days before the register is concluded, as many people as possible are able to be on the register. Some assistance may be coming from the Box, which is always very helpful. The answer that I have is that there is still a five-day objection period, which I think gives the provision a practical effect.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: That is incredibly helpful. I am more than happy to see the 14 days go. The consequence is that, up to five days before publication, you will get on to the next published register; if the application is within those five days, you will be on the register that is published after the one that is just about to be published.
"(3A) Subsection (2)(a)(ii) also does not require a registration officer in Great Britain to issue a notice under subsection (2) in a case where the month which follows that in which the relevant time falls is the month containing the date on which a revised version of the register is next due to be published in accordance with section 13(1)(a); and in such a case the alteration in question shall be made in that revised version of the register.""
(a) in paragraph (b), for the words from "is not" to "was not" substitute "is not or was not at any particular time";
(b) in paragraph (c), for the words from "is, or" to "was," substitute "is or was at any particular time".
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, this is a minor and technical amendment to the Bill. It ensures that there is no ambiguity over the continued application under individual electoral registration of the existing
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The amendment maintains our declared policy of keeping the criminal offence alongside the new civil penalty. The criminal offence of non-disclosure or providing false information is an important part of electoral registration, giving registration officers the capacity to offer a warning on the canvass form and to insist that it is duly completed and returned.
The civil penalty is an additional tool for registration officers as they encourage individuals to register, but the criminal offence is still necessary to ensure that they receive as much information as possible in response to the annual canvass so that residents may be retained on the register or invited to make an individual application.
This is a technical amendment to paragraph 1B of Schedule 2 to the Representation of the People Act 1983, which is inserted by the Bill. It creates a link to paragraph 1 of that schedule, on the requirement to give information, which contains the link to the offence in paragraph 13. I beg to move.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I feel sorry for the Minister because this is rather a complicated amendment. It was presented as being intended to preserve the criminal offence alongside the civil penalty. My reading of the amendment, which amends an amendment to another Act of Parliament, is that, instead of referring to information that a registration officer "must request or provide", it refers to information that they,
when conducting a canvass in Great Britain. I do not read Amendment 44A as preserving a criminal offence; I see it as changing the terms of the change that was introduced by the amendment to the other Act in this Act. Am I right and, if so, what is the effect of Amendment 44A? I apologise for asking such a complicated question but it is a rather complicated provision.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I understand that the key phrase in the amendment is the reference back to paragraph 1, but its purpose and effect is that there will be a criminal offence relating to non-disclosure of information on the annual canvass, as there is under the current household registration system. This relates to not providing information or providing false information when requested by an ERO. The criminal penalty can be used by EROs to ensure that the annual canvass form is completed and returned. However, the offence will remain in addition to the civil penalty being introduced under IER, which allows registration officers to impose the penalty where an individual fails to apply to register when required to do so. The criminal offence is more severe because it aims to prevent the potential disenfranchisement of others through the canvass whereas the civil penalty relates to an individual's application. That is the purpose and effect of the amendment. I can go into further technical detail but perhaps I may clarify the point to the noble and learned Lord more fully when I have taken further advice. Having looked at the technical detail, which
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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am perfectly content with that answer. Perhaps the Minister could have somebody write a little letter about it, because I do not think that it is at the heart of the Bill. It is my fault for not quite understanding the effect of the new amendment. If it were possible to write a letter in relation to it, I am sure that it would be no problem, but it would mean that, by the time we got to Report, we would know where we stood. I apologise for not grasping it.
"( ) The Government shall report to Parliament annually, within two months of the end of the financial year, on what money has been made available to local authorities to meet costs of transition to the new register and what safeguards have been put in place to make sure the money has been spent on the specified task."
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this amendment-if it was passed- requires the Government to report to Parliament annually, within two months of the end of the financial year, on what money has been made available to local authorities to meet the costs of the transition to the new register which will be under IER, and what safeguards have been put in place to make sure that the money has been spent on the specified task. I do not think it would be properly regarded as ring-fenced money but it would mean that the Government would be identifying the amounts of money that they expected to be seen spent on the transition and then there would be a report back afterwards to indicate what had happened to that money.
This is important because I think everybody in the House, and certainly in the other place, is aware of the importance of IER being made to work. I think most people would accept that whether IER works properly or is introduced in a way that does not leave too many
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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I have a slight problem with the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord. I may have missed something, but he said that the amendment provides that the Government shall report to Parliament annually, so there is no limit on the number of years-presumably it is in perpetuity-but they would be reporting on something transitional. Presumably there should be some time limit set in the amendment, otherwise there is redundancy built in to what is being asked in terms of providing material that becomes irrelevant once the transition is complete? Or have I missed something?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: One would hope so. I do not know how long the transition is going to take. It is clear from the way that everybody has spoken that probably in the first publication of the register where IER is compulsory-1 December 2015-it will not be complete. I have no idea how long it will go on after that, therefore at the moment I am not minded to put in a terminus date. At this stage, I cannot see any objection to the principle. This may surprise you as I am not intending to push this to a vote, but if the principle were accepted-which I hope it will be-then I think the right thing to do would be to talk to the Government to work out the best way to craft the detail.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his amendment requiring an annual report to Parliament on the funding allocated to local authorities. I am sorry to disappoint the noble and learned Lord, but as the then Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform announced during this Bill's Second Reading debate in the other place, we will provide local authorities in England and Wales with grants under Section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003 to pay their net costs for the transition to individual registration in addition to the current costs of running the annual canvass process which will continue to be met through the formula grant.
The Government wrote to local authorities over the summer seeking views on the proposed payment method for the allocation of non-ring-fenced Section 31 grant and the proposed formula which will be taken into account in making allocations. The Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform then wrote to local authorities in December 2012 setting out how the final funding approach, including the funding formulae, will work. The grants paid by the Government to each local authority during the transition will be a matter of public record, and the progress made by local authorities towards implementation of individual registration will be scrutinised by the Electoral Commission as part of its performance standards regime and will also be a matter of public record.
Spending decisions are ultimately a matter for local authorities. However local authorities are required by Section 54 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to pay the expenses of a registration officer properly incurred in the performance of their functions. Paragraph 16 of Schedule 4 to the Bill ensures that this requirement extends to the registration officer's duties in respect of the transition to the new system.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The effect of my amendment would be that the report to Parliament annually, within two months of the end of the financial year, would simply be on what money was made available which the local authorities could use to meet the costs of the transition and what safeguards have been put in place to make sure the money had been spent on the specified task. It does not, in fact, require that the Government have to ensure that they do. It is a means of identifying what they intended and what steps they took to see whether it happened. With the greatest of respect to the Minister, I cannot see in any of the reasons that he gave why that is not quite a good thing to do which causes no problems for central government and does not interfere with the fact that it is ultimately for local authorities to make the decision about how they spend the overall grant they have. All that is being required here is that central government do the best it can in order to ensure that there is enough money for the transition without in any way offending the constitutional position.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, Amendments 48, 49 and 51 deal with this particular issue. We know that even though there is no compliance with the notifiers in the period up to 2014, nevertheless the individual elector will be carried over to the 2014 register but not to the 2015 register. In relation to the 2014 register, although the registration would be carried over, the proxy or postal voting arrangements made in relation to that elector will not be carried over. We would like to see carryover of the proxy and postal voting arrangements. We fear that if there is carryover without that also being carried over, it may well be that, without knowing it, people lose their ability to vote. The people who will be most affected by this will tend to be the poorest and the dispossessed in society. Is there a reason why the carryover does not include the proxy or postal vote? If the registration is to be carried over to 2014, what is the thinking behind not having a carryover? Will the Government think again? I beg to move.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, I shall speak first to Amendment 58 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tyler. Unlike the intention of other amendments within this group, we do not wish to decide today that the transition to individual electoral registration need necessarily take longer than the Government hope. However we very much want to make sure that Parliament has the opportunity, if necessary, to lengthen the transitional period in order to protect the comprehensiveness of the register. That is the purpose of Amendment 58.
We understand from recent discussions we have held with the Electoral Commission that it will not be sure about the success or otherwise of this transition until some point in 2016. Therefore, we think it is highly desirable that there should be some opportunity to extend that period. We know that throughout the process the Electoral Commission will give advice to Parliament as the transitional phase continues, and Parliament will have regard to that advice, but we feel strongly that Parliament must be able to act upon that advice rather than just receive it. However we think it would unfair to say that the Electoral Commission should be the sole arbiter of whether progress towards individual electoral registration has succeeded sufficiently well that the register could be considered to be in a fit and proper state for the various purposes for which it is used.
The Committee has heard previously about our recommendations to try to ensure that the process is a success. We considered them on our first day in Committee. We on these Benches were particularly concerned about things such as the position of attainers-16 and 17 year-olds. We wanted to know how we can track down people in the private rented sector and how we might make use of the DVLA database of drivers to find huge numbers of adults. Even if we do not use the whole DVLA database, we are anxious to know how people who notify the DVLA that they have changed their address might be incorporated into the system of electoral registration.
All those different methodologies to try to improve both the accuracy and the comprehensiveness of the electoral register involve new technology and new processes, and we cannot tell at this stage how successful or otherwise they will be. The current round of pilots has yet to be properly evaluated. Although we want to make individual electoral registration a success under the timetable set out in the Bill, we think that it is important that there is a safeguard in such an important issue for our democracy, so that Parliament has the opportunity to say, "We are not sure that this process has been sufficiently successful for us immediately to change over to individual electoral registration exclusively and drop the carryover".
We know from many debates how the electoral register is in a different state of order in different parts of the country. We would want to know that it is in a better state of order in all parts of the country before proceeding. We think that we need more flexibility.
We know that Ministers might even welcome the idea that Parliament has to approve the final completion of the transitional phase and the use of the new
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Amendment 50 deals with the distinct issue of the treatment of postal voters in the transition to individual electoral registration. I have instinctive sympathy with the Government's view, which the Electoral Commission appears to share, that the postal voting system may be more open to abuse and therefore ripe for reform than the in-person system. However, the purpose of the amendment is to test the evidence for that contention.
In 2006, the previous Government accepted an amendment in my name to the Electoral Administration Bill, now enacted, which greatly improved the security of the postal voting system by requiring anyone voting by post to sign a personal application to say that they wanted to vote by post and to sign an accompanying certificate with the postal vote so that we could be certain that the person who applied for the postal vote was the same person who was returning the completed ballot paper.
It is possible to see how voters impersonating people in person can more easily get away with impersonation. It is not difficult to go to a polling station, give a name and address and be handed a ballot paper. You might not choose the name of someone famous or someone who always votes, because they may turn up subsequently and dispute the fact that they have already been given a ballot paper and demand a subsequent ballot paper, and there may be an investigation, but we know that many people never vote. A party could be involved in an election, find out that someone has no intention of going to the polling station and vote on their behalf. Indeed, in my experience in Liverpool in the 1980s, when the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, was trying to organise reforms of the Labour Party in that city at the same time as I was trying to beat the then Militant-led Labour Party, there was widespread impersonation at the polling station organised by the Militants, who did not have sufficient support from ordinary voters but could impersonate large numbers of them.
It is not as simple as saying that voting by post is clearly open to fraud and abuse but that voting in person is not, but the Bill proposes that you must be registered under the IER system if you are to vote by post, but that you do not have to if you vote in person. I wonder whether that is justifiable and whether we should insist that postal voters are registered under the new system if they are to be able to exercise their right to vote in the 2015 elections.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, there is no question of inadmissibility for these amendments. Indeed, questions were raised during the debate that we had a short while ago that addressed, in particular, the transitional arrangements to the new, individual electoral register.
Two subjects are under discussion and, if noble Lords will permit, I will deal with them in turn. The first is the removal of absent votes from those electors who do not register under IER in 2014. My noble friend Lord Rennard's Amendment 50 and Amendment 51, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, speak to that issue. The amendments would leave in place absent votes for the 2015 general election for voters who have not registered or been verified under IER. To respond to my noble friend's challenge, I think that he is saying that that is incompatible with the arrangements that we have elsewhere. One of the drivers of IER is tackling electoral fraud, and especially vulnerabilities to registration fraud, to restore voters' confidence in the system. Moving to a position where all those casting postal votes or using proxies have been verified through IER will add an additional safeguard to the system at the earliest possible opportunity.
The use of data matching to confirm entries will mean that a significant number of current postal voters are likely to be able automatically to retain their postal vote in the 2015 general election. Others who are not automatically confirmed on the new register will be given an opportunity and reminders to register under the new system in 2014 and, if they choose not to, will still be able to cast a vote-not a postal or proxy vote, but one in person-at the 2015 general election. We are not disfranchising anyone, but the driver is, of course, to get people to register under IER.
There will be clear communication to anyone with an absent vote who is invited to register under the new system about what will happen if they do not do so, and in the event that the person does not register, they will be written to again to inform them that they have lost their absent vote and giving them the opportunity to register under IER and reapply for their absent vote. This is a participatory exercise; it is not designed to remove legitimate voters from the register.
Those steps, alongside the addition of the other measures we have introduced to maintain completeness, such as the introduction of the civil penalty, minimise the risk of someone with an absent vote inadvertently losing it, which was one of the noble and learned Lord's concerns, while as promptly as possible bringing in an important safeguard against fraud.
I now turn to Amendments 48, 49 and 58, each of which relate to the carry-forward of existing electors under IER. I briefly remind the Committee that, under our proposals, there is already a carry-forward function to include those from whom a canvass form has been received in the final pre-transition canvass, which we intend to conclude in spring 2014. Those who do not
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Amendment 48, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, would have the effect of including in this carry-forward those electors who last registered in the canvass of 2012. This would retain until 2015 the entries of electors added to the register last year who did not respond positively to the final non-IER canvass. If entries from 2012 were kept on the register until 2015 without any subsequent evidence that the person was still resident there, the register for the next general election would contain entries where the ERO had not heard from the elector for more than two years. We believe that this is too long for the ERO to remain satisfied that the citizen is indeed still resident and that the effect of this amendment would be to increase the inaccuracies on the register, something I think all Members of the Committee would agree should be avoided. Indeed, much of the debate we had earlier was about inaccuracies on the register.
Amendment 49, also tabled by the noble and learned Lord, would extend the carry-forward for one year, so that non-IER entries on the register are not removed until 2016. Amendment 58, tabled by my noble friend Lord Rennard, would mean that the final transition to an electoral register made up solely of individually registered electors could take place only following Parliament approving a statutory instrument. We are not minded to adopt these proposals because of the likelihood of the inaccuracies they will bring to these early IER registers. We know that carrying forward non-IER entries on the register will result in some inaccurate entries being carried forward. We judge that this is an acceptable risk to take to protect the registers for the general election in 2015.
However, when the registers are published, after the 2015 canvass, in December 2015 it could have been nearly two years since the ERO had heard from the individuals in question here, which brings in the risk of a high degree of inaccuracy. Under the noble and learned Lord's amendment these entries would remain on the register and under my noble friend's amendment they would remain on the register if Parliament did not vote to engage the removals process in 2015. Furthermore, under our plans, by the time of publication of the registers in 2015, those individuals who are not confirmed automatically at the start of the transition will have had more than a year to register individually, over two canvasses, and will have been contacted a number of times by their ERO. There will also be a general election between the two canvasses-a time when awareness of politics and voting is at its highest. Our intention-and I hope this reassures noble Lords who are the authors of these amendments-remains that EROs will write to individuals who have neither registered nor been confirmed towards the end of the 2015 canvass to inform them that they will be removed and to offer them one further chance to apply to be registered.
I hope that is reassuring. The intention behind these amendments is to maintain the number of entries on the register, but in our view they risk reducing the
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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive reply. Two things go through my mind. First, in relation to the 2014-15 change, he acknowledges that despite all the efforts being made to get people to register by IER it may not work. If that is right, why will it work in relation to postal or proxy votes but not in relation to individual registration? Secondly and separately, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, referred to the effect of the information that is coming out, and we know what the data-matching pilots are saying. Do they not make the Government think that a longer carryover period is be required? In particular, the data-matching pilots are showing that only about 70% of names are matching up, which may not be enough. I hope the Government will think about those matters. We will certainly think again and consider whether to come back on Report. I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity to have this important and timely debate and I thank the Library for its briefing note. I must attach a disclaimer to the terms of this debate, which is: "Will the Government reconsider the omission of arts subjects from the EBacc, if the reforms go ahead?". A growing number, and I count myself among them, believe that the EBacc is severely flawed and, at the very least, should be postponed pending fuller consultation over all its aspects. However, I will come back to the wider debate later.
This Government continue to underestimate the significance of the arts and creative industries, culturally, socially and economically. It is perhaps no surprise
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High-profile arts leaders and practitioners have said they believe that in the long term the effect of these reforms could be more significant even than the cuts to public subsidies. Indeed, as the Minister will be aware, there has been a huge barrage of concern and criticism over the omission of arts subjects from the EBacc from both the subsidised and commercial wings of the arts-from film, theatre, the visual arts, including public museums and art dealers, music, dance, craft and design, and tellingly too from others outside the arts.
"If you think about the opening ceremony of the Olympics and all the things that we think of to symbolise modern Britain-from the Beatles to the internet-so many of them are based in creativity ... The government is not looking at the country as it actually is: a place that is brilliant at fashion, broadcasting, design, the arts, drama, film".
The Secretary of State needs to listen carefully to this criticism, because at present the Government are displaying a blasé attitude that does not reflect reality. They say that pupils are still free to take arts subjects at GCSE level and schools are free to offer them, but the 20% or so left in the school timetable to teach non-EBacc subjects is like being thrown crumbs. Moreover, school governors have told me that once a subject no longer contributes to the league tables, it slips down the priorities for resources.
Further evidence that neglect is already happening comes from research commissioned from Ipsos MORI by the Department for Education, available on its website. The arts are already hardest hit, with 23% of
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a crystal-clear expression of the lower-class status that excluded subjects now have. The Government may want to move away from league tables but the effect will remain the same. There will be other serious effects if these reforms go through as they are. Many have pointed out that it will be children from poorer homes who will be disproportionately deprived of exposure to the arts.
The Secretary of State seems to believe that the EBacc is what universities and business leaders want, yet the representative body Universities UK gave this written evidence to the Education Committee's inquiry into the EBacc in 2010:
"Given that the EBacc emphasises traditionally academic subjects, it has been argued that this could serve to further widen the gap between academic and vocational subjects. There is also concern that the EBacc could encourage a shift away from arts-related subjects ... In general ... there appears to be a limited appetite to include the award as part of a university's entry requirements or selection criteria".
I stress the phrase "a limited appetite". I therefore wonder how much the Russell Group's guidance that was set out in 2011, rather than indicating what universities would like, has been a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, because some universities will quite logically consider less those subjects that are already starting to be marginalised.
The issue of overspecialisation at too early an age is an important one. In its report First Steps: A New Approach to our Schools, the CBI, which is critical of the EBacc in many ways, talks about the need for what it terms a "rounded and grounded" pupil, echoing what those in the arts also say. Rosy Greenlees, executive director of the Crafts Council, tells me that while not wholly against a "techbacc"-and I would welcome some more detail from the Minister on the Government's plans in this direction-she is worried about the possible reinforcing of what she calls the,
On Radio 4's "Start the Week" last November, which was devoted to art and design, Sarah Teasley, tutor in the history of design at the Royal College of Art, spoke about the need to push regional innovation through connections between research institutes and regions, between art and design colleges and local SMEs. There is a real need to bring arts, sciences and technology into a much more intimate relationship, and this must start in schools. Subjects need to be able to talk to each other within the curriculum much more
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In terms of the larger structure of the EBacc, art and sport-which also feels that it is going to be neglected-need at this stage to see each other as allies in the interests of wider reform, not competitors for a position in what is being increasingly understood as a limiting and unacceptable hierarchy of subjects. What, too, about computer science, itself so crucial to the development of today's creative industries; business; economics; sociology; and religious studies? The list goes on. There is concern, too, about the effective downgrading of the modular system-a system that many argue favours innovation and creativity-an action, as the National Children's Bureau and other charities point out, that will also hugely discriminate against disadvantaged children and those with learning and other disabilities. For many of the reasons that I have discussed, Tony Kelly of the Education School at Southampton University says that the EBacc will be a distraction from the fundamental mission of schools to create well-being for students-not solely economic well-being, but the development of the ability to turn opportunity into betterment.
The support for withdrawing the EBacc is now backed by teachers, parents, unions, national museums, major charities, the National Governors Association, academics and universities, Peers, MPs and former Education Secretaries, including the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. Seeing as the consultation for key stage 4 has been held very much in public, I am tempted to say that the Government hardly need to look at the results to see how institutions and many people now feel. The Government must give very careful consideration to the consultation and report back quickly. Although we have had the music plan, we are still awaiting the response of the Government to last year's Henley report on cultural learning, which backed the inclusion of arts within the EBacc.
One of the frustrating things that so many working in the arts now feel is that we are living through a time when the arts and creative industries have become central to our society, central to our culture and, as I said at the beginning of this debate, hugely significant economically. They could of course be more so, but the arts are in real danger of taking a backward turn at a time when the Government should be seizing the day and capitalising on what is now in place, but which might well be lost if the Government do not change tack.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I congratulate and thank the noble Earl for having inaugurated this debate with such a stimulating speech. I yield to no one in my love of the cultural subjects that he has described. I fear that we have here a degree of confusion between the EBacc and the English baccalaureate
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subjects at age 16 beyond the EBacc to replace current GCSEs. I hope that I am right, and that the Minister will be able to reassure me, that the baccalaureate certificate will eventually spread, although I agree that it is a very slow programme, across all subjects.
I return to the purpose of the change in the examinations away from GCSEs towards the baccalaureate certificate, and I welcome the urge towards a new and more rigorous kind of examination. Examinations cast a very long shadow over the whole of secondary school education, and the way in which pupils are going to be examined at age 16 determines very much the pattern of education that they will receive in the years before that. Finding a new set of examinations that genuinely go for rigour and try to assess, as Anthony Seldon has put it, the ability of the pupils rather than that of the teachers is wholly to be welcomed. It is important that students have the opportunity to develop real scholarship and independent thought but too much about the GCSEs that we have had has not encouraged that. They have encouraged a simple regurgitating of factual material that pupils have been given. The development of scholarship, God-given curiosity and a real sense of independent thought-which these new examinations are designed to achieve-will be very important.
I commend the Government for having commissioned Darren Henley to write a report on what they have described as "cultural subjects", because we know how very important those are. I make a final plea-that we should talk not only about the arts and cultural subjects but also about those young people with a passion for the technical and vocational curriculum as well.
Baroness Morris of Yardley: I, too, am very grateful to the noble Earl for giving us this short amount of time to discuss this important issue. Two assumptions underpin this debate for me: first, whatever our difference of opinion may be this evening, there is a shared assumption that the knowledge, skills and experience that make up the arts are an important part of our society and how we live our lives. They are vital for economic prosperity, integral to our sense of identity and a part of what makes us a civilised society. Because of that, how we educate our children in the arts is absolutely crucial.
My second assumption is that the English baccalaureate-despite the fact that the certificates might be extended-will become the most important
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I accept that, in theory, there is room in the curriculum for subjects to be taught other than those in the English baccalaureate, and that examinations are now available. Those, however, will be seen as marginal-they will not be the gold standard. However the Government might try to argue that they are not putting the arts subjects at a disadvantage, the lessons of almost a quarter of a century of a national curriculum and assessment system tell otherwise. We have learnt over that time that what is measured is what is valued, and what schools are held accountable for is where they will put their efforts. That is not me predicting the future, that is a description of what is happening at the moment. Schools are already rewriting timetables and reallocating resources; they are changing their staffing plans and amending the subject choice advice that they give to young people. This will happen more as they chase success in the English baccalaureate. The cost that will be paid is that arts education will take second place. Sadly, decades of progress will be reversed. That ought not to be allowed to happen, but that will be a consequence of the avenue down which the Government are leading us.
First, as a nation, our success in the arts and creative industries is second to none. It brings billions to our economy. In Questions earlier today, for example, I mentioned that the UK's music industry alone brings nearly £4 billion to the economy. Our creative industries are the envy of the world and, as a country, we should be doing all that we can to protect that jewel in our crown. Sadly, since the EBacc started in 2010 we have seen schools culling arts subjects-dance, drama, music and design and technology courses-from their curricula. We have seen students deciding not to take up these subjects as schools limit the number of arts subjects on offer. Never mind the numerous arts organisations expressing their fears-employers are also worried. The Confederation of British Industry has recommended that creative and technical subjects should be included in the new qualification.
Secondly, every child should have the same access to the arts and culture. Schools with a high proportion of free school meals are more likely to be withdrawing from arts subjects. We know that children from families with lower socioeconomic status have less access to the arts in any case. Indeed, we are now seeing this state of affairs accelerating in our schools.
Finally, we need an examination system in which we all have confidence, whether it be the student, the teacher, the university or the employer. We need a system which is fair and not divisive-one that maintains rigorous standards and challenges the most able.
I am in favour of the EBacc. There should be a core of subjects that young people are expected to take. However, I strongly believe that a sixth pillar of the arts should be part of the EBacc qualification; in fact, the Government;s own cultural education review, chaired by Darren Henley, recommended such a course of action.
As the head of a school until December of last year-a school with an Artsmark Gold-I know the importance of visual and performing arts: how arts can develop confidence in pupils, help with other skills such as literacy and develop full, rounded pupils. Let us recognise the importance of arts in our schools for economic well-being, social mobility and the continued development of the arts.
"Music is both an art and a science; to comprehend it fully requires long, hard study; to feel the emotions it can produce, you need a cultivated mind and a practised sense of hearing; and to judge the merit of musical works, you must also possess a well-stocked memory so as to be able to make comparisons-indeed you must know all sorts of things which inevitably you can get to know only by learning them".
I only really began to appreciate classical music at university. I do not, however, believe that would have happened if I had not been lucky enough to go to a school where I was made to sing, to learn the rudiments of music theory and history, and to attend concerts-as well as briefly taking piano lessons. Without that foundation, I might never have discovered Berlioz, nor would music-and the arts in general-have played such a key part in my quality and enjoyment of life.
That is just what I have gained as an amateur arts-lover. What about all those professionals working in the field of music, in a vast variety of roles and in every different form of music, who have been so successful on the world stage and who, as we have heard, help the UK to earn almost £4 billion a year in gross value added-a figure that rises to over £36 billion if all the creative industries are included? Surely they and their successors need the same sort of grounding at school if this invaluable source of UK competitive advantage is not to dry up.
The Olympics and Paralympics opening and closing ceremonies last year made plain how great a role music plays in our national perception of ourselves and of what we have to offer the world. Nothing could
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According to the IBM Institute of Business Value, chief executives identify creativity as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future. Many of the nations with which we need to compete are putting substantial resources into educating their young people in the creative disciplines. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us how she plans to ensure that creative subjects, including music, do not become some sort of second-tier option with limited availability following the introduction of the EBacc, with resulting damage to the UK's creative economy.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl for this short debate and I share with him many concerns about the importance of the arts in education, particularly the importance of guaranteeing effective engagement with the arts for the totality of a child's school career, including through public examinations. The exclusion of an art strand from the core EBacc suggests an overnarrow focus and a certain kind of Philistinism that values only those subjects seen, perhaps mistakenly, as contributing overtly to our economic life.
Alongside that general concern about downplaying the arts, it will come as no surprise that I have a particular worry about the other exclusion; namely, religious education. I hope that I do not need to rehearse the reasons why inclusion in the EBacc is essential for the continual well-being of the subject nor, more fundamentally, why RE must be retained as a core element of the education of every pupil in our schools.
Understanding the impact of, in this country, Christianity and, in the rest of the world, all major faiths on life and culture, on history and politics, and on the moral and legal codes is fundamental to living as an engaged, articulate citizen, such as a healthy society requires. But religion is also inextricably connected to the arts. For western culture, that means predominantly Christianity. How can one understand and appreciate the music of JS Bach without a knowledge of the Christian faith and the context out of which his music sprang? Think of the Passions, the cantatas, the Mass. Similarly, with the great masters: a huge amount of western art just is shaped by the Christian story, the Biblical record, and the life and history of the Christian
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Students who are ignorant about Christianity are locked out of a crucial part of understanding and experiencing art and culture. The relationship between the other world faiths and the arts is different but the understanding of faith as a driver for and outcome of artistic expression of all kinds is fundamental to arts education and cultural development across the board. As the case is made for the inclusion of the arts in the English baccalaureate, I ask that the case for religious education is heard as well.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, is a tireless advocate for the arts and culture in this House. We owe him a big debt of gratitude, not least for the opportunity to discuss the topic of this debate. I remind the House of my interests, which includes membership of the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Over my 40-year involvement with the performing arts in this country, I have watched the relationship between them and the education system develop from one of what I think one could describe as a mutually respectful distance, to the rich, full-blown network of innovative partnerships that we have all over the country today. I do not think that there is a theatre company, orchestra or dance troupe in the land that does not regard education as a central part of its remit and there are few schools which do not benefit from that work.
In addition, there are many organisations, such as two with which I am proud to be associated-the Roundhouse and Artis Education-which have created, in very different ways, brilliant programmes to enhance and enrich the school curriculum. So much has been achieved. Therefore, how is it that we now have to defend those achievements against the reductive effect of a narrowly focused range of EBacc subjects?
The Secretary of State for Education has repeatedly asserted that culture and the arts are important for all young people and I am sure that he is sincere. He is, after all, as Mark Antony remarked of Brutus, "an honourable man". Indeed, he recently made it possible for his department to fund the introduction into all maintained secondary schools of the RSC's Shakespeare toolkit, which is a brilliant performance-based-noble Lords should note well, performance based-programme for teachers. But at the same time, as we have heard, a recent Ipsos MORI report for the Department for Education shows that in 2012 27% of schools were already making reductions in the range of subjects offered at GCSE. Of that figure, 23% were in the performing arts. Does the Minister think that there might be a bit of a paradox here?
The Minister, for whom we all have a high regard, will no doubt do her best to persuade the House that schools are not being actively prevented from offering arts subjects. Of course, technically, she will be right. But when, in five years' time, arts subjects in our schools have gone into the sort of decline that we saw
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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I, too, welcome the debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and I congratulate him on his fine opening speech. At a recent meeting of the All-Party Group for Music Education, the chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians reported that 80 organisations, including the BRIT School, Shakespeare's Globe, the National Portrait Gallery and many others supported what is now called the "Bacc for the Future" campaign.
I have never seen the creative sector so united against what appears to be a two-tier approach by the Government to educational qualifications. When the result of the consultation comes through, it will undoubtedly show a massive negative sentiment. Arts and cultural subjects have not been in a good place for some years. The Cultural Learning Alliance reports a steady decline in the number of young people studying arts and cultural subjects.
Now, as a result of the EBacc, the performance measure that is not to be confused with the future EBC, schools are cutting art, dance, drama, music and design and technology even further, as many noble Lords, including the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, have demonstrated and as the Ipsos survey made so clear.
This is all completely at odds with the Henley review of cultural education, let alone his earlier review of music education, and the Government's response, which, on the face of it, was so positive. A national plan is due to be published soon. How does the Minister reconcile this in the face of the marginalisation of arts subjects? As Jude Law, the actor, said:
The fact is that we need to reverse this trend. My noble friend Lord Storey mentioned that the CBI and others have expressed concerns. There will be fewer songwriters, composers, musicians, creators, creative professionals and even appreciative audiences, which will damage the creative industries as whole
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I hope that the Government appreciate that there is huge demand in this House and outside for the arts to be included as a sixth pillar in the EBC; for drama, dance, film and media to be included in the national curriculum. I further hope that the Government, particularly the Secretary of State, listen to the points made by the "Bacc for the future" campaign and by this House.
Baroness Kidron: My Lords, for 30 years I have led my professional life in the film industry. I declare my interests as a governor of the British Film Institute, a council member at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and co-founder of FILMCLUB. The film industry is an industry where art, science and commerce are routinely combined to make a vital cultural and economic contribution to the nation. The advent of the digital age has accelerated this convergence of the arts, science and business in almost every area of life. It will not have escaped notice that this sector, unlike many others, has seen exponential growth.
In particular, the gaming and special effects industry alone was valued at nearly £3 billion in 2012. We are a world leader in digital effects and the place of first choice for many Hollywood studios. However, Alex Hope, the CEO of the largest special effects company in Europe and co-author of the 2011 NESTA review of the sector reports that we are already failing a generation. Of the 760 designers employed by this UK company, 50% have had to be recruited from overseas because British applicants do not have the requisite skills in both maths and art, the combination of which is essential to the work of this burgeoning industry and the combination of which is routinely discouraged in our school system.
That the EBacc would exacerbate this problem by creating "Cinderella" subjects and preventing a joined-up education even earlier in the development of our workforce seems bewildering. To exclude computer science, art, design and business skills from the EBacc would indicate that the Government are wedded to a Victorian vision of education which will leave us stranded in these increasingly important global markets. As someone who has devoted their life to promoting the transformative power of culture, it feels somewhat invidious to make this economic argument, but it is testimony to how wrongheaded it is to arbitrarily create a tier of second-class subjects. The digital age has blown the wall between the two cultures wide open and it is at our peril that we systemise ignorance of any discipline when all disciplines are vital for our collective future.
I hope the House will find it appropriate if I take this opportunity to celebrate the multiple successes of the UK film and television industry at the Golden Globe awards yesterday evening, and hope that we will see many more in the future.
Lord Smith of Finsbury: My Lords, I should remind the House of my interests, which include being chairman or trustee of a range of arts organisations, patron of the BRIT School and a visiting professor at the University of the Arts London.
The narrow focus which the Government have placed on the English baccalaureate is, to my mind, severely detrimental. It is already squeezing out the arts from much of the school curriculum and I fear that the damage will go a lot further over the years to come. In the short time available, I want to make three brief but fundamental points.
The first is that engagement in the arts for school pupils is fundamentally important to the well-being and full education of those pupils. To ensure that a pupil can emerge from school to live the richest possible life of the intellect and the spirit for the rest of their lives, engagement in the arts is absolutely crucial to enable them to develop the fullest, roundest possible degree of character and ability.
My second point is that engagement in the arts is of fundamental importance for the well-being of the school. There is case after case in schools around the country where engagement by the pupils in a large amount of excellent artistic activity helps the performance of the rest of the school. Engagement in the arts enables pupils and encourages them to perform well academically in other subjects. The same goes for the life of the school. If the emphasis on music, dance, drama and art is lost, then the rest of the school will suffer.
The third point is that engagement in the arts for pupils is fundamentally important for the future of the country's economy. The importance of the creative industries, which is now something like 7% of our GDP, has been mentioned by virtually every speaker in this debate. Unless we nurture the spirit of creativity through school and then into the excellent tertiary education which is available for the creative sector in the UK, we are not going to keep our world lead in that sector. I think that the Government have both the tone and the detail of the English baccalaureate wrong. I plead with them to think again.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on obtaining this debate. With the support of the House I will also congratulate Darren Henley, whose excellent reports on cultural education were recognised in the New Year's Honours List with a very well deserved OBE.
I chair the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. We train outstanding musicians and dancers and are fifth out of all higher education institutions in the country for employment of our graduates, 97% of whom are in work or further study six months after graduating. We can achieve that quality of output only because of the quality of our input. We have all heard of child prodigies in music, but you do not very often hear of adult prodigies-that is, performers who started late in life. Music and dance in schools are what enable us to do what we do.
The EBacc as it is presently conformed is very bad news for Trinity Laban: no music, no dance, no arts; instead, the Daily Telegraph suite of subjects. Ministers claim-and I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, will do the same-that they still value the arts and I expect some of them do, but we live in a harsh world. If they do not figure in the EBacc, then schools, which will be judged by their EBacc success, will downgrade them and, indeed, they are already doing so. This is despite a YouGov poll which shows that 88% of the public expressing an opinion think that music and other creative subjects are important or very important to a child's education. With some children whose level of performance needs to be increased, it is very often through the arts, music or dance that they make the breakthrough to seeing the value of education and then apply that to other, less congenial, subjects.
If the Government do not change tack, the composition of those who come to Trinity Laban will change as well as the quality. Those whose parents can afford to will provide school-age education in music and dance privately. Those who cannot will see their children's talents wasted. The answer is a sixth pillar to the EBacc for such studies. If Michael Gove wants to retoxify the Tory party as the philistine party, he will continue to resist it.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I also thank the noble Earl for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. I hope it is a harbinger of a much wider set of debates; this is not enough. That being said, in three minutes I cannot give my outline of what constitutes a rounded education. Instead, I will start at the end of my argument and give the answer, which is-and this will shock noble Lords-Ofsted, in which I declare an interest, having had some part in setting it up. If that is the answer, what is the question?
I agree with virtually all the sentiments expressed in this debate, so much so that I often wish there was a good philistine in the House to put an alternative point of view, not to disturb the company. However, we are arguing about what motivates schools. I do not know any teacher who would not agree that arts and music are important. I know a few philistine head teachers who practise bad faith by responding only to public stimuli in their account of what a rounded education is. They do that because they respond to what the public want, which is league tables, and they only give credit to what league tables will produce. Behind that, the notion of a national curriculum was a very good one in principle and attached to it were national exams. Performance in the exams became the other benchmark of what a rounded education is. The trouble with this discussion is that we are saying, "We will accept all that in principle reluctantly", and we will push our pet subject into the same group with the same type of treatment that we have for the national curriculum.
I agree with noble Lords. I live by the arts, enjoy them, learn a great deal from them and get great pleasure from listening to music and going to the theatre. That is not at issue. What is at issue is what are
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My proposal is that we should put a specific responsibility and requirement on Ofsted to report annually on what is happening nationally, on how many jobs have been lost in these areas, because it is serious, and, specifically for head teachers, on what an individual school does to create a rounded education. This might well be much more imaginative than trying to stick another subject into the national curriculum on which to be examined nationally. It puts a lot on Ofsted but-blow me-that is what it is paid for. It ought to make judgments and, to give it its due, it has, as a start, produced a good national report on religious education. Ofsted will have to do the same for art, music, design, computer science, and so on down the list.
My worry is that the national curriculum and what counts as a good subject will expand to the mess that we have now. Every lobby and his partner will turn up and tell us what we must include, and the national curriculum will burst at the seams. I would rather have space in schools with a specific injunction and a specific judgment on whether they are providing a rounded education.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to make one point in the gap and to apologise that an amendment in the Moses Room made me miss the first sentence of the noble Earl's excellent speech.
I take arts subjects to include design, which of course straddles art, technology and often engineering. That conjunction explains why design is so important. It is a subject that teaches how to turn an idea into a functional object which serves a purpose. In short, it is a prime example of creativity itself-a kind of creativity which typically includes collaboration between different disciplines, interaction with the end-user and the individual satisfaction of making something that can work. All of them are skills we need.
I need not rehearse the economic and export importance of our world-famous designs, nor, I hope, the contribution they make to the quality of life in countless ways, from hospital care to smartphones. But I must stress again the educational value for all of learning design. We should celebrate our traditional strength here and include design in the EBacc before it loses its place in our culture.
Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in the gap. I declare two interests as vice-president of the English Speaking Union and as High Steward of Cambridge University.
I urge the Government to avoid the mistake made in 2004 when language was removed as a compulsory subject. We know the consequence of that, although I remember sitting in debates in this House when we were assured by the Front Bench that no such consequences would occur. The consequences were that the number of young people reading, for example, French fell immediately in the first year by 14%. The number reading German fell by nearly the same percentage. That damage has stayed on and the figures remain dismal when compared with what they originally were.
What is the lesson of that experience? The lesson is that the moment you remove a subject as a core subject, consequences begin to flow. It does not matter what the rhetoric is or even what the aspiration is. The truth is that people have to calculate against a set of criteria, which then makes the cutting of these subjects inevitable.
When it happened with languages, many people said to me that the world-wide use of English-I have devoted a lot of years to it as a world-wide language-was used as an excuse to cover for our poverty in other languages. We must not make this mistake in the arts because we are riding a tiger and doing very well, and this is not the moment to take away the support.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I, too, commend the noble Earl for bringing this debate to your Lordships' House and for providing the opportunity to give voice to the groundswell of concerns about Michael Gove's proposal for the English baccalaureate.
Unfortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others around the House have commented, the Secretary of State's greatest success has been to forge a wide coalition of opposition, embracing not only the arts but sport, business, entrepreneurs, faith organisations, his own exam watchdog and many schools.
By adopting the language of the international baccalaureate, the Secretary of State would have us believe that the EBacc embodies the same principles and might enjoy similar acclaim. Yet the narrowness and rigidity of the EBacc could not be further from the international baccalaureate, in which, for example, students aged up to 16 years-the age we are talking about-are required to study not five but eight subjects, including arts, physical education, the humanities and technology. As we have heard this evening, can so many people in so many different sectors be wrong in their concerns about the EBacc? Four years before the first EBacc exams are taken, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh, pointed out, we are already seeing schools not replacing arts teachers and reducing the number of hours and subject options in art, design, technology, music and drama.
The research that my noble friend referred to shows that last year 45% of schools cut courses, and this year 27% did so, with art, design, technology and the performing arts being the worst hit. Therefore, whether or not the Government finally decide, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, suggested, that there will be an individual EBacc certificate in the arts by 2017, it will be too late by then because it is the EBacc itself-this
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So I ask the Minister, first: what are the Government doing to monitor the extent to which these subjects are being cut from the school curriculum, and when will they intervene to prevent further cuts and the loss of teaching capacity in the creative subjects? We could make an equally important case in respect of physical education and sport, and indeed, many are doing so. Similarly, business leaders have expressed concern about the impact of the EBacc on preparing students and equipping our economy with the skills of the future.
We on this side believe, like the CBI, that all students should continue to study English and maths up to the age of 18. Will the Government require all students to do so? Will the Government now listen to the groundswell of protest about the marginalisation of these key subjects and suspend the implementation of the EBacc while we consider more fully more imaginative changes to equip our young people and our economy for the 21st century, not for the 1950s?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for stimulating this important debate on a subject about which he is clearly passionate, as are other noble Lords who have taken part. I entirely agree with him about the importance of the creative arts. This Government are fully committed to a rigorous and demanding arts education and believe that artistic education in all its forms should be made accessible to every child. We are looking systematically at all aspects of the curriculum and qualifications in schools. We have taken steps to address poor value vocational qualifications, with changes to performance tables from 2014. The new national curriculum will be introduced from September 2014, and from 2015 teaching of new English baccalaureate certificates will start. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for clarifying the difference between the EBacc, which is the performance measure, and the EBacc certificates, which are the composite parts.
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