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Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I represented an inner-city area of Leeds for 30 years? I lived in that area. I did not just visit it on polling day. Is he aware that in the by-election which took place last week, which was largely in the area I represented, there was the factor of the list system used for the European elections on the same day? As my noble friend pointed out, the turn-out for first-past-the-post poll was equally low. There are many reasons for the problem of low polls. One is a hearty dislike of politicians, whether they take the name of a party or call themselves "independent." My friends tell me that, sometimes, to call oneself "independent" makes it worse. It is important that we should be concerned about these issues, and not just on polling day. There are real problems in these areas
The political system, and your Lordships' House in particular, is supposed to pick up problems when they arise. How often does this House concern itself with the inner-city areas except by remote control? If people bother to watch, the laughter heard today would not appeal and would add to the dislike of politicians.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think that what the noble Lord says is different from what I said earlier. Low turn-outs act as a reproach and cause us to question whether we have got right the electoral arrangements. It causes us to ask, "Have we got the questions right?", "Are referendums run properly?", and "Do we need as many elections as we have?" These are all important political questions. They are not necessarily limited to, although they do include, the causes indicated by my noble friend. We need to look carefully at how we educate children at school. I pay tribute, for instance, to the work done by the Citizenship Foundation with which, to my certain knowledge, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has been engaged for many years. It is not as simple as saying that people will not turn out for people who do not live in the constituency. Occasionally, people do become tired of elected politicians. They never become tired of non-elected hereditaries.
Lord Renton: My Lords, was not the result a great disappointment to the Government and the Labour Party? Would not the abandonment of the closed list system be more democratic, give greater freedom of choice to the voters and be more satisfactory to the Government and the Labour Party?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as I indicated earlier, we are holding a review about this election. The June survey to be conducted by the Office for National Statistics will study the matter. Home Office officials will liaise closely--I hope the noble Lord will think that helpful--with all political parties and electoral administrators. We shall have the assistance of professional polling organisations to see what lessons may be learnt. For my part, I believe there are lessons to be learnt. We need to wait for the research to establish the answers.
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the closed list system was a factor in the low turn-out? Does he recall that on 12th November he repeated in this place the promise of the Home Secretary that there would be a review? Will the Government publish the review when it is completed in six months' time? Can the Minister assure us that this House will debate the matter?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I recall the undertaking. I referred to it as being the object of what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said on Monday. Certainly, I believe that the results of the
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is it not the case that those of us who have discussed this matter among ourselves are widely of the opinion that people simply do not like voting for lists of people they do not know? The view is widespread. I hope it will be taken into consideration in the review which my noble friend says will take place. I sympathise strongly with that view. People dislike the idea of being presented with a list which they have had no hand in forming and being required to vote for a group of people they have not met and are unlikely to meet. It is very unpopular. I hope that that view will be given proper consideration.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to reiterate that we shall be carrying out the review. I expect that one of the questions will focus upon the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. I recognise that, certainly within your Lordships' House, that view has substantial support and favour. Whether it is right, we shall have to wait and see.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, have not there been too many reviews by Home Office officials of the mechanics of the electoral system? Surely, it is now time that steps were taken--perhaps the ministerial boot might be helpful in making something happen--to bring forward proposals for a rolling register so as to improve the quality of the register and produce pilot schemes for electronic voting, voting on days other than Thursdays and at different times, and for telephone voting.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is already in hand. There is a working party on electoral procedures. It is chaired by my honourable friend Mr George Howarth at the Home Office. It is looking at ways to modernise electoral procedures including the introduction of a system of rolling electoral registration and the piloting of innovations such as weekend and electronic voting. If I remember rightly, the working party started work in January 1998 and has already had eight meetings. So the work is well in hand.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does it not ill behove the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to talk about xenophobes and "flat earthers" when the electorate showed quite clearly on Thursday that they do not believe in Liberal Party policy but are demanding that this country should be governed by its own elected government and parliament? They showed that they do not want a single currency or a European army. Indeed, they made that so clear that they virtually wiped out the Liberal Party in the south west. Will the Government take this question seriously and reconsider a voting system, especially before there is any chance of repeating it in a general election, which loses for Labour the Rhondda, Islwyn and Llanelli all at the same time? That cannot be good for the Labour Party.
The Committee recommends that the record copies of Acts of Parliament, kept in the House of Lords Record Office, should be printed on archival paper instead of vellum, with effect from the first Act of the year 2000. With the agreement of the Master of the Rolls and the Keeper of the Public Records, the production of the second record copy of each Act for the Public Record Office should cease.
When the Parliament Rolls of Acts of Parliament were discontinued in 1849, it was resolved by both Houses that two copies of every Act, whether Public or Private, should be printed in vellum, one to be stored in the Record Tower (now the House of Lords Record Office) and the other with the Master of the Rolls (now the Public Record Office). The former copy is authenticated by the Clerk of the Parliaments as the official authority for the published text of an Act. In 1956 vellum was replaced by archival paper for Private Acts. The increasing scarcity and expense of vellum and the printing restraints which it imposes have now led to the proposal that Public Acts should be similarly treated.
On the advice of conservation experts at the British Library, archival paper has been identified with a proven life expectancy of 250 years and a probable life expectancy exceeding 500 years in good archival conditions. It is superior to vellum for print quality, is less bulky, and avoids the use of animal products. The value of the potential saving is about £30,000 a year.
Resolutions of both Houses would be needed to give effect to this recommendation. The Committee has been informed that a comparable recommendation is being made by the Administration Committee of the House of Commons.
2. Smoking in the House of Lords
Following the Report of the Informal Group on Smoking (copies of which are available in the Printed Paper Office and the Library of the House), the Committee makes the following recommendations:
(i) Smoking should be banned in lavatories and telephone kiosks;
(ii) Smoking should be banned in Committee rooms, unless, at a private meeting of a Committee, that Committee specifically gives permission at the time.
3. Lords Reimbursement Allowances
The Committee was informed that from 1st April 1999 the motor mileage allowance had been increased by 1.1 pence to 51.2 pence for the first 20,000 miles for the period to 31st March 2000. Further mileage in this period would be payable at a rate of 23.6 pence per mile.
The Committee was further informed that from 1st April 1999 the bicycle allowance had been increased by 0.1 pence to 6.5 pence per mile.
4. House of Lords Families Room
The Committee welcomes the provision of a room for the use of immediate family members of Peers. The Room is not intended to be used as a work or meeting room. It is to be a no smoking area.
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