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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall spare the correspondence section of the Home Office another letter to me. I have made my points and the Minister has responded in a very constructive way. I think that perhaps after the experiments are over and the information has been collected, a debate would be extremely useful. We should perhaps try to remember that come the summer when the information and the results of these various experiments are to hand--particularly in regard to electronic voting because inevitably that is the direction in which we will go. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will recall that at the Committee stage I moved some amendments which were similar in their effect to the amendments I wish to move today. At that time I said to the Committee that I was concerned that, following various pilot schemes which may take place, a report submitted solely by the local authority might be in danger of being biased in one way or another. All of us who have been members of local authorities, or involved in the political world over the years, know that when an elected body submits a report it is always tempted--particularly when it concerns representation of the people--to slant that
In my amendment I have not tried to explain the definition of an independent body because I hope that, by putting down the bare amendment, I can encourage the Minister to say that this was a worthwhile step, bearing in mind the sympathy which he expressed in Committee, and that the parliamentary draftsman would be able to draft an amendment on the lines of this one of mine which would be acceptable to us at Third Reading. I beg to move.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I intervene briefly to support my noble friend. If we are to have reports from the local authority it is important that we have an independent assessment from a university or some such body of what exactly happened in the election. Local authorities may not always want to give the actual results because they may wish to defend the fact that they undertook the experiment. They may feel obliged to try to put the best possible light on their experiment. Whatever experiment has been tried will not necessarily be the cause for increased turnout. There could be other causes. For example, one way in which one can push up the turnout at local elections is to have a controversial planning decision kicking around in the area. That can motivate people to come out and vote one way or another. A number of similar issues can drive up the turnout and therefore disguise the success or otherwise of the experiment. Therefore, it is important that we look to an independent body of some kind for assessment of an experiment. That is the way to be fair to the experiment and fair to the local authorities. I support my noble friend.
Secondly, the Clause 11 order-making power which is triggered by a successful scheme under Clause 10, as it now is, can be applied not just to local elections but to a great variety of more significant elections; elections to the European Parliament, to the Scottish Parliament and indeed parliamentary elections themselves. I am aware that on the Marshalled List there are certain amendments which seek to delete those provisions, but, as the Bill currently stands, the Clause 11 power, once it is triggered by successful experiment, can be applied to wider sections of the electorate. It would be helpful to have some input from an independent body as to the possible significance of translating a successful experiment in one part of the country in a local election to a wider election.
Thirdly, some importance should be placed on the fact that it is indeed an order-making power that is to be found in Clause 11. In Clause 11(4) one reads that it is to be an order-making power subject to the affirmative resolution procedure of both Houses of Parliament, but as we all know, and as we have all recently been debating, although this House has the power to vote down an instrument, it does not have power to amend it. Therefore, it is very important to get the drafting right in the first instance. It would seem that a report with independent input might help those who are responsible for drafting any orders with which the Secretary of State wishes to proceed in terms of Clause 11.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I expressed some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, in Committee on this matter. I continue to have sympathy for the importance of having effective and objective evaluation of the pilot schemes. That is absolutely right. That is very much at the heart of--dare I say--Home Office thinking on this matter. But I do not think I can agree that the method that the noble Lord proposes is necessarily the right one to achieve that independence. I take the point that local authorities, if they are perhaps as mischievous as suggested by some, might want in some way to skew the fruits of the pilot schemes and perhaps interfere with the evaluation of them. I cannot see what would motivate them in that way because most, if not all, local authorities which are signed up to the pilot process are committed to making those schemes work, to making them effective and to achieving what we all seek here--greater participation and involvement in the democratic process.
Perhaps I have a more positive view of what local authorities are trying to achieve. It is based on my recent experience in this field. The noble Lord suggested that valuation reports on pilot schemes should not be prepared by the local authorities running them on their own but that an independent body should also be involved. There is another issue here of how we might see that independence; what that independent body might look like; and what that independent view might bring. Those are important issues. No doubt they would come with a cost.
I should have thought that any local authorities worth their salt in this field would in any event probably want to call on a local academic institution to provide them with a report that had some greater research behind it and some more independent thinking behind it. We cannot tell them that they should choose that route, but it is probably a route which many of them will of their own volition seek. Perhaps we could encourage them in that general direction. Therefore, I go some way towards where the noble Lord is coming from on this issue.
We ought to ensure that we get it right and that the local authorities concentrate on the important issues in evaluating the pilots. Whether they do it from within their own research resources or introduce an outside element--an independent element, if one likes--such as a university, will be for them. What we will insist on is that local authorities provide factual material on turn-out. We believe that to be very important, although it may or may not be a measure of success of the particular pilot. They should provide material on the take-up of measures and the cost of measures. We would also expect that there would be a series of structured interviews to seek the views of voters, non-voters, the electoral staff involved in the process, candidates and parties. Local authorities will have to bring in some expertise to do that as those are not the areas of expertise which authorities, particularly the smaller authorities, will necessarily have within their own staff complement.
We do not believe that reports will be coloured by the subjective views of each local authority concerned. We cannot see that there is any scope for abuse, fraud or cooking the books. We do not think that local authorities will find that motivation as their inspiration. An authority will inevitably, as it is closest to how elections work, be in the best position to collect and collate all the material that the Home Office requires. We do not see the need to complicate matters and to add cost by bringing another separate independent body into the authority if it does not want to work in that way.
However, we may wish to note the upcoming creation of the electoral commission, for which another Bill yet to come before your Lordships' House provides. In due course we think that the electoral commission will have an important role to play in evaluating the way in which pilots operate. Under the terms of the Bill that introduces the commission, before a successful pilot can be rolled out a commission recommendation to that effect will be required. A strong and powerful recommendation
In view of that assurance and my comments, generally of encouragement, to local authorities to seek independent advice and support for their researches in preparing their reports, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment. The points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, will fall to be dealt with when we reach the discussion and debate on Clause 11, when I suspect that he may find rather more satisfaction than might initially have appeared to be the case.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, perhaps I may try to retrieve something from the ashes of my desire to be helpful and the Minister's sympathy. I was intrigued when he said that he felt that it would be a good idea that when local authorities are conducting pilots and are producing reports subsequently they should do it in conjunction with an independent body. Therefore, I wonder whether I may try to retrieve a morsel from all of this and ask the noble Lord to give an undertaking that, in sending circulars on the conduct of pilots to local authorities, the Government will say that they would regard it as good practice for the planning and reporting of pilot schemes to be done in conjunction with an independent body. That would be only a crumb of comfort to me but it would be a positive and helpful if the Minister could give such an undertaking.
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