Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, notwithstanding the answers that the Minister has given to the House, is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that the government of the People's Republic of China really have any understanding at all of what we mean by human rights? If they do, what is the evidence for that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have been making very clear to the government of China what we mean by human rights. The dialogue in which we are engaging is extremely practical. Noble Lords will know that in the training programme I mentioned earlier well over 100 Chinese lawyers trained in this country under a government-funded practical training scheme for young lawyers. We have put in place a five-year programme to train six judges a year in the UK. That programme began in 1998-99. Furthermore, among other initiatives, we have set up a two-year training programme on the criminal process. We are trying to deepen the understanding of Chinese legal representatives so that they truly inwardly digest what we mean by human rights and so that our dialogue is both relevant and fully understood.

Local Elections: Pilot Schemes

3.24 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, under the terms of the Representation of the People Act 2000, responsibility for evaluating the recent electoral pilot schemes rests with the local authorities concerned. We have no wish to prejudge this process and we look forward to receiving their reports in due course. I am sure that, once it has been established, the electoral commission will be interested in studying the evaluation reports.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In view of the substantial drop in the Labour vote in London and elsewhere, will the Government continue with their experiments because they appear to switch off Labour support? More seriously, in a democracy, should we not be encouraging people to visit their polling stations rather than using advance postal votes or other eccentric means which end up producing additional spoiled papers and even raise questions of fraud?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I believe that widespread support was demonstrated in your Lordships' House for the principle of piloting different

11 May 2000 : Column 1723

ways of putting one's cross on the ballot paper during the recent local elections. I think that we should study carefully the evaluation reports that will be returned by the local authorities. People appeared to have enjoyed having a flutter with experimentation in the recent elections. No doubt we shall learn much from this.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, perhaps I may raise a matter that was touched on the other day, but I do not think that the Minister had an opportunity to reply. Why was erroneous advice given to voters in the election of the London mayor? It was stated quite plainly in the instructions to voters that the voter had to exercise a second choice. Who was responsible for that erroneous advice?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my understanding is that the responsibility for drawing up that advice lay with the Returning Officer for Greater London. If the noble Lord so wishes, we could make contact with the Returning Officer for Greater London and seek further elucidation from him.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, would the Minister agree that one of the more unfortunate impacts of recent experiments has been a certain cooling-off in relationships between the new London mayor and the Government of the day? Would he agree that the governance of London might be better conducted if Mr Livingstone were to be welcomed back into the bosom of the Labour Party? When may we look forward to that happy event?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I believe that that question must be interpreted as being rather wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Renton: My Lords, will the Government consider what should be done in future when only one-third of the electorate casts its vote but that results in one person securing more than 50 per cent of the votes?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this House has a great tradition of concerning itself over questions of turn-out in elections and is to be congratulated on that concern. However, precisely because of those concerns, the Government brought forward pilot schemes devised in conjunction with local government, to see whether other ways could be found to encourage people to cast their votes in local government elections. We all have our part to play and education is an important element of that exercise. There is much to learn and much to do.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, has the Minister given any thought to the reasons for the low polls in the recent elections? At one time it was believed that politicians were interested in the people, but now it appears that the people are expected to be more interested in politicians.

11 May 2000 : Column 1724

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is a very entertaining question. I suppose that, as a politician, I am rather pleased that people appear to be interested in politicians. However, perhaps they are more interested in some politicians than in others.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, was it not a brave experiment of the Government to attempt to run two Labour candidates in the mayoral election in London? Does the Minister think that that was a success? Referring back to the point made by the Minister earlier--that the House welcomed experimentation--does he recall that in fact the House was a little sceptical about the success of those experiments? Although the Minister may not have studied the statistics, I have. It is clear that the majority of the experiments made no impact at all. Is he aware that the only experiment that seems to have made an impact was all-postal voting? Is he convinced that the security of the postal voting system is sufficient to prevent quite widespread fraud were postal voting for everyone to be extended to all local government elections?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have looked at some of the initial findings on the turn-out question. The noble Lord is right. Where postal voting was conducted, there were considerable increases in turn-out. That is something on which we should reflect. It is encouraging.

There are various reasons for carrying out experiments. We shall need to study carefully the reports produced by the local authorities and try to get behind some of the reasons for low turn-outs where pilots were conducted.

I respect the noble Lord's comments on the question of fraud and abuse in postal votes. It is a concern that we all share. I was grateful to him for his support during the passage of the Representation of the People Bill, enabling us to close off any opportunities for fraud that existed. We shall continue to press on that issue.

Lord Rennard: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there should be a proper, independent evaluation of the experimental voting systems in the recent local elections, preferably by the independent electoral commission, before the Home Secretary is able to roll them out for future elections.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we debated that issue at some length during the passage of the Representation of the People Bill, and it proved very valuable. We are expecting reports to come initially from local authorities. They may wish to find independent and academic researchers to look at the results of various pilots. I look forward and welcome the role that the electoral commission may well play in the future in evaluating pilots and making recommendations to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

11 May 2000 : Column 1725

Matters sub judice

3.30 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

The sole purpose of the Motion is to give effect to a recommendation of the Procedure Committee. Your Lordships will remember that the House agreed the Procedure Committee's report on 19th April this year. This resolution, therefore, is a direct consequence of the House's pre-existing agreement to that report.

As long ago as December 1963 the House agreed that the practice governing Motions and Questions relating to matters which were sub judice should be similar in both Houses. The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, endorsed that decision in 1999 on the basis that it was obviously desirable that each House should be in the same position. The Joint Committee noted that the practice was not the same in both Houses. The practice in your Lordships' House in fact restricts opportunities for debate to a greater extent than in another place. The Joint Committee therefore recommended that the two Houses should pass new resolutions to modernise existing practice and to harmonise the practice in both Houses.

The rule, of course, is not absolute. In the Commons it may be waived at the discretion of the Chair. In this House there is no general power of waiver, but since 1995 a limited power of discretionary waiver has been given to the Leader of this House. The Leader may exercise that limited power to permit discussion of matters relating to any ministerial decision and matters concerning issues of national importance like the economy, public order or the essentials of life. I repeat: that has been the position in this House since 1995. The Joint Committee recommended that a general discretion to waive the sub judice rule, comparable to that of the Speaker in the Commons, should be introduced in this House.

Perhaps I may make one or two further comments. It is proposed, in the new edition of the Companion to provide that any Member of this House proposing to refer to a matter which is sub judice must give the Leader at least 24 hours notice. Secondly, a decision by the Leader as to the exercise of her discretion will not be open to challenge. Obviously, the Leader does not act in a political or partisan capacity in those circumstances, but as guardian of the procedures of the whole House. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That, subject to the discretion of the Leader of the House, and to the right of the House to legislate on any matter or to discuss any delegated legislation, the House in all its proceedings (including proceedings of committees of the House) shall apply the following rules on matters sub judice:

(1) Cases in which proceedings are active in United Kingdom courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question.

11 May 2000 : Column 1726

(a) (i) Criminal proceedings are active when a charge has been made or a summons to appear has been issued, or, in Scotland, a warrant to cite has been granted.

(ii) Criminal proceedings cease to be active when they are concluded by verdict and sentence or discontinuance, or, in cases dealt with by courts martial, after the conclusion of the mandatory post-trial review.

(b)(i) Civil proceedings are active when arrangements for the hearing, such as setting down a case for trial, have been made, until the proceedings are ended by judgment or discontinuance.

(ii) Any application made in or for the purposes of any civil proceedings shall be treated as a distinct proceeding.

(c) Appellate proceedings, whether criminal or civil, are active from the time when they are commenced by application for leave to appeal or by notice of appeal until ended by judgment or discontinuance.

But where a ministerial decision is in question, or in the opinion of the Leader of the House a case concerns issues of national importance such as the economy, public order or the essential services, reference to the issues or the case may be made in Motions, debates or Questions.

(2) Specific matters which the House has expressly referred to any judicial body for decision and report shall not be referred to in any Motion, debate or Question, from the time when the resolution of the House is passed, until the report is laid before the House.

(3) For the purposes of this resolution--

(a) Matters before coroners courts or fatal accident inquiries shall be treated as matters within paragraph 1(a); and

(b) "Question" includes a supplementary question.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page