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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I wish to speak to my Amendment No. 30A, which has been grouped with those tabled in the name of my noble friend. In Committee we debated at some length the wording of Clause 12. Various objections were raised to the provisions that it contains. I sought then to amend the wording of subsections (1) and (2) while my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish sought to delete paragraph (c) of subsection (1). The Government resisted all the amendments that were tabled.
In Committee, the Minister made no convincing case for the clause as it stands. Much of the discussion that took place was tangential to the issue. Several noble Lords seemed to think that the amendments were prompted by distrust of educating citizens about politics. As I pointed out at the time--several times, in fact--the need for political education was not at issue. My professional life has been spent educating people about politics. I support the teaching of citizenship in schools. Where politics is taught at A-level, it tends to be taught well. It is taught well because those teaching it are trained in the subject and are keen to impart knowledge. Teaching politics entails informing people about politics and, in schools and universities, teaching students how to think, not what to think.
As far as I am concerned, the principle is not at issue. What does concern me is how to give effect to the principle. In Committee, I argued that the electoral commission was not the body to teach people about systems of government, be it local, national or supra-national. It is not equipped to undertake the task, either directly or as an enabling agency. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Neill, argued in Committee that seeking to undertake such a role may drag the commission into the realms of controversy. It would be covering topics that are contentious. That may be so, but my objection is more fundamental. The clause confers on the commission tasks that do not fall within its competence.
The competence of the commission encompasses the registration and financing of political parties and the conduct of elections and referendums. That is clear from the Long Title and from the provisions of Clauses 4 and 5. In respect of political parties, it is, in effect, a regulatory body. In respect of elections and referendums, it is a regulatory and an advisory body. There is nothing in the Bill, in terms of the composition of the commission or in the specific tasks that are adumbrated in Clauses 4 and 5, that establishes it as an educational body.
I was prepared in Committee to go some way to meet the Government by retaining paragraph (a) of subsection (1), allowing the commission to promote public awareness of electoral systems, at least subject to some amendment. The Government were not prepared to accept that, arguing the case for retaining the clause as it stood. The arguments advanced for the clause were not persuasive.
In Committee, the Minister explained what the clause sought to achieve. As I say, I have no objection to the objective of the clause. The Minister argued that the commission was an appropriate body to meet that objective. He said that the commission should,
By so arguing, the Minister was undermining the importance of that which he wants to achieve--that is, political education. If we believe in educating citizens about political processes, we need to undertake the task in a serious way. We do that by creating or drawing on those bodies that have the professional training and capacity to undertake the task. We do not achieve it by tacking it on to the functions of a body that is established for a completely different purpose. This function jars with those listed in Clauses 4 and 5.
I argued in Committee that it fell outwith the Long Title of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Cranborne raised the point and put various questions to the Minister as to its compatibility with the Long Title. The Minister said in response that he thought that the Long Title was adequate. He went on:
I do not think that the establishment of the commission can be read as independent of what follows in the Long Title. Clauses 4 and 5 adumbrate the functions that are clearly compatible with the Long Title and I think it appropriate to avoid doubt by sticking exclusively to those functions.
In my view, Clause 12 does not fit with the remaining provisions of the Bill. As my noble friend mentioned, it confers a function that was not envisaged by the Neill committee. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, in Committee. Indeed, the noble Lord expressed the personal view, to which my noble friend Lord Mackay has referred, that it was,
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I find myself moved to join the root-and-branch option that has been so powerfully argued by my noble friend. I notice that page 9 of the Bill contains the words "public awareness". That is a weasel set of words--to which no one can object--beloved by the Civil Service.
As my noble friend Lord Mackay said, this is a matter of education. As has been said already, education is a very important and vital task, but it has nothing to do with regulation. The danger is that once education and regulation are put into the same body, various inherent conflicts of interest come to the surface.
Two immediately spring to mind. The first, is that the commission will necessarily have limited resources, and the disposition of those resources will have to be decided upon and divided between education and regulation. We were debating earlier how regulatory matters are likely to be fast moving and require instantaneous decisions; in such circumstances, if resources have been devoted to education with a lack of resources being devoted to regulation, those of our fellow citizens who are concerned with the undertaking of elections may well find themselves unable quickly to get the necessary advice and support.
The second immediate conflict of interest is that between the promotion of change and the maintenance of the status quo. As we begin the educational process, to what extent will this body be responsible for encouraging people to think about the options and for encouraging the debate on electoral reform, and to what extent is its duty to uphold the system as it presently stands?
I feel strongly about this issue. Earlier in the summer the Financial Services and Markets Bill passed through your Lordships' House. I am a member of the board of the Securities and Futures Authority and we are about to be subsumed into the new FSA. When that Bill was passed, tacked on to it was an educational requirement. That has already begun to make itself felt in the way in which the SFA has operated. Resources are now being moved inexorably towards educating the public at the expense of some of the disciplinary and enforcement procedures of that authority. The manpower and financial resources devoted to the market awareness side have increased quite considerably in the budget and are now under way within the FSA. I can foresee similar difficulties and problems with this authority. I see no way of avoiding
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