Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 16:

"Criminal Justice Act 1988 (c. 33)

In section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (power of Crown Court to deal with summary offence where person committed for either way offence), after subsection (4) insert—
"(4A) The committal of a person under this section in respect of an offence to which section 40 above applies shall not prevent him being found guilty of that offence under section 6(3) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (alternative verdicts on trial on indictment); but where he is convicted under that provision of such an offence, the functions of the Crown Court under this section in relation to the offence shall cease.""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

In the Title:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 17:

    Line 4, after "offence;" insert "to make provision about alternative verdicts;"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill

2.33 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Filkin): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reason be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

25 Mar 2004 : Column 847


[The page and line references are to HL Bill 14 as first printed for the Lords.]


1Leave out Clause 1 and insert the following new clause—
"Piloting conduct at European and local elections

(1) An election to which this section applies (a pilot election) must be held—
(a) only by postal voting, and (for that purpose)
(b) in accordance with provision made by the Secretary of State by order (a pilot order).
(2) These are the elections to which this section applies—
(a) the European Parliamentary general election of 2004 in a pilot region;
(b) a local government election in England and Wales if the poll at such an election is combined with the poll at an election mentioned in paragraph (a).
(3) These are the pilot regions—
(a) North East;
(b) East Midlands.
(4) Postal voting is voting where no polling station is used and a person entitled to vote in person or by proxy must deliver the ballot paper by post or by such other means as is specified in a pilot order.
(5) A pilot order—
(a) may modify or disapply any provision made by or under a relevant enactment;
(b) may contain such consequential, incidental, supplementary or transitional provision or savings (including provision amending, replacing, suspending or revoking provision made by or under any enactment) as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate;
(c) may make different provision for different purposes." The Commons agree to this amendment with the following amendment—

1ALine 15, at end insert—
"(c) Yorkshire and the Humber;
(d) North West." The Lords disagree to Commons Amendment No. 1A to Lords Amendment No. 1, for the following reason—

1BBecause it is appropriate to make provision for no more than two pilot regions, as recommended by the Electoral Commission. The Commons do not insist on their Amendment No. 1A to which the Lords have disagreed, but propose the following amendment to the Bill in lieu of that amendment—

1CLeave out lines 16 to 18 and insert—
'(c) Yorkshire and the Humber;
(d) North West. ( ) Postal voting is voting where no polling station is used and a person entitled to vote in person or by proxy must deliver by post or by such other means as is specified in a pilot order—

(a) the ballot paper, and
(b) the completed declaration of identity form. ( ) The declaration of identity form is a form which is delivered along with the ballot paper and which is completed by being signed—

(a) by the person to whom the ballot paper is addressed, and
(b) by a witness to that signing whose name and address are clearly marked on the form.'

25 Mar 2004 : Column 848

The Lords agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1C in lieu of Commons Amendment No. 1A, but propose the following amendment thereto—

1DLine 3, at end insert—
"but, in the case of either region specified in paragraph (c) or (d) above, a pilot may only take place if it is specifically recommended by the Electoral Commission in a report which is laid before both Houses of Parliament after the coming into force of this Act." The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No. 1D to Commons Amendment No. 1C, for the following reason—

    Because it is not necessary to seek further advice from the Electoral Commission.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1D to Commons Amendment No. 1C, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1E.

We are in an unusual situation. This is the fourth time that this issue is being considered by this House, and I hope that it will be the last.

With regard to Amendment No. 1D, it is clearly not appropriate to delegate decision-making on this issue to the Electoral Commission. In response to the Deputy Prime Minister's request for clarification, the Electoral Commission has made its position clear. It said:

    "We very much recognise that the choice of pilot regions for all-postal voting is for Government and Parliament to decide. The Commission's role is advisory and it is not for us to say yes or no to pilots in particular areas. However, it is imperative that a decision is not further delayed".

The Electoral Commission has therefore given a clear view that it is this House and another place that should make these decisions: it is not for us to hide behind it.

We are therefore back where we were when we last debated this—which, I suggest to the House, essentially turns around two questions: which regions and how many regions? However, I think that the position has moved on somewhat. It is now clearer that the Electoral Commission has accepted the Government's position that Yorkshire and Humberside is suitable for a pilot in the combined elections in June. The debate, therefore, is about the north-west.

As I sought to set out in our previous discussion on this matter, after the Commission had indicated that the north-west was potentially suitable for a pilot in the combined elections in June, the Commission also made it clear that it was open to the Government to have further discussions with the relevant authorities, to see if the concerns that they had identified about the complexity in the north-west could be met. As I have indicated, the Government have done just that, as is their responsibility, and the regional returning officer and the returning officers in those authorities have made a clear statement to the Government that they believe that they can carry out all-postal ballots in the June European and local elections, and do so soundly, securely and safely. The Government's view, therefore, is that there is no good reason not to have the north-west included as a pilot region.

25 Mar 2004 : Column 849

We see that there are four regions suitable for carrying out pilots of all-postal ballots, and it is important to deepen our understanding of piloting. If we needed any reminder of why this is important—I promise the House that I will not repeat the argumentation that I made, and already hear sighs of relief in the Chamber—I would draw the attention of the House to the publication by the Electoral Commission this week of its Audit of Political Engagement.

This is not a party political issue but one which binds us all in concern, given the appallingly low level of public engagement with politics and voting in our society. I will say no more on that for now. It is perhaps an issue for reflection and discussion, to which we should return at another time in this House on a non-partisan basis, because we do share these concerns.

I mention it only in order to emphasise that it is for no trivial reason that we are exploring and learning as much as we can about whether it is safe, sound and beneficial to change our voting system to all-postal balloting. We are doing so because it is important to address this issue of increasing turnout and political participation in our society.

I suggest to the House, therefore, that there is clearly an emerging consensus from the Government and the Electoral Commission—if I have read the thrust of the amendment by the Liberal Democrats correctly—that Yorkshire and Humberside now look safe and sound for an all-postal ballot. The issue is whether we are talking about three regions or four regions in relation to these ballots in June.

Why four? If anything, there is a shade of difference between, on the one hand, the Government and the Commons who share a view and, on the other, the Electoral Commission. If I understand the Electoral Commission's position clearly—and I think I do, because it has been straightforward both in correspondence and in discussion—it believes, first, that we can learn most of what we need to know about piloting from three regions, and therefore one does not need to go to four to do so. Secondly, it has an anxiety about moving through a process of incremental drift from pilots, to what it thought might effectively be all-out postal balloting, without having put in place some of the security arrangements that we discussed in our earlier consideration of the Bill.

These issues are judged ultimately by Parliament and the public rather than by the Electoral Commission. As I have said before, I have respect for Sam Younger and the Electoral Commission. However, this is an issue of judgment, not a black and white issue. The judgment turns on whether we will learn anything more from piloting the arrangements in four regions. From my perspective, and that of the Government and the Commons, it is self-evident that we would learn more by doing that. As we have discussed in previous debates on the Bill, the north west is different. It has specific issues that are interesting and important and potentially challenging. Learning from piloting in that context will be beneficial for us all in making measured judgments

25 Mar 2004 : Column 850

about when we should move to all-postal balloting for local elections. So we will learn more if the north west is included in this process.

The second reason the Government are clear that on balance it is sensible to pilot in four regions is a different one. I do not think that the commission and the Government are at all at odds on it. Both the commission and the Government agree that it is desirable that we carry out all-postal balloting in the three regions, which of course include the north west, that will have regional referenda in October. That is clearly the Electoral Commission's position. It has supported the Government's statement of intent.

Therefore, from my previous comments and what is clear in the recent correspondence from the Electoral Commission, there is no issue about the north east, Yorkshire and Humberside, which will have regional referenda. The debate is whether it is sensible to expect the north west— where many of the local authorities will have carried out their previous local authority elections on an all-postal ballot basis—to move in the June elections to traditional arrangements and then to revert back, in October, to all-postal ballots. The Electoral Commission is entitled to its view. The Government are entitled to their view as well. We think that we will learn more from piloting in four regions rather than three. We do not want the slightly bizarre position in which, if this House sustains its view, some local authorities in the north west will move from postal ballots for local elections to traditional ballots for the elections in June, and then move back to postal ballots in October.

I ask the House whether that seems sensible. Does that seem an issue of fundamental principle on which this House would want to take a constitutional stand in the face of the will of the House of Commons? That is the final issue that we have to look at.

This House, of which I am privileged to be a Member, has a duty and a right to scrutinise legislation. I have a respect for the way in which it goes about that. I think that the House, while not doing that perfectly, does it well. However, we know that the constitutional settlement is that this House scrutinises legislation and gives its view and its advice to another place. It is the duty of the other place to consider that view and advice and then to make its decision. The conventions of our place are that, ultimately, after this House has been assured—sometimes, if necessary, by a process including more than one testing—that the other place has come to a considered assessment, in the round, of the reasons for its view and that it has considered this House's opinion, the Commons have their way and we grant them their way.

That is not for a trivial or petty reason. While this House has great merits, it is not elected. The constitutional settlement in this society is that, after this House has done its job and drawn the attention of the other place to areas of concern, ultimately it bends to the will of the other place. The Commons have expressed their view on this issue three times after they have considered our opinions. I do not think that it is right or proper for us to resist their will any more. We

25 Mar 2004 : Column 851

have done our job. They have considered our views. They have come to an opinion—not once, not twice, but thrice.

I will say no more on that, but I will remind the House of the view of the Wakeham report. While the report did not find fulfilment in every respect, it did largely capture the view, on a cross-party basis, on the constitutional settlement of this place. The report said:

    "It is right that the House of Commons should be the principal political forum and have the final say in respect of all major public policy issues, including those expressed in the form of proposed legislation".

It continued:

    "More generally, the second chamber should be cautious about challenging the clearly expressed views of the House of Commons on any public policy issue".

This House has given its view and advice three times, and the Commons have now clearly expressed their wish in this respect. The Commons must have their way, not simply because that is our settlement, but because the argument that divides this House and the other place turns essentially on a judgment on one region—on whether we will learn more or less by its inclusion, and whether this is a drift towards roll-out. I have clearly said that it is not a drift towards roll-out. We do not intend to move in that direction without proper processes and safeguards.

The Commons must have its way. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1D to Commons Amendment No. 1C, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1E.—(Lord Filkin.)—

2.45 p.m.

Lord Rennard rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1D to Commons Amendment No. 1C to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1E, at end insert "but do make the following Amendment to Commons Amendment No. 1C in lieu of Lords Amendment No. 1D"—

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page