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I also appeal for a proper, quick, independent inquiry into what went wrong for two reasons: not just because, as my noble friend said, some of those matters were the responsibility of the Electoral Commission but also because some of them were not. They fell outside its remit. The fact that the two elections were held together was not its responsibility.

Postal votes were decided by returning officers, not by the Electoral Commission. The Minister may want to know that my noble friend Lord Kirkwood was one of the many people who got a postal ballot paper for the wrong ward. Why was that allowed to be contracted out to firms that did not know the local geography? That is extraordinary. It was not the decision of the Electoral Commission; nor was the introduction of the counting machines. There is a compelling case for having a proper, genuinely independent inquiry, whatever the Electoral Commission may do internally.

The Minister said that he does not know the actual number of spoilt ballot papers although, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, we all heard them announced constituency by constituency. We have not yet been told how many spoilt papers there were in the local government ballot. It is a paradox that under the single transferable vote system for local government, there were far fewer spoilt papers than in the first- past-the-post ballot papers for the Scottish Parliament. As the ballot papers were modelled on those in

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New Zealand, I wonder whether we have any information about the number of spoilt ballot papers there. I suspect that it is more to do with the design of the ballot paper than the compilation of the paper in principle.

My fundamental point is that there must be a proper, independent inquiry and the Government must accept that.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his comments. An independent inquiry is exactly what the law requires. That is why the commission will conduct its review. It is the body charged with doing that work. Here we are, three or four days away from those elections. The Secretary of State has moved very quickly to get the Electoral Commission on board to do exactly what the noble Lord wants it to do, which attacks all the problems that arose last week. If the report is not satisfactory, the way is left open for further review. Although I take on board the noble Lord’s point that the Statement may not have underlined the gravity of the situation, it was absolutely clear from the debate in the other place taken in the whole, including the contributions from Front-Benchers and Back-Benchers, that it is seen as a very grave situation and one that must be addressed.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords—

Viscount Waverley: My Lords—

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is the Cross-Benchers’ turn, and then the Government’s turn.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, after electoral chaos in Scotland, past postal fraud in Birmingham and even dead people turning up to vote in years gone by in Wallasey, could we have less preaching by the Government, specifically to Nigeria in its handling of the recent presidential round, and concentrate on subtle diplomacy?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, that is a little way from the purpose of the Statement, but it is a point that we note.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, will my noble friend reflect that one of the main reasons that we have landed in this mess is that he has listened to the siren call that independent commissions can do the job better than the Government? Is it not about time that the Government took responsibility and faced up to the fact that criticism may be made on a partisan basis? On e-counting, will he reflect on the old story about computers: put garbage in and you get garbage out?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, it is a little too late for my noble friend to say that the Government should take responsibility for these matters. We are talking about a devolved country that, first, makes its own decisions and, secondly, has returning officers who, in two of the crucial areas that we have

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been discussing, decide what happens and how things are planned. Obviously, the Government have an important role to play. We are playing it, but it must be played with the help of other actors in this matter.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, I mention a past interest as an MSP in the Scottish Parliament for the past eight years. For clarity, I confirm that a Motion was tabled before the Scottish Parliament by the Conservatives to have the council elections on a different day, on the grounds that otherwise it could and would lead to confusion. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that people put crosses when they should have put numerals and possibly vice versa.

The Minister has fairly pointed out that the timing of elections was a devolved responsibility. If the Electoral Commission makes strong representations, will he be prepared to take them forward? If they relate to devolved responsibilities, will he be prepared to take them forward with the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament, who is about to be elected, and the Scottish Executive, who will be elected before long?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, we have asked the Electoral Commission to consider all those matters and report back to us. I assume that if the Electoral Commission and independent advisers make powerful points about what has gone wrong and the reasons for it, the Scottish Executive and the Government will take great note of what is said. It is a serious matter that must be sorted out and solved. The Government are in no way trying to say anything different. Constructive views from the Electoral Commission will be considered very carefully.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, of the three areas of focus mentioned in the Statement, I seek assurances on two. One is the e-counting machines. I understand very well the reasons for using them for the local elections: because of STV, it was thought necessary and a good idea to have e-counting machines. But for the parliamentary elections, I really do not understand why we could not have had manual counting. The parliamentary elections had not changed in any form, people were used to them, and we could have had manual counting. The only reason that I have heard given for having e-counting machines for all the elections is expense. Can my noble friend assure me that, in the light of what has happened, manual counting for the parliamentary elections will be reconsidered?

One of the real problems that led to so many voters voting inappropriately on the parliamentary ballot paper and thereby invalidating it was not so much because it was all on one ballot paper, but because of the instructions at the top of the ballot paper, which stated in very heavy print, “You have two votes”. Some people put two crosses in one column and none in the other, thereby completely invalidating their paper. Not just the question of whether there should have been one ballot paper but the question of what instructions go on the ballot paper should be carefully examined.

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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, all the matters raised by my noble friend will be carefully looked at. The paradox of the e-counting machines is that they were so widely tested before the elections yet went wrong on the night. That will need to be looked into because they were validated—and I can hear the Luddites having a good laugh at the back. For those of us who know a bit about computers, that is a very strange occurrence. I can assure my noble friend that all the points looked at will be considered. I have to say that Hansard from both Houses will be of great value to the Electoral Commission as it starts its inquiries and considers its agenda.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, considering the chaos of those elections, can the Minister assure us that these stupid systems and practices will not be translated into the English parliamentary system?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, unfortunately I do not have the authority to give that undertaking, but it sounds a bit unlikely.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, from what I have derived from last Thursday’s events, an all- elected House of Lords is rather less likely than it might have been beforehand. More seriously, I shall attempt to bridge the divide that is going to open up between the Government’s view that this should be left to the Electoral Commission and the cries for a fully independent commission. Surely we can bridge that divide by instructing the Electoral Commission to include some non-executive directors—some independent members. That would, to some extent, disarm the criticism that they are the guards looking after themselves.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, that is an interesting point and I will ask my right honourable friend to consider it and discuss it with officials in the Electoral Commission.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, there is some talk of the election being rerun. Will the Minister confirm that that is definitely not expected?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, two voices have mentioned that possibility—one in the other place this afternoon and one here. The Government and the Scottish Executive do not feel that that is sensible.

Legal Services Bill [HL]

5.53 pm

Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 141 [Duties to share information]:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) moved Amendment No. 384:

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( ) duplication of investigations is avoided;( ) the OLC assists”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 385 and 386. These amendments relate to the important provisions in Clause 141 on information sharing. Similar amendments were raised in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and my noble friend Lady Henig on behalf of the Law Society. Although I felt at the time that the wording of the amendment raised at that stage was not appropriate for the Bill, I was persuaded by the importance of the intended effect. As a result, we have worked closely with the Law Society to return with these amendments.

I am happy to report that they represent a solution that both the Law Society and the Government are satisfied with. I hope that noble Lords too will be satisfied. It is of vital importance to the regulatory and complaints-handling framework that approved regulators and the OLC work in co-operation. I am confident that these amendments will facilitate that.

Amendments Nos. 384 and 385 will strengthen the LSB’s duties when specifying the requirements which the OLC and approved regulators must meet when drawing up their rules on information sharing. The LSB will now have to have regard to the need to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the OLC and approved regulators, in sharing information, assist one another to perform their function. This elevation of “desirability” to “need” seems more appropriately to reflect the importance of the consideration that the LSB should give to these arrangements.

Amendment No. 386 will require the OLC and approved regulators to consult each other prior to submission of rules or arrangements for LSB approval and to require that if there are unresolved disagreements, these are reported to LSB when the rules or regulatory arrangements are submitted for approval. This reflects the particular relevance of these matters to the relationship between the OLC and approved regulators and will encourage the OLC and approved regulators to reach a consensus on what information should be shared and how, and will therefore further facilitate a co-operative relationship.

Amendment No. 386 covers much the same ground as Amendment No. 387, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. Given the Law Society’s agreement on Amendment No. 386, the noble Lord may want to reflect on that when we get to his group of amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing forward these amendments to Clause 141 and for her explanation for doing so. We accept the superior drafting of the government Amendment No. 386 to our own Amendment No. 387 and are delighted to see that the obligation for the OLC to consult approved regulators before publishing its scheme rules will be put on a statutory basis. It is right that both sides should co-operate as far as possible and identify to the board any part of the proposed rules where they have disagreed. We welcome these amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendments Nos. 385 and 386:

(a) before publishing under section 195(2) a draft of rules it proposes to make under subsection (1), consult each approved regulator to which the proposed rules apply, and(b) when seeking the Board’s consent to such rules under section 152, identify any objections made by an approved regulator to the rules and not withdrawn.(a) consult the OLC before making provisions in its regulatory arrangements of the kind mentioned in subsection (2), and(b) where an application is made for the Board’s approval of such provisions, identify any objections made by the OLC to the provisions and not withdrawn.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 387 not moved.]

Clause 146 [Enforcement of requirements to provide information or produce documents]:

[Amendment No. 388 not moved.]

Clause 149 [Disclosure of restricted information]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendments Nos. 389 and 390:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 152 [Consent requirements for rules]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 391:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 154 [Interpretation of Part 6]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendments Nos. 392 and 393:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 394:

(c) provision which by virtue of section (Regulatory arrangements not prohibited by section 154) is not prohibited by this section.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 395:

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(a) to investigate whether there are any persons who may have a claim against the relevant authorised person in relation to a matter specified by the approved regulator;(b) to provide the approved regulator with a report on the outcome of the investigation;(c) to identify persons (“affected persons”) who may have such a claim;(d) to notify affected persons that they may have such a claim;(e) to provide affected persons with information about the relevant authorised person’s complaints procedures and the ombudsman scheme;(f) to ensure that the relevant authorised person’s complaints procedures operate as if an affected person had made a complaint against the relevant authorised person in respect of the act or omission to which the claim relates.(a) “relevant authorised person”, in relation to an approved regulator, means a person authorised by that approved regulator to carry on an activity which is a reserved legal activity, and(b) a relevant authorised person’s complaints procedures are the procedures established by that person, or which that person participates in or is subject to, in accordance with regulatory arrangements made in accordance with section 109.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 155 [Legal Services Complaints Commissioner and Legal Services Ombudsman]:

Lord Maclennan of Rogart moved Amendment No. 396:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is a weakness in the Bill in respect of the power of the claimant or respondent to review decisions made by either the OLC or the approved regulator. The Bill allows only for judicial review. That is costly and, in many cases, would prohibit or prevent any review taking place.

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