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I will make one brief point on a technicality: the question whether the other place had an opportunity to consider this measure. That is at the heart of our position. There was a vote in the other place. The result was that 235 Members voted in its favour and 176 voted against it. That was a matter of a free vote on the part of the government party and the Conservatives. It was, sadly, the subject of a three-line Whip on the part of the Liberal Democrats. None the less, the Whip was voted against by several of their Members. The argument presented is that the matter was not discussed, but Members of the other place had seen the amendment in the name of my honourable friend Julian Lewis. The debate had continued; most people had an opinion on it and they expressed it in the most
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Our position is that, if that view was taken in the other place and it was the settled view of that House, it would be wrong for us in this place to seek to overturn that from a procedural point of view, not to mention the qualitative and security arguments that have been presented so forcefully in this debate from many sides. Members on our Benches would have a free vote again in any Division, but I hope that we will allow the House of Commons to determine the terms on which they stand for election and respect that.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, Clause 21 removes the requirements on candidates to provide their full address on statements of persons nominated and the ballot paper at UK parliamentary elections. The clause was inserted into the Bill following an amendment that was tabled by the honourable Member for New Forest East, Dr Lewis, and accepted by the other place at Report following a free vote. The clause provides that, at a parliamentary election, candidates full home addresses will no longer appear on the nomination paper but will instead be supplied to the returning officer on a separate home address form. A home address form enables candidates to choose whether their full home addresses will be included on the electoral documents available to the public. That is the statement of persons nominated on the ballot paper. Should a candidate prefer that their full home address not be made public, these documents will instead identify the constituency in which the candidate has an address.
The Government issued a consultation paper on 26 November 2008. From the 65 responses to the consultation, it was clear that there are strongly held views for and against changing the legislation. Broadly speaking, a majority of politicians who responded and the Electoral Commission favoured change, while administrators, returning officers and the majority of responses from the public did not. Those in favour argued that the candidate and their families faced more ordinary risks to their safety and security, which warranted the need for their home addresses to be removed from the public domain. By contrast, those against the idea argued that the interest of accountability and free expression of democracy would not be served by allowing candidates to make it more difficult for the public to find out information about them.
As a result of the responses to the consultation and the importance of the issue, we took the view that the matter would be for the other place and not for the Government to decide onhence there was a free vote on the issue. That allowed those who were elected to make a decision on their behaviour during elections and on the information that should be made available to the public. I reiterate that the Government take no position on the merits of Clause 21 and that the inclusion of the clause in the Bill is not government policy. The Government will therefore allow a free vote on Amendment 76.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am grateful that we have had an opportunity to discuss this important issue this evening. Ever since the Ballot Act 1872, the electorate have had the right to know where their candidates live. I suggest to your Lordships House that we should take seriously any reduction in that transparencyhence my anxiety, which I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, does not share, that the other place should debate the issue. That was the issue on which he and I agreed on Monday and we were successful with that amendment. That place should take a decision of this importance after careful discussion. If the Minister really believes that taking an amendment out of its groupingno one expected it to comeand then putting it to a vote without any debate and without its even being moved is a proper way to discuss such an issue, I am disappointed.
I have been a Member of Parliament. My address was in the local telephone book for all the years for which I represented my constituency. As I mentioned in Grand Committee, when I had a majority of nine, at three oclock in the morning pig farmers would ring up to say, We was the nine, and give me a great deal of stick on what my views should be on the pig industry, so I understand the point about families.
The logic of the submission of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is that every representative in every devolved Assembly should be given the same protection. I have listened especially to the experience of those Members of your Lordships House who know about Northern Ireland. Why should Members of the House of Commons be protected in a way that Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are not? If the Government want to make some real changes, I suggest that they remove the provision from the Bill and look at the whole issue again, so that there can be proper consideration, rather than have it forced through as it has been so far.
We still have not heard from the Minister or anyone else any evidence from the police or the security forces that this is an essential requirement to protect candidates for the other place and their families. Yet, on a whim, some seem to want to remove the transparency that has been in place for some 137 years. This is an issue that should be debated, discussed and decided in the other place. Therefore, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
(a) where the candidate is not registered with a registered political party, a description of not more than 6 words in length, authorised by the Electoral Commission;
(aa) where the candidate is registered with a registered political party, the name of the party as registered under section 28 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000; or.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I must first of all apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. He was here earlier; unfortunately, the timing has coincided with a very important occasion to commemorate the foundation of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, of which he was a founder member. Not many people can still say that. He is very sorry not to be here to move the amendment on the Marshalled List in his name and mine.
This is a particular issue that has arisen recently, and I hope the Government are going to be able to give us some guidance on how to deal with it. The description of candidates on a ballot paper has, on two specific occasions recently, been used not to inform the electorate of the status of the candidate, but effectively to put propaganda on the ballot paper.
The first example was in Scotland, where certain candidates put Alex Salmond for First Minister on the ballot paper as their descriptionwhich was clearly completely outwith the intentions of the regulations, but was permitted. Similarly, and more recently, the BNP put on the ballot paper against candidates not a description of the party, but a slogan: Protecting British Jobs. In both cases, there will, I think, be widespread recognition around the House that this is a deliberate distortion of the intention of the ballot paper, which is intended to be entirely factualnothing to do with propaganda or slogans. My noble friend Lord Steel has, with the assistance of the authorities of the House, produced a way in which this problem can be dealt with; that is incorporated in Amendment 76A.
My noble friend Lord Steel left with me a number of cuttings, which I think at this point in the evening I
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However, there is a very serious point here, and it was addressed in the Gould report on the Scottish elections of 2007. It was quite clear in that election that there was real confusion in Scotland as a result of the way in which the ballot paper had, in my view and the view of my noble friend, been misused. It may be that the Minister this evening may not be able to accept the amendment in its present form, despite the assistance of the authorities of the House. But I hope the Minister will accept that there is a real problem here, and something needs to be done. I beg to move.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am very pleased that the Liberal Democrat Front Bench has now come around to the view that I have been promoting for some time, that slogans should be omitted from ballot papers. In the past, all the parties have been guilty of using the description in this way. In my view, it is quite wrong and I hope that ways will be found to stop it.
I have in front of me a copy of the ballot paper for the elections to the European Parliament in the north-west region, which has one or two interesting examples on it of exactly what we are complaining aboutputting political slogans and other irrelevant information on ballot papers. The British National Party, as my noble friend has already said, says in its subsidiary description, British National Party: Protecting British Jobs. That is clearly a slogan. The Christian Party says it is proclaiming Christs Lordship. That may or may not be a slogan, but it seems to me that if the Christian Party wishes to stand, then what it is about should be part of its campaigning and not on the ballot paper.
The Conservative Party and the Labour Party are crystal pure on this issue, and have nothing further, and the Liberal Democrats, for reasons I do not quite understand, say, Liberal Democrats: liberal democrat. I do not think Liberal Democrat is a slogan, but why Liberal Democrats appears followed by liberal democrat, I do not understand. Nevertheless, I think we are above reproach there.
Then we have the English Democrats Party, which says, English Democrats: Putting England First. That is clearly a slogan. We have something called the Jury Team, which I do not understand at all, that says, Democracy, Accountability, Transparency. That might be an ideological statement, but it is not something that should be on the ballot paper. The Socialist Labour Party says, LeaderArthur Scargill. People will have their views as to whether he should be on the ballot paper; it did not do them much good. The Green Party says, Green Party: Say No To Racism. That is clearly a slogan, and while one does not doubt that the Green Party is anti-racist, it ought not to be on the ballot paper. So it seems to me that this is prevalent: people are using it to promote a political message. It is still going on and it ought to be stopped.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I want to speak on this amendment, because I think it is an important issue. The reality is that we were in Committee prior to the last round of elections. It seems to me that this is an escalating level of abuse: if we allow it to develop in one particular area, then someone else will say, Well, if they can do it, we can do it, and more and more candidates are going to adopt this approach in the future. We learn from this last election, which, as I said, took place after we were in Committee. I would have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, as a former Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament, would have had particular experience of this, as I presume that candidates in Scotland have made representations to him that have led to him tabling this amendment.
Irrespective of what is in the Ministers brief, which may well have been written prior to these most recent elections and the experience of candidates in various parts of the country of being confronted with a ballot paper riddled with slogansmany areas had a very long ballot paper of some 15 to 18 inches long: the longest one I have ever seen in my lifeI would have thought that my noble friend might want to indicate a little flexibility during the course of his response. At the least he might indicate that the Government are now considering these issues so that in the future we may consider further legislation in this area.
Lord Henley: My Lords, briefly, I have some sympathy for what is behind this amendment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, I do not like the growth in the use of slogans on the ballot paper. As he said, since Committee we have seen them used a great deal in the European elections. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, took us through the ballot paper for the north-westthe one on which I would have put my crossand speculated whether the expression liberal democrat could be seen as a slogan. As someone who came from the old Liberal Party and often feels that there is not much liberalism left among the Liberal Democrats, perhaps he is right that it is a sloganbut then, looking at some of the other slogans, I imagine the poor berated Prime Minister might have rather resented the fact that the BNP took to paraphrasing his line British jobs for British people by adding its slogan Protecting British jobs. It might have been preferable if we did not have such slogans on the ballot paper, and I will be interested to hear what the Government have to say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the amendment seeks to prevent the use by political parties of descriptions on nomination and ballot papers at parliamentary elections, and provides that independent candidates may use descriptions of up to six words. The description would have to be authorised by the Electoral Commission.
The regulation of party descriptions has evolved considerably over the past decade. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 provided for the compulsory registration of political parties. The Electoral Commissions 2003 report, Standing for Election in the
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I recognise the concerns that have been expressed by politicians on all sides and by a number of electors who have questioned whether the descriptions used on the ballot paper at the recent European elections were appropriate, even if they were within the law. In addition, there has been a debate for some time about whether the existing arrangements are fair to independent candidates. However, I am concerned that the proposal set out in this amendment goes too far in the other direction.
Within the current framework, smaller or local parties have the opportunity to register a party name that capitalises on contentious local issues, and larger and national parties have argued that this puts them at a disadvantage. Party descriptions address this disadvantage by allowing national parties the opportunity to reflect local circumstances on a ballot paper. For example, parties commonly use one description when contesting UK parliamentary elections and another for elections to the devolved Administrations. The noble Lords amendment would provide that independents would be the only candidates able to use a description of any kind. I question whether this arrangement goes too far in allowing independent candidates to make an appeal that would be denied to political parties.
In addition, while I recognise the noble Lords intentions, I should make it clear that the amendment is defective since it envisages that candidates are registered with a political party. This registration is the route by which the amendment defines candidates who are compelled to use only the registered party name as a description. While political parties must register with the Electoral Commission, there is no requirement that candidates must register with political parties before they may stand on that partys behalf at an election; nor is there any requirement for any candidate to be a member of the party on whose behalf they are a candidate.
Another difficulty with the proposed measure is the burden that it would place on the Electoral Commission. In considering this issue in 2003, the commission concluded that it would be impractical for it to,
These matters are of course kept under review, and since this issue concerns the way in which those standing for election communicate with the electorate, it must be right that any change should be made in discussion with all those who have a stake in the electoral process. Therefore, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have contributed to the debate, although I must say that I found the tone of the Ministers response much less forthcoming that I had hoped it would be as a result of the very effective way in which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in his normal emollient way, had invited the Minister to be equally emollient.
There is a serious issue here. I understand what the Minister says about the Electoral Commissions work, and it was clear from the Gould commission that what it recommended was not intended to be the last word on this subject; as I anticipated, there would be further discussion about the ballot paper design. I hope that I can read from what the Minister has just said that the continuing review to which he referred is ongoing: that it has not stopped and will not cease simply because there is a problem at the moment. I also understand that the Electoral Commission will review what happened in this respect in the recent European parliamentary elections. I hope that I have got that right. The Minister may like to intervene if I have got it wrong, but I hope the fact that he is not intervening suggests that that is exactly what will happen.
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