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As my noble friend has said, even if there is only one case we should take this opportunity for legislation. I am tempted to press Amendment 18 to a Division, for the simple reason that it allows the Government to legislate in future but does not compel them to do so if the single case that my noble friend mentioned does not materialise. But I shall give the Government the benefit of good faith on this, because I trust the Minister and believe that she is moving in the right direction. Either on the caste amendment or my noble friend's descent amendment, we shall get something at the end of the day. With that hope in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Amendment 6

Moved by Lord Avebury

6: Clause 4, page 4, line 17, at end insert-

"being a Scottish Gypsy Traveller;"

Lord Avebury: We come now to the question of Scottish Gypsy Travellers. I do not expect that there will be quite as many speakers in this debate as the one that we have just finished, but it is an extremely important matter-the anomalous and unjust situation that has existed over many years that Scottish Gypsies are not entitled to the same protection from discrimination in our law as their English, Welsh and Irish counterparts.

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There are some 25,000 Gypsies in Scotland, and there are indications that their ancestors have been there since the early 16th century. We welcome the letter from the Solicitor-General to the honourable Member for North Ayrshire and Arran saying that a recent employment tribunal judgement has declared that Scottish Gypsy Travellers are a distinct ethnic group and are therefore covered by the 1976 Act and this Bill. She also adds that,

In this letter to Ms Clark, the Solicitor-General acknowledges that Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers did not have the same legal rights in Scotland as they do in rest of the UK and, up to now, had not been treated as eligible for compensation if they had been discriminated against within the terms of the Race Relations Act 1976. Equally, they would not qualify as a distinct ethnic group under this Bill, because it was generally a matter for the courts to decide whether a complainant belongs to a racial group and had been the victim of a discriminatory act because of that status. She added, however, that in this recent employment tribunal judgment, it was held that Scottish Gypsy Travellers were indeed members of a distinct racial group and were therefore covered by the 1976 Act. She says that they are already recognised by public authorities as a distinct ethnic minority and they benefit from measures, which she lists, that are targeted at ethnic minorities generally by public authorities in Scotland. Scottish Gypsies, she says, are specifically mentioned in policy statements and benefit from measures aimed at other minority groups.

But there was a sting in the tail. The Minister said there was an appeal outstanding against the MacLennan case decision, and I heard only this morning that the case had been finally settled. Nevertheless, very few people in Scotland, including most practitioners, seem to be aware of the position, and it would be useful if the Minister would now confirm that as the law now stands after the MacLennan case, Scottish Gypsy Travellers are a distinct ethnic group for the purposes of the 1976 Act and of this Bill. If she could go further and say there is no danger of this being reversed by a court decision in some other case in a higher court, bearing in mind that we are only thinking of a tribunal case, it would give some additional reassurance. Of course, if she would accept this amendment, it would settle the matter once and for all, and it would be irreversibly confirmed that Gypsies in Scotland have the same rights as their cousins in the rest of the UK. I beg to move.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: For the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I support the amendment. Clearly, there is a problem at the moment, and I believe that his amendment will tackle it.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, Amendments 6, 19, 30, 41, 50 and 53 all seek explicitly to list being a Scottish Gypsy Traveller as a protected characteristic. I shall address these amendments together.

Although the Government clearly do not condone any form of racial discrimination, we are resisting these amendments. However, I hope that I can offer

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some comfort to the noble Lord. The Equality Bill already provides explicit protection against racial discrimination-that is, discrimination that occurs because of a person's race, colour, nationality, or ethnic or national origins. However, it is not government policy to list specific protected racial groups as such a list could never be exhaustive. We believe that it is only right that anyone who thinks they have been discriminated against because of their race, colour, nationality, or ethnic or national origins can bring a legal claim, and it would ultimately be for the courts to decide on the facts of any particular case as to whether the act in question amounted to unlawful racial discrimination. Indeed, case law has determined that Romany Gypsies-in Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton in 1989-and Irish Travellers-in O'Leary v Allied Domecq in 2000-are distinct racial groups for the purposes of deciding whether a discriminatory act amounted to unlawful racial discrimination.

The recent employment tribunal judgment on MacLennan v Gypsy Traveller Education and Information Project has held that Scottish Gypsy Travellers are an ethnic group. This has set a precedent for them to be recognised as a minority group. In addition to this, there is wider acknowledgement in Scotland that Scottish Gypsy Travellers are an ethnic minority group and, indeed, one that has particularly suffered from discrimination. Consequently, a number of initiatives and projects have been targeted at this group to give them the same opportunities as other people to offer them a level playing field.

In Scotland, race equality policy statements specifically mention Scottish Gypsy Travellers as an ethnic minority group and encourage public authorities to structure services and public functions to take account of this group. Ongoing initiatives targeted at ethnic minority groups including Scottish Gypsy Travellers include improving opportunities; addressing barriers preventing this group from achieving what they are capable of; more active and vibrant communities, increasing participation of Scottish Gypsy Travellers; responsive communities, with better support from specialist and mainstream services; safer communities, building lasting connections with this group; and developing and implementing an education strategy.

7.30 pm

In response specifically to the request from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for an assurance that the tribunal decision will not be reversed, the Government are of course not in a position to determine what judgment higher tribunals or courts may make in future cases relating to Scottish Gypsy Travellers, but that is the same as for every other group that tribunals and courts have held to be ethnic groups, such as Sikhs and Romany Gypsies. I reiterate that the Bill provides protection in terms of a person's race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins, a provision which the courts will interpret based on the facts of each case.

Amendment 6 would have the specific effect of including being a Scottish Gypsy Traveller as a relevant protected characteristic for dual discrimination claims. For the reasons I just gave, because it is not a protected characteristic it would be contrary to the Bill's aims of harmonisation and simplification. Moreover, as I have

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stated before, dual discrimination is a complex issue and including it in Clause 14 as well might impose disproportionate barriers. Given the reassurances that I have offered the noble Lord, Lord Avebury-and the recent news that he provided, which is, indeed, correct-I hope that my assurances that Scottish Gypsy Travellers are a protected racial group will allow him to withdraw his amendments.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for those reassurances. I will make one additional request of her. I recognise that many public authorities in Scotland have already altered their policies in the light of the MacLennan judgment, and have incorporated Scottish Gypsy Travellers in their race equality statements. Could the Minister discuss with the Scottish Government how they can best circularise all public authorities to make sure that every statement referring to race equality includes Scottish Gypsy Travellers as a specific group to benefit from the legislation?

Baroness Thornton: I am certainly very happy to take that suggestion forward.

Lord Avebury: In that case, I have great pleasure in withdrawing the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.32 pm.

Electoral System: Party Lists

Question for Short Debate

7.33 pm

Asked By Lord Alton of Liverpool

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to initiate tonight's short debate, which focuses on the way in which party list systems have impacted on levels of voter turnout, voter alienation and the rise of extremist political groups. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have decided to speak this evening. They bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom to our proceedings. In a few short remarks, I would like to make it clear why I implacably opposed the use of closed party lists in European elections, why that system should be replaced, and why we should carefully assess our experience of closed lists and other electoral systems as we consider making changes to Westminster elections.

In recent weeks, government Ministers have flagged up a damascene conversion to the cause of electoral reform, which makes this debate all the more topical. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the proposed legislation will provide for a referendum on the voting system, and whether the Government intend to provide a timetable for when that referendum will occur. He might also take the opportunity of this evening's debate to tell us what question or questions will be put to the

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electorate in that referendum. He will recall that that was the issue put forward at the "Vote for a Change" rally held last July, at Westminster Central Hall.

Twelve years ago, I entered your Lordships' House as an independent Cross-Bencher and I speak from those Benches tonight. Before coming here, for 18 years in another place I had the honour to represent a Liverpool constituency; but I cut my political teeth much earlier than that. In my misspent youth in 1968, aged 17, one of my first duties as chairman of my town's branch of young Liberals was to organise a talk by the indefatigable Miss Enid Lakeman of the Electoral Reform Society. She had been sent by Mr Grimond to tell us why we should support a change in the voting system. Born in 1903, she died in 1995 at the age of 91. Having served as a radar operator during the Second World War, in 1946 she began her lifelong campaign for the reform of the electoral system and, in particular, the introduction of the single transferable vote, or STV.

By 1960, she had been appointed as the director of the Electoral Reform Society and in the following years she addressed innumerable meetings, edited pamphlets, wrote submissions to official inquiries along with hundreds of letters to newspapers, and lobbied politicians and government departments. Her book How Democracies Vote continues to be a standard reference on the arcane subject of electoral systems. In 1968, I listened attentively to the compelling arguments which she advanced for STV and to her trenchant arguments opposing party list systems, to which I will return in a moment. Should STV ever be introduced in Westminster elections-as it has been in the Republic of Ireland, for Northern Ireland Assembly elections and for Scottish local government-perhaps it should be called the Lakeman system, because no one did more than that tireless and extraordinary woman to ensure that its virtues were fully understood. I am sure that she would have approved of the debate in your Lordships' House tonight.

Politics is always about timing, and in the present political climate people are bound to question the motives of those who now argue that we should change the system. There is, at the fag-end of a Parliament, a great danger that the case for electoral reform could become contaminated by muddling the genuine arguments which can be made for reform with cynical or belated attempts to sustain the hegemony of particular politicians. Consequently, we could also end up with a worse system than the one we have at present. It is therefore vital to challenge the assumption that any change is preferable to our existing arrangements. That is why I opposed the party list system of proportional representation introduced for elections to the European Parliament. I opposed it on the grounds that it was bound to open the way to groups like the British National Party, and because it offends a fundamental principle of our parliamentary democracy: the right to vote for an individual candidate rather than for a party or its list.

Party lists destroy the constituency basis of representation, which is such a strength of our British system. When lists were introduced by the Government, they promised that they would review the impact the system made on issues such as turnout and political

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extremism. I hope that the Minister will tell us this evening whether such an evaluation has been undertaken, and what conclusions the Home Office has reached following the elections that have been carried out using party lists.

Turnouts in the 2009 election were dismal; 34.7 per cent of the population voted, down from 38.52 per cent in 2004. It is worth remarking that, by contrast, in Northern Ireland, where STV has always been used for European elections, the turnout was markedly higher at 42.4 per cent. Party lists are the most anonymous of voting systems; famously, a tiny fraction of voters are able to name their MEP. That encourages apathy and low turnouts, which, as supporters of the mainstream parties stay at home, in turn helps parties with relatively low support bases to win seats. It is not that electoral systems alone are responsible for voter turnout, but a political culture that increasingly revolves around party preferment rather than voter engagement and an overextended belief in campaigning by electronic remote control, rather than by intimate and participatory community politics, is bound to militate against voter engagement.

Beyond the swings and roundabouts of party politics lies the deeper issue of mass absenteeism that is becoming such a feature of our British elections. Anything we do to change our voting arrangements should weigh that factor with great care. We should, perhaps, reflect that in the post-war years whole families went to the polls together; they certainly did on the council estate where I lived and was brought up as a boy. Even in the 1970s, when I was elected as a student to Liverpool City Council, there was a tangible sense of excitement and a buzz on the streets on voting day-let alone the excitement generated at a by-election or general election. When elected, you felt you had a clear and substantial mandate from the people. Where does mass absenteeism leave the democratic mandate of those who have been elected?

Contemporary disillusionment and absenteeism feed into another equally disturbing development-the impact of the far right. It saw an increase in its share of the vote to almost 10 per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber. In addition to winning a seat there, taking 17 per cent of the vote in Barnsley, it won a seat in the north-west, with 8 per cent of the vote. It is worth recalling that in the Westminster elections of 2005 the BNP polled just 0.7 per cent, but by 2008 it had gained 5.2 per cent in the London elections and won a seat on the London Assembly. This has allowed it to build a presence and credibility. Closed party lists help extremism, compound voter alienation and encourage politicians to further detach themselves from direct community engagement.

However, first past the post hardly inspires. The last election gave the current Government 55 per cent of the seats with just 35.1 per cent of the votes. This was the flimsiest basis for a Commons majority in modern British electoral history. If the steady trend of increasing support for parties other than Labour and Conservative continues, such massive distortions will continue and potentially get even worse. People are also increasingly aware that their vote will probably make absolutely no difference to the result, especially if they live in so-called safe seats. The feeling of powerlessness and alienation that this creates is a major contributor to low turnout.

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In 2005 Labour was able to win power with the support of just 21.6 per cent of potential voters, thanks to the large number staying at home.

The Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister, Mr Jack Straw, has suggested that a good way to address these challenges would be through the introduction of AV-the alternative vote. But AV is no different to first past the post in denying voters a say in who will be the candidate for each party. It is true that by requiring majority support for a winning candidate, AV clearly improves on first past the post; and, unlike with list systems, there would be no loss of the constituency link. Its supporters will also argue that it would be much easier to implement since it could use existing first-past-the-post boundaries. Ultimately, support for the alternative vote may well be driven by crude calculation of narrow party advantage, rather than by empirical evidence.

By contrast with AV, single transferable votes give voters a choice of different candidates whom they can support within each party-a kind of built-in primary, without the extra expense. In parenthesis, it is worth observing that one of the few positives which has come out of the expenses debacle in another place has been the innovative open primaries held by the Official Opposition in such constituencies as Totnes and Gosport. STV would give this same opportunity to supporters of every party. Since each party has more than one candidate, there is wider voter choice and the power to eliminate the least suitable. There is also far more scope under STV to promote candidates from such underrepresented groups as women, ethnic minorities and so on, without quotas-a point highlighted this weekend by the Speaker, Mr Bercow. Paradoxically, AV has the potential to be even less proportional than first past the post and, obviously, in comparison with STV, AV would still allow parties with minority support to have large majorities in the Commons.

The dying days of a Parliament-and probably a Government-must be the worst possible time to alter the voting system. It will raise the spectre of gerrymandering and Tammany Hall-style politics. If there is to be a change to our voting system, let it be genuine reform, which is long overdue. Let it have as its first requirement that an MP will continue to represent a defined geographical area and that votes will be cast for people, not parties. Any move to single transferable votes or alternative votes would need to command widespread support and should not, under any circumstances-unlike the change to party lists for European elections-be steamrollered through as a last-gasp political fix or as part of a political deal. I beg to move.

7.44 pm

Lord Rennard: My Lords, it is 27 years since I was proud to be the election agent for the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. I became his agent when his first constituency of Edge Hill had been abolished by the Boundary Commission and the new constituency of Mossley Hill that he was to fight was very different and electorally challenging. Whatever my skills and those of the party machine that we helped to build up, I have no doubt that the noble Lord's victory in 1983 was based almost entirely on his tremendous ability to fight for his constituents.

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There was no doubt that many supporters of other parties joined those of the Liberal Party, for which he stood at the time, to back him in that election. They did so personally, but also for tactical reasons. The effect of the recent boundary reorganisation was unclear to many and the constituency campaign was dominated by arguments about the relative positions of the main parties within this new seat. While we were successful in our campaign, the experience of it highlighted to me the flaws of first past the post and why we have to look at alternatives.

The first flaw in the first-past-the-post-system is the need constantly to change constituency boundaries. That is not conducive to good representation, and the process of changing boundaries is often arbitrary and unfair. Secondly, the results in Liverpool were simply not representative of the voters. Five Labour MPs and one Liberal MP were elected, but not a single Conservative, even though the Conservative Party had polled 29 per cent of the vote across the city's six constituencies. Thirdly, while we celebrated winning the Liverpool Mossley Hill seat that time, we won with only a fraction more than 40 per cent of the vote. A system in which any candidate, however good, wins with 60 per cent of the voters backing other candidates is not good for democracy.

List systems are an alternative, but the best solution to the problems that I have outlined would not be a list system but one in which, in that election, Liverpool could have been a single constituency with six MPs and with voting by the single transferable vote. The city's representation would then have reflected the votes that were cast, the best individuals would have been elected and the distortion of the national result in 1983-when a party with 42 per cent of the vote won 61 per cent of the seats-would have been avoided.

Since 1997 no new Parliament or Assembly in the UK has been created on the basis of first past the post. List systems have been the general preference of the Labour Government, but they could have done better. First and foremost, they should have delivered on their 1997 pledge to allow a referendum on the Westminster voting system so that voters could choose between a proportional alternative and first past the post. They may yet make a new promise on electoral reform for Westminster, but another promise is no substitute for the action that they should have taken during these 13 years.

It is my understanding that the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead would have liked to propose a system using STV in multimember constituencies covering our cities, with the alternative vote for single members in more rural seats that have very large areas to be represented. Instead of such a system, the PR methods for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the London Assembly and the European Parliament have been largely based on lists. The effect of the list systems on those various Parliaments and Assemblies has been to make them more representative of the voters than the discredited first-past-the-post-system would have been. However, they have also had unnecessary and adverse consequences that have confused the case for electoral reform.

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