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The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, as many noble Lords may know, the Boundary Commission for Scotland completed its first review of Scottish Parliament boundaries, as required by the Scotland Act, earlier this year. The commission submitted its Report on the First Periodic Review of Scottish Parliament Boundaries to the Secretary of State for Scotland on 26 May 2010, and a copy was laid before the Scottish Parliament and this Parliament on the same day. The Boundary Commission's report was accompanied by two DVD-ROMs containing geographical information system data defining the constituency boundaries. This is referred to as "the deposited data" in Article 2 of the order.
This approach was necessary because a number of the recommended Scottish Parliament constituencies have boundaries that do not follow existing local government ward boundaries. Previous constituencies were made up of complete local government wards, which are defined in existing legislation and therefore could be referred to by listing the ward names. The level of detail required to define the constituency boundaries meant that they could not practically be shown on traditional maps at an appropriate scale. The local government wards and part-wards that fall within the constituencies are listed in the appendices to the Boundary Commission's report, and the master copies of the DVD-ROMs have been deposited with the Secretary of State for Scotland for safekeeping. Reference copies are deposited with the Boundary Commission for Scotland, and copies are also available in the Library of each House.
The Scotland Act also requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament, as soon as is practicable after receipt of the report, the draft of an Order in Council giving effect to the recommendations in the report. Such a draft was laid on 1 July. It was debated in the other place on 15 September and approved, and now comes before your Lordships' House. Ministers readily acknowledge that there have been some concerns about some of the commission's recommendations. These have been raised with Ministers, but I emphasise that they have no power to direct the Boundary Commission to change any of its recommendations or to amend any boundaries through the order. The Boundary Commission is an independent and impartial body, and its statutory consultation and local public inquiry process allowed for consideration of concerns and representations about its proposals made by politicians, local authorities and others. Final decisions on recommendations were ultimately a matter for the commission. Details of the consultation, and local inquiries and their outcomes, are included in the commission's report.
As I explained earlier, the order gives effect, without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the commission's report. It defines the name, status and area of 71 of the 73 parliamentary constituencies, and the name and area of each Scottish Parliament region. The Orkney Islands constituency, which for eight years I had the privilege to represent in the Scottish Parliament, and the Shetland Islands constituency, were excluded from the scope of the review because Schedule 1 to the Scotland Act provides for them directly. The order is required to be approved by both
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The Scotland Office consulted electoral administrators and the Electoral Commission over the proposed timing of the Boundary Commission's final report, and on the proposed timing of the commencement of the order. Following the consultation, administrators agreed to start the necessary preparatory work in advance of the legislation coming into force, given the proximity of the next general election to the Scottish Parliament in May next year. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State also wrote to the Scottish Government's Minister for Parliamentary Business and the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, among others, in early July informing them of the proposed timing of the legislation.
The Scotland Office also consulted electoral administrators on the impact and risk of the boundary changes being applied to any extraordinary general election called between the legislation coming into force and 5 May 2011, and on the impact of having to run any by-elections between 1 December and 5 February, which is the latest that a by-election can be held, on old boundaries. Administrators supported running an extraordinary general election after 1 December on the basis of new boundaries. As for by-elections, their view was that this was a localised risk that could be managed, should the need occur.
It will of course be our intention to keep all interested parties informed of the proposed timing of the commencement of the legislation and, subject to the order being approved and made, the Scotland Office will write to them in due course to confirm the commencement date. I commend the order to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I had considered whether, in speaking today, I should declare an interest. Not only am I a Member of this House but for a short while longer I shall be a Member of the Scottish Parliament. However, I shall not be standing again for the Scottish Parliament, which has delighted a lot of people, and I shall concentrate my efforts, such as they are, in this Chamber, which has upset a lot of people opposite. Therefore, as these boundaries will not affect me, I do not think that declaring an interest is necessary.
It is a great pleasure to see here so many noble Lords from Scotland and I hope that they will participate in the debate today. Many of them were in the other place and served with distinction, and others were in local government. Indeed, there are some who served on the other side in the other place for a long time and I still call them my noble friends. I hope that they will participate, because some very important implications arise from what is being proposed.
As the Advocate-General said, these boundaries have been proposed by the Boundary Commission for Scotland, which has undergone a long and detailed
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Let us compare that procedure, which has brought these proposals to us today, with what is now being proposed and has been considered in another place. I cannot remember the Long Title of the Bill but for simplification I call it the "gerrymandering Bill", because that is what it is. It reduces the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom by 50-a totally arbitrary number. You might as well say that the MPs' responsibilities have increased so greatly that the number should be increased, rather than reduced, by 50, but that would be equally arbitrary. I repeat: the proposal that is being put forward is totally arbitrary.
That is bad enough in itself but the really disgraceful part is that the whole democratic procedure, which, as I said, has existed for generations, is to be scrapped and set aside to rush these boundary changes through in time for the next general election. That is a total negation of democracy and is absolutely unbelievable. No account will be taken of community cohesion. No account will be taken of representation. No account will be taken even of local authority boundaries. The new constituencies, in some cases mega-constituencies, will not necessarily take account of local authority boundaries, unless, of course, you are one of the chosen few who-I say looking directly at the Advocate-General-come from Orkney or Shetland or the Western Isles; or happen to be Charlie Kennedy and represent a huge mega-constituency; or, in other words, who happen to be a Liberal Democrat. Maybe there is one SNP in this group just to cover it up, but basically, if you are Liberal, protection will be provided for you. That is the extent of the gerrymandering that is taking place.
I plead with the Advocate-General to go back to his colleagues in government and to ask them to think again about what we are considering here today. I have seen so many changes. I even remember that the late John Smith, the greatest Prime Minister we never had-his widow was here with us earlier, listening to our proceedings-considered that making representations to tribunals was so important that he was in Airdrie town hall the day before he died. All the extra effort might, sadly, have helped to bring on his death. That was how important he considered these democratic hearings.
It really would be outrageous if this gerrymandering Bill were to go ahead. We would then end up with the anomaly of having a democratic procedure for the Scottish Parliament-the Boundary Commission for Scotland would still have hearings, still consider representations, still consider community interest, still take account of local authority boundaries-while all that would have been swept aside for the House of Commons. So in the same United Kingdom we would have two completely different systems: one which continues to be democratic and involves the community and the other which would be a total gerrymander.
I urge the Minister to think again. The Bill will soon come to the House of Lords. I have no authority to warn the Government, but my gut feeling is that, even among Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Cross-Benchers, there will be some for whom doing away with this democratic procedure will be so abhorrent that they will speak, and I hope vote, against it.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. As he glared at me benevolently earlier I imagined that he was paying me some sort of tribute. Would not it be a much better policy to stop pouring Members into this House, where we have neither the room nor the facilities for them? They impede the progress of our business and we do not need them. We have plenty of people who come here day after day and frequently cannot get into a debate because there are so many of these-I will not call them the nouveau riche since that would hardly apply as our allowances have virtually disappeared-nouveau pauvre, who haven't even the excuse of coming here for the money.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am extremely glad that I glanced-I did not glare-in the direction of the noble Lord, Lord St John. Those of us who were in the House of Commons at the time will recall with great affection that he was one of the great revolutionaries, if I may use that word, or revisionists, or revisers. I am trying to get the term right. Those on the other side will not understand the subtlety of these terms as far as the Left is concerned. I have the right term at last: he was one of the great reformers of the House of Commons and instituted the proceedings of Select Committees. He is absolutely right. We now have 777 Members. If noble Lords, as I do, come in after prayers to try to find a seat, it is very difficult-especially when you are my size-to find a place to sit down.
Let us take the point made by the noble Lord. The rumour is now that we are to get 100 more nominations to this House, particularly from the other side. That is astonishing. So for every elected MP that we are getting rid of, we are getting two more nominated Peers. That seems totally daft, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord for intervening. I hope that the Advocate-General will pay even more attention to someone now very much on his own side than to me.
I want to make two last brief points. One is about by-elections. One of the problems with the electoral system-I made this point in a Question the other day-is that it is astonishing that if I were to retire tomorrow, there would not be a by-election, the person who was second on the list would take over. Tomorrow, if Margo MacDonald retired, there will be no one to
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I have one other point before I come to a conclusion. The boundaries will come in for either a general election or an extraordinary general election. I think that it is within the power of the Presiding Officer to change the date of elections to the Scottish Parliament. It has been suggested that the date in 2015 would coincide with the date of the general election for the United Kingdom which-in my view, and, I think, that of a lot of people-would have unfortunate consequences. It would be useful to know from the Advocate-General whether the Presiding Officer could take up the suggestion from Professor John Curtis that Scottish Government elections could move to early September rather than be held in May to avoid that clash. That is an interesting thought.
However, those two points are minor. My main point is that we welcome the recommendations. Several noble Lords have expressed individual concerns, as the Advocate-General said, but they represent a proper democratic process. I fear that, if the gerrymandering Bill gets through this House and through Parliament, we will never again have the democratic process for looking at boundaries for the House of Commons. That would be a real loss to our democracy.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I rather question the premise of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about this process being exemplary and democratic. It seems to me that an arrangement which results in an appointed commission making its final determinations, which this House is simply invited to rubber-stamp or overturn, does not have the subtlety of the democracy that we are more used to in this country. The fact that this House has no power to suggest modifications to the Secretary of State is a limitation. I question whether it is really appropriate that the order should come before this House at all.
I realise, of course, that it is done entirely in conformity with the Scotland Act, but with the benefit of 12 years of that Act being on the statute book, perhaps we might consider that it is time for an amendment. This debate is at risk of turning into a debate about entirely different parliamentary measures over which we have control. I somewhat regret that.
It has to be said that the Explanatory Memorandum to this order displays a degree of tortuousness in interpretation of the Scotland Act that, despite some years of training and practice as a lawyer, I find almost impossible to unravel. The suggestion that the order has to be enacted in the terms in which it does as it,
It may be that those Acts have not been well drafted and that we should be reconsidering their language. It seems that the order allows a very broad discretion that is perhaps hardly consistent with the legislative activity in which we are engaged.
There are other examples. One referred to by my noble and learned friend when he introduced the order is the procedure for dealing with by-elections under this order and the date when the order takes effect. We are advised that the administrators have said that that is a "localised risk" that could be "managed" should the need occur. That is hardly legislating with clarity. It seems to be providing a discretion that is inappropriate and questionably democratic. I doubt whether this is a model of how to proceed in amending the boundaries of Scottish constituencies. The next time we are looking at amendments to the Scotland Act, I strongly recommend that we consider whether this also ought to be brought within the purview of that amendment.
In passing, because no one has the power to alter these proposed boundaries, I have to say that although the order may respect local authority boundaries, it does not respect existing local authority boundaries in respect of the mainland highland constituencies, in that we have a vast north highlands constituency, which is part of the north highland region. It is considerably too large to be effectively represented by a Member of Parliament. We ought to give some thought to those considerations when we come to consider the Bill that will emerge from another place dealing with Westminster parliamentary constituencies. I profoundly hope that we do not reach a position of such rigid equality of membership that the differences of community and geographical extent are completely set at nothing. That would be entirely to alter the nature of the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituency. However, I realise that I am straying into the territory that was entered by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and that is beyond the remit.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, perhaps I may rise as a parvenu in this House-someone who I have learnt is neither wanted nor needed. I have been called many things in my life but "nouveau riche" is not one of them. I echo the points made by my noble friend Lord Foulkes about the nature of the process that has been undertaken in agreeing the boundaries for the Scottish Parliament. As the Advocate-General was speaking, I was reflecting on the fact that there is no end to the joy in the Scotland Office when such matters arise.
One of the sadnesses that I experience, having been out of this country for four-and-a-half to five years, is the extent to which the craft of politics has fallen into disrepute. It would be unfortunate if we managed to separate the representative-the Member of Parliament in the other place-from the history and the involvement that he or she has with his or her constituency. Anyone who has ever gone to a Boundary Commission hearing and has listened to some of the cases that are put will have heard the passion that exists on the part of Members of the other place for the constituencies that they represent.
My noble friend referred to the fact that the last speech made in Scotland by John Smith was to the Boundary Commission. As the Advocate-General is well aware, I was some weeks later to become the Member of Parliament for Monklands East and subsequently for Airdrie and Shotts, based on the argument that John Smith put forward that day at the Boundary Commission. I have to say that I was privileged to take his seat; I could never fill his shoes. The work that he did for the Boundary Commission was exemplary. Having been born and brought up in the constituency, I did not know the connection between Airdrie and Shotts and the covenanters, for example, but that is the nature of the involvement that people have with the constituencies that they represent. To seek to break that link is to further diminish the role of politicians in both Houses.
I understand that the coalition is intent on these measures and on removing the opportunity for hearings related to boundaries for the other place. It would be a regressive step. To operate just on the basis of numbers of constituents would be a fallacy. I have come back from Australia, where the size of constituencies can be startling. I once had cause to inquire of a Member from the Northern Territory about the size of his constituency. He said that he had 10,000 electors. I said to him, "But you must know the inside leg measurement of every one of your voters". At that point, he replied, "Yes, but my constituency is the size of Portugal". We do not quite have constituencies the size of Portugal, although the Advocate-General covered a vast area when he was a Member of the other place. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, covered a vast area in Caithness and Sutherland. Within those areas-
In summary, it is easy for those looking on the proceedings of these Houses of Parliament to assume that we are all in it for number crunching and for our own nefarious purposes. However, people feel passionately about the places that they represent. If they do not, they should not even conceive of seeking to represent them in the other place.
The Advocate-General is a balanced and reasonable man. As a former Member of the Scottish Parliament, he will delight in pointing out how the procedures surrounding election to the Scottish Parliament are superior to that proposed for the future election of Members to the House of Commons. I hope that he will take back the strong views of my noble friends on this side of the House about separating the hearings system from the ability to set boundaries for the other place.
Lord St John of Fawsley: The provision rules that a Member may intervene twice in a Committee debate in order to explain his position. I did not have the noble Baroness in mind in the slightest. I merely say to
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Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I shall speak briefly on a more localised point involving a bit of history. In 1975, the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen, as well as Cambuslang and Halfway, were incorporated into Glasgow District Council under local government reform. This met with great resistance locally at the time. I am a Rutherglonian born and bred and I make it plain immediately that the traditional saying, "Many of my best friends are Glaswegians", applies. I have nothing against Glaswegians, but we are a more localised community and that is the way we like it.
The legislation was produced under a Conservative Government in 1973 and the incorporation took place in 1975. In 1995, under a more enlightened Conservative Government-I remember fondly the former Minister, Allan Stewart-we managed to achieve a more localised council. Our areas were incorporated into South Lanarkshire in the county of Lanarkshire, where we had been for 800 years, and that is where we want to remain.
I know that the Advocate-General is here to put before us the independent commission's report, which we cannot alter or reject. However, there are two points on that which are relevant to my community. The constituency of Rutherglen, despite local representations from our own Labour and Co-op MSP, James Kelly, has, under these proposals, been incorporated into the City of Glasgow regional seat, with all the other areas in South Lanarkshire elsewhere. Our MSP campaigned for Rutherglen to be incorporated in the Central Scotland seat, along with other Lanarkshire seats. The local Labour Party channelled its point of view through James Kelly, which was fine, but we were undermined by the Liberal list MSP for the area, who campaigned that we should stay in Glasgow. Despite campaigning for years that Rutherglen should be separate, this Liberal list MSP campaigned against the wishes of the local community.
My noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock has dealt with the thrust of the injustice and inadequacies of the Bill going through the other place and has explained how the local boundaries will be set for these reduced Westminster parliamentary constituencies. However, the Bill deals only in numbers and there is no capacity for local inquiries. The Explanatory Memorandum shows that a range of consultations took place-even the Scotland Office was consulted-to try to achieve a resolution of local concerns. However, given what is happening in another place, there will be no local inquiries and the issue will be dealt with only through numbers.
I can guarantee that any local political party in our area that campaigns for a Bill that deals only in straightforward numbers and involves Rutherglen being carved up and put in with Glasgow, with Cambuslang and Halfway being put elsewhere and other bits going to East Kilbride, will pay a terrible price, as will anyone who wishes to represent us locally in any form if they go along with the process. What is happening in the Bill is quite wrong.
My noble friend Lady Liddell has mentioned how strongly people feel; I epitomise that in spades. When we campaigned for a smaller council in 1995, every community council, tenants association, residents association and church joined the campaign. There were more than 1,100 people at the meeting in Rutherglen Old Parish Church campaigning for a more localised council. The Bill in another place will remove that at a stroke, which is undemocratic.
While I am quite harsh verbally about some Liberals, I cannot believe that Liberal Members of this House feel that this is right and justified. I cannot believe that of the majority of Cross-Benchers either. To be fair and accurate, a lot of Conservative Members do not like what is happening. To remove local representation at a stroke is undemocratic and illiberal.
I join my noble friend Lord Foulkes in appealing to the Advocate-General, even at this late stage, to use what influence he has to indicate that the removal of local inquiries is undemocratic, illiberal and unacceptable. If he has any doubts, I can organise a meeting in Rutherglen for him. While we will not erect the gallows before he comes, once he preaches that Rutherglen should be carved up he might find himself going up the steps to the gallows.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I am very interested in all that noble Lords have had to say so far, particularly the issues raised by my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart. I do not know whether he was talking more in general terms, but I would be fascinated to know whether the Minister can tell us if the Scotland Act contains powers for amendment. The Explanatory Memorandum, which I, too, found extremely confusing, says that Section 113(5) and (6) are to do with the power to modify secondary legislation but on no account may they modify anything in the Scotland Act or subsidiary legislation under the Scotland Act "unless otherwise stated". Paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 1 then comes into play, saying that the Secretary of State may make provision for giving effect to the recommendations of the Electoral Commission. That is where the powers to make alterations are.
All this takes us back to the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will remember, a proposal had been put forward to reduce the number of Members in the Scottish Parliament, which was sternly resisted both by Scottish parliamentarians and by the party opposite. I remember being in this Chamber as we passed that Act, but the fact that it had to be a separate Act of Parliament probably means that there are not really powers within the Scotland Act to do much in terms of alteration. There would have to be a totally new Act. It is a puzzle why the Explanatory Memorandum says that any other reading would deprive the 2004 Act of any meaning. Presumably the Act stands on its own. We are proposing amendments to Schedule 1 to that Act and presumably the powers exist for us to do that.
Baroness Adams of Craigielea: My Lords, I did not intend to speak tonight but I hope that the Advocate-General will take note of the passion that is felt, particularly on this side of the House, about what is
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I have given evidence to three Boundary Commission hearings, when my constituency of Paisley North was being thrown from one side of Paisley to the other. As my noble friend Lord McAvoy pointed out, people in local communities are passionate about what they feel about the community they live in and the people who represent them. I was reminded that my noble friend once laid a Bill about Rutherglen in the House of Commons-I was a signatory. Like him, I live in a satellite of Glasgow-Paisley, in my case-and, although we loved our big brother dearly, we did not want to live in his house, so I was happy to support my noble friend then.
I come back to the Boundary Commission hearings. My colleagues mentioned the late John Smith. The last time that I saw him was as he was getting out of a taxi returning from giving evidence to his Boundary Commission hearing and I was getting into the same taxi to go north to give evidence to mine the next day. He felt passionately about it. He had spent all that day doing it and he came back ebullient; he was convinced that he had won agreement to what he had put forward, as, in fact, he had. Fortunately, so did I the next day. But, with what is coming to us, we will never have to do that again, because it will not be a matter for the communities who feel passionately about their area, who know it best and whose children go to the same schools; it will simply be a matter of whether you make up the numbers. It is no wonder that people are uninterested in politics. When they are just part of the numbers game, they will never be interested again.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, I echo many of the comments made by noble Lords on this side of your Lordships' House during the past half-hour or so. I was struck particularly, and not for the first time, by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, who spoke in the only way he knows how as far as Rutherglen is concerned: with passion. He has done so many times over many years. He was able to refer to flaws, as he and some of his former constituents see it, in the way in which the new boundaries have been drawn up. There will be no process to enable him to do that when the UK parliamentary constituencies are revised, as noble Lords have said. Although that is not the subject of this debate, it is important that those points are borne in mind.
If-heaven forbid-the Advocate-General and the coalition were still in power when the Scottish Parliament boundaries next came to be reviewed, is it his understanding that the system that we are being asked to approve this evening would still exist, or would the Scottish system as well convert to the system that is being foisted on us for the UK boundary changes, which are designed to reduce the number of seats in the House of Commons from 650 to 600? It is pertinent to ask whether we will have the opportunity to deal with a similar order the next time round.
A more specific point that I wish to raise with the Advocate-General stems directly from the Explanatory Memorandum to the order-he referred to it to some extent in his opening remarks. Paragraph 8.3 states that,
on how the changes might be applied, particularly in respect of an extraordinary general election in the Scottish Parliament that may take place between now and 5 May, when the normal general election is scheduled, or if any by-election took place within that period. My noble friend Lord Foulkes commented on the anomaly whereby, in some cases, there would be a by-election for the Scottish Parliament and, in others, there would not. If an independent Member chose to stand down, how would it be dealt with? The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, who recently joined your Lordships' House, has announced that he will not seek re-election for the Scottish Parliament next year. If he should decide-and there is no indication that he will do so-to resign within the next month, it would cause a by-election. Could the new boundaries be brought into play for by-elections? Paragraph 8.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum states of the electoral administrators:
How on earth could a single by-election be run on new boundaries while the existing boundaries were still in place for everyone else? I am concerned that the electoral administrators can give that sort of advice. The memorandum states also:
I am pleased to see that that view has not been taken on board, because, as the Advocate-General has announced to us, the boundary changes would not come into effect if there were an extraordinary general election. But why does he believe that the electoral administrators gave that advice, which seems bizarre and would cause considerable confusion, if not chaos, in representation within the Scottish Parliament?
Lord Lyell: I have a question for my noble friend-I think that he is my noble and learned friend, although I am never quite sure about the old titles Lord Advocate, Advocate-General, and Solicitor-General. Certainly he is learned in the law. Would he briefly look at page 10 of the admirable document that we have in front of us? It has a coloured map-my sight is still reasonable-and I am fascinated by the little green sector marked "7". I think it is classified, thank goodness, as applying to the Scottish Parliament. I was going to ask what we might be doing about boundary changes for what are known north of the border as Westminster elections, but which I call general elections.
I ask my noble and learned friend to glance straight above the figure 7 in the green sector-I am not necessarily colour blind, nor in any way religious so far as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is concerned-where he will find a sort of pencil of land jutting straight in, surrounding the lovely town of Forfar. I am delighted to see that Forfar is now classified as being in Angus North and Mearns. I am sure that my noble friend
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Perhaps my noble and learned friend can advise me. Are these boundaries for the Scottish Parliament? Under present rules, Members of your Lordships' House can vote there. However, under what may be proposed for your Lordships' House in the future-possibly in my lifetime, fairly soon-we shall not be able to vote in what we call general elections. Therefore, it would certainly be in my interest to know the boundaries for the general elections for Westminster. Today's legislation is purely dealing with the Scottish Parliament, so I am grateful for that.
Various noble Lords who have spoken have expressed the view that the by-election issue is a localised risk. This has been beautifully aired this evening in your Lordships' House and I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to give me some advice about that. If he cannot do that tonight, perhaps he can write to me.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords, I speak to underline the comments made earlier about the sense of identity and community. When I entered this House I took the title Alcluith, which is the Gaelic name for Dumbarton. Literally translated it means rock on the Clyde. It comprises the towns of Helensburgh, Dumbarton, Vale of Leven and Clydebank-all proud of their heritage of shipbuilding, and all having a sense of community with the past.
Those areas were encapsulated in the county of Dumbarton. That stretched quite a bit in our area. The county of Dumbarton, going way back to the 1960s and earlier, had a sense of identity. Someone who was on the council in the county of Dumbarton is now the provost of the new Argyll area, Provost Billy Petrie. I have known Billy for many years. He was a fine politician who has been there for 40 years. He has served throughout that time. I mention his name because, as my noble friend Lord McAvoy said, with the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994, the Minister Allan Stewart, another fine individual with whom I have had very positive relationships in opposition and government while engaging in the political process, decided to take Helensburgh and the lochside area of Luss out of the area of Dumbarton and put it into Argyll. I base my comments on conversations that I had with him. The simple reason for that was that a number of local Conservative politicians in Helensburgh got a bit fed up with the obtuse attitude of a number
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As a Member of Parliament in that area representing Helensburgh, if I wanted any interest to be looked at, I had to take my flask and sandwiches and make my way up to Lochgilphead with the rest and be thankful. I had to get engaged in the discussions on the special islands needs allowance, because there were 26 islands in that new authority. That did not make sense. Now the people of Helensburgh are saying that economically the change was not in their interests, as they have the biggest town and feel that they are supporting other areas, while the other areas in the north feel that their interests are not being served by the dominance of Helensburgh. That is a good template for the Minister to consider the issue of community and community identity. I was speaking to his colleague, Alan Reid, who represents the Helensburgh area well. I do not want to put words into Alan's mouth, but in a conversation that I had with him the other day as we came down on the plane he acknowledged, as does everyone else, that this is a numbers game. The only place that he can go to to make up his numbers is further into the Dumbarton area, taking in the Vale of Leven. That makes no sense whatever. The local identity element will certainly be destroyed as a result of that, and local identity and community cohesion are extremely important. This Parliament has decided to embark on a cuts programme, which will mean that we have to take the public with us as much as possible, at a time when we have failed to take them with us. They have become more disenchanted with Parliament. I suggest that if we proceed with this measure, it will be a slap in the face for that community cohesion and identity.
The homogeneity of communities must be at the core of our thinking. The concept of solidarity, community interest and pride in local areas, as a number of my local colleagues have mentioned, is extremely important. At this time it would be folly to ride roughshod over that concept.
Lord Martin of Springburn: I first apologise, as I was unavoidably delayed. I have listened to my colleagues and friends. The case put on consultation is so important. A boundary change was to be brought in in the city of Glasgow in 1983. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose-I think that is who it was-mentioned the Scotland Act. The original boundary report said that there should be no more than 71 seats for Scotland. The case that Glasgow had to put in the old city hall, the Candleriggs Hall, was that it was to be no less than 71, which meant that the city of Glasgow would lose not two seats but one. That meant a great deal, as the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, will know.
Consultation was so important then, as it is now. We had a QC, the late Hugh Martin, whose brother George was in the House. Hugh put the case, and he won because the presiding sheriff accepted his arguments. At the lunch break, when we still did not know the result, we went to a restaurant and had what they call in Scotland a "fish tea". There was Donald Dewar, myself and Bruce Millan, former Secretary of State, and we agreed to pay for Hugh Martin's lunch-it was the decent thing to do. I tell you, it was a lunch worth paying for, because we won. Even Donald Dewar, who was known to watch his pennies, weighed in with the bill.
In the west of Scotland, unfortunately, we have had sectarian problems, and we have managed to overcome them. A late colleague of ours, Frank McElhone, was a great leader in overcoming those problems. When he asked his honourable friend for Rutherglen, the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, if the community organisations could come along, the Union of Catholic Mothers and the local Orange Lodge put the case in Frank McElhone's constituency. That was bringing the sectarian groups together and calling for unity. They were unified that day, and they won.
I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, has said about distance. I was a union officer both in Argyll and in the Highlands, and I had not realised how lucky I was, living in Glasgow, that I could get from A to B in a short time. To go from Fort William to Inverness was a major journey in itself for a lowlander like me, and there were places further north that were even more difficult to get to, yet these places are encompassed in the same constituency boundary. The law officer himself knows this; it was a surprise for me when I went to Orkney and I spent the night on the ferry. I had not realised that it would take so long-on the map, Orkney looks so close to the mainland. In fact, I met the noble and learned Lord there the other day when I was up there.
It surprises me that the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, had a slogan throughout the general election that every vote should be equal and therefore we should have equality among the constituencies. Constituencies that are represented in the other place by Liberal Members are so far spread, yet no one even approached them and said, "Look, by putting this argument, you are destroying the argument for us to be good representatives for far-out constituencies".
The noble Lord has mentioned Argyll. We in the west of Scotland are so fond of our country. It is lovely that within three-quarters of an hour you can go from Glasgow to the banks of Loch Lomond, but from the outskirts of Helensburgh to Campbelltown is such a distance that you could actually drive from Glasgow to Fort William quicker. By the time that you get to Campbelltown, you are further south than the town of Ayr, which my noble friend knows about-yet it is all the one constituency. This document says that it is giving us consultation, but the other place is saying, "You are not going to have consultation".
I go back to my native city of Glasgow. People would go into Glasgow and think, "Well, it's just one big city". That is as naïve as going to London and
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I know from my experience of going to Boundary Commission hearings that even those Members of Parliament and those communities that felt they had lost out always felt, at the end of the day, that they had been given a good hearing at those boundary change tribunals. It would be a very sad day if we just threw numbers into a computer and said, "There you are. That is what your elected representatives have to fight for".
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I will make a short intervention. I was born in Dagenham-made in Dagenham, effectively-which was then part of Essex and is now in occupied Essex, since it is occupied by the London Borough of Havering. I am interested in the debate on this order. I say to noble colleagues from Scotland: be thankful that, whatever this order and the Bill in the other House say, at the moment there is no question of boundaries crossing the Scottish-English border. I ask you to keep that in mind when it comes to other nations in the United Kingdom. Cornwall is a Celtic nation. I ask for noble Lords' support when the other Bill comes to this House. There is a possibility of boundaries crossing the Tamar river. I ask the Government to take that into consideration as they think about the Bill before it crosses to this House.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General for Scotland for his introduction to this order, and for his explanation. I am also grateful to his officials for the helpful information that I received this morning. It has certainly been a wide-ranging debate. I am sure the noble and learned Lord is looking forward to responding to all the pithy questions put to him.
I would particularly encourage him to respond to the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. It is quite remarkable, given the current size of the House, that the Government are proposing to bring dozens of new Peers into the House. I am a member of the Leader's Group, which is looking at retirement options because of concern about the size of the House. I find it remarkable, given that the Government now have a notional majority which we are seeing as the votes come through, that they seem determined to pack this House. It is difficult to see how this House can perform as a revising Chamber if the Government are determined to win every vote. What is the point of the second Chamber in that respect? I hope the Minister will respond to that.
As he said, the orders follow the submission of the Report on the First Periodic Review of Scottish Parliament Boundaries by the Scottish Boundary Commission. The intention is that they will apply to the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2011. I start by paying tribute to the Boundary Commission for Scotland. Clearly, not all noble Lords agree with the entire outcome of the commission's work. However, I do not think that any noble Lord has criticised the thoroughness with which it embarked on this exercise.
I should like to ask the Minister a number of questions on the order. The first relates to the timing. As has already been observed, the Scottish Parliament elections of May 2011 are not far off. I know that the electoral administrators have started the necessary preparatory work, but I would welcome assurances from the noble and learned Lord that he is confident that the changes can be completed in time and that the Scottish parliamentary elections will run smoothly and without administrative glitches. In view of past experience, that is not an impractical question to ask.
Will the recommendation of the Gould report-that any changes to electoral administration in advance of the Scottish Parliament elections be introduced at least six months before polling day-be adhered to? My noble friend Lord Watson referred to paragraph 8.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which states that:
The paragraph goes on to talk about by-elections. The conclusion of paragraph 8.3 is that the electoral administrators are confident in that regard. I am sure that that is very comforting, but I should like to hear a little more from the Minister about the practical considerations in place that support such confidence.
"The Boundary Commission's statutory consultation and local public inquiry process allowed for consideration of representations and concerns about the Commission's proposals raised by politicians, local authorities and others during the review".
I know that details of the consultation and local inquiries and their outcomes are included in the commission's report, but it is somewhat disappointing that paragraph 8.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum does not contain more detail of the local public inquiry process. I wonder why that is. Could it be that the Government are embarrassed by the clear evidence in the Boundary Commission's report that the statutory consultation and local public inquiry process work so well?
Indeed, if you look into the report, you find that more than 5,000 representations were received concerning the provisional proposals for constituencies. As a result of that the commission decided that 10 local inquiries
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"The Local Inquiries were valuable in allowing us to hear evidence from all those concerned about our proposals. The reports on the Local Inquiries provided the recommendations and views of the Assistant Commissioners which we considered, together with the representations received".
Pages 87 to 91 of the commission's report are worth reading as they set out the proposals, the results of local inquiries, the recommendations made by the assistant commissioner and the Scottish Boundary Commission's broad agreement with the recommendation that a constituency spanning the River Clyde was not required. It is an excellent example of a proposal being made that is subject to scrutiny at a local hearing, and then a substantive change being made.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: Perhaps I may paint a deeper picture for my noble friend regarding the River Clyde. There is a history to that, which entailed patients from my area on the north side of the Clyde going to Paisley. The Argyll and Clyde Health Board at the time decided to impose that. Its very obtuseness and refusal to listen resulted in the demise of that health board and the population being absorbed into Greater Glasgow. That was an example of hostility and lack of identity on both sides of the Clyde. It may be that the pages referred to by my noble friend use that as a case history and the commission said: "This far and no further".
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am grateful to my noble friend for illuminating our concern, because local inquiries allow for local matters and history to be brought to the attention of the commission. That cannot happen if you have simply a paper exercise.
Of course, the Government are determined to scrap the whole local inquiry process for Westminster constituencies, which means that the public will lose the opportunity for meaningful participation in it. That risks undermining the transparency and legitimacy of the current position. We then have the utterly absurd position, as I understand it, whereby the Government wish to hasten the abolition of public inquiries for Westminster constituencies in Scotland but such inquiries will continue for Scottish Parliament constituencies. I should like the Minister to confirm that that is the position of the Government and to have a go at justifying it.
While he is at it, the noble and learned Lord might comment on the boundary position more generally. On this side of the House, we have no problem with the principle of creating equal-sized seats, which has long been written into law and is the main purpose of the Boundary Commission's work. However, the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill pursues the objective of a rigid equalisation of seat
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This is a great pity and a tragedy. The future for Westminster constituencies represents a huge contrast to the way in which the Scottish Boundary Commission has gone about its work. I ask the Minister: why the difference in approach between boundary reviews for the Scottish Parliament and Westminster? It has no logic. It exposes the unsatisfactory and undemocratic nature of the parliamentary voting system Bill, which, I can promise the noble and learned Lord, we will subject to the most rigorous scrutiny possible.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It has been a very good one. My noble friend Lord Maclennan, who apologised that he would not be able to stay for the wind-up, put his finger on it when he pointed out that there was nothing that we could do. I suppose that we could vote it down, but neither Ministers nor noble Lords can amend this order. Possibly that is why we have ranged slightly more widely than the order itself. I did not expect when I came into the Chamber that I would have to respond, in a debate on a measure dealing with Scottish Parliament constituency boundaries, to questions about the number of peerages that are being created. I note what was said but I point out that a large number of Members have joined this House in recent months, of whom a number contributed today. Indeed, this debate benefited from what they said, so it would be unfair to say that the large increase is necessarily a bad thing when the contributions that we heard today were very good indeed.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to debating Scottish matters. No doubt the excitement that he felt when he piloted the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and had to deal with all these important devolution issues whetted his appetite for dealing with even more Scottish points. I join him in thanking those who served on the Boundary Commission for their work, which comes to fruition in the report and in the order that we debate today.
There have been contributions from all parts of the House. I hope that I may mention without offending anyone the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke, who talked about the passion that Members of the other place have for their constituencies. I reflect that there were a number of
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I will deal with some of the specific points that were raised. My noble friends Lord Maclennan of Rogart and the Duke of Montrose pointed to the reference in the Explanatory Memorandum to complex wording and references. I note that paragraph 3.1 states:
Certainly, I agree that we should look at the wording of the relevant provisions. It is well known that a Bill will be presented in this Session of Parliament to amend the Scotland Act. I say without commitment that that might be an opportunity to look at the matter and take on board some of these points about very complex wording.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said that there is a reference in the 2004 legislation to the Electoral Commission. In fact, responsibility stayed with the Boundary Commission and did not go to the Electoral Commission. Therefore, it is the report of the Boundary Commission that we are dealing with today.
The question of by-elections was raised by my noble friend Lord Maclennan and by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie. There is no question, as my noble friend seemed to suggest, that this is legislation with regard to by-elections. I will make the position very clear. If the order is approved by your Lordships' House and subsequently approved and made when it is submitted to the Queen in Council, that will set the boundaries for the next election to the Scottish Parliament-be that the election scheduled for May next year or an extraordinary election that takes place before then. The election will be fought on the new boundaries and the electoral administrators are confident that that can happen from 1 December. With regard to by-elections, if they occur between now and 5 February-because any vacancy that occurs after 5 February would be held open until the election in May-they would be undertaken on the existing constituency boundaries.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie: I can accept that-the order is quite clear on it. My question concerned how he and his officials, or indeed the Boundary Commission, dealt with the electoral administrators' suggestion that they could hold an extraordinary general election on the new boundaries and, it seems, that they could even deal with a by-election before 5 February, which is the cut-off date under this system. That is what I fail to understand. Obviously they lost that argument, but the fact that they could put the argument seems a little alarming.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Although the order was laid on 1 July, the Boundary Commission's report was made available on 26 May and has obviously been
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The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked what the main issues are. One of the most important issues is the compilation of the electoral register for the new constituencies. It is my understanding that the new electoral register will be published on 1 December and will reflect the new constituencies for the Scottish Parliament. It will be compiled on that basis. Obviously, if a by-election occurs, it will have to be fought on the existing constituency. It will require some work to put the electoral register together again for the existing constituency but, in the event of that happening, the electoral administrators are confident that it will be possible. It will not have to be done for the whole of Scotland but will be confined to one constituency. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question.
More generally on by-elections, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made an interesting point about the different arrangements that can occur. Several noble Lords who have spoken in this debate contributed to, or at least were present at, the debates when the Scotland Bill went through another place and no doubt there are other noble Lords here who were present when the Bill went through this House. A number of us were also members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which proposed a scheme leading to the kind of situation that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, mentioned. Therefore, we all share the credit for that.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Minister's noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood has said to me privately-he has also said it publicly-that, having seen it operate, he now regrets that system and would like it to be changed. Does the Advocate-General agree?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: It is certainly not the Government's policy to change the system but I think that my party's view on which system it would prefer is well known. Let us also recall that the voting systems commission was established under Sir John Arbuthnott at around the time of the 2004 legislation and it did not recommend any substantive change to the system. However, I can think of an election system in Scottish local government which would ensure that all vacancies were contested by way of a by-election, but I think that I am probably straying too far on that point.
Also on by-elections, I say to my noble friend Lord Lyell that these boundaries will apply to elections to the Scottish Parliament and not to general elections or elections to the United Kingdom Parliament-indeed, they will apply to the elections in which my noble friend can vote. I am not sure which constituency he is in, but I can certainly confirm that they apply to elections for the Scottish Parliament.
Perhaps I may pick up on some of the other points that were raised. I wondered whether the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was going to declare an interest, but he has no interest to declare because these matters will take place after he ceases to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament's loss is
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On the issue of inquiries, it is the case that a system of inquiry led to this order, which has been so greatly welcomed, lauded and praised that I am sure it will have no difficulty in getting through. That said, I could not help but reflect that my noble friend Lord Maclennan complained about the size of the north Highland constituency that has been produced under this system of inquiry. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, also indicated that he had argued, under the existing system, for Rutherglen not to be in the Glasgow regional area but to be in a different area. Of course, the present system did not assist him in giving him what he wished, although my friend in the Scottish Parliament who is a list Member for Glasgow obviously managed successfully to persuade the Boundary Commission.
I would also like to reflect on what was said by Professor Ron Johnston, who is a professor of geography at the University of Bristol whose research interests include electoral and political geography. On oral inquiries, he said that they are,
Far be it from me to suggest that that was what happened, but I just ask noble Lords to wonder whether there might have been something of that when people needed to get lawyers-even if they had to pay for their lunch-to argue their case.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, we were not alone in bringing in the big guns. The Liberal Democrat Party had an eminent QC called Ming Campbell. I do not know whether he got a lunch, but our QC got a decent lunch anyway.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, there is no such thing as a free lunch. I take the point that one could not say that the Union of Catholic Mothers and the other organisation to which he referred were in any way partisan.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, surely the substantive point is that, whatever the motivation of the parties who may come to the hearings, the proposals are put under public scrutiny. That will be missing from the Bill that will reach us very soon.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Let me make it clear that anyone, including members of the public, will still, under the proposals being discussed currently in another place, be able to have their say on the proposals. In fact, the proposal in the Bill is to extend the period for representations on proposals from one month to three. Furthermore, if proposals are revised, the Boundary Commission will be obliged to consult once more.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the point is that there can be a paper-based exercise in which comments are sent in and considered as part of the bureaucratic process, but the point about the local hearings is that the commission's provisional proposals are really put to the test in a way that I doubt will happen if there is simply a paper-based exercise.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I do not think that that is a fair characterisation of what one would hope would happen. I do not think that it is fair to say that members of the public who write in would be part of just a paper-based exercise by some bureaucratic crunching machine. Surely if people bother to write in-and they will be given more time to do so-one would expect that their views would be given proper consideration by the Boundary Commission. At the start, we properly paid tribute to the Boundary Commission and I think that that is indicative of the fact that, whoever the commissioners are, they will act impartially and independently and will give proper consideration to representations made to them.
A question of timing also arises. In the general election that took place this May, the boundaries used, certainly for England constituencies, were based for the first time on an electoral register that was 10 years old. More frequent reviews can help to address that issue. Many issues contribute to fairness in elections-I do not depart from the passion about communities that has been expressed by noble Lords, not least my noble friend Lord Teverson, whose comments I am sure will have been noted-but it is also important to recognise that out-of-date electoral registers or boundaries based on electoral numbers that are 10 years old are not exactly the best way to try to secure the fairness that one expects from a modern democracy. Therefore, a system that will allow reviews to be shorter will ensure that we are more up to date. I think that that would befit a modern democracy, but I have no doubt that we will go through these arguments on many further occasions.
I hope that I have answered most of the procedural questions, although perhaps not to the satisfaction of those who will continue to raise the issue of reviews. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, asked about the future position of Scottish boundary proposals. There are no proposals to change the system, but it is important to point out that the next review will not take place until, at the very least, eight years' time and, at the very
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Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do so following the publication of the statutory instrument and the seventh report of the Merits Committee on Statutory Instruments. I am grateful to the Merits Committee for determining that the special attention of the House should be drawn to this measure. The committee made that determination not because the instrument in itself is necessarily controversial, but because the House can give proper consideration to the statutory instrument only with the benefit of the comprehensive spending review Statement. As we have now had that Statement and a brief time to digest its implications, I welcome the opportunity to raise some questions with the Minister.
It may assist your Lordships' House if I briefly outline the background to the Warm Front scheme, including both the benefits and the difficulties that arose. The Warm Front scheme provides assistance with the installation of heating and insulation to improve energy efficiency in a household and to reduce fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is generally understood to be where a household has to spend 10 per cent or more of its net income on fuel. A household must satisfy certain criteria in order to qualify for the scheme. An owner-occupier or private rented household is eligible where the household has someone over 60 in receipt of certain benefits, a child under 16 in receipt of certain benefits or other households that are deemed vulnerable to fuel poverty because of income or disability. Those who are eligible are entitled to improvements to the value most recently of £3,500 or, where oil, low carbon or renewable technologies are more suitable, £6,000. It is government-funded and managed by Eaga.
More than 2 million households have been assisted with energy efficiency measures in their homes and provided with a package of insulation and/or heating improvements. That is more than 2 million households now living healthier lives in warmer homes because of
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In terms of both environmental impact and cash savings to the household, the scheme has had a major impact. That is why we were willing to commit funding. In the financial year 2010-11, the budget for the Warm Front scheme is £345 million. The Government have now announced that it will be reduced to £110 million next year and £100 million in the following year. The scheme will then be disbanded and replaced by Green Deal and the Renewable Heat Incentive programme, details of which are, I understand, yet to be announced.
The Warm Front scheme was examined by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. Both made criticisms but saw the value of the scheme. The Public Accounts Committee was the most critical. Among its findings were that some of the measures on their own were unlikely to lift the householder out of fuel poverty, that it did not prioritise the least energy-efficient homes and that some of the poorest households may have withdrawn from the scheme because they were unable to afford their contribution. The committee was concerned that those in rural areas were harder to reach with this support. It also criticised the management of the scheme and considered that the maximum amount of grant should have been increased earlier. However, overall, it recognised that most customers were satisfied with the work and the Public Accounts Committee report makes a powerful case for doing more, not less, to reach those in the greatest need and for stimulating greater efficiency. The National Audit Office report of February 2009, as published on the DECC website last week, stated that the delivery of the scheme was largely effective and has provided value for money with some 86 per cent of households satisfied and 5 to 6 per cent dissatisfied.
Demand for the scheme has been high and the previous Government increased the funds that were initially made available. As a result of these reports, the department made a number of changes and has continued to assess the scheme. This is a process of continuous improvement. The SI before us today clarifies the circumstances in which an application must be refused to ensure that the Warm Front scheme operates within budget. In the Explanatory Memorandum, the Government admit that the possibility of refusing applicants will impact on vulnerable customers. Given that the scale of the reduction in the budget is no longer a possibility but a reality, it will most certainly impact on those in fuel poverty at a time when fuel prices are increasing rapidly.
The scale of the budget cuts to Warm Front in the next two years and its abolition after that give rise to real concern. I therefore have a number of questions for the Minister that I hope he will be able to address. I was able to give him advance notice of most of them. There are a couple I have thought of since and I will be happy to receive something in writing if he cannot answer tonight. However, I am sure he will have no trouble in answering. I shall speak slowly, which may be helpful in allowing enlightenment to arrive.
What percentage of the 2010-11 budget has been allocated to date? How many further applications have been received, and what is their total value? When does the Minister consider that the 2010-11 funding will have been fully allocated? I understand that previously once the budget for a financial year had been allocated, applications were assessed on the understanding that they would be carried over to the next financial year. Is that still the case or will applicants have to reapply if their application is rejected on the grounds that the funds for that financial year have already been allocated? What demand is anticipated for the years 2011-12 and 2012-13? Is the Minister planning any changes to the criteria for those years?
The Explanatory Memorandum to the statutory instrument confirms that this will impact on the vulnerable and that it will be closely monitored. Can the Minister tell me how the monitoring will be undertaken and by whom? I assume that the purpose of the monitoring is so that action can be taken if it is found that the measure is having a detrimental impact on those who are vulnerable. Can the Minister advise what action will be taken to address that, if it is the case, and will there be some method for reporting back to this House on the monitoring? The Explanatory Memorandum also states that all publicity materials will contain advice about other potential options. Can the Minister supply any further information on those options, their cost and who would bear it? Given that there will be no consultation on the statutory instrument, I put it to the Minister that, given that the policy outlined here is impacted on significantly by the budget cuts outlined in the CSR, a consultation on how best to manage it would be helpful.
We have already seen a number of studies about the impact on different vulnerable groups of the proposed welfare cuts. Given that this scheme is targeted at vulnerable households, can the Minister reassure me that an equality impact assessment will now be undertaken? Finally, if the Minister is able to say anything today about the Green Deal and the Renewable Heat Incentive programme that, in effect, replace the Warm Front scheme, it may go some way to reassure those who are concerned about the effects of this measure. I beg to move.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their prescience in bringing forward this statutory instrument just in time for the comprehensive spending review. As my noble friend Lady Smith has pointed out, the CSR included a significant reduction in funding for Warm Zone and for other schemes funded by a variety of agencies, including local authorities, the health service and other government departments. In the case of Warm Zone, a 60 per cent reduction for each of the next two years will be followed by the new scheme to which my noble friend has referred.
I come from Newcastle. I come not bearing coals to this energy-related debate but because two schemes are based in Newcastle. The first is a voluntary sector scheme devised by Neighbourhood Energy Action, which is now a national organisation and delivers the Warm Front programme. Warm Front has operated primarily in the private rented sector, as opposed to the owner-occupier sector, with which Warm Zone
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As my noble friend has said, Warm Zone is managed by Eaga, which is also based in Newcastle. Eaga was assisted by the Newcastle City Council under the then leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who is not present at the moment. The council purchased a £23 million building from the late lamented Northern Rock Building Society, or bank as it subsequently became, on the basis that it would house this thriving concern and pay a rent to the council. Of course, the prospects of that company are now significantly diminished. In the past year, its share price has reduced by two-thirds and just in the past few days it has dropped by around 10 per cent. So its future is certainly now open to question and, with it, the many homes that it would have assisted in terms of insulation works.
Apart from the works that both these organisations and others like them carry out, which are clearly prejudiced by the present situation and no doubt sooner rather than later presumably will fall within the scope of the statutory instrument, there are other aspects to what the organisations do. In addition to carrying out such works, they both work to assist people with the problems of fuel poverty. Both organisations have worked in the ward that I represent in Newcastle and throughout the city and elsewhere. They help with benefits checks across the range of welfare benefits to which people are entitled. If they are unable to proceed with their insulation programmes their significant contribution to the take-up of such welfare benefits will go as well.
Given the financial circumstances we now face as a result of the comprehensive spending review, while clearly there is a necessity for this statutory instrument, the implications go wider even than just the energy-related aspects. I hope that it will be possible in due course to restore the activities of both organisations and others like them to the level they have experienced in the past few years, so that they can carry out not only energy conservation programmes, which are environmentally beneficial to combating fuel poverty, but also help to combat other aspects of poverty and reduce the inequalities which disfigure so many parts of this country.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, the thing that interested me most when I read this rather obscure amending regulation was that it insisted that the Government pay the agency that had to do the work. I could not understand how it had worked in the past if there was no obligation on the Government to pay the agency that delivered this programme. However, the Minister may wish to come back on that.
Last week I had to leave the House to go to a conference before the comprehensive spending review was completed. I watched part of it at Heathrow as I waited to go to a conference in Japan where we discussed matters such as energy and climate change. I was struck by how good DECC-the Minister and his colleagues-had been in its tussle with the Treasury
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, stated, the situation could change and the Warm Front scheme might have to come to an end during a budgetary year because of the funds running out. I regret that, theoretically, that could happen and that it is slightly more likely now. I realise that it will be the case in some areas because of the problems that we have with the national budget at the moment and the changes that we will have to bring forward in order to make the accounts balance sufficiently in the future. If that situation ever comes into being, cutting off a fund at a particular point would be an unfair way of rationing allocations. What plans do the Government have to ensure that any rationing will produce best value in terms of energy saved for those households that need the investment most?
First, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who has changed her name since I had tea with her this afternoon-for the record, I thought she was called Baroness Smith-who made an excellent first speech as the shadow DECC Minister. It was a factual speech which represented the situation fairly, adequately and comprehensively and I thank her for that. I also thank her for the pre-advice she gave me on some of the questions I need to answer. I am not sure that I have all of them but I shall do my best. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and my noble friend and colleague Lord Teverson, who is always so excellent on these matters. He is missed when he goes to Japan but we know that he is doing valuable work out there on behalf of this subject.
I shall go through the questions as asked by the noble Baroness and pick up on them. What percentage of the 2010-11 budget has been allocated to date? As at the week ending 16 October, £310 million has been allocated; of this about £180 million has been spent. As at 16 October approximately 81,000 customers had made applications that are currently being actioned. This number takes account of customers who have dropped out of the process. We expect these applications and other costs to lead to further expenditure of about £130 million.
When does the Minister consider that the 2010-11 funding will have been fully allocated? The Warm Front budget for 2010-11 remains unchanged at £345 million-I underline the fact that it remains unchanged-and the measures will continue to be delivered throughout the year. The scheme remains open to new applicants this year while the resources are available to meet the commitments-that is what
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What demand is anticipated for the years 2011-12 and 2012-13 and are we planning any changes to the criteria for those years? We expect the demand to be lower in 2011-12 and 2012-13 because of changes to the scheme. Based on the available budget, we expect, as a maximum, to be able to help 60,000 households in year one and 54,000 in year two of the spending period. We will work to improve the cost-effectiveness of the Warm Front scheme by ensuring that it will be better targeted to help the most vulnerable. We will be consulting to make sure that the eligibility criteria reflect this.
Another question concerned monitoring. The scheme is monitored on a weekly basis to review the flow of applications and expenditure commitments. This is underpinned through the contractual reporting arrangements and will continue throughout the lifetime of the scheme. An equality impact assessment will be undertaken in advance of temporary closure to new applicants and we will also conduct an equality impact assessment on any proposed changes to the eligibility criteria.
Warm Front will continue until the Green Deal is launched. The Green Deal is a key element of our policy to improve household energy efficiency. It will help to protect people against price rises through greater energy saving, with special support for the most vulnerable. The new energy company obligations, starting in late 2012, will run in parallel with the Green Deal programme. It is intended to focus particularly on households that cannot achieve financial savings without additional support, including the poorest and most vulnerable and those in hard-to-treat homes. This includes offering a wide range of measures to improve energy performance, such as heating systems. As announced on 20 October, as part of our spending review, the renewable heat incentive will go ahead in 2011. We expect to be in a position to announce details of the scheme at the year end and to be open for business in 2011.
I hope that that deals with most of the noble Baroness's questions. If she has more, I am always delighted to hear them. I hope that what I have said also picks up the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I shall now respond to his comment about Eaga, about which he is obviously very knowledgeable.
Eaga has been contracted by the Government to deliver Warm Front since 2005. The contract provides for fees to be paid to Eaga, based on its delivery. We intend that the scheme should provide for the vulnerable; that was Eaga's main task when it was set up. Given
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Before the new schemes are introduced, we are consulting on how Warm Front should best operate and who are the most needy and vulnerable. We will then target those people for the delivery of these measures, which we hope to do by November. I hope that that explanation satisfactorily answers the questions that have been asked.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the care that he has taken in addressing the questions that have been raised today. I thank also the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Teverson. Tempted as I am to get the latter's name wrong, I promise not to do so.
Lord Teverson: I humbly apologise. I think that that is the first time that I have ever got anybody's name wrong in this House. I shall not do it again. From the Liberal Democrat Benches of the coalition, I welcome the noble Baroness to her Front-Bench position.
While I would not accept the Minister's categorisation of Warm Front as an experiment, I do not think that any of us here is wedded to a particular method. Our objective is to reduce fuel poverty and to help those who are in fuel poverty. If Warm Front can be improved, with a greater number of people enjoying better outcomes, I am sure that it will receive the support of the entire House. I am grateful to the Minister for looking at the scheme, but we will want to see how the measures that he has outlined progress-I am grateful for his comments on monitoring. The current scheme will run out of money by mid-December, so there is a need for progress. I look forward to seeing the consultation on the new criteria for targeting Warm Front. We will welcome further information. As I said, I am grateful for the Minister's answers today. We will monitor the new measures as they go through to ensure that we reach those people who genuinely need help from government.
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