The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, we have carried out an impact assessment on the changes to housing benefit. This was published on 30 November 2010. It does not contain an estimate of the impact on homelessness as we cannot anticipate the behaviour of tenants or their landlords. To reduce the risk of households becoming homeless we have a substantial package of financial and practical support in place, and we are giving households up to nine months' transitional protection so that they can look for alternative accommodation if they need to.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, the Government's impact assessment that the Minister referred to estimates that 450,000 children will be affected by these benefit changes. Shelter estimates that 129,000 children will be forced to move home and that 54,000 live in families whose income, after housing costs, will now be pushed below £100 a week. Given that the Government say that they intend to take forward further analysis of the child poverty effect, should they not suspend these controversial orders until that important work is complete?
Lord Freud: My Lords, there are some extraordinary claims being made around these measures. There are some heroic assumptions in the Shelter figures. For instance, they are based on an average shortfall of £18 a week, which is well above what the shortfall will be. I should point out that 40 per cent of people in the private rental sector move every year and 70 per cent move within three years.
Lord Rix: What advice can the Minister offer people with a learning disability, who might find that they can no longer pay rents, which are increasing all the time, particularly in the London area? Does he think it appropriate that the Government should inflict trauma on people less able to cope with that trauma, some of them very vulnerable indeed?
Lord Freud: My Lords, the Government are fully aware that some people will have to make adjustments in their living arrangements. That is why we have put a large amount of resource into helping that transition process. The current figure, which we announced last week, has been increased by another £50 million to a total of £190 million over the SR 2010 period.
Lord German: My Lords, the Government have told us how many people will be affected in the private rental sector by the changes that they have laid. On the other side the argument now seems to be that, if you take out issues around London, no one will see their rent reduced and they will therefore be turfed out on their ear. Meanwhile, the Government believe that the private sector will reduce its rents. Why is the Minister so convinced that the private sector will reduce its rents?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question, which gets to the heart of the issue. There are three reasons why we think there will be an
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Baroness Sherlock: Will the Minister comment on the concern expressed by charities that families may be forced to move repeatedly? In particular, can he comment on the fact that all the evidence shows that families at risk who move repeatedly can be put out of the reach of the social services? What steps will the Government take to protect vulnerable families in that situation?
Lord Freud: My Lords, one of the points that was raised by SSAC, the advisory committee, was that by having two sets of changes in April and October we were potentially making people make two sets of adjustments. That is why we fine-tuned our arrangements, as we announced last week, so that they come into effect in April, but there is a nine-month period for people to make an adjustment. We have also put in £50 million to help local authorities deal with the transition-some of which will be difficult-to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: As it is very important that families are kept together, can the Minister assure us that in the instances where families have to move-we all appreciate that we do not know how many yet or how that will be-every effort will be made to retain families as a complete unit rather than split the children away?
Lord Freud: My Lords, in response to my noble friend on that very important question, clearly we have every intention that families should be kept together. That is why we are putting so much money into managing the transition-£190 million-to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible.
The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, is the Minister aware of this morning's report form the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that highlights the significant number of children in poverty who live in households where the parents are in work? Will the impact of housing benefit changes affect working and non-working households alike-with families becoming homeless and, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested, being forced to move away from employment however badly paid they are?
Lord Freud: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an incredibly important point. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported today, the latest figures show 2.1 million children in poverty from working families and only 1.6 million from out of work families. The whole purpose of our reform of the benefit system is to get rid of that problem-to make sure that there
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The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, the Government have not made any such assessment. It is the responsibility of police authorities and chief officers to manage the resources and staff available to them to ensure effective policing for the communities in their area. They are best placed to consider operational decisions including the impact of using their powers under Regulation A19.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, does the Minister not think it extraordinary that some of our most experienced police officers are being forced to retire while the Government are prepared to waste millions of pounds on the election of police commissioners? Can the Minister tell me how many police officer jobs will be lost in order to pay for the politicisation of our police force?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the Government do not accept the conclusion to which the noble Lord has just leapt. As things stand, the officers who are eligible for retirement, having 30 years' service, number 3,260 out of a total force of 143,000 warranted officers. Therefore, I do not think that we should exaggerate the quantum of those involved.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister ask the police authorities to carry out an impact assessment on crime and security because of the cuts in numbers? Will she ensure that those cuts do not have an adverse impact on the recruitment of people from black and ethnic minority communities, which is a serious problem in police forces?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the Government continuously assess the impact on policing of the measures that they take, but the matter that we are talking about is an operational one. I am sure that the police will wish to ensure that there is no discrimination in their recruitment policies.
Lord Reid of Cardowan: My Lords, does the Minister accept that this is a matter not just of numbers but of quality? Notwithstanding the autonomy of local police services, will she prevail on them at least to consider the loss of experience and wisdom, not to mention the loss to the public purse, arising from arbitrary and enforced retirement after 30 years' service? Will she ask them to give the fullest consideration to maximum flexibility when choosing retirement for any person?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, this is an operational matter for the police and I am sure that they will take note of what the noble Lord has just said. A number of chief constables, including the head of the Metropolitan Police Service, have indicated that they do not wish to lose the experience that is available to them. I remind the House that this power is available to the police. It permits them to retire people; it does not oblige them to do so.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my question relates to specialisations. I accept that these decisions have to be made by local police forces but, for example, as the Minister will well know, people such as counterterrorist support officers working for NaCTSO tend to be at the very end of their careers and have huge experience. I believe that somehow the Government have to make a judgment in the overall balance of the advice that goes, for example, to the architectural industry and other areas. Does the Minister have any way of measuring the cuts that are being made in various areas so that there is a national view of the impact on areas as important as counterterrorism?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, as I have just said, this is a power that is open to the police, and senior police officers are not obliged to take this measure, among the measures that are open to them. The Government are clear that we need police to be available on the streets. HMIC has noted that 11 per cent of the available police force is invisible to the public at any given moment. In other words, we need to drive out a great deal of the bureaucracy that was imposed on the police by the previous Government. I am absolutely certain that the police will take their responsibilities seriously in ensuring that terrorism does not in any way prevail in this country.
Lord Laming: My Lords, the Metropolitan Police has one of the finest child protection units in the country-indeed, nowadays I would say even beyond this country. Can the noble Baroness use her influence to ensure that, in the reductions that are to take place across the board in the police force, the highly specialised units that deal with the most vulnerable children are properly protected?
Baroness Neville-Jones: The regulation relates to the number of years of service that an officer accrues-that is, 30 years-and it is the only measure that the police have under the existing system for retiring people in the public interest. However, that does not necessarily correlate to anyone's age. I do not think that it is an age discrimination matter; it is a length of service issue.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord West, how do the Government intend to preserve a service when individual services may take a decision which does not allow for national coverage to be maintained? How are the Government going to make sure that does not happen?
Baroness Neville-Jones: It is a matter of the close links that the Government have with the police. I am sure the police will wish to ensure, through ACPO and their other organisations, that the net result of the decisions taken by individual commissioners makes sense in policing terms. I have no doubt that the Government will be in touch with them over this.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, the Government consulted on the eligibility criteria for the pupil premium earlier this year and that consultation ended on 18 October. This consultation included proposals for eligibility criteria, including free school meals, tax credit data or commercial packages, as well as on whether to include looked-after children and service children. We are considering the outcome of the consultation and will make an announcement in due course.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I thank the Minister for that reply. Perhaps I may remind him that at present children on free school meals get roughly half the proportion of GCSEs at A to C level as those who are not on free school meals-that is to say, their attainments are half as great. Given that, can the Minister tell us how he will ensure that pupil premiums are indeed paid to advance the attainments of disadvantaged children and that schools are not tempted to use those payments to encourage more children on the edge of getting five A to Cs rather than those where the return will be certainly slower? Will he consider making it an entitlement-not a general grant but an entitlement-for each disadvantaged child?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to my noble friend, and I agree with her that it is extremely important that the purpose of the pupil premium-to help the children who need it most-is upheld in the system we deliver. She is absolutely right about the disparity in educational achievement between children on free school meals and those who are not on free school meals: 54 per cent who are not on free school meals get five A* to C while only 27 per cent who are on free school meals achieve it. The point about ensuring the money
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Lord Hill of Oareford: The point about the pupil premium is that it is linked to deprivation. As we all know-no one better than the noble Lord, Lord Rix-there is a lot of overlap between children with SEN and children with deprivation. The key point is that the pupil premium is intended for deprivation.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, considering that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are the most educationally deprived of any section of the community, will the pupil premium be payable automatically in respect of those children?
Lord Hill of Oareford: That is an extremely good question. I suspect that there is a question around the identification of those children, but if they are being educated and are registered in school, and if they fulfil the eligibility criteria, as one would imagine they would, then the money for that would go to that school.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, who will monitor the annual review to which the Minister referred, which is at the discretion of head teachers, and who will be responsible for undertaking that review? How will those head teachers themselves be held accountable?
Lord Hill of Oareford: As I said, my Lords, the intention is that those head teachers will spend it as they think fit. It will be a matter for their judgment because they know the pupils best. If, for instance, they think that the money would be better spent on one-to-one tuition rather than something else, they should make that judgment. We suggest they should have to account publicly to parents and publish how the money has been spent, so that people can see the linkage between the money and what it is spent on.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, given the importance of early intervention, will the Government supply an equivalent amount of money to early-years settings that take children from very disadvantaged backgrounds? If so, will the same criteria be used as are used for children who are at school beyond the compulsory school age?
Lord Hill of Oareford: As my noble friend will know, because she and others in her party have campaigned for this so hard, the Deputy Prime Minister announced fairly recently that there will be a sum, building up to £300 million over the spending review period, for extending help for the most disadvantaged two year-olds in early education.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, will the eligibility for the pupil premium be broadly similar to that for the current education maintenance allowance? If the Government are serious about increasing educational opportunities, should not eligibility for the pupil premium passport entitlement to the EMA at 16 and bursaries for tuition at university thereafter?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, the pupil premium, as the noble Lord knows, is intended for pupils from the age of reception up to year 11. I am aware of the issues around the education maintenance allowance and the point that underlies the noble Lord's question. The enhanced discretionary fund, which will be targeted on those who most need the help, will, I hope, deal with some of that. For 16 to 18 year-olds, deprivation factors are already in the funding formula which will help to address some of the same issues.
Lord Hill of Oareford: As usual, my noble friend is a few steps ahead of me. We will need to address how we police that, and to reflect on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, as well. We are not yet even at the point of announcing the premium so I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend a completely satisfactory answer about what we will do in a year's time.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: But did not the noble Baroness put forward a perfectly legitimate solution to the problem? In many of the areas of localism, which many of us support, there will be people who do not implement what the Government wish, and they will not be accountable in the way that one would expect. Should we therefore not be moving towards ensuring more entitlement to the basic requirement, such as making the pupil premium an entitlement?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, obviously I heard the point made by my noble friend and underlined by the noble Lord. We need to reflect on these points and will announce before Christmas how we will go forward on the pupil premium, what the eligibility criteria will be, and how it will operate.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I am most disappointed by the noble Lord's Answer. The Parliament Bill became an Act on 18 August 1911 and a century has gone by. With all the talk of reform, should we not at least set a deadline of 18 August or a date close to it-I do not intend to call the House back on 18 August unless noble Lords so desire it-for the reform procedure?
May I also make a suggestion about any new voting system? The Labour Party says in its manifesto that it wants a proportional system for elections to the House of Lords, and we say in the coalition agreement that we, too, want a proportional system. The preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 suggests that the present House of Lords be substituted by,
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sorry to have disappointed my noble friend with my Answer. I fear that I am going to disappoint him again, although I must say that I admire his perseverance after 100 years since the last Liberal Prime Minister passed the Parliament Act 1911. I think he is optimistic to suggest that the Chamber will be constituted on a different basis by August next year, or that any of us will be here to mark that occasion on 18 August. I can tell him, however, that the Deputy Prime Minister intends to publish a draft Bill early next year that makes provision for a wholly or mainly elected Chamber with elections on a system of proportional representation.
Viscount Tenby: Does the Leader of the House agree that a proper and speedy way of marking this celebration might be to give a fair wind to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, on the reform of the House? In this matter I declare an historical interest.
Lord Strathclyde: The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, certainly does have an historical interest, and I admire his perseverance and that of my noble friend Lord Steel, who had yet another Second Reading on his Bill on Friday. I am not one of those who regard the passage of the 1911 Act as one that the House of Lords should celebrate. I think it was a disaster for the House of Lords. We took on the House of Commons at the wrong time, we overstepped the mark, and if it should be commemorated, it should be commemorated by an act of mourning.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, is it not worth reflecting, with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, who is so persistent on these matters, that one stark contrast between the Parliament Act 1911 and the attempt which the Government are apparently making towards reform today is that the 1911 Act, as the Leader of the House has reminded us, was about defining the powers of the House of Lords in relation to the democratically elected House of Commons? Is it not worth taking a lesson from that in acknowledging that the present reforms are all about a directly elected
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on 1911. It was a moment when the House of Lords did not act responsibly, and this House should not have confronted an elected Chamber. As for everything else that he says, these are matters for the Bill that we will publish early next year and for the debates that will ensue.
Lord Elton: My Lords, when mulling over the proceedings of this afternoon and tonight, will my noble friend bear in mind what many of us have observed over many years, which is that every Government, as they get older in government, want more power in relation to Parliament and that, in this, they are heartily supported by a Civil Service that regards Parliament as a considerable nuisance? Will he therefore, when he comes to frame a measure to remedy the present situation, avoid giving more power to the Government in relation to Parliament as a whole and reflect that this House must always supply, in control of the Government, what the other House cannot?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, this Government will be different, which is why so much of our legislative programme is about devolving power to people. The localism Bill, which will be published shortly, and the Bill on elected police commissioners are all about taking power away from the Executive and handing it back to people.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister accept that as a matter of legal interpretation, the words "popular basis" apply not only to a directly elected House but to a House that is appointed on a broad popular basis?
That a Select Committee of ten members be appointed to join with a Committee appointed by the Commons as the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, to consider the National Security Strategy:
L Cope of Berkeley, L Fellowes, L Foulkes of Cumnock, L Harris of Haringey, L Lee of Trafford, B Manningham-Buller, B Ramsay of Cartvale, L Sterling of Plaistow, B Taylor of Bolton, L Waldegrave of North Hill;
Lord Rooker: My Lords, this is my second offer of a lifeboat to the coalition. Last week, I offered one on the indicative aspect, and today I offer "before 31 October". It does not alter the Bill in any way or force any change. The coalition can still meet their intention to have the referendum on 5 May, even if they accept my amendment. It is now 6 December. We are five months away from that date, or 20-odd weeks. Royal Assent is some time away. The Bill has to go back to the Commons in any event because there are government amendments to the Bill in your Lordships' House. They were in addition to the 286 government amendments put in the Bill in the other place, which doubled its length from 150 pages to 300 pages. Even then, they could not get it right, because they have come to this House and have already tabled amendments. It is all rush, rush, rush. They must ask themselves, "Can we do it?". I have to say that it shows a level of faith in local government, the Electoral Commission, the weather and the parliamentary process which, in the words of "Yes Minister" is "brave". There are 20 weeks to go, and we are on only the second day in Committee in your Lordships' House.
Do the Government have a risk analysis of this process? If not, they are not conducting public administration in the same way that most of the public bodies they are trying to abolish already do. On that assumption, I assume they have a risk analysis, and I ask them to share it with the House, perhaps in the speech that answers this amendment.
My amendment is a contingency measure. I will not argue about the referendum question; that is not the issue and we will come to that later. However, I want to make it clear, as I did last week, that this amendment does not stop the referendum taking place on 5 May. If all the things are in place, fine. The question we must ask is: what happens if they are not? What a disaster it will be if we get a bit close to the date and the Electoral Commission says: "Ten weeks to go and we have not quite got this ready". We also have to ask ourselves about the administrative procedures that have to be gone through as issues are raised about some of the other processes of local government and the Electoral Commission. Let us leave all those aside for the minute: they are mechanical and administrative. What about the voters? How are the voters going to be dealt with at the last minute in this rush, rush, rush? There is never time to educate the public until such time as they are forced to make a decision. People want to get on with their lives-their work and their families-and they are not interested until the deadline comes. Then it will be: "Oh, I have not heard about this. What does all this mean? Does this mean that Parliament is going to change? What effect will it have? What about the misconceptions about the voting system?". Time might well be needed by the Government to have a decent information campaign.
It is already known, following a series of YouGov polls commissioned by the Constitution Society a few months ago, that there are considerable problems about this idea. Most respondents do not understand AV. Its summary says that the yes and no votes are evenly balanced, but that exposure to information about AV increases the no votes. Perhaps that is the reason for the rush, rush, rush-because polling evidence indicates that the more people know about it, the more they are inclined to vote no. However, it has to be their choice and they must choose in a free way.
The polls also found that there are a number of widespread misconceptions about AV. Well, there are, and I think a few of those will be deployed in the coming days. The polls also indicated that the same arguments are commonly used to justify votes both for and against AV. In other words, I have only gone through half of the findings in summary form and it is clear that there is a hell of a job to do to explain to the public what all this is about. If it can not be done well before 5 May, that would be an absolute disgrace, because the Government could have plenty of opportunity to avoid having that problem if they accept my amendment.
Before 1997, some of us junior shadow Ministers were sent off to Templeton College, Oxford, for a bit of training. Needless to say, the generals did not go. Two things have always stuck in my mind from those sessions we had with ex-Ministers and ex-permanent secretaries. One was: "Always pilot a change". That is something that would be well taken by everybody. The
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Come the referendum, whatever the take of each side on this, that would not be any good. With the public's misconceptions, there is evidence that we will need a decent education campaign because of what will be thrown on both sides of the argument. We cannot do that until the Bill has Royal Assent. After Second Reading, I realised that certain amounts of public expenditure can be used. Once the Government have secured a Second Reading, certain changes are triggered. But it is only after Royal Assent that the treasurers and accounting officers in local government and other institutions can say, "Hang on, this is really on".
There is quite a bit of preparation for this in terms of the mechanics of even the private sector and industry. Notwithstanding that the Minister will say, "It is all in place for 5 May", probably not every difficulty has been foreseen and it is too early for that now. I submit that with 20 weeks to go, a lot could go wrong. I do not want it to go wrong and to be a shambles. I am just giving the Government a get-out, so that the referendum could take place any time before 31 October. I freely admit that anything that causes a problem for 5 May could be dealt with well before 31 October. All the procedures, including administrative and mechanical, could be overcome.
Therefore, why do we have to tie ourselves down to an entrenched date, bearing in mind the rush and the shortness of time available for this momentous operation that will take place? All I am saying is that this is a lifeboat. You could jump into it. It would not affect the Bill or the planning for 5 May in any way. It could mean that we would need less debate on some of the other amendments. I would not bother. Provided that the referendum was before 31 October, I would not be interested in the date. The target is 5 May. If it were not on 5 May, it would be before 31 October. The public and Parliament would know that. I do not see a serious problem in accepting an amendment which is a contingency and a lifeboat. I beg to move.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on this amendment, not because I am completely relaxed about whether this referendum on the alternative vote is held on 5 May or later, because I am not. I think that there will be enormous confusion if the referendum is held on the same day as local elections. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has pointed out, this is an extremely complex matter, which is not well understood by the electorate. Therefore, we need a special day. I am not too worried when it is after the local elections on 5 May, but it should be on a separate day. I know that this would involve £15 million-worth of public expenditure at a time of austerity. But this is a very important change in our constitutional arrangements and it has to be properly debated. The people of this country have got to understand what is at stake.
If the referendum is to be wrapped up in local authority elections with certain, say, Labour campaigners saying, "Vote for your Labour candidate, but vote against the alternative vote in the referendum"-the Conservatives would be doing similar-that will be extremely confusing to the electorate. Therefore, it is important that the referendum is held on a separate day. This is a radical and important change in our electoral system, and it should not be allowed to be muddled up in the local elections. I do not think that it will be satisfactory for anyone, whatever the result of the referendum, if it goes through while the electorate do not understand what was going on. We need a separate date. We need to debate it properly and to make absolutely certain that the people of this country understand what is at stake and understand the issues involved in whether we have an alternative vote system or not. That is why it should be on a separate date and why I am pleased to support the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in his amendment.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, it would seem from what Members were saying at great length last week in a debate lasting nearly two hours, and again from what has just been said, that as a Parliament we have never had to face the prospect of two big decisions on the same day. I remind your Lordships-and I shall be interested to hear from the opposition Front Bench in a moment-that the previous Administration pushed through the referendum on London government and mayoral and Assembly legislation, with the exact same collision of votes on 7 May 1998. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, may like to comment on the following extract from a speech by his colleague Mr Nick Raynsford, who was then the responsible Minister:
"We are holding the referendum on 7 May deliberately to gain the benefits from combining the poll with local government elections. That will result in a considerable saving in public expenditure, which I would have thought all hon. Members would welcome. Separating the referendum date from the local election day would probably result in additional public expenditure of some £2 million to £3 million and could reduce voter turnout. That is not in the interests of democracy or of economy, and the Government do not intend to propose that".-[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/1997; col. 380]
What was right for London is apparently not right for other parts of the country. Perhaps Members on the other side think that somehow the voters of Scotland and Wales are not capable of taking two quite distinct decisions on the same day but people in London are.
Lord Rooker: I never once referred to combined elections. That is not the issue as far as my amendment is concerned; I know that others in the group are concerned with this. My question is this: what were the relevant dates for that legislation? I know the referendum the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, refers to was for London only and not national, but how close to the referendum did the legislation start through the two Houses? That is the point that I am raising. I am not arguing against 5 May; I am just saying that if something goes wrong between now and then, my amendment is a lifeboat and we can still have the referendum.
Lord Tyler: I can answer the noble Lord, as it happens, because I have very good brief. That Bill started its progress through the House of Commons on 28 October 1997 and was not completed until well into 1998, so it is a very similar situation to the present one. I go a step further, which is why I hope we are going to get a contribution from the opposition Front Bench. Amendment 12 specifies that this referendum should take place on the same day as the mayoral and Assembly elections in London in 2012. What is right for the goose is surely right for the gander. How can we possibly argue, as Members opposite did for hours the other night-it seemed interminable-that somehow the Scots are not capable of taking this decision on the same day when London has done so in the past, and there is a proposal, which has been supported by at least some Members opposite, to do so again in 2012? I stand up for the Scots as a fellow Celt. I think they are quite capable of taking this decision on the same day, and I hope your Lordships' House will take the same view.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, there is a fallacy in the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. There are certainly many arguments for holding these elections on the same day as elections in Scotland, Wales and England, and there are many arguments against. My point is limited to this issue. Why did Her Majesty's Government think for a moment that it was right to come to a final determination on this matter without consulting the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly? It seems to me, looking at it either with naivety or with remorseless logic, that it was either a case of negligence or a studied discourtesy. Which was it?
Lord Grocott: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has missed the point of my noble friend's amendment, which is characteristically sensible and clever. It in no way prevents the Government from having the referendum when they want to have it. It simply gives them, as my noble friend has expressed very clearly, another lifeboat. It would have been so much simpler if we had had an indicative referendum, as has already been said, because huge chunks of this document would not have to be debated between now and 5 May, if that is when the Government want to hold the referendum. Those would be matters to consider after the indicative referendum, but the House has decided not to go ahead with that. As my noble friend said, the choice is still there for the Government to take.
I put this to the Government in as gentle a way as I can. Quite often you put documents together before an election, although on this occasion the coalition document was put together after the election. This would not be the first Government in history to find that it was not possible to enact some of their intentions. That would not be a first in British constitutional history.
Lord Reid of Cardowan: My noble friend will have noticed the staunch support for Scottish wisdom given by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and I am sure that the nation is grateful for that, but if the noble Lord is actually looking at the wisdom of the Scots, will he look at the last time there was a dual election in Scotland, when there were local government elections, a referendum on first past the post for local government, Scottish parliamentary elections on the alternative vote and the criticisms afterwards? It was a shambles for which the Labour Government were rightly upbraided. That is precisely the point that is being made about the potential on this occasion.
Lord Grocott: I very much agree with my noble friend. We have so many different electoral systems-five already with one proposed implicitly in this legislation and another additionally proposed if and when we come to elect the House of Lords. Before long, one will need at least a first year's study on the British constitution to understand the various electoral systems that are being simultaneously offered to the British public. That is something that requires serious attention.
We all understand the Government's intention. Apart from financial reasons, I would like them to explain why it is so urgent to get this dealt with by 5 May. We recognise that all too often Governments do not get what they want. That is sometimes for very good reasons. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats know a little about this at the moment in respect of student fees. When that happens, the ideal position to be in is one of some flexibility, which my noble friend offers with this amendment.
I offer one thought. I had the honour of having the responsibility in this House of trying to schedule government business in a way that was, as far as humanly possible, acceptable to the four parties to the discussions-the three political parties operating independently and the Cross-Benchers. It is an extraordinarily difficult business to achieve satisfactorily. For the life of me I cannot see how this Bill, which has not had the pre-legislative scrutiny or proper consideration for a Bill of this size-which is actually two Bills because it will become the Act that delivers the referendum, should the vote go in favour of a change in the voting system-can be considered in the time available between now and next February. It is beyond me.
We are on page 1 and I will sit down soon lest I be accused of filibustering, which I am emphatically not going to do in considering this Bill. We have another 300 pages to go. We have three more Committee sittings before Christmas. We have a half-term break scheduled. There have to be two weeks between Committee and Report on the Bill, three days between Report and Third Reading and heaven knows how many exchanges of ping-pong between the two Houses. It is quite
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If the Government are sensible, there will not need to be any vote. If there is any reason other than the alleged saving for having all these elections on the same day, please let us hear it. The only one that I have heard is the financial argument, which we must take seriously. Of course, the best financial argument of the lot would be the one that I would offer to the Government, which is not to hold the referendum at all. Perhaps we could have the figures on that just to show the probity with which I assessed these questions of public expenditure. If there is another explanation, let us have it, but in the mean time what is conceivably lost by having the flexibility that my noble friend is offering?
Lord Fowler: My Lords, I very much support what my noble friend Lord Tyler said. I think the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, gave away his game right in his last remark. I speak as a neighbour of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for goodness knows how many years in Birmingham. He is always unbelievably persuasive and I am quite often on his side, but not on this. We have here a bewildering number of dates, not just his: in addition, we have 30 June, 15 September, 6 October, 13 October and 3 May 2012.
I argue that there is a very positive reason for having it on 5 May, as proposed. I am a strong supporter of referendums, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in what I take his view to be. Against the fashion I took the view that we would be much better served as a nation had we put the big European issues to the electorate right from the beginning in referendums. I said that in my first election manifesto of 1970, so I come to it as a supporter. Following that, however, I also believe that we should have the biggest possible turnout for such a referendum. The fact that 5 May coincides with other elections I see not as a disadvantage but as an advantage. Far more people are likely to produce a good turnout on that day than, say, for a separate election in September or October, let alone in 2012. It would obviously also be far more cost-effective; the extra cost of a separate election would be eliminated.
I cannot see the advantage of what is now being proposed. With all legislation the test should be what is in the interest of the user and the consumer. In this case the consumer is the elector, and I would have thought overwhelmingly that his interest would be very much to have it on the same day. He is much more likely to go out willingly on that day, and we will achieve a much bigger vote.
At this point it is worth remembering the evidence of the Electoral Commission to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. It is interesting because the committee specifically sought clarification of the commission's position on the combination of a referendum with other polls. In 2002, the commission
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"Ms Watson said that the Commission had decided that on balance there were definite benefits from combining the AV referendum with other polls, especially because there would not be so much 'voter fatigue, which would be the case if you didn't combine,".
That was the commission's considered opinion against a background of scepticism on this position. I agree with that. I think it is a very strong case. The question is clear and the public are entirely capable of making up their minds on this issue, and it is a bit condescending to suggest otherwise.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: The amendment is not about voting on the same day; it is about a contingency plan in the event of Parliament not being able to deliver in the timescale required to meet 5 May. I am in favour of a referendum, but it is very risky to move forward with the possibility that it could not be held because Parliament cannot deliver. Will the noble Lord address that issue?
Lord Fowler: The noble Lord has had to listen to the debate for only the short time in which we have been speaking to know that the attack is coming on several fronts at the same time. It is perfectly true that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, stuck to that particular argument, but that has not been the only argument adduced. My argument is, counter to that of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that all power and effort should be devoted to having the referendum on 5 May because that is to the advantage of the public and the whole system. That is how we will get the biggest possible vote, and it is for that reason that I support the 5 May date. We would be quite mistaken to turn our back on it.
Lord Lipsey: Like many other noble Lords, I did not find it easy to get in here from where I live, in Wales, this morning. I regret that I did not see the groupings suggested for these amendments in advance, because we would have done better to separate the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which would give us a contingency plan in case it was impossible to make 5 May, from the amendments that I and some other noble Lords have put forward, which suggest an alternative date. It is my view, which I shall argue again, that it is not right to have these referendums on the same day.
Before I come on to the aspect of that argument, I shall say a couple of words in response to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who is a great supporter of the alternative vote-and I am glad to have common ground with him. I did not take it terribly well when he said that the debate on this has already been interminable. It is a bit odd to say that a debate has been interminable as you jump to your feet to make a substantial contribution yourself. Leaving that to one side, I believe that this is a desperately important matter, particularly to the
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I also did not find the noble Lord's 1998 analogy terribly convincing. Yes, there were two separate polls in London in 1998, but they were both on local government matters-elections to the council and changes in the structure of government in London. People's minds were on local government at that time, and it is not unreasonable to expect a combined vote on that. But here you are having local government elections at the same time as you debate what system should be used for national elections. I certainly do not underestimate voters' intelligence; it is when Governments try to confuse them that voters get confused. There could not be any recipe more confusing to the voter than combining a referendum on what system should be used for general elections in future with one on who should run their local council tomorrow. That is a very sad combination and, on this side of the House, we have tried various ways to skin the cat and to avoid it.
The other topic that will come up on other amendments is cost; it is the only substantial argument put forward by most of the speakers for the Government for combining the two things. I except the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, from that charge. On this matter, I have just received a most helpful and polite note from the Leader of the House in response to the promise that he made last week to set out the cost in full. It sheds light on one confusion that arose last week, when nobody knew whether it would save £15 million, or whether £30 million would be saved, by having the two things on the same day. I shall paraphrase the noble Lord's letter, and no doubt he will interrupt if I get him wrong; he said that it would save £15 million, because it would cost less to have the referendum on AV, and that it would save £15 million in addition because it would cost less to have local government elections if there was an AV referendum. My sense is that an official has sensibly not tried to get too sophisticated in the analysis and has attributed half the cost to one thing and half to the other.
That is a great clarification for which the House will be grateful. It enables us to concentrate on the wider figure. I am not going to have a discussion on whether £80 million, £50 million or £30 million is a very large sum of money. My experience is that many people do not distinguish the number of noughts on the end of a figure anyway. If I had £1 for every time the Guardian has said £1 billion when it means £1 million or £1 million when it means £1 billion, I should be rich enough to pay for the referendum out of my own back pocket.
There is a curiosity highlighted by this. If it is worth having such a referendum at a cost of around £80 million, surely it is right to pay an extra £15 million-less than 20 per cent of that-to have a referendum that really means something and settles the argument one way or the other once and for all. Penny-pinching to the tune
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So, do we think that combining referendums with local elections is a good thing? It saves money, which is a good thing. Why then, in Wales, is there to be a referendum in March and another in May? Why not combine those two? It would save money. That shows again the vacuity of the cost argument. It is not about cost. That is why the Government are prepared to pay for a referendum on Welsh legislative powers in March separate from the one in May. It is about the view of Lib Dem members of the coalition that they are more likely to win on 5 May and the Government's view that the Lib Dems can have what they want, as long as they-the Government-get their boundary changes and a reduction in the number of MPs that will increase their advantage in the House of Commons as a result.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, first, I am a little seduced by the amendment, although I think it is a little sneaky and probably has an overtone. Secondly, I am provoked by my noble friend Lord Fowler, who said that he wishes there had been a referendum before we joined the EEC. I have to say that had there been such a referendum we would not have joined. Thirdly, I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. It is the importance of the occasion and the importance of the outcome that concern me. If there is any doubt at all that that there could be confusion-I am not being patronising about electors-as a result of holding both votes on the same date, I would regret that very much. At all times we should consider the correctness of the outcome. Whichever outcome we may want, it is a matter of what the electorate want.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I agree with the noble Baroness and wish to emphasise the fact that changing the system of election does away with a system that we have had for hundreds of years. The Bill proposes to sweep that all aside on the same day as holding local elections. It is an outrageous suggestion. Changing the electoral system is a one-off instrument that will change voting in this country forever. Yet we will be asked to have a discussion of this huge constitutional change in the midst of local elections.
I was a member of a county borough council for 18 years and leader of it for a number of years. We treated our elections seriously. We spent months preparing a manifesto for the elections and went out and fought the elections on the basis of the manifestos. We in the Labour Party, and in the Conservative Party, argued
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As I have said before, this is an outrageous proposal which treats the electorate with contempt. The electorate are being asked to change something that they have had for 100 years. They understand the system and have got used to it. In times gone by-certainly something has happened since-the electorate were producing electoral decisions based on a very high turnout, sometimes 75 or 80 per cent. Here we are asking them to change the system without a proper discussion. This system is complex-it is a change that people will not easily understand. People deserve to be informed of exactly what results will appertain from the change and be told exactly how it will work before they can make a decision. That cannot be mixed up with local elections.
I cannot understand why the coalition is bringing this forward. It has time to make a change. Although I do not agree with the AV system, it would probably do better if it had a separate referendum at a different time so that people could be asked to understand what is being proposed. If the Government are unable to change their mind on holding the referendum at the same time as other local and regional elections, they will regret it very much. I urge them to change their minds.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. It gives me, and others, another chance to state yet again that, apart from the occasional speech, I do not find any great resistance among the Labour ranks to the actual fact of holding a referendum. There will be people who are very principled against it and I respect that. However, it has to be judged against the majority. I do not think that my noble friend's amendment is a destructive or wrecking amendment, designed to defeat the Bill and bring the Government into chaos-although it would not take much, right enough. However, that is another story. The timing of the Bill in relation to other matters this week might split this collaboration Government. Supporting this amendment does not necessarily mean being against the referendum. I would look forward to a referendum and would participate strongly against AV. That is everybody's right if and when it happens. I make it clear again, especially for the benefit of the Liberal Benches, that I am not against the referendum. Let the people speak and I will do my best to influence them.
Mention has been made of Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, yet again aggressively mentioned what happened in Scotland. Frankly, you would need to have been there to see the shambles. It has been indicated that this is a simple thing. There was a sly reference, suggesting that, by expressing doubt about the efficacy of the referendum, we are somehow casting aspersions on our own people. The Scots are pretty good at insulting other people; we are not too bad at insulting our own as well, but do not let anybody else
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I find myself being tempted down the road of dealing with the Liberals again so I will spend just a minute on them. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, uses the word "internal" about this debate. My God, this is only a very early stage. Last week, when we discussed the first group of amendments, the only Liberal who spoke was the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. The Liberal Benches were otherwise silent. There was no participation, scrutiny or involvement and there were no interventions-nothing. Is that what this House is here for? There might have been an occasional intervention but they were so fleeting that I do not remember them. I see the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, indicating disagreement. I did not hear or see much involvement from the Liberal Benches last week. I think there was one intervention from the Conservative Benches from the only noble Lord who happened to be there at the time-the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. If this House is a revising Chamber, as I strongly believe it is, where was the participation? The Liberal Peers should look to their own house on that.
There was no consultation with the devolved Assemblies on holding the referendum on the same day. Before I am accused of repetition, that cannot be said often enough or sincerely enough to get across to the Government just how insulting that is held to be in Scotland. There was no consideration, no consultation and no involvement. Scotland was somehow tagged on as though it was a type of poodle at the end of Westminster. I say that although I am no Scot nat. It has been badly handled and it indicates what has been disregarded in the rush.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, made some points; frankly, they could be telling. I do not dismiss in any way what he said. They are relevant matters, worth discussing. However, they are made inoperable in this sense. I have here the business and minutes of proceedings for this House. The forward business for Monday 20 December of this year-not next year-says that it is expected that the Committee stage of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill will conclude. That is the rush to judgment, referred to by several of my noble friends, which we could all collectively regret, although I hope not. I do not want to cite the Dangerous Dogs Act, which many noble Lords will recall. However, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, the rush to judgment is dangerous and it should not continue.
My noble friend Lord Rooker has mentioned the lifeboat syndrome, and that is right, because this amendment would give the Government a chance to think again. I keep coming up against a brick wall in the sense that the logical, rational side of me cannot grasp why there is this rush to legislate-a 300-page Bill being rammed through the House of Lords in a matter of weeks. Then the politician in me asks, "Why? There's got to be a reason". And once again we come up against the reason: the reason is political expediency. The Conservative side of the collaboration Government are desperate to get their boundaries Bill, and the Liberal part of the collaboration Government are desperate to get a referendum Bill to save their party
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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I would like briefly to follow up the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, when she asked the question: how important is this? It seems to me that the time taken for debate is a reflection of how important we think this issue is-although I dare say she and I would have perhaps agreed a generation or two ago on behalf of the suffragettes, had our predecessors moved more quickly to give them the vote. It seems to me that, on this issue, we need a thorough discussion about systems of voting and a consideration of how important this is with regard, for example, to elected police commissioners. I am unsure exactly what-
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: I was not making that point at all. The point I was making was not about how the case for or against the referendum was being rushed; it was simply about the date of the decision.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: I apologise if I have misunderstood, but it seemed to me that the word "important" was of great significance to this issue, which will have long-term consequences for the way the whole of our political system develops-probably much greater than, for example, elected police commissioners. As I was going to say, however, I would be interested to know what system they are to be elected under-maybe an additional system to add to the ones we have got.
The importance of this issue is greater than considerations of cost-not only because it is not a once-in-a-generation but a once-in-three-generations decision, but also because of the unintended consequences. The consequences might be desirable or they might be undesirable: how we as political parties-which is most of us in the House, although obviously not all- do our politics; how we organise; how we campaign; how we select candidates. All those sorts of issues have yet to be thought through. I was very against my own party's decision-I am very sorry; I see that I have upset the Front Bench in front of me-to bring in a closed voting system for the European elections. I thought they were wrong, I told them they were wrong, I threatened that I would not vote Labour if they brought that system in. But the women who had called for the vote for women for so long would never forgive me if I did not vote, and I knew that my hand would drop off if I did not vote Labour, so eventually I did. But I thought that the system was wrong, and I maintain it was wrong. What is important, however, is how that has made a difference to how we do our politics. So even if I was wrong and the system chosen was the perfect one, it had consequences for the way that we campaign, for the way that we select and, indeed, for the power of the parties. I think that it gave far too much power to parties in the selection of candidates. We had not had time on that occasion to think through and talk about it. I believe that my party was wrong in doing it at that stage.
However, before we cast our votes in the referendum, I believe that we need a debate on how these different systems have worked. How have the Welsh and Scottish systems worked? How has it worked in Northern Ireland, where there has been a local government system for a long time? How is the European system working? We need that debate and therefore it seems to me important to give us time before we come to this decision. We need time to debate the matter in this House-although we are privileged and that is a luxury-but even more important is to make time for the electorate to consider this important question before we ask it to make such an important decision.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I fear that a number of important issues are all too liable to become confused in the minds of electors on 5 May if the referendum is held on the same date as the local elections. The Government are understandably preoccupied with advancing their policy of a referendum in which the people of this country will be offered a choice as to the future system of elections to the House of Commons. It is a profoundly important issue. Also to be held on that day are local elections, which are profoundly important as well. We ought to keep the interests of local government in the forefront of our minds, as there is a question about respect for local government that we should consider very carefully. However, perhaps I may come back to that point in a second.
Whichever side of the argument we may be on-in favour or against the alternative vote system-and whichever side we are on in the argument about whether there should be some sort of change to the system of electing Members of Parliament, I think we all agree that this is a momentous issue of the utmost importance. It is also an issue that will be considered only on very rare occasions in our political life. I believe that there is a compelling case for keeping the nation's deliberations on that issue distinct from the deliberations on other important issues that are to be put to the vote. Therefore, in the interests of clarity and wise decision-taking, and, as my noble friend Lord Rooker put it to us, in the interests of simply not rushing the process, there seems to be a very strong case for holding the referendum separately from, and later than, the local government elections.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, argued in favour of holding the two elections on the same day precisely on the basis that the referendum is extremely important and that it would be most unsatisfactory if it were to be determined on a low turnout. However, I put it to the noble Lord that there is a better and more reliable means of ensuring that there is an adequate turnout, which is to introduce a threshold requirement into this legislation. That is a debate for another day but I think we shall have that debate. Personally, I hope very much that Parliament will conclude that we should not change anything so fundamental in our constitution as our system of elections to the House of Commons on a derisory turnout, that we should insist on a requirement for a minimum percentage of those entitled to vote and that, if that minimum percentage is not reached, there
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Perhaps I may come back for a moment to the question of respect for local government. One sadness of my political life is that in all the years that I have been in one House of Parliament or another I have seen local government disparaged and demeaned, and, if I may say so, that has been all too characteristic of Parliament and of Governments of all parties over a long period. We are at risk of showing insufficient consideration and respect for the validity and importance of the local elections on 5 May next year. One understands why in the mid-1970s central government felt that they had to move to restrict some of the more exciting activities of local government. Indeed, one Secretary of State said that the party was over.
But the Treasury-above all, the Treasury, I believe-exploited that opportunity quite ruthlessly. Expenditure in this country and power in this country are, in a way, a zero-sum game, and the Treasury was deeply resentful of any fiscal independence on the part of local government and of any independent rights that local government might have to raise money. So we saw increasing restrictions. We saw capping. We saw limits on borrowing. We saw an increasing tendency of government to ring-fence the grant to local government through specific grants. All of this has been profoundly bad for our democratic culture in this country. If there is an alienation from our politics in this country then I believe that, in important measure, it stems from this source. Therefore I think that we should always think very carefully about the standing of local government, the dignity of local government and, indeed, the independence of local government to act as a check and a balance within our constitution and within the power structure of this country.
To muddle up the issues on 5 May next year could with some justification be interpreted as cynical and as far too characteristic of the habitual attitude of central government and, I fear, of Parliament to local government. For that reason also, therefore, it would be unfortunate if the two sets of elections were to be held on the same day next spring or early summer. However, the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Rooker is not prescriptive in this particular matter. It allows a margin of flexibility. It allows the Government to reflect carefully on whether it is wise to hold the referendum on the same day as the local elections. As my noble friend said, it also provides a contingency margin so that, if we do indeed find that the preparations cannot be advanced with sufficient speed and the conditions in which the referendum would be held would be unsatisfactory, the Government can with dignity adjust the date and we can still go ahead with the referendum on this extremely important issue, but we can do so in a sensible set of circumstances. So I hope that the House will be willing to support my noble friend Lord Rooker if he presses his amendment this afternoon.
Lord Soley: My Lords, I rise with one intention only: to ask a specific question of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and ask him to deal with it in his response. In asking it I should declare an interest as one of the political panel drawn from all the political
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At the moment the Electoral Commission believes that it is possible to hold these elections on joint dates without problems. Along with everyone else, however, it acknowledges-I think this was the key point made by my noble friend Lord Rooker-that problems could arise; and if they do arise, that will have a major impact on how well the referendum-or indeed the elections, but particularly the referendum-is held.
If in the course of events the Electoral Commission decides that it is not able to conduct a referendum in a manner that is acceptable to both national and international standards, will the Government put off the referendum to another date? That is an important question and I hope the noble Lord will address it with some care.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I want to follow that specific question. I am pleased that my noble friend was able to intervene before me. It is not just a question of whether the Electoral Commission would recommend that the date be changed; it is whether the Government for other reasons might wish to change the date of the referendum. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that in 2001 a Government had to defer elections due to the foot and mouth crisis. All over the country, returning officers were arguing with their local authorities that it would be impractical, because of problems at polling stations, to carry out polling on that particular day. In addition to the question asked by my noble friend, I would therefore like to know what would happen in those circumstances.
I had to leave the Chamber for personal reasons during the course of a couple of speeches, but I understand that reference was made to our alleged inconsistency in these matters. I would like to draw the House's attention to the then Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which was considered by Parliament earlier this year-a Bill produced by the then Labour Government. Under Clause 29 of that legislation we find my noble friend's amendment. Under "Referendum on voting systems", it states:
I am very pleased to see a large number of Cross-Benchers in the Chamber today. The other day we debated an aspect of this Bill, when some of us were a little concerned that the Cross-Benchers had perhaps not been able to hear the debate. That is the insufficiency of consideration that has been given to the effectiveness
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Even this morning I received a paper on STV which applies under the Scottish system for local elections. The interesting thing about STV in Scotland is that when a by-election takes place there it triggers an AV election. In other words, within the United Kingdom we have examples of AV operating which have not been fully considered by Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, drew my attention to that the other day-he nods his head. What happened in those 32 by-elections in Scotland will be of great interest to the House when we produce that information. This morning I received a document, whose authors are Professor David Denver of Lancaster University, Dr Alistair Clark of Belfast and Dr Lynn Bennie of Aberdeen, on the operation of the STV system in Scotland-not on AV as it applies in individual constituencies when there is a by-election.
More work needs to be done on the electrical system proposed in the Bill before Parliament finally decides what the system should be. Furthermore, in the event that we proceed with the system proposed in the Bill, there should be time for a full public debate before any referendum takes place within the United Kingdom.
Lord Rennard: The noble Lord seems to suggest again, as have a number of noble Lords, that there simply has not been sufficient time to consider the relative merits of electoral systems and in particular AV. Is the noble Lord aware that a royal commission recommended the adoption of the AV system in 1910; that an all-party Speaker's Conference made the same recommendation in 1917; and that the House of Commons voted for the introduction of the alternative vote system in 1931? Does he consider that this is perhaps the only place where 100 years is deemed inadequate time for consultation before voters are allowed to say how their representatives should be chosen?
Lord Campbell-Savours: That is the intervention of someone who has not done all his homework. It is true that AV was considered, but not in the form that is proposed in the Bill. That is at the heart of my argument. It is a different system. There are three major systems available under the alternative vote and the historic debate in this country has taken place on the Australian system, where it is compulsory to vote. Indeed, if you do not exercise all your votes, under the Australian AV system, your vote is discounted, not even taken into account.
Lord Howarth of Newport: I am very grateful to my noble friend, who has certainly done his homework and research very carefully indeed. Have I been advised correctly that the type of AV system that the Government propose should be used for elections to our House of Commons is found elsewhere in the world only in Papua New Guinea and Fiji? Has my noble friend, in the course of his research, found any lessons of more general application from those two laboratory experiments, which may be useful for us to think about as we consider an appropriate system for use in this country in the future?
Lord Campbell-Savours: I have identified those areas, but I think that the more relevant results are those in Queensland in Australia and in Scotland, which we will go through in some detail as we proceed on the Bill.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, may I have the temerity to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who correctly told us when it was last discussed, that a lot of us here, and, indeed, in the country, were not around at that time?
Baroness McDonagh: I thank noble Lords who have come back to this issue of confusion. Can we knock on the head, once and for all, the suggestion that we are calling people stupid? People are not quite as obsessed by politics as we are and I always thought that it was the role of this House to look at legislation, to look at how it would work out in the country, in the community, in our experience, and bring back any concerns before legislation is passed. That is what we are doing. We are not, for a moment, calling anyone stupid. On Tuesday, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, thought that in changing his parliamentary constituency in Scotland, he had also changed his European parliamentary constituency. I would not, for a second, call him stupid just because he does not appreciate that Scotland has only one European constituency.
I take this opportunity to ask about the 12 cities that are holding a referendum for mayor. I understand that some might be put off until 2012, but will the Minister tell us exactly where we are on that and, indeed, when the localism Bill will enter the House? Before I move off this issue of confusion, I say only that, if we are not careful-this is a serious point-we could end up having more spoilt ballot papers than the majority of votes, either for or against, under the alternative vote referendum. Given the legality of the Bill, there will be deep problems.
Who are we expecting to convey the arguments on the doorstep, if we proceed with an election in May? I would like to see anyone here get together a group of
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Lord Tyler: Would the noble Baroness like to turn to Amendment 12, which is in this group? As I understand it, she is proposing that this referendum should take place on the same day as the mayoral and London Assembly elections, so she is now arguing against her own amendment. Will she come to that amendment in due course?
I know the noble Baroness has been extremely influential in her party. Does she recall that on a number of occasions her Government decided to have a general election to the House of Commons on the same day as local elections? Were those not the circumstances that she is now criticising?
Baroness McDonagh: I thank the noble Lord. He is right, and I never have a problem saying when I am in the wrong. When I laid the amendment, I did so to give us more time to debate it. I think the noble Lord is quite right, and I am happy to withdraw that amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said that the fact that a number of us are tabling different amendments is causing confusion. If the Benches opposite want to join us and support either Amendment 5 or Amendment 6, I would be happy to withdraw all my amendments, and I thank the noble Lord for his intervention.
I think it is ironic to have a referendum on democracy on a day when we are having some elections and not others. Not having an election in London will depress the turnout, and there will be a variable result across the country. Therefore, I will support any amendment not to have a referendum on the same day as any other election, and I will appreciate answers to the questions I asked.
Lord Snape: My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lord Rooker in his amendment and to speak equally briefly to the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady McDonagh. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on his great debating point. I thought he showed enormous courage by making it. Having just been blown out of the water by my noble friend Lord Lipsey, to bounce back so quickly indicates a degree of perhaps reckless courage, but courage nevertheless.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, intervened to tell us what took place about AV in 1911 and subsequently. I have watched the career of the noble Lord with some interest. He has been better at fixing by-elections than at participating in them in his time as chief executive of the Liberal Democrats, but let us bring him bang up to date so far as AV is concerned, and particularly as far as your Lordships' House is concerned. As recently as 1998, AV was denounced as "disturbingly unpredictable" by no less a personage than the late Roy Jenkins. I cannot claim any close association with Roy Jenkins, although I was his Whip in the 1970s, and a pretty tough job that was, but I appreciate that he commanded enormous respect in both Houses of Parliament.
I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I know he is a notable personage in the Conservative Party, but his was the first Back-Bench speech I have heard in favour of this Bill. The Conservative Party normally sits mute during the passage of this legislation because it knows full well what it is about. I do not think I am betraying any secrets in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler and I had a long and friendly parliamentary relationship in the other place. Now that we can both escape from the wrath of our respective activists, I can say that we were paired for some years in the other place. I never knew he was a secret referendum addict during that time-not that it would have made any difference, of course, but I thought that his speech was at least supportive of this Bill.
I do not want to delay the House unduly, or to repeat anything that I said in debates last week. However, on AV and its possible complications, I think the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who will reply to this debate, owes the House a detailed explanation as to how exactly voters-and particularly the Scots-will be able to differentiate between the various elections and look at AV as well. He shakes his head: as a Scot, I know he would be delighted to tell me.
Actually, I thought this debate would be replied to from the government Front Bench by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, so I have a proposition to put to him which I hope his noble friend will pass on. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and I have one thing in common. He used to represent my hometown of Stockport in the Labour interest in those days, before apostasy became fashionable. If the noble Lord, Lord McNally, believes that the alternative vote system is a simple one, and that we are being condescending and patronising to the electorate by saying it deserves a proper and full debate and a date on its own to be voted on, let me issue this challenge. I invite him to walk with me through the streets of Stockport next Saturday morning and ask two questions of anybody we come across. First, are you in favour of the alternative vote system; and, secondly, could you tell me what it is? Perhaps we could ask a third question as well: would you mind accompanying us to watch Stockport County? That is where I will be heading.
I do not want to extend that same invitation to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because I suspect he is not a round ball man. However, if he would pass the invitation on to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I
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Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, may I ask the Leader of the House a practical question? Having sat through the debate on Amendment 5, which has lasted now an hour and 20 minutes, and bearing in mind that there is a great deal more of this Committee stage, is it actually practical for the Government to have 5 May as the date for this referendum?
Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords, I support the proposition of my noble friend Lord Rooker. When I came into this House a couple of months ago, I was told very quietly that this is a reflective Chamber, and we take our time here and mop up the mistakes made in the House of Commons by looking at Bills in a detailed way. If there ever is an opportunity to caw canny, as they say in Scotland, I think it is this amendment today. My noble friend Lord Rooker said it would not change anything; it would still give the Government freedom to decide when to have the referendum. When I participated as a very keen observer in the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007, in the constituency across the River Clyde from me there were 1,600 discarded and spoiled votes. The majority of our win was less than 100. The SNP then went on to govern Scotland as a result of a shambolic election. I spoke to the returning officers, and they said that it was done too quickly: that too many pressures were piled on them and that situation was the result. As my noble friend Lord McAlvoy has said, the debate here will end on 20 December until next year. All that administrative stuff has to be undertaken after the legislation has been passed. I fear that we could have another shambles as a result.
There is time for us to tell the Government that we can slow down. This is a radical Government in terms of the welfare reforms that they are implementing. A couple of months ago, the Chancellor stood in the House of Commons and pulled £17 billion from the hat. We do not know where those welfare reforms will hit. We know that there is a child benefit threshold for higher rate taxpayers. But last Thursday, the Treasury sneaked out a report stating that another 100,000 people will be taken into the higher rate tax threshold because it has been lowered by £1,400. As a former chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, I say that the problems are piling up for this Government and that they will be answered in perhaps a year or 15 months' time.
It was the same in the House of Commons when the then Chancellor who went on to be Prime Minister abolished the 10 pence tax rate. I remember saying, "When you do anything in the tax system", as noble Lords know, "there are always winners and there are always losers. Have you thought about the losers?". At the time, the Government did not think about the losers. I suggest that there will be losers in the radical
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Some problems are being played out at the moment; for example, tuition fees. I am a good friend of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, but to say that he is standing on his head in terms of tuition fees is an understatement. My former friend Ann Widdecombe has shown us something on "Strictly Come Dancing" that Vince has not done on the tuition fees-simply because the problem has not been thought out.
My noble friend Lord Donoughue was in Downing Street with Jim Callaghan and has written an excellent book. He said that Jim Callaghan as Prime Minister had a "maybe man" in Downing Street. The Government might have had a policy, which they were going to implement, and the "maybe man" said, "Hold on. What are the implications of this?". This is a "maybe man" moment in this Chamber, so that my noble friend Lord Rooker's amendment gets the opportunity to be reflected on and the Government do not run headlong into a shambles of their own making.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this is the sort of opportunity that the Government should take. My noble friend Lord Rooker's amendment is modest and sensible. He is saying that it would be possible for the Government to have the referendum on any date between 5 May and 31 October 2011. He is not addressing the combination issue; nor is he addressing how long it would take to have proper debates. He is saying, "Give yourselves some flexibility".
There are obviously two reasons for flexibility. The first is in relation to the administration of the election. In relation to the administration of the referendum, the Electoral Commission believes that,
I am quoting the chairman of the Electoral Commission when giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament. It is to be noted that that conclusion, she says, is expressly contingent upon "the key practical risks" being "properly managed". The Electoral Commission has several times repeated that,
Put neutrally, it is pretty obvious that there is a significant risk that the administration will not be ready by 5 May 2011. That should be looked at in the context of the Government not having consulted, before they chose 5 May 2011, either the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. The Scottish Executive expressed the view that holding the referendum on 5 May 2011,
The obvious and sensible conclusion for the Government is to give themselves leeway if they cannot meet the deadlines, either because of organisational issues or issues in relation to scrutiny. A Government who say no to that are a Government in their early days. If they were more sensible, they would say, "Yes, I see the force of the argument and we will agree to that". If the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pushes the matter to a vote, we will support it.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, we have had another series of interesting debates, largely on the same issue that we discussed the other night-the question of the date. Noble Lords who were there will have recognised that many of the issues that were raised last week were raised again today. I make no great criticism of that. It is inevitable in the early stages of discussing a Bill. The only surprise is that nobody, in an hour and a half of debate, mentioned a subject that was raised several times last week-that of the royal wedding. So as far as I can see, we have moved a great step forward over the course of the past week.
The debate really divided into three groups of speakers. First, there were those who were against the amendment and in favour of the Government's proposal. Secondly, there were those like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who sensed that the Government were doing the right thing in offering a referendum but that they have not thought through all the various contingencies and needed some help and support-the word "lifeboat" was used and that sort of language. And thirdly, there were those like the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, my noble friend Lord Hamilton, and one or two others, who were opposed to the referendum and opposed to AV, and they also would support the amendment.
Lord Strathclyde: Yes, there is a fourth group which supports a reform of the electoral system but not this reform. But this amendment is about the date, and all those who will support the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, if he presses it to a vote, have understood that by accepting this amendment, in practice the referendum cannot take place on 5 May. Amendment 5 does not specify an alternative appropriate day. Setting the date in the Bill, as we have done, gives certainty to those involved in the planning and campaigning. I could not help thinking during the course of the debate that if the Government had published a Bill with no date, noble Lords opposite would be the first to get up and say, "How outrageous this is. How can anybody campaign? This is the Government making it up as they go along".
We decided on 5 May because it is the best date. It is when 84 per cent of the population will already be going to the polls. Or I should say that 84 per cent of
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The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said that people will be confused. There is a lot of outrage in the House today about this sense of confusion. As my noble friend Lord Tyler said, people have no difficulty in voting in local elections and general elections on the same day. In this House, we are used to making lots of decisions every day, but the poor people outside are not so blessed with our brains and will find it much more difficult. I think not. People are well capable of deciding who should represent them in terms of local government, the Welsh Assembly or Scottish Parliament. They are able to decide on a simple yes or no whether they wish to have AV. I have no truck with these arguments about confusion.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made a point that was echoed by one or two other noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, about whether it was negligence or discourtesy that we had not consulted the other parliaments and assemblies in the United Kingdom. The Government wanted to make an announcement on a national basis on a given day to Parliament. Even if it was a lack of respect, should we change the date just because of that lack of respect, if there is no other reason not to continue?
Lord Elystan-Morgan: Granted that the Government had a total conviction that it should be 5 May and nothing else, would it however not have been courteous, chivalrous and statesmanlike to have consulted the Parliament of Scotland and the Assembly of Wales?
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, asked whether, if we carried on like this, there was any prospect of getting this legislation through not just by the end of January but by the end of January 2020. I have my doubts as well. Of course, that gives the lie to the accusation that we are not debating these issues thoroughly. We could not debate these issues more thoroughly than we have done over the past day and a half in Committee.
Before us is the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who offered us the date "before 31 October". In the same group we are offered 30 June, 15 September, 6 October and 13 October, and the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, offered us 3 May 2012. It is a smorgasbord of opportunity. I am grateful to noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who have been constructive and helpful by saying that we should save ourselves with this lifeboat of an alternative. However, I am entirely satisfied that, with the evidence from the Electoral Commission and the debates within the Government, we are perfectly capable of holding this referendum on 5 May.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I apologise for interrupting, but the noble Lord appears to be moving on. The heart of the argument expressed by the Select Committee in this House is that there is a significant risk that the date will not be reached. If that is wrong, you can have your referendum on 5 May. Could the noble Lord possibly, out of respect to the committee, answer its point?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, if there is a risk, it is minimal. We have had the evidence from the Electoral Commission, which believes it is possible and has given evidence to noble Lords on that basis.
Lord Strathclyde: The noble Lord, Lord Soley, did indeed ask me a question. He asked-I wrote it down-"What happens if the Electoral Commission declares that the referendum cannot be held to an effective standard because of late changes to legislation?" The Electoral Commission has declared itself satisfied with progress so far. There is no reason why that progress should not continue. The conduct schedules to the Bill are based on tried-and-tested election rules. There is nothing new, nothing revolutionary, everything has been done before. It is on that basis that we do not accept that problems will arise.
Lord Grenfell: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Has there been a change of heart in the Electoral Commission in this case? How recent is the evidence it has now given that in fact it is happy with the progress made on this? What happens if, in the weeks to come, it is no longer happy? Will there then be a case for the Government to change their mind about the date?
Lord Strathclyde: The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, asked whether the Electoral Commission was going to change its mind. I said that it is not going to change its mind because it is rock solid. It has made the assessments,
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What concerns me most is that many noble Lords, who are opposed to this Bill, oppose it because it is one of the political ideas that binds this coalition. In opposing this they see a valuable weapon in bringing down the coalition. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his kind offer of a lifeboat; I hope he will take it in the spirit in which it is intended if I cannot accept it and very much hope he will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Strathclyde: Yes, my Lords, there will be local referendums on this day. There are a number of elections. It might be helpful to noble Lords if I read them out. With the voting systems referendum, there will be elections for the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Irish Assembly. There will be local elections in England, in 36 metropolitan boroughs and 49 unitary authorities; in some of these, one-third are up for election, and some are all up. Then there are the 194 second-tier districts in England. In other words, 279 local authorities will run elections in England. There will be local elections in Northern Ireland and mayoral elections-that was what the noble Baroness was after-in four local authorities in England: those of Bedford, Middlesbrough, Mansfield and Torbay. Then, of course, there will be parish elections in England.
Baroness McDonagh: That was not my question. My question was whether this May there will be any local referendums on whether an area has a mayoral election and a mayoral system. Twelve were due to take place in May in our largest cities, and the Government considered putting them off for a year. Some of that will be dealt with in the localism Bill, but no one knows when that Bill will enter the other House. The Government seem to be in a lot of confusion and to be having difficulties with their legislation at the moment. Will all or some of the 12 local city referendums take place in May, or will they be put back to 2012?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am glad for that clarification. I did not fully understand the noble Baroness's question. The answer is yes-it is likely that there will also be some local, mayoral referendums in England on 5 May, which will be run on the same boundaries as the referendum and local authorities. We have included provision to allow for those polls to be combined with the referendum.
Lord Harris of Haringey: The noble Lord very kindly gave us a list of areas where there will be elections, but perhaps he could give us a list of the areas where there will not be elections. Clearly, London is omitted from that list. Is he suggesting that
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Lord Strathclyde: There will be no elections in the areas that I did not mention. The noble Lord may feel that Londoners will be uninterested, but I have complete faith that the campaigns for yes and no will be able to get Londoners out on this important issue.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, without being personal in any way, can I say that I am really looking forward to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, answering one of these debates? His name is on the Bill, but he has not really played much of a part as the leading member of the coalition here.
Lord Strathclyde: It is a long Bill, and an awful lot of noble Lords on the other side want to ask us questions. My noble friend and I, and my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, have divided up the Bill and will speak at later stages.
Lord Rooker: I really appreciate the fact that the Leader of the House is taking a detailed role in the passage of the Bill. That being so, he has more clout than the others and therefore could have asked for better briefing. Where is the list of risks? Do not tell me that there is no group of Ministers or civil servants assessing the risks of this measure. If there is not, there will be one hell of a row, because every other public body has a risk assessment of things that can go wrong. It is implicit that in the conduct of public administration there should be an assessment of the risks, but there is no mention of that. There is a fixation on certainty instead. I do not mind that; I am just offering the Government a degree of flexibility on the practicalities. I deliberately did not refer to any of the other amendments on the dates. I do not want to get involved in this debate about the combination of referendums, elections and other dates. I would settle for 5 May, no problem, but is it practical?
My point is that until Royal Assent, not a lot of money can be spent, in the education process, to cover the problems that the public might have. That recent poll was not undertaken 100 years ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard said; it was undertaken by YouGov for the Constitution Society in only August/September this year. The issue is that 10 weeks before 5 May takes us to 24 February, and this House is in recess on that day. We rise on 16 February and are not back until 28 February, so we have lost even more. We are back after Christmas for fewer than six weeks until 16 February.
All I am saying is that we should consider the risk of uncertainties. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, mentioned foot-and-mouth disease, and I was involved in some of the meetings at which there were big
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I shall not go through all the debates, but I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. It is not a sneaky amendment; it is seductive, if you like-I prefer seductive. If she wants sneaky, there is one much further on in the Bill; it came out of last week's debate and I fully accept that it could be classed as sneaky. I am trying to give the Government the opportunity to have flexibility. All Governments want it; local government wants it. It was in my mind that 31 October had been referred to somewhere. I had forgotten that it was in the Constitutional Reform Bill. The previous Government introduced a Bill without a date-they said that it should be before 31 October.
I have not talked to anyone in the Electoral Commission, although I went to a meeting the other week at which it could not answer some of the questions put by noble Lords. However, this amendment could not possibly cause the Electoral Commission one iota of concern. The date of 5 May is still a runner. That is the Government's intention, Parliament's assumption and the assumption that we want everyone outside to make. There is a degree of certainty. No one will say that it is deliberate, but things can happen outside the control of local government, the private sector and central government. It does not really matter; one can think these things up, which is why I am sad to say that we have not had the list from the risk committee that has been discussed in government. I cannot believe that this has not been dealt with somewhere.
The Deputy Speaker (Lord Geddes): My Lords, before putting Amendment 5, I must advise the Committee that if it is agreed to, or indeed if Amendment 6 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 7 to 12 inclusive due to pre-emption.
The speed with which the Bill has been put together has been justly criticised. One consequence of the haste has been a lack of consultation on the date of the proposed referendum. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly were not consulted about the date, and during the debate on the previous amendment I read to noble Lords the view that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly took on that matter.
The poll, as proposed, will be on 5 May next year. On that date, elections are already scheduled for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, 279 local authorities in England and 26 local councils in Northern Ireland, as well as some mayoral elections. Thanks to the questions asked by my noble friend Lady McDonagh, who sadly is not in her place, we have learnt that, although the legislation has not yet been passed, there will in addition in certain places be a number of referendums on whether there should be mayors. Therefore, 5 May will be a busy electoral day for the vast majority of the British public, even without a referendum vote, and it will be made all the more busy if the poll on changing the electoral system goes ahead on 5 May as well.
We are not suggesting for one moment that voters will be unable to vote in more than one poll at once, but the potential for confusion and administrative complexity must be acknowledged. In its assessment of a combination of referendums and elections, the Electoral Commission pointed to risks arising from different regulatory regimes running concurrently. These regulations can refer to spending limits and also to the make-up of the electoral register. As my noble friend Lord Foulkes informed us in Committee last Monday, overseas voters, for example, are on the parliamentary franchise but not on the local government franchise, whereas citizens of European countries living in the United Kingdom are on the local government franchise but not on the parliamentary one.
Campaigning for the multitude of votes on 5 May 2011 will also cause a muddle. The election campaigns for the local and devolved assemblies will be held on a party basis but the campaign for the referendum will be cross-party. I may be of the same opinion as many noble Lords opposite when it comes to deciding whether we should adopt the alternative vote system for elections to the House of Commons but, should I meet the noble Lord the Leader of the House on the streets of London, I do not believe that we will be arguing for the same party candidate to be returned. On reflection, no party candidates will be returned in London because there will be no voting in London, so I shall be very confused if I am there.
The Gould report on the 2007 elections in Scotland identified the combination of polls as one of the most controversial aspects of the votes that took place on 3 May 2007. Gould concluded in his report:
"If local issues and the visibility of local government candidates are viewed as a primary objective, then separating the Scottish parliamentary from the local government elections is necessary in order to avoid the dominance of campaigns conducted for the Scottish parliamentary contests. In addition, separating the two elections would result in minimising the potential for voter confusion".
The issues surrounding the local and devolved elections already scheduled deserve the space to be debated and aired without the distraction of totally different matters relating to the referendum. Similarly, if the arguments surrounding the merits or demerits of changing the voting system for the House of Commons are to be fully discussed and understood, they need their own time and space as well. Changing the voting system is a major and significant constitutional reform. It should not get lost among campaigns and arguments.
We believe that our argument for no combination of polls is strengthened given the circumstances in which the date of the referendum vote came about-five days of coalition negotiation and we are told that there is to be a vote on 5 May 2011. It is the sort of thing where it would be useful to consult more widely and then come to a sensible conclusion about the date. Despite knowing that the devolved Assemblies would be voting on this day, neither Scotland, Wales, as I have said, nor Northern Ireland has been consulted on the referendum date. Alex Salmond wrote to the Prime Minister in the following terms:
"I believe that your proposals to hold a referendum on the same day undermines the integrity of the elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These elections are of profound importance to our citizens and I believe they have the right to make their electoral choices for the respective devolved chambers without the distraction of a parallel referendum campaign on the UK voting system".
The Welsh Assembly Government have been similarly scathing. The fear of distraction from other polls to be held on 5 May was the motivation behind the Welsh Assembly's decision not to hold its own referendum on extending powers to the Assembly on the same day as Assembly elections.
The cross-party Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House has noted opposition to the combination of polls. It has quoted the matters I have identified from the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly and agrees with that sentiment.
There is a critical issue which all of those issues are but an expression of. Our Constitution Committee said that if you have an election on the same day as other elections, even assuming that you can get through the issue of confusion, there is evidence showing that the reform issue will be swamped by the issue of who you want to have as your elected representative, whether it be in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the local authority. That is what the evidence shows.
I understand why those negotiating the coalition agreement five days after the election were unaware of that evidence. However, now that we know that the experts are saying that this is the position, and in view of the fact that we are dealing with an issue as important as a change in the electoral system, it is very difficult to see what damage, beyond the money that the extra poll would cost, would be caused by having it on a different date. I cannot believe that the Government honestly think that if we had to have them on different days we could not afford to have them. I cannot believe that they honestly think they could not get enough voters out to make it plausible. If they do think that then we should not have this referendum at all.
I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to focus on the issue. He wants a plausible referendum which people have confidence in. Listen to the evidence, and have it on a separate day from all of those other polls. I beg to move.
Lord Strathclyde: I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for introducing his amendment. As he laid out, it seeks to prevent the referendum from being combined with any other poll. I am aware of the
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Combined polls are not unusual and I have every confidence that voters will be able to distinguish between the different polls taking place-in fact, it is increasingly strange to suggest otherwise. What does the Electoral Commission say? It advised that it is possible to successfully deliver these different polls on 5 May. The commission also issued briefings throughout the Bill's passage through the Commons and has concluded that the Bill contains,
"The Government has tabled a series of amendments ... to reflect relevant changes to the election conduct rules made by the revised conduct Orders for the May 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly and local councils in Northern Ireland, which have been laid before Parliament. We welcome these amendments which seek to ensure that the combination provisions are accurate and workable".
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Before the noble Lord quotes from the Gould report, could he identify for the House the occasions on which a referendum and an election have been combined on the same day in Britain?
"I do not believe that holding both on the same day would create the same degree of confusion and resultant rejected ballots especially if sufficient advance public information and guidance was provided to the voters".
The rigorous testing carried out by the Electoral Commission should also reassure those worried about voter confusion. The new draft clearly enables the electorate to understand the choice they are being asked to make and to express their views. The Bill also gives the Electoral Commission a role in providing information about the referendum and how to vote in it, which will help to minimise confusion. For those reasons, I hope the noble and learned Lord will feel that we have covered all the questions that he posed.
Lord Rowlands: Does the noble Lord think that he knows better than all the Members of the National Assembly and the First Minister of the National Assembly, that this would not be a major distraction to the elections in Wales?
Lord Strathclyde: I understand the views in Scotland and in Wales, and possibly in Northern Ireland as well. However, we have asked the Electoral Commission to give us its considered view. It has done so, and we back it.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: Following that question from the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, perhaps I can ask who decided that there should be no consultation with the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. I accept that there was no obligation whatever on the Government to change their mind on the matter of 5 May but, nevertheless, the decision not to consult was deeply insulting not just to the Parliament and the Assembly concerned but to the nations concerned.
Lord Strathclyde: I accept the noble Lord's point; he has made it before. Perhaps if we were doing it differently, it would be done in a different way. For reasons of confidentiality and of making a statement, and rather than allowing the rumour mill to flow, it was right to make the decision we did.
Lord Howarth of Newport: Can I tempt the Leader of the House to apologise on behalf of the Government to Members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, as I think there has been discourtesy towards them? He was good enough to say just now that possibly, if the Government were doing this again, they would do it differently. Will he go a step further and make a handsome apology? They have been treated with discourtesy and disrespect.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Will my noble friend comment on the fact that there are many other legislatures where elections, referendums and plebiscites are held simultaneously and the people of those countries do not seem to be incorrigibly undermined in their decisions as a result? Secondly, will he comment on the fact that paragraphs 9 and 10 of the first schedule to the Bill set out a very stringent duty on the Electoral Commission and the various election officers to inform the public? As I understand it, the Electoral Commission intends to circulate to every household in the land a plain English guide to the issues about which the referendum is to be held.
Lord Strathclyde: It is as much a mystery to me as it is to my noble friend why the Labour Party and the noble and learned Lord believe that it will be impossible for people to vote in one election and in a referendum.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Let me help. What happens is that people concentrate on the election of individuals and they do not focus on the change. As I am on my feet, perhaps I may also say that I was struck by the reference to confidentiality. Has the noble Lord been trying to keep secret from Scotland and Wales the fact that this referendum was going on?
Lord Soley: Will the Leader of the House make clear whether this confidentiality relates to shared Cabinet responsibility, or is it entirely separate from that? Is it something that civil servants recommended, or is it a political recommendation?
Lord Snape: The noble Lord brusquely spurned my offer of a meeting in Stockport this weekend, but perhaps I can further tempt him to put some flesh on the bones of this. Can he confirm that there will be no real problem about adding the alternative vote to all the other matters that will be taking place if the Government get their way and we all have to troop out to vote for various things on the same day? How many people has he come across who have actually advocated the AV system? In his experience, aside from the rather peculiar friends that we all keep in politics, who, among ordinary people, knows exactly how AV works or, in fact, does not work?
Lord Strathclyde: I cannot possibly answer the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Soley. If I am able to find out, I will drop him a line. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, introduces an interesting argument: if, as he believes, people do not understand some aspect of this, they should never be asked whether or not they agree with it. Apart from the fact that that shows a surprising degree of arrogance and is patronising to his former constituents, even if they do not understand it now, they will have plenty of opportunity to do so before the referendum takes place.
Lord Snape: I hope I have shown no arrogance, nor have I patronised them. They are not my former constituents, in fact. I am talking about the fellow citizens of my home town-the town that the noble and, alas, absent noble Lord, Lord McNally, represented in the Labour interest in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, the noble Lord cannot get away with that; it is not a plausible response. The fact is that for people who do not take a deep interest in politics, the letters AV make their eyes glaze over. All that we on these Benches are saying is that before such a momentous and dramatic change is put to the British people in a binding referendum, some explanation ought to be put before them as to why this particular system-denounced as it was for many years by the Conservatives' new-found allies in the Liberal Democrats-is the one and only choice to be available to them on the ballot paper. As for the other point, about being patronising, the noble Lord will notice that I have an amendment down for debate later which gives people genuine choice between first past the post, which I support, and the AV system, which, as far as I am aware, has no great supporters other than those hoping to save their necks among his new-found allies.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: How much will the mailing to every elector cost, compared with the £15 million extra for a separate referendum? I would also like to ask the noble Lord-I hope the Cross-Benchers will perhaps excuse me for a moment-a particularly party-organisational question. Those of us who have
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Lord Morris of Aberavon: I add my voice to concerns about the lack of consultation of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. These bodies have been set up for over 10 years and the present Secretary of State makes a huge play of her wish to work with the Welsh Assembly in Wales. If this is a precursor of how the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament are to be treated in future; if this is the result of hurried legislation; if the Leader of the House sees that he has no duty to apologise, not personally but on behalf of the Government, it augurs pretty badly for the relationship in the future.
Lord Rooker: Perhaps I can add to that. I was not going to intervene in this debate but I was struck by the Leader of the House's use of the word confidentiality. I have the privilege outside this House of chairing the board of a non-ministerial department-I give a new flavour to the coalition, in some ways, on a UK-wide body. We are responsible and accountable to the four separate Governments. The issue of confidentiality, lack of trust and not being able to be frank and open with Ministers-who are themselves very widely in coalition in the UK-has, in my experience, never arisen. The devolved Administrations are not the enemy. I am not certain but I have a feeling that some Ministers in Whitehall, or the infrastructure in Whitehall, are new to dealing with devolved Administrations who have genuine power-it was new to all of us-and they look on them as the enemy. But they are not.
Lord Strathclyde: I certainly do not think that they are the enemy either. The point I was making was that the correct announcement was to make a single national statement, which is precisely what we did. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, says that nobody understands what AV is. That, of course, will be up to the campaigns and the Electoral Commission to explain. As for the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and her issues about knocking-up, again, this is a campaigning issue and it will be up to the campaigns to decide how best to get people to vote yes or no during the course of the campaign.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This debate followed the pattern of the last debate: the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was incredibly attractive on the periphery
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