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Symbolism is important. It should be remembered that, particularly after April 1746, there was a campaign against the culture of that world. The communities were destroyed; they were persecuted by the UK Government, driven into corners and discriminated against, not only for their activities between August 1745 and April 1746, but because of their culture and the communities they represented, so there is a bit of a siege mentality in that world.
That world is not only represented by the Western Isles but by the county of Argyll. Argyllshire comes into it as well. When I was on Strathclyde regional council-Argyll was part of the regional council's area-we went to great lengths to preserve and encourage the Gaelic language, not only in schools within the region's remit but because of the Gaelic population in the west of Scotland, particularly in the city of Glasgow. It could have been argued that a disproportionate amount of money was spent on this, but we thought it important and it was much appreciated by the Gaelic community. As my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock has already mentioned, Liberal Members of this House should support this, but there seemed to be some surprise at that point of view.
Argyll is relevant to what I am going to say next. My very good friend, with whom I shared a lot in common, was the late Lady Michie-Ray Michie-a tremendous person: a Bannerman who represented the Bannerman family. She once said to me that that was because her family carried the banner of Scotland and its many battles, particularly against our now English friends. I remember Ray and I down at Tilbury Docks, along with the noble Lord, Lord Martin. The local council down there was commemorating the centenary of the Jacobite prisoners at Tilbury Docks. That was a war crime if there ever was one. The proportion of the Jacobites who died in those prison holes was quite shocking. That day there was a procession; the noble Lord, Lord Martin, played the bagpipes, followed by the late Ray Michie, me and Andrew Mackinlay, who was then MP for Thurrock. In my opinion, Lady Michie would have been a firm supporter of this amendment. I have no doubt at all about that. There is a lot of principle involved.
An amendment like this would be of relevant use to people in the Western Isles, where, again, the proportion is striking. To its credit, the Scottish Parliament has taken great steps to try and look after the Gaelic language. That is absolutely right. This is a revising Chamber and this amendment could and should be accepted by the Government without any great principle being at stake and without involving any attack on the Bill. It surprises me that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, should behave in such a House of Commons manner by trying to inject a note of controversy by questioning my noble friend Lord Browne. It was really quite shocking and hurtful to see. I hope that he will get away from that House of Commons attitude-a hope that he himself has expressed so many times-and accept the amendment.
Lord MacKenzie of Culkein: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Foulkes. Indeed, I suppose it would be
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Things have improved and changed in Scotland, certainly since devolution. There are many Gaelic-medium schools now in Scotland, and they are extremely successful. We have the BBC ALBA channel, which is very successful and which will shortly, I hope, be available on Freeview so that many more can have access to it. However, there is still pressure in Scotland and the view that, because everyone can speak English fluently and read English, there is no need for Gaelic. That is where I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. We hear this all the time about road signs and railway signs in Gaelic; "it's a waste of money". No, it is not a waste of money. There is still suspicion in the Highlands, among Gaels, that the establishment and the Civil Service still have anti-Gaelic sentiment running through them. We should dispel that; we can dispel it tonight if the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, can accept this amendment or indicate that similar wording will be put into the Act, as is the case for Welsh.
We hear a great deal about Ulster Scots and Irish and parity of esteem. Indeed, we hear a lot about this, certainly in Written Questions, in this House. If we have parity of esteem between Ulster Scots and Irish in the Belfast agreement, and Welsh is already embedded in this Bill, we must indeed have Gaelic as well, because there must be parity of esteem for Scottish Gaelic.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, talked about the Welsh speaking of Welsh as "our language" even if they could not speak it themselves, but that points to the fact that Welsh is the adjective from Wales, whereas Gaelic is not the adjective from Scotland in any sense of that expression. There might be an inaccuracy, at least in this amendment, in that it does not refer to Scottish Gaelic, because, as has been said, there is Gaelic in Ulster and of course in the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, I think Welsh itself is probably a branch of Gaelic-it is certainly a Celtic language.
I submit that "a Gaelic version" leaves very open the question of exactly how it would be expressed. That is not particularly satisfactory. It might also be required to specify that a person who wishes to use that question as his information should also have to answer it in Gaelic.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, I just want to make one short point. This amendment would sit with the rest of the Bill, because under Clause 11, the rules
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Lord Bach: My Lords, I will speak very briefly. We have heard very powerful arguments for the amendment. We on the Front Bench support the amendment. We do not claim that it is the biggest or most important amendment, but it does have an importance in the Bill. I hope that the Government are big enough to accept a well argued amendment that would improve the Bill. It is about fairness. The Bill already covers Wales in this way; surely it should do the same here. The amendment specifies that the ballot papers would be printed in the two languages only in Scotland. Surely the cost of printing the question in two languages would not be great. Administratively, it would not be difficult to organise; and, practically, such a change could be straightforward.
Lord Tyler: I know that the noble Lord wants to be brief, but I put a question to him to which I genuinely do not know the answer. Can the noble Lord remind the House whether his Administration included a Gaelic version of the question for the Scottish devolution referendum?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot remind the House because I do not know the answer. However, I think that there is someone who does: the noble Lord who will speak after me. Even if we did not, we were not always right. It is a terrible admission to make, and not one that the present Government are prepared to make at this stage. Perhaps later on they will.
We have moved on since those times. Devolution is a much more significant factor now in British politics than it was. A number of noble Lords have made that clear. My noble friend Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, who comes from the relevant area of Scotland, expressed the view that the Gaelic language is more widely used and appreciated now than it was in times past. In October 2009, a new agreement was made that allows Scottish Gaelic to be used formally between Scottish Ministers and European Union officials. Of course, this does not give Scottish Gaelic official status in the European Union, but it does make it a means of formal communication with EU institutions, and politicians on different sides welcomed the step. This amendment does not ask for much. We ask the Government to be big and to accept it.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, this has been, not unsurprisingly, a most interesting and useful debate. The ideas that underlie the amendment are not without merit. What is more arguable is whether this is the right Bill and the right time to deal with the matter. I am nothing but impressed by those who master a second language. I am even more impressed by those who master Gaelic. It is interesting to note that next year's Scottish elections will not have Gaelic on the ballot paper or on any of the pages of information that will be provided by statute. Recently, the Scottish Parliament decided to disaggregate the Scottish elections from the local elections; and again, in those local elections, there is no requirement for Gaelic to appear on the ballot paper.
I will refer to my intervention in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, had no reason to protect him; he is perfectly capable of doing that himself. My interest was genuine; I felt the passion and interest of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and thought perhaps that when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, there was a reason why he was unable to progress this. I am not sure that there was a reason. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, explained that although 13 years was a long time, the then Government did not find time to deal with this, or did not think that it was sufficiently important or necessary; I have no idea which was the case.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: I am grateful to the Leader of the House, and do not rise to defend myself. I do not feel that my record in the Scottish Office requires defending. However, reflecting on the point that he made, I say that there was no obvious opportunity when I was Secretary of State, for a comparatively short time, to deal with the issue. I admit honestly that it did not occur to me until my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock brought it to my attention with the amendment. He has done the House a service.
The point that I will make to the noble Lord is that his party, our party and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland-indeed, all parties-publish their manifesto in Gaelic and distribute leaflets in Gaelic. Why do we conduct only part of the electoral process in Gaelic and not give the Gaelic speakers of Scotland the right to cast their vote against a question that is put in Gaelic?
Lord Strathclyde: I am not saying that the idea that underlies this amendment is without merit: simply that it is the wrong amendment to the wrong Bill at the wrong time. In the long term, after due investigation, there may be those who believe that there should be that change in Scotland at all levels of elections.
There is a clear difference between Wales and Scotland, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, pointed out. Under the Welsh Language Act 1993, it is common for Ministers to prescribe by order Welsh versions of statements that appear on ballot papers, in postal voting documents and so on. In Scotland, Gaelic versions of electoral material have not previously been included in legislation, on ballot papers or on other official materials for elections, even when the elections have related only to Scotland. Therein lies the next
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I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was raising a general point that has received some support from around the House. However, my noble and learned friend, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, pointed out a serious flaw in the amendment that I hope the noble Lord will consider. I also hope that, if he wishes to continue his campaign, he will do so not just in this House but in the Scottish Parliament, of which I believe he is still a distinguished Member.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am grateful to the Leader of the House, in particular for his closing remark. However, I intend to vacate my position in the Scottish Parliament in May next year to spend more time in this Chamber, because I find it so interesting. I have been grateful tonight for the overwhelming and powerful support for the amendment from my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, who is a distinguished academic lawyer and a former member of the Cabinet, and for the Welsh support from the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Elystan-Morgan. When the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred to the Welsh precedent being powerful and pertinent, that was a strong argument as well as a wonderful alliteration.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for his Jacobite version of the argument, which is all the more powerful for it, and to the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, with his background in Gaeldom, for his powerful support. The support has been overwhelming. I have one or two points of criticism. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who referred to the Scottish referendum not having the question in Gaelic, that the major change since then is that the Scottish Parliament, with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and my noble and learned friend the former Lord Advocate as Members, passed the 2005 Act, which changed the whole position of Gaelic in Scotland. And I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for whom I have great respect-he was a very distinguished Lord Chancellor and he and I have had lots of other dealings outside this Chamber-that I accept that it should say "Scottish Gaelic" and that the question should be specified. There could be an opportunity later to do that. If I could have written it myself in Gaelic, I would have done so, but this was the quickest way of expressing support for this and moving in this direction. With his help and with the help of Gaelic speakers, we can refine it so that we can get it right before this Bill finally goes through.
This is an issue of principle and I feel strongly about it. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, pointed out that the 2001 census showed that there are no monoglot speakers of either Welsh or Gaelic, so the position is exactly the same. I do not understand the Leader's argument that this is the wrong Bill in which to have the amendment. This amendment relates precisely to this Bill because it deals with the referendum and because there is a Welsh version. I argue that there should also be a Gaelic version. I thank noble Members for their support. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of
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Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, this clause, establishing the referendum, sets the question. This is probably my last intervention on this part of the Bill. Although I believe in electoral reform and the need for a referendum, I do not believe in this referendum because it sets the wrong question. The Bill seeks approval for a system that I believe is a nonsense.
Now, I almost want to act as a sweep and to place on record a summary of my objections to this referendum and the question being asked. I believe that the core of my objections will surface during the television campaign against the referendum question. I object on the basis that this may well be our last opportunity for a generation to put electoral reform on the agenda. If the public say no, it will be almost impossible to resurrect the electoral reform debate, so we have to get the system right.
The opponents of electoral reform will sell AV as the product of a panic-driven stitch-up between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in the coalition, the intention being to create a coalition. That will not fool the public. The Conservative acceptance of AV as part of the coalition deal will be seen as a cynical ploy when it comes out during the TV campaign that almost the entire Conservative Party, both inside and
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The coalition is taking the issue of electoral reform to the electorate at a time when there is great political and economic uncertainty. Divisions within the coalition, which will deepen, will inevitably lead to calls for strong governance. Curiously, I believe that coalitions, which I actually favour, are capable of strong government, but coalitions built on the shifting sands of economic uncertainty and the consequential public expenditure reductions are bound to lead to division and the public will inevitably identify division within the coalition with coalition Governments and, sadly, with electoral reform. This is the wrong time to be asking this question, particularly in a referendum that proposes such a controversial system.
The Liberal Democrats, in particular, will have major difficulties in the campaign in squaring their historic position. How do they answer the question: "Do you really believe in the system on offer?". The answer has to be no. If they answer that this is the best on offer, the public will simply turn away. The truth is that the only people who have advocated this system are members of the Labour Party and, even in the Labour Party, they are a minority. Furthermore, we are opposed to this Bill because of the stitch-up on seats, which many Members find objectionable.
Then we have the false prospectus. Many people believe that they are being offered the full Australian classic AV system, but that is not so. They are getting what is being called "a miserable little compromise". We then have those who, either through ignorance or recognition of the inherent weaknesses in multioptional, preferential AV, use arguments to support AV and to justify the system such as, "It works like the London mayoral voting system". That is just a dishonest argument, but we shall hear it in the campaign. It will be fed on the doorstep by proponents of this AV system. They will say that it is like the system used in the London mayoral election. I regard that as fundamentally dishonest.
I also have a fundamental objection to a system that gives equal weight to voters' least favoured preferences and the first preference votes of other voters. How can the seventh preference of a voter in a seven-candidate election be as valid as the first preference of another voter? It is a nonsense.
Equally, I deplore the myth being peddled that AV avoids tactical voting. That is simply untrue. Under the heading, "Factors determining the results in an AV election", the Constitution Society stated in its brief on AV:
"In order to maximise the chances of a preferred candidate, a voter must rank the other candidates in an optimum order, taking account of past results and polling information. (This is a potentially complex exercise which most voters will not attempt themselves: in Australia, the Party organisations publish lists instructing their supporters how to rank the candidates for maximum advantage.)".
In other words, AV provides for tactical voting. I have had some interesting conversations over this past weekend with people in Scotland. I can tell the Committee that the Labour Party, my own party, used tactical voting techniques-and we say it openly in Scotland-during
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Then we have leapfrogging. Under the AV system proposed, third-placed and fourth-placed candidates on the first count can break through and win seats on subsequent counts. This is particularly likely to happen in places such as Scotland, where you have a number of parties seriously contesting what could turn out to be tightly fought marginal parliamentary constituencies. I object most strongly to a system where the sequence in which candidates are eliminated can disproportionately influence who wins an election. Let us take the example of a seat where the top candidate on the first count wins 45 per cent or 46 per cent of the vote. If the bottom candidate, the BNP, wins, say, 8 per cent or 10 per cent of the vote on the first count and 50 per cent of the BNP second preferences transfer to the top candidate, the top candidate wins. The BNP will have determined the result because, following elimination of the bottom candidate and the transfer of eliminated candidates' second preferences, the top candidate has more than 50 per cent and wins. What is most significant about that kind of result, in that count, is that all other additional preferences for all other candidates are ignored, which is the point that I was making earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.
Lord Greaves: Does the noble Lord not agree that all single-member constituency contests are majoritarian contests because the final result is a contest between the person who wins and either one other candidate or a number of other candidates? Therefore, in a majoritarian contest in a single-member seat, at the final count there are always people who have voted for the successful candidate and people who have voted for an unsuccessful candidate or candidates. That is inherent in a single-member majoritarian system. The important thing is that those votes remain in the system at the end, unlike in the supplementary vote system, which the noble Lord espouses, where votes are simply cast aside and not even included in the final count.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord is asking me to reopen the debate that we had on the Floor in a series of interventions, when I answered that point specifically. Before Report, we might be able to do more work on this; we might be able to show that there is a greater loss under the AV system. Perhaps he could ask his researcher to have a look at some of the results in Scotland that I am going to refer to.
We then have this major problem of the electorate's understanding of the proposed system. The Constitution Society in its briefing for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Constitution drew attention to a series of YouGov polls on the issues set out in the Bill. The poll commissioned at the end of August this year interviewed 2,548 respondents. One-third claimed that
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"Before being exposed to information, responses were evenly balanced between 'Yes' (32 per cent) and 'no' (33 per cent). After receiving factual information, the 'no' vote increased to 38 per cent suggesting that exposure to information about AV tends to convince undecided voters against it".
I now turn to other extremely important issues. The first is the 50 per cent myth, which I hope we may have destroyed during our earlier debate today. Let us note how the Constitution Society sees it. In its alternative voting briefing paper, it said:
"Nor, in the 'optional preference' proposed for the UK, does the winning candidate necessarily have an outright majority of the total vote (ie of the total number of people who voted). In Australia, where the AV system is used for House of Representatives elections, voting is compulsory and voters are thus required to allocate a preference to every candidate on the ballot. As a consequence, the winning candidate does always achieve an outright majority of the total".
Professor Patrick Dunleavy, whose work on electoral systems is internationally acclaimed, treats as risible the suggestion that you need 50 per cent to win. He is not a great supporter of AV; he sees it as a compromise system that to some extent has to be supported. But he, like me, is a supporter of electoral reform, in that both of us support AMS-based systems.
However, the real evidence on this came to me by a curious route, following the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and I will quote him because I want to take on this question of Scotland. He said:
Here we have STV operating in Scotland, apart from in by-elections, when the system automatically switches
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Lord Rennard: Can the noble Lord calculate from those figures how many of those by-elections would have been won by a candidate with less than 50 per cent of the vote in the event of the first-past-the-post system being used? He has clearly demonstrated that, in three-quarters of those cases or thereabouts, the candidate elected had to have 50 per cent of the vote. How many cases would have been won by someone with less than 50 per cent had first past the post been retained?
Lord Campbell-Savours: That is not the question. We are dealing here with those who argue that a candidate should need 50 per cent of the poll to win, so do not switch the question to another area. I am only addressing what happens. There are problems with first past the post, which is why I am in favour of electoral reform. I am trying to place on record material to show that those who argue that we need a majority of the electorate to win are simply wrong.
The second important issue is the incidence of the use of additional preferences, which is the principal argument used to justify AV. Last week, I referred to the work of Rallings and Thrasher on results in Queensland, Australia. Colleagues may recall that in the 2009 state elections, 63 per cent of all those who voted "plumped", or voted for, only one candidate. In some areas, as many as three-quarters of all those voting voted for only one candidate. The question is: what would happen in the United Kingdom?
Again following the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, I enlisted the help of Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde. Let me make it clear that I am not reflecting his views-I do not know what he believes in-as I simply asked him for statistical information to be provided. Professor Curtice has given me factual data. I tracked down the six by-election results in Scotland that provide data that indicate the usage of additional preferences under AV. Such data can be secured only where votes are counted electronically, which is why I asked the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, whether the counts would be based on an electronic or a manual basis. Remember that we
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Lord Campbell-Savours: To be frank, I do not understand that either. However, I asked that question and I understand that it is because of the way that votes are counted manually. One returning officer in a seat in Scotland told us that he had different buckets into which he placed different votes and, as the tellers went from count to count, they moved the votes from one bucket to another. Perhaps that has something to do with how they count the additional preferences. As I said, I have not been able to trace that information up to now.
As I said, remember that we are dealing with what are normally STV local authority arrangements where there are by-elections in individual seats. Let me take six seats that were up for single-member election. In Glasgow Ballieston, of those who voted: 100 per cent -obviously-used their first preference vote; 51 per cent did not use their second preference vote; 68 per cent did not use their third preference vote; 84 per cent did not use their fourth preference vote; 91 per cent did not use their fifth preference vote; 92 per cent did not use their sixth preference; and 93 per cent did not use their seventh preference. At another Glasgow Ballieston by-election, of those who voted: 47 per cent did not use their second preference vote; 74 per cent did not use their third preference vote; 83 per cent did not use their fourth preference vote; 92 per cent did not use their fifth preference vote; 93 per cent did not use their sixth preference vote; 94 per cent did not use their seventh preference vote; 94 per cent did not use their eighth preference vote; and 95 per cent did not use their ninth preference. What a system. People are not using their additional preferences.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am slightly perplexed by that argument, which seems to point in the direction of second and further preferences being purposive. One of the noble Lord's earlier arguments was that they were inconsequential.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury:The argument that the noble Lord is advancing suggests that the use of second and further preferences is purposive-that is, the voters are exercising a real choice. If voters are indifferent to some candidates, they may not use their other preferences at all. That is surely right and good, but it works against his earlier argument.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord is correct and has hit the point right on the head. Voters often use their second preferences. That is why we go back to the supplementary vote. Under the supplementary vote system, all the second preferences for all the other candidates are transferred to the top two, whereas under the AV system, that is not the case.
Lord Greaves: The noble Lord is now going back to the supplementary vote. The whole purport of what I said earlier about the supplementary vote is that not all the second preferences of those who voted for other candidates are transferred to the top two candidates. I provided a number of statistics showing that usually a clear majority-sometimes an overwhelming majority-of such votes are not transferred to the top two. That is what is wrong with the supplementary vote. If, in exercising their preferences under the alternative vote, people choose at any stage not to choose between remaining candidates, that is entirely their right. However, if people exercise their right to record a second preference, all such votes should remain in the count to the very end.
Lord Campbell-Savours: However, we are measuring the efficacy of the system. We want the system to work. We want it to make a difference in results. If we are to change to a system in which people simply do not use their additional preferences, why change the system? The advantage of the supplementary vote is that people would use their second preferences. That is what has happened in the mayoral elections, as the noble Lord will know from having seen the data.
In the by-election for the Doon Valley ward of East Ayrshire Council, 52 per cent did not use their second preference vote, 68 per cent did not use their third preference vote, 77 per cent did not use their fourth preference vote and 81 per cent did not use their fifth.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I hope that my noble friend is not casting any aspersions on the good people of Doon Valley, whom I represented for 26 years in the other place. They are the salt of the earth-good mining stock-and people whom he would be proud to know as friends. Indeed, many of them I know as friends. I am sure that he does not mean in any way to disparage them.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I am sure that they are the crème de la crème and the very best, but I am just trying to help them. I want to see a system in operation that works and that does not result in people wasting their votes.
The interesting thing about all these results is shown in my final example. In the by-election for the ward of Drumchapel/Anniesland, 38 per cent did not use their second preferences, 51 per cent did not use their third preferences, 62 per cent did not use their fourth preferences and 68 per cent did not use their fifth preferences. All of that comes from the beginning of the use of AV in the United Kingdom, in Scotland.
On top of that, as we find in Australia, once the parties begin to devise strategies for "plumping", people stop using their preferences altogether and treat the election as a first-past-the-post election. In effect, that means that there is no major change to the system, apart from when people deliberately set out to remove particular Members of Parliament. Those are the circumstances in which there may well be freak results.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: We who have campaigned in such elections, including in another one in East Ayrshire in my former constituency that produced similar statistics, along with all the parties who are represented in this House-and some that are not-know that that is exactly what happens. Before we impose this system more extensively and more widely as the only choice in the referendum paper, we should think carefully about the electorate's experience of the system. I have to say to my noble friend that there is no party represented in this House that does not do exactly what he has identified-I include in that those who are the most active proponents of some form of proportionality.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Being a Welshman, I do not know how to pronounce these names. However, 43 per cent of second preferences, 63 per cent of third preferences, 74 per cent of fourth preferences and 77 per cent of fifth preferences were not used. That is before we get into the big "plumping" campaigns that will be imported from Australia. The results indicate massive abstentions on additional preferences. What are the implications of AV for general elections?
Lord Campbell-Savours: When I asked Professor Curtice for all the results that could be identified, he said that, because of the distinction between manual and electronic counting, we can identify only six results that provide us with the data. If I can secure any more, I will make sure that I make them available to the noble Lord.
The candidates who will be most under threat at the next election under AV will be the Conservatives. Let there be no doubt at all about that. The Conservatives will probably run a fairly straight-forward campaign as they normally do, but the Liberal Democrats will not. In council leaflets being put out by focus groups in parts of the United Kingdom, we are already seeing derogatory references to people in the coalition and to its policies. That is only the start. By the time that we get to the elections next year, we will see some pretty scurrilous literature coming out of the Liberal Democrats about what is going on nationally within the coalition. The Liberal Democrats will put out leaflets claiming credit for the more progressive coalition policies and advising electors to vote tactically, which they will.
The Liberal Democrats election guru-I see the noble Lord, Lord Rennard in his place-cannot stand up now and deny that they will use the AV system tactically in the way that I am suggesting, despite the fact that advocates of the AV component in the Bill say that people will not vote tactically when it is clear
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Lord Greaves: I promise that this is the last time that I will intervene-I am just getting the noble Lord back for his previous interventions on me-but I am not at all sure what right and wrongs of a particular electoral system have to do with all this tittle-tattle about political campaigning at local level.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I think that there is a direct connection because the coalition is comprised of two elements, one of which-the Conservative element-is almost completely hostile to the AV system. All that I am pointing out in advance is the danger of allowing this system to slip through on the back of a referendum. I do not think that the referendum will be won, but it may be won and the Conservatives will have it historically around their necks.
I remind the House and colleagues that the three dirtiest campaigns that I have witnessed in my political life were in the Chester-le-Street by-election, the Manchester Exchange by-election and the Bermondsey by-election. It may well be that many Members here today worked in those campaigns. Those three by-elections had one thing in common: the Liberals were in contention, believed that they could win and were absolutely determined to do so. The Lib Dems believe that they can break through on the back of-
Lord Campbell-Savours: That is not something that I condone, but it is insignificant compared to what happened and to what we picked up on the doorstep during the course of the three campaigns to which I referred. I remember the Bermondsey campaign, which was utterly appalling. The Liberal Democrats believe that they can break through on the back of AV, and they will ruthlessly use this system. I warn the Conservative element in this coalition that this will backfire.
Lord Lipsey:It is very tempting for me to think that, having heard the formidable argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, it is necessary to reply to each of the points he made because as a supporter of AV, I could, and would, readily do so. I think I have some sense that the House would prefer to proceed a little more rapidly than that would imply, and therefore I will resist that temptation and keep my remarks as brief as they can be in view of the substance that I need to impart.
I noticed that during my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours's speech, the Lord Speaker deserted our proceedings. I can only think that she was so convinced by my noble friend's arguments that she realised that she was not a legitimate Speaker of this House. She was elected by AV, a system which my noble friend was destroying, and perhaps because she had not heard me put the counter-case, she felt it necessary to desert her seat. However, I can assure her that she was legitimately chosen by a proper AV system, as are the leaders of the political party of which I am a member, and it is a very good system too.
When debating between SV and AV, as opposed to between first past the post and AV, I sometimes feel that I am back watching television some years ago and watching the Tooting Popular Liberation Front fighting it out with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tooting. As I am Lord Lipsey of Tooting Bec, I particularly enjoy that contest. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and I agree on one thing. It is more important than the things on which we disagree-SV against AV. We are both electoral reformers and therefore hope to see electoral reform emerge eventually from this Bill.
There is at least as formidable a case to be made against SV as my noble friend made against AV. Let us take a point on which the House has spent much too long this afternoon; that is, whether AV requires someone to get 50 per cent or more of the vote. Without going into detail, quite apparently, SV leads to people being elected with a much lower share of the eventual vote than does AV. This can be very serious in four-party marginals, particularly in Scotland. SV simply does not allow the same breadth of choice and the same degree of voter choice as AV. That is just one example of the many points that could be levied against SV.
I shall go through some of the arguments put by my noble friend. He said that this was a panic creation by the coalition. Clearly, it was stitched together in order to create the coalition, but there is nothing panicky about AV. My party has stood for it for quite a while. The Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, favours it. If noble Lords care to look, there is a long list of signatures of very distinguished members of my party who favour AV. Whatever the circumstances that have brought it on to the stage now-I would much rather that it had come on to the stage as the result of a Labour victory in the general election and a Bill containing this clause was being put forward by a Labour Government-I do not think that they are sufficient reason to be against it today. It is not a newly forged system, as noble Lords opposite have pointed out. It has been about for about 100 years and quite often nearly came about.
Moreover, it has been closely examined in recent times by the Jenkins commission, of which I was a member. AV formed part of what was recommended by Jenkins. SV did not. AV maximises voter choice whereas SV gives a relatively limited voter choice. I regard the issue of lower preferences being of lesser importance as being completely without foundation. I would greatly prefer, for example, a Green candidate to a candidate from the British National Party. That is
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I would not claim that AV eliminates tactical voting altogether. Of course, it does not. But it eliminates the most difficult choice for a voter; namely, what will a person do with his single vote if it is a first-past-the- post-system? Will he put first the party that he really prefers or will he put first the party that he would prefer to the third party for which he might vote? That becomes vastly more important between SV and AV in four-member seats.
We will have a long referendum campaign. Whatever system comes out of this Bill and is the system debated in the referendum, I very much hope that all electoral reformers will choose eventually to rally behind it, although having heard my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, it may be that that is an overoptimistic prediction. It is certainly true that the great majority of electoral reformers, including the electoral reformers in the Electoral Reform Society, which historically is almost keener on STV than the Liberal Democrats, have chosen to back this system.
Let us have the debate. This clause will enable it to be put before the people in the referendum, particularly if, in the course of further amendment of the Bill, we make sure that that referendum does not take place, as the coalition proposes, on 5 May 2011.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I failed to contribute to the Second Reading debate on this Bill and have not had the opportunity to spell out the reasons why I am so deeply unhappy about Part 1. Unlike the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Lipsey, I do not believe in any form of proportional representation. The first-past-the-post system has served us extremely well. I do not think that we should move away from it. The problem is that if you believe in any form of proportional representation, you have to believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in coalition government. I know that we have such a Government, but I do not think that that is an overwhelming reason to change the electoral system, which would make it more likely that we would have coalition government in perpetuity.
Surely, the problems of coalition government are being pointed out very well. For example, one could think of the problems that the Liberal Democrats have on the whole question of student fees. The press say to the Liberal Democrats, "Ah, it was a commitment in your manifesto that you would stop student fees rising. Why aren't you voting against the rises in student fees?". But the whole point of coalition government is that the coalition partners bin all their manifesto commitments. That is what comes from coalition government. You end up not with any precise party that you voted for with its commitments in its manifesto;
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Lord Garel-Jones: Would my noble friend be prepared to go a little further and say that one of the inevitable consequences of a fully proportional system is that the Government and the programme that emerges thereafter is, by definition, a programme that no one has voted for?
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: I totally agree with my noble friend. Indeed, you could argue that the coalition agreement drawn up immediately after the election was something that no one voted for. I thought that the Conservative commitment was to repatriating powers from Europe, but nothing much seems to have happened on that front, and I thought that we were going to repeal human rights legislation. A number of things have gone from the Conservative manifesto. I am rather surprised that the Liberal Democrats have been attacked in the way that they have been for binning commitments in their manifesto. That comes with coalition. If the country votes for coalition, which basically is what it has done, it must expect to end up with a Government who produce a number of policies for which no one has voted. That is why I am extremely unhappy about changing our electoral system to make coalition government more likely.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I agree absolutely with the noble Lord that coalitions are likely to arise almost inevitably from a proportional system. But I was interested to hear what he said about the coalition. In the light of his remarks, does he agree that what is happening is that the tail is wagging the dog?
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Indeed, that is another argument. I have been agreeably surprised by the achievements of this coalition Government in terms of the fact that they seem to have grasped many issues, such as welfare reform and reforms in education which former Prime Minister Tony Blair used to dream about and which have been long overdue. I am a great supporter of much of what the coalition is doing, but that does not mean that I want to see coalition governments in perpetuity from hereon.
I was very interested in the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, about the YouGov poll on the alternative vote. In fact, there was a bare majority from a completely ill informed electorate-in fact, there was a no vote by 1 per cent. But when the implications of the alternative vote were spelt out a 33 per cent no vote went up to 38 per cent. I would say to any Conservative that that is very significant indeed. If you have time to explain to people how perfectly ghastly the alternative vote is, the chances of defeating it are greater. Under this Bill, however, we are insisting on cramming the referendum together with the local elections, a point we debated earlier on in this clause.
It worries me tremendously that, if we are not careful, this thing will get muddled through with the local elections. The issues will not be debated properly in the country because people will be much more concerned about whether they are winning or losing in the local elections, and they are not going to come to understand the appalling difficulties that the whole business of an alternative vote brings into the argument. I am deeply apprehensive about it. I keep hearing from people on my side of the House that they support the Bill and think it is a frightfully good idea. They all say, "Don't worry. We are going to defeat it in the referendum". But I notice that a lot of them are the same people who told me that we would get a commanding and overall majority at the general election.
None of us knows what the outcome of any referendum will be. It cannot be forecast with any accuracy because many other factors come into play. I do not have that deep feeling of assurance that we are going to defeat the idea of an alternative vote without any difficulty. Things could very easily go wrong, and if they do, I believe that it will put the Conservative Party at a permanent disadvantage.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, the arguments about AV, SV and STV are fascinating arguments that embrace ethics, philosophy and, one might almost say, theology. But the House will be relieved to hear that what I want to raise is a very limited point which I need only mention in limine, as it were. It relates to the Welsh translation of the question that will be put on the AV ballot paper. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, and I have already raised this matter with the department, but it seems that it may be too late for anything to be done about it. The reason, as I understand it, is that time is of the essence and that it would involve a long exercise in ping-pong between the Electoral Commission, the Welsh Language Board and possibly other bodies which might take many months. Possibly that is the reason why the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, did not go any further than it did.
Be that as it may, perhaps I may point out that the translation that appears in the Bill is one that it would be wholly impossible for the ordinary, intelligent Welsh speaker to understand. I do not doubt that a panel of distinguished academics could justify many parts of it, but in total it is as obscure as ancient Sanskrit to anyone who speaks Welsh from day to day. I speak as one of the half a dozen Members of this House for whom Welsh is their first language, and I must say that it beats me that anyone could have arrived at such an agglomeration of so many different facets.
First, the term, "the UK" is perfectly understandable to anyone living in the United Kingdom, the full term in Welsh, "Deyrnas Unedig", is also well understood, but the initials "DU" have no meaning whatever. "Duw" means "almighty God" in Welsh. I am sure that many people will wonder why there is a reference to the Almighty in this translation. The next matter is the first past the post system, which is referred to in the English version. Whether there is an aversion to taking a reference from the field of horse racing, I know not. It may be something that Non-Conformists
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My noble friend opposite is nodding his head. It means, "The first to the mill shall grind". If one wanted to translate that back into English, one might say something like, "The early bird catches the worm", which would be more understandable. But it has nothing at all to do with first past the post. Someone looking at the English version might ask, "What has this to do with mills and grinding?".
Then we have, "pleidlais amgen", which translates to "the alternative vote". I am no grammarian, but I think I am right in saying that the word "amgen" came into the Welsh language 20 or 30 years ago. Strictly it means "an alternative", but it came into the language in the context of alternative energy, "ynni amgen". Again, people will ask, "What has this to do with energy?".
The totality of this is utterly grotesque and impossible. It may be that nothing can be done about it, but it does no great service to the Welsh language, it does no great service to those whose first language is Welsh, and indeed it is less than worthy of whoever was responsible for the drafting of this part of the Bill.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am sorry to forestall the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. We have an unusual situation here in that the debate on whether this clause should stand part has excited so much interest and depth of discussion. However, it might be for the convenience of the whole House, particularly of the speakers who are expecting to take part in the Question for Short Debate, which would normally commence at about this time, if noble Lords would agree to a proposal by the usual channels that the Committee might adjourn in the middle of this debate and reconvene after the Question for Short Debate. I note that my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath, who is to lead the debate, is in his place, and I believe that most of the other Members who are due to take part are here. I think I can see agreement around the House to this proposal, so it would be appropriate for me to move that the House should now resume. I also suggest that the Committee should not resolve itself into a Committee again until 8.27 pm.
Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, I am somewhat embarrassed to have to start this debate of my choice by apologising for the fact that it was wrongly entitled to include a reference to dog racing on the Tote, which is not an issue because dog racing has already been ceded to the ownership of the various dog stadia. Perhaps there is a lesson in that for us all, as we shall see. This is such a big subject that I am going to trim my words down to the bare essentials of the issue that immediately concern us, given the imminence of what may be an extremely critical and very retrograde decision by the Government following the completion of their invitation to indicative offers for the purchase of the Tote which are due to be completed by Friday evening. We have less than 48 hours to go.
Both this Government and the last Government announced separately their intention to dispose of the Tote. The last Government also said that they would offer to racing half of the realisation value of that disposal. The present Government have set out on a path to explore the potential for the disposal of the Tote, but have made no offer of proceeds going to the benefit of racing. That is not necessarily to say that they are being mean-minded because they may have realised more clearly than the previous Government the problems associated with this disposal. The first question that arises is who owns the Tote. Many people may own the Tote, but the one certainty we have is that the Government do not. So we have the odd situation where both this Government and the last Government are setting out to sell something which they do not have.
I recall a case recently of a bricklayer who tried to sell the Savoy Hotel for a couple of million pounds. He went to prison for theft or fraud. It sounds to me as though the Government, in offering to sell something they do not own, are doing no more than the bricklayer did with the Savoy Hotel. Let us consider the consequences of this. The previous Government, perhaps perceiving this problem, decided that they would put the ownership of the Tote beyond all possible doubt by passing the 2004 Act for horserace betting and the Olympic lottery. That Act remains in place today but has not been fully implemented-certainly not as far as the Tote is concerned-and we now have a situation where, if it was implemented, undoubtedly the Government would be entitled to sell the Tote; but, equally, they would then fall foul of the Brussels controls on state support and would not be allowed to pass any of the proceeds down to the benefit of racing-so racing would be a very big loser.
Let us consider how far the racing industry would be a loser. First, whoever bought the Tote-presumably a bookmaker-would immediately look at the huge burden involved in running Tote operations on the 60 racecourses in the United Kingdom every day of the year, with the need to recruit local staff wherever they were and administer a complex business. It would be only a matter of time before the bookmaker decided that he would be very happy to keep the 550 betting shops and put the potential pool betting benefits into his pocket and to close down, or to so impose charges on the racecourses for running the Tote that the whole of the British racecourse structure would become
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If that happened, the 2 million or so people who go racing nowadays, and who are attracted to do so by the benefit of being able to bet small stakes of £1 or so at a time instead of the bookmakers' minimum stake of £5 or £10 for a bet, would be put into a position where they would not wish to go any further and racing would be destroyed at the social level as a reasonable sporting activity for the multitude.
The bookmakers would take their 550 betting shops and consider them as a worthwhile dividend to put in their pockets, and would almost certainly aggregate them within the totality of their existing betting operations and transfer them to either Gibraltar or Spain and outside the fiscal reach of the United Kingdom. This would have grave consequences for revenue generation in the UK economy. That would be an absolute certainty. Furthermore, racing would cease to derive its contribution from the levy of about £10 million a year. In fact the Tote has generated £84 million of direct benefit in sponsorship and levy for the continuation of the racing structure of the UK in the past four years alone; it is a continuing and vital income stream.
If those things were to happen and there were no racecourse meetings because no one was turning up for them, there would be an immediate curtailment of the United Kingdom thoroughbred breeding industry and its big export potential and huge dollar earnings would be squeezed out of existence. No one will breed horses or buy them when there are no racecourses or attractive meetings at which they can run them. So that would go. One hundred and twenty thousand jobs in Britain-comprising 20,000 full-time employees and 100,000 important temporary and part-time workers-would be destroyed. For these people racing is an extremely important part of the rural economy, without which they would otherwise live in straitened circumstances. Everyone connected with racing would lose if one of the bookmakers came in with an attractive bid and the Government decided to take it.
If that is the predicament and the consequence that racing is facing, what are the alternatives? There are three. I have just described the first one-which is ruinous to racing-where the Tote is sold to the highest bid from whichever bookmaker has the deepest pockets; and then, because of Brussels' strictures, the Government would not be able to pay any proceeds into racing and would destroy racing's livelihood by removing the on-course facilities beyond recovery.
The second alternative is a partial disposal of the tote in stages, whereby they offer the on-course Tote facility to the racing industry-either the British Horseracing Authority or the Jockey Club-and leave in the hands of the Jockey Club enough facilities to continue to run each day. Immediately, I suspect, it would be much worse off because there would be considerable extra costs in doing it on its own because the betting shops chain makes a significant contribution to the overheads required to run the Tote on-course. So that would be a loser straightaway. The pool betting operation, which is renewed once every seven years by government licence, would have to go to the racecourses
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The third alternative is that if the Government decided not to fully implement the 2004 Act, they would be free to do what they want with the Tote without interference from Brussels. So give the whole Tote to racing, lock, stock and barrel, and charge nothing for doing so. The Government would then be a bigger financial winner than they would be by selling the Tote. For example, first, the British Tote turnover would not be aggregated with those of companies that have already decamped to Spain and Gibraltar and the Government would continue to receive the fiscal income deriving from the operation of the Tote in the UK; secondly, they would have all the advantages of the corporation tax arising on the various breeding concerns and the profits that they make on thoroughbred breeding activities-they would be on a winner there; and, thirdly, the Tote, which generates £10 million a year for the continued health and vitality of racing through its contribution to the levy, would continue to operate in such a way as would help sustain 120,000 much needed jobs in rural locations. It sounds like a win-win situation to me.
In those circumstances, I hope the Government will now look very closely at the indicative offers they will receive by Friday evening-which will come from bookmakers who are, with two exceptions, already based in Gibraltar and Spain-and decide that the better option is to go along the path of allowing racing to retain its integrity as an entity, with the ownership of the Tote within it. Racing will then, at long last, come out of the dark night of the soul through which it has been going, where it does not know what it is or what its future is to be, and get on with the job of running itself in good order.
The origins of the racing industry go back 350 years. When Nell Gwynn and her lady friends at Newmarket decided they needed a rest from the King and his courtiers in the afternoon, they told them all to go out and ride races. That led to the creation of the Jockey Club and, in turn, the Jockey Club created one of the great glories of British sporting life-the racing industry as it is today. Do not let the Government throw it away. They can keep it and allow it to foster new wealth and achievement and to maintain its place as a leading glory of British sporting life on the world stage. In the words of the Nike ad-"Just do it, Government, please".
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I declare a remote interest as a member of the Starting Price Regulatory Commission; in a broader sense as a former director of the Tote; as chairman of the Shadow Racing Trust, which was set up to buy the Tote for racing; and as a former chair of the British Greyhound Racing Board.
I shall start with greyhound racing, to which the noble Lord referred only briefly. I hate to rebuke the noble Lord, because we are grateful to him for raising
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The second thing that I want to clarify-I am sure that I do not need to clarify it for the noble Lord-is the relationship between the Tote and greyhound racing. The Tote, like most other bookmakers, pays a voluntary contribution towards the sustenance of greyhound racing-0.6 per cent of its greyhound racing turnover-and does a small amount of sponsorship. This is not totally insignificant; it is a voluntary levy that goes to greyhound racing and not all bookmakers pay it in full. If the Government proceed to a sale-we will come back to that in a moment-and the Tote is sold to one of those bookmakers that fail to meet their obligations and do not pay the full levy, that would be a tremendous blow for greyhound racing. Those kinds of bookmaker do not deserve to own the Tote, because they do not contribute money that goes mostly to the welfare of retired greyhounds. I am very tempted this evening to name those that do not pay. They have been warned and I am sure that the Government know who they are.
That is what greyhound racing gets out of the Tote. I should say, for the sake of clarity, that the Tote-the outfit in Wigan that we are debating tonight-does not run Tote pools, the pool betting at greyhound tracks. Those are run by individual tracks. A scheme is forthcoming under which tracks will be able to link their totes in order to offer daily placepot and jackpot bets, which I am sure will yield huge returns for greyhound racing. Unfortunately, the last Government decided to legislate so that tracks would not have a monopoly on providing pool betting after 2012. They did not know, when they chose 2012, that we would still be fiddling around with the Tote so many years later.
That brings me to the core of my remarks on the Motion, which concern the Tote and horseracing. There is a very long history to this. One Prime Minister talked about bearing the scars on his back. The noble Baroness, Lady Golding, can probably see the scars on my back, through my suit, of the Government's attempt to rid the public sector of the Tote. The last Conservative Government tried to do it, but could not manage it. Gordon Brown, who did not like to be out-privatised by anyone, immediately tried to do it, but he did not succeed. The Shadow Racing Trust, which I chaired, was set up to buy it for racing, but it ran into the roadblock of the European Union, which decided that, if we were to buy it for anything under the market price, that would be a form of artificial state aid. I am afraid that the then Government, like, I suspect, most British Governments, did not have the guts and courage that the noble Lord, Lord James,
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For more than a decade, the poor old business of the Tote has operated with a sword of Damocles hovering above its neck. Is it to be privately owned, racing owned or something cobbled together? Uncertainty, caused by government dither, is no way to run a railroad. What the Tote now needs, above all, is a period of stability. This could involve a permanent retention of the status quo, which, after all, has worked reasonably well for the business and for racing over the years. If there is to be a change, let us have quick, clear decisions from Ministers, as an act of mercy to the Tote's board, its management and its superb staff. This matter cannot be left in limbo any longer just so that Ministers can exercise political virility by saying that they are determined to do something about it when it may well be that there is nothing sensible to be done.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord James, for introducing the subject. He embarked on his discourse by questioning the ownership of the Tote. I absolutely agree. What business do the Government have to claim that they own the Tote? I had the temerity to bring up the subject at a meeting of the All-Party Racing and Bloodstock Group during the period of the last Administration, on an evening when the Minister for Sport was in a tired and emotional mood. He turned to me rather sharply and said, "You may not have realised-it may have passed you by-that we won the election with a majority of 179", or whatever it was, "and the reason why we're going to take the Tote into our possession is political will". There was no point in further conversation, but I am not absolutely clear where we are now. The noble Lord brought up ownership: I thought that it was, by fair means or foul, in the hands of the Government.
I apologise to the House if the rest of my remarks are in rather simple terms. I am designing them for those who, more and more, zap the television. The last couple of times I have been in your Lordships' House, I have had people come up to me saying, "I fell upon the parliamentary channel. Your speech was very nice, but I did not understand a word of what you were talking about". With the greatest respect to the two noble Lords who spoke before me, I wonder whether somebody listening to the debate who does not go racing would know what we were talking about.
It is a very simple matter. Racing, which is an important part of this country's sporting and cultural life, is in a parlous state. Very few people know that. The all-seeing and all-knowing noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, answered a Question in this House about
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It is important to explain to those who tune in to the parliamentary channel that the Tote is a brand name. I say with the greatest respect to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that when he talks about the Tote, he is talking about two things. He is talking about the betting shops that were acquired over a period of years, thanks to a former head of the Tote who found that he could borrow money to create some bottom-line profit to the totalisator organisation-these shops compete with the other betting shops owned by the major chains-and he is talking about the pool.
It is the pool that interests me, because, when the sale comes about, if it does come about, the shops will have quite a considerable value, though not as considerable as the value was three or four years ago. Some people were talking about £400 million. I doubt whether it would be anything near that today, for all kinds of reasons, notably because people are not betting on horses in betting shops in the way that they were; they are betting on other sports. The turnover and profit of bookmakers have suffered to the extent that the levy, which is the machinery designed to get a contribution from the bookmakers for allowing them to take bets on horses, has sunk to a level at which it is impossible to maintain the funding of racing. Other solutions have been sought and the sale of the Tote is part of those solutions. We have been discussing this for years, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, says. Part and parcel of the whole business of dealing with racing at the moment, I am afraid, is that it has been impossible to find any consistency or common direction of thought among racing's constituent parts. I shall be interested to see what the next move is.
The pool itself came about in the 1920s to run alongside bookmakers, who were allowed to continue with their profession, but in betting terms it has always been the poor partner in the business of accepting bets from people who are foolish enough-I have been one-to bet on horses on a regular basis. If the pool has a future, we cannot have a Tote monopoly. We cannot even talk about one any longer. Most other countries decided, though, that a Tote monopoly was the way to go; it was the only way in which you could fund racing. Curiously, and I do not know whether the Minister can respond on this, within the past few years, I am not quite clear by what means-I do not know whether the bookmakers had an influence on the Office of Fair Trading, because they are very good at what they do-the OFT came out with what seems to be an utterly ridiculous decision. It said that the totalisator pool operations-I think that that is what
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For a pool to work properly, you have to have a lot of people paying into it-in this case, a lot of people who bet on horses at race meetings going to the Tote in large numbers. It is no good carving it up, giving it to racecourses and saying, "You run your own Tote". I wonder who made the decision at the Office of Fair Trading and what the motive behind it was. We still have this hanging over us, and I hope that the Minister will tell us if there is any way in which we can get that decision revoked. You cannot sell the Tote for anything if it has a lifespan of-it was seven years originally-only three years to go.
In the long term, though, the pool is the interesting part of race betting because we have new technologies and wider markets. People around the world are interested in British racing and may well want to bet into totalisator pools here. If enough energy and funding were put into setting the ball rolling, that might be the answer to a lot of our problems. People may think that I am again advocating a Tote monopoly. Maybe subconsciously I am, but I know that it is not a possibility. You cannot tell the bookmakers to go; they would have to be recompensed and that is not something that a Government would tolerate. Still, I would like an answer on that from the Government if possible.
It is amazing how the racing world is split into various compartmentalised interests. We now have a campaign, on which a great deal of money has been spent, called Racing for Change. That is complete nonsense. It is trying to get a whole new public to get interested in racing, when those of us who are already interested in it know that racing is like coin collecting or bridge-you become passionately fond of it and obsessed by it. You get interested in every part of racing. I do not see how Racing for Change, in getting lots of young men to go out and drink in the afternoons at Kempton Park, is going to alter that position substantially. I think that the horseracing authority is mad to pay £6 million, or however much it is.
My conclusion is that the Government must understand this subject, as I hope that anyone who is listening to me on the parliamentary channel will have done, and that they really must try to get a grip of this thing and decide which is the best way to go. I will lay my position on the table: the Tote should remain where it is, in a relationship with the Government. Sell the betting shops and get what you can for the Government-I suppose that the Treasury will take the greater part of that-but put the rest of the money into developing the Tote pool, because there you have some hope. Then I will not have go to the meetings with the All-Party Racing and Bloodstock Group, where everyone looks at each other, repeats themselves endlessly for years on end and we get nowhere.
Lord Patten: My Lords, given the choice, I would choose to address the House rather than the Parliament Channel. I was interested to hear that the noble Viscount get perilously close to suggesting that, because of the allegedly parlous state of the racing industry, there
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I have no financial or institutional interests in racing of any kind, although I would have a hide as thick as a rhinoceros if, living where we do in the West Country, a few miles away from the epicentre of National Hunt training in Paul Nicholls's stable at Ditcheat, a certain amount of racing had not entered my DNA. It is certainly much in the local area, so much so that the excellent shoe and boot mender in Wincanton, a local market town, when not mending shoes and boots, owns a leg of a horse here and a couple of legs of a horse there. Notoriously, three weekends ago a number of us went to collect our orders on Saturday but there was a large sign in the shop saying "Gone racing. Have a horse running today. Sorry". Everyone understood, and no one demurred at all from his decision.
We are lucky to have him in Wincanton high street, by the way. So many high streets in market towns are struggling against the depredations of large superstores put by unwise councils on the edges of towns, dragging the centre of gravity away from such market towns as still struggle on. I wish that the local district council had not done so in that particular area. I am happy to be in coalition with my noble friend Lady Garden on the Front Bench, but I certainly do not regard myself as being in coalition with South Somerset District Council and her dotty Liberal Democrat friends down there; I have signed no pledge in that respect. However, that is a matter for another day.
I move from the destruction of market towns to selling off the "nanny goat", as the Tote is sometimes inelegantly referred to on some racecourses. This has been going on for far too long. In the mid-1980s, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, referred to, the Tories had a good look. Merchant bankers were actually employed, at some price, but the process ran into the sands after a number of years. From 2001 onwards there was the Labour manifesto commitment, which has already been referred to. Once again, advisers were employed at huge cost, although the so-called merchant bankers of the 1990s had in the mean time been transmogrified into the renamed "investment bankers" of the early noughties, though their trade in essence remains exactly the same. Heaven knows how much money has been spent on advisers since the 1980s and how much Civil Service time has been taken up by what to do with the Tote. How many special advisers have given their special advice to Ministers, unable in the end to get the business through? Shedloads of time and money have been expended, to no avail.
So I applaud the coalition and its pledges. The most recent announcement was from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on 15 September, launching the open market process this autumn. I congratulate the coalition Government on sticking to their seasonality because "the autumn" is an infinitely expandable and extendable term, sometimes going well on into the new year and into the year after that. The process, however, is happening and the bidders are putting their bids in, as my noble friend said in his introductory
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I seek confirmation from my noble friend Lady Garden on one thing when she winds up tonight. Is the timetable of the resolution of this issue-the dusting and selling off of the Tote by July 2012-still in place? Is there any room whatever for delay, yes or no? As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said in his speech, this process has been going on for far too long. It needs to be resolved. The selling off of the Tote will soon turn into flogging a pretty dead nanny goat for its share of horseracing betting is in decline-it has now about 5 or 6 per cent of the market left in the face of competition from much bigger players, not least the online providers. So the answer better be "yes" in reality. Unless we get on with it, there will not be much left to sell; no one will want this beast. Value is being exhausted by the month.
So is it all worth it? Should one go through this whole agonising process for a very low number of hundreds of millions of pounds? The answer is, yes, we should, because this country is in great difficulty. Every little helps. We have the desperate need to re-establish equilibrium between government, corporate and personal debt in this country and to reduce all three. We can do a lot to reduce government debt. We can sell assets. For example the lands that are in the ownership of many government departments will produce very substantial sums. At the same time smaller assets like the Tote will not produce very much. However, they are all assets and in this process there can be no special pleading. If we are serious about reducing government debt over the life of this Parliament-as I know my noble friend Lady Garden is-we have to raise all the money that we possibly can. This is particularly the case in racing. Some people in racing may be in difficulty but an awful lot of 50 per cent taxpayers in racing are in no personal financial difficulty of any sort at all. My friend, the Wincanton cobbler, does not come into that tax bracket.
There should not be any special pleading in reductions of Government expenditure in the matter of the hypothecation of certain sums because it would be nice to help this or that special interest. If we go down this route, we will not get anywhere close enough to reducing debt in the way in which we should in the lifetime of this Parliament. I expect that the Chancellor, the Chief Secretary and, in this place, my noble friend Lord Sassoon, should set their faces like iced marble against blandishments to the contrary and should not allow special pleading of the sort that we have heard across the Chamber this evening. They will have my strong support if they do.
I also hope that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, who is winding up for the Opposition and is a distinguished private banker, who understands matters about balance sheets in his bank as much as balance sheets in the national account, will take the same robust approach. The proceeds of the Tote sale should go in toto to paying down financial government debt. We should not give in to the blandishments of special pleading.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I rise not as a private banker but as somebody who has listened with enormous interest to this debate. I knew very little about the Tote before I started the research for this evening. I found the speeches fascinating. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, on initiating this debate and in particular on the very interesting ideas that he came up with during his speech. Some of the number of topics that I wish to question the Minister on have been raised obliquely by other speakers. I will try to be as direct as possible.
John Penrose MP, the DCMS Minister, said that the Government would seek bids for the Tote this autumn-as we have heard. We now know that the bids have to be in by Friday. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, said and wants confirmation that the Tote will be sold next June. Fascinatingly, the noble Lord, Lord James, suggests that the Government do not have the right to sell the Tote because they do not own it. I would be particularly interested-as I am sure you all would be-in an answer to that question.
Given that the operating profit of the Tote was £13 million, up considerably on the year before, it is critical-and I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten-that the money from the proceeds should go back into horseracing. Related to that, will the Minister confirm what will happen with any sale proceeds? George Osborne said in a Budget Statement that the Government would,
What commitment can the Minister give in regard to the staff who work at the Tote's headquarters in Wigan and the other 4,000 estimated staff who work for the Tote? The Government must say what they plan to do with the Tote to resolve the uncertainty for the staff and management as well as the horseracing industry. One of the themes that has emerged this evening is the lack of certainty about the future.
My final point is one that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord James. How will the Government satisfy the EU that any money from the sale ploughed back into horseracing will not be ruled as an illegitimate state aid to the horseracing industry? Again, thank you all for such an interesting and informative debate. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I join in the thanks to my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath for securing this debate. He will be aware that the Government announced in the Budget on 22 June that they would resolve the future of the Tote over the next 12 months in a way that secures value for the taxpayer and recognises the support that the Tote currently provides to the racing industry-which is a point that has been picked up by a number of noble Lords in their speeches. The noble Lord, Lord James, set out
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As we have heard, the Tote is the key provider of funds to the racing industry, providing approximately £11 million per annum in the form of commissions, sponsorships and grants over and above the statutory levy that all bookmakers pay. As noble Lords will know, the previous Government were also fully committed to removing the Tote from Government ownership and put in a very considerable effort over a 12-year period to achieve that aim. This length of time has been referred to in noble Lords' comments. However, a combination of factors, notably market conditions and European competition rules, worked against them. We recognise the challenges that selling the Tote presents but we believe that the conditions are right to remove the Government from involvement in the Tote. The Government reaffirmed their resolve to do so in a Statement to the House of Commons on 15 September.
I am happy to confirm that the Government remain firmly on course to achieve the objectives set out in the Budget by resolving the future of the Tote by June 2011-about which my noble friend Lord Patten asked for specific clarification In line with that objective, the Government launched an open market process last month, inviting proposals from interested parties. As we know, the closing date for submitting proposals to Lazard, the Government's financial advisers in this process, is Friday, 10 December. The process is open to all organisations that have an interest in the Tote. We recognise the uncertainty that this long, drawn-out process has generated among those who work for the Tote.
The statutory framework governing the Government's right to sell the Tote is found in Part 1 of the Horserace Betting and Olympic Lottery Act 2004. In broad terms, the Act provides that on a day appointed by the Secretary of State the Tote will cease to exist and all its property, rights and liabilities will transfer to a new company known as the successor company, being a company limited by shares and wholly owned by the Crown. The 2004 Act also provides that the Gambling Commission may, if the Secretary of State so requires, issue to the successor company an exclusive seven-year licence. The exclusive licence will grant the successor company the right to carry on pool betting business in connection with horseraces on approved horserace courses. I hope that gives some reassurance to my noble friend Lord Falkland, given his enthusiasm for the pool betting side of the business. It is expected that, as a condition of the licence, the successor company must ensure that adequate facilities for pool betting are made available in all areas of each approved horserace course on days when horseracing takes place on that racecourse. The exclusive licence can be granted only once. After the seven-year period has expired, the pool betting business will be open to competition.
I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that in advance of the closing date by which proposals have to be submitted, and for reasons of commercial confidentiality, I am not in a position at present to comment further on the process by which we intend to resolve the future of the Tote. Nevertheless, I stress that the Government
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My noble friend Lord James expressed his concerns on a number of fronts. The Government do not anticipate the dire consequences of removing themselves from the Tote that he suggests. I am afraid that the Government cannot simply hand over the Tote to racing; the Tote being a statutory corporation. To do so would undoubtedly constitute a state aid. I can also confirm that any new owner of the Tote will still be obliged to pay levy at the going rate. The pool betting, too, is a profitable business which we expect will continue to flourish and grow in any new ownership. However, I stress that final decisions have yet to be taken. The process that is under way has received a wide range of proposals and the Government will carefully analyse all of these before reaching their decision on the way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, talked about the Greyhound Racing Trust and the greyhounds, which did not feature so prominently in other speeches. We all recognise the popularity of greyhound racing in communities, how important it is to many people and the enthusiasm that it generates. In 2010, the Tote made a donation of more than £400,000 to the Greyhound Racing Trust. We hope that the Tote's successor company will continue to make these charitable donations. However, I am sure your Lordships will understand that we cannot, of course, make this a condition of the open market process.
I am happy to clarify for the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, what will happen to the Tote's statutory monopoly on horserace pool betting. As I mentioned, any new owner will be granted an exclusive seven-year licence to run pool betting, and will be required to do so on all racecourses. After seven years, the pool betting will be open to competition, but on terms that will need to satisfy the Gambling Commission. However, the owner of the first and only exclusive licence will be in a good position in that respect at that distant point in the debate.
I think that I have responded to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, about the date. I am delighted that he mentioned that he was glad to be in the coalition, at least in this Parliament. I am sorry that he has differences with his local government
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I think that I have answered most of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Evans. As regards his specific question about the EU, the Government have not yet reached a decision on how to proceed, so it is premature to speculate about what might happen to the proceeds of any sale. However, any sharing of proceeds will need to comply with EU state aid and competition rules. We shall have to await further notice on those.
If there are questions that I have not answered, I shall pick them up in Hansard and undertake to write to noble Lords. I renew my thanks to my noble friend Lord James, for initiating this debate. It has, indeed, been enlightening for me as well as for the noble Lord, Lord Evans. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in it. We shall see what happens after the offers for the Tote come in.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I was rudely interrupted by the usual channels, who adjourned the House just as I was on the point of delivering my remarks. I shall try to pick up the morale of the whole debate by opening out this time. We are debating whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill. What I really want to say, perhaps more than anything else, is that any observer watching the debate on this clause so far would have noticed one thing above all else-that there was absolutely no real detectable enthusiasm whatever for having a referendum: and if we did have a referendum, there was certainly no enthusiasm for the choice of having the alternative vote.
We are having a debate about a flagship Bill of this Government. It is more than a flagship Bill; it is a major constitutional Bill. Indeed, as Nick Clegg has said, it is part of the most ambitious programme of constitutional reform since 1832. Three members of his party at the moment want to be part of this great constitutional Bill, the greatest since the Great Reform Act. I am absolutely certain that if my Government had brought forward a great constitutional Bill, not only would a fair number of people have wanted to take part in the debates, they would do so enthusiastically. It does not happen very often-we have the statistics and it happens only once every 170 years, or however many years it has been since the last huge reform, according to Nick Clegg. That has been noticeably absent. The overwhelming majority of the speakers have either been very strongly in favour of first past the post, as I am, or else they have been people like my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Rooker
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I have to say that I was slightly fearful of contributing a lot to this debate, because I acknowledge that I am one of life's anoraks when it comes to looking at electoral systems, and I really do not want to be labelled as an anorak, although I have not got past first base on being an anorak. Another thing was really noticeable in, for example, the exchanges between my noble and very good friend Lord Campbell-Savours and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. It scrambled my brain, and I do not know what it would have done to the electorate in the course of a referendum. That is one of the many, many reasons why this is a bad Bill and this clause is a bad clause. Although the debate is important and significant, it has been in some parts almost unintelligible, certainly incredibly detailed. Now, if that is the case when we are discussing it among people who acknowledge that we are in a tiny minority of the electorate who are actually very interested in these things, how on earth will that be a substantial debate in the country? You can just imagine the near impossibility of getting some of these arguments over to the electorate. Of course I am not saying that it is because the electorate are dim, of course I am not saying that. I am saying that it is of no great concern to people, and if it is of no great concern to you, you do not apply yourself to the arguments. That is what I confidently expect will happen as and when this referendum takes place.
We all know that we have the authority of the Electoral Commission in its report, which is in a pile of documents in my office. I am sure that Members on the Front Benches will have read it cover to cover. The report states clearly that the public simply do not understand AV. Noble Lords may check it. If any of the proponents of AV are happy, as my noble friend Lord Snape has said, to go down any road that they are familiar with in any part of Britain, in any constituency, they should ask the public what they make of AV, let alone the single transferable vote or whatever else is on the menu.
Lord Campbell-Savours: On that question of understanding, when I asked MPs how AV worked, the great majority did not know or gave a completely wrong explanation. So if MPs do not understand it, how can we expect the great British public to understand it?
Lord Grocott: As we know, my noble friend is a reformer who supports change, and he is honest enough to acknowledge just that. The debate that we are having-the subject that we proposing to spend a large sum of money on and put to the public-is basically of interest to only one or two university departments. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Norton, who is sound on a lot these issues, in his place. If I was the parent of a university-age son or daughter who was thinking of taking politics, I would say, "Go to the University of Hull".
Lord Bach: I agree absolutely with my noble friend, and I think that my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath does, too. His son, as I understand it, has just started a course at the University of Hull.
Lord Grocott: My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours asked which AV system, but no doubt there is a specialist MA course on that. Does that not give us some of the answers? A few university departments quite properly consider these things, as well as one or two writers for the Guardian newspaper, which seems to think that this is the way that you can solve most of life's ills, and I assume that these debates take place at branch meetings of the Liberal Democrat party. They must be a lot of fun. I am sorry that I missed them.
Lord Grocott: We are spending millions of pounds on dealing with, as far as the public are concerned, a non-existent problem. That is one of several reasons why I am not sure it is worth proceeding with the Bill, let alone endorsing Clause 1.
On the Government's defence of the Bill, I should make one or two observations that are fair. Perhaps the most serious is that there has been no attempt, so far as I can see, even to address the issue that Nick Clegg raised: that this is part of a great reforming programme. There has been no attempt to relate what we are doing in this Bill to what is happening on any other constitutional reform measure. This is particularly true when considering electoral systems.
You would not think that somewhere down the track-I hope, or expect, a long way down the track-a Bill will come forward about Lords reform. We are already told that the electoral system to be used is proportional representation. What form of proportional representation? I really do not know. There are far more forms of it than there are of AV. I did not know about all the alternatives to AV until my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours got cracking on it. He will be a joy to listen to when we discuss the various forms of proportional representation in detail. Whenever I have had a debate with proponents of proportional representation-I have had several-and whenever I thought I was close to winning the case for first past the post, their rejoinder was always the same: "Oh, it's not that kind of proportional representation that we are in favour of. It is some other kind". So those private debates and discussions go on.
I would really like to know from Members on the Front Bench opposite, before we proceed any further with the Bill, how many different electoral systems they think it is proper for the United Kingdom-a country of 60 million people-to have. We already have five different systems.
Lord Strathclyde: I hope that the noble Lord will remind us that in 1997 there was only one system. By 2010, there were considerably more, and they had been brought in, on his watch, by the noble Lord's Government, whom he avidly supported.
Lord Grocott: I have to admit in the privacy of this Chamber that I did my very best to stop them. However, you do not get all that you want in life, as the two parties in the coalition know well enough. It is an issue that must be addressed, and I tell the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if he would like to report this back to senior management-
Lord Grocott: He is senior management, but not top management. Perhaps he should bring back a Bill that said, "Let's have a single electoral system for the United Kingdom". He can attack the Labour Government if he wants; I would not agree with him on that, although I will on this issue. We have tried all these other systems. They all have serious failures. Is anyone going to challenge me on that on the systems that we have actually seen and observed? They all have serious failures. They do not end the debate. If any Scottish colleague wants to suggest to me that there are no longer any discussions in Scotland about the merits of the additional member system-
Lord Rooker: Here is where my noble friend and I part. The additional member system in Scotland gave, for the first time in years, Conservative representation to Conservative voters. So there is a discussion: that is, that it works. That was the problem. My noble friend was defending first past the post at very high levels during our time in government. Can he explain how, during the 13 years while the iron curtain was collapsing and democracy was starting to flourish in eastern Europe, we could not export first past the post to a single country? Add to that South Africa, eastern Europe. There was not one. We could not export the system that we had in 1997, so it is quite right that we tried other systems, because they proved to be wholly beneficial.
Baroness Adams of Craigielea:I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that the additional member system does not work. We may have Conservatives representing not Conservative voters but Conservative Party policy and cherry picking issues because they do not represent any particular constituents. We have a system in which those directly elected by the local people have up to eight members following them around from the additional list, picking off issues and raising them in policies. I am sorry; it does not work.
Lord Grocott: I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Adams. I would just like to gently remind my good friend Lord Roper, and he will remain my good friend whatever different views we take on this issue, that the Berlin Wall did not come down during a Labour Government. The new democracies in eastern Europe predated our beloved Labour Government, but the international comparisons-for me, at any rate-can never be as telling and compelling as the operation of different systems in a single unitary system. That is the most telling evidence: not what happens in
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The only comments I would make on the performance of these systems are these. First, the question does not solve the debate about electoral reform, for the very simple reason that as soon as these systems come into operation, their faults become manifest. To me, the one good thing about having all these systems is that I no longer have to debate with people on the basis of an existing system with failings-I acknowledge that first past the post has its failings-against some El Dorado of a system that solves all known ills. I am able to say, "You told us this would happen with this particular electoral system, and I can demonstrate that it did not happen". If someone has continually told you over a period of many years-most of my political career-that proportional representation for Europe, for example, would greatly increase public interest and involvement in elections because it would offer a real opportunity to get Labour members in the south-east or Conservative members in the north-east, where both parties are badly underrepresented, now you can say, "It simply has not happened".
There are two real characteristics of the various attempts at different electoral systems, and they are crystal clear for anyone who takes an objective view. First, they are associated with low turnouts. There is no greater involvement by the public, and no greater connection that we heard so much about from one or two people before, than between the public and their elected representatives. The second characteristic, which I fear very much for the AV system and which is very noticeable and should be of concern to everyone in the House, is that they are associated with very high levels of spoilt ballot papers.
I do not want to predict what would happen if the AV vote were carried-God forbid that it were-but if it were, you can be absolutely certain that the numbers of spoilt ballot papers would increase, and increase dramatically. There are more spoilt ballot papers for the European elections, where the turnout is about 35 per cent, than there are for Westminster elections, where the turnout is 64 per cent. If that is not a statistic that should be put on the table and be of concern to anyone who cares about our democracy and its operation, then it really should be.
Finally, the only really solid justification that I have heard from the supporters of AV, as it is in this Bill, is that it ensures that MPs are elected on a majority vote. I loved the exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and my noble friend Lord Rooker, and I thought-you would expect me to say this-that my two noble friends comprehensively demolished the argument that even under AV there was a guarantee that the winning candidate would be a majoritarian.
Lord Greaves: The noble Lord does me the privilege of talking about me the moment I walk into the Chamber. Can I just say that I have never made that argument about AV. Others no doubt have but I have
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Lord Grocott: I think that is a very honourable and honest thing to say. I was not so much referring to what he had said so much as to the debate between the two of them. I do wish that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, with his characteristic honesty on these matters, would gently, while we are debating things over here, move forward and whisper in the ear of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who constructs his near total defence of the AV system on the idea that it guarantees that MPs would have majority support. I do not know who is right. Is there another division among the Liberal Democrats on this particular issue? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McNally, could address that. I do not know whether he is responding to this debate or not. He is not. He looks relieved as he says not.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I was listening to a "News at Ten" bulletin the other day and there was a discussion about AV. Again the newscaster referred to it requiring more than 50 per cent. We have to get the story out to a lot of people that the 50 per cent issue does not arise under AV. The national media still keep peddling this story.
Lord Grocott: I am not surprised. During the time in office of the previous Labour Government, the national media frequently said that Labour had a majority in the House of Lords. They do not know the difference between "majority" and "largest party": we are used to that. My concern about the constant reference to a majority is more fundamental. I simply report to the House that I was not as clever as some of my friends who ensured that they represented seats in the Commons where there was majority support in election after election. I had that luxury on only one of the four occasions when I managed to convince the electorate that I should be their Member under the first past the post system. I cannot remember the figures. They were about 42, 44 or 46 per cent: then in the end-bingo-it was more than 50 per cent. I did not think that it was of any great significance until I started reading some of the debates in the run-up to this one.
I assure the House-and if any noble Lord wishes to intervene, they are welcome to do so-that I do not know whether I had 50 per cent of the vote. I had to check it because I am now a fully paid-up member of the anorak society and had to know the facts about my own electoral history. It does not make a shred of difference. First, your voters do not know whether you have a majority. If I did not know, I am sure that they did not. It does not make a scrap of difference to your work as a Member of Parliament. The notion that it is vital for Lib Dem, Conservative or Labour voters in constituency A, B or C to have a Member of Parliament of their party is wrong, because 99.9 per cent-and that is a low estimate-of the people who come to you when you are a Member of Parliament do so irrespective of your party or theirs. They come to you with exactly the same range of issues whether you have a majority or not.
Lord Rennard: If the noble Lord is so convinced by the strength of his arguments over the past 21 minutes, why is he so frightened of putting this to the British people in a referendum so that they can decide the issues?
Lord Grocott: I would not have taken so long if I had not had so many interesting interventions. I am afraid that I will have to toss this back at the noble Lord. If the Lib Dems are so convinced, as they have been telling me ad nauseam over the years, that the British public are crying out for electoral reform, why on earth are they desperately putting the referendum on the same day as other elections, in the hope that they might get 30 or 35 per cent of the electorate to turn out? I understood that the public were queueing up to take part in any opportunity to get rid of the old, discredited system, as the Lib Dems call it. I am afraid that that is another theory that has been tested under fire and found wanting.
This clause will stand part of the Bill. It has limped along, drawing no enthusiasm from any of its proponents. I understand that there are always dilemmas about whether you can support your own Government in office. I do not criticise anyone, but I have no doubt what would happen if we had a good old-fashioned secret ballot on the Bill, nor about what would have happened if a secret ballot had been held in the Commons before they sent the Bill here. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, knows this as well as I do. He is well versed in the machinations of the higher echelons of parties-at least he was when I knew him-and he knows perfectly well that this is a friendless Bill and that this clause is certainly a friendless clause. I hope that we will remember that when we continue debating the Bill.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has been rather unfair on his noble friend Lord Lipsey, who gave an excellent and much briefer speech in support of Clause 1. I will follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, by being brief and to the point. I will concentrate for a few minutes on the issue of turnout, which has been a constant concern of all of us across the House this evening-and rightly so, because we are all anxious to look again at the involvement of our fellow citizens in the way in which we vote.
There have been one or two trips down memory lane this evening, and I hope your Lordships will indulge me for a couple of minutes. On the last wintry day of February 1974, in a very scattered rural constituency in Cornwall, 83 per cent of those who were registered to vote turned out. In those days, there were many fewer postal votes, so most voters went to the polls. Why? Because those very wise Cornish men and women knew that the result would be very close. It had been relatively close at the previous election. They were right: I had a majority of nine, which, even in those days, was thought to make mine a rather unsafe seat. In subsequent elections I did better. I confess to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that I cannot remember whether I constantly got more than 50 per cent of the vote, but I certainly did on one or two occasions, and I built a majority of 9,000. What happened?
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: Perhaps the noble Lord could explain that the importance of that day-which I, too, remember well-was that it was a verdict
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Lord Tyler: That is not true, because in other parts of the country the turnout was not 83 per cent. It was 83 per cent in my constituency because the contest was seen to be very close. When I had a majority of 9,000 plus, down it went. Because it was not so interesting and the votes were not going to be so important, it dropped to 63 per cent. There is a direct correlation between safer seats and turnout. Nobody can deny that. I see the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is agreeing with me. Where constituents feel that there is not a real chance of change-whether they fear it or hope for it is immaterial-they do not register on the same level and they do not turn out. For example, in May 2010 the lowest turnout-well under 50 per cent in Birmingham Ladywood, Manchester Central and Leeds Central-was in seats where the electors knew there was very little chance of change, whether they wanted it or not. On the other hand, in Westmorland and Lonsdale and in Richmond Park, where there was clearly going to be a very close result, up went the turnout to 77 per cent. People vote and register to vote when they think that their votes are going to be important in terms of the outcome. That is surely the most important lesson we should all learn.
Short of compulsion, which we discussed earlier, the most effective incentive for people to vote is because they think their vote will make a difference and that is the case for AV. I have never pretended-I agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves-that somehow this is the magic solution and everybody is going to turn out and will inevitably go for a first preference. It does not necessarily mean that everybody will have a majority. But look at the alternatives; look at first past the post. It is a staggering fact that there is not a single Member of the other place who can put their hand on their heart after the May 2010 election and say, "I am supported by more than half the people who could vote in my constituency". Not one can say they have more than 50 per cent of those registered to vote in their constituency. Not one. If we are saying that AV is not perfect, first past the post is much less perfect.
Lord Rooker: I missed the first part of the debate on Clause 1 and I regret that. The noble Lord gave the example of the second defect, which my noble friend Lord Grocott did not address-not so much the argument about everybody getting 50 per cent but the second porky that it does away with tactical voting. We heard that today from the people who launched the pro-AV campaign. Yet the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has just said it will be their second preference. That is what will get them out to vote. That is where the tactical voting comes in. What we need on the record, like we had from the Leader earlier on, is a definitive statement from the Government that it is not true that every MP will get elected by 50 per cent. We also need on the record that AV does not do away with tactical voting because the tactical vote is on the second preference, not on the first vote. It would be quite useful if this debate could get that on the record because all our words will be used in leaflets next year, I can assure noble Lords.
Lord Tyler: It is obviously true that if the elector chooses not to vote tactically, they do not have to. But it is also perfectly true-as the noble Lord's colleague, Mr Ben Bradshaw, has acknowledged on behalf of all those members in the Labour Party who are supporting AV, including the leader of the party of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who has come out very strongly in favour of AV-that it reduces the need for tactical voting. Ben Bradshaw said yesterday that AV gives more power to the people-nobody can deny that-freeing them from the pressure to vote tactically. They do not have to vote tactically. They can do their first preference and their second preference. But the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is quite right. It does not necessarily abolish tactical voting. It makes it much less effective and much less necessary. Mr Bradshaw, his colleague in the other place, is right on that.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I want to take him back to a point which I heard him make a moment or two ago to confirm that I understood him correctly. His criticism of the first past the post system-he seemed to be building up to this criticism because he made it so vehemently-was that there was not one Member of the House of Commons who could claim to be elected by 50 per cent of the registered voters in his or her constituency. Do I understand that the noble Lord is now setting that as the bar for a credible voting system? If he is, can he point me, an ingénue in these matters and not in any sense an anorak or a wonk, to one example of the operation of this alternative vote system that meets that challenge that he has now set?
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am not saying that AV would automatically mean that every Member of the other House would have 50 per cent but first past the post clearly goes nowhere near to achieving that result. AV can make that more possible. More people can have more influence on the outcome of their constituency election and as a result there will be many more seats in the country-not all of them, there will still be safe seats-where it will be possible for people to have more confidence that their vote will make a difference.
Lord Browne of Belmont: I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord. He is very patient with me. Other Members of his party have shown exasperation when I have intervened, but if he will bear with me, I need education on this issue. I have listened carefully to what he has to say and resisted the temptation to intervene on him on two or three occasions because I wanted to see the point he was building up to. I am not asking him for an assurance that this will deliver that benchmark all the time. I am asking him, as a self-professed expert on these matters, to give me just one example of the system of AV which he is promoting in this referendum delivering against that benchmark.
Lord Tyler: The noble Lord is simply taking a question that I have not posed and which I do not intend to claim. All I am saying is that the present system discourages people in large tranches of the
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Lord Campbell-Savours: Let me hit the flaw in the noble Lord's argument. He is presuming that the remotest preference cast by an elector, which might be the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth preference, should be given the same value within the electoral system as the first preference. That argument is ludicrous. His whole case is based on that and that is why he is wrong.
Lord Tyler: That is what happens under the present system. The present system is totally inadequate in that respect because you have to plump. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who undoubtedly understands the point I am making, I say that under the present system many people in this country feel that they are forced to vote in a very artificial way because their first preference is not likely to win. I am arguing that in many parts of the country people do not bother to register or to vote at all because they think that their first preference is not likely to win. The safer the seat-
Lord Norton of Louth: My noble friend's argument is based on the premise that people are aware that under a different system-in this case AV-their votes will make more of a difference than under the present system. I should be interested to know what his empirical evidence is for that.
Lord Tyler: The empirical evidence, of course, is the way in which so many other elections, outwith elections to Parliament, operate. I think I am right in saying that all the parties now select their candidates through a form of AV and it is seen to be very effective. Many other professional organisations and trade unions use it and, as was pointed out earlier, the Lord Speaker was elected under that system. There are plenty of examples where people understand that by making a number of choices or preferences they can make a difference.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: On one of the noble Lord's examples, trade unions, there was recently an election in the Unite trade union for the general secretary. There was a huge campaign around the country, which was very hotly contested between two very different front-running candidates. Does the noble Lord know what the turnout was? It was less than 20 per cent. Surely, that is one of many examples which fully undermines his case.
Lord Tyler: As was pointed out only a few minutes ago, the noble Lord was very selective in the ones that he quoted, and 25 per cent is not a bad turnout in a local election. I would argue that AV is not perfect and I have never said it is perfect, but I believe it has real advantages in terms of the relationship between the elected Member and his or her constituency. In that respect, in many ways it has advantages over a pure
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Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Does my noble friend accept that if we move to an AV system, we are more likely to have coalition governments and, if we have coalition governments, we have coalition agreements, such as we had at the beginning of this Parliament, and we end up with a government who are governing with a new manifesto that is only vaguely related to the two manifestos of the parties in the coalition?
Lord Tyler: All the evidence from Professor John Curtice, who was mentioned earlier, is that AV is less likely to result in a balanced Parliament, as we have now, than first past the post. The noble Lord may be able to look to the future and have a better idea, but the academic evidence is that AV is less likely to do that because there is a sort of bonus towards the larger party as a result of the election.
I find it incredible that so many Members opposite are ignoring what has been said by their party leader-and in the Guardian today-by saying in absolutely firm terms that they believe that AV is the right way forward. Of course, they are being consistent with what they said previously in Parliament and in the election, but I find it quite extraordinary that so many Members opposite feel that it is necessary to rebel against their own party at this juncture and to weaken the position of their new leader.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I would like to help my noble friend. It is not the position of the Labour Party that there cannot be an open debate-I hope that he will encourage an open debate as well-and there is no party obligation to support AV. We support the idea of a referendum, but not necessarily AV. We want the country to debate it, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord for contributing to that debate.
Lord Tyler: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, because he has pre-empted the question that I was about to ask. I am assuming, from what he has just said, that he will support-not just not vote against-the motion that Clause 1 stand part, because what he has said implies that he will do so. If we had known that an hour or so ago, this debate might have been rather shorter.
It is true that the previous Labour Government twice committed itself to this precise form of words for putting the issue to the people. I believe, as Churchill said, that we should trust the people on this issue. I am quite prepared to debate in any television studio with the noble Lord-
I believe with both the coalition Government and the Labour Party that those same citizens who have been cheated by our current system for so long should be given an early opportunity to vote for a better system. The proposal may not be perfect-I agree with those who made that point-but we have had the moment of truth, in that the Opposition Front Bench are now saying that they will support the motion that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill. That is good news. I hope that we can make equally good progress with the rest of the Bill.
These are the questions that need to be addressed as a result of the debate. First, there is a strand in the debate from the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and my noble friend Lord Grocott, who said there should not be a referendum at all. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said it would lead to a worse system; the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that there is no case made out adequately for AV. One of the purposes of us debating it in Committee is for the case to be looked at. The first question that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, should deal with, is why should there be a referendum with AV as the only alternative in it? He should answer the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Grocott, because for people voting in the referendum, there needs to be a credible case for it made by the Government, which goes beyond saying, "I agreed it with my coalition partners, therefore it must happen". That carries no weight with the electorate.
The second question that has been raised is: why choose this sort of AV? That was the debate between the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Greaves, which is beyond most of our abilities to comprehend. I say seriously that it is important because the Government are saying, "A detailed proposal for an alternative vote system is set out in Clause 9 and if you vote "yes", that is the one you will get". The noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Campbell-Savours, are at each other's throats about whether that is the right system of alternative vote, and in voting yes, the individual members of the electorate in the referendum have to decide whether they think it is the best.
I say in parenthesis how glad I was to see the Deputy Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, going to speak to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves-I think, to encourage him to continue to participate in the debate. The moment that the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, instead of keeping to his seat, he immediately got up to intervene in the debate. I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on that.
The explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, of why they were choosing what I may describe as the Queensland alternative vote system, as opposed to the federal system, had detail and substance to it. His explanation of why they were choosing the alternative vote system as opposed to the supplementary vote system was tragically lacking in any detail. I invite him to take the opportunity of replying to this debate to give that explanation, because it is not possible to say that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has not got the ball well over the net on the question of the supplementary vote system, which is accepted as being a sort of alternative vote. That requires consideration. Why are the Government not adopting that form of alternative vote rather than the form set out in Clause 9? The public are entitled to know.
The third question which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, needs to deal with in this significant debate is: why not give other choices to the electorate-a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Rooker? Why is an alternative vote system favoured by the coalition? Yes, it was the one favoured by the Labour Party in both the CRAG Bill and the manifesto but, unfortunately, in the context where parliamentarians are not that respected by the public, the argument has to be advanced. It is not enough to say, "We have agreed with the Liberal Democrats, therefore we imagine that you members of the electorate will accept that as sufficient reason". They will not. There must be an argument. I assume that there is an argument why it was accepted in the coalition agreement.
Those are the three points of principle that need to be addressed. There are five other points of detail that are of significance. The first is the point made in the incredibly impressive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, about the Welsh translation. I do not know whether noble Lords know this, but I do not speak Welsh. I accept completely that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, understands Welsh. What he said left me worried about the position of the Welsh translation. If, for example, DU means God willing, not the United Kingdom, to the people of Wales, something has gone badly wrong in the translation. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who has had the whole of the dinner hour to deal with that, to tell us why the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, is wrong. I regard it as a significant issue. Welsh is a recognised language in Wales, and although I do not think that there is now anyone in Wales who is monolingual and speaks only Welsh, it will be the first language for some of the 200,000 people who speak Welsh, who may well go to that translation first.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: There are 600,000 people who speak Welsh. It is the first language of many hundreds of thousands of them. It is the first language of half a dozen Members of this House, including me. If I may say so without straying beyond propriety, it is the first language of the Reading Clerk of this House, whose English is flawless but whose Welsh is perfect.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am quite sure that the Reading Clerk will therefore go to the Welsh question and wonder what it is about the electoral system for God that we are now seeking to deal with. I did not know about this point. Had we known about it, we would have put down probing amendments in order to get it. I think it is quite an important point.
The next detailed point is that this is being dealt with at unseemly speed. We sought to deal with that through the amendment that this House agreed on Monday giving the Government the opportunity to bring the referendum forward between May and October. I have to tell noble Lords that this has caused the Electoral Commission much upset. It has asked the Government to please get Parliament to make up its mind quickly about the position. I shall read what the chair of the Electoral Commission has written to the right honourable Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, at the Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall:
"Given the importance of clarity about the rules on how the referendum will be conducted so that the commission and others can successfully deliver their responsibilities and campaigners can plan properly to put their arguments to voters, I urge you to set out how the Government intends to proceed to ensure Parliament can specify the date of the proposed referendum as soon as possible".
"I am sure high quality lawyers will see a route forward and grab the chance of flexibility. Why don't you recommend an order making power in the Bill. Make a draft order with May 5th while maintaining the fall back of ... 31 October in the Bill".
It is very simple. We all say that the target date is 5 May. The way to do it is to put an order-making power in the Bill and put a draft order before the House while the Bill is going through so that the public sector, the private sector and everybody knows that that is the target date. The Bill itself-the Act of Parliament-will have "before 31 October" so if something goes wrong, it is possible to change the order. It is simple.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I think it is pretty clear that the Electoral Commission is very dissatisfied with the way that we have behaved in relation to this and have amended the Bill because it wants clarity as quickly as possible. It wants to ensure that Parliament can specify the date of the proposed referendum as soon as possible. Could the Minister indicate what the Government's position in relation to that is?
My noble friend Lord Rooker puts forward a sensible solution. I would have thought that the solution is even simpler than what he said. There is nothing wrong with the Government saying that they intend to have the referendum on 5 May, but if they cannot, they will have it on a date when they can have it.
There is another significant point. The timing is presumably a pressure only if the referendum is on 5 May. I think it is very hard to understand that you
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Perhaps the Minister can indicate what he has in mind to achieve that course of action. So, on the question of date, is it too fast? We are happy with the approach that has been adopted by this House. What is the Government's position on that?
Secondly, we wanted it to be indicative, not compulsory, so that Parliament could subsequently debate, if there was a yes vote in relation to alternative votes, what the right method of alternative vote systems would be. Thirdly, we did not want it to be combined with other elections. Again, I would ask the Government to set out their position in relation to that. I assume that their position remains as set out in Clause 4. Those are the four significant points.
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