|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
We have made it clear that we support in principle the idea of a referendum on AV, but I should like to hear the Government's justification on the three points of principle. Should there be a referendum at all? Why choose this sort of AV? Why not go for other opportunities? I would also like to hear the Government's position on whether this is too fast, whether it is indicative, not compulsory and whether it should not be combined.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Lord should say it again. It is up to the noble Lord whether he wants to answer these points. Something that has been particularly good about today is that the electorate has had the opportunity to hear for the first time some of the Government's defence for this political change. Prior to that, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has indulged in fantastically attractive and amusing political points, which unfortunately the electorate will not find very attractive.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it has been a useful and interesting debate. We have covered a lot of ground. A lot of different views have come from those opposite, including those who are wholly opposed to a referendum of any kind or to any change. The noble and learned Lord seemed to say slightly half-heartedly that he wishes to have a referendum. I cannot help feeling that secretly he rather wished that there would not be one. I am in favour of having a referendum.
Lord Strathclyde: I am wholly in favour of us having a referendum because I am in favour of people having a choice and being able to deal with the issue. It is important that they should. I have no difficulty in supporting a referendum. I think that I have already told the House that I will not be supporting the yeses; I will be supporting the noes when we get to it.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is for the noble and learned Lord to apologise as to why it was in his own manifesto. What did Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, say-not six months ago when he was writing the manifesto-today? He said:
The Welsh issue was an important and substantive point, which worried me when it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. It worried the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. One thing I am trying to do during the course of these debates is relieve the noble and learned Lord of worry. I understand that Cabinet Office Ministers will write to the noble Lord shortly with a full explanation of the Government's position. But I can furthermore advise the Committee-this is really interesting-that the Electoral Commission is statutorily responsible for advising on the intelligibility of the English and Welsh versions of the question. Not only did it consult the Welsh Language Board, but it has conducted focus groups with Welsh speaking voters on the Welsh question now in the Bill. In its public report, it advises that concerns on intelligibility, along the lines raised by the noble Lord, did not arise. The Electoral Commission will send explanatory leaflets in English and Welsh in Wales to all voters to explain the issues. I have no idea whether that is good enough for the noble Lord. He will be receiving further letters from the Cabinet Office on that important point.
This is a clause stand part debate, so what is the clause about? It provides for a referendum to be held on 5 May 2011 on whether to change the voting system for parliamentary elections. Following the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which the Government resisted, the clause also allows for the referendum date to be moved. The Government remain committed, because we believe it to be achievable, to holding this referendum on 5 May next year. That view was set out in Mark Harper's letter to Jenny Watson today. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in the debate and I thank him for what was a positive and constructive suggestion on the way forward.
The clause also sets out the question that will appear on the ballot papers in English and Welsh. The noble and learned Lord asked why we are bringing
8 Dec 2010 : Column 280
Lord Strathclyde: I am sorry. The noble Lord is in favour of the system he dreamt up over dinner. It is the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who is opposed to any change from first past the post, thus making his campaigning points now, but he is rehearsing. All power to his elbow, but in a few weeks' time I hope that he will be tramping the streets of Britain to make his case. He does not need to make them here. We have heard them and I understand them.
The noble and learned Lord also asked whether we are still in favour of combining the date. We are because 84 per cent of the UK electorate will already have a reason to go to the polls on 5 May. That strikes me as being a good thing. It is a benefit for the electorate already to be going to the polls. Ensuring that electors do not have to make another visit is more convenient and will save money.
Baroness Adams of Craigielea: Can the Leader of the House help me on a point? At the moment, my household falls into two different constituencies. For the Scottish Parliament we are in Paisley North, and for the Westminster Parliament the votes of my household fall into Paisley South. If, as I will be entitled to do, I go to the polls for the Scottish Parliament elections, I will vote in the north-east corner of Paisley, but if my household is going to vote in the Westminster election, they must vote in the south-west corner of Paisley. Where will my referendum vote be held?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, that is a great question because I find myself in exactly the same position. I am also in two different constituencies, one for Westminster, which I do not vote in, and another for the Scottish Parliamentary elections, where I will vote. So this is of as much interest to me as to the noble Baroness. I shall be demanding an answer very soon and I will make sure she knows what it is. But that does not cut across anything else because this is a unique situation for the noble Baroness and I-perhaps near unique because there may be one or two others as well.
Baroness Adams of Craigielea: It is not a unique situation to the noble Lord and I. It affects all the people in these constituencies. They are in exactly the
8 Dec 2010 : Column 281
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am assuming that they will still vote in the same polling booth, although there may be different registers. However, I have said that I will get a substantive answer for the noble Baroness, and I shall do so.
It is not unusual for different voters to be asked to vote on different issues at different levels on the same day. There has been a great deal of talk about this from noble Lords opposite, but it is not unusual and there is no reason why people should not be able to make up their minds. The question has been fully tested and cleared, not by the Government but by the Electoral Commission, and should enable the electorate to understand the choice they are being asked to make and to express their views. That is why there is no alternative; that is why we are saying, "Make it clear and easy for people to decide between one system and the other", which will be duly explained.
Why this kind of AV? In no particular order, we chose it for the following good and legitimate reasons: this is the system for which the House of Commons voted; it voted on all the others and this is the one on which it could unite; it is the system on which the two parties of the coalition could unite and agree on; it maintains the constituency link; and it tends to return Members with more than half of the electors voting for them, although not on every occasion. These strike me as good reasons for why the coalition chose AV above all other systems.
However, the fundamental part of this clause is the referendum. We are removing choice from parliamentarians and we are giving it to the people of this country. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that; it is an extremely good thing to do. We do it very occasionally, but it is right that we should do so.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Leader has given a number of reasons why this AV system was chosen and has argued the case very powerfully. Why then did Nicholas Clegg call it a miserable little compromise?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Earlier in the debate-I have sat through most of it, listening carefully-the Leader of the House said on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that there is collective responsibility, so surely he can explain what the Deputy Prime Minister meant.
Lord Grocott: I am grateful to the Leader of the House, who has been very patient and good humoured. However, perhaps I might ask him one final serious question while he is dealing with the referendum. He thinks the referendum is absolutely right and is the proper thing to do when you are making a constitutional change of this kind. Given that we were told that all the constitutional change Bills were part of a coherent whole-I repeat, 1832-he must be able to confirm now that should there be a proposal to abolish the House of Lords in its present form he would clearly want to see that referred to a referendum.
Lord Strathclyde: That is a good question. The committee on which the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition sits is discussing these issues. No final view has been taken but, when it is, no doubt it will be transmitted to the noble Lord-if not directly by her then when a Statement is in due course made to Parliament at some stage in the new year.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Lord shows a consistent admiration for the importance of the referendum and allowing the people to decide, but he is not allowing the people to decide on whether or not they would prefer the supplementary vote system-which is a form of alternative vote-to first past the post. He has not yet answered that question and the public would be grateful to hear why that system of alternative vote has not been adopted.
Lord Strathclyde: We made two decisions. First, we made a decision about AV, and I have given the reasons why we thought that the system should be AV. The second decision, not to give a further choice, was because we wanted to have a very clear indication from the people of this country on whether they want to make a change to AV, which we feel is the best of the alternative systems, or to retain first past the post.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am sorry to press this, but the supplementary vote system is a form of AV that does not compel people-as the federal Australian AV system does-to vote for unsatisfactory candidates. What was the basis of decision to provide for the system described in Clause 9 rather than the supplementary vote system?
Lord Campbell-Savours: When these matters were being considered in the coalition talks, there must have been a point at which a decision was taken to proceed with AV. Were all three AV variants on the table? Were they all considered? Was there a discussion about each of the various systems? The proposal in the Bill derives from the coalition agreement, so there must have been, at some stage, some discussion about the detail. Did those discussions take place on the basis that I am referring to?
Lord Strathclyde: The discussions took place before we came into Government. They were part of the agreement on becoming the Government. I was not there and I was not part of the discussions. However, I cannot imagine that we decided on AV without having taken a view about the other systems and taken a decision that AV was the right one.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Let me put it more simply. In the Government's view, why is the system in Clause 9 better than the supplementary vote system? If the noble Lord could explain that, the public would have some understanding of why we have the Clause 9 system. That is what I am getting at.
Lord Tyler: Can my noble friend tell the House whether the Government took cognisance of the fact that the previous Government, having obviously gone through a very similar thought process, decided on precisely this form of AV for the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act and then repeated the proposal in the general election?
Lord Campbell-Savours: As the noble Lord is aware, it was a Conservative Member of Parliament, Mr Christopher Chope, who moved what was in effect the supplementary vote amendment in the House of Commons. He had support from Members on his own Benches, but it is a pity that he did not drive them into the Division Lobbies.
Lord Strathclyde: My noble friend Lord Tyler makes a great point. Six months ago, that was the view of the Labour Party. That is the view that we have taken as well, for the reasons that I laid out. The system that we propose gives the widest possible choice to voters. That is why it is a good idea.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Should I understand from the warm embrace that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has given to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that the Government are proceeding with the system because we did so?
Lord Strathclyde: Not just today, but on the last time that we met-and, I expect, the time before that-I laid out the reasons why we chose AV. The noble and learned Lord may not like it, but that is what we said. There is very little left to say
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The one thing, I am afraid, that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, cannot get away with is that he has never laid out the reasons why the Government have favoured the alternative vote system proposed in Clause 9 over the supplementary vote system. The paucity of his arguments was demonstrated, if I may say so, by his saying, "We are doing it because the Commons voted for it".
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I give an undertaking that, although Amendment 34 is relevant and important, it has nothing to do with the type of voting system that I favour. However, I am very happy to be flexible on that, if that is the wish of my colleagues.
My aim is to achieve something basic for all Members of this House by bringing it about that we have the right to vote in general elections. At first sight, the Bill is not be the right Bill for that, except that, if the Bill provided that we as Members of this House were entitled to vote in a referendum that will determine the system of voting in elections, we should also have the right to vote in any subsequent general election.
We have just had a good debate, in which there were legitimate arguments on all sides. There is no question that there is no legitimate argument against giving us the right to vote-that is crystal clear. The only people who are against that are those who say things such as, "Well, we've never done it before, so why should we start now?" or "Oh, it's not important enough".
In the debate that we have just had, it was clear that Members of this House are passionately interested in voting systems and the way that people may vote. There is a high level of interest. It is then a small step indeed to say, "Given that level of interest, shouldn't we be able to cast a vote in general elections?". It seems such a modest thing to ask for. I am quite sure that, whatever answer I get, everyone in this House would agree that that is the right thing to do.
I have said that the Bill is not the right vehicle to achieve such a change, but a Bill dealing with such a referendum is the first and best occasion that I have had since the election to put forward my suggestion. I give an undertaking to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that, if the Government do not feel able to accept the approach in Amendment 34, there will be other occasions. Although I am reluctant to make a nuisance of myself by going on about a particular issue, I undertake that I will do so-not today, but on a future occasion-when there is a Bill that is absolutely right for such a change. However, why do the Government not pre-empt me by bringing about a change that is self-evidently right?
I understand that, before long, the Government will bring forward their proposals to give prisoners the right to vote-there is a later amendment on that-so we will be the only inmates left who are not allowed to vote. It is even more absurd that prisoners in jail will be given the right to vote in general elections, in which we may not vote. Even the general public would agree that that is an anomaly. If we had a referendum on that subject, we would win hands down.
I do not want to go on at great length-it is fairly late-but I say to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that I genuinely feel deeply about this. Although people say to me that I did not have to accept the privilege of being a Member of this House, the fact is
8 Dec 2010 : Column 285
To those individuals who say that we have so much influence here that we do not need the right to vote, I say that there is a world of difference between influencing legislation as it goes through the House and playing a part in deciding who will be the Government of this country. That is why we have a vote in general elections for most people. It is because at the moment we are not able to influence any Government when there is a general election that I feel that there should be a change-it is quite wrong.
I agree that there are not going to be demonstrations in Parliament Square supporting my position. I accept that, because I am honest and realistic about it. That does not mean, however, that there is not an important point of principle here. I challenge the noble Lord the Leader of the House or the noble Lord, Lord McNally-whoever is going to answer this debate-to give me any good reason why my amendment should not be accepted. I beg to move.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I will speak only very briefly on this. Being one of the newest Members of this House, I have yet to have a general election where I have not been able to vote. I have to say that I am very grateful to the new coalition Government for having announced some more Peers because, shortly, I will not be one of the newest Members of the House, which I look forward to greatly.
The question that I pose is slightly less about voting in general elections than about giving Peers the vote in the referendum. Two groups cannot vote in general elections: Members of this House and European Union citizens from other member states, who can vote in our local and European elections. I am particularly interested to know why one group of people who are excluded from parliamentary votes have been given the right to vote in the referendum, whereas another group-those European citizens who appear on our electoral register-have not been given the right to vote in the referendum.
Obviously there are some Members of this House who are great experts on AV and other systems. I am not. I am an anorak on other things but, your Lordships will be pleased to know, not on this one. The people who really understand different electoral systems, however, are European citizens living in our country and voting in our European and local government elections, who have enormous experience of systems from their own countries. If ever there was a well informed group to vote on what system would work here, it would be them. The question that I hope may be answered is why one group of excluded voters was singled out to vote in the referendum but not the other group.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I am a bit troubled by the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, because I am a passionate believer in an appointed House. The passion with which I believe in an appointed House will become more apparent as the Lords reform Bill finds its way through this Chamber. One thing
8 Dec 2010 : Column 286
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: How much I admire the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, for his courage at every stage of this Bill. This is obviously not an appropriate Bill to make a change in relation to whether Members of this House should vote, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, accepts. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs is right, however, to put the amendment down. Under this Bill, Peers will have the right to vote in the referendum on what the voting system should be and yet, once they have played their part in deciding what the voting system should be, they have no right to vote using that voting system. This is an opportunity for a short debate as to what the right course in relation to Lords voting is.
It is obvious, historically, why the Lords cannot vote in Commons elections. The nature of Parliament was that the Commons were elected because they were representative. We were not representative. The whole lot of us turned up in the upper House. Therefore, there was no need for any elections. The whole lot of us still turn up in the House, except for the hereditary Peers, who vote for hereditary representatives. Does that mean, therefore, that we do not need to have a vote in relation to the Commons? The answer is no, because the Lords no longer select the Government. The Government are selected exclusively by the Commons. We have influence in relation to Bills. We have a say in what happens in relation to policy. However, it is only a say. We do not vote in relation to the body that selects the Government.
Therefore, once the prisoner issue is dealt with, we, and we alone, are the only group in the country that has no say in selecting the Government of the day. The fact that we do not have the vote is an historical anomaly. There are 700 or 800 of us; no doubt the figure would go up to about 2,000 if the coalition had its way. Therefore, the number suffering the effects of this anomaly will increase, but it is an anomaly that no longer has constitutional justification. In those circumstances, one is obviously looking not for agreement from the Government that this matter should be dealt with in this Bill, but simply for the Government's view on the matter. I do not expect any time to be allocated to this matter in any legislative programme, but if the Government were to express the view that it needed to be dealt with at an appropriate time, that would have a very significant effect on the processing of the issue.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, that if we have the vote people will want us to be elected. The public will not think that because we can
8 Dec 2010 : Column 287
I return to the point that I started with. We are rightly accepted as participants in the decision-making process of whether there should be a change in the system. We are accepted as participants in that process because there is no basis on which it could be said that we should be excluded from that. That is the view that the Government have taken. We are included in Clause 2 as people entitled to vote in the referendum. The Government think that it is wrong that we should be excluded from that. There must be a basis on which the Government have come to that conclusion. I support that conclusion, because the obvious reason for saying that we should be included in the process by which a voting system change should be effected-if it is to be effected-is that there is no democratic reason why we should not be allowed to be included. It is wrong to say that this is a matter for other people; everybody accepts that it is a matter for us. It is an important issue. It is like a whole range of anomalies that you can say do not really cause any problems. However, how you put the constitution together and the extent to which there are consistencies in the constitution are very important. A justification for Peers not being entitled to vote is now required in a constitutional sense. If there is not one, the right course for a Government who are prepared to follow the logic of their constitutional position is to say-
Lord Grocott: Does my noble and learned friend acknowledge that it is an enormous privilege-obviously, it is not a unique privilege, but it is given only to the 800 or so Peers-to take part for life in the determination of the Bills that go through one of the two Houses? If you have that near unique influence on the legislative process, I do not think that it is too much to ask that you should not then have a clear determining role in deciding who the Members of the other House should be. It is rough justice but it seems to me a kind of justice. You forfeit that voting right because of the advantage that you have over all your fellow citizens of being able to take part in debates and influence the progress of legislation.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I disagree with what my noble friend Lord Grocott says for two reasons. First, there are other people who have very important roles in relation to what happens to policy legislation. Even in the period of my noble friend's pomp, I suspect that the Cabinet Secretary was more important than he was, but nobody ever suggested that he should be deprived of his vote. The Chief Justice is more important than almost everybody in the country in determining what legislation means, but nobody suggests-
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Cabinet Secretary would not have had any vote on legislation, but he might have had an even more important influence, I respectfully suggest, on legislation than people voting here would. What is more, as we can see from the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, he could reasonably have expected to come here to legislate at the end of it. There are lots of important people in the state and a lot of people with privileges, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, says. However, I respectfully suggest that the key point is that this is a democracy and the Government are chosen not from the Lords but from the Commons. The key question is: why are we excluded from being democratic participants in choosing the Government? The essence of democracy is that it is not just a process; it also represents values. The critical value that democracy represents is that we are all equal in the choice of the Government. Why are we not equal in that respect? I do not think, with respect, that either the answer that the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, gives-"They will elect us next"-or the answer that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, gives, which is, "Well, we are jolly privileged", is an answer to that essential democratic argument. I would be interested to hear what the Leader of the House has to say.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I have been stripped and ready for action for three days. As the Leader of the House has pointed out, he and I are joined at the hip on this Bill. However, in that spirit of co-operation, he said, "Tom, you take Clause 2 and I'll take Clause 1". That seemed fine at about 7 pm on the first day of this debate, when I thought that I would be coming on straight after the dinner hour. Three days later, I come on with three minutes to go.
This has been an excellent mini-debate and I suggest that those who are interested in it should read the speech given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. No wonder he was facing the other way to deliver it; he was giving us both sides of the argument. It is very good that he should do so.
I fully respect the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I know that he has campaigned on this and that he feels strongly about it. I hope, given what he has said, that perhaps we will get one of the opposition days to debate the issue, or perhaps a Question for Short Debate. The issue is worth debating and I look forward to him carrying on his campaign. The problem is, as he himself acknowledged and, indeed, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, acknowledged, that this is not the place for it. It is a good political ploy to use a Bill to hang a campaign on and to get the issue raised and I fully respect the noble Lord for doing so. However, we are concerned specifically with who should vote in the referendum on the parliamentary voting system. Basing the franchise for the referendum on that for the Westminster general election seemed the most sensible thing to do. Yes, we have made a concession
8 Dec 2010 : Column 289
Lord Rooker: Does the noble Lord genuinely mean that? I regret losing my vote, but I agree more with the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Hamilton, than with the Front Bench. Why make the concession? If you are going to keep the Bill narrow, clean and tidy, whereby it relates purely to the electoral system for the other place, we are entitled to scrutinise the Bill; so there is no argument about that. There is no justification for giving Members of this place a role in choosing the voting system for the other place. If you are logical about it and you want to keep the Bill clean and simple, why make that concession in the first place?
Lord McNally: It is because we judge that to be a fair and logical approach. As I said, whichever way we had done it, amendments would have been tabled. Perhaps the noble Lord wants to table an amendment for Report to take out Peers' votes? See how that goes.
Lord McNally: There will be other times. Now is not the right place for this debate. I understand why the issue has been raised, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will not press his amendment.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I was wondering whether the noble Lord was going to respond to my question on why, having put one excluded group into the referendum, the Government did not include citizens of other European Union countries.
Lord McNally: It is because I was intending to reply to Amendment 36A, which is in a later group, and
8 Dec 2010 : Column 290
Lord Dubs: I shall respond only briefly. First, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, that I have heard many arguments against what I have proposed, but I have never heard that one before. It characterises a feature of this House-the "thin end of the wedge" argument that whatever change one brings about, it will lead to other undesirable changes. Surely to goodness, it is possible for us individually to troop off to a polling station and cast a vote, without opening all sorts of other floodgates. I would simply be doing what in every election I encourage a lot of people to do, which is to go and vote. In my case, I of course urge them to vote Labour. I watch them go into the polling station knowing that I cannot do so, if it happens to be a general election. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, he made a good effort at the thin end of the wedge, but I do not think that that is a good argument.
Lord Dubs: I am really grateful, because I was about to say, when the noble Lord said that an issue is worth debating, that that left it in the realms of Questions for Short Debate, or whatever. I take a lot of comfort from what he has just said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|