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Being located in south London, where there are such ethnically and culturally diverse communities, this work has local as well as international significance. As others have said, global health these days is not a matter of looking outward to other countries; it begins and has relevance at home. It also has a strategic significance at the national level, which I do not think has been mentioned by other speakers. Quite rightly, investment in reducing inequalities within and between countries is integral to Untied Kingdom and EU global security strategies. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said that action now needs to be taken. King's Health Partners can claim to be taking that action. We seek to bring together the expertise that exists in the various parts of our partnership. We recently agreed to set up a King's Health Partners global health board, in addition to the board of the partnership.
This subject also, understandably and rightly, inspires young people and young doctors. Having recently attended a half-day seminar on the subject at King's Health Partners, I saw what a great interest was expressed. The hall was packed to the gunnels. Like others, I eagerly look forward to what the Minister will say in response to the suggestions that have been made this evening to give a boost to this important and internationally vital work.
Lord Jay of Ewelme: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on initiating this debate. I declare an interest as chair of the international medical aid charity Merlin, which operates in the poorest countries after conflict and natural disasters. It is from that perspective that I want to speak this evening.
There is a long and fine tradition of trained British doctors and medical staff working in poor countries, bringing expertise, training medical staff on the ground and saving lives. To take one example, more than 70 NHS staff with different skills have worked with Merlin surgical teams in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. This should not be seen just as altruism, important though that is. As the noble Lord, Lord McColl said, it should be encouraged as part of medical training in this country. Like so much in today's world, medicine is global. This country will benefit directly if the doctors and other medical staff working here bring with them first-hand experience of conditions and diseases elsewhere in the world.
To give one other example, health staff who worked with Merlin on HIV and TB control programmes in Russia and Kenya have gone on to work in an NHS trust that covers Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham,
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Indeed we do, but it seems to me that working in developing countries and the experience our staff get there is an essential part of achieving that objective. We are right to be proud of the quality of our medical staff in this country and we are right to be proud, too, of those who wish to spend time helping others in poorer countries. Those two things should go together and not in any way be in conflict. It is very much in our interest that that should be so and, like others, I look forward to the Minister's comments on that particular point.
Eight years ago I was in Malawi as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. We were looking at health provision in that country generally as well as focusing on maternal health. It was of course at the height of the AIDS epidemic in Malawi. I have never forgotten the visit we had to one of the hospitals there. From the distance we saw a pleasant enough building but as we entered the gates we saw people lying on rough, old blankets on the grass outside, brought in by relatives who needed to get back to their own work as quickly as possible, there being no help at all out in the villages outside the hospital. Inside the hospital itself, every ward was packed with dying AIDS patients; on bedsteads, on mattresses under the bedsteads and packed in between the beds. We saw ward after ward of human misery in a hospital totally unable to cope. Those patients received no treatment except some rehydration if they were lucky. It was a scene from hell.
At that time, for a population of around 10 million, there were 43 doctors in Malawi and so few nurses in that hospital that it was coping with well over 100 patients to each nurse. Even with that scant provision there was a 40 per cent vacancy rate. The staff were exhausted
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The Malawi Government soon resolved to take action and with overseas aid, including, I am glad to say, a good deal from our own Department for International Development, more staff were trained. Salaries were increased combined with contracts to stay in Malawi. Students' fees were paid if they contracted to work for at least three years after qualification and volunteer doctors were brought in from abroad-yes, also from this country-to provide in-service training to staff and better care to patients. Of course the advent of anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS stemmed the tide of that scourge. Healthcare is now slowly improving in Malawi, but very slowly.
What can we learn from this? First, we must make our doctors and nurses aware of these problems. We can do this by better education at undergraduate and postgraduate level-deans, please note. We must make it easier for young doctors to take a year out in the developing world. The current pressure on them in their postgraduate training prevents this, because it does not count towards their certificate of complete training and the year abroad will not be recognised by the NHS. Sabbaticals are difficult to obtain. I have discovered that they need something called an "out of programme experience", and the bureaucracy involved makes it more like an out of body experience. It is a huge deterrent to young people wanting to go abroad. Hospital trusts will not want to employ locums and there is no national directive to encourage them to release doctors.
The national conscience should dictate that we help developing countries to upgrade their health systems. Their staff have helped our National Health Service for decades at the expense of their own people in their own countries. It is payback time and I hope the Minister can reassure us that action will be taken.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I, too, warmly thank my noble friend for introducing this important debate so comprehensively. In declaring an interest as an honorary vice-president of the Royal College of Nursing, I will focus on nursing education for global health and I have some positive developments to report.
and many universities are now taking advantage of this opportunity for placements abroad. Post-registration, there is a wide variety of continuing professional courses for nurses in global health issues, including the diploma in tropical nursing and the diploma in reproductive health in developing countries at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, in which I also declare an interest as an honorary vice-president.
Sheffield University also runs an online masters programme in midwifery and maternity care, fostering many international links and contacts. VSO offers
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I should briefly like to give one practical example of nursing's contribution to healthcare in this context. I returned just two weeks ago from a visit with my small NGO, the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, to the hill tribe people in Chin state in Burma. They are of course suffering at the hands of that country's brutal military regime, but many people in Chin's hill tribes in remote areas are denied access to any healthcare at all. An outstanding young man from Chin state grew up seeing women die in childbirth on kitchen tables, and children dying unnecessarily from diarrhoea because of lack of access to healthcare and lack of any health knowledge. He was determined to become a doctor. He qualified in Armenia and immediately returned, having overcome many difficulties as a doctor, and is now training 315 community health workers from villages deep inside Chin state, where there is no healthcare. As much of this training could be undertaken equally effectively by community nurses and midwives, I introduced this resourceful young doctor to the College of Nursing in Mizoram state in India, where the staff are deeply interested in remote-area primary healthcare and have become interested in his programme. Nurses from the United Kingdom are very willing to help to train these community health workers, who are taking back life-saving knowledge and healthcare to the villages that previously had nothing. Many lives have already been saved.
I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government will continue to support the nursing profession's capability to respond to global healthcare needs, both in educational initiatives and in practical terms, such as in international partnerships and secondments, to which reference has been made in the medical field, to those developing countries. Secondments benefit those in the developing countries and employers here in the United Kingdom, because practitioners return with enhanced initiative, knowledge, skills and experience-particularly those which transcend cultural borders.
I could give many other examples from our experiences Sudan, Nigeria and East Timor inter alia, but I hope that the example I have given from Burma reinforces the importance of this significant subject raised by my noble friend.
As a former VSO volunteer myself in Nigeria many years ago-an experience that I consider to have had a major influence on my career and outlook-I am keen to give more opportunities for healthcare professionals today to gain a better understanding of global health issues. I should like to discuss attempts to develop
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With the help of Professor Rachel Jenkins of King's College, a scheme called the college volunteer programme was established about five years ago. We had wanted to set up a programme with VSO, as two other colleges had done, but this was difficult because VSO responds to requests for volunteers and it was not receiving requests for psychiatrists. In a way, that indicates the low priority given to, or low recognition of, mental health issues in many of the countries where VSO works. Therefore, we set up our own programme and gained agreement to the principle of out-of-programme placements abroad, fully approved for higher training. We put in place some safeguards, which included an in-country mentor providing supervision of all placements, with supplementary e-mail supervision from a UK-based consultant who had relevant overseas experience and who would have helped to prepare the volunteer in advance.
The intention was threefold, as I shall set out, although not in any particular order. The first was to provide a training experience in global mental health for UK trainees so that they would better understand the health perspectives and needs of migrant communities here in the UK. The second was to do that through meeting an identified need in the host country in a sustainable way. Often such needs were identified through our own college members and fellows who live and work in low and middle-income countries around the world. The third was to ensure that trainees would be equipped and motivated to be able to contribute to health services in low and middle-income countries in the future.
A number of mental health trusts have set up a specific link with a country, and I give as an example the trust where I have an honorary consultant contract-the South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust. While I was president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, I talked to the chair of the mental health trust about ways in which he could help us to develop our volunteer programme. We thought that Ghana would be a good country with which to establish a relationship, partly because of its political stability but also because we were aware that the trust employed a number of Ghanaian staff, and the catchment population included many West Africans. The scheme at our trust was helped off the ground by a charity called Challenges Worldwide, which helped to set things up in Ghana. The scheme involved the trainee volunteer forgoing one month's salary to cover the overheads involved in setting up the placement. The royal college fundraises to provide bursaries to support trainees' travel costs. I shall quote two recent trainees who have each spent three months in Ghana. One said:
Let us reflect on the fact that the NHS has for many years received the benefit of large numbers of health
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Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has a passion for this important issue, and I congratulate the noble Lord on initiating this debate tonight, the quality of which has proved his passion to be correct.
Good health in one country cannot be maintained if there is widespread ill health and disease in so many others. I have always felt privileged to be able to participate in debates in your Lordships' House when such expertise and personal commitment is shown and, as so many noble Lords have said tonight, in a globalised and interdependent world, one in which disease certainly knows no boundaries, health is a global issue. The rich world has a responsibility to the developing world to support the growth of their health infrastructures and the growth of their medical education.
The nature of our responsibilities includes without doubt the need for overseas doctors to train in the UK without unacceptable barriers being placed in their way, or expense, and indeed the need for UK doctors to spend time abroad. We recognise that is a legitimate part of their qualifications, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others. It also includes the need to prepare our own UK-based doctors for the implications and effect of globalisation in our own health service and the UK population. The noble Lord is quite right-our medical training must encompass this challenge and its complexity.
The previous Government, with no small help, I suspect, from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, produced Health is global: a UK Government strategy 2008-13 in September 2008. In it there was recognition of the fact that a healthy population is fundamental to prosperity, security and stability. It also linked the Government's domestic and international objectives to the issue of improving global health. Could the Minister tell the House, therefore, what the Government are doing to continue this work? Has the department embraced the recommendations contained in that strategy?
We can look at the threat that global disease can pose. SARS and swine flu are two of the most dramatic examples where the world had to work together to protect itself. There is no doubt that a weakness in the healthcare in one country can put millions at risk. Nearer to home, however, in the UK, and particularly in London, we only have to think about TB and the communities most at risk. I am reminded of this by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who questioned me many times when I was a Minister about this.
Seventy-two per cent of UK cases of TB are among people born abroad, and about 40 per cent of cases in England are in London. It is vital, therefore, that the health service in London understands the nature of this problem, the communities at risk, and what needs to happen. The increase in migration into the UK means that UK doctors treat patients from all over the world, and medical students must be prepared for this change and understand its implications.
"Medical students have to be prepared carefully for this change, with curricula exposing them to an understanding of why migration happens and specific migrant health issues as well as how to treat a broad range of diseases not routinely seen in the UK".
Can the Minister say, therefore, whether TB and other conditions and their management are adequately included in the training of doctors in the UK? Indeed, would the forthcoming change of the Health Education Board mentioned in the document referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, which will be an issue for the House in months to come, encompass the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and other noble Lords today?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for calling this debate and express my gratitude for his strong and continuing commitment to issues of global health. I found his speech extremely helpful and thought provoking.
The Government are deeply committed to issues of international development. In this year's spending review we confirmed that, as well as protecting the NHS budget, we will keep our promise to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid from 2013, helping the billion people who live in extreme poverty around the world. We are equally committed to doing everything we can to meet the millennium development goals. In particular, we are taking bold action to tackle malaria and to improve reproductive, maternal and newborn health. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, we are currently reviewing the previous Government's cross-Whitehall global health strategy to ensure its relevance and effectiveness in the coming years.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has linked issues of development with those of the appropriate education of health professionals, which itself has enormous implications both for our nation's health and for that of the rest of the world. As he knows, there are many aspects of the education of health professionals, encompassing pre- and post-registration training, as well as continued professional development. The responsibility for setting the standards required for professional pre-registration sits with the professional regulators. The higher education institutes then design training curricula to meet these standards in partnership with NHS service providers and the regulators. The Department of Health, along with the local NHS
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In terms of pre-registration education for doctors, we look to the General Medical Council for leadership. Its 2009 publication Tomorrow's Doctors provides the framework that UK medical schools use to design detailed curricula and methods of assessment. I was glad to see the framework was well received by the authors of the recent Lancet Commission publication, Health Professionals for a New Century. The framework also highlights the importance of a global dimension. New graduates must be able to demonstrate awareness, from a global perspective, of the determinants of health and disease and of the variations in healthcare delivery and medical practice. Postgraduate medical training curricula are developed by the medical royal colleges for approval by the GMC. Most of the topics highlighted in this debate are covered in the foundation programme curriculum and core competence framework for doctors developed by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.
We have come a long way since the noble Lord wrote his report on medical training, Global Health Partnerships, in 2007. My noble friend Lord McColl is absolutely right that there is already significant good practice in the UK in terms of incorporating the global dimension into pre- and post-registration training. This is one part of the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who asked me to consider what more might be done to support this type of activity. Medical students can study global health; they can spend a year studying international health as part of an intercalated degree or can choose to travel to developing countries for the elective component of their undergraduate training. There are also opportunities for post-registration medical doctors to spend part of their specialty training in developing countries, as part of the out-of-programme training and research arrangements. Here, I reassure my noble friend Lady Tonge and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, that, if prospectively approved, training of this type counts towards the certificate of completion of training. Details of this initiative are provided in the Gold Guide, a guide for postgraduate specialty training in the UK agreed by the four UK health departments for core and/or specialty training programmes. This sets out a clear process as a guide for post-graduate deans.
My noble friend Lord McColl stressed the need for taking longer periods overseas and providing greater support for achieving the goals that we have all been talking about. Universities support medical student electives as long as the plans are carefully drawn up to ensure the best possible experience for them and, of course, for the host institution abroad. I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, lest there be any doubt in his mind, that we strongly support the principle that trainees should have opportunities to gain experience overseas both for their own benefit and that of the host countries. Also, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, was right to say that there are opportunities for postgraduate medical doctors to spend part of their specialty training in developing countries, as I have mentioned, and these can count towards clinical medical training.
In answer to my noble friend Lady Tonge, we take on board comments about reducing the level of bureaucracy in this process, and we welcome suggestions for improvement. However, we need to ensure both that service can continue to be delivered effectively in the NHS and that training overseas is appropriately recognised, supervised and assessed, which is not necessarily straightforward in every case.
Earlier this month, the Lancet Commission published a report, Health Professionals for a New Century. In response to some of its specific proposals, I should like to highlight the progress that has already been made in a number of areas. For example, the Department of Health is taking forward its technology-enhanced learning strategy to promote greater use of information technology for learning, harnessing and sharing global education resources. The Medical Training Initiative allows a small number of doctors from developing countries to work and train in the NHS before returning home. The National Leadership Council works with clinicians from all professions to develop their leadership skills and embed leadership across all undergraduate and postgraduate curricula. The Health Partnership Scheme, launched in November by my honourable friend in another place, Stephen O'Brien, will enable NHS professionals to share their skills with nurses and doctors in developing countries through teaching, training and practical assistance. We should also mention the report from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, entitled, Women Doctors: Making a Difference. It makes recommendations on a range of issues that include improving access to mentoring and career advice, improved access to childcare, more flexible and part-time training, and encouraging women into leadership positions.
We must always look to improve the standards of medical education in this country. For this reason, as has been mentioned, we have today published Liberating the NHS: Developing the Healthcare Workforce, the consultation on the education and training aspects of the NHS White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS. The White Paper signals a new approach to workforce planning, education and training by,
alongside greater professional ownership of the quality of education and training. The consultation will enable my department to do the second thing proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, which is to meet with relevant parties to consider the findings of the Lancet Commission report. With the changes set out in the NHS and public health White Papers, the system of healthcare in England is changing, and it is imperative that our system of education and training reflects that change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, asked whether curricula include global competences. They do, and in acknowledgement of the case presented by Medsin UK, a global health dimension is included in the 2009 GMC guidance, Tomorrow's Doctors, which states that new graduates must be able to demonstrate,
In fact, most of the topics highlighted by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, which I mentioned, are covered in the foundation programme curriculum published this year. All topics are at least partly described in the core competences for doctors in the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges' Common Competences Framework for Doctors, published last year.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, urged that we should find ways to give active support for doctors to take part in health partnership schemes. We agree that we need to support doctors and other health professionals to take part in that scheme and I can reassure him that the Department of Health is working closely with the Department for International Development on this initiative. I mentioned the partnership scheme earlier.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred to the role of academic health science centres and I welcome the initiatives taken by the AHSCs, both in teaching and research, in global issues. They can contribute a huge amount but perhaps two things above all: the partnerships which they can and do form overseas and their ability to develop cultural competence in UK graduates.
My noble friend Lady Tonge referred to the need for ethical recruitment. She is absolutely right. She probably knows that the UK was the first country to produce international recruitment guidance based on ethical principles and the first to develop a robust code of practice for employers.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, made some extremely constructive and important points, as did all other speakers, for which I am very grateful. I shall make sure that these are taken into account during the consultation process.
In closing, I should like to take this opportunity to invite all interested parties to engage with the consultation to help us develop the recommendations made in the Lancet Commission report and to help shape the future system of education for health professionals.
"( ) the Electoral Commission have certified that the electoral register is being kept substantially up to date in terms of its accuracy and completeness"
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the amendment seeks to insert into Clause 8(1) a third condition before the Minister must make an order. There are currently two conditions in the Bill: first, that there has been a yes vote in the referendum; and, secondly, in Clause 8(1)(b) that,
Our proposal seeks to ensure that, before there is any change in the voting system and any substantial redrawing of the boundaries, proper work is done to ensure that the electoral register is up to date. If that work is not done, you will end up with boundaries being in the wrong place. The electoral quota for the boundary review will be based on the date on which the review begins, according to the new rule in paragraph 9(2) of the new Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act.
"The 'electorate' of the United Kingdom, or of a part of the United Kingdom or a constituency, is the total number of persons whose names appear on the relevant version of a register of parliamentary electors in respect of addresses in the United Kingdom, or in that part or that constituency. For this purpose the relevant version of a register is the version that is required by virtue of subsection (1) of section 13 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to be published no later than the review date, or would be so required but for ... any power".
"The 'review date', in relation to a report under section 3(1) of this Act that a Boundary Commission is required (by section 3(2)) to submit before a particular date, is two years and ten months before that date".
That plainly would not "take into account" underregistration in many areas of the UK. It is no good for the Government to say that they are interested in fair votes if the effect of what they are doing is to ignore the people who should be on the register but are not. The level of underregistration has been of
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The Electoral Commission published in September 2005 a report entitled, Understanding Electoral Registration: the Extent and Nature of Non-registration in Britain. The commission said that it had carried out,
"According to ONS, the best estimate for non-registration among the eligible household population in England and Wales at 15 October 2000 (the qualifying date for the February 2001 register) lies between 8% and 9%. This compares with 7-9% in 1991. This means that in the region of 3.5 million people across England and Wales were eligible to be on the register at their main residence but were missing from it in 2000".
In the commission's first analysis of the performance of EROs in 2009, it noted the limited data available on the rates and number of people registering to vote and commissioned new research on the state of the electoral registers in Great Britain. The Completeness and Accuracy of Electoral Registers in Great Britain was published in March 2010. Its key findings were as follows:
"The completeness of Great Britain's electoral registers remains broadly similar to the levels achieved in comparative countries. However, national datasets and local case study research suggest there may be widening local and regional variations in registration levels. While there is no straightforward relationship between population density and the state of local registers, the lowest rates of completeness and accuracy were found in the two most densely populated case study areas, with the most mobile populations (Glasgow city and Lambeth). Recent social, economic and political changes appear to have resulted in a declining motivation to register to vote among specific social groups. This is despite the fact that electors now have more options than ever open to them to register. We made it as easy as it was possible to make for people to register. The annual canvass continues, on the whole to be an effective way to update the registration details of electors; but rolling registration, a tool introduced to maintain the register, has not prevented the completeness and accuracy of the registers declining between annual canvass periods. Under-registration and inaccuracy are closely associated with the social groups most likely to move home. Across the seven case study areas in phase two (therefore excluding Knowsley), under-registration is notably higher than average among 17-24 year olds (56% not registered), private sector tenants (49%) and black and minority ethnic (BME) British residents (31%). Each revised electoral register lasts for 12 months, from December to December; during that period, the
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According to data compiled by the Office for National Statistics and the House of Lords Library, for example, 24,000 voters are missing from the electoral register in Sheffield Central. In Portsmouth South, 20,000 eligible voters are missing, making a registration rate of 78 per cent. In Wimbledon, the figure is 80 per cent. That does not mean that 80 per cent are missing; it means that only 80 per cent of the people in Wimbledon who could vote are registered. That is 16,000 missing voters. In Colchester-I take these by way of example-missing voters stand at 14,500.
If the Government plough ahead with their plans without addressing the state of the register, they will, in effect, be shutting the door on millions of eligible voters. I go back to the point that any suggestion about fairness should include fairness not just for those on the electoral register but for those who are not on the electoral register. When the previous Government were in power, we set the wheels in motion for increasing the number of eligible voters on the electoral register. We facilitated the introduction of individual voter registration but at a pace that sought to avoid the negative consequences of this when it was rolled out in Northern Ireland.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Does this not all inevitably mean that there will be some inner-city constituencies with huge populations in the very parts of the kingdom where most of the problems of social deprivation are concentrated?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: That is inevitably the conclusion of the figures that I am talking about. If one goes back to what one would have thought would be the basic purpose of these changes-to increase trust in the electoral system for those who most depend on what politics does-to rush through a change in the boundaries that excludes them because there has
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If the Government are sincere, we commend this. We warned them to be wary of the experience in Northern Ireland where there were changes and not to rush individual voter registration. But the House and the country deserve to know the substance of their plans in relation to improving registration against the analysis that the Electoral Commission has made.
I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord will respond to the points that I have made. The coalition has made it a condition of the introduction of the AV system that there is a new boundary for almost all of the constituencies in the country. Surely we want those boundaries to reflect where the voters live.
Lord Rooker: That means that there will be hundreds of thousands of census enumerators crawling around the country in March. Could they not check that the people in the dwellings that they go to are on the electoral register? It seems an ideal time for advance publicity before the referendum planned in May. We have a census taking place at some time around March. I know there is always an argument about swapping information, but this is an ideal opportunity, particularly in the areas where it is known that there is under-registration. There is nothing new in what my noble and learned friend says: the same areas were under-registered 30 years ago. In those special areas an effort could be made by the enumerators to cross-check their results at the end of the day with the electoral register.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I agree with my learned friend-sorry; my unlearned but profoundly friendly friend. Of course what I am saying is well known to everybody. However, he is wrong to say that the matter has remained static for 30 years. According to the ONS, the best estimate for non-registration among the eligible household population as at 15 October 2000 lies between 8 and 9 per cent. This compares with 7 to 9 per cent in 1991, so I think with respect that it is getting worse.
If this is meant to be the dawn of new politics, should the Government not commit themselves to doing all in their power to enable local registration officers to maximise the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register? No system is perfect and that is why my amendment does not propose any standard of perfection. It simply requires the Electoral Commission to certify that the electoral register has been kept substantially up to date.
Lord Campbell-Savours: When I talk to electoral registration officers, they are conscious of the fact that their budgets are not ring-fenced within local authorities. There is a danger that despite all the legislation that
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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I appreciate that. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has not said it, but he will be aware that in the context of what are quite savage cuts in local authority expenditure, the enthusiasm for this sort of work in local authorities will go down yet further.
The coalition presents its proposals and the noble Lord, Lord McNally-sadly not in his place at the moment-when confronted with difficulty says that what he seeks to achieve is fairness. It must involve fairness for all groups, but most particularly those groups that are under-represented.
Lord Rennard: Does the noble and learned Lord agree with me that all previous Boundary Commission reviews-I think that there have been five general reviews since 1944, conducted under Labour and Conservative Governments-have been based on the electoral register as it is, rather than as we would wish it to be: even more accurate and even more complete? Would he perhaps acknowledge the contribution of his noble friend Lord Wills, who was instrumental in improving the accuracy of the electoral register under the previous Labour Government, ensuring for example the provision of the rolling register, so that hundreds of thousands more voters were added to the register in April this year in order to vote in the general election? The system is now rather better than it has been previously, so the register as of 1 December this year will be more accurate than it was previously, and it is a good register on which to base the next Boundary Commission review-certainly better than it would have been otherwise and no different or worse than the previous five Boundary Commission reviews.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I agree with the noble Lord when he says that it is better than the previous five boundary reviews. I agree with him that my noble friend Lord Wills made a major contribution to that and that we did a lot to deal with the issue. The evidence that I rely on is the March 2010 report of the Electoral Commission. Although the electoral register prepared in April indicated some improvements, the speech that I made earlier indicates the fundamental problems in relation to the register, which the Electoral Commission identified. I would be extremely surprised and concerned if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, departed from the position of the Electoral Commission in relation to that. Yes, we have made improvements, but there is still a long way to go, in particular in relation to the private rented sector, young people and black and minority ethnic groups. There is a very substantial group of people who are not on the electoral register but who could be if an effort was made.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: In Northern Ireland, there is a problem with individual registration. Eventually it should improve the accuracy of the register, but it will take some time in relation to it, and household registration tends to involve more people being registered than does individual registration. We introduced individual registration because we did not like the idea of it being the head of the household who determined whether or not you got registered. My noble friend Lord Beecham is right in saying that because that measure might reduce the number of people registered, the consequence is that you need more effort on the part of the electoral registration officers to ensure that things keep up. Ultimately, you cannot-if the claim is fairness-say that it is fairness in relation to this one aspect but not to another.
If the position of the coalition is that it will not introduce AV, even if 99 per cent are in favour, until the Boundary Commission has reported, why will it not also accept our condition, which would have a fundamentally galvanising effect on electoral registration? It would mean that the Government of the day had the highest possible motivation to ensure that there was proper registration and that the sorts of problems to which the Electoral Commission has referred would be dealt with. This is how to make a difference in this regard.
I await the noble and learned Lord's answer as to why, if at all, this proposal would not and should not be introduced. It is a wholly good thing, which would improve our democracy and would, most importantly, bring into our democracy people in black and minority ethnic groups, which are perhaps the groups that feel most alienated and excluded by it at the moment. I beg to move.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I support my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer on the basis that, if the boundaries are to be reviewed, the numbers should be as accurate as possible. First, however, I did not agree with what my own Government did in relation to changing the arrangements for registering for elections. I thought the head of the household system was far better than individual registration, and far more likely to ensure that more people were registered. I am worried about the effect that it will have when we move on to individual registration. I think that 17 or 18 year-olds are less likely to fill in forms, whereas the head of the household could ensure that all of the people of voting age were registered. I think it is a pity that we have moved in that direction.
However, the introduction of the rolling register, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said, has significantly improved the situation. More and more people are registering now instead of having to wait for one particular date to register. That has been a great improvement.
My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said that the numbers could be more accurate if an effort was made-I want to come to that point-to make sure that people are registered. He mentioned that two of the areas in which there was the lowest registration were Lambeth and Glasgow-he mentioned Glasgow in particular. I draw to the attention of the House
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I have raised this in the context of other areas, and I have been told that it is too late now to get registered if the timetable in this Bill is adhered to. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that is the case and whether we could ask each council to undertake the kind of exercise that was carried out in Glasgow.
If it is too late, then we need to consider alternatives, but if it is not, we should be getting MPs to encourage councils to carry out this kind of exercise. Before my noble friend Lord Rooker raised it, I, too, had written down the question of the census. That is another opportunity to gather a more accurate picture of those who are eligible to vote. It would be helpful if, in his reply, the Minister would indicate whether it is possible to get the census enumerators, as they go around, to ask an additional question, about registration -the names of the people in the household over 18 or those who will attain the age of 18 by a particular date. They could hand forms out when they are going around, or leaflets. That is my order of preference-to get them registered and take a note of it, then to give them a form and, failing that, to give them a leaflet. That would help.
I do not want to hold back the House unduly regarding this, but one of the things that has been noticed, and this has been said by some other colleagues in previous debates, is that it is funny seeing the two former Chancellors on the Benches opposite. It is a bit like the characters in the gallery on "The Muppets", sitting there commenting on events.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Waldorf and Statler, my noble friend says. I should say that they are distinguished ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer. As they have been around a great deal longer than I have, they will recall-I saw this when we were in opposition in the House of Commons, even when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and I saw it again when Labour was in power and Tony Blair was Prime Minister-that, as one of my noble friends said earlier, when we went through these kinds of debates in Committee, week in, week out, the Minister would say, "That's a very good point; I'll take that away and look at it and come back on Report". On this Bill, we have had one occasion when the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has said that-one miserable occasion. Even then, he did not say that he agreed; he said that he would take it back and have a look at it without any guarantee, sympathy or consideration.
I think that we could make even better progress through the Bill if, day after day and week after week, the Minister were to say, "That's a good point. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has made a good point on this", or, "The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has made an excellent point on that; I'll take it away and look at it and see what can be done about it". So far, though, one such response in six sessions is a very low batting average. It makes the English cricket team look good in comparison. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, whom I have known for a very long time, will recognise the validity of the argument that if you are to have a fair election and fair boundaries, you need to ensure that everyone over the age of 18 is taken account of in drawing up those boundaries.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, what a good point my noble friend has just made; I am sure that we shall all take it into account. What a good contribution, too, from my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, and what an interesting intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. It is that last to which I want particularly to address my remarks. The noble Lord made a point that was completely impossible to dispute: in the past, constituency boundaries have been based on registers, registers by and large have been getting better-at least, we have worked on getting them better; we do not ever have a completely firm idea of how many people are not registered-and the Bill is therefore soundly based.
That, however, is not reality. The reality is that with the Bill, for the first time, we are treating electorates as part of a rigid mathematical formula-5.1 per cent over, you have to be cut down; 5 per cent under, you have to cut back. There is a strict limit of 5 per cent within which the Electoral Commission has to work, and some good examples of the effects of that have been brought before noble Lords by outside advisers. But what we are trying to equalise is not some actual number, a number in reality-it is an extremely approximate guess at the number of electors. Yes, it is the number of people who appear on a list, but we have no idea how that relates in each individual constituency to the number of people who actually should be on that list.
I can guarantee that, under the provisions of the Bill, some seats will have bits cut off them because they are thought to be over the 5 per cent limit whereas in fact they are not; they will be well within the limit, but they will have a very high registration number. More importantly, you will have other seats which are having bits added into them. They have got a perfectly normal number of people living there but an inadequacy in the register means that they are not all counted. This is perfectly all right under the existing way in which the Electoral Commission works. It works in a way where size is only one of the factors it takes into account. It adjusts for such matters as natural boundaries, geography, local authority boundaries and so on, and it comes by and large to the most sensible view on the most sensible set of facts that are available to it. That does not work for a rigid mathematical formula of this kind.
Half of the solution to this should be to be less rigid about mathematical formulae, both in terms of allowing a greater flexibility around the size allowed to constituencies and by giving a greater weight to the other factors which the Electoral Commission can take into account when deciding the boundaries of a particular seat. We will come later to amendments which are designed to do both those things.
While this provision of 5 per cent remains, however, at least we have to make sure we are doing the best job we can with the electoral register, a job which is now vastly more important because of its vast mathematical significance in the scheme of things laid out by the Bill.
Lord McAvoy: Does my noble friend agree with my findings, not on a scientific basis, that during and after the poll tax fiasco the importance of people wanting to be on the register was undermined because a whole strata of people found there was a financial advantage not to be registered and somehow there was something lost in the community about the importance of wanting to register? No matter how allegedly better the registers are now, there must be a residual effect of the poll tax. So it may be better but there is residual damage.
Lord Lipsey: I entirely agree with my noble friend. Indeed it is not just the poll tax; there are a number of factors the whole time that cause people to avoid anything that identifies them as individuals and which they think the authorities could catch up with. It may be for bad reasons: they may perhaps be illegally in the country or fear they are here illegally; or good reasons: that they fall for some of the liberal myths about the nature of the modern state and think that they may all end up in prison if they are identified. I do not take it by any means for granted that the improvement in the electoral register will continue over time.
It is rather like opinion polls. Opinion polls measure less and less because fewer and fewer people are willing to answer the questions because they are frightened that they may be held to task for the answers they give. There is therefore a serious risk of the deterioration of the electoral registers, which makes it all the more wrong that this Bill should have the exact number on the electoral register and the exact number of people in each constituency as its target and also makes it right that, in so far as we can improve these things at all, the amendment moved by my noble friend should be adopted to make them as good as they can be. But that will never be very good.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, I should like to share with noble Lords my own experience of the problems of electoral registration. Prior to the 2005 general election, when I was in the other place, my honourable friend Wayne David, my neighbouring colleague and MP for Caerphilly, and I were absolutely staggered to find that the new register had come out and our electorates had dropped by thousands-I think more than 8,000. We had a meeting with the electoral returning officer who was an official of his association and he explained to us that across the country electoral registration
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With the best will in the world, rolling registers have helped but they are more of a convenience. I do not think there is a great deal of evidence to show that many more people have actually registered. I am a bit concerned about individual registration-
Lord Rennard: The noble Lord suggests that perhaps few people have taken advantage of the rolling register. Does he not recall that in April-the month of the general election campaign-many hundreds of thousands of people, particularly young people, used this rolling register facility to register to vote in the general election? All the reasons why people do not wish to be on the register may apply in the future, while this year, because of the general election, many more people applied for inclusion on it. That is why 1 December might be a very good date on which to base the boundary review.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: Before my noble friend responds, will he consider what those young people, many of them probably students, will think, having got on to the register and possibly having voted Liberal Democrat, possibly because of tuition fees; and how they may now feel about being added to the register?
Lord Touhig: Somewhat disappointed. Taking up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, I am sure large numbers of people-large numbers of young people-registered. At the time of a general election, for reasons that could be national or local, people always speed up their registration. However, I am not entirely convinced that a rolling register will improve the total number of people registered. As I say, I am a little concerned that individual registration might deter people from registering. If it is to be done by a canvass but the whole family is not in the house, what will the canvasser do? Should he or she just take the names of one or two people and register them, while the other three-perhaps grown-up children-do not get registered?
My point, coming back to my own experience, is that this simply will not improve registration. I appreciate that our economy and our country are in a difficult financial situation at present. However, registration will not improve unless central government provides the funding and directs local authorities to carry out an annual door-to-door canvass. In the past when we had such door-to-door canvasses, registration was, I believe, much higher. Unless we go back to that and provide the resources for it, it will not happen. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours made the point that the resources are lacking. My experience with my local council is simply that, with the best will in the world, it was not going to put in the resources necessary for an individual annual canvass. Unless we grasp that nettle, we will not improve the total number of people on the register.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I will intervene only briefly because I do not want to get into this whole debate about individual registration once again. I spent hours on my feet in Committee on two pieces of legislation that went through under the Labour Government that introduced this monstrous piece of legislation on individual registration. It will be to our ultimate cost but that is an argument for another day. All I want to say is that I intervened in the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton on the question of inner-city constituencies because there is a real problem developing here. Because of lack of registration and this national formula, we will end up with fewer inner-city seats but ones that have vast populations.
We must remember that inner-city seats involve far more work. I remember when I was the MP for Workington, comparing my constituency workload with that of some of the London MPs. They got three or four times the volume of mail that I did-so much so that they often simply could not provide the level of service that they wanted to in their inner-city seats. I thought I was being heavily pressured by constituents. One of the major problems in inner-city seats is to do with immigration, often involving groups of people who are not registered at all and who cannot register. That is in addition to the general problem of higher population. I simply do not believe that the Government have taken this whole matter into account. They say, "Oh well, local authorities can simply put the resources in", but they cannot. I say again that my own Government failed to ring-fence these budgets. However, if we had known that this legislation was coming, we might well have had to think more seriously about the need to ring-fence budgets in this area. In some ways we are now paying the price for not having done so. I invite Conservative Members to ring up some of the electoral registration officers that I have talked to, who complain that they simply will not be able to deliver on the Government's agenda in this area.
Finally, when we look at this debate it is important to consider what happens in rural Conservative seats with what I believe to be a far lower level of casework as against the position of city centre seats in London, Birmingham and Sheffield. We should actually consider the different workload. I think many Conservative Members simply do not understand the weight of additional work that arises in those constituencies. I cannot see any way around it. There is nothing in this legislation that is there to help; we have had no undertakings from the Dispatch Box that we are going to get over this problem. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton has repeatedly raised this question of higher populations in inner city seats and we have heard nothing from the Government. As this Bill progresses through Committee I think we are going to find that a lot of our debate revolves around that particular issue.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, in introducing his amendment the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, correctly identified that this would add a third precondition to the order being laid to implement those parts of the Bill in the event of a yes vote in the referendum and the introduction of the alternative vote.
Perhaps it will not come as any surprise to your Lordships' House that we cannot accept that there should be a further condition. We are not quite sure what "substantially up to date" means and, quite frankly, no case has been made as to why it should be done with regard to setting this order in motion as opposed to the fundamentally important point-on which I would substantially agree with what has been said not only by the noble and learned Lord but by other contributors-of getting a more accurate electorate. Indeed, I would say that even if there were a no vote in the referendum it should not in any way diminish the wish and the objective of trying to ensure that the electoral register is made as accurate as it possibly can be. It is important that it should be as up to date as possible but I do not believe it should be a condition of the commencement of the AV provisions.
As noble Lords will be aware, the electoral registration officers across local authorities in the United Kingdom already have a statutory duty to take the steps that are necessary to maintain the registers and the commission has a statutory responsibility to promote public awareness of electoral registration and elections and to set and monitor performance standards and electoral services. It is worth noting that the report to which the noble and learned Lord referred, The Completeness and Accuracy of Electoral Registers in Great Britain, published in March this year, reported a registration rate in the United Kingdom of 91 to 92 per cent. That compares reasonably well with other countries. Furthermore, the commission's report, Performance Standards for Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain, also published in March, showed that just under 96 per cent of electoral registration officers met the completeness and accuracy of electoral registration records standard this year, a considerable improvement on the previous occasion.
Lord Campbell-Savours: When the Minister quotes such a figure as 91 per cent, does he mean that 91 per cent of the population are registered or does he mean 91 per cent of the households in the particular area have submitted a return to the registration officer?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: As I understand it-if I am wrong I will certainly make the correction-it is not of the population because obviously there are members of the population who are ineligible to appear on the electoral roll. I understand that it is the figure of those who are eligible to vote.
I take the important point made by the noble and learned Lord that there are groups-young people, people in the private rented sector, people from ethnic- minority communities-where the figure of non-registration is disturbingly high.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: If the Electoral Commission can produce that figure of 91 per cent registered of those eligible to vote, then it must have a figure of those eligible to vote. If it has a figure of those eligible to vote why not use that figure in each constituency rather than the registered figure?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I understand that. If I am wrong, I will readily correct it. However, the point is, as I understand it, that that is trying to compare like with like. It compares reasonably well with other countries, but I readily acknowledge that within that there are groups which are considerably under-represented. The information I have been given is that the figure is 91 per cent of those in the population of voting age.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: In order to calculate that the figure is 91 per cent of the people of voting age, you must know how many people there are of voting age in each constituency. Surely that figure could be used for the boundary reviews, rather than the number of people who have bothered to get their name on the register, and it would be much more accurate.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: It is indicated that voting age may not always mean eligibility to vote, because there might be occasions when people may not be United Kingdom citizens, or be Commonwealth citizens or citizens of the Republic of Ireland, and would thereby be ineligible to vote.
The two important points are, first, that that 91 per cent figure is reasonable and compares well with other countries and, secondly, there are still within it groups where the registration rate is not, by any stretch of the imagination, satisfactory; and I believe that there is an obligation to address these issues.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, it is very helpful to have this information from the Minister, but the real point is that it is not what the overall level of registration is, or what the level of registration within groups of the population is; it is what the variation is in the level of registration between constituencies. It is constituency sizes that you are trying to equalise on the basis of these registration figures, and 91 per cent overall could easily hide a difference between 80 per cent at the lowest and 99 per cent at the highest.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: It follows on from what I have said that I have implicitly acknowledged that point, because clearly there are some constituencies where the kind of groups that I have indicated have a lower registration rate tends to be more concentrated. To be fair, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, alluded to the information on that from the reports from the Electoral Commission that have been referred to.
Lord Lipsey: The noble and learned Lord says that it is possible on the basis of knowing what groups are in which constituencies to make a pretty good estimate of the percentage of registration in each constituency. It would be helpful if he published for the House a document setting that out, so that we can see what the variance is. It is not on the variance that these equalisations will happen; it is on the basis that they are all plumb right.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I hope that there is no dispute between any parts of the House that it is important that we try to improve voter registration, and I can assure the House that the
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The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made reference to the census. It was a helpful suggestion. In a previous incarnation in Scotland, I had some ministerial responsibility for the census, and I am only too aware of the sensitivities attached to that. I rather suspect that the Office for National Statistics has thought about the degree to which it would be practical to mix the census with another exercise and the effects that that could have. I do not have the information to hand on whether the ONS has made that analysis, but I would nevertheless be happy to look into that issue. It might also be possible, although I cannot give any definitive answer, for the information from the census to inform us in the future. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, indicated, there are sensitivities about data protection, but perhaps it may be possible for that information to be available for informing further efforts to improve voter registration.
I confirm that we are piloting data matching between electoral registration officers and public authorities to identify people who are not on the register and target them for registration. We have just run a process for applications and the pilots will occur next year. I say to the noble and learned Lord that the boundaries have always been drawn on the basis of the register, and, as he correctly pointed out, the review date will be in two years and 10 months. As the report is due on 1 October 2013, the review date would be 1 December which has just passed, which, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, would be too late. However, I hope he will agree that it is not too late to try to encourage people to get on to the register for the purpose of voting in the referendum and in the other elections which are due to take place next year.
I also make the point to the noble and learned Lord that, if his amendment were to be carried and the next election in 2015 were held according to a register where the review date was some 10 years ago, the distortion might be even greater. I also point out that, under the Bill, we are seeking to have a review every five years. That would allow us the opportunity every five years to improve and, it is hoped, to take advantage of the improvements to which we are committed and which I know the Administration of which he was a member subsequently supported. My noble friend Lord Rennard paid proper tribute to the work that was done by the previous Administration to try to increase voter registration with a rolling register. These are worthwhile initiatives and we want to continue with them.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: According to the terms of the Bill, I think that the second boundary review will report on 1 October 2018. The noble and learned Lord indicated that there were difficulties involved in rushing registration and we have taken that on board. However, I cannot be absolutely certain about the extent to which that will be fully fed in for the report that comes out in 2018, with, I think I am right in saying, a review date of 1 December 2015. I hope that my arithmetic is correct. We hope to make substantial progress with individual registration ahead of that date.
I hope to reassure the Committee that this is an important issue and that that is how the Government are treating it. We have put in train measures to try to increase voter registration but we do not believe that that should be a precondition for the introduction of the alternative vote system. However, I believe that such an increase is absolutely right in its own terms and that we should make a concerted effort to improve voter registration, not least so that those who are entitled to vote get the opportunity to do so in future elections and, indeed, in a future referendum.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I express my gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for his response to my amendment. It was gracious and detailed and dealt with the issue. Perhaps I may draw out a number of the points that he made. First, he said-in my view, rightly-that there is an obligation to address these issues. He said that he regarded it as right in its own terms that this issue is addressed, by which I take him to mean that, irrespective of the Bill, it is something that needs to be done. I have not noted his precise words on this but he also accepted that it is an important issue because it effectively disenfranchises the groups on which I think we agree-that is, those in the private rented sector, those in the BME community and young people. That is why it is important.
In effect, he confirmed that, as the Electoral Commission said, we are getting a registration level of 91 to 92 per cent, which means that about 8 to 9 per cent are not registered. Therefore, there is no dispute in relation to the position.
He made a point which had not occurred to me but which seems important-that a review two years and 10 months before the effective date means that the relevant date is 1 December 2010. That means that, if you want to make a difference to electoral registration, you need to move the review date a year forward at the very minimum to make it worth while.
The point that the noble and learned Lord did not deal with is that if, like me, he accepts the importance of dealing with these points, why is this not the obvious Bill in which to do it? If he is serious about dealing with these points, it is obvious that something else is required. The points he relied on to start with-for example, that the electoral registration officers have a duty and the Electoral Commission have an obligation to set a standard, the two particularly good points he
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The coalition has taken the view that it would be wrong to introduce AV without first having equalised the constituencies. Why do the coalition regard the equalisation of the constituencies as more important than trying to get a substantial proportion of that 3.5 million who are not registered on the electoral register?
I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in his place. I regard him as the public face of the coalition's defence of this particular Bill. It is hard to imagine a more attractive and handsome public face. What he says in response to practically any complaint about this Bill, and what we are focusing on, is fairness and fair votes. Surely it is fair to the people who are not registered-3.5 million of them-that they get on to the electoral register?
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, for his full answer, which was a genuine response to what I have said. I will come back with an amendment like this on Report which, because of what the noble and learned Lord has said about the review date, to be meaningful has to give enough time for the coalition to make improvements in relation to it.
Remember that what I am asking for is not a complete and accurate register in every respect but simply a conclusion from the Electoral Commission that it is satisfied, in substance, that all efforts have been taken to get as many people as possible on to the electoral register.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, asks a very reasonable question. My understanding is that it is a common provision in the context of a power to commence primary legislative provisions by order. It only allows a limited provision to be made where it is genuinely necessary for the purpose of commencing the AV provisions, and the transitional saving power cannot be used to amend either the Bill or any other piece of legislation.
It was included simply to provide for unforeseen circumstances which might affect the implementation of provisions in the event of a yes vote. As the noble Lord and, indeed, your Lordships may be aware, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee
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The Government take the view that there is only one situation in which the power would need to be used: a case where a by-election is called after the AV provisions are implemented but before the first general election to be held on the alternative vote. That situation could arise if it was thought beneficial to commence the AV provisions well in advance of the anticipated next general election. We would wish to do that to give electoral administrators some certainty. In those circumstances, the power would be used to ensure that such a by-election would be held on the basis of first past the post because provision along these lines would ensure that all Members of the other place should be elected using the same electoral system. I hope no one would disagree with that principle.
The noble Lord has raised the point. The Government take the view that the best approach therefore is to remove the power in Clause 8(4) and instead provide explicitly for the situation as regards the elections prior to the first general election on AV. That makes the Government's intention very clear and removes any room for doubt about how that power might be used. The effect of Amendment 47 on its own would be undesirable. It would remove any power to make the saving provision that we think is sensible in secondary legislation without placing that saving provision in the Bill in its place. It would certainly be our intention to bring forward an appropriate amendment on Report.
Lord Lipsey: The noble and learned Lord has sent this particular noble Lord home happy for Christmas. At last we have changed the Bill in some small regard. I am very grateful to him for his open-mindedness and his very clear explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Campbell-Savours:I wish to speak to Clause 8 because I am worried that a certain portion of the House-essentially, the Cross-Benchers-is unaware of the fuller implications of what we are doing. I want to address my remarks primarily to them during the course of this debate. Clause 8 deals with actions that the Government must take following the result of the referendum, a referendum that is based on a simple majority. A simple majority vote is what the Government argue is their way of respecting the will of the people. I quote those words "respecting the will of the people" because they were the words that the noble Lord,
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I go back to 13 per cent. That is hardly what I would call the will of the people. I would argue that that not being the will of the people, the Government should-the Bill says "must"-take certain actions in this clause. I would argue that they should not take those actions. I argue that that 13 per cent figure is particularly relevant-we are back, essentially, to a threshold debate-because last week I had conversations with various electoral registration officers in the north-west of England, and from the conclusions that I drew as a result of those debates it is quite obvious that when the referendum takes place in various parts of the country next year, there will be some very low turnouts indeed. I cite the case of Manchester City Council because its elections in 2007 broadly reflect the results coming from a stream of cities in the north-west of England. Liverpool, Burnley, Preston and all the cities around that area broadly had the same turnouts in their local election campaigns. I will refer to a return that was sent to me by Manchester City Council for the elections in 2007.
The relevance of this to the Cross-Benchers is this; I believe that most Cross-Benchers have had no experience whatever of turnouts in elections. The closest that most Cross-Benchers in this House will ever have been to an election is voting in one. They will never have canvassed, they will never have been members of political parties, and their knowledge of these matters will be very small indeed. I draw the Cross-Benchers' attention to some turnout figures so that when they read the record of the debate, they will understand what happens in these inner city seats-seats that will form part of the national results. It takes only 50.1 per cent of the return in these seats actually to win the referendum.
I will not name the seats in Manchester, but I will go through some of the turnouts: 24 per cent, 21 per cent, 23 per cent, 22 per cent, 27 per cent, 16 per cent, 29 per cent, 28 per cent, 21 per cent, 27 per cent, 20 per cent, 29 per cent and 17 per cent. Let us remember that it needs only half of these turnouts in terms of cast votes to decide in favour. They will in effect approve the biggest constitutional question, in what I think were the words of Mr Clegg, for the last 180 years. I shall go on: 24 per cent, 29 per cent, 25 per cent, 21 per cent, 21 per cent, 21 per cent, making an average of 27 per cent. Those are very low turnouts indeed. I cannot see how it is possible to justify changing the law on such a major constitutional issue on the basis of low turnouts on this scale.
If I translate those turnouts into the votes that are actually required in Manchester City, a city of a third of a million people, on an average turnout of 27.7 per cent you need only 13.85 per cent of the electorate to approve the referendum. It means that the votes alone of 42,580 people in Manchester, a city of a third of a million people, would determine the result of whether people were in favour of the change in our electoral arrangements to AV. I do not believe that 42,000 out of a third of a million people in Manchester could in anyone's language be described as the will of the people being exercised in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It is far too low a figure.
I have spoken in the debate on clause stand part because I hope that when the Cross-Benchers, who I maintain again have no experience whatever of being engaged in political activity, consider this statistic alone, it might give them pause and make them wonder whether it might now be appropriate to introduce a threshold. Despite what was said in the House of Commons, the reality is that this matter was hardly debated at the other end. There was no great debate because of the way House of Commons business is conducted these days. I hope that the statistics I have produced will get through to those whose judgment may be influenced.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this clause is at the heart of Part 1. In my submission, there are two things that one needs to focus on. First, it is to be a compulsory referendum in the sense that the Minister is required to introduce the new AV system without any protection against a low turnout. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that we would trust the view of the people in that respect, but the difficulty about that is that he did not address the argument put repeatedly and effectively that where you are dealing with significant constitutional change, most systems, including ours, build in protections against change that does not have adequate political and popular support.
This is a constitutional change that does not have the support of Parliament or, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said in the course of the debate, that of any political party. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to address the fact that in this way you could have constitutional change that is supported by 13 per cent of the population but is not supported by Parliament or by any political party. Most people would regard that kind of change as easier than normal legislative change, so will the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, address the argument by saying more than simply, "We trust the will of the people"? Some thought must have been given to that matter. He looks bewildered-as he often does in relation to the Bill-but if he can do no better than that, the House will draw its own conclusions. If his argument is no better than that, he should say so.
The second point about this provision is that the coalition has decided that before AV is introduced the constituencies should be equalised. This is presumably because it takes the view that it would be unfair to have a new electoral system if there is unfairness in the size of constituencies. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has made the point that they are trying to achieve fairness. However, it is obvious that, as the majority of constituencies in this country will be redrawn, it will be unfair to constituencies if they are redrawn on an inaccurate electoral register.
In answer to a Written Question from my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton, the Government have produced figures setting out the discrepancy between constituencies in who is on the electoral register and who is over 18. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is nodding sagely and I express our gratitude, on behalf of the nation, for his openness in providing that information. The information repays looking at. Take the north-east of England, for example. In the City of
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Surely the right course for Clause 8 is to ensure that both conditions are met before AV is introduced. It would make a difference because it would provide a drive for electoral registration that has not previously occurred.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It had not occurred to me that they were Labour seats. I hope that the House will address these issues on the merits of the argument. However, it would not surprise me that they were Labour seats because these tend to be in areas where the poorest-the BME communities, the private rented sector and students-live. If I had thought about it, that would probably have been the answer, but so what if they are Labour seats?
Lord McAvoy: My noble and learned friend complimented the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, on being open and on making the figures available. He did not quite make them available; he produced them only after a Parliamentary Question was put down. He did not for the sake of being helpful to all concerned put down figures for the whole of the UK by country. My noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton requested the figures for England; I have asked in a Written Question for the same figures for Scotland, so that I may make the same comparisons. The fact that the Government have not exactly rushed forward with the figures suggests not that they were hiding them but that they were not contributing to a wholly informed debate on people missing from the register.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I had not spotted that the figures did not include Scotland; we had the information for Wales. I presume that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was not asked about Scotland, which is why he produced figures only for England and Wales. He is in his place, but does not tell us. I do not know why he did not produce figures for Scotland. It would obviously be worth while to see them. I am sure, knowing the noble Lord as the Committee does, that
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Lord Campbell-Savours: I am sorry to press my noble and learned friend. The relevance of the figures being for Labour seats is that many people believe that it is why the Government are relatively indifferent to the problem.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I do not know why the Government are behaving in this way. It does not matter to me whether they are Labour or Tory seats. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, was absolutely clear-I accept his sincerity in this respect-that he was indifferent to the political hue of the seats and that this was the matter that needed to be dealt with. This is the way to deal with it. That is why the answers that have been given are so surprising. I hope that, if the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is answering, which I deduce is the case because he floated to his feet before I had an opportunity to make my speech, he will deal with that.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am deeply grateful to the Government Chief Whip for providing this extra time for us to debate Clause 8. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Deben-the artist previously known as John Selwyn Gummer-is here, even though he has moved conveniently to another part of the Chamber. He was concerned that some of us-although I have been here for five years now and have become sort of institutionalised in this place; the noble Lord joined us relatively recently-had imported habits from the other place. I shall try to explain to him and others why some of us here who were in the other place-in my case, it was for 26 years; a number of other Members were there even longer-are deeply concerned about what is happening. This clause is the fulcrum, as someone said earlier, of that.
Perhaps I can explain it better another way. I go around now to different countries as a member of the board of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. We talk to it about the Westminster system, our system of democracy and control, and the way in which we have checks and balances and parliamentary control of the Executive. The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza-I call her my noble friend-was on the board with me for a number of years, and prior to that, and played an excellent role. She will remember all our discussions.
If the Bill gets bulldozed through, can we still go around to these countries and say that we are the greatest democracy in the world, the epitome of democracy, and that this Westminster system is the one to be held up for others to follow? We saw the Bill of 300 pages hugely amended in the House of Commons-I do not think that it was 300 pages when it started-with lots of amendments put down, lots of clauses never properly scrutinised, and great faith put in the drafters, the civil servants. After five years working with civil servants, I am always very cautious about putting total faith in their drafting, but no doubt Ministers think otherwise.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, has put down dozens of amendments in this House which are going to have to go back; huge changes have taken place. The Bill was guillotined in the Commons. They did not consider it in every detail. They did not think: is this right, what are the implications, are there any unintended consequences to this, are there any implications for anything else that we are doing? They did not consider whether there were any implications for fixed-term Parliaments and reform of the House of Lords, as I said in an earlier debate. They did not consider that. Now there is the suggestion that we are not going to be able to consider it properly here. If that is the case, it will have gone through two Houses of Parliament without proper, detailed consideration.
Take other countries, such as the United States of America. It is not perfect in any way, but it has two democratically elected chambers-the House of Representatives and the Senate-the President taking part in terms of legislation, while the Supreme Court provides an opportunity to consider whether there is anything that infringes the constitution of the United States. We do not have those checks and balances here; we are rushing the Bill through.
Lord Rooker: Has my noble friend ever seen the preposterous way the Americans draw their boundaries?. We can lecture them on the way we draw our boundaries, both now and after we have passed the Bill. My noble friend should not pray in aid the American way of doing things as better, because the way they draw their boundaries is nothing short of a scandal.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My noble friend has had a lot more experience than I have. I accept his point in relation to drawing boundaries compared with the way we do it now, but if we pass the Bill and there are no hearings, I do not think I can be proud and pleased that we are doing it the best possible way. I am not saying that the US is perfect. There are other countries that can be prayed in aid.
We are pushing the Bill through. We have, in this clause, an Order in Council; some people outside believe that the Privy Council is some kind of democratic organisation, a bastion of democracy. My noble friend Lord Rooker will have been at many meetings of the Privy Council. I have only been at one, but it certainly did not seem to me to be any kind of bastion of democracy.
I am really concerned at the way the Bill is being pushed through without proper consideration. I say this honestly, and I know that a number of Conservative Members have heard me say it again and again: if the Bill goes through unamended in substance, I think that they are going to wake up, in a few months' time and say, what on earth-I was going to say something else-have we let ourselves in for? I think that there will be some deep regret.
Finally, in relation to what we were discussing earlier-the electorate and whether we draw the boundaries based on those who are registered, or those who are eligible to vote-I can tell the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, that this morning, to be helpful, I put down an amendment to page 11, on the interpretation of the "electorate"
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, this Bill is a vision of simplicity and clarity. It provides for a referendum on a voting system. If the answer is yes, it should apply at the next general election and there should be fewer MPs and different boundaries. That simplicity should be able to unite us all. Yet in the words of the noble and learned Lord, I am utterly bewildered by the arguments put forward by noble Lords opposite. They complain that there might be a low turnout yet they support amendments that are likely to make the turnout lower by not having the referendum on 5 May. My position is at least as arguable as the noble Lord's.
The noble and learned Lord said, "Don't argue. We should trust the people". I think "trust the people" is one of the most important and significant labels that we have in this country and indeed in western democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, prayed in aid the western foundation for democracy. What is the western foundation for democracy if it is not to trust the people? Yet with every single amendment noble Lords are saying, "Don't trust the people. They may not come out and vote. If they do come out and vote and they say yes they are probably wrong. Only we can decide". What is even more bewildering is that the Labour Party voted one way in the House of Commons and another in this House. No wonder I am bewildered. What is happening is bewildering.
The charge is that we are bulldozing this Bill through, but we are about to start the seventh day in Committee and we have not yet agreed Clause 8. The House of Commons dealt with the Bill in five days in Committee. It had significant votes on every single aspect of the Bill at some stage. The Bill has been given more time and more consideration in both Houses than most of the Bills produced in the past 13 years.
Lord Soley: The noble Lord is labouring this for another reason. Does he bear in mind that his own Members in the House of Commons complained about lack of time? Not only did they complain about the lack of time, they also produced evidence from Conservative councils about lack of time. Does he also understand the crucial point here is that this is a constitutional Bill? We have a situation where a Government are changing the composition in terms of numbers of the House of Commons without either an independent assessment first or the agreement of all the parties. That is what makes the Bill much more serious than he is pretending at the moment.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sure that some Conservatives oppose the Bill. Indeed, many oppose AV. But the noble Lord, Lord Soley, says that there is no agreement among the parties. Is that not partly why
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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Leader of the House says that he is not bulldozing this through, but he says that only in terms of time. He has accepted none of the amendments, many of them sensible. He shows no prospect of accepting any in the future. His leader is packing this House with 50 more coalition Peers to get this through. He calls them in from the hinterlands and backwoods to vote us down on every occasion. If the Leader of the House showed any flexibility or willingness to take on board some of the things that we said, I would take back what I said about bulldozing the Bill through.
Lord Strathclyde: We will have to agree to disagree on almost every single aspect of what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said. We are not in favour of thresholds. We are in favour of having a referendum on 5 May. The noble Lord disagrees with us. There is no point in the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, shaking his head. He is not in favour of having a referendum on 5 May, which is why he and his party have consistently supported amendments which oppose that.
It is widely known what this clause does. It provides for when the alternative vote provisions will either take effect or be repealed, and it is carefully worked out what all the provisions do. Subsection (2) provides that if there are not more yes votes than no votes in the referendum, the Minister must make an order repealing the alternative vote provisions. The two policies are included in this Bill because they are both crucial issues relating to how people are elected to the other place. This referendum will, for the first time, give voters a say in how they elect their MPs and the boundary proposals will mean fairer and more equal constituency boundaries can be put in place for a general election in 2015. Both these policies went through another place with clear majorities, and I very much hope that this clause will stand part.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It came from my noble friend Lady Hayter, who is sadly not in her place, who proposed a 25 per cent threshold, which with extreme enthusiasm the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rejected. When asked whether he was therefore happy that 13 per cent could lead to the change, he said, "Yes". That is where it came from.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord says this is hypothetical. I have read out to the House a whole series of statistics from Manchester City Council showing that it is unlikely that it will be more than 13 per cent, based on the historic record of the elections in 2007. How can he call it hypothetical? That is what is going to happen.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I really do not think so. All the evidence points to the fact that considerably more than 13 per cent of the people will vote because we are having a referendum on 5 May, when so many other elections are taking place across the United Kingdom. That is the point. It is not just a referendum in Manchester; it is right across the United Kingdom, where no doubt the turnout will be average. But we fully expect there to be a reasonable turnout.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I reassure noble Lords that it is not my intention to divide the House at this hour, but my intention may well be to divide the House on Report on this amendment. It simply tweaks the supplementary vote system whereby, instead of using two Xs, it requires the use of numbering of first and second preferences on the ballot paper. I have tabled it as a probing amendment to establish whether the Government accept that my wording meets the high standards of legislative language that the law would require if the Bill were passed with those words included within it.
A fair criticism of my amendment is that it reflects my unyielding persistence in belief in, and pursuit of, a credible electoral system as an alternative to first past the post. That is true, because I remain deeply concerned about the system which the Government have used, the Queensland AV system-the optional multipreference voting system. The advantage of this proposal is that while it might look like the supplementary vote, it is not a classic supplementary vote. You can call it the alternative vote. It gets around the language references to AV already embodied in the Bill. For those who have not been present during the course of our many references to SV and to how the system would work, for ease of reference, I refer them to col. 194 of House of Lords Hansard of 8 December. I would be ill-advised at this time of the evening once again to set out the case for my proposed system. However, I would refer the House to the contributions of Mr Christopher Chope, the Member for, I think, Chichester or Chislehurst.
He went through the use of a numbered system. I hope that the noble Lord in reply can simply clarify the position as to whether the language that I have deployed in this amendment, if it were enshrined in the Bill, would be acceptable. I beg to move.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: What the group does is bring into the Bill both the federal Australian system, which is that you have to use all your preferences, and it also brings in the SV system, which is the one used in London. It goes back to the question as to what is the best AV system to use. The Government have made a choice as to what they think is the best AV system, which is one where you have the right to use a number of preferences, but you do not have to use them all. The second option is the one used in the federal system in Australia where you have to use them all and the third option is the one used in London which is where you identify the top two candidates from first preferences and then you divide all the second preferences from the other candidates between those two candidates. As I read the group-although the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is shaking his head-it seeks to put in those two systems.
Lord Campbell-Savours: On the ballot paper, instead of putting two crosses, as you do under the London system at the moment, you would put one and two. That is the only difference. But at least it looks like the alternative vote for those who are obsessed on the other side of the House with that system.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Does the drafting work? Is it appropriate? Why is it not in there? These are the questions for the Government. It might not necessarily be in the form or in the shape that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, put it, but as an alternative that the Government can select, after a proper consultation. Ultimately, one way of dealing with this issue would be for there to be a simple referendum on replacing first past the post with AV. Assuming that there was a yes vote-ignore the complications that we talked about earlier on-choosing which of the three systems was best could be done by the Government. There could still be compulsion in introducing AV, but there could be a proper debate with the public and in Parliament as to which is the best system, rather than the way it is done at the moment, which is that the Government have selected a particular system of AV, about which there has been no consultation and no explanation to the public. There are two questions. First, is the drafting right? Secondly, why not incorporate in the Bill the three options and allow Parliament to decide after a public consultation which is the best?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I appreciate the fact that, in introducing the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said that he did not
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We believe that the noble Lord's amendments would limit voters' choice in expressing preferences for the candidates who would be standing for election, as they would be able to express a preference for only two candidates. Our preference, if I may put it that way, is that there should be more optional preferences that can be exercised by voters without any compulsion to vote for each candidate.
There is clearly a difference of view about the type of system that should be used. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said that it was not the classic supplementary vote but perhaps the supplementary vote with cosmetic-
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The supplementary vote, but tweaked. That does not commend itself to the Government, who have indicated that their wish is for the system that I understand goes under the term optional preferences. The noble Lord has indicated that he is not pressing his amendments, but I have no doubt that we will return to this.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Certainly not in order to achieve the objective that we as a Government wish. No doubt, however, it would achieve the objective that the noble Lord wishes. If he has any suggestions about the drafting of other options, we would be happy to hear from him. Still, so far as I am aware, the amendment would probably achieve what the noble Lord wishes to achieve but certainly not what the Government wish to achieve.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, this amendment is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady McDonagh, who is sorry that she cannot be in her place at this stage of the evening. I was rather amazed to have had an impact with my previous amendment and I very much hope that the Government will be able to accept this one.
It is a perfectly simple amendment. It does not go to the heart of the Bill, the core of the coalition agreement or anything like that. It simply says that if someone marks just one preference when they go into the polling booth and, instead of putting 1, they mark it X, that should count. I do not want to labour the point because I see the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, nodding encouragingly. We are in agreement on a lot of things here-we want the maximum number of valid votes in the referendum, as does he-so it is good from that point of view.
Lord Rooker: I do not understand this. My noble friend is a supporter of AV. Those of us who have been in the other place-that is, those who have been to an election count, and I do not know whether my noble friend has-know that, under the present first past the post system, if someone puts a 1 against a candidate, that counts as a vote because it is a clear indication. So it is bound to be the case under AV that if you put an X against a name, it will count as a vote; the normal rules allow for that.
I thought that the idea of this was to persuade people to use second choices. This is where the con comes in of it being the "optional" AV system. There will be a campaign out there of people saying, "You don't have to bother with all these numbers-just put an X against my name". That is what it is all about. The argument that AV gets rid of tactical voting is fraudulent, as I hope my noble friend will admit.
Lord Lipsey: I enjoyed listening to the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made under the guise of an intervention, but I am making a perfectly narrow point. In the Bill as drafted an X would not count, and under the amendment that I would like to make an X would count. I must say an X is about the only bit of our electoral system that is truly traditional. It goes way back to the times when many people could not write numbers. First past the post is not the only system that has been in use in Britain. If you look back to the last century there were the university seats and two-member seats in the cities. Nothing else is traditional except the use of X. I am here in the guise of a traditionalist trying to preserve the tradition of the X. The final thing I would say is that, although most people have no difficulty with 1, 2 and 3, older voters and others have perhaps become accustomed to a certain way of casting their vote, and I do not think there is any need to force them to change their mind if they just want to put an X in the right place.
I do not think this amendment will benefit the cause that I hope to see prevail at the election when it comes. People who use X may well not be the best informed voters, and certainly the best informed voters will vote for AV, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Rooker,
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Lord Hamilton of Epsom: I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will find it possible to accept this amendment. It does seem to be eminently sensible in that people have been putting Xs on ballot papers for a very long time and it is conceivable that they might continue to do so. I am not totally reassured by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that there is all this flexibility among returning officers. You might not find that this flexibility is there. I would be more comfortable if this was in the Bill and it was made absolutely clear that an X was just as valid as a 1 and vice versa. This is a very sensible amendment which all sides of the House should feel very comfortable about supporting.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I have to say to my very good and noble friend Lord Lipsey that I am totally and unconditionally opposed to this amendment. It completely undermines the intention behind those who are pursuing this legislation and indeed this system. It defeats the objective. If all the elector has to do is put a cross on the ballot paper, under this system it will invite precisely what has happened in Australia, which was referred to in that article by Rallings and Thrasher which I drew to the attention of the House a couple of weeks ago. They talk in Australia about people plumping. If you allow people just to use an X on the ballot paper, as my noble friend has said, canvassers-in particular Liberal Democrat canvassers, who are always masters of tactical voting-will go from door to door saying, "Don't worry, don't bother, we know it's complicated. All you have got to do is put an X against the candidate you want", completely undermining the system. I am surprised my noble friend did not see this problem inherent in the system when he decided to move this amendment. I do hope that the Government do not fall for this one, because if they do and then say that they have started to be flexible by giving way on amendments, that is not the kind of flexibility-
Lord McAvoy: Does my noble friend not realize that he has a problem with the language he is using? He spoke about "allowing" the voters to put an X. "Allowing" is strange language to use. They are going to force voters to vote a certain way or somehow they are invalid, undemocratic or they just do not count. "Allowing the voters" is strange to me.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Behind my noble friend's intervention is his support for my noble friend Lord Lipsey. That is what he is arguing when he argues about the word "allow". My noble friend will want to put his case to the House in support of my noble friend Lord Lipsey. I hope the Government will not accept this amendment or anything resembling it.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I support my noble friend Lord Lipsey. The elegant speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, was a powerful argument in favour of the amendment. I was not convinced by the interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and of some people who from a sedentary position said that
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The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is making it absolutely clear that if in this election an X is put on the ballot paper, it should count. It is then beyond peradventure or doubt. It is a clear indication of preference. I might have suggested some other indications of preference, such as a tick or some other indication that the candidate who has the mark next to their name-it could be a cross, a tick or another positive mark, as well as a 1-is the person chosen. I have the greatest admiration for my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. He and I have been friends since we were elected together all those years ago and we have worked closely together. I say to him that I do not think it would be the Liberal Democrats but the Tories and us who would go around saying, "Put an X next to our man", or, as an old friend of mine used to say, "Just put a kiss next to the guy you like". That is a little old fashioned, although I see the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, likes the thought of it, which gives me some encouragement. I would certainly support it. This reminds me of the old story about people who would come in and sign an X when you said, "Would you sign here?". I knew someone who put two Xs. I said, "Wait a minute. What's the second X for?". He said, "Oh, that's my PhD".
Lord McAvoy: I rise briefly to support my noble friend's amendment. X has been around for a long time-not just in current elections or the past century's elections. The amendment means that if we allowed people to put an X and everyone knew that, the various people who put ticks, 1s, kisses, sweethearts and all that sort of thing would then know that putting an X is a recognised way of voting. My noble friend is absolutely right about people not being able to read and write. I have my grandfather's wedding certificate-or his wedding lines, as they are called in Scotland. It says, "Bernard McAvoy: his mark here". The mark is an X. If it was good enough for him, it will be good enough for me and my noble friend.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, which is entirely appropriate. I do not quite follow the point of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. Presumably a candidate could just go around inviting supporters to put a 1 beside their name and leave it at that. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is being a modern-day Lord Simon of Glaisdale, whom I remember opposing amendments that had been introduced for the avoidance of doubt on the grounds that there was no doubt to be avoided in the first place. However, in this case the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has raised an appropriate doubt that reflects people's experiences. The amendment would be extremely valuable for that purpose. There is one other point.
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Lord Rooker: I want to go home, to be honest. I did not realise how serious my noble friend was about his amendment. I know he supports AV, which I do not; I support PR. It is not our job to sow confusion in the ballot system, which is what this amendment would do. The Electoral Commission will spend a fortune distributing leaflets to every dwelling, informing the voters about the change in the system. They will not be talking about using Xs. I gave the example from my own experience. As every ex-Member of Parliament will know from being at a count, it is the indication of a candidate by the voter that counts. The officers have a whole list of charts, showing what you can put on a ballot paper, what counts and what does not. That is how you get your spoilt votes. Not every vote is like it is. The public do not understand this but the system works and I have every confidence in it.
What if the voters put an X against one and, because of all the publicity that has gone on, they put a 2 against someone else? How do you know the X is a 1 in that case? Only an X alone on the ballot paper would indicate a preference for a candidate. That, however, is the very antithesis of what we are trying to do with the alternative vote; it is not my preferred choice but it is a choice against first past the post. I ask the Government not to put this amendment in the Bill because custom and practice dictates, with returning officers, that the vote would count. This would actually sow confusion. Are we going to send back to the other place a Bill that we got from them and say, "By the way, we want you to use Xs.".? Come on, that is absolutely preposterous.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My noble friend did not say that we want to use Xs, just that it might happen that way. My noble friend Lord Rooker says that it is very clear that a returning officer has all these charts, but that is not my experience. I will give him an illustration and ask whether he thinks that this should have been counted as a vote for me. Next to my name-and there is nothing else on the ballot paper-someone has written HMFC. Now, is that a vote for me?
Lord Lipsey: If my noble friend wants to go home, he should not intervene in the debate. If he would care to read new Section 37A(1)(a) in Clause 9(1), it changes the present situation whereby returning officers can take any old mark and says that there has to be a 1, which is all I am trying to change.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: We have a lot of choices for the Government here in what they can do. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, rightly draws our attention to new Section 37A in Clause 9(1), which says:
I understand that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is designed to deal with the situation in which there is only one X on the ballot paper. There is no X, 2, 3 or 4, nor is there X against more than one name. Under the amendment, it would not be possible to count that as a vote in favour or a first preference for the person against whom the X is granted. You would need to be an idiot not to believe that the X against one name and one name only is the first preference.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is an expert in all matters, says that it is perfectly obvious that the returning officer would treat that as voting for your first preference. Well, that would not be consistent with Clause 9(1); I do not have the noble Lord's experience to know how returning officers might deal with it, but I suspect that some would deal with it in some way and some would deal with it in another way. It seems right that if you put an X against only one name, as your intention is so clear the right course for the Bill is that it should reflect that course. I do not think that the drafting of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, quite achieves what he wants because it says:
That does not deal with the situation in which he has X against more than one name or with the situation in which he has put X, 2, 3, 4 or 5, but this is Committee and the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, was absolutely clear. It was understood by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, by me and by everyone else in a particular way. I do not accept the actual drafting but I strongly support the intention behind the amendment. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours-and I respect him greatly on this matter-he overstated the effect of this and I also think that if in 2015 there is a system of alternative votes, some people who have been voting for a very long time might well think that the thing to do is to put an X against their favoured candidate. That should be treated as their first-
Lord Rooker: Look, I can guarantee that somewhere in the current election rules for first past the post, the instructions are that a voter places an X against the
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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: There now appears to be agreement that we all want an X against one name only to count as the first preference. The only issue appears to be whether or not one puts that in the Bill or in guidance. If one is changing the system and saying that the way you vote is by marking a 1, I should have thought that the sensible way to do that was by making it clear in the Bill. I support the noble Lord, Lord Norton, the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and, above all, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. I hope, although I accept that redrafting is required, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who has proved to be a gem, if I may say so, can see that.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: In response to the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has indicated that I might send him home happy. I hope that in the spirit of the remarks I am about to make he will still go to his Christmas retreat a happy man. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said, the amendment as drafted would not necessarily meet the point, but I hope that I can give the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and other noble Lords who have supported him, some clear reassurance.
"A ballot paper on which the voter makes any mark which ... is clearly intended to indicate a particular preference for a particular candidate, but ... is not a number (or is a number written otherwise than as an arabic numeral), shall be treated in the same way as if the appropriate number (written as an arabic numeral) had been marked instead".
The important point is that the returning officer has discretion to make a judgment as to whether a clear intention has been made. That is why two Xs would not demonstrate a clear intention. I believe that one X would demonstrate a clear intention and that is provided for in the rules.
Lord McAvoy: In the past, I have seen a cross on someone's name, which has been interpreted as, "We don't want this one, and I am ruling them out". Perhaps the situation is not quite as clear as the noble and learned Lord genuinely thinks.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I thought that the general agreement around the House was that if there is an X against only one name, we want the returning officer to say yes. That is a vote for a first preference. If you
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: There may have been a misunderstanding. I wanted to make a particular point to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, who said that an X had been put through a name, rather than against it. There was a suggestion that in such cases, far from wanting a candidate, the voter did not want them. Those are circumstances where it would be invidious to suggest what would happen. Certainly when an X is marked against a name, it is clear from the provision in the Bill that the vote would be valid.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is concerned -and I understand his concern-that this might lead to undermining the system. I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who indicated that if there was a yes vote in the referendum, in the run-up to a general election in 2015 there would be advertising making the position clear. There were indications that that actually happened in the Scottish elections where a single transferrable vote requiring numbered preferences was used.
The night is drawing on but perhaps I may relate one small anecdote. I stood in the first ever European election in the south of Scotland and I have the dubious distinction of being the first person ever to lose their deposit in a European election. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Alderdice will recall that the 1979 European elections in Northern Ireland were carried out on the basis of the single transferable vote, whereas in the rest of the United Kingdom they were carried out on the basis of first past the post. A corner of Galloway in the south of Scotland received Ulster TV, on which the advertising encouraged people to use their vote by marking 1, 2 and 3. In several polling stations in that part of Galloway a number of ballot papers were marked with a 1, 2 and 3, although the election was on the basis of first past the post. However, there was agreement that the number 1 on a ballot paper would be accepted as a valid vote.
Let us not underestimate the voters. There will be ample advertising to indicate that the nature of the election will be a preferential vote system. I do not believe that that will undermine the election or that it will give rise to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
Lord Campbell-Savours: On the question of undermining, has the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, consulted his election guru sitting near to him on his right and asked him what he thinks the effect of this would be in terms of undermining the AV system, which he has been advocating so passionately over recent weeks? He is sitting there and has not said a word. It would be very interesting to see whether he is prepared to get up and advocate this when he knows that Liberal Democrats more widely would be opposed to it.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I do not think that anyone is advocating this-in fact, the opposite is true. We want to make sure that there is a proper advertising
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Lord Lipsey: The Minister is in such a jolly mood that I am reluctant in any way to spoil his anticipation of hogmanay by cavilling at his remarks. However, I should say that the last time a Minister pointed to a schedule to the Bill as being the right place to deal with a certain issue, I read that schedule for the first time and found that five amendments badly needed to be made to it. They now feature on the Marshalled List and will be debated by us in the new year.
I have heard what the noblea and learned Lord has said and I have looked at the schedule to which he referred. I cannot help thinking that there is a bit of a clash between the words in the first part of the Bill and those in the schedule. A helpful way forward-I suggest this to the Minister with due humility-might be if the Association of Electoral Administrators were to write to him and he made available to the House a statement saying that the association would interpret the Bill as it stands with those two provisions in the way that he has suggested they should be interpreted-namely, that a mark against one candidate will be accepted. If he were able to make that small concession, I would happily drop this amendment and not resurrect it on Report.
I hope that the wording there is clear but obviously the electoral registration officers may wish to clarify that. I suspect that it will be a while before we get to Schedule 10, although perhaps not as long as might otherwise be the case.
Lord Lipsey: I think that the noble and learned Lord would do well to try to get something that nails this point once and for all before we reach the schedule. We have been discussing it for 26 minutes tonight and we can discuss it for another 26 minutes at a later stage, whereas it is well within his powers to deal with it by getting in writing from the appropriate electoral registration officers a clear statement of how they read the Bill. I think that it can be read in two ways,
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52: Clause 9, page 7, line 2, after "reallocated" insert "by the proportion of its preference (that is to say if the candidate was ranked 3 then one third of a vote, if ranked 4 then one quarter of a vote and so on)"
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, before we come to consider my noble friend's amendment, I ought to advise the House that it is customary that we conclude our business at 10 pm, other than by agreement.
I was happy in discussions with the usual channels to agree to the House going until taxis. Taxis is commonly understood to be 10.40 pm. We are now at 11.10 pm and this would be an appropriate moment for the House to draw its proceedings to a conclusion, given the inclement weather, among other good reasons.
I do hope that is going to be the case, and I was rather looking to the government Benches to move that the House now be resumed. It would be very helpful to the House if the government Benches indicated exactly what they do intend, because there are many people at work this evening in the House and we have a number of Members here listening to the debate. The agreement was to taxis; we are now well past that point.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, this is a fairly corrupt voting system. I am not going to go over the details of what we discussed in the earlier clauses; this amendment essentially deals with the second preference of the losing candidate.
We had a speech earlier on, which may have been from the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, but was certainly from the Conservative side, which quoted what Winston Churchill had said about the alternative vote and what made it a very false system-that the second preference of the voter who had voted for the least popular candidate was used to create the winner. On balance it looks like you are giving two votes to voters who choose the least popular candidate. You are not giving two votes to the voter who chooses the most popular candidate, or the second most popular candidate, but the voter who chooses the least popular candidate is effectively given two votes.
I do not think that is fair, and we have to address this issue of using AV, which the Lib Dems now
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On this one I am giving you another lifeboat; what to do with that least popular vote that looks unfair to the public. Why should someone have two votes? It is clear that the alternative vote can be used to ensure that every voter can influence the results in a way that is not possible under first past the post. I freely accept that it can be used. Under this Bill, however, it is not possible to claim that every voter will be able to do it because it is an optional system. You still have the problem of what you do at the end with the vote that gets transferred.
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