Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Under the heading "Factors", to which the noble and learned Lord referred, rule 5(1)(d) states:

"A Boundary Commission may take into account, if and to such extent as they think fit ... the inconveniences attendant on such changes".

The noble and learned Lord drew our attention to that rule. Rule 5(3) then states:

"This rule has effect subject to rules 2 and 4".

I read that as meaning that if you deviate in a subsequent review-not just the first one-from the 5 per cent tolerance allowed by rule 2, that will override the Boundary Commission's entitlement to take into account the inconveniences attendant on such changes. The position is therefore that, regardless of whether it is in the original review or subsequent reviews, if there is a deviation of more than the 5 per cent allowed for under rule 2, the position on attendant changes will be swept aside. I may have misunderstood what the noble and learned Lord said, but he seemed to be saying that the inconveniences attendant on such changes could override fluctuations. I do not think that they can do so under the Bill as drafted.

So, exactly as my noble friend Lord Lipsey said, if there is any fluctuation over and above the 5 per cent, you will have to change the constituency boundaries. That can happen from a fluctuating register as much as from population changes. The independent work of Mr Baston suggests that that will affect "many constituencies", although I do not know how many.

We now get into the subject of the relationship between the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill and this Bill. Noble Lords will remember that our own Constitution Committee said that the Government had not properly thought out the relationship between the two. What happens if, in accordance with Clause 2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, a general election is called outwith the five years-because, for example, there is a two-thirds vote-or if, as that Bill envisages, there is a vote of no confidence in the Government and no subsequent Government can be formed after 14 days? Let us suppose that that occurred in October 2013, which is the date at which the boundary review will be completed. A boundary review will be completed and immediately thereafter there would be a general election-and ever after, until there was another breach of the five-year rule, you would be having the review and the general election happening almost on the same date.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1442

We tabled this probing amendment because we want to know what thought the Government have given to the issue. The amendment proposes that if a general election takes place outwith the five-year period-for example, it occurs at or about the time of the review being completed-then there should be a recalibration and you should state the period in which the review will occur so that it is produced no later than 18 months before the next projected date of a general election. Under the Bill as drafted, an election could be held out of sync and then the review would occur right on top of a general election without the 18-month gap which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, has rightly acknowledged is necessary to give new prospective parliamentary candidates the opportunity to find their seat and settle down there.

I have two fundamental questions. First, what work have the Government done on calculating how many constituencies might change hands? Obviously the noble and learned Lord cannot answer that with certainty but the Government must have done some work on it. What is the estimate? Secondly, am I right in my construction of the rule, which appears to be inconsistent with the noble and learned Lord's interpretation of the Bill? Thirdly, I invite the Government, if they are serious about the recurring 18 months, to table an amendment to the Bill to allow for a recalibration if there is an election outside whatever the fixed term is under the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Lipsey: I rise briefly to support my noble and learned friend. His amendment calls attention to something that is implicit in the whole structure of the Bill. It is simply too rigid to be fit for purpose. There is the rigid 5 per cent tolerance, with only two exceptions. However, the real problem is the rigid five-year review timetable. If something gets knocked out of place in this timetable, the whole thing does not work and, as the noble and learned Lord said, one will get boundary reviews with no time for new candidates to be selected for seats. This is not a matter that should be difficult to rectify, and nor should there be much controversy about rectifying it. One simply has to allow the existing Government, when the situation arises, to relax the five-year rule. There is no problem in doing that if the will is there. If it is not, the Government will find that a great many people are cursing, because if there is an early election, as the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill will allow, the whole overrigid structure of the Bill will crumble.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for tabling this amendment. At the outset, I will clarify that I agree with his interpretation of the rules. Perhaps I may put in the caveat that the rule with regard to taking into account inconvenience does not apply to the first review in 2013, but would apply thereafter. I thought that I had indicated that it was subject to the 5 per cent rule when I responded to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. That is indeed the case. I was responding initially to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, who talked about uprooting the whole system every time and starting again, which is not consistent with the discretion given to the Boundary Commission.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1443

As the noble and learned Lord-echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey-indicated, the intention is that there should be fixed-term Parliaments of five years with boundary reviews in sync. The intention of the amendment is to retain the relationship between the cycle of general elections and the boundary review reporting timetable if the cycle of fixed-term Parliaments shifted away from the pattern starting in May 2015. That would happen if the terms of the fixed-term Parliament were changed to something other than five years. I thought that that may have been the point of the noble and learned Lord's amendment, but he made it clear that that is not the case. However, he indicated the possibility that there could be an extraordinary general election. We do not believe that it is possible to provide for every reason why an election might not occur at the exact five-year interval. Instead of such complexity, the Bill seeks to address the matter in a way that would not necessarily waste resources. At the same time, future Parliaments would be able to consider how best to address the issue of the reviews getting seriously out of sync. The commission's annual progress reports that are required by the Bill will increase Parliament's knowledge of each review and assist it in deciding how to act.

As the Bill stands, there would still be a broad alignment of boundary review and general election cycles. I will give an example. If the boundary review reporting cycles were realigned to be exactly 18 months before any general election, it is possible that the Boundary Commission would be forced to abandon a review midway and start again from scratch. For example, if there was an extraordinary general election in 2018, before the 2018 report was due out, the Boundary Commission would have been reviewing boundaries for three years on the basis of electorate figures for 2015, and that work would have to be scrapped and a new review cycle started on the basis of 2018 electorate figures. This would be a waste of resources.

I accept the constructive intent of the noble and learned Lord's amendment. It is not necessary, but I am willing to reflect on whether we have done the best we can to maintain sync. However, if issues became such that there was a serious mismatch, it would be open to a future Parliament to redress that. The amendment does not achieve the outcome it intends and could lead to an unnecessary waste of resources. With these comments, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: That was a helpful response. First, I thank the noble and learned Lord for confirming that my view of what the Bill meant was correct, which is obviously important. Secondly, he is in effect acknowledging that if there is a general election outside the fixed term-I say in parenthesis that if the fixed term were changed in the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill as it goes through this House, it might affect the cycle, but that would require an amendment to this Bill-the intention is that there should be an 18-month gap, and that may have to be dealt with by primary legislation after the general election. It is that eventuality that my amendment seeks to avoid. It is an unsatisfactory situation that every time there is a general election outside the cycle-none of us in the

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1444

Chamber knows how regularly there will be general elections outside the cycle, and if one looks at history one can envisage circumstances where one has an early general election, for example because a coalition falls apart, and then there is an indecisive result and one ends up with considerable uncertainty-and one needs a boundary review, one has to wait for primary legislation, and the party that gets into power after a closely fought election is in the driving seat in relation to when the review takes place.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for saying that he will consider this. I, too, will consider it, and perhaps we could meet to think of a way in which some degree of certainty can be assured, because this is an important issue. I would also be grateful if the noble and learned Lord would write to me with the Government's estimate of the number of seats that might change their boundaries in the first of the five-yearly reviews, as opposed to the one that they envisage ending in October 2013. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lipsey that the facts are critical. On the basis of the helpful response of the noble and learned Lord, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 58ZZZA withdrawn.

Amendment 58ZZZB

Moved by Baroness Thornton

58ZZZB: Clause 10, page 8, line 15, at end insert-

"( ) No Boundary Commission shall begin work on a report to be submitted under subsection (1) above until both Houses of Parliament have approved a separate report issued by the Secretary of State confirming that particular action has been taken to maximise the proportion of 17 to 24 year olds who are on the electoral register."

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, this will be the first of several related discussions. We had a more substantive discussion on Monday about the challenges that having 3.5 million of our fellow citizens not registered to vote poses both for the Bill and for all of us. Today we will discuss some of the problems of individual groups of the population who are overrepresented in that 3.5 million.

I have spent a large part of my life working with young people. I have been a youth club leader and many years ago I worked in a young people's locked custodial establishment, which was known then as a remand home. I have worked in children's homes and, more recently, before I joined the then Government, I worked with and became a trustee of Action for Children. Dealing with many troubled and disadvantaged youngsters convinces me that the amendment is very important.

I also have a local interest as a citizen of Bradford. The Bradford metropolitan district population is set to grow by 27 per cent over the next 20 years, and 25 per cent of that growth will be among young people. At the moment, the Electoral Commission tells us that the electoral roll is inaccurate by a margin of 10 per cent, so if 10 per cent of people are not registered to vote, we have a huge challenge.

6.30 pm

Everyone agrees that we want young people to participate in public life and to take the responsibility that goes with being a citizen in our democracy. I suppose

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1445

that, like any parent, I felt proud-although I may not have enjoyed the experience much-when my children disagreed and argued with me about politics. However, I thought that it was very important when, for example, they went off to demonstrate against the war in Iraq. They feel passionate about many matters, even having given up their annual leave to go and work full time against the British National Party in Barking during the last general election. Nevertheless, we know that for the poor children of politicians, their parents are both an advantage and a disadvantage, so it is a mixed blessing. However, the issue here is not our children but the more than 50 per cent of young people who are not registered to vote. This is a matter of great concern for the future of our democracy.

I am sure we all agree that we want our children and young people to argue and to care passionately about things. We want them to vote and to think that voting in elections matters. I think that we desperately want them not to be cynical about politics and politicians. We also know of the chaos in which some youngsters live their lives. Even for children from more affluent families, voter registration may not be the first thing that they think about during their freshers week, for example, having gone off to university and as they settle in with all the new experiences of living independently for the first time. If they are looked-after children or unemployed, or if they are living on a very low income or no income, or if they are young parents, they are going to be very preoccupied just with the problems of daily survival. They may move many times until they have a settled life. We know, for example, that young people will be particularly hard hit by the changes to local housing allowances, as single people under 35 will be entitled to only the shared-room rate, which, even when calculated at the median, has been found to be too low for a decent-quality tenancy in many areas. The problem of a lack of available accommodation for young people has been acknowledged by this Government, as it was by our Government, and it all adds to a lack of stability and a problem with young-voter registration.

Coming from Bradford, I know that because we have a young population, a university, a very large black and ethnic-minority community and some very poor communities, it is a challenge to get our register even up to 90 per cent, which means that it is still 10 per cent out of date. I am not a mathematician but I think that the Government's proposals will mean that we in Bradford will lose a parliamentary seat because our register will be inaccurate.

There are also some hopeful signs concerning young-voter registration. There was a last-minute rush of people who wanted to register to vote at the last general election. The fact that people could register right up to the Tuesday before polling day was very important, and the Electoral Commission reported a spike in the downloading of voter registration forms after the televised debates. Indeed, the commission had a tie-up with Facebook. Democracy UK was set up jointly between the Electoral Commission and Facebook, which encouraged many young people to register. The commission teamed up with the social networking site with a link to the About My Vote

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1446

website. About 14,000 registration forms were downloaded by Facebook users, and just over 40 per cent of people visiting the About My Vote website-which amounted to hundreds of thousands of hits-were young people aged between 18 and 25. I know that the National Union of Students worked very hard to get students registered and voting at the election. The Electoral Commission has said that, because many people do not become interested in a general election until the election is called, this has given a major boost to the number of people being registered. I think that that must be so and I suspect that young people form quite a large part of that cohort.

On Monday we discussed door-to-door canvassing, which helps to build an accurate register and bring it up to date. However, we have to be even more imaginative if we are to get young people on to the register and keep them there. I am concerned about that and I ask the Minister whether he thinks that individual voter registration will help or hinder with the specific issue of young-voter registration.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the Electoral Commission not only spreads best practice on voter registration to all local authorities but uses young-voter registration as one way of measuring the success of local registration campaigns. That would be the effect of the amendment. It seems clear to me that, if a local authority has succeeded in getting many of its young residents on to the electoral roll, it will almost certainly have succeeded more generally in getting voters to register. Perhaps the Minister agrees with me. If so, I urge him to recognise the importance of this issue and to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, not surprisingly, I support the amendment, which also stands in my name. I have a particular interest in young people voting. It is true that it comes somewhat second to my interest in women voting; nevertheless, for me it is a high priority, as the Committee will know from my, sadly, unsuccessful move to allow 16 year-olds to vote in the referendum next year. How we vote depends, of course, partly on the system, which is what the referendum will decide in due course. However, it is also a matter of when and where we vote, and of the interest that the authorities, parliamentarians and returning officers take in our votes.

As to the timing of elections, I have another interest-to allow voting at weekends and in town halls or in libraries or anywhere else and not just at one polling station. I think that that should be possible with electronic records. However, that matter is not in front of us today. Here, we are concerned about a new generation of voters-either those who first qualify to vote in the 2015 general election, or those who perhaps could have voted in 2010 but for a range of reasons did not do so. Part of the reason for that lack of voting was down to political parties: the choices that they offered, the language they used or their style of campaigning. None of those matters is in front of us today but some of them concerned the low level of registration of new, and particularly young, voters.

Part of the problem has been that there is no single body or person who has both responsibility for getting people registered and something of a vested interest in

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1447

doing so. Of course, the parties want voters to register-or, if we are being really honest, they want their potential supporters to register. However, the responsibility lies with local authorities, for which there is no benefit from a high success rate in their area. Therefore, we need some carrot if no stick is to hand to ensure that someone with the responsibility for registration also has the incentive to flush out new voters and get them on to the list.

It seems to me that the new system of defining constituencies, which will be almost completely number-driven compared with our historical, more flexible approach, offers an opportunity for a fresh approach to voter registration, and I urge the Committee to seize it. We should write into the Bill that the Secretary of State will have to be satisfied that local authorities really have sought out their youthful populations and got them on to the register before the Boundary Commission starts on what will be a very demanding task. That will make it easier for the commission, as it can then be satisfied that it is not forced to ignore residents simply because they have not been registered. However, I believe it will also show the next generation of voters that the Government are serious about wanting to involve them in the democratic process and are taking steps to ensure that their voices and needs are not excluded from the arithmetic of boundary lines. I believe that such a move is needed. If we cannot use notional votes as the basis for drawing boundaries, we must find and register new voters so that they are included.

Lord Howarth of Newport: Presumably a large part of the purpose of parliamentary reform is to refresh our parliamentary democracy, re-animate it, and re-engage the citizens of this country with it. My noble friend Lady Thornton's amendment is particularly helpful because it addresses a problem that we all recognise to be real and disturbing, which is the poor propensity of people in the 18 to 24 year-old age group to vote. There is some evidence that the attitudes that people bring to their first opportunity to vote as young adults tend to persist through life. We must all agree that it is extremely important that we make a determined effort to ensure that there is a much fuller participation of young people in our parliamentary democracy and that they take up their right to vote.

My noble friend has tabled a helpful amendment in enjoining a particular duty on the Secretary of State. We had some discussion on Monday about our fear that local authorities, because of the reductions in their funding, will be unable to pursue electoral registration as vigorously as they should. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours made a powerful speech on that problem. If local authority funding is to be cut by some 28 per cent over the next four years, it must follow that any activity that is not statutorily required of local authorities will be in jeopardy. My noble friend's amendment would insist that at least the Secretary of State was able to certify that every effort is made to bring 17 to 24 year-olds on to the register. That points in a direction that implies that the Secretary of State himself must take steps to ensure that the registration process is carried on vigorously, effectively and thoroughly.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1448

It would be helpful if the noble and learned Lord would say something about the Government's view on the practical prospects for improving the proportion of registration in all age groups, but particularly in this one, the behaviour of which will be so crucial to the future of our democracy. We can change the voting system and constituency boundaries, but if we fail to re-engage people to vote, those reforms are little better than a sham.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I do not think that there is much dispute about either the facts or the outcome sought. In March 2010, the Electoral Commission produced a report entitled The Completeness and Accuracy of Electoral Registers in Great Britain. In a sample of areas that it examined in detail, 56 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds were missing from the electoral register. In the 2005 general election, 37 per cent only of those between 18 and 24 voted, so there is a more than 50 per cent underregistration, and only just over a third of that age vote.

We have heard repeatedly in the debate and outside that if young people are not registered and do not vote, they set a trend in their lives that distances them from democracy. I do not think that anyone in the House disagrees with any of those propositions. We on the Front Bench of the Labour Party support the amendment because we have heard nothing from the Government about what they propose to do about it. If they had some proposal that could assist, we would be interested to hear it, but this proposal, made by my noble friend Lady Thornton and supported by my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, builds into the system the requirement for work to be done on the issue, which is something that the noble and learned Lord himself has said in previous debates that he wants to do. He should tell us what the Government will do about what they have already agreed is a problem. If it is not as good as this amendment, maybe this is the way forward.

6.45 pm

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Hayter, for the amendment, which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has indicated, commands support and consent across the House because of the sentiments and the importance of registering young people. However, the Boundary Commission would not be able to set about its review until a separate report, issued by the Secretary of State, confirmed that particular action had been taken to maximise the proportion of 17 to 24 year-olds on the electoral register, and that that had been approved by both Houses of Parliament.

I do not dispute that it is important for the electoral register to be as accurate and complete as possible. That is one reason why we are accelerating progress towards individual registration and introducing measures such as data-matching schemes to help local authorities gain as complete a picture as possible of eligible voters in their area, and particularly underregistered groups. The figures in the Electoral Commission's report last March showed that the registration rate in the United Kingdom was more than 90 per cent, which compares well with other countries. While we, and everyone in

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1449

your Lordships' House, wish to see as complete and accurate a register as possible, boundaries have since the 1940s been based on the electoral register. To delay indefinitely any review of boundaries that are already 10 years out of date would not only be disproportionate, bearing in mind the overall picture of registration, but would make votes even more unequal than they already are.

It was important and instructive for the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to talk about the surge in young voter registration in the previous general election campaign. As a result, those young people are now on the electoral register. They are likely to be on the register as at 1 December last year, which will be the basis of the Boundary Commission's review for the report in 2013. It would be ironic if, as a result of carrying this amendment and with no possibility of the next general election being fought on new boundaries, we were still working from data from 2000 in England and that those who had registered as a result of the impetus in the previous general election were not taken into account. There is a distinction between the data for the review date and the important issue of trying to encourage registration, which has merit in its own right.

The Government are committed to taking steps to improve electoral registration as part of the move towards individual electoral registration. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, asked what the Government were doing. I thought that I had set that out in detail on Monday, and was encouraged by the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, said that she had been encouraged by what I had indicated. The Government will be trialling data matching later this year when the electoral register will be compared with other public databases to find people missing from the register, to see how effective it is in boosting the completeness of it. Based on the results of the trials, we will decide whether to roll it out more widely. The pilots will also tell us how effective the data matching is in improving registration among specific underregistered groups, such as young voters.

Among that information will be data from the Student Loans Company. Indeed, on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, asked me whether data on school pupils could be used. I have now checked and can confirm that the Department for Education's national pupil database is one of the data sets that we are considering for these schemes. I cannot say what the position is for information held by the Scottish Government, but I hope that they would be as willing to co-operate if there was a pilot in Scotland. We are working with local authorities to see whether they can make use of their own data on school pupils.

Lord Maxton: After I raised that point, someone raised with me the question of whether the Data Protection Act will allow that sort of exchange of information, as it is presently worded.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: If my memory serves me correctly, when I responded to the noble Lord on Monday I mentioned the concern about the Data Protection Act. I have checked, and we will do a further check in the light of that point, but the information

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1450

that I have had since we had that exchange on Monday is that the Department for Education's national pupil database would be one of the data sets that we would consider.

I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who asked what we are doing, that a series of events will be planned over the next few months as part of the introduction of individual registration, when we will consider with stakeholders what further steps can be taken to engage with groups who are underrepresented on the electoral register. However, we must proceed with a boundary review to ensure that boundaries, in England in particular, are not 15 years out of date at the next general election, thereby missing out those who have registered in the past 12 months, because that would exacerbate the inequality. To achieve that, with due time for the commission to consult widely, we must allow it to get on with its task now. That in no way diminishes the importance of registration, and I hope that I have indicated to the satisfaction of Members across the House what we are trying to do to establish that.

Lord Rooker: Is there not a big society point here? I genuinely think that the best people to get young people registered are young people-not local government officials, not Members of Parliament. Local authorities will be strapped for resources anyway; we understand the reason for that. Is there not a case for requiring local authorities, because they are in charge of the register, to pull together a group of young people charged with seeing that other young people get on the register? Out there, with homelessness and unemployment, the best evidence is that young people who are trained as mentors are much better at mentoring young people on a range of issues. It is a big society point; I freely admit that. Thinking about it and listening to the debate, I think that we must make more use of young people themselves and not do it top-down. That is just a thought.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I have no hesitation in welcoming such a proposal. It does not run counter to the other data matching that we are proposing or the roadshows on individual registration. I am sure that the very constructive suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, will be taken into account.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My noble friend Lord Rooker makes an excellent point. Will the Minister be kind enough to tell the House what view the Government take as to the likelihood of sufficient resources being available to electoral registration officers in local authorities?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: As I have said, we are committed to undertaking the pilot schemes and, if they have proved their worth, rolling them out. I would not make that commitment unless we believed that the resources were there to do that.

Lord Wills: I ask the noble and learned Lord to clarify the point that he has made several times already. Is he really saying that the injustice that he sees in people already on the electoral register being misallocated to a constituency-about which, as we have heard,

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1451

there is considerable controversy-outweighs the injustice of proceeding to this wholesale boundary revision that will exclude 3.5 million people who are eligible to vote but who are not on the register? Does he really think that one outweighs the other?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am saying that I think it is more unjust to have the 2015 general election fought on the basis of data that were collected in 2000, not data that were collected in 2010. That would be the injustice. There are the people, to whom the noble Baroness referred, who signed up to the register during the last general election campaign. If we go into the next election on the basis of constituencies in which the electoral registration data for the year 2000 apply, we will miss out those people. There is also the completely different but related issue of trying to improve electoral registration, which we are very much committed to.

Baroness Thornton: I thank the Minister for that, but it seems that he is completely happy to go ahead with the boundary-redrawing knowing that 3.5 million people are not on the register and that a large number of those will be young people. I think that is a shame. Actually, I think it is a disgrace. I do not want to delay indefinitely-

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I just want to clarify whether the noble Baroness thinks that it is right that the next general election should use boundaries for which the data were collected in 2000, which will exclude anyone who became 18 since the year 2000.

Baroness Thornton: The point that I was going on to make was that the Government need to get their finger out and get the registers up to date before they get on with the boundary-redrawing. That is what they need to do. I am not saying that we should not move ahead with this, but I cannot believe that the Minister can possibly be satisfied. There were indeed some extra voters on the register as a result of those measures-which, as I said, were positive-but even the Electoral Commission says that the electoral register is hopelessly out of date. Possibly millions are young voters, and I think it is very unsatisfactory that the Government think it is okay to proceed in that situation. I thank my noble friends Lady Hayter and Lord Howarth and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer for their support.

This House has a great tradition of supporting young people. We have spent many months together over the years discussing how to improve the lot of disadvantaged young people in particular. We have protected their interests; we have promoted their interests. The amendment is about that. It is very unsatisfactory that the Government are not prepared to promote and protect the interests of those young people. Therefore, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

6.57 pm

Division on Amendment 58ZZZB

Contents 133; Not-Contents 203.

Amendment 58ZZZB disagreed.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1452

Division No. 1


Adams of Craigielea, B.
Adebowale, L.
Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Bach, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]
Best, L.
Bichard, L.
Billingham, B.
Boateng, L.
Borrie, L.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Bradley, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Browne of Ladyton, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Crawley, B.
Darzi of Denham, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Davies of Stamford, L.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Donaghy, B.
Donoughue, L.
Dubs, L.
Eames, L.
Elystan-Morgan, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Ford, B.
Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.
Foulkes of Cumnock, L.
Gale, B.
Giddens, L.
Gilbert, L.
Golding, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grantchester, L.
Grenfell, L.
Grocott, L.
Harries of Pentregarth, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haworth, L.
Hayter of Kentish Town, B.
Hollick, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Hughes of Stretford, B.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Jones, L.
Jones of Whitchurch, B.
Judd, L.
Kennedy of Southwark, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kinnock, L.
Kinnock of Holyhead, B.
Kirkhill, L.
Layard, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Liddell of Coatdyke, B.
Liddle, L.
Lipsey, L.
Low of Dalston, L.
McAvoy, L.
McDonagh, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McFall of Alcluith, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Mandelson, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Mawson, L.
Maxton, L.
Moonie, L.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Handsworth, L.
Moser, L.
Nye, B.
O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.
Palmer, L.
Patel of Bradford, L.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Prosser, B.
Puttnam, L.
Radice, L.
Reid of Cardowan, L.
Rogan, L.
Rooker, L.
Rosser, L.
Rowlands, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Sawyer, L.
Sewel, L.
Sherlock, B.
Simon, V.
Smith of Basildon, B.
Snape, L.
Soley, L.
Stevenson of Balmacara, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Bolton, B.
Thornton, B.
Touhig, L.
Truscott, L.
Tunnicliffe, L. [Teller]
Turnberg, L.
Wall of New Barnet, B.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Wheeler, B.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wills, L.
Winston, L.
Young of Norwood Green, L.


Addington, L.
Allan of Hallam, L.
Alliance, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. [Teller]
Arran, E.
Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.
Astor of Hever, L.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1453

Attlee, E.
Barker, B.
Benjamin, B.
Bew, L.
Black of Brentwood, L.
Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.
Boswell of Aynho, L.
Bottomley of Nettlestone, B.
Bowness, L.
Bradshaw, L.
Bramall, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Browning, B.
Burnett, L.
Buscombe, B.
Caithness, E.
Cameron of Dillington, L.
Carrington, L.
Cathcart, E.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Chidgey, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Cotter, L.
Cox, B.
Craigavon, V.
Crickhowell, L.
De Mauley, L.
Denham, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dobbs, L.
Doocey, B.
Dundee, E.
Dykes, L.
Eaton, B.
Eccles, V.
Elton, L.
Falkland, V.
Falkner of Margravine, B.
Faulks, L.
Feldman of Elstree, L.
Ferrers, E.
Fookes, B.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L.
Fowler, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Freud, L.
Garden of Frognal, B.
Gardiner of Kimble, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
German, L.
Glasgow, E.
Glentoran, L.
Goodhart, L.
Goodlad, L.
Greaves, L.
Green of Hurstpierpoint, L.
Greenway, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hanham, B.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Henley, L.
Higgins, L.
Hill of Oareford, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howe of Idlicote, B.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Hussein-Ece, B.
Inge, L.
Inglewood, L.
James of Blackheath, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jolly, B.
Jones of Cheltenham, L.
Jopling, L.
Kimball, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Kramer, B.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lang of Monkton, L.
Lawson of Blaby, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lexden, L.
Lindsay, E.
Lingfield, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Liverpool, E.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Macdonald of River Glaven, L.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Mar, C.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Marland, L.
Marlesford, L.
Mawhinney, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Methuen, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Montrose, D.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Naseby, L.
Neuberger, B.
Newton of Braintree, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.
Noakes, B.
Northbrook, L.
Northover, B.
Norton of Louth, L.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Parminter, B.
Patten, L.
Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Ramsbotham, L.
Rawlings, B.
Razzall, L.
Reay, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rennard, L.
Ribeiro, L.
Risby, L.
Ritchie of Brompton, B.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
St John of Fawsley, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Sassoon, L.
Scott of Needham Market, B.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1454

Seccombe, B.
Selborne, E.
Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Selsdon, L.
Sharkey, L.
Sharman, L.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Sheikh, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Shrewsbury, E.
Shutt of Greetland, L. [Teller]
Skelmersdale, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Spicer, L.
Stedman-Scott, B.
Steel of Aikwood, L.
Stowell of Beeston, B.
Strasburger, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Teverson, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Tonge, B.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Trimble, L.
True, L.
Trumpington, B.
Tugendhat, L.
Tyler, L.
Verma, B.
Wakeham, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Wallace of Tankerness, L.
Walmsley, B.
Walpole, L.
Watson of Richmond, L.
Wei, L.
Wheatcroft, B.
Wilcox, B.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Willis of Knaresborough, L.
Younger of Leckie, V.
7.10 pm

Amendment 58ZZZC

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

58ZZZC: Clause 10, page 8, line 15, at end insert-

"( ) No Boundary Commission shall begin work on a report to be submitted under subsection (1) above until both Houses of Parliament have approved a separate report issued by the Secretary of State confirming that particular action has been taken to maximise the proportion of private sector tenants who are on the electoral register."

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 58ZZZC on behalf of my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth. This amendment seeks action from the Government on another group of people who are overrepresented in the 3.5 million missing voters on the electoral register. We have heard about the Electoral Commission's report of March 2010 on the completeness and accuracy of electoral registration in Great Britain. We heard of the decline in the completeness of the register and we know that geographical variations have widened since the 1990s. While a majority of registers are 90 per cent plus complete, the report indicates that a growing minority of local registers are likely to be less than 85 per cent complete. We know that there are concentrations on specific social groups who are underrepresented. We have just had a debate about one group in particular-young people.

In respect of socio-demographic factors, the report states:

"However, the evidence does indicate that the interaction between social disadvantage and housing tenure may have a significant influence on the geography of under-registration. Taken as a whole, tenants in the private rented sector are significantly more likely to be absent from the electoral register than owner-occupiers or those in social housing. This pattern arises from the greater turnover of households in the private rental sector compared to other tenures as well as the associated concentrations of specific social groups in private rental accommodation, notably young people and students, and some BME groups".

In looking at a range of case studies, the report determined that for those cases something like 49 per cent of private sector tenants were not registered.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1455

If my noble friend Lord Knight were presenting this amendment, he would recount his experiences in his previous constituency and the Melcombe Regis and Park district of Weymouth, and tell how difficult it is to make contact with people. I am sure that many noble Lords who have served or have sought to serve in the other place, or have supported people in their endeavour to do so, know how difficult it is to canvass and reach people in some parts of some constituencies.

We know that there is scope for improvements in the electoral administration-indeed, we heard from a Minister in reply to the previous amendment and doubtless he will repeat that-around data matching and possibly around the timing of the canvass. There is a crucial issue, which was touched on by my noble friend Lord Rooker, about local authority by spending and the need to have proper resources for electoral administration at a time when local authorities are facing significant cuts in their expenditure.

The decline in completeness is uneven and it is unfair on areas of high levels of private rented accommodation, whether it be students, inner cities or coastal towns. My noble friend's notes point out that he has done a bit of arithmetic. If one looks at Scotland, overall the registers are 92 per cent complete, but for Glasgow they are 67.8 per cent complete. If one is looking for some sort of equality across constituencies, you would have to gross up that Glasgow number to get something like 103,000 people for a comparable constituency based on the register as it is.

The issues around the private rented sector are going to get worse. We know that if you look at recent years, the number of households accommodated in the private rented sector has increased significantly. I think that the number is in excess of 1 million, which is because of the growing number of households and because the provision of social housing, in particular, has not kept pace with it.

We know that people in private rented accommodation have less security of tenure. They are more likely to move and when people move we know that they are more likely to drop off the register. We know that sometimes people avoid registration in order to avoid detection-possibly when they have accumulated debts-which is more likely to have an impact on poor people who are the sort of people who would live in private rented accommodation. Figure 12 of the commission's report looks at the correlation between non-registration and repossessions of houses, which bears out that issue.

On looking at the impact of, say, universities on registration, it may be that what the coalition Government have done on tuition fees has encouraged and will encourage many more students to go out not only to register but to cast their vote in elections, so there may be some redress in that respect.

This position will get worse, particularly because of the housing benefit measures that are coming down the track from this Government. Estimates of the housing benefit changes suggest that there will be something like 1 million people worse off by £12 a week, which will be an increase in indebtedness. We know that there will be displacement of people, certainly from London into lower-cost areas. Again, there will

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1456

be significant movement. We know that there will be significant migration to cheaper out-of-London accommodation.

Noble Lords do not have to take my word for it. The Work and Pensions Select Committee of another place made that clear. It said that "while the department", the DWP,

Of course, it has not done that to any great extent.

If noble Lords look at the position of the private rented sector, we know that the occupation and types of groups which occupy private rented accommodation in particular are more vulnerable to underregistration. We know that that sector is likely to grow in importance for as long as there is inadequate provision of social housing. We know that the housing benefit cuts, which will be imposed shortly, will exacerbate debt and enforce greater moves among people who access that sort of accommodation. All that will have an impact on registration and on the exercise which is under way supposedly to equalise those entitled to vote.

I urge the Government to be very clear on what they are going to do about it. Like my noble friend Lady Thornton in respect of the previous amendment, we are seeking clarity on what the Government intend specifically in relation to this sector where the data are very clear that it is a major problem area. I beg to move.

Lord Soley: I support my noble friend Lord McKenzie and my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth who I understand cannot move the amendment. It is a particularly important issue and I know that, like me, my noble friend Lord Knight will have had real examples of the problem in his own constituency when he was an MP. However, I have to say that this matter does not affect just inner-city areas: it affects the whole private rented sector. I had a survey carried out in my constituency of Hammersmith, which lasted for more than a year. A number of things stood out, but one which stood out very strongly was the overrepresentation of people from the private rented sector coming to see the MP or the councillor because their problems were more acute. This is really what the issue is about. These people need representation and yet they are the ones who are least likely to be on the list.

I recognise the problem for local authorities. People in this group are particularly hard to identify and to follow up on if you fail to get them to register in the first instance, but it is important that we make an effort. I know that it affects rural areas as well, which is why I say that it is not just a matter for inner-city areas. The private rented sector generally has in it people who tend to be on lower incomes, often in accommodation for not that long. If it is a shorthold tenure, it will be for a maximum of six months, although obviously that can be renewed as appropriate. But it means that you are dealing with a high turnover of

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1457

people, often on low incomes and yet often with multiple problems that need to be addressed by an elected representative, be it a councillor or a Member of Parliament.

I do not have any simple answer, but I can say that at one stage Hammersmith council got particularly good at following up on these people and did rather well on increasing the representation of people in the private rented sector. However, I do not think that any of us has got it right yet. As I have said, although it is more extreme in urban areas, it also affects rural areas. The evidence is very strong that there is underrepresentation on the electoral roll of people in private rented accommodation, and it would be useful to know if the Government have any ideas at all about how to address this.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this is well tilled territory. The position according to the Electoral Commission is that if you own your house outright, 93 per cent of you are on the electoral register; if you are buying on a mortgage, it is 86 per cent; if renting from a council, 79 per cent; if renting from a housing association, 75 per cent; and if renting from a private landlord, only 44 per cent. If you are "other", it is 78 per cent. I do not know what "other" is. Perhaps it is living in a commune or in a tent somewhere or, indeed, in a caravan, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Graham. Why is this? The Electoral Commission report says:

"Taken as a whole, tenants in the private rented sector are significantly more likely to be absent from the electoral register than owner-occupiers or those in social housing. This pattern arises from the greater turnover of households in the private rental sector compared to other tenures as well as the associated concentrations of specific social groups in private rental accommodation, notably young people and students, and some BME groups".

Again, I do not think that much of this is in dispute and that what we are looking for are proposals as to how it might be dealt with.

I endorse all that my noble friend Lord McKenzie has said about the private rented sector, but there is a further point to make. I turn to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, to the effect that, "You do not want this review to take place using very out-of-date material. It is going to take place using material prepared in December 2010, so all your proposals that there should be an improvement in the number of young people and BMEs in the private rental sector will not apply unless you want to delay it". That is the key answer. What is the hurry for this to take place by 2015? The obvious answer to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, is that a period of time should go by, maybe a year, and then we should take the register at December 2011, but only if the sort of steps that my noble friends Lady Thornton and Lord McKenzie of Luton have been asking for have been taken.

If that is wrong, because we can delay the date until December 2011 and we can seek measures to be taken to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State or the Electoral Commission to ensure better representation of the three underrepresented groups, we can achieve both. I would therefore ask the noble and learned

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1458

Lord to give answers to two questions. What is being done about the private rented sector to get more people on to the electoral register? What would be the problem in answering his oft-repeated song that we delay for a year or some other period the date at which we take the electoral register for the purposes of the boundary revision? What would the nation lose by that? There would be more people from these underrepresented groups on the electoral register.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, as has been indicated, this amendment is very similar in its terms to the previous amendment, although it focuses on the need to maximise the proportion of private sector tenants on the electoral register. It will therefore not come as a surprise if I indicate that the arguments are substantially the same. I will answer the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The difference is that what we are being invited to do with these amendments is put off the boundary review to some indeterminate time. No date is fixed in these amendments, although the noble and learned Lord said that it could be 1 December 2011. But we have heard the whingeing complaints that to do it in 2010 is going to make it tight for a boundary review to report by 2013. Given that, I rather suspect that using a review date for the electoral register in December 2011 is going to make it impossible for the 2015 election to be fought on new boundaries. That is the crucial difference.

The party opposite appears to wish the boundaries for the 2015 election to be fought on electoral data, so far as England is concerned, that go back to the year 2000. We have quoted on many occasions in these debates the report from the Electoral Commission published in March last year, when of course the party opposite was in power. These underregistrations have not suddenly materialised since May last year. I have indicated what we intend to do with regard to younger people in terms of data matching, so I found it rather breathtaking to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, say that we should get on with it. I think that we are probably proposing to do more in our first eight months in office than all that happened during the past 13 years. I give credit for initiatives that were taken, like rolling the register, but all that would come to naught because any benefit that came from that if we hold the 2015 election on electoral data from 2000 would be lost. Any positive steps taken by the previous Administration will not have any effect.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, mentioned Glasgow, and in previous exchanges the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, has indicated what has been done there, and it is a positive example. But of course none of that would be taken into account if we had to use electoral data from 2000. I welcome back the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, because I wondered where he was earlier.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I have been here or hereabouts for most of the evening. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, will remember as I do that Jack de Manio, when he presented the "Today" programme, had in front of him a message: "Remember, it's different in Scotland". Can the noble and learned

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1459

Lord answer a question for me? All today and on previous days I have wondered what arrangements departments in England dealing with this are making for liaison with the Scottish Executive in implementing this and all other parts of the Bill, if it becomes an Act.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am glad the noble Lord mentioned that because I have indicated that using the year 2000 does relate to England, but of course the previous Labour Government introduced a boundary review following devolution. The numbers were reduced and used electoral data which I am sure, if you note the kind of figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, must have been as deficient in terms of underregistration in certain categories as the ones they are now complaining about; however, they did not hold back from conducting a very necessary boundary review at that time.

I indicated earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, that in terms of school records, I certainly hope that the Scottish Government will be co-operative in these matters. I fully intended to write to the noble Lord to follow up on his comment last Monday. He then made a further comment on data protection that I will respond to in a further letter which I will circulate. I also take on the point about departments and the Scottish Government.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Minister says that he hopes the Scottish Government will be co-operative. As he knows, the Scottish Government have been urging the UK Government not to go ahead with the referendum on 5 May, and therefore they are not necessarily in an immediately co-operative frame of mind. If this Bill becomes an Act, can I urge him to consider arrangements for joint discussions in the form of a committee or other ministerial meeting to deal with some of the tricky problems that will arise?

7.30 pm

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I hope that the Scottish Government would be as keen as the parties in this House on trying to improve electoral registration. I hope to be able to indicate what engagement there has been with the Scottish Government in trying to ensure that that is the case. I am not sure that setting up another committee is necessarily the best way to do it.

I have mentioned data matching. The kind of publicly available data that would be relevant to this amendment, although they would not be specific to private tenants, could be national insurance data, information from the DVLA and, specifically, housing benefit data. Those are the areas we would look at, via proactive pilot schemes, to try to ensure that that particular category of person, who I accept is underregistered on the electoral roll, is better identified than at the moment. Against that background, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response and to my noble friend Lord Soley and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer for their support. I do not intend to press the amendment tonight; I am grateful for the information that has been given around the prospect of data matching and the expanded scope for that in relation to private

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1460

sector tenants. It would have been good to hear a little more from the Minister about issues of local authority funding, given the huge constraints that they are under and the real risk that one of the things that will not get the priority that it should in the current climate is effective electoral registration.

The Minister suggested that the amendment was indeterminate in its timeframe. If he would be happy in due course, possibly at a subsequent stage, to accept an amendment with a more specific timeframe, we would be very happy to reflect on that. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 58ZZZC withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.32 pm.

Health: Maternal Health

Question for Short Debate

7.32 pm

Asked by Lord Patel

Lord Patel: My Lords, before I introduce today's debate, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. Last week, the Prime Minister of India bestowed on her the high honour of Pravasi Bharatiya Samman in recognition of her work.

I thank the long list of distinguished noble Lords from all sides of the House who are taking part in the debate. That demonstrates the huge interest that your Lordships' House has in the subject and signifies the need for a longer debate. It is a pleasure to note that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, will make his maiden speech. I look forward to that. Given his distinguished career, I have no doubt that the House will hear a lot more from him.

The topic of today's debate is how the UK Government propose to meet millennium development goal 5, relating to maternal death, maternal health and maternal morbidity. It is fortuitous that the Government published at the end of December 2010 their framework, Choices for Women: Planned Pregnancies, Safe Births and Healthy Newborns, for improving maternal health in the developing world. I congratulate them on producing that document, which sets out clearly the vision of the UK Government and their ambition to improve maternal health globally. It sets clear goals in each of the areas mentioned for the UK Government to meet by 2015. It is a little less clear about how this will be done, but I have no doubt that we will explore that today.

An article appeared in Delhi's Hindustan Times on 29 August 2010, the day before the start of the first global meeting on maternal health, organised by the Bill Gates Foundation and the Indian Ministry of Health, which exemplified the problem in relation to maternal deaths. The headline was:

"She gave birth, died. Delhi walked by".

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1461

It was the story of a destitute woman who died having given birth on a pavement on a busy street in central Delhi as thousands walked by.

In sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, women die in childbirth, not of disease or epidemics but of conditions that are easily treatable: prolonged labour, haemorrhage, high blood pressure, infection and unsafe abortions. There is a lack of skilled attendance at births and a lack of access to emergency obstetric care.

The commitment made by world leaders in 1990 to reduce by 75 per cent by 2015 the 570,000 maternal deaths that occurred annually at the time-millennium goal 5-is the most off-track millennium development goal. While there was estimated to be some reduction to 350,000 yearly deaths by 2008, unless efforts are accelerated, the goal of reducing deaths by 75 per cent by 2015 will not be met.

In September 2010, an international alliance that included the United Kingdom was launched at the UN General Assembly. The UK's leadership is well recognised globally, as alluded to by Melinda Gates in her New Year blog.

The causes of death remain the same: lack of skilled attendance at births, poor access to emergency obstetric care and health system failure. The Government's framework states that it will address all these issues. It commits the UK, working in high-risk countries in sub-Saharan Africa, to reduce annual deaths by 50,000 by 2015. On the basis of what evidence are the Government confident that they can meet this goal? I hope that the Government will support other African countries, too, such as Tanzania, where there is a will on the part of local and national government, professional organisations and the population to improve maternal health, with some good examples of strong health systems. The UK can and must provide the co-ordination and leadership required and draw on the experience of professional organisations and individuals in the United Kingdom, who will happily contribute to the national efforts.

For the next few minutes, I should like to address obstetric fistula, a subject about which I have spoken previously-I make no apology for doing so again. At long last, after nearly six years of campaigning by a small group of people, obstetric fistula, from which an estimated 3.5 million women suffer worldwide, has come to the notice of the world's politicians. I, for one, was very pleased that, following the adoption of a resolution by the UN General Assembly, the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, is calling for at least $750 million to treat the 3.5 million women who suffer from obstetric fistula. Of course, that is not possible, but I hope that the problem will at least get greater attention. As Ban Ki-Moon said, obstetric fistula is one of the most devastating consequences of neglect during childbirth.

Like maternal mortality, obstetric fistula is almost entirely preventable with skilled care during labour and access to emergency obstetric care. Obstructed labour, a major cause of maternal death, is also the main reason for a mother ending up with a fistula and, in most cases, a stillborn baby. She is left incontinent in relation to urine and she smells. She is made to live

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1462

in social isolation. To the 3.5 million women with the condition, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 new cases are added each year. Cost-effective, sustainable strategies, albeit on a small scale, have been instituted by a few dedicated groups.

I am privileged to be involved with one such group, co-ordinated by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London. Over the past four years, it has established training centres for doctors and nurses and is in the process of treating 2,000 women with obstetric fistula. It has trained 32 doctors and nearly 50 nurses in Tanzania alone at a cost of approximately $300 for a woman treated and cured. That is not much. The UK's framework for maternal health recognises that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Beyond that, there does not appear to be any commitment. I hope that the call by Ban Ki-Moon will now energise DfID into some action.

The UK can provide a global lead in shaping the strategy to help to tackle the problem. We have a cadre of experienced surgeons in the UK. We have produced competency-based training manuals that are accepted globally for the training of doctors and nurses. We have the experience of running successful programmes. The UK can lead and co-ordinate with other partners. I hope that the Government will commit to some action. I know that the professional organisations stand ready to help. I am hoping for a positive response from the Minister. The publication of the framework demonstrates the Government's recognition of the problem relating to MDG 5. I hope that resources to meet the goals will now follow.

7.41 pm

Lord Black of Brentwood: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust. I start by congratulating the noble Lord on securing this debate on such a tragic issue.

As we have heard, 555,000 women in the developing world die each year from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. The most awful aspect is that so many deaths are avoidable because they are caused by a simple lack of awareness about basic primary healthcare and cleanliness. Information and communication are therefore vital in tackling the problem. This is an area where a free media with well trained professional health journalists must play a key role.

The evidence is strong. In countries that lack a vibrant press with specialist health reporters, maternal morbidity rates are most acute. Where the media operate effectively, the problem can be tackled head on. A recent report from the Open Society Institute showed how mass media campaigns in the area of HIV promote the adoption of prevention of mother-to-child transmission services, which are a key part of maternal health. In Rwanda, to take a concrete example, a mass media education programme has helped to reduce the maternal mortality rate from 750 per 100,000 live births in 2005 to 383 in 2009, so public information helps. A key priority for us should therefore be to foster programmes where skilled health professionals can work with specialist journalists to develop locally generated educational campaigns that can reach out to all members of the population.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1463

One other area where a free media have a key role to play is in ensuring that there is transparency about what individual Governments are actually spending on maternal health issues. Last year, the International Budget Project conducted a survey to find out what 80 Governments were spending on issues relating to international goals, some relating to maternal mortality. Ten African countries with the highest maternal mortality rates did not bother to respond, while many others asserted that there was no central information on issues such as spending on life-saving drugs. To work out what needs to be done, as the IBP pointed out, we need to know what is already being done, which is far from clear.

The task of communicating information and of holding Governments to account requires a well trained and free media if we are to make further progress in dealing with the cruel scourge of maternal morbidity.

7.43 pm

Lord Winston: My Lords, I declare an interest as Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College and Professor of Science and Society. Also, I was a scientific adviser to the WHO on its reproductive programme in the 1970s and an adviser to the International Planned Parenthood Federation during that decade.

I remember approaching, while I was on that mission, a Bangladeshi farmer who had five sons. He said, "Look, I am rich in my poor community because I have five sons who will look after me in my old age". That is one of the key problems. Some 15 years ago in this Chamber, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, pointed out that contraception was not ultimately what "controlled" populations. Quite clearly, what is needed is better infrastructure and education, better status of women and better women's health.

That is why I am somewhat critical of the aims that I understand are part of the Government's, which are to improve contraception and safe abortion. While those are worthy causes, they will not deal with the basic problem of the massive incidence of maternal mortality, particularly in places such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo and India, where 50 per cent of these deaths, with the other three countries that are cited by Margaret Hogan in her excellent paper in the Lancet, are recorded.

One has to accept that almost certainly the original half million is an underestimate. A 1.5 per cent decrease per annum will clearly not meet the targets that are needed. There is a serious problem, particularly as in many cases the number of maternal deaths-those from ectopic pregnancy, for example, which is largely silent and hardly ever diagnosed in the third world-must be underestimated. The same applies to abortion. Even where safe abortions are possible, it is difficult in many cases for women in these poor countries to seek them because of the social pressures on them. There is a huge amount of work still to be done.

7.45 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, user fees for healthcare can be a key barrier to achieving MDG 5 in developing countries. While contributing on average only 5 per cent to healthcare costs, they leave too many women

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1464

with no choice but to give birth at home with no qualified medical assistance. Sierra Leone removed user fees in April 2010 with DfID and other donor support. The number of women giving birth in hospital doubled in the first month and continues to rise.

In the first month alone, antenatal clinics in Freetown saw seven times more women than they ever had before. According to Oxfam, since removing fees Uganda has seen an 84 per cent increase in attendance, while Burundi has seen a 60 per cent increase. In Niger, consultations for under-fives have quadrupled and for mothers have doubled. In the light of that compelling evidence, will the Minister confirm the Government's continued commitment to maternal health multilateral aid through, for example, the UK's support for the Global Fund?

In fragile states such as DRC, achieving MDG 5, as with any of the other development goals, requires the international community to consider more thoroughly and widely the political dimensions of DRC's poverty. In that context, will the Minister tell us what steps the Government will take to support the development of parliamentary accountability in the DRC?

More generally, what measures are the Government taking to ensure that improved government accountability is featured alongside MDG programmes? A key issue associated with maternal health and MDG 5 is sexual gender-based violence. DRC is recognised as one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a woman, yet in its 2011 national budget just 0.1 per cent was allocated to the Ministry of Justice, making a mockery of claims to show zero tolerance of rape and SGBV. What representations have the Government made to the Congolese over the inadequacy of DRC's budget for its Ministry of Justice, particularly in this regard?

7.47 pm

Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint: My Lords, as I rise to make my maiden speech, I am conscious that it is customary to thank the staff of the House for all their help, as I begin like a new boy at school to find my way around. Although everyone promised that this would be so, it is an absolute delight to find just how true it is. My thanks are absolutely the reverse of perfunctory.

My thanks go, too, to my sponsors, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe. Both are close friends of mine. The fact that one sits on these Benches and the other on the Benches opposite matters to me not a jot. I am normally happy to follow the conventions of the House, but on this occasion at least I can say that both, and indeed others on various Benches of this House, are my noble friends.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for introducing today's debate on maternal health in the context of the millennium development goals. I am keen to contribute, as I have taken on the role of Minister of State for Trade and Investment. I believe passionately that there is a vital connecting thread between trade and investment and the millennium development goals. My own perspective is formed not only by having worked in international management consulting, followed by an extensive career in international banking, but by having

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1465

begun my working life in DfID, or rather its predecessor, the Overseas Development Administration, as it was then known.

I make four brief points. First, the various millennium development goals are of course intrinsically linked. The most obvious example of that, and directly relevant to today's debate, is the connection between progress on gender equality, which is goal 3, improved maternal health, which is goal 5, and reduced child mortality, which is goal 4. The evidence is clear: children in poor communities are 10 times more likely to die before the age of five if the mother has died. The link, too, with disease-goal 6-is clear. HIV is the leading cause of death in women of reproductive age in sub-Saharan Africa and malaria alone is responsible for 20 per cent of child mortality there.

Secondly, progress in meeting the goals is mixed. There have been some important gains, with good progress in eradicating extreme poverty-goal 1. Some countries have made astonishing progress. China, for example, has lifted literally hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in recent years. Yet the mountain is still high and there is a long way to climb. Demographic patterns have meant that absolute numbers have declined much less sharply than the ratios of poverty, and the absolute numbers remain high by any standard. More broadly, across a range of targets, there is a long way to go. We have heard from a number of noble Lords about the difficulties in respect of maternal health.

Thirdly, specific interventions can be powerfully effective. Well targeted ODA and NGO-supported programmes in areas such as fistula can make a real difference to many people's lives and indirectly to even more lives through the effect on children.

Fourthly, none of this will ever add up to sustainable, comprehensive well-being without progress-real progress-on goal 8. On the face of it, this is the woolliest goal of all. It seems like a ragbag of ideas bundled together as the last goal but it includes the all-important challenge to further develop,

This is critical to everything else that we do. It is certainly not sufficient but it is absolutely necessary. Historians will note the importance of the words of the G20 communiqué from London in April 2009, where the heads of the Governments of 80 per cent of the world's economy said that we start from the belief that,

I see this as the basis for real hope. It is easy to be cynical, but that would be wrong. There is plenty to do. Progress is mixed and there are many lessons to be learnt from the global financial and economic crisis. One lesson not to learn, if we really care about the aspirations that infuse the development goals in general and goal 5 in particular, is the notion of some alternative to a central role for open, market-based engagement-properly supervised-as the main engine of the economic

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1466

and social development that is essential if we are to banish today's unacceptable levels of child and maternal mortality for good.

Trade and investment is an area of policy focus for the UK that is critical not only to the UK's own ability to deliver sustainable growth for its citizens, which it certainly is, but also to the wider goal of a prosperous, open, growing world economy that is sustainable and inclusive. This aspiration is both our wider responsibility and in our wider interest.

7.54 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, for his wise and insightful speech. He comes with a distinguished career and immediately gave a big framework and a focus to help us understand this debate and where it is going. I thank him and look forward to his contributions in future.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for drawing attention to this important issue, and I make one simple point. We have heard and will hear a range of insights into how this issue can be tackled. Many of these insights and much of the documentation are quite properly about scientific, medical and organisational strategies to try and help people in enormous need facing enormous challenges. You will not be surprised that I want to remind the House that birth and death are for most people essentially spiritual issues. There is little mention in the aspirations and the documentation about the element of faith and spirituality.

I am pleased that the Government are bold in their big society agenda in drawing attention to the role of faith in society, education, well-being and values. I hope we can think seriously about the role of faith as we try to pursue these goals. I cite two small examples of this. First, the Mothers' Union has 3.6 million members and operates in 81 countries at the grassroots level. Secondly, if we want to confront how we pursue and deliver these goals with the people, through the people, there is a faith organisation that is right in the middle of the challenge. In the Congo, 60 per cent of healthcare is delivered by Christian churches. Can the Minister comment on the place of faith and working with faith communities in taking seriously these goals and pursuing them effectively?

7.56 pm

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Patel, on securing this debate, and the present Government on the leadership they showed early on by promoting women's health and in particular in improving the provision of contraception and safe abortion in developing countries.

The previous Government were equally enthusiastic, but sadly an estimated 350,000 women still die in childbirth and millions suffer permanent damage to their health as a consequence. Imagine a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing every day of the year. The press would go mad. Rupert Murdoch might notice and take action. Yet the same number dying each year for lack of obstetric care raises not a whimper. What a pity men do not have the babies-action would have been taken decades ago.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1467

The coalition published the framework for action before Christmas and I congratulate them. How much money will be allocated and how will the Department for International Development monitor the results? We need to ensure real progress this time because the success of developing countries depends on the health and welfare of its women. There is no question of that.

The rest of my speech can be read in the report produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, asking whether some women in developing countries might be Better off Dead? It is on our website, so please read it.

7.58 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for following up the short debate of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, which I missed. The 2015 deadline for the health MDGs is looming nearer. I have seen the recommendations of the UN taskforce implementing a $40 billion global strategy for women and children's health. They are formidable but I was struck by one passage:

"The chasm between what we know and what we do, between our ability to end poverty, despair, and destruction and our timid, often contradictory efforts to do so lies at the heart of the problem ... the challenge posed by the MDGs is deeply and fundamentally political. It is about access to and distribution of power and resources".

It is important that health practitioners, when coming into contact with global health, take note of these words because they take us to the heart of the community involved.

In southern Sudan, for example, on the eve of its independence, a lot of money has been earmarked for health through the Government and the multi-donor trust fund but little has been spent effectively. There have been delays in implementation, logjams in drug procurement, problems in paying health workers and transferring funds into services-every kind of obstacle you expect in a poor country, only worse. The most experienced NGOs there are frustrated. No one is giving up. It will just take a long time and many mothers and children will die waiting. This is the hard lesson that we have to pass on to dedicated teams who are rightly desperate to help these countries meet their millennium goals.

The latest UN development report reminds us that global healthcare need not be expensive but it will thrive in a more democratic and politically friendly environment. It is sometimes assumed that the ill health of the poor stems from their own ignorance and that we have to fill an acute knowledge gap that exists between rich and poor. However, my experience is that the very poor, given half a chance, are the best architects of their own development, whereas outsiders are not.

8 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I care about international development and the achievement of millennium development goal 5. When I attended the sixth Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership meeting in Brussels

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1468

recently, I successfully tabled an amendment to the final declaration calling for greater efforts to improve maternal health and to reduce maternal mortality.

I feel that it is pertinent to draw attention to the growing adolescent birth rate. Poverty continues to be a factor in perpetuating that worrying trend, but education also plays a significant role. Research suggests that adolescents who have not had access to any type of formal education are four times more likely to fall pregnant than their peers who have completed secondary school.

Improving maternal health is not only a moral obligation but financially prudent. It has been argued that at least 30 per cent of Asia's economic growth was due to sustainable improvements in reproductive health. The United Nations Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health suggests that maternal health problems result in losses to productivity of up to $15 billion per annum.

I welcome the Government's commitment to support the global fund in its work to combat the rise of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in the world's poorest nations. More than 1 million people with tuberculosis are also infected with the HIV virus. Tuberculosis is responsible for the deaths of more than a quarter of people with the HIV/AIDS virus. In 2008, tuberculosis was responsible for the deaths of more than 300,000 expectant mothers, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

I am also in favour of the coalition Government's plan to tackle malaria and to reduce maternal fatalities. Malaria kills a child in Africa every 45 seconds. The plans will also ensure that, over the next five years, a minimum of 10 million couples will gain access to education on family planning. Infants and pregnant women are the main victims of malaria-related deaths.

I believe that we have a duty to ensure that lasting progress is made to fulfil millennium development goal 5 by 2015. As a leading nation in the global arena, we must ensure that goal 5-part of the challenging programme that was agreed 15 years ago-results in success.

8.03 pm

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for inspiring this debate. I pay my warmest tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, for his thought-provoking and powerful maiden speech.

The context of this millennium development goal is that maternal mortality initiatives should be incorporated within a preventive healthcare framework. On structure, an effective first step to reduce the incidence of maternal mortality would be to create integrated mother-child healthcare-MCH-units within primary healthcare centres to secure an increase in the accessibility and availability of MCH care.

To encourage attendance, the availability of MCH units should be widely advertised among the catchment area population through, for example, health education outreach programmes such as the women health volunteer programme.

Encouraging good health habits is essential. MCH units should be physically designed in a way that takes account of the patient's needs for privacy and dignity.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1469

Ideally, such units should also have the capacity to accommodate other young members of the family while mother has her consultation. Emphasis should be placed on encouraging patients to return, to attend regularly when advised to do so, to encourage others to attend and to inculcate good health habits within the community.

Traditional birth attendants should be professionally trained. That must be a priority, with a view to increasing the number of births attended by skilled and professionally qualified birth attendants.

Local staff should be used to overcome sociocultural barriers. Programmes that are implemented by local health professionals are much more likely to be able effectively to influence situations in which a strict interpretation of traditional social practices inhibits the timely treatment of women in urgent need of medical assistance. An example of that might be the refusal to allow female relatives to be treated by male doctors.

I chair the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, which provides more than 1 million Iraqi people a year with primary healthcare. Our maternal mortality conference operates in the Iraqi marshlands, where local AMAR doctors who have presented case studies of avoidable maternal deaths have enabled tribal leaders to pledge actively to take responsibility for reducing the number of such cases.

If we follow up such steps with referral procedures, follow-up procedures, improved patient records and maternal mortality data as well as education for mothers, we will find that infant and child mortality, as well as maternal mortality, is comprehensively improved.

8.05 pm

Viscount Craigavon: My Lords, in my brief contribution, I will focus particularly on MDG 5b, which mainly covers the contribution of reproductive health and family planning to the subject of this debate.

As we have heard, the Department for International Development moved the issue forward significantly with its many announcements on 31 December last year, although the specific allocation of money is still to be decided in the spending review that is to come shortly. The headline and bullet points given in a useful article in the Guardian on that day were very encouraging. The article states:

"The coalition government will put contraception and safe abortion at the heart of its efforts to help save women's lives in poor countries ... Safe abortion and contraception take centre stage in the framework on maternal health".

In this context, no one is referring to abortion as a method of family planning. The reference is to safe abortion, as opposed to unsafe abortion that all too often leads to a fatal outcome. The article goes on:

"Family planning to help avoid unwanted pregnancy is considered good value for money - it was estimated in 2008 that modern contraceptive methods cost ... £5 ... per woman per year".

It is to be hoped that the forthcoming spending review will also increase the amount that is spent bilaterally directly on family planning, which has recently not increased as much as other, similar aid.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1470

The article also tells us that,

I hope that that momentum will also carry over to affect how we contribute funds for development through the EU so that those can be radically reviewed and fed into the process of review within the EU that is going on this year.

8.07 pm

Lord Patten: My Lords, one of the best weapons in the Government's armoury that could help to meet the entirely laudable aims of millennium development goal 5 would be to press for better governance, on the way to the holy grail of good governance, in the countries that we seek to help in this respect. Outright corruption and bribery-with their twin and just as damaging siblings of weak regulation and indolent service delivery, often using donor aid-hit healthcare hard.

Look at sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank's African Development Indicators 2010 shines a revealing spotlight on the severe effects that follow from what it delicately terms "quiet corruption". The report cites examples such as that about half the drugs that are sold in Nigerian drugs stores are counterfeit. The same report equally politely refers to "provider deviations" from the norms of expected behaviours of some doctors, nurses and other front-line providers, with the petty palm greasing, attendant absenteeism and low levels of effort. Those are very uncomfortable but very true facts, which are well documented.

Above all, we must face up to the fact that private donor aid, as well as public spending from countries such as the United Kingdom, will in the end comprehensively reduce mortality only when governance is better and transparency about performance and behaviour is vastly improved. We need that if we are to bring help in an area where more than half of all births occur without trained personnel being present, despite the excellent efforts of UK-based charities such as CAFOD. CAFOD's innovative birth attendants training schemes in the selfsame Nigeria help to lead the way, as do the initiatives of the other faith groups that were referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby in his very telling remarks.

8.09 pm

Lord Jones of Cheltenham: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Patel, on securing this important debate and the noble Lord, Lord Green, on his very interesting maiden speech.

In 2009, I joined Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegations to Sierra Leone and Cameroon. I am a patron of the Kambia appeal, in my former constituency of Cheltenham, which supports healthcare in the Kambia region of north-east Sierra Leone. Both CPA delegations attended presentations about gender issues, covering the huge birth rate, the need for education, pre and postnatal care, contraception, violence towards women and the tragedy of so many deaths caused by illegal abortions.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1471

I want to tell noble Lords particularly about the session in Cameroon, which was also attended by Members of the Cameroon parliament. One outspoken chief asked why gender issues always meant women's issues. He said that it was the role of men to be head of the family and to lead the way, and he dismissed many of the problems and said female genital mutilation-FGM-was exactly the same as circumcision in boys. This shocked us. It produced an explosive response from our delegation leader, the former MP Joan Ryan. She told him that he was talking gibberish, that FGM was an appallingly disfiguring practice that should be outlawed and that two children were enough for anyone if Cameroon wanted to progress by enabling women to play a full economic part in their country's development, instead of leading lives of continuous breeding from an early age. She finished by telling the chief: "Girls are just as intelligent as boys. Women are equal to men, and if you don't like it we may just have to dominate you". How she is missed in another place.

We must help men in developing countries to understand their responsibilities in helping to achieve MDG 5. Without that breakthrough, I fear that we will continue to see women dying before childbirth, in childbirth and after childbirth in numbers that are all too horrible to imagine.

8.11 pm

Lord Crisp: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Patel on raising this issue and sparking this excellent debate. I also congratulate this and the previous Government on giving the priority that they have to this issue. The question is: why is more not happening faster? There are improvements but it is not fast enough. Three things come together here.

First, on the clinical issue, we have heard from clinicians in the Chamber and elsewhere that, clinically, people know what to do. Obviously, you can do it better but two other issues go alongside the need for good clinical leadership. Secondly, it is particularly about the resources of health workers and having more appropriately trained health workers. The third issue, which is the hardest to tackle, is the one that the noble Lord, Lord Jones, has just referred to: the matter of social issues. There are issues of women's inequality, of women not being able to leave the house without a man's permission, of women not having money of their own, of whether women are allowed to manage the finances in a family and of whether it is acceptable for young, underdeveloped women to marry and to bear children.

Those are all issues for the whole society, particularly for men, and it is interesting to see examples of countries such as Zambia where people actively work with the leaders, whether they are the spiritual or the traditional leaders of the country, to change social attitudes. It is my belief that you need these three things to work together in a country: clinical leadership, political leadership that will in part release the resources and civil society leadership, which embraces media and other aspects that have been referred to. What are the Government doing to make sure that those three issues are addressed together? I believe that doing so is what will make a difference.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1472

Perhaps I might add one quick footnote on an issue that my noble friend Lord Patel raised in his excellent speech. There are many people in the UK willing and able to help provide support, from his own college and elsewhere. Can the Minister tell us what is being done to enable people to use their skill and good will for the benefit of dealing with this problem?

8.14 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on introducing this very important subject. I will focus on a country currently in the news and in much need of help, Southern Sudan, where fulfilments of MDGs seem a distant dream. When I was in Southern Sudan some months ago, these grim statistics highlighted the situation. One in seven pregnant women dies in pregnancy or childbirth. Immunisation is available for only 17 per cent of the population, leaving 83 per cent vulnerable to avoidable diseases such as polio, measles, diphtheria and tetanus. A girl is more likely to die in pregnancy than to have access to secondary education. We were told that there are only 10 fully qualified midwives for the whole of Southern Sudan. In many rural areas around towns such as Yei, roads are so bad that access to hospitals may be virtually impossible. A woman with obstructed labour may have to endure over two hours on the back of a bicycle to reach a hospital; many die en route. The destruction of educational institutions during the war has left a dearth of young people with educational qualifications to apply for professional training as nurses and midwives.

Those statistics will be even worse now, with massive numbers of returnees fleeing from the north in fear of reprisals following the referendum. They are now living as displaced people in dire conditions, with no adequate facilities for care and no homes to return to. Following the referendum, there will be an urgent need to address these problems if the existing humanitarian crisis is not to escalate even further, with a risk of undermining political stability. DfID has made significant funding available but in areas where my NGO, HART, is working-Northern Bahr-El-Ghazal, Equatoria and the Nuba mountains-we see little evidence of DfID's funding. I therefore ask the Minister for reassurance that DfID's resources are being used effectively to address these priorities of maternal mortality in these critical days in Southern Sudan.

8.16 pm

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for the initiative that he has taken this evening and for his long and fine commitment to the issues that we are discussing. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, for his contribution and I certainly agree with the points that he made, particularly on trade and development and on MDG 8. I wish the noble Lord well as a Member of this House.

The fundamental reality should of course be that no woman should die giving life. Pregnancy, as I can confirm, is a cause for celebration and surely not for despair, disability or death. I met a woman once who was about to go into labour; before doing that, she went to say goodbye to her children. That is the kind

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1473

of story which really resonates and tells us what this debate is all about. We hear many fine words on maternal health but I regret that, after following this issue for many years, I do not actually see any real global fulfilment of the political or financial commitments that we have heard being made.

To answer the questions raised by the subject of tonight's debate, should we not point, as some noble Lords have, to the low status accorded to women and, indeed, to the low value placed upon saving women's lives-lives that have been characterised by vulnerability, exclusion and poverty? Is not this debate about women's rights to a fair distribution of power and resources? Indeed, we would serve the objectives of meeting all the MDGs if we were to focus on achieving equity, tolerance and shared responsibility, which means recognising women's rights. Time is short for MDG 5. It has become a popular cause but other issues are coming up. For instance, in 2011 the World Health Organisation is prioritising communicable diseases for the entire year.

Other Members of the House have outlined the problems that women encounter in terms of medication, birth attendants and other vital issues. Many women want to plan their families, yet family planning fails to meet the pace of the demands which women are making. Again, the reality is that women do not have control over their reproductive rights because they just do not have access to those rights. Finally, sadly, we should acknowledge that progress on MDG 5 is, I fear, too slow to hit the target on time.

8.19 pm

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for securing this important and very timely debate. From the level of interest, the number of speakers and the wit, knowledge and wisdom of your Lordships' House, today yet again highlights the great strength of your Lordships' knowledge. I know that time will not permit me to answer all questions today, so I ask noble Lords to allow me to write to them if I do not answer theirs. I join all noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint on his most excellent maiden speech. I am sure that it was just a tiny nugget of the superb contributions that my noble friend will bring to your Lordships' House, as well as carrying out his ministerial duties as our trade Minister, a field in which he already has enormous recognition.

We all know that millennium development goal 5, to improve maternal health, is one of the most off-track MDGs. Each year, more than a third of a million women and girls die in pregnancy and childbirth and some 50 million give birth without skilled care. There is not much with which I can disagree in what noble Lords have said today-there is so much to be done. But I assure all noble Lords that this Government are determined to do their best to meet all the targets that we are setting ourselves.

For every woman who dies, up to 30 more suffer a debilitating illness or permanent disability, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has highlighted, which is often accompanied by stigma and discrimination. I congratulate

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1474

the noble Lord on the work that he and his organisation are doing. I am sure that the department would be pleased to hear much more about it.

On the question of how we measure what we are doing, the framework sets out how we will clearly measure our outputs, our programmes and of course our end results. Most deaths in pregnancy and childbirth in developing countries are entirely avoidable. Globally meeting the unmet need for family planning alone could avoid around one-third of maternal deaths and one-fifth of newborn deaths. Yet 215 million women who want to delay or avoid a pregnancy are not using an effective method of family planning. Each year there are 75 million unintended pregnancies, of which 44 million end in abortion. In 2008, an estimated 22 million unsafe abortions took place, resulting in around 70,000 maternal deaths.

I agree that conflict can seriously aggravate the challenges of tackling maternal mortality and morbidity, such as the high levels of sexual violence, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, pointed out, which is why we support the UN Security Council resolution and its sequels to demonstrate the international commitment to improving the lives of women affected by conflict. The UK Government strongly support those efforts, as we have encapsulated in a new national action plan on women, peace and security, which was launched in November 2010. The Government are reorienting the development programme to put women at its heart, empowering women to make their own choices for their health and the health and well-being of their families.

The benefits of investing in women's health are far reaching. Improved reproductive health can improve the status of women, enabling them to live free from maternal illness and to make choices about their bodies and lives. Improving women's health during pregnancy and childbirth saves not just their lives but those of their children. Meeting the demand for family planning services, together with wider investments in education and women's empowerment, will reduce unwanted fertility and slow population growth.

All those improvements would all have much wider benefits for families, societies and economies, as my noble friend Lord Green has pointed out. The millennium development goals, for example, will help eradicate household poverty, and will have a national benefit when mothers and babies are healthy and when high fertility rates fall.

The case for investing is strong. Evidence tells us that investing in reproductive, maternal and newborn health is excellent value for money. Family planning is one of development's best buys in global health due to its low cost and far-reaching benefits. Responding to the unmet need for family planning will be one of the defining international development priorities of this Government.

The debate, of course, is very timely. On 31 December 2010 the Government's new Framework for Results for improving maternal, reproductive and newborn health was published. Called Choices for Women: Planned Pregnancies, Safe Births and Healthy Newborns, it sets out how the UK will double its efforts on women's and children's health over the coming years.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1475

The Government's two main aims are to prevent unintended pregnancies by enabling women and adolescent girls to choose whether, when and how they have children, and to ensure that pregnancy and childbirth are safe for mothers and babies. The Government will double the UK's efforts on women's and children's health to save the lives of at least 50,000 women during pregnancy and childbirth and 250,000 newborn babies by 2015; to enable at least 10 million more women to use modern methods of family planning by 2015, including up to 1 million young women; to prevent more than 5 million unintended pregnancies; and to support at least 2 million safe deliveries, ensuring long-lasting improvements in quality maternal health services, particularly for the poorest 40 per cent. This doubling of effort is backed by the doubling of resources for women and children's health, as announced by the Deputy Prime Minister at the UN summit in 2010.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, asked about funds. This Government have pledged to enshrine in law 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2013. This is the UK's contribution to an international global push to improve maternal health, supporting the United Nations Secretary-General's global strategy for women's and children's health, which was agreed in September. Our new Framework for Results outlines a comprehensive approach to improve maternal health from before and during pregnancy, through delivery to the very important first few hours and weeks after birth, known as the continuum of care. It places a particular emphasis on reaching those who often find it the hardest to access services.

The framework has four pillars for action: to empower women and girls, to remove barriers, to expand the supply of quality services and, most importantly, to enhance accountability. We will implement these pillars across DfID's country programmes. We will focus where the need is great and where the UK has a comparative advantage. We will improve the effectiveness of the global response, including that from international institutions and civil society. We will harness the UK's expertise to improve maternal health in the developing world. To ensure that commitments are made a reality, though, we need good intentions, action at scale and clear, demonstrable outcomes that are tracked and monitored. The core results in the framework will be the basis by which we and others will monitor our performance in achieving our aims across our programmes.

My noble friend Lord Black is right: better transparency and accountability, of which a free press is a part, will contribute to improved service of delivery. The Framework for Results recognises the role that the media can play in enhancing accountability between women and wider civil society, service providers and governments.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel, asked about the framework and how it would be done. It sets out how we are going to achieve overall results, and a series of current reviews will be completed on all our DfID programmes, which we will then develop into operational plans over the coming months. We want to ensure that programmes are targeted towards those who will have the best possible opportunity to have improvement in their lives.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1476

I know that this debate has stirred a lot of emotion among noble Lords, and with so many speakers it would be difficult to respond to each individual question. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to write to them in depth.

We have a unique opportunity. The United Kingdom wants to be at the heart of making progress in ensuring that MDG 5 is achieved by 2015. The UK will play its part, but noble Lords in this Chamber have so much expertise and wisdom that they are duty bound to ensure that they also help us in developing our programmes. We are always open to discussion, and we hope that noble Lords will take every opportunity to discuss the programmes with us.

Once again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I thank my noble friend Lord Green for his immensely important contribution, and I look forward to hearing more from him.

8.29 pm

Sitting suspended.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes
7th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
6th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Committee (8th Day) (Continued)

8.32 pm

Amendment 58ZZZD

Moved by Lord Boateng

58ZZZD: Clause 10, page 8, line 15, at end insert-

"( ) No Boundary Commission shall begin work on a report to be submitted under subsection (1) above until both Houses of Parliament have approved a separate report issued by the Secretary of State confirming that particular action has been taken to maximise the proportion of black and minority ethnic British residents who are on the electoral register."

Lord Boateng: My Lords, Amendment 58ZZZD is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Thornton. As a newcomer to your Lordships' House, I hope that the triple Z does not denote the degree of torpor that the amendment might induce in the Minister, who has heard it all before-at least twice in the form and wording of the amendment, albeit that it deals with different content. It deals with a different section of the population, which stands in danger of being underrepresented on the electoral register.

A big society is a cohesive society. A cohesive society is more likely to come about when there is inclusion. There can be no more important form of inclusion than inclusion on the electoral register. It is that, in a democratic society, that constitutes the link between the subject-in our case the citizen-and the state. One of the strengths of our democracy, which is rooted in our history as a nation and a Commonwealth, is the right of all Commonwealth subjects to vote. That right has undoubtedly contributed to the greater degree of democratic participation on the part of black and minority-ethnic communities in this country in comparison with any other country in Europe, where the same right was not automatically conferred.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1477

This amendment draws attention to the reality, now well documented and well researched, of the state of the register. A reality that has been the case for many years is the underrepresentation of the black and minority-ethnic communities. I will come in a moment to possible reasons for that, the nature of the evidence, what it has been proposed might be done about it and its relevance to the Bill. It is worth reflecting for a moment on the progress that has been made, which is not insignificant. There is no room for complacency but, certainly, in my own time in both Houses of the Palace of Westminster I have seen real progress made. I came into the House of Commons in 1987. At that time there were only four black and minority-ethnic Members of Parliament and I was one of them. Since then that number has grown-slowly, initially-until 2005 when it reached 15, or 2.3 per cent of all Members of Parliament. Interestingly, this House, post-war, has always had a better record than the other place in its representation of the rich diversity of our country. I have no doubt that that contributed hugely to the quality of the debates in this place. You can see that in the contributions of the late Lord Pitt, the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, and others on all sides of this House.

However, last year there was a great leap forward. I hesitate to use that term, bearing in mind the references that were made earlier in today's debate to the state of perpetual revolution that it is alleged Members opposite wish to impose in the context of this constitutional regime. References were made-approving references if my recollection is right-by senior Members of the majority party opposite to Mao. The speed of the reform and action across the board was seen as a Maoist approach to government, which is novel, coming from the party opposite. However, this is the new politics so perhaps we ought not to be entirely surprised. Be that as it may, there was a great leap forward in 2010, when 27 Members of Parliament from the ethnic minorities were elected-some 4 per cent of all MPs. That is real progress.

A major contributing factor to that progress was the fact that 11 ethnic-minority MPs were elected from the Conservative Party. That is to the credit of that party. It is to the credit of the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister and his team, who clearly came into positions of leadership in the Conservative Party with an expressed intent to ensure that the party was more representative of the whole community in the make-up of its elected representatives. That was achieved in a remarkably short period. There were none in 2005-the last Parliament of which I was a Member-although there had been one prior to that, but there were 11 in 2010. I make this point because it did not just happen; it came about as a result of an expressed determination to do something-and something was done. Steps were taken to redress an imbalance and an inequity. That is what we all seek, surely, for the electoral register. That is what we need to do to make sure that the electoral register is more representative of the whole community, promotes inclusion and cohesion, and therefore strengthens the basis of our democracy.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1478

I have listened very carefully to the Minister's response to two previous amendments that were similar in shape and form to that which I am now proposing, so I do not expect him to accept it. I know the arguments that he has ably rehearsed against the amendment in its current form. However, I hope he will accept that something must be done to address this inequity and imbalance. I hope that he will begin to demonstrate the nature of his and the Government's thinking on this issue and a willingness to reach out to others to see what can be done, what has worked and been successful and what has not been so successful to date in making sure that our electoral registration system works better so that in the years to come-I put it that way quite deliberately-whatever the outcome of our deliberations on this Bill and whatever the form in which it finally arrives on the statute book, the new dispensation will be based on a register whose completeness and accuracy is greater than that which currently exists.

We ought to be indebted to the Electoral Commission for the work that it has already done in this area, which is of a very high quality. The Minister has cited previous references to the Electoral Commission's report of March 2010. Paragraph 4.18 on page 75 of the report refers specifically to the fieldwork done among members of black and minority-ethnic groups in compiling it. The paragraph states that the fieldwork confirmed the fact that:

"BME groups are ... more likely to be absent from the electoral registers".

It was not possible in this fieldwork to distinguish between different black and minority-ethnic groups, although there are differences which I shall discuss briefly in a moment. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Thornton, who hails from Bradford, will no doubt be able to share with us the distinctions that undoubtedly exist in terms of participation in the register as between Asians and south Indian communities on the one hand and Caribbean and African ones on the other. Those distinctions are real. However, the 2010 study also revealed that,

The Electoral Commission makes the point that:

"Further research would be needed to identify the extent to which under-registration among BME groups arises from confusion about eligibility to vote within some BME communities or from language difficulties, versus the extent to which it is largely because of the socio-demographic profile of BME British residents (who are, on average, younger, have higher levels of residential mobility, and are more likely to live in the private rental sector)".

Therefore, BME communities suffer from a treble bind, as it were. They are likely to be young and therefore not on the electoral register for reasons that have been well canvassed today. They are likely to live in the private rented sector in multi-occupation residential premises and therefore are again less likely to be caught by the registration process. In addition, they have the other factors to which the commission refers and on which some research has been done, not least by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Therefore, the problem is well established. It is clear

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1479

that a disproportionate number of the 3.5 million people not caught by the electoral register are drawn from the black and minority-ethnic communities.

8.45 pm

We have identified the problem, which is accepted by noble Lords on all sides of the House, but what is to be done? Something must be done. The Minister accepts that something needs to be done. What I am seeking to tease out and to progress in this debate is what that might be. We know that this issue, if left simply to the passage of time, will not get any better. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced an excellent publication, How Fair is Britain? The First Triennial Review, Equality, Human Rights and Good Relations in 2010, which indicates that in some areas the problem has been getting worse, particularly in urban metropolitan areas. The problem of registration has been getting worse and the level of self-reported turnout in elections, even for those registered, has been falling unevenly across ethnic groups between the 1997 and the 2005 elections. If we leave it to just time and good intentions, the danger is that things will get worse, rather than better.

Lord Campbell-Savours: Has my noble friend considered the consequences of individual registration for black and minority-ethnic groups? Might there be a particular problem there? Perhaps he can comment. There may well have been a discussion with those communities-I do not know-but I should have thought there were major dangers.

Lord Boateng: My noble friend anticipates the first point of action on which I seek clarification from the Minister, because thought has been given to this matter. I must say that there is growing concern about what the impact of individual registration will be in these circumstances, particularly in communities and cultures where the "head of the family" takes responsibility for ensuring that the response to all official documentation that comes into the family home is co-ordinated by him.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I have not heard the noble Lord say anything so far about whose responsibility this should be, but I take it that he would agree with me that the real responsibility lies with the political parties and, for that matter, with organisations which can persuade Afro-Caribbean, Asian, white and all other minorities to register to vote. He is not saying that this is the responsibility of government, is he? The political parties, as he will know, have obligations under the Equality Act not to discriminate, directly or indirectly on the basis of race, colour or other factors, and they have positive obligations. Does the noble Lord agree with me that that is the way forward?

Lord Boateng: I have huge respect for the noble Lord's contribution to community relations in this country, not least when he was an activist in the party of which I am a member and when landmark legislation was introduced in this area as a result of his activism, that of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, and that of others, including the late Lord Pitt and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who were then leading members of the

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1480

Campaign Against Racial Discrimination. That is the point that I am making to the noble Lord. If that legislation had not been introduced by the Government to which he was a special adviser, we would not be where we are now. This matter entails a major responsibility for the political parties-all of them. Indeed, I began by paying tribute to the Conservative Party for the action it took between 2005 and 2010. However, the reality is that this issue is too serious to be left to the political parties alone.

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My noble friend is making a fascinating series of points which, to someone from my background, is a new experience. Given the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about the responsibility of political parties to ensure voter registration, does my noble friend agree that there is a real danger that if we put responsibility exclusively on to the political parties, we are in danger of going down the US route, where you end up with either a registered Democrat or a registered Republican, and the middle ground of politics-ironically, the middle ground which the Liberal Democrats should be seeking to enter-becomes extremely blurred? We would change the nature of the political system in this country, which is why we have an independent Electoral Commission and boundary commissioners.

Lord Boateng: I have a great deal of sympathy with the point my noble friend makes, given her intimate experience of the role of political parties in promoting voter registration. However, one of the things that I find heartening about the United States experience of democracy is the way that the churches and others are actively engaged in the process of promoting registration. That is something we would do well to emulate in this country, and best-practice local authorities are beginning to emulate that. I know that in my own borough of Brent, when I was Member of Parliament for Brent South in the other place, the returning officers and the local authority reached out to the churches, community groups and others in order to assist in the registration drive. My point is that somebody needs to hold the ring and somebody needs to encourage and resource that.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My noble friend argues that political parties should be involved in this process, but that is not what we want at all. The cases of corruption that have arisen over the past few years have invariably occurred when political parties have engaged in this area of activity. Political representatives have sought multiple votes and got people to sign forms and send them in to local authorities. This has led to many cases that we are now dealing with in the courts. It is the role of the public sector and of local authority electoral registration officers to do that work; politicians should keep out of it.

Lord Boateng: I am not sure that I would go as far as my noble friend in saying that politicians or political parties ought to keep out of promoting electoral registration. They have a role. However, it is important that they should conduct that role within the law and that, if they do not, the full force of the law should be

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1481

brought to bear on them regardless. It is very important that the law be brought to bear on those who break the electoral laws of our land.

The point that I was coming to was that somebody has to hold the ring. That primary responsibility should fall, in terms of accountability to Parliament, on the Secretary of State. That is why the Secretary of State appears in the amendment. The Electoral Commission has an important role in terms of research and bringing together good practice, and then the local authorities need to deliver. They must be resourced to deliver and one must make sure that they have those resources, ring-fenced and not scattered amid their other proper responsibilities. The Secretary of State should be there to hold the ring and to be accountable to Parliament. That is why I and my noble friends who have tabled similar amendments take the view that the Secretary of State must be in the Bill.

My second point is that it is open for debate-and this is a welcome opportunity to have that debate-what the precise role of the Secretary of State should be, what the nature should be of their statutory responsibilities, and what the relationship should be between those responsibilities and those of the Boundary Commission, the Electoral Commission and local authorities. I ask the noble and learned Lord to give some thought to that between now and Report, so that the problem is recognised and identified as an issue in the Bill. The issue of underrepresentation of various groups on the electoral register must be seen for what it is: a threat to democracy. There must be a duty for someone to ensure that something is done, because it is when something is done that things change. They have changed on the Benches opposite, in the other place and in my own party, and we are all the richer for it.

I do not ask the noble and learned Lord to accept the amendment tonight, or to give any indication that he is about to accept it, because I do not think that I will get that. However, it is reasonable to ask that he should consider how the issue might be addressed in the Bill on Report. I also ask him to recognise the role of Operation Black Vote. The leadership of the Conservative Party and of my own party addressed OBV in the run-up to the election and paid tribute to its role in promoting BME voter registration. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord would consider meeting a delegation from OBV in order that they can share with him their experience of working with local authorities, the Electoral Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to promote best practice and share what the research shows. The research is helpful. It indicates the sorts of measures that lead to better registration and the cause of paucity of registration in areas where that is a particular problem.

9 pm

I end my remarks by referring to London, where the situation is most extreme in all three categories which your Lordships are debating tonight. Indeed, in reporting in March last year, the constitutional affairs Select Committee in the other place shared with us the grim statistics that the Electoral Commission had brought forward in its work in this area. Those statistics

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1482

show that only 6 per cent of people living in non-metropolitan areas are not on the register, whereas for inner London the figure stands at 20 per cent overall; and in rented unfurnished accommodation for the non-metropolitan areas only 2 per cent of owner-occupiers are not on the electoral register, yet for those living in furnished rented accommodation, which includes council housing, the figure for inner London rises to a massive 38 per cent. The statistics show that 36 per cent of new Commonwealth citizens in inner London who are entitled to vote are not on the register at all, and the figures indicate that the situation for young people is only a little better. Only 2 per cent of people aged over 50 are not on the register, yet for people aged between 20 and 24 the figure is 20 per cent. Therefore, the situation is dire. Something needs to be done and I hope that the Minister will have an open mind and an open door for those who suggest to him what might be done. I hope that on Report something will appear in the Bill indicating that this situation needs to be addressed if we are to have the sort of constitutional reform in which we can all take pride.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am going to use Bradford as my example as I think that it illustrates very well what my noble friend Lord Boateng has just described. I am very proud of my city and love it very much, and I want to put that on the record. On two or three occasions today and on Monday I have spoken about the challenges and problems that Bradford faces in this respect, and I want to make that completely clear. I am grateful to the Leader's office for making available to me information which amply illustrates the issue that my noble friend has just described. For Bradford, you could substitute Birmingham, Leicester or Tower Hamlets. This is a very serious problem.

On two or three occasions the Minister has repeated the mantra of what the Government intend to do and how they intend to push forward, saying that we cannot go forward with a register that is 10 years out of date and so on. However, that is not what any of us are proposing. I shall come to that in a moment, possibly suggesting a solution. I do not think that what the Minister says will do, as this is a very serious problem in some parts of our towns and cities. Because I do not think that reading out figures in your Lordships' House is necessarily helpful, I shall write to the Minister setting out what the figures would be if the Government's proposals in the Bill were superimposed on Bradford. Bradford currently has five MPs representing all the different major parties, so this is not a party-political point. If the proposals in the Bill are applied to Bradford, we will lose a Member of Parliament, which would be very serious. We will go down from five Members of Parliament for our city to four if the proposal goes ahead. It will be on a very inaccurate electoral roll because Bradford has a growing population. As I said, it is expected to grow by 27 per cent over the next 20 years, which is the fastest in the whole Yorkshire region.

A quarter of that growth will be among young people, and we have already discussed the problem of young people not being represented on the electoral roll. We know that the Electoral Commission says that the figure is more than 50 per cent, and Bradford has a young population. The highest birth rates will be in

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1483

the inner city and central Keighley, so Bradford West and Bradford East are likely to see significant increases in both population size and electorate. The Bradford district has the third highest proportion of BME residents outside London. Research done by the Electoral Commission suggests that there are low levels of voter registration among the BME population, which has been described very adequately by my noble friend. About 31 per cent are not registered and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that south Asian adults-particularly Muslims-are less likely to be registered than other groups.

This is not a specifically Bradford problem but it illustrates that there is a serious problem. I have two questions for the Minister. First, the shadow Justice Secretary in another place, Sadiq Khan, called for a delay of one year and an intense voter registration programme to be undertaken. Why is that not possible? Will the Government consider coming back on Report with such a proposal? That would go a long way to satisfying many of these issues. It would need resources, of course. Secondly, did the Government seek advice from the EHRC about this matter and the fact that such communities will find themselves disfranchised? That is very serious in a city like Bradford. I want Bradford to be a healthy, thriving city, and an important way for that to happen is for its citizens to be registered to vote and to participate in civic life and all our elections. I hope that this legislation will help them to do that. That is what we are asking for.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I sympathise with the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng. I live in Herne Hill, which is between Brixton, Peckham and Dulwich, and have done so for almost 40 years. I was the area organiser with the SDP when it was founded, so I have practical experience of the problem, which is a real one in any area where there are ethnic and religious minorities.

I think that the amendment is misconceived because it would place a block on the work of the Boundary Commission until the Secretary of State can certify,

One of the proud achievements of the previous Government, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, had a major role, was the enactment of the Equality Act 2010. That Act and the previous one empowered the Equality and Human Rights Commission to play a major public education role in promoting equality. The EHRC was given powerful, strategic roles in law enforcement and the power to deal with political parties that were too passive and which discriminated indirectly, as well as directly.

That body was set up and the Act gave power for positive action to be taken where there was underrepresentation-for example, of black voters-on the register. That should be the body-well funded and with those powers recently approved by Parliament-to deal with the matter. This should not clog up the work of the Boundary Commission. This work needs to go on right now; it needs to go on every year. If the Equality and Human Rights Commission does not do its job properly, it should be called to

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1484

account by, among other people, Members of this House. It is not sensible to be holding up the work of the Boundary Commission for that to happen. That does not mean that I do not share the objectives; I simply disagree with the means.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: It is appropriate to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to this debate. He made an excellent contribution. Indeed, this is becoming a debate because I disagree with him. I believe that the more individuals and organisations that we have encouraging people from black and minority ethnic groups, the better.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I said that. I said, in intervening on the noble Lord, Lord Boateng-if the noble Lord heard me-that political parties and voluntary organisations have the major part to play.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: But now, in the contribution that the noble Lord just made, he implied, if not specifically suggested, that it should be left to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. That is not the right thing, unless he meant-perhaps I misconstrued him-that the co-ordinating role should be left to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, rather than the Boundary Commission.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I do not want to debate unnecessarily. I simply meant-and I think that it was obvious to everybody from what I said-that political parties have a major role. If they do not perform that role, they can be dealt with by the law and by the equality commission. As we said in the original White Papers in 1974 and 1975, the law itself cannot change attitudes; that requires voluntary action by all our citizens, including political parties, the churches and the statutory body. It should not be some clog on this excellent Bill.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My noble friend Lord Boateng indicated that the exact wording of the amendment was not something that he would go to the stake on. He said that the purpose of the amendment was to raise the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has contributed helpfully to the debate.

I want to make just two brief comments. First, when the noble Lord was talking about the great leap forward, I got a bit worried, because it reminded me of George Osborne, who said, I think-I do not know-"We are now at a precipice. Now is the time for the great leap forward". It always seems to be dangerous when you get your metaphors mixed up. I know that my noble friend was not getting his metaphors mixed up.

I start by mentioning a friend of mine-the noble Lord, Lord Steel, might know him-Professor Geoff Palmer. He is professor of brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University. I can see noble Lords wondering, "What on earth has that to do with the amendment?". Professor Geoff Palmer is one of the world's experts on brewing and is a renowned world expert on whisky. Noble Lords are still asking, "What on earth has it got to do with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Boateng?". Professor Geoff Palmer is a black Jamaican who has lived in Scotland for the past 50 or 60 years.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1485

He has made his home in Scotland. He has become a distinguished professor and he knows more about Scotland than I do-perhaps even more than my noble friend Lady Liddell, although I doubt that. He is not the kind of person about whom we are worried. I have no worry at all about Geoff. He is registered and will make sure that all his family are registered. We are talking about groups of people, some of whom do not speak English, some of whom live in difficult circumstances and some of whom have difficulty getting about. Those are the people whom we are talking about getting to and making sure that they are registered.

9.15 pm

My noble friend Lord Boateng said that the purpose of this amendment is to tease out some ideas and suggestions. That is what I want to do very briefly. I think that at the moment leaflets about registration are available in different languages. With the greatest of respect, although all of us think that leaflets are the thing to do, the truth is that they do not get to the vast majority of the population-the underclass-and they do not get to the vast majority of the black and ethnic minority population. People from those parts of the population do not pick up leaflets, read them in the same way and follow them.

I suggest that more work should be done using broadcast media. For instance, in Edinburgh there is a wonderful local radio station-Leith FM-where a lot of black and ethnic minority people produce the programmes. There are programmes produced in different languages. I am sure that in other areas-in Bradford or London, where there are lots more groups and lots more people in these categories-there are more radio stations that could be used. I hope that in his reply the Minister will give some indication of whether more will be done using broadcast media to get this message over in all the different languages that are available. No doubt if my noble friend Lord Maxton is motivated to contribute to this debate, he will tell us, as he always does, about how new technology can be used to encourage people to participate.

We have been talking about black Caribbean and African and Asian sub-continent groups, but work also needs to be done with other groups, such as the Poles. There is a huge number of Poles in Edinburgh, for example, who are eligible to vote because they have become British citizens. Again, they do not automatically register to vote. Indeed, some of them may be unaware that they are eligible. If they are still Polish citizens, they are not entitled to vote, except in Scottish Parliament and local elections, but if they have become British citizens they are entitled to vote. I hope that we will find some way of getting to them. I hope that this has been a very small contribution to the kind of suggestions that my noble friend Lord Boateng would like to come forward in this debate.

Baroness McDonagh: I ask the noble Lord, Lord Lester, or anybody on the government Benches: why are the roles of government and the big society mutually exclusive? I find the notion quite shocking that it should exclusively be political parties that deal with underregistration and with underregistration of individual

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1486

groups. I think that government and not-for-profit membership organisations in the voluntary sector should work in partnership to achieve these goals. In the run-up to Christmas, I was out every week doing registration as part of my local Labour Party. All the political parties were doing that work, as was the local authority. We increased the register by just under 4,000 voters across the local authority. That would have brought in 1 million voters across the country if people had done likewise everywhere. Every strong democracy in any country in the world sees government as responsible for compiling an accurate register. I think that it is quite shocking that you would not see that as the role of government.

Lord Howarth of Newport:My Lords, the life of this country has been enriched and energised generation by generation by waves of immigrants coming to Britain and forming communities here. Whether they were Huguenots in the 17th century, Jewish refugees from central and eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century, the Afro-Caribbean influx in the second half of the 20th century or Ugandan Asians within that same period, they have all contributed immensely to our society. The brilliance and energy of this capital city, London, seems to arise from the fact that it is a completely open international city, not that that is something that any Government have ever intended. Indeed, we have attitudes to immigration in official policy that seem to be curmudgeonly and mean and which are getting worse.

The question at issue is how those members of black and ethnic minorities, and other minorities, who are legitimately resident in this country should be engaged in the democratic process, should be entered on the electoral register and should be motivated to play their part and to exercise their democratic rights as citizens. Of those people legitimately here in the minorities, far too many are grievously disadvantaged. My noble friends Lord Boateng and Lady Thornton have both explained in reference to London and to Bradford just how bad the situation is.

This polarisation of our society is shameful. It is something that we must act on and not simply contemplate with regret. The voices of those who are unenfranchised as it is need to be heard. Their needs and their aspirations need to be represented, but they will not be unless they are registered to vote and exercise their vote. The best possibilities for the future of our society depend on their doing so and on the fullest integration within our society of those minorities.

The one-nation tradition has been a proud tradition of the Conservative Party. I hope that that tradition is not in abeyance and is not dead. One nation, of course, has to be characterised by a rich diversity economically, culturally, socially and politically. The condition of the electoral register-its completeness and accuracy-is a crucial test of our progress towards achieving that fullness of integration that will enable all our people to have the opportunities that they ought to have and our society to achieve the potential that it ought to recognise and to see. Failure to achieve that political integration must be a source of division, of tension and of the impoverishment of individuals and of us collectively.

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1487

I strongly support the view that has been expressed by my noble friends in moving and speaking to the amendment, and as was expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton earlier today, urging the Government to accept that there should be a drive this year to achieve a step change-a major improvement-in levels of electoral registration. That has to be a responsibility of all sorts of institutions, agencies and different groups within our society.

During this debate, mention has been made of the role of the political parties, the churches, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Electoral Commission. We have spent some time discussing the role of local authorities and their capacity to promote electoral registration. Above all, it should be the role of the Secretary of State to lead. I hope to hear from the noble and learned Lord the Minister, in his response, some account of how the Secretary of State will lead this process.

While we can disagree with many aspects of the reforms to which the Government have committed themselves in this Bill, all of us will accept that we must have a voting system that engages people. We must have a Boundary Commission and procedures for it to ensure that the boundaries are sufficiently contemporary and appropriate for the proper functioning of our democratic system. Without the improvement that is needed in electoral registration, those reforms will be deprived of their utility and the value that they ought to have. Reform, therefore, in the sense of real improvement in electoral registration, is no less important than the other reforms to which the Government are committed in the Bill.

I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lester, say to the Committee that the law will not change attitudes, as one of the virtues of the equality legislation with which he is so honourably associated is that, while it may have taken decades longer than many of us would have wished to achieve the purposes that were enshrined in it, the way in which it has worked has been, as much as anything else, declaratory: it has stated a principle and established new norms in our society so that people understand what is proper. Gradually, attitudes and practice have conformed to that. I believe that the law can change attitudes. If this amendment is incorporated in the Bill, it will, by the declaration that it makes, help to change attitudes for the better and will have significant practical effects. I think that we should welcome that.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: May I suggest that the noble Lord reads the White Papers of September 1974 and September 1975, where he will see what we wrote and what I have just repeated, apparently in vain, which is that the law is not a panacea? In order to be given effect and to change hearts and minds, the law has to be translated into action by voluntary measures taken by ordinary men and women. I would also add, for the benefit of another noble Lord, that I did not say that the functions of the state and the private sector are mutually exclusive. I said that they are complementary.

Lord Howarth of Newport: I shall be happy to follow the noble Lord's suggestion and look again at

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1488

the White Papers, but I believe that the benefit of those papers and the legislation was in part that they established principles to which as a society we should commit ourselves. It has taken far longer than we hoped that it would for the reality of our national life to match the aspirations set out in that legislation, but without that legislation that change would not have happened.

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to follow my noble friend Lord Howarth because the point he has made about the law changing attitudes in this case is very valid. If we were able to see this House accept my noble friend's amendment, it would be a signal of the determination of the establishment of this country to reach out to those in minority communities. It had not been my intention to speak to this amendment, but my noble friend Lord Boateng's very persuasive argument in relation to it has made me rethink some of my own attitudes. I think that some of us assume that communities are to a large extent homogeneous and that people go out and register their vote. However, I discovered a key thing in the 1970s when I was general-secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland, having come from a community that had almost no minority members at all but was also made up largely of incomers.

I come from the industrial west of Scotland where people settled either as a consequence of the highland clearances on the one hand or the Irish potato famine on the other. The policeman would be a native Gallic speaker and the miner would be a native Gaelic speaker. Often the two communities existed in complete oblivion of each other. It was probably not until I went to university that I was aware that I had actually been brought up in a Scottish town because all my heritage had been Irish. One of the reasons for making that point is that there were very few black people in that community. The only black people were Pakistani shopkeepers, and only a couple of handfuls of them at that. They transformed the community because, for the first time ever, you could get a pint of milk after six o'clock at night.

Thirty years later, I was elected as the Member of Parliament for that community. What was interesting was that the demographic had barely changed. What had changed was that those Pakistani shopkeepers were extremely wealthy small businessmen and absolute pillars of the community. But the real eye opener for me when I moved on to the Scottish stage was realising the sense of alienation, particularly among the Chinese community, who operated pretty much in isolation. The most shocking thing I found as someone trying to engage other women in the political process was the extent to which Pakistani women were completely blocked out from the opportunity to participate politically. At the time it caused me to look hard at how you get people from minority communities to engage in the political process. The light bulb moment was the recognition that it was not just about language, although that was significant. I was helped enormously by people like my colleague from the other place, Mohammad Sarwar, who helped to engage the Labour Party in the Pakistani community in Glasgow.

I also discovered the extent of suspicion of the political process. That was because of people's

12 Jan 2011 : Column 1489

backgrounds and fears, which were perhaps linked to the reasons why they had left their countries to come and settle in the United Kingdom. Some of them were second and third generation, but they were frightened of the consequences of being seen to be part of a political system and perhaps of taking the wrong decision as to which party to support, thereby being disadvantaged in the community.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page