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House of Lords

Friday, 25 October 2013.

10 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Guildford.

Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill [HL]

Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill [HL]

Second Reading

10.06 am

Moved by Lord Tyler

That the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, I pay tribute to those from all parts of the House who have encouraged me to introduce the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, from the Conservative Benches, who is going to be here shortly, has pioneered discussion of the issue in your Lordships’ House. Then there is the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, from the Cross Benches, who is on the speakers list, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, a very distinguished Member from the Labour Benches who is, unfortunately, not able to be here today, but has indicated to me his strong support. I am very encouraged to see a number of colleagues from all sides of the House who intend to speak in this debate, most notably the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I am very grateful, given her very busy life, that she is able to be here today. No doubt she will be able to report to your Lordships’ House that our Bill, with cross-party support, has also now the official support of the Official Opposition.

I do not intend to speak at great length, not least because I am very well aware that esteemed colleagues on all sides of the House are anxious to make progress on the two important Bills that follow. I hope that we can complete this stage of our Bill as quickly as possible, for that reason. I am especially encouraged by the presence of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who will give the ministerial response to our debate. He has an enviable reputation for integrity, logic and rational analysis, which may stem more from his academic background than from his political allegiance. He will, I am sure, be the first to see the inevitable case for this Bill. Whatever ministerial brief he has been handed, I invite him to apply these invaluable assets to the situation that we find ourselves in.

Whatever others may say, my noble friend will recognise that the Government have in principle accepted the case for the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds. I pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister—and I never thought that in 50 years of public life I could say that—and to my right honourable friend Michael Moore, for their role in achieving the Edinburgh agreement. The proper role of these young people to decide on the future of Scotland was accepted in that agreement; they will now be entitled to vote in next year’s referendum. It was acknowledged by the coalition Government that

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in such far-reaching decisions, which could affect their whole lives, the whole nation would benefit from their opportunity to participate.

Of course, as those of us who are committed to the maintenance of the union must agree, it would be intolerable if our citizens in different parts of the United Kingdom were to enjoy totally different basic civic rights or civic responsibilities. That would not be a united kingdom. Other minor matters—some quite important, perhaps—may be devolved; but surely we cannot sustain the argument that the franchise, the most basic building block of our representative democracy in the UK, should not be approached on a coherent and cohesive basis. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House has frequently urged the Government to be consistent and to avoid ad hoc change in this field. I trust that it will itself be consistent in this respect.

In our debate in the Grand Committee in the Moses Room on 27 February, I quoted a specific recommendation from our Constitution Committee entitled, “Agreement on a Referendum on Independence for Scotland”, where it was said that relevant authorities must act—and this is the quote,

“in accordance with their constitutional responsibilities of fairness and equal treatment”.

If that applies north of the border, it must surely also apply south of the border. I very much hope that we will see that recommendation if the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House looks again at this issue.

Let us suppose this enfranchisement is denied to 16 and 17 year-olds in future referendums—for example, on the continued membership of this country in the European Union. I cannot think of any issue with more long-term implications for this age group than that. If that happened, I suspect that the Joint Committee on Human Rights would have something to say. It will surely be bad enough for this age group in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be disfranchised in the general election in 2015, but what will Ministers say to 17 year-olds who have voted in 2014 in Scotland but cannot do so a year later? And what if there is a local, Scottish Parliament or even Westminster by-election in a Scottish area on the same day as the independence referendum? How could the Minister’s impeccable logic explain to this group that it was mature enough for one decision but not for the other?

I am delighted to see a number of noble friends on all sides of the House—and I mean that sincerely—who are going to speak today. I am sure that they will be able to spell out the extent to which that age group has become much better informed and able to deal with decisions of this sort. That was very much the theme of our debate in the Moses Room on 27 February. I hope that the copious evidence that was produced there on all sides gives strong support to this point. Since then, of course, the Labour Party has specifically endorsed our campaign.

A number of other organisations have also made general or specific recommendations in support of this change: for example, the British Youth Council, Bite the Ballot and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Voter Registration. That last group is especially relevant. As I pointed out at Question Time yesterday,

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it was found in Northern Ireland, when the new system of individual electoral registration was piloted there, that the anticipated catastrophic collapse in registration among younger age groups was averted by attaching preparatory processing of registration to the citizenship syllabus in secondary schools. I hope that that will occur in this part of the United Kingdom. It is surely a natural and practical end product of these courses in schools and colleges that when students achieve that greater understanding they can then have greater impact in practical terms as they will be prepared for registration to be full electoral citizens in our country. It is far easier to do that at that age group than when many people have left their home environment for work or further education at 18.

I have in mind particularly a very interesting conclusion of the so-called Kenny report entitled How Do Politics and Economics Affect Gangs and Serious Youth ViolenceAcross the UK?. When it was published, its author Kenny Imafidon, who has direct personal experience of that side of life in south-east London, came to see me and drew my attention to the following recommendation. Under the heading, “Lowering the voting age for young people from 18 to 16”, it states:

“Why is it possible for young people to go to prison at 10, give full consent to medical treatment at 16, leave school and enter work or training at 16, pay income tax and National Insurance at 16, obtain tax credits and welfare benefits in their own right at 16, consent to sexual relationships at 16, get married or enter a civil partnership at 16, change their name by deed poll at 16, join the armed forces at 16, but they cannot vote at 16? … Because there is no right to vote at the age of 16, many young people are disenfranchised before they even get a chance to vote. The political system is weighted in favour of those who are eligible to vote at the expense of young people who cannot. The impact of young people not being able to vote regarding critical services that affect their life chances are highlighted in the recommendations below”.

Of course, this Bill will not solve all those problems. How could it? It is not a cure-all for such deep and formidable difficulties in our civil society, but it could make a useful contribution. It is in those terms that I and colleagues from other parts of the House wish to make progress on this issue. The Kenny report sums up that case admirably.

In the interests of brevity I will say no more except to add that this is a very modest, brief and positive Bill, so I trust that my noble friend’s response can be all those things too, and that he will just say yes. I beg to move.

10.16 am

Lord Lexden (Con): My Lords, when I had the honour of joining your Lordships’ House nearly three years ago, I rapidly discovered that it possessed no stronger advocate of the need to enhance the extent and quality of our democratic processes than my noble friend Lord Tyler. He is known above all for his desire to extend the blessings of democracy to this unelected House.

An election manifesto, produced jointly by the Conservatives and the Liberals, states that,

“it will be one of the objects of the Government to create a Second Chamber which will be based upon direct contract with the people, and will therefore be representative enough adequately to perform its functions”.

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The manifesto in which these words appear provided the platform on which Lloyd George and the Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law, fought the 1918 election together in coalition. It was written by one the great 20th century historians, HAL Fisher. If my noble friend had been around at the time to assist him, the course of British constitutional history might conceivably have been different. Today my noble friend keeps the formidable cause of radical Lords reform constantly before him while seeking other more immediate means of improving our democratic system. His Bill, about which he has spoken so powerfully today, would bring about a significant enlargement of our electorate.

The arguments for and against the lowering of the voting age to 16 have been amply rehearsed both in Parliament and outside it. Both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party have committed themselves to making this immensely significant change. Some in the Labour Party believe that it should be made compulsory for newly enfranchised young people to vote at their first election. This would be in open defiance of our established democratic traditions in this country.

Even more deeply unsatisfactory has been the unilateral decision by the Scottish National Party to enfranchise 16 year-olds for the referendum on independence next year. This disreputable initiative springs solely from a desire to increase support for independence. I hope very much that it rebounds on those responsible for it when the referendum comes, with the votes of young people helping to reinforce the union. Conceived in opportunism and expediency, it represents entirely the wrong approach to profound democratic change. It is often said that the irresponsible Scottish decision has reignited debate on this subject. Debate is indeed what we need, but the proper basis for it is my noble friend’s Bill, founded on respect for democratic principle.

There is at present no widespread public clamour for change in our country. A recent opinion poll found that just one person in every five supported a voting age of 16. After detailed consultations, the Youth Citizenship Commission, established by the last Government, included no recommendation in its report of June 2009 for a reduction in the voting age. It found that while,

“a majority of 16 and 17-year-olds were in favour ... all categories from the age of 18 upwards were opposed to change”.

Subsequent surveys have produced similar results.

As regards the population as a whole, my noble friend’s Bill would seem to embody an idea whose time has not yet come. Even among young people interest in the idea would not seem to be matched by enthusiasm for actually exercising the right to vote. Enfranchised 16 year-olds could be expected to follow the example of their immediate seniors who have the vote. According to this year’s Audit of Political Engagement by the Hansard Society, of which I have just had the honour to become a trustee, the proportion of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are certain to vote at the next election now stands at 12%, down 10 points in one year. The Hansard Society poses the central question:

“Given the degree to which the current cohort of young people are increasingly turned off by the idea of using their vote,

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what exactly is going to be different about voting and politics generally that is going to engage their younger 16 and 17 year old brothers and sisters?”.

This is the heart of the matter, which is so familiar to all those who share my noble friend Lord Tyler’s dedication to the cause of democracy and, at the same time, so difficult to address successfully. Young people and politics today seem to inhabit different worlds. Long gone are the merry, colourful days of organisations such as the Young Conservatives, with a membership of close to 1 million in the 1950s, which combined politics and fun. Today, far-sighted reformers such as my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, look to schools to play a central part in helping to rebuild political commitment among the young, without which the good government of our country will be impaired. If the young do not vote—whether at 16, 18 or 24—policies in a democracy will favour unduly the older sections of society who turn out in substantial numbers; and I very much agree with what my noble friend said about the importance of action in schools. Citizenship education introduced as a statutory subject in the national curriculum by the previous Government could mark the beginning of a significant change of attitudes if it is taught with flair and imagination. Carefully prepared debates on the principal issues of the day and mock elections could prepare the way for registration at 18 or even 16, and then participation in real elections.

In addition, it is tempting to think that efforts to promote a change in attitudes among the young might be assisted by some powerful new initiative. Do we need to make the issue far more prominent in the consciousness of the nation? Could there be a case for convening a Speaker’s Conference to stimulate national debate on the implications of my noble friend’s Bill and galvanise ideas to secure its successful implementation? Mr Speaker Bercow has often proclaimed the deep fervour he feels for associating the young with the processes of politics and government. A conference might be a suitable sphere for his not inconsiderable energies. It was, after all, a Speaker’s Conference in the mid-1960s which prepared the way for the reduction in the voting age from 21 to 18.

No responsible Tory should reject out of hand for all time the case for votes at 16. Disraeli declared famously that,

“the Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity”.

If this extraordinary timeless character were alive today he would be deeply shocked at the state of political interest and commitment among the nation’s youth in the democracy that Britain has become since his death. We should work towards the day when, in a phrase much used in the 19th century, young people could be brought fully within the pale of the constitution by being given the right to vote from the age of 16, as long as the nation had confidence that they would exercise it. My noble friend may find at some future point that his Bill’s time has come.

10.24 am

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has brought forward the Bill. It is a rare and giddy moment

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that we find ourselves on the same side of a debate, and I suspect the mood will pass. However, today I am pleased to support his Bill. I come to this debate with perhaps the zeal of a convert.

The right of citizens to vote at the age of 16 is an issue about which I have become passionate, and I was delighted that the Labour Party’s leader, Ed Miliband, made his and our party’s commitment so clear. That said, I do not agree with all the arguments often made in favour of such a move. The claim that it will somehow improve, for example, the percentage turnout is not at all relevant to the debate—I have no idea whether it will do so. I suspect that initially a significant proportion of 16 and 17 year-olds will not take up that right, but it is a matter of principle as to whether it is the right thing to give them that right. I should like to make three points that changed my view and convinced me that this is the appropriate way forward.

First were the views of young people themselves. As a member of the other place, I would regularly engage with school-aged students and young people. At one particular event with around 60 or 70 school students of around 15, 16 and 17 years they quizzed me and discussed a whole range of issues: the environment, jobs, education, the economy, animals, and local, national and international issues. The students were of different ages and abilities, and from different parts of town but few did not engage in some way in that discussion. They were interested and knowledgeable about issues that affected them, and in issues that involved their families, neighbours and communities. Some were involved in and were members of local and national groups and organisations.

Perhaps most important for this debate, they were really interested in issues that affected their futures. If it does not sound too grand to say this, I sensed that they were interested in the future of the country and the world—in the decisions that were being taken now that would affect the world in their lifetimes. It was a lengthy wide-ranging discussion. I then asked if they thought they should be able to vote at 16, and noble Lords may expect me to say that they said that they should be able to do so. I certainly expected that response. However, I was staggered that the overwhelming majority said that they did not think that they should have the vote at 16. Given the debate that we had been having, I thought that I should probe and challenge that view. What were their reasons for not wanting the vote? They said, “We don’t think we know enough about it”, and that they were not interested in politics, despite having discussed a range of political issues, because they did not have enough information, hardly ever read a newspaper, and did not know much about or much like political parties.

All those views could equally apply to many people who already have the vote, so I found myself playing devil’s advocate. These bright, lively, some slightly stroppy, kids were engaged with issues and interested in their communities but were not at all confident about how much they knew. Yet they had views—often strong and some not yet fully formed—but were working their way through them, like the rest of us do. They were worried about not being able to vote at 16 not because they did not care about issues but because

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they cared too much. They thought they should know more, have more information and engage more before they voted. How impressive is that? If only every voter would want to be as well informed and concerned about issues that affected them.

Political engagement is not just about voting and then leaving it to those who are elected for the next four or five years. These young people were engaged but had not yet connected that engagement—that campaigning and caring about issues—with voting. Too often the young think they cannot engage or contact their elected representatives because they do not vote. In 1958, Eddie Cochran said in his hit “Summertime Blues”:

“I’m gonna take my problem

To the United Nations.

Well I called my congressman

And he said, whoa

I’d like to help you son

But you’re too young to vote”.

Perhaps more Members of your Lordships’ Chamber will recognise that than would Members of the other place. Politicians should always try to be consistent. It would be completely inconsistent to encourage voting at an earlier age, want to increase the number of people engaged enough with their communities to recognise the value of voting, and then support the Government’s appalling lobbying—or gagging—Bill, which seeks to disengage campaigning from the political process of elections. We want young people to engage and we should oppose measures that then put inappropriate and undemocratic boundaries on that engagement. Many people I meet start to engage in politics, even if they do not recognise it as such, through campaigns and issues, and we should encourage, not curtail, that.

The second experience that led me to think that this was a way forward occurred in May on local election day. I was out and about in part of my former constituency doing what the politicians call “knocking up”—encouraging voters to come out and vote. Some did, as always, but some preferred to stay at home. I met a young woman who was walking along the street. She was about 18 or 19 and she had a baby in a pushchair. I asked her whether she was going to vote. She recognised me as I had spoken at her school a few years prior to that, and I think that she felt confident that she knew me and was able to talk to me. Her comments were ones that I have heard before and I think that they are very relevant to this debate. She said, “I want to go and vote. I’ve been looking at such and such, and I’ve seen this in the paper. I want to go and vote but I’ve never done it before. I don’t know what to do”. It was not that she did not have views or was not engaged but she did not know, practically, what to do in order to vote. That was all that was holding her back. She did not know whether her friends would vote and she did not have anyone to go with. It struck me that if, at the age of 16, young people were given the right to vote while still at school, collectively they would engage and find out what to do. Schools could support them with that basic knowledge in, for example, citizenship classes. I am not talking about how to vote or necessarily why they should vote but the simple mechanics of what to do and how to do it.

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The third reason is perhaps the one used most often. It is a nonsense that young people of 16 can go out to work, pay taxes, join the Armed Forces and have children, with all the responsibility that that entails, but that they cannot have a say in their own future when it comes to choosing their Member of Parliament, their Government or members of their local council. Yesterday, I spoke to councillor Andrew Gordon of Basildon. He said to me, “If you can pay taxes at 16, you should be allowed to say how those taxes are spent”. Andrew is the councillor for Nethermayne ward on Basildon Council. He is the first Labour councillor in that ward for 20 years, and that in itself is something of an achievement. He lives in the ward he represents. The very first time he voted it was for himself, and he won that election. Andrew was only 18. Did he suddenly, on his 18th birthday, become interested in issues that affected his community? Did he suddenly, at the age of 18, decide that he wanted a bigger role politically? Of course he did not, but like many young people he had views, he cared and he wanted to do something.

If I am honest, despite the fact that he won the seat, there were those in his community who were sceptical that one so young could represent them. However, when he spoke out recently at a public meeting, supporting more than 200 people on a very important local issue, it was clear that they had made the right choice. Whether or not they agreed with his politics, here was a young man fully engaged with the community and understanding local issues, and he did a first-rate job of representing them. He got a standing ovation at that meeting—the only councillor who did.

I am not advocating a whole council of 18 year-olds any more than I would advocate a whole council or parliament of 50 year-olds or 70 year-olds, but too often councils and parliaments are full of older people like us. Decisions taken today affecting our futures include the futures of 16 year-olds, and they will be here long after I have gone. Therefore, should we not be engaging people under the age of 16 and those of 16, 17 and 18 in the democratic process and decision-making?

There is a lot of discussion and there are many press reports about politics being more representative, and that usually refers to women and black and Asian people, but there are two issues that we have shied away from for too long—class and age. Now we have the opportunity to rectify one of those. The Bill has my total support.

10.33 am

Baroness Coussins (CB): My Lords, I, too, strongly support the Bill and am delighted to take the opportunity today to put some of the reasons on record.

In fact, it is not the only radical reform in our voting system that I would like to see. I should also like us to adopt the Australian system of compulsory voting, accompanied by the ability to exercise a positive abstention on the ballot paper. It may not seem at first sight that this has any connection with reducing the voting age to 16, but I believe they are linked. I have never been persuaded by the argument that the reason the turnout among young people is low is that they are apathetic about politics. I think that a much more likely explanation is that their non-voting is a rational

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expression of dislike of all the options on offer and that, if they had the chance to put a cross beside a box that said “None of the above”, a great many of them would. That itself would be a genuine form of political engagement and would send an important message to all the political parties that they had some serious thinking to do.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that I have absolutely no intention of spoiling the simplicity and brevity of his Bill by seeking to amend it—not that I would even expect a measure such as compulsory voting to qualify as an amendment to the straightforward proposal to give the vote to 16 year-olds. However, I hope that I can add to, or at least support, the arguments as to why the Government should look favourably on the Bill and make the most positive and progressive change to the electoral system since the voting age was reduced to 18 in 1969.

The first argument of course—and we have heard it already—is consistency. Why should a 16 year-old be regarded as capable of consenting to medical treatment, be old enough to fight and die for his or her country, or be required to pay income tax and national insurance, but not have the right to vote for a representative in Parliament?

Secondly, despite assertions that 16 and 17 year-olds know nothing and have too little experience to contribute their say as to who runs the country, we should remember, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, pointed out, that since 2002 we have had compulsory citizenship education in schools, so we could argue that this age group is likely to be better informed, better educated and more thoughtful about this issue than some older segments of the population. As well as citizenship on the curriculum, 85% of secondary schools have school councils. There are also 600 elected members of the Youth Parliament, which was established in 2000, and each member serves for 12 months and is voted in by their peers. I think that not having the vote at 16 undermines compulsory citizenship education at key stages 3 and 4 and that it is unfair to make school leavers wait for what could be several years before they are allowed to exercise their right to vote for the first time. I certainly know from my experience of speaking to teenagers at schools through the Peers in Schools programme that very many of them have a level of understanding and a wish to participate and engage in the democratic process, which signals to me that they are more than ready when they are 16.

Thirdly, given that the general demographic is an ageing one, you could argue that young people have more of a stake in participating in elections. It could be said that 16 and 17 year-olds should have the vote in order to balance out the interests being expressed at the ballot box. Some studies have shown that 16 and 17 year-olds are more likely to vote than certain other age groups—for example, the over-70s and those between 18 and 30. Therefore, the argument that the UK would end up being embarrassed by an even lower turnout if we gave the vote to 16 year-olds cannot necessarily be substantiated. Even if it could, I agree with what the Power commission said in 2006: that the potential embarrassment of politicians is no reason to reject reform.

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One objection that we sometimes hear is that 18 is the most common voting age around the world and that there is no public support in the UK for going out of line with that norm. All I can say to that is that not so long ago the norm was that only men could vote, so keeping things as they are rather than making a logical and progressive change cuts absolutely no ice in a sensible political debate.

A case study of Austria, where the voting age was reduced to 16 in 2007, concluded that democratic quality was not jeopardised by extending the franchise and that the votes of the under-18s reflected a range of political preferences just as much as those of the over-18s. However, the study also pointed out—I think that this is an important general point—that voter turnout in elections is by no means the only expression of political engagement, and that under-18s demonstrated just as much engagement as the under-30s when it came to activities such as contacting politicians on specific issues, collecting signatures on petitions, campaigning, going on demonstrations or working for an NGO, to give a few examples.

The right to vote at 16 is supported by a huge range of organisations. It would take far too long to list them this morning but they include the British Youth Council, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, the NUS and the Scottish Youth Parliament. I, for one, sincerely hope that the Government will take their head out of the sand on this issue and do the right thing for 16 year-olds and the right thing for democracy.

10.39 am

Lord Goodhart (LD): I believe that young people should be allowed to vote at the ages of 16 and 17, a view which I came to some years ago. Elections were on the way and as a candidate I went to school meetings about those elections. Most of those schools were state schools. I went to the constituencies where I had a political interest—first, North Kensington and, later, Oxford West and Abingdon. With the exception of just one of these schools, boys and girls at these meetings were interested, sharp-minded and challenging. In one school, one of the politicians talked as if the boys and girls were 12 years old. The 16 and 17 year-olds simply took that candidate apart.

Very few of the young school people were old enough to vote in the then current election. In later years, when they had left school and were old enough to vote, probably not many of them voted for several years. But if the boys and girls aged 16 and 17 at the meetings at their schools had been allowed to vote in the next few days, a large number of them would have voted. Having voted once, they would have continued to do so in elections which occurred after they had left school.

As it is, most of the young who have reached the age of 18 do not vote for several years to come. I believe that if young people aged 16 and 17 are allowed to vote, most would do so in a justifiable way. They will not vote simply as they are told to vote by their parents. I have a granddaughter aged almost 16. It is very likely that her judgment would be better than mine at the age of 80, although of course I have no power to vote in a parliamentary election.

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When I was young, no one could vote until they were 21 years old. It is now unthinkable to go back to that age to start voting. Nowadays, the young of 16 and 17 are independent enough to be voters and should be allowed to vote in order to be so.

10.42 am

Baroness Young of Hornsey (CB): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for bringing us to the point of a Second Reading of this admirably focused Private Member’s Bill. I do not want to rehearse the various anomalies regarding the age at which it is possible to marry and to join the Armed Forces, et cetera, as these have been covered. Examples of countries with a voting age of 16 were given in a very good speech by my noble friend Lady Coussins.

I shall focus on maturity and political understanding. A number of noble Lords have mentioned the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18. In 1969, Lord Somers, speaking to his proposed amendment to the Representation of the People Bill and arguing against this move, made the following interesting comments. He said:

“Mental maturity can come only from experience. Recently we have seen some of the efforts of those who are 18 and over at the London School of Economics. I wonder how many of your Lordships would feel that they would be suitable electors for the Government of our country. I certainly do not. I do not think that they are more mature mentally. They are far more ready to voice their opinions; they are far more ready to question the wisdom of those who are older and wiser than they are. But that does not mean that they are more mature”.—[Official Report, 6/2/69; col. 214.]

Those are very telling remarks, which underpin a lot of people’s opposition to giving 16 year-olds the vote. As a number of noble Lords have suggested, maturity does not necessarily come with age and can diminish as we get older. It is unhelpful to generalise on the basis of age in this context.

For those noble Lords who have not seen it, perhaps I may recommend viewing an interview on YouTube with a 12 year-old Egyptian boy, Ali Ahmed. To date, it has had more than 3 million viewers. A reporter asked him to explain why he was participating in a demonstration last October. He stuns the reporter by referring to his opposition to a “fascist theocracy”. When asked by the interviewer to define this term because she did not know what it meant, he gives a critical analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party at that time in power. He does not mince his words. He said that he was there to, “protest the confiscation of the constitution by one single party”. When asked about the progress the country has made, he asks right back, “Do you mean politically or socially?”. After a critique of the lack of equality for women, Ali Ahmed states that he has read the country’s draft constitution on the internet and declares that, “what is built on falsehood is false itself”. When asked how he knows all this, his reply is telling and simple. He says, “I listen to people a lot and I use my own brain. Plus I read newspapers, watch tv and search in the internet”.

Even if noble Lords have not seen that impressive interview, or watched a 14 year-old Kenyan, Richard Turere, explain on a TED talk how he developed a

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device that uses solar power to prevent lions from attacking his community, or missed 16 year-old Jack Andraka responding to a family death by inventing a cheap, effective test for pancreatic cancer, they surely will be familiar with the hugely impressive 16 year-old Malala Yousafzai, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and a heroine and role model for young people everywhere.

Of course, I am not trying to argue that these young people are the norm for their age. However, what they, and many more, have in common is the good sense not to think that because they are young, they have nothing to say about their world, the way it works and, importantly, how to improve it. Unsurprisingly, the internet is an important factor. Without it, awareness of their skills, knowledge and activism would have taken much longer to penetrate our consciousness and the capacity to spread the word on their achievements would be so much less. But, importantly, for many of them it is a learning tool.

As we all know, trawling the internet does not necessarily give the surfer wisdom. Often the opposite is true but newspapers and other older media do not always confer wisdom or knowledge on the reader or viewer either. However, the internet and social media offer the opportunity and the potential to gain an in-depth knowledge of the world around us across national and cultural borders that was unimaginable 20 years ago. Instead of putting down our young people for being glued to screens in what we might see as unproductive, harmful ways, we could harness the power of social media to encourage them to engage with the democratic process and to transform it, for it surely is in need of change.

Like many other noble Lords have said today, my experience of visits to schools is that most young people will profess to be ignorant of and uninterested in politics. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, we need to challenge that view rather than throw our hands in the air and claim that all is lost. I have found that they are not interested in party politics, which again echoes what other noble Lords have said, and the stale, rehashed speeches and positions that are constantly presented to them. If you get the right subject and teach it well, help them to learn about it in a way that enables them to see the relevance, and to develop their confidence, they will get involved, even if initially it is about very local or even personal issues. That is not a problem either. I do not see that level of activity as a problem at all.

As my noble friend Lady Coussins has said, many 16 year-olds are familiar with our political structures through citizenship studies, participation in mock elections at school, schools councils, the UK Youth Parliament and so on. There are more than 1.5 million 16 and 17 year-olds in the UK, many of whom feel very strongly about the issues that directly affect them, as well as educational opportunities, and poverty here and overseas. We often refer to young people as being disfranchised and alienated. In terms of driving the agenda for enhancing their lives, they are. But are we seriously suggesting that they should not have a say in shaping their, and our, world? Many would say that they do not want to have the vote and would agree that

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they should not be allowed to do so. But we are not suggesting that they should be compelled to vote, or at least some of us are not; simply that they are enabled to. Enabling entails enhancing their education in civic responsibility and improving their understanding of how power works through political processes and mechanisms.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was emphatic about this issue during the Question for Short Debate we had earlier this year. He made what I think is an interesting point:

“Every school with a sixth form and every further education and sixth-form college should have a polling station, and young people should be registered to vote there—instead of there being the perversity that some schools are actually closed on polling day so that the adults can vote undisturbed”.—[Official Report, 27/2/13; col. GC181.

I heartily agree with that. Young people should be involved in a meaningful way in the political process as early as possible in order to create a basis for greater political engagement in later life. Though it should not be regarded as a universal panacea for our political culture and the state that it is in, votes at 16 could be just the impetus we need to reinvigorate that political culture. Once we have left education, few of us, young or old, are likely to be exposed to a discussion as to why it is so important to vote, and those leaving school at 16 may have to wait six or eight years before they can cast their vote. When the voting age was lowered to 18, to my frustration I had to wait for several years until I could exercise that right.

The lament of Lord Somers in that earlier quotation from Hansard is a familiar one and is often at the heart of arguments about the voting age. Yes, young people will challenge our habits, thinking and actions, as well as our judgment of what is right for the country and what is wrong. That is their job and I hope that, through agreeing to progress this Bill, we will let them get on with it.

10.51 am

Baroness Kidron (CB): My Lords, as others have said, central to this debate is the question of maturity: whether a young person of 16 or 17 is mature enough to take on the mantle of independent thought and wise enough to play their part in the democratic process. I will not repeat what has already been said in the debate, but it seems that we have not categorically decided when a child becomes an adult, and therefore it is of little surprise that the interests of the young are woefully unrepresented.

The reality of the current political process is that the concerns of those who vote become the concerns of the political class. As a result, the young are suffering the worst employment rates, have a full-time wage that cannot meet the ever increasing costs of housing, utilities and transport. They have become burdened with debt for their education. We have consigned them to be poorer, to live at home for longer, and to look forward to bearing greater responsibilities for looking after the old. They endure a lack of representation that is positively deforming of their interests, so unless all of our citizens participate in the political process, the “political market” will always favour those with votes to spend. And yet we ask this under-represented

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group to make life-defining choices before the age at which they can vote, choices that tacitly require investment in a future over which they have no purchase. In doing so, we demand high levels of those same qualities that we doubt they own, those of maturity, commitment and wisdom. If we demand so much, perhaps we also owe them the tools to help shape the future we are asking them to invest in.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred to the positive relationship between citizenship lessons and registering to vote in Ireland, while others have also talked about citizenship. However, in September this year the statutory requirement to provide citizenship education was, I think, disapplied. The only formal entry point to the democratic process was loosened from the statutory offer in our schools. Next spring will see the introduction of individual electoral registration, legislation that disproportionately affects young people as many of them move to educational institutions and new towns and cities in search of work. Would it not be a much more equitable state of affairs if every young person left school with a full set of jabs, a national security number, a decent education, already registered to vote and—as other noble Lords have commented—confident to vote?

The habits that are formed in youth “stick”, whether they are smoking or reading, sports or debating. A voting habit in the next generation would be transforming to our democracy. We are leaving it too late to invest political power in the young, to make participation a norm, and to give them agency over their investment in the future. We are leaving it too late for them to have the right to demand a world that meets their needs adequately. Some people assert that a 16 year-old is not mature enough to vote, but the right to vote, as others have suggested, is not contingent on maturity or wisdom. If it were, many of us adults might be considered unfit. Voting well or correctly is not a consideration here.

In the Library note that has provided us with the background to this debate, I was amused by the ever changing statistics on the voting patterns for “Britain’s Got Talent” and “The X Factor” versus electoral turnout. Having a right and exercising it are not material; they are two separate issues. In my capacity as co-founder of an educational charity, which is declared on the register of interests, I have been privileged to have visited scores of schools and talked to hundreds of young people over the past decade. Scratch the surface and they display wisdom, energy and foresight in copious quantities. The arguments about introducing an unfit cadre into the electoral equation sounds suspiciously like other arguments of exclusion made at other times.

The question that should frame this debate is not about their suitability, but ours. We have allowed a crisis to develop—a lack of engagement and faith in the political process that threatens its legitimacy. We have failed to deal with many of the most intractable issues of the day and we have left for the next generation a multitude of fiscal, environmental and political debts. Lowering the voting age is not a question of our altruism. The political class needs some votes to spend

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on behalf of the long-term interests of the young, and for that we need to allow young people to participate in our democracy.

10.57 am

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, speaking in the gap, I should like briefly to turn this into a debate. We have had a series of speeches extolling the virtues of my noble friend Lord Tyler’s measure. We heard half a speech expressing some equivocation from my noble friend Lord Lexden—eloquently expressed, but certainly not opposed to the Bill. I am surprised that no one has mentioned Malala Yousafzai, that extraordinary young woman—

Noble Lords: Young of Hornsey!

Lord Cormack: If someone mentioned her, I apologise for missing the reference. She is an extraordinary young woman of great courage. I was born in Grimsby, where one of the great heroes of the First World War died. He was Jack Cornwell, who was awarded a posthumous VC at the age of 16 for his incredible bravery at the Battle of Jutland. And yet I believe that the case is not as simple as has been suggested. It is not a question of wisdom or maturity, although it is a question of some degree of experience. I believe that to have a cohort of voters who are still under the influence of their schoolteachers is perhaps something that one ought to question a little more than some colleagues have today.

I also believe in the rites of passage. There are certain things that one should be aspiring towards. Yesterday I had the great privilege of taking a group of Members of your Lordships’ House from the two major parties and the Cross Benches to discuss with my noble friend Lord Nash the desirability of better citizenship education, in particular a ceremony when young people become citizens, based on the ceremony that those who obtain British nationality now go through. There is a great deal to be said for that, but I strongly suggest to noble Lords that it is not as simple as my noble friend Lord Tyler has been seeking to suggest.

My noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Lexden both referred to the decision that young people of 16 will be able to vote in the Scottish referendum next year. I have a granddaughter who will be among them. That was, as my noble friend Lord Lexden said, a bit of shameless expediency on the part of the leader of the Scottish National Party. When it was raised in this House, I made the point that a precedent would have been created that it would be difficult to argue against. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made that point in his speech. However, I believe that it is incumbent on those of us who have real reservations to argue at least for caution.

I do not speak as somebody who has no contact with the young: I was a schoolmaster for 10 years before I entered the other place and have maintained my contacts with schools and universities throughout those years. I conduct seminars in this place for young people from America who come over. I have a passionate

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belief in the young. But to argue that because the referendum on Europe will affect 16 year-olds more than others is a false—a specious—argument. It will affect 14 year-olds and 12 year-olds more than others. There has to be a right age and I believe that 18 is the time. Although many are, of course, going on to universities and colleges, full-time education is over and they are outside the confines of the school. It is the time when they are allowed to buy alcohol and cigarettes. It would be a pretty odd situation if 16 year-olds could vote but could not smoke or drink.

It is wrong to exploit the gap, but I believe that there are issues here that noble Lords ought to consider.

11.01 am

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, I do not doubt the noble Lord’s passion for the young or his experience. However, he is adamant that 18 is the right age to vote and I believe very strongly that 16 is the right age to vote. The noble Lord cited the importance of experience. I suggest that there are many people in our country now over the age of 18 who have very limited experience of life. Equally, we all come across extraordinary young people, some of them cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who face the most enormous challenges in their lives. There are hundreds or even thousands of them. They have wider life experience than I will ever have, in terms of the difficulties that they confront in their lives. I believe that those young people, at the age of 16, should have the right to vote.

I often disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, but as he lives in Stroud, where the excellent David Drew, who is a believer in votes at 16, is our prospective parliamentary candidate, I thought that there must be other issues on which the noble Lord and I could agree. Votes at 16 is, indeed, one of them. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for introducing what I believe is an excellent short Bill, which has my full support.

Like my noble friend Lady Smith, I did not used to be in favour of votes at 16 but, over the past few years, I have met and exchanged views with hundreds and hundreds of young people, the majority of whom I found to be in favour of votes at 16. More importantly, those who are not in favour express concern that they do not have enough knowledge to equip themselves to vote and do not want the media—whether written media, television or social media—to be their only guide. If only many of the millions of people who do vote had the same concern.

I am proud that my own party is now in favour of votes at 16. The policy was not plucked from the air, as some have suggested—not in today’s debate, I hasten to add—but is the result of a clear policy-making process by which it was agreed that the voting age should be reduced but that it must, in parallel, be accompanied by improved citizenship education, including active citizenship.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, spoke of compulsory voting, which would be an interesting issue to debate on another day. One idea that is currently being discussed by some people inside and outside political parties, inspired by a very good IPPR paper, is whether first-time votes should be compulsory.

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Habits formed in youth, as has been said, do stick and there is clear evidence that once a person votes, they are likely to continue voting. Does the Minister have a view on that?

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, told the House yesterday that we should look forward to what she regarded as the wonderful new citizenship syllabus. I hope it will be wonderful, but one of my concerns is that there are not enough teachers who are qualified to teach citizenship. The noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, wrote me a helpful letter on 21 October in which he informed me that:

“Data published in the School Workforce Census in January 2013 shows that in November 2012 there were around 8,200 Citizenship teachers teaching in publicly funded schools in England. Of these 7.7 per cent were recorded as having a post A level qualification in the subject. The School Workforce Census showed that there were around 10,000 citizenship teachers of whom 6.2% had a qualification in the subject”.

That was in 2010. I must ask the Minister why there has been such a huge decrease. What are the Government going to do to ensure that there are more qualified citizenship teachers and who is going to teach the new citizenship syllabus? I hope that the aspiration of my Government will be for at least one teacher in every secondary school to be qualified to teach citizenship as well, perhaps, as some other subject. I have seen some shining examples of best practice in citizenship teaching—for example, in the Bethnal Green Academy—but it is usually where there is at least one teacher with the appropriate qualifications. Citizenship lessons should enable our young people to understand politics, but not just in an academic way. They want to know how to vote and what policies are being pursued and developed by political parties. On the issue of how to vote, there was a salutary example during the local elections earlier this year when a UKIP candidate standing for election went to the polling station and had to ask the council official present how to vote.

Young people want to have an input into politics. In the past, too many schools have been wary about inviting politicians into schools to talk politics, but the young people I meet want that. They do not just want to hear from me, they want to hear from the Conservatives and the Lib Dems and from local councillors, MPs and MEPs. It can be no surprise that they have got strong views about health, transport, EMAs, policing, crime, their communities and poverty.

A few weeks ago, I was in a primary school in Bradford, talking to a small group of nine and 10 year-olds who face challenges in their lives that you or I could never imagine. I asked them what one thing they would like to happen to make their lives better. One of them talked about broken bottles in her street, which made it difficult to play. After a chat, she decided to write to her local councillor, but the group also decided to ask the fantastic Joshua Project, a community project for young people, to help them sweep the streets in question, get rid of broken glass and nettles, and plant flowers. I have no doubt that this is now happening. That is what citizenship is all about: understanding where power lies—in this case, with the council—and how to influence it but also being active in shaping communities. That is why we are in favour not only of good citizenship teaching but also active citizenship.

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I could cite many examples but draw special attention to the Prendergast-Ladywell Fields College in Lewisham, where the students have been instrumental in creating the CitySafe Haven, and to the Bethnal Green Academy again, where, having undertaken local surveys, the students worked with local police to cut crime in the immediate area. Both schools work closely with London Citizens, which does a stunning job.

These young people are now active citizens who want, or will want, to take an active part in our democracy by voting at 16, and they should do so. I agree with all that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, said this morning and in her speech during the Second Reading of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. We demand much of our young people and should give them the tools to do what they need to do. Young people are often involved in single-issue campaigns, which can be the start of a broader political understanding and a journey towards democratic engagement. So why are the Government seeking to stifle the voices of campaigners and curb their capacity to campaign in the year before an election? The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, whose involvement in the Hansard Society I warmly welcome, gave us some dreadful figures about democratic engagement. I suggest that that is exactly why campaigning is so important to young people and why it must not be constrained in any way.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned Bite the Ballot. I am a huge supporter of that organisation, and of Michael Sani and his colleagues, who do a brilliant job. They aspire to reverse the pattern of poor electoral turnout—a shameful 44% of 18 to 24 year-olds at the last election—and, in giving young people a voice, they hope to make their votes and opinions count in the political arena. Having seen Bite the Ballot in action, I want to clone its energy and inspirational work. I was present at one session with my noble friend Lord Bassam and my honourable friend Tristram Hunt MP, before he became our shadow Secretary of State for Education. We were at the Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College, where citizenship is thriving. However, at the start of the session, only two or three students had registered to vote. At the end of the session, students were clamouring for voter registration forms so that they could ensure that their voices were heard at the next election.

This is not about hunting for votes or telling young people how to vote—I have no doubt that many of those students will vote Conservative, Lib Dem or Green at the next election—but it is important that young people are equipped to vote. What plans do the Government have to make registration forms available in schools, sixth form colleges, FE colleges and universities as a matter of course? Like the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Adonis, I am very much in favour of having polling stations at all schools and colleges where people should be eligible to vote.

As we know, the introduction of individual electoral registration will disproportionately affect your people, so I am delighted that Bite the Ballot is collaborating with many organisations and educational establishments to ensure a robust and reliable electoral register before the transition to IER in 2014.

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We all have a responsibility, from all political parties and none, to ensure that as many people as possible are registered to vote so that they can exercise their democratic right. One of our biggest democratic challenges in this country is lack of trust in the political system, a strong anti-politics feeling and apathy. It is a lethal combination in a democracy, and it means that, too often, those who most need a voice do not have a voice. Votes at 16 is a great way of energising the debate, ensuring that all young people, not just the privileged few, are informed and empowered. It is also the right thing to do.

In a debate last night at the Oxford Labour Club, everyone recognised that this Government’s policies have had a profoundly negative effect on the lives of young people. It is therefore right that young people should have a say in who makes and implements those policies. I am very pleased to support this Bill.

11.12 am

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, this has been a high-quality debate and I thank all those who have taken part. I have to say that there is no consensus within the Government on this change. This reflects differing views in society at large and the divergent positions on the topic within and across political parties. Having said that, let me bring one of the underlying issues out into the open; let us all be a little honest: the reason why the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party are in favour of votes at 16 is not completely unconnected with the hope and belief that young people are more likely to vote for those sorts of party, and the position of the Conservative Party for various reasons is not entirely the same. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, is an enthusiast for making it easier for those who live overseas to vote. That again is an important issue in terms of democratic participation. It is not completely unconnected perhaps with the belief that those people might just be a little more inclined to vote Conservative. So we need a cross-party consensus on the franchise and we need to approach this as carefully and consensually as possible.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for continuing to push for this change; it is very much a debate that we need to continue to have. I was rather struck by the report of the youth council saying that there was a severe lack of evidence that there is a demand for votes at 16, so it is a discussion that we need to continue.

The debate has gone rather more widely than this issue. We have discussed the decline in participation in party politics, the shift to single-issue politics and disengagement and alienation from politics. Those are issues that all of us in political parties need to be concerned about. It is a long-term shift, having started in the late 1960s with disillusionment with the then Labour Government, and it creates real problems for all of us who are involved in the trade-offs which politicians, particularly those in government, have to address.

Single-issues campaigns always want 100% of what they go for. I recall one of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, a lawyer, saying, “When you give a particular group 80% of what they wanted, they attack you that you didn’t give the other 20%”. Government is very often about compromise and about realising that you

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cannot spend everything on everything, and single-issue campaigning can to some extent deteriorate politics. I do not want to edge over in the Transparency of Lobbying Bill beyond saying that I have a particularly painful awareness this morning of the new political technologies and the extent to which singe-issue campaigning can go into that area, because the Electoral Reform Society successfully crashed my computer last night in an attack which was worthy of Russian technology in the way that it took place.

Perhaps I may comment on some of the issues that have been raised. To the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I say that the precedent in Scotland is one that has been brought about by the Scottish Government for the Scottish referendum; it does not necessarily affect where we go from here in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, listed the social dimension of party youth wings. The particularly close nature of that social dimension among young people of one sort or another is something that I remember well; indeed, I met my wife at a Young Liberal conference.

How to re-engage young people in politics and how far citizenship education relates to that seem to me to be at the core of this debate. My own personal view is that the need to make sure that citizenship education is taken more seriously in schools, with all the other pressures on the curriculum, is in many ways the most powerful argument for considering lowering the voting age. We are all of us here, I am sure, committed to more effective citizenship education and encouraging young people to vote. I am not myself persuaded, nor are the Government, that making the first vote compulsory would help in this regard. I was wondering, as the noble Baroness was suggesting it, how we would enforce it. Would we impose fines on young people for not voting or would we send them to prison? Would we have compulsory service of some sort? There are real problems in insisting on compulsory voting if we want to put penalties on it.

I strongly share the noble Baroness’s views about active citizenship. As I have said previously, having started as an initial sceptic about the citizen service scheme which the Conservatives initiated, I have become a convert. I have found that through that young people find that working within their own community and promoting projects to help others within it is something which 15 and 16 year-olds are capable of and can enjoy, and it gives them a sense of local engagement. I suspect that we need to spend more time working on community councils—really local councils, which we have lost—if we are to re-engage an awful lot of people with politics. There is a whole host of issues there which are not within the frame of this debate.

I think that I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, say that every young person should be equipped with a national security number.

Baroness Kidron: I meant social security.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: All thoughts of shadows of the dominant state emerged there. For those of us who are concerned about the debate on data sharing, data protection and data privacy, I note that that is not a phrase that one would want to use lightly.

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I have touched on citizenship education. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the delicate issue of taxpaying and voting. That relates particularly to the participation of overseas voters. We are unclear about the principles which would apply to voting as such.

Having welcomed the debate, the Government have no agreed view on how we should respond. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, well. I am glad to hear that the policy is in the Labour Party manifesto, and I hope that it will follow through on that commitment in its manifesto as vigorously as it did its commitment to Lords reform in its previous manifesto.

11.18 am

Lord Tyler: My Lords, this has been a very high-quality debate, and I am enormously grateful to all those who have spoken, and indeed those who have attended. I do not know whether this is the normal attendance on a Friday morning, but I think that all those who have listened to the debate as well as contributed will agree that this has been the House of Lords at its best.

We are sometimes slightly complacent about the quality of our debates, so I should perhaps draw to your Lordships’ attention that the other place on 24 January voted by 119 MPs to 46 in support of a similar Motion to this—so they are not quite as retrograde as we sometimes think.

Your Lordships have demonstrated a maturity of judgment this morning, but also that we are young at heart. I am grateful to all those who have taken part. I do not propose to comment on all the contributions, because there are other important Bills to follow, but I want to take up one or two points very quickly. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Lexden is joining the team at the Hansard Society, in which I am also involved. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and my noble friend Lord Goodhart pointed out that one of our problems about disengagement is that people get out of the habit of voting before they even start. That is a strong argument for combining this proposal with the natural thread of the citizenship programme.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her commitment. She said honestly that she had changed her mind on this issue through a combination of principle and practical experience. Many of us are in the same position. I must say to my noble friend Lord Wallace that I suspect that his official brief was rather less equivocal than he was, because he is obviously having to tread a very careful path. I say to him, as a fellow historian, imagine if the great Whig Government of 1832 had said in preparing for the Reform Bill, “We will seek a consensus”. A very distinguished constitutional historian in my former college, Exeter College, Oxford, said recently apropos of the Lords reform process—I paraphrase, because I do not have his book before me, but I recommend it—that the search for consensus is a shortcut to a dead end. My noble friends should beware of the idea that we must always go at the speed of the slowest, with the lowest common denominator.

I shall not say more. I am very grateful to all those who have contributed but, in the interests of brevity and those who are to speak in the later debates, I now invite your Lordships’ House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

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Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Medicinal Labelling Bill [HL]

Medicinal Labelling Bill [HL]

Second Reading

11.22 am

Moved by Lord Winston

That the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Winston (Lab): My Lords, first, I am so pleased to see the noble Baroness sitting on the Front Bench, but so sad that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is not fit at the moment. We agree that he is a most loved and respected Member of this House and wish him well. We fully understand that it is far more important that he recovers completely to good health than that he deal with the issues that I want to raise in the Bill. I know that the noble Baroness will give an excellent answer to the questions that I will raise. Secondly, it is rather sad that the Bill is being read on a Friday. A large number of Members of the House have told me personally that they support it, and many of my scientific friends, who are working, have been unable to come in on a Friday but have certainly been very supportive.

Why do we need a Bill of this kind? There is no question but that animal research in the United Kingdom has been considerably under threat repeatedly for a long time. Experimenters such as me who hold licences often find it difficult to do research which we regard as an ethical necessity. The biggest single area where animal research is needed is in the development of pharmaceuticals and, to a lesser extent, the development of vaccines. It is true, of course, that with reverse vaccinology and the ability to use genomic medicine, we can often design vaccines on a piece of paper, without the need for such research, but even there, vaccines have always been tested using at least eggs, so anyone using a vaccine is effectively benefiting from that research. As your Lordships will be aware, in terms of public health, the area in which we often lag behind in this country, despite the excellence of our research, vaccines are one of the most important means of protection of ourselves, our children and the population. They will always be particularly important with the rising risk of pandemic infections across the globe. Indeed, many people feel that that is a more serious threat than that of climate change.

It is a fact that virtually every drug, every medicine that we take, with the possible exception of aspirin and digitalis for the heart, which is hardly ever used nowadays, was developed as a result of animal research. The pharmaceutical industry in this country is one of our most important and critical industries. It is under considerable threat. We have seen a diminution of the pharmaceutical companies in this country. For example, it is very sad for the United Kingdom that Pfizer has moved offshore its research establishment in Sandwich, in Kent. We have lost a great deal of R&D, which is important for that work, and, with it, the trials that might be done.

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I fear that one issue is that although the pharmaceutical companies desperately need that work, they have been very reluctant to put their heads above the parapet. Despite repeated suggestions to the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries that the industry should engage the public much more readily to say why that research is necessary, on the whole it has been reluctant to make any waves which might cause more public concern about what is going on with drugs. I have to say that in medicine in general, as I am sure that your Lordships are aware, a huge number of developments could not have been possible without animal research. I am sure that everyone in the Chamber agrees that it would have been unthinkable for us to have transferred a human embryo to the uterus of an infertile patient without first making sure that an embryo transferred in the mouse and then in other mammals was not made abnormal by the culture in vitro. That is a given and we accept it and benefit from it in all sorts of ways. Medicine has always benefited from that.

The work that is done in this field is very strictly regulated by the Home Office. It is increasingly difficult to obtain a licence. I have just had a letter from the Home Office to renew my licence and I am told by my institution that unless I sign up very quickly for that process it will take me at least six months to get a licence. That is a problem for research in universities, particularly when a PhD student wants to start a project.

Of course, we all espouse the idea of the three Rs—reduction, refinement and replacement of animals—but the truth is that the figures show that the number of transgenic mice used in research is increasing, and has been steadily over some years, as it must continue to do. A transgenic mouse is a mouse that has been genetically modified in a humane way, usually by tampering with the embryo, although there are other ways to do it. These mice are important models used in the drug industry and every research establishment where animals are used in biology. The need for animal research in drugs will probably increase rather than decrease. Often we do not state that clearly enough.

Let me give one example. The most successful area in drug development at the moment is unquestionably in the treatment of cancer. It is a fact that at least one-third of us in this Chamber will eventually develop cancer as we age—unless we are thrown out of the Chamber in due course by a cull. The incidence of cancer will rise. As a result of genomic medicine, we are now able to make targeted therapies that are specific to the individual genome of that particular cancer.

As we go through life and as we age, from the egg through to the final stages of life, cell division results and more and more mutations. There are at least 100,000 mutations believed to be responsible for cancer in different cells. So far, the drug companies have managed to manufacture and target therapies for about 297 mutations. They are greatly accorded but in fact they do not work particularly well because we need to do more research. However, they often work better than any other therapy, and of course they are much more humane to the patient because the side effects are much more controlled; they do not cause the

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severe injury that patients suffer from. This is a very important example of where mouse models will be essential in medicine and in drug companies in future.

In my view, a packet that is clearly labelled so that the public understand that animal research is necessary for the development of the drug that they are taking or the vaccine that they are using is really important as a part of public debate, and as a recognition that this research is not only necessary but that it is done properly and humanely and is entirely ethical. The alternatives, I think, are not.

What are those alternatives? Cell culture has been posited but it does not work because it does not have the intact animal, the cell signalling is quite different in cell cultures and we cannot replace the sort of work that we do in physiology by culturing cells. Computer modelling has also been posited but is a way off what is required. Organ culture is slightly better, but often the best way of doing organ culture might well be with modified organs from animals, which would of course require animal research where we had modified the genes in those organs so that they could mimic what was going on. For example, the piece of research that I am doing at Imperial College involves modifying kidneys, livers and hearts so that we can potentially look at organs that have been humanised—for example, from the pig. That area will be increasingly important, as xenotransplantation might possibly be in due course.

I am afraid that we have failed to recognise just how humane our laws actually are. Last night I got home at about 1.30 am from a visit to Keele University, whose medical school uses animal research. The vice-chancellor said, “Of course, we keep quiet about our animal house. It has only small animals”. However, every institution should be saying that these animal houses are essential to the progress of the research that is needed for humanity. At Imperial College, where I work, there is a very large animal facility, but pretty well every university that has biological research going on must and does use animal models, as does the entire pharmaceutical industry. It makes sense that we are open about that, but for far too long we have sheltered behind the parapet because we have been frightened of threats. My friend Colin Blakemore has had firebomb threats; indeed, so have I in the past. However, although I am in the public eye and am known to be doing animal research, in the past few years I have not seen any evidence of antagonism from the public. That openness is an advantage, because if you do it properly you will be trusted.

What are the disadvantages of a Bill such as this? First, there is the question of what the attitude of the drug companies might be. Will this be costly to add to the packet? Given that, for example, for a cancer drug it might cost £600 million to £900 million to develop a single targeted molecule, it does not seem unreasonable to put a message on the packet for a few extra coppers. So why should the drug companies not do that? If you talk to scientists at these drug companies, which I have done in various companies throughout the country, they universally applaud this measure; they think that it is a good thing to be considered. What about patients? Would it actually prevent them taking their medication? I do not think so. We eat meat but people do not

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destroy butchers’ shops. In fact, when you think about it, animal farming is a good deal less humane than the restrictive and thoroughly humane work done in laboratories looking at animal research. Indeed, those noble Lords who have visited an abattoir will know full well how unpleasant that is compared with the cleanliness and scrupulousness of how we conduct our work with animals—for example, in a university.

The issue is therefore not only the attitude of patients, who I do not believe would present a problem, but also the attitude of researchers. In my view, it is very important for young people not to feel that the work they are doing is reprehensible. Noble Lords may not always understand this, not being in that community, but it is amazing that so many researchers who I have had as junior staff have felt very threatened—for example, by authorities who argue that their work is reprehensible or unethical. For example, I do not want to rail against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, but it is extraordinary how many of my staff were reluctant to work with human embryos because they felt that somehow that work was not regarded as being proper and appropriate. That is certainly true of animal research.

The Bill is being introduced because I believe that in our society we need more transparency in, and recognition of, the need for this valuable activity, which is essential for human health and in my view will remain so in the future. I beg to move.

11.36 am

Lord Willis of Knaresborough (LD): My Lords, I rise with a little trepidation following the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I think that all of us who heard that remarkable speech recognise someone who has a real passion not only for his Bill but also for the whole of the medical science that he has been involved with. We are very grateful indeed to him for introducing the Bill.

I welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench. This is the first time that she has replied to a debate that I have taken part in. She always agreed with me when she was on the Back Benches; I trust that she will do the same on this occasion.

I speak in the debate not as a scientist—indeed, I think that all of us here feel rather humble and inadequate compared with the noble Lord, Lord Winston—but as chairman of the Association of Medical Research Charities, which represents some 127 medical research charities. Our members raise about £1.3 billion a year for medical research, which is roughly equivalent to what the Government put into medical research. This is therefore an incredibly pertinent subject for our members. If people are going to donate to medical research charities, they need to have an understanding of what it is that they are donating to, and to have confidence that their donations are going to ethical research.

As a group of charities, we are spending a significant amount of our time at our board meetings and with our members discussing the whole question of the use of animals in science, and what the grants we are making to researchers are being used for. While we are hugely supportive of the three Rs, the reality is that

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that is not enough. A campaign by Animal Aid, an organisation aimed at disrupting medical science, has not been effective but has been disturbing. Targeting major charities like Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, the British Heart Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Society, it has tried to persuade individuals that donating to these charities means donating to the evil vivisection of animals, and it is therefore wrong and they should stop donating. That is an important issue, because if we were to cut off a significant supply of resources, we would be doing a lot of damage.

The noble Lord has introduced an innovative idea in his Bill, which I am very supportive of, but there are a couple of major questions. First, would it raise awareness about animal research? Secondly, would it have any other impacts that we might not want, such as the ones the noble Lord referred to?

Labelling is not new. In fact, successive Governments have supported the labelling of tobacco products. When they brought that in, they must have thought that it was an effective way of communicating to the public that there are some pretty harmful effects when you buy a packet of cigarettes or cigars. If you are taking a drug that has been prescribed by your GP, approved by NICE and funded by the Government, there is an undeniable logic in having a simple message on it which states, “This is not only okay but has been appropriately tested on animals”. That must be right. But the reality is that simply having a message on the packet is not enough. You need to know what is behind that, and we need to do a great deal more. I am pretty sure that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, would agree with that.

The second issue is whether the provision would have any other impact. Quite frankly, that issue worries me more than the first one. There is a real problem here. The NHS spends around £9 billion a year on its drug bill but hundreds of millions of pounds is wasted because people do not take the drugs they are prescribed or do not complete the course. There is a real challenge as to whether this labelling would lead to people saying, “I will not take that because it has been tested on animals”. You would have to do some market research on the issue. I suspect that it would have a pretty low impact but the research would need to be done.

Are the public attuned with this issue? BIS, using Ipsos MORI, regularly looks at the public’s attitude to using animals in medical research. The majority of the public seem to accept that research using animals is necessary. However, the latest poll, in April 2012, shows a slight drop in public support for research. The last time the research was done, in 2010, about 73% said that they supported the use of animals in research if certain conditions were met. That number dropped to 63% in 2012, with the number of those objecting to the use of animals in medical science increasing from about 35% to 37%.

I support the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, because of those figures. There is clearly a slight shift in the public’s attitude which needs to be addressed; it cannot simply be ignored as a blip. Although the number of those wanting an outright ban has consistently decreased every time a new poll is taken, the number of those who want to know more is

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nevertheless increasing. I think that that is healthy. If people are saying, “I don’t know how to answer your question because I don’t know what animals are being used for”, it is an important statement.

It is important that all of us involved in this area of science—whether we be scientists or charitable funders, as in my case—try to do more. The public are very supportive of medical research charities but our members have to do more. It is not good enough simply to give grants to scientists to carry out important research; we should also be telling our members what those grants are being used for. In fact, many of our grants are being used to research key conditions such as cancer and Parkinson’s and to find cures for arthritis. We are funding all those key areas. We have therefore been encouraging our charities to be much more open and to ensure that they explain their role, and they have been very effective indeed in doing so.

For instance, Alzheimer’s Research UK has produced an interesting leaflet, Why Research using Animals can help defeat Dementia, which clearly states:

“Flies and mice bred to develop amyloid and tau in their brains have been vital for helping scientists understand these hallmark Alzheimer’s proteins, tracking how they build up and finding clues to why this could be so damaging in people”.

Almost every family in the land who includes an elderly person will have somebody involved with dementia or Alzheimer’s. It is important to tell people that by using animals we are on a journey to finding at least amelioration, which we hope will lead to cures at some time in the future.

The British Heart Foundation has produced some marvellous publicity showing how vital medicines using ACE inhibitors are allowing people to live longer. Again, that is directly relevant to the reasons for using it on animals. The foundation also had a marvellous campaign using zebra fish. It had large billboards illustrating that the use of zebra fish has had a significant impact in improving our understanding of how the heart works; indeed, it has been able to look at regrowing proteins to effect cures. A significant number of our members have had similar campaigns that I could mention.

AMRC can, however, do more. We have established an animal research working group of all our members to ensure that every one of them that funds animal research talks about it and makes clear to their members what they are doing. We also recognise that we have to work with the bioscience industry to develop openness. In 2012, some 40 organisations within the charitable sector of the bioscience industry that are involved in funding animal research for medical science came together to launch their Declaration on Openness on Animal Research, which committed all signatories to agreeing principles and practical steps for the whole community.

All these steps are important in driving forward the idea. Interestingly, over the past few months the International Debate Education Association has been posing the question in universities on whether, “This House would ban all forms of animal research”. I think that the debating society at the university where the noble Lord is the chancellor debated that target. Of the 24 universities that held a debate among their

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young, intelligent people, every single one rejected the proposal that we should ban animal science. If you bring this debate to people and give them proper, educated, adult reasoning, the result is a buy-in and understanding of what you are trying to do.

I am sad to say, however, that there is a real issue with the Department of Health. I understand that the department does not itself fund research using animals. At this point, I should say that I could not compliment the Government more for their funding of science, particularly medical science. The Medical Research Council had an above-inflation grant from the last spending round while the NIHR, which looks at medical research within the NHS, has constantly had increased funding. I have no gripes at all in that area. When it comes to recognising that animals are used to develop scientific cures both in pharmaceuticals and in the procedures used in the NHS, however, the NHS is silent. There is nothing on the NIHR website which supports the use of animals in science but there is a bold statement which basically says, “We do not use and do not fund the use of animals in science”.

In order for the noble Lord’s Bill to have real success, it needs a buy-in from the department. The department must lead on this. It cannot simply say that it is BIS or another department that does science using animals and that, “It’s nothing to do with us, gov”. It has to be a standard bearer and say that patients are treated because animals have been used quite humanely and quite superbly in terms of finding cures for a host of diseases. I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading and that the Government will give it a fair wind as it moves through the House.

11.50 am

Lord Turnberg (Lab): My Lords, I am very pleased to support my noble friend’s Bill. I believe it is timely and important. He introduced the Bill with his usual panache which I find difficult to emulate. It is a pleasure to follow my friend the noble Lord, Lord Willis. I welcome coming after him, even though he has stolen much of what I had to say. It will not stop me, of course, but I enjoyed listening to him.

I should express my interests as a medical researcher in a previous life and now as scientific adviser to the AMRC, in which organisation I work very closely with the noble Lord, Lord Willis. In the more recent past, I was chairman of NC3Rs—the National Centre for the Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of Animals in Research. All the 120 or so members of the AMRC sign up to support animal research where that is essential to improve human health and cure disease and where it is performed under strictly regulated conditions. It is worth remembering that AMRC members represent a huge variety of patient groups, from Parkinson’s disease to cancer, from Alzheimer’s disease to asthma and from diabetes to leukaemia. So a very wide section of society who suffer these diseases or care for those suffering from them recognise the value of animal research where that is essential for improvements in their care.

In chairing the NC3Rs, it has become clear that it is also important in the context of this Bill. NC3Rs was set up by the Government to support research that

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would lead to ways of replacing animals in research by the use of non-animal techniques, such as those that my noble friend Lord Winston described, or if that is not possible, to reduce the number of animals needed to do a piece of research and in all circumstances to refine research to minimise the suffering of animals. Chairing that body was an interesting experience since it had representatives from not only the scientific community but industry, animal welfare organisations and the Home Office animal inspectorate. Despite those different backgrounds, there was unanimity of purpose in what we did. It turned out that neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the basic scientists were at all resistant to the idea of replacing animals or reducing the numbers of animals used. In fact, the pharmaceutical industry would be relieved of the considerable expense of animal research and would be able to avoid the opprobrium that is sometimes heaped on it for doing it.

The fact is that animal research is absolutely essential in many circumstances, and although we in NC3Rs supported some excellent work that had an impact on the use of animals, as I will describe in a moment, it remains the case that research in animals is vital in the basic science, the discovery of new treatments and the testing safety of drugs before they can be given to patients. A very high proportion of all animal research is done to test the toxicity of new treatments. Huge numbers of animals are used. The industry does not like doing it. The expense and the unpleasant publicity surrounding it does not make it easy, but it has to do it because of the strict rules of the regulators. The MHRA in the UK, the EMA in Europe and the FDA in the USA would not allow a drug to be sold unless they were convinced that it was safe for human use, as demonstrated by toxicity studies in animals. We, in NC3Rs, were able to show how the number and the range of animals used in these tests could be reduced, and the industry was very happy to take those recommendations on board, but at the end of the day the regulators have to be satisfied, quite rightly, that any new drug is safe. Of course, Home Office inspectors make sure that the conditions under which animal research is carried out are strictly controlled and standards of animal care are maintained, but it has to be accepted that research in animals is essential.

In any debate on animal research there is always going to be a wide range of views from the extreme animal rights groups at one end to the scientific community at the other, but the vast majority of people somewhere in the middle will always be concerned for the welfare of animals and be unhappy if they are treated badly or inhumanely. They certainly are concerned if there are reports of animal maltreatment and want to be reassured that systems are in place to minimise suffering and that animal use is essential for the discovery and use of new cures for their ills.

I believe that labelling all drugs with a note indicating that animals have been used in their testing, as they always have been used, would go a considerable way to opening up the public’s knowledge of how drugs have to be tested for their safety and, equally importantly, point to the care and attention that is given to controlling the conditions under which such research is carried out. I cannot see that any rational person would be put off taking their medicines by such a provision.

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This Bill is one step, but I hope it will open up the discussion and bring some sense and reality to a debate that is too often surrounded by misinformation.

11.57 am

Baroness Wheeler (Lab): My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I send our best wishes to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, to the government Front Bench role. We welcome the opportunity presented by my noble friend Lord Winston in this Bill to address the important issue of animal research. There are high levels of general acceptance among the public for scientific animal research which leads to vital breakthroughs and improvements in the understanding and treatment of a wide range of human diseases and conditions.

This public support depends on the humane treatment of animals and research being carried out only if there is clear benefit and there are no other means of achieving it. It is therefore right that today’s focus is on both what information is supplied to the public to raise awareness and its possible impact and how we assess and step up progress on the overall work the Government are undertaking in this area.

My noble friend Lord Winston argues his case, in his usual fascinating and expert way, for the need to make clear to the public the important, indeed vital, role played by animal research in physiological medical research in almost every field. He is absolutely right in citing developments in his own field of in vitro fertilisation and reproductive biology and in other key areas such as cancer treatments and vaccines. We heard of other convincing examples from the other noble Lords who spoke.

My noble friend’s Bill proposes, as a key way of raising public awareness and understanding, making it mandatory for medicines to make it clear on the label that a drug has been made possible for human consumption only because of animal testing. We believe there is a compelling case for looking at how the information on drugs supplied to the user can be improved in this respect and in a number of ways. The MHRA guidance on labelling and packaging of medicines needs to be reviewed and updated. Can the Minister advise the House on the work that is being undertaken on this?

The noble Lord, Lord Willis, and my noble friend Lord Turnberg referred to the Association of Medical Research Charities of which they are leading members. AMRC is clear and up front about why its members support the use of animals in research, where it is necessary and there is no alternative, and strongly encourage as best practice the widespread use of leaflets and blogs when members talk about research breakthroughs where animals were used.

We are also having this debate hotfoot on the inclusion in the Care Bill earlier this week of a key government amendment on promoting transparency in research. That was essentially about clinical trials, but the principles of transparency in the registration, publication and dissemination of research findings and data access apply to what we are discussing today.

My noble friend Lord Winston expressed his concern and disappointment at the reluctance and failure of the pharmaceutical industry and many of the research

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universities to engage in raising public awareness. I am sure that he is right that much more has to be done by them to move this agenda forward. However, we share the AMRC’s cautions, as set out by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that before a big step such as labelling medicines is taken we need to have clearer evidence about what the impact on public opinion and awareness would be, and how any negative impacts on patients and their health are to be addressed.

The Government are committed to reducing the use of animals in scientific research and ending the testing of household products on animals. We know that this is a complex issue, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on the progress being made, although I realise that we are ranging across the responsibilities of both the Department of Health and the Home Office, and those of other departments, in this debate and the issues arising from it. The recent article from the NC3Rs chief executive, Dr Vicky Robinson, shows just how difficult it currently is to measure progress on the three Rs principles on animal research, and how we need to look behind Home Office headline animal testing figures, as well as to measure key other areas such as improvements to the welfare and care of animals that are used—surely vital information that the public want to be reassured about. They want to know how research animals are housed, cared for and treated.

Can the Minister tell the House how the Government will ensure that the data collected across departments measure the information that is needed to assess the overall picture, not just the numbers of animals tested? Are there plans to change the way data are collected in the future?

It is also worth reminding ourselves in the context of today’s discussions about the new EU directive covering animal research. I hope that the Minister will be able to advise the House on how the consultation on the directive is progressing following transposition, and how the Department of Health and the Home Office in particular are working together on the issues covered in this debate. That is, again, particularly important given the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, to the Department of Health’s position on research funding.

The Government have given welcome assurances that they want the new regulations in the directive to be transposed in a way that will promote public confidence in humane animal research, and maintain and improve existing standards and rigour of inspections of research premises and laboratories. Do the Government remain committed to this? What is the implementation timetable and when will the results of the consultation be published?

The aim of my noble friend’s Bill, as he has made clear today and in press interviews, is to emphasise that animal research is an essential part of producing safe and effective ethical medicine. It gets to the heart of the debate about animal research and the need to maintain public consensus on its use, which will only continue if we ensure that it is effectively regulated, transparent about research methods and data, and that animals are treated humanely and well and are not subject to unacceptable levels of cumulative suffering. We must also ensure that the vital work of the NC3Rs

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in funding innovation and technological development that replace or reduce the need for animals in research testing continues to have our full support. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Turnberg for underlining the importance of its work.

12.03 pm

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Winston, on securing a Bill that draws attention to the important information contained on the labelling and packaging of medicines. I need to reassure him that, although the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is not here, he and I were exchanging e-mails late last night as to the content of this speech. He is here in spirit if not in person.

The noble Lord’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost medical scientists is acknowledged both in academia and in the nation’s sitting rooms. I was fascinated by his contribution today. He recognises that the importance of information which accompanies medicine is all too often underestimated, so I am grateful to him for providing the opportunity to highlight this important subject and for finding the time to talk to me yesterday about the issue. As noble Lords would expect from the contributors to the debate, it has been commendable in terms not only of standard but of breadth and depth, for which I am grateful.

I should start by making clear that the Government’s commitment to a continuing need for properly regulated and ethically conducted research using animals where no practicable alternative exists is strong. The coalition agreement included a commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. We believe that scientific advances present significant opportunity. All noble Lords have mentioned the three Rs: replace, reduce and refine.

To this end, we are pressing ahead with a delivery plan to work towards reducing the use of animals in research which has three strands: a domestic programme, an international programme and a programme to promote understanding and awareness about the use of animals where no alternative exists. This last strand would therefore seem to be entirely aligned with the aims of the noble Lord, Lord Winston.

Central to the Government’s work on openness and transparency is the review of Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. This provides for the protection of confidential information provided in connection with regulatory activities. A breach of Section 24 can result in criminal sanctions. The requirements of Section 24 are now completely out of step with our policy on openness and transparency, and with the approach taken in other legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The solution we develop will improve the overall transparency surrounding research using animals while protecting personal identities, intellectual property and commercial competitiveness. The principle is of fundamental importance to the life sciences sector; we have heard this today. Factors such as the rapid pace of global travel, the looming threat of widespread antimicrobial resistance and an increasingly ageing world population all present challenges in dealing with many conditions which noble Lords have mentioned today.

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Improved research models will be required to deal with these challenges, and animal research will play a vital role in their delivery. To retain public confidence in our work we must be open and transparent about our use of animals. In relation to the labelling of medicines, the House might find it helpful if I explain the rationale for requirements for information which accompanies medicines, particularly labelling, and the legislation which pertains to these requirements. The label on the medicine, along with the packaging and the product information are the public face of the product. The law governing the labelling of medicines is set out in European law, in title 5 of council directive 2001/83/EC, which specifies what information must appear on the label. This is replicated within Part 13 of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012, which recast the Medicines Act 1968. This European and national framework requires that some 14 items of information must appear on what are often small packages, already crowded. The legislation also states that where the information provided complies with the requirements, member states cannot refuse to authorise such packaging. A statement on animal research is not currently required as part of the information set.

The primary purpose of the medicine label is to identify unambiguously the product and to alert users to any important safety messages. Clear labelling ensures that healthcare professionals and patients can select and use medicines safely and to best effect. Although no particular size of text is specified in legislation as regards information on the label, the European Commission has published guidance which recommends text of a size not smaller than 7-point. Those of us who are ageing will appreciate that, but also note that they often miss it by a mile.

Many pharmaceutical companies struggle with three considerations: legibility of information on the packaging; keeping packaging to a minimum; and supplying packs which are easy to read. Increasing the amount of information which is required to appear on the label and the packaging is likely to have a detrimental effect on text size. This would result in all the information appearing in a smaller text size on the package, having a negative impact on users’ ability to find and assimilate key messages. In high-pressure environments such as pharmacies, this could make safe selection of the correct medicine difficult to carry out quickly.

I certainly have a personal anecdote about this. A pharmacist was unable to read clearly the different labels on two medicines that were side by side on the counter. My mother was not given the medicine prescribed for her but the neighbouring one, and as a consequence she was very poorly for a very long time. Of course, more information can be and is accommodated within the patient information leaflet that comes in the packaging of all medicines. However, again, the legislation covering those does not specify the need to include anything about whether the product or its ingredients have been subject to animal research. The focus here is safe and effective use of the product to help patients manage their disease. Where the patient information meets the legislative provisions, national competent authorities in the UK and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency cannot refuse to accept these.

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On the key issue of European medicines licensing, there are more fundamental points at issue here than the problem of adding more material to the packaging of medicines. These are to do with the way we regulate medicines to safeguard public health. More and more medicines are now authorised through European licensing procedures. These arrangements enable a pharmaceutical company to market a product in all member states across the Community. As part of this licensing arrangement, the labelling and product information, which is approved, must be identical across the Community. This leaves no opportunity for the United Kingdom to require specific labelling statements concerning animal testing to appear. Therefore the UK is not able to act unilaterally in seeking to add new labelling requirements in an area covered by EU legislation—which is a key point. Legislative obstacles to the inclusion of this information were previously explored at European level, but proposals in this area were rejected.

At a meeting of the Pharmaceutical Committee, the European Commission’s senior pharmaceutical policy body, the UK sought clarification of the labelling provisions. The outcome was that there should be no additions to the labelling spec. Any additional information on the label included even that added voluntarily by pharmaceutical companies, and is unlikely to be acceptable. Indeed, such a voluntary arrangement could not be enforced, and a level playing field could not be ensured. This could cause confusion and uncertainty to patients and healthcare professionals alike.

Let us take into consideration the patient. Including a statement about animal testing on medicines labelling could impact adversely on patient compliance and health outcomes. Prescribers must weigh up the fine balance between the possibility of benefit from a particular medicine against any possibility of harm. The inclusion of a statement about animal testing could inadvertently shift this balance and would require additional explanation. Doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other healthcare professionals might see a significant impact on their workload, as they would need to take time to explain and reassure patients about the safety of the medicine and their rationale for prescribing a product.

A further difficulty in ensuring compliance with such a legal responsibility would be to define the extent of animal research that would require relevant labelling. It is likely that all medicines currently on the UK market will have one or more ingredient that has at some point in its development been the subject of animal research. This begs the question of how to make any such requirement meaningful, whether a timescale or threshold should be used, or a proportion of the active ingredient and/or any excipients. That challenge is likely to make the framing of any such requirement extremely difficult. In conclusion, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the issue, and to those noble Lords who spoke so thoughtfully in today’s Second Reading debate.

I will respond to questions from noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, raised the issue of Department of Health funding of research. As the noble Lord will know, BIS funds annual research, but the National Institute of Healthcare Research, which is in fact an

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arm’s-length body of the Department of Health, builds upon that initial research, and the Department of Health is fully supportive of this. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, asked about guidance on packaging and labelling. The MHRA guidance on packaging and labelling is updated regularly to reflect the latest research and learning on how the risks and benefits of medicines are communicated.

While I share the view that it is important to explain the need for and the value of research on animals and what the Government are doing to play their part, I cannot share the view that the labelling of medicines is the right vehicle to achieve those ends. The legislation on medicines labelling, which is European in origin, does not require such a statement. The UK cannot act alone in the area of medicines labelling. The potential for a statement about animal testing causing worry to patients and resulting in them failing to take their medicines as intended could lead to treatment failure and disease progression. For these reasons the Government cannot support the Bill. However, I sincerely hope that noble Lords may find a way to help the Government’s programme to promote a national understanding and awareness of the use of animals in testing where no such alternatives exist.

12.15 pm

Lord Winston: My Lords, I am very grateful to all Members of the House who have been kind enough to speak in this debate. I am not entirely convinced by the arguments that I have heard; I will need to read the Minister’s response to my Motion in more detail before I make a considered reply to it. I am a little unhappy with my noble friend on the Front Bench on this side, who seemed to imply that it is better not to discuss things that should be open and transparent. That is a real risk here. If animal research is being used, we should state it clearly; that is a very important ethical consideration. To know that will not put people off taking their drugs; there is no evidence for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Willis, made a very cogent point about the support or lack of it in some aspects of the Department of Health, and the concern. The Department of Health has not, at the moment, shown the right way forward. It has certainly not been helpful to people such as myself, who do this research and are in the firing line. Far too often we have seen evidence that, for example, companies that supply or transport animals have been under great threat because they have not been thoroughly supported in the way they should have been.

It is important that this measure is considered seriously. I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, with his usual accuracy, about the need for research about public opinion. Governments do not do that very well. It is, for example, rather shocking that social science is not very prevalent in the Department of Health. We should think about that very clearly, along with the assessment of these issues.

I am obviously very grateful to my noble friend Lord Turnberg. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Willis, have spoken from the aspect of the medical

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research charities, which do such valuable work in supporting the sort of things that we are trying to do. I am very grateful for this debate; I do not intend to detain the House any longer on a Friday afternoon, as it now is. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Equality (Titles) Bill [HL]

Equality (Titles) Bill [HL]

Second Reading

12.19 pm

Moved by Lord Lucas

That the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Equality (Titles) Bill [HL], has consented to place her prerogative, so far as affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Lucas (Con): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. That I am doing so, with at least some small hope of success, would have delighted the first holder of my title, Mary Lucas, who was a most successful and energetic woman, who took on her husband’s derelict estates and created a basis of great prosperity, which lasted for 200 years—sadly, only 200 years—after her. It would have delighted even more her aunt, Margaret Lucas, later Margaret Cavendish, who was an author, a scientist, and a regular part of the debates around the Royal Society, as it was being founded. She ended up buried in Westminster Abbey. But the dents that they made in the carapace of male supremacy were soon forgotten. It has only been the progress that we have seen in the past 150 years that has made, gradually and steadily, enough of a difference for us to stand today at a position where Margaret Cavendish is in print again, in Penguin. There is an International Margaret Cavendish Society, with professors from more than 70 countries, many of them men. One day—says I, looking firmly to the north-east—we will have a female Lucasian professorship of mathematics.

I find myself looking at my daughters with great pleasure, knowing that they can stand in this world as equal in any way to a man, that they see that in themselves, and that in many parts of our society that is fully acknowledged. But there is a lot left to do. I am conscious of how hard it is for women in particular to return to their careers having taken time out to look after children. At the other end of the spectrum is the old ogre of the Royal and Ancient. One day that will fall—my father played his part in the MCC admitting women. I am sure that we will get around to golf. A fascinating study was done the other day by Harvard Business School on gender equity among its students, which showed how much of a problem we still have. I know that this House concerns itself with the representation of women on boards of major companies.

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There is a lot left to do but, as with the past, this will be a slow process of small, persistent but absolutely determined progress. In that context, this Bill has an important part to play, because history, symbols, respect and, to some extent, privilege, go with titles. It is important that we should play our part in the progress of the equality of men and women and should not shrink from following the example set by Her Majesty the Queen in making the succession to titles an equal thing between men and women.

This is a permissive Bill. It does not seek to compel Peers to change the pattern of inheritance of their titles. Peerages are complicated things. In many families, there is a pattern of legitimate expectation that a younger son will be the one to inherit. He may have settled his life on the expectation that he will take on the rights and obligations that go with a particular title. Still in many families there is a pattern of property and the arrangements made for the preservation and succession of that property, which would be disrupted by a Bill that was sudden and compulsory. My noble friend Lord Jopling has written to me saying that he would very much prefer the idea of compulsion. I see the advantage of it, but if it was to be part of a Bill like this it would have to be long delayed. Eventual certainty would be liveable with. If one knew that this Bill would be compulsory in 100 years’ time, people could plan towards it and we would get there in the end. But for the moment, in order not to cause great disruption to already settled lives, we are best to respect the slow march of history and say that making this Bill permissive rather than compulsory is the best way to go about things.

My noble friend also raised the question of whether the arrangements in the Bill would lead to family quarrels. Clauses 3 and 4 require that a Peer apply for permission to make changes to the pattern of inheritance and that he carries his family with him in doing so. Looking at my own family, I can see that we will have some interesting discussions on how the pattern of inheritance should be organised, should this Bill go through. That is not something that we should shrink from. We have a greater responsibility to make the world a more equal place. Having to take a decision is not beyond most of us, even if it is a difficult one. Many of us have taken harder decisions in our lives.

There is also a provision in the Bill for special remainder—that a son with expectations can be allowed to succeed on the basis that, after his succession, any future succession will be to the oldest child. For many families that will provide a way in which the reasonable expectations of living children can be properly accommodated while allowing the whole family to make the change which I think it is time to make.

I am sure this Bill could do with some polishing despite the best efforts of Megan Conway and Simon Burton in the Legislation Office, for whose help I am immensely grateful. I hope for support from the Government and that they will be willing to see this Bill taken forward. In that case, I shall be very grateful for the opportunity that that will provide to gain their expert help in polishing some of the corners of inheritance such as heraldry in a way which will not upset the college too much.

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I also have great pleasure in including in the Bill Clause 10, which to my mind rights an old inequity which it is high time we dealt with. Why should the wives of Peers have the right to a courtesy title when the husbands of Baronesses do not? That proposal came from my honourable friend Oliver Colvile in another place. He had his own Bill on the subject and with his permission I have picked up his wording. I am persuaded that it is perfect as it is. However, I should be interested to hear what noble Lords have to say about that. I beg to move.

12.28 pm

Viscount Simon (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has set in motion a change in the way that hereditary titles and various other matters are passed from the male route to the first born. Of course, only a few hereditary Peers are still Members of this House and any change will have little effect in this Chamber.

So what effect will this measure have? A Peer whose titles might go back many centuries might not have a son and, in order to find the closest male relative, it might be necessary to proceed to, let us say, a seventh cousin twice removed who is totally unknown to the immediate family. However, that Peer might have a daughter who could succeed and in this modern age this would make so much more sense.

Family heirlooms often have a sentimental value rather than a monetary one. They can be passed from one generation to another regardless of the gender of the recipient. Following the House of Lords reform and the reduction in the number of hereditary Peers who sit in this House, a family title is now often no more than an heirloom—however, one that the custodian has no choice in who to pass it on to. In addition, when there is a monetary value gained through the land, property and chattels, why should this not be passed to the next generation in the immediate bloodline?

My title dies with me, but I have a child, a daughter. Should she inherit my title? Most definitely. I am going to get personal. My daughter has risen to the top of her career in an age when we are encouraging more gender equality in the boardroom. Her experience has included working in government departments in countries where there are distinct segregated societies where women have only recently been allowed to have formal education, drive a car and have the right to vote. She is often asked whether she has faced any issues based on her gender during her international work. She has the skills and expertise and can rightly say that she has not. The only place where she faces equality issues based on her gender is here, in this House.

However, we now have female MPs and Ministers of the Crown and have had a female Prime Minister. The successor to the Crown can now be a female if she is the first born of the monarch, and it was announced only this week that a stumbling block has been removed for women thinking of applying to be part-time High Court judges. Things change and the succession to hereditary titles needs to catch up in the name of equality. I look forward to seeing this Bill being passed.

12.32 pm

Lord Addington (LD): My Lords, any hereditary Peer who speaks on this Bill probably has to declare a series of interests. My interest is that my only child is a

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daughter. I have checked under all the beds and cannot find anybody else in the house; and she is definitely a daughter.

Would I like my daughter to inherit my title? Yes, I would. Do I think my younger brother, or either of his two sons would do a particularly bad job if, by some miracle, the hereditary peerage process is still going by the time it comes round to them? I touch wood in saying that and will ensure that I cross the road carefully when I leave the Chamber. Would they be any good at the job? Who knows? My two nephews are still far too young to even consider this as a realistic prospect as you cannot sit in this Chamber before attaining the age of 21. But, would my daughter be any worse? I do not think so. Would my older sister have performed worse than me, had she sat in this Chamber? She would have done things differently, but would she have been worse than me? I doubt it. However, we are talking about history here. I am a direct descendant of the first Lord Addington through the younger sons’ line. Had this Bill become an Act in an earlier era and been implemented, I would be very surprised if there had not been a few females succeeding to the title. The fact that it has always been done and chance has always worked in that way is not a good reason for carrying on with the present system. The fact that things can change and there is a pool of talent out there that could add to this place is something we should embrace.

If hereditary Peers’ automatic right to sit in this Chamber is cut within the next few years—we have been waiting a decade and a half and there does not seem to be any great hurry to reduce it—it would be merely a courtesy that should be carried on in the fairest way to reflect society. It is a bit of history that does not hurt very much. We should embrace the fact that history is living and changing.

I have a good memory for previous arguments on this issue that I have listened to, and my noble friend has probably found a way forward that will allow us to take that important step. It may not be the end of the argument but it is a step forward. In embracing the idea I suggest that if we pass this measure the world will carry on turning. There will probably be a few family squabbles but there always will be, some of which are quite entertaining, provided that you are out of punching and throwing range at the time. We should take on this part of our history, make it slightly more up to date and let it carry on. While we still have an entrance into this House, it is absurd not to do this, given that we have the opportunity. This measure will not hurt anyone and I totally support it.

12.35 pm

Baroness Deech (CB): My Lords, there are two elements to this Bill. I am personally affected by only one but there is a common thread that joins the two parts and lies at the root of this very welcome Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—the equality of men and women. We in this House are very ready to impose equality obligations on others and must therefore be equally ready to accept them ourselves. The origin of this debate goes back further than the recent change that gives royal girls equality with royal boys in the

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succession. For a long time now there have been well founded concerns about primogeniture, title and inheritance of estates; and for more than 50 years the husbands of noble Baronesses, Ladies fortunate enough to be seated in this House, have received second-class treatment compared with the wives of noble Lords. What a contrast that makes with the egalitarian behaviour accorded in practice in this House.

All women in positions created by birth or elevation to a status should be treated as well as the royals and as well as their male peers. If titles matter—and they certainly do when linked to the inheritance of an estate—they must be inheritable by women. If they do not matter, if as no doubt some will say they are trivial and snobbish, then for the sake of equality the only answer would be the removal of the titles borne by the wives of knights and Peers. I rather think there would be something of an outcry if that were to be done, which proves my point.

In relation to primogeniture and estates, there is no reason to think that women are any less capable of managing estates than men, and noble Lords will forgive me for mentioning the alleged incompetence or spendthrift traits sometimes said to have been found in their male ancestors. The dilemma of “Downton Abbey” should be fiction only and not real life, for women’s livelihoods and the future of great estates may depend on inheritance. Moreover, equality in succession would have the welcome side effect of bringing some more women into hereditary Peer positions in this House. So the changes proposed in the Bill must be supported by the Government.

The other part of the Bill that is close to my heart is about an issue that I have addressed before—namely, that the husbands or partners of dames and noble Ladies do not have a courtesy title, while the wives of knights and noble Lords do. Dames and noble Ladies have earned their titles, not inherited them. Yet they receive worse treatment than the Ladies who are married to noble Lords. If a male Peer’s wife is always a Lady, and his divorced wife retains that title, should not the same courtesy be extended to the husband of a woman Peer? Husbands will have done as much, if not more, to support and partner their wives as the women married to noble Lords. When I brought this issue up in 2009 many noble Lords treated it as amusing, but there is a serious point. It is discrimination that a man may confer on his wife an honour that a wife may not confer on her husband or civil partner.

Thus all members of our Supreme Court are Lords with Lady wives, save the one female Supreme Court justice whose husband remains “Mr”. Thus we have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Lord and Lady but Mr and Baroness or, in my case, Dr and Baroness. There are two possible theories behind this anomaly. One is that there is support of one spouse by another—as they used to say, behind every great man is a great woman—but surely what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Support works both ways. I guess that many is the husband of a noble Lady who has gone out of his way to help her do her work, support her and manage without her company, maybe even more so than the other way round, and they deserve equality of treatment.

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The only other possible reason for retaining discrimination is that women, but not men, derive their position in life from their spouses. Indeed, many women have given up the title “Mrs”, preferring “Ms”, precisely because it is the married woman who is marked out by title as the dependant of her husband and not the other way round. Unfortunately, many elements of our family law treat wives as having a place in life wholly dependent on their husbands conferring that place on them, as though the women were piggybacking through life. In many respects, our unreformed family law suggests that a woman is not expected to make her own achievements in life but to rely on her husband or partner for status and financial support. That cannot remain the case. As Aretha Franklin sang:

“Sisters are doin’ it for themselves, Standin’ on their own two feet ... We got doctors, lawyers, politicians too”.

The truth is one of mutual support and so the titles must be equal. In these times of change, gender equality is a given, and it should not have taken 55 years for this to be recognised by and in this House. I urge the Government to take up this worthy Bill, which will do a great deal of good and no harm.

12.42 pm

Lord Northbrook (Con): My Lords, first, I must declare an interest as a hereditary Peer, and the father of three daughters and no sons, whose title will become extinct after my death as I am the last male descendant in the male line of the first Baron. Should my eldest daughter inherit the title? Certainly, yes.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lucas both on this Bill and on his previous attempt under the Hereditary Peerages (Succession) Bill. It is clear to me that in the 21st century the fact that a daughter, except in a few peerages, may not inherit a title is an anomaly and completely wrong.

On researching my noble friend’s ancestors, I discovered with interest the history of his title and noted how a Lucas barony has been created twice—of Shenfield and Crudwell—and how the Lucases of Crudwell have descended through the female line no less than five times since its creation.

I note that a key principle of my noble friend’s permissive Bill is that in Clause 1, by petition of the incumbent, a female heir may inherit a hereditary title. Knowing hereditary Peer friends who have very able daughters but no sons, what is being proposed is in many ways an interesting evolution of our current system, which the popular TV series “Downton Abbey” has put under the spotlight.

The method set out in Clause 3 is certainly ingenious, and the method of objection is also set out in Clause 4. However, I can see problems in Clause 4. A major issue will arise if the family situation gets nasty. Then the light shines upon Clause 4(3) and (4), where the reasons and the Lord Chancellor’s consideration of the objection are set out. Clause 4(4)(b) says that the Lord Chancellor,

“shall have regard to whether it would be grossly inequitable to allow the provisions of section 1 to apply to the peerage or title … and in particular to … the financial consequences of so doing for

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the child making the objection; and … whether or not the succession had previously been promised to the child making the objection”.

I am no lawyer but I can see that the vagueness of the phrases “grossly inequitable” and,

“whether or not the succession had previously been promised to the child making the objection”,

could cause all manner of problems, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would have swooped on had some someone else promoted the Bill.

As I read it, Clause 8, “Provision for special remainder”, states that special remainder can be granted for one generation to override the provisions of the Bill. From what my noble friend Lord Lucas has said, I think I now understand that the purpose of this clause is to not upset existing family arrangements. Clauses 9 and 10 are sensible changes to existing law to recognise the role of partners or civil partners with courtesy titles.

In conclusion, rather than the solely female inheritance proposed by the lobby group the Hares, I am rather more attracted by a change from a Salic to a semi-Salic solution whereby if all relevant males become extinct then the closest female heir inherits, but that if she has a son it then reverts to male succession. I believe that this could be implemented in statute by the simple procedure of allowing peerages to alter their letters patent so that heirs general rather than heirs male can succeed, as in the cases of the titles of my noble friend Lord Lucas and a few others. An individual peerage precedent exists for this in statute, the Duke of Marlborough Annuity Act 1706.

Another possibility which I like much less would be to follow the recent Succession to the Crown Act principles; namely, that the eldest child inherits regardless of sex. Do Her Majesty’s Government plan to legislate similarly to the Succession to the Crown Act with regard to encouraging or supporting a Private Member’s Bill on this theme? A practical influence on future legislation may be Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. I have discussed this informally with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and he suggested that the way forward would be a petition by a relevant potential female heir.

If we are to preserve the peerage system then it needs to adapt to modern times. Allowing a form of female inheritance, although not necessarily the form in this Bill, would show that we are in touch with the reality of equal opportunities for females that still do not exist in everyday life. At the very top level, Her Majesty the Queen has shown a shining example throughout her reign. The great strength of our British system is its ability to evolve with the times and thus be relevant. These qualities which are inherent in our system have allowed us to avoid the type of shocks that have left such an enduring mark among noble families in many continental European nations.

12.47 pm

The Earl of Clancarty (CB): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for allowing us to speak on this matter today. I have two interests to declare. First, I have a daughter who could inherit a title if the law was changed; and, secondly, my wife, the journalist Victoria Lambert, is a leading light in the group

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largely but not wholly made up of women who are campaigning for equality for women in the peerage and the baronetcy. They have called themselves the Hares after the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in April during Third Reading of the Succession to the Crown Bill. He said:

“This Bill has also set running the hare of what happens to the hereditary peerage with regard to the succession arrangements for hereditary Peers”.—[Official Report, 22/4/13; col. 1229.]

He is right: it has.

It will not be a surprise to many of your Lordships to hear that I am no great fan of the aristocratic system, male primogeniture of course being a component of that. Part of me thinks that perhaps what is required is more fundamental social reform in the interests of a more classless society than we have at present. Of course, I am not alone in this House in thinking that, even perhaps among hereditary Peers. But, and this is a big but, as long as the Queen and the Royal Family command such a central role in our society—the last Ipsos MORI poll in November of last year gave the monarchy a 79% popularity rating—this is not going to happen since the Royal Family is the core of the aristocratic system.

The public do a very good job of mentally separating the Royal Family from the rest of the aristocracy but that is not the reality, something which constitutional experts and republicans equally recognise. That is why I support equality for women in the peerage, however much the peerage itself represents an inequality within wider society—and perhaps arguably now not even the main one.

I feel that there are two principal arguments to be made. The most powerful argument is, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has said, that there should not be gender discrimination in Britain, full stop. The Equality Act 2006 created a public duty to promote equality on the ground of gender. Modern British law states clearly that men and women are equal in every aspect of life. Male primogeniture is the cornerstone of old-fashioned patriarchy. No duke or earl should consider that he is a special case; we are not. Gender equality should mean that you have the potential to inherit from birth regardless of gender, and that that should automatically come into effect as soon as the Bill becomes an Act so that a living heir of whatever age may inherit without any permission being necessary. The Bill would not be retrospective, as I think we all agree that no current substantive titles should be dispossessed. In these respects, the Bill before us today is perhaps a little too modest and could be simpler, because contrary to what some people have said, in principle this is not a complex issue. A single blanket law to cover all families is what is required.

The second argument I would make is that if the aristocracy remains at least socially, and indeed still to some extent politically, a significant source of influence in this country, it should be reformed just as its core part has been. It may be argued that that has happened so that the Royal Family has been brought more into the 21st century, but it is also true that the Royal Family and the aristocratic system as a whole should together be the best model of behaviour possible,

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giving the right signal to those non-aristocratic families who still believe that the eldest males ought to inherit the estate, whatever size it may be. There is no doubt, even in these generally more enlightened times, that this is still so.

Only two of the 92 hereditary seats in this House are held by women, a significant argument of course for removing the hereditaries, which will happen, whether in the longer or shorter term. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that campaigners have calculated that with a change in the law, if you go forward just one generation, there would be 41 men to 51 women occupying hereditary seats, a considerably better ratio indeed than either House has at present, or indeed for the conceivable future, and an effect that no doubt would be replicated throughout the aristocracy as a whole.

If this Bill were to be refined further, I think the Hares’ recommendation that one should not reach back more than one generation—that is, to the generation before the deceased—to find the next heir is a very good one. In this, I perhaps differ rather from the opinion of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. It is unacceptable that some distant relative should inherit a title and an estate which that person had perhaps hardly known about let alone visited, displacing close family, as has indeed happened. In the memorable words of campaigner Liza Campbell, “No more cousins from Pluto”.

It is in these various ways that this issue is of greater significance for the public than many people realise. A call for a change in the law has wide cross-party support in both Houses. In May, Mary Macleod MP introduced a ten-minute rule Bill in the other place to remove male primogeniture. It is an issue that is not going to go away, and the Government would be wise to deal with it. Indeed, it has this year already generated a huge amount of coverage in the press, on the radio and television both here and abroad, including front page coverage in the New York Times. The issue has been championed by the Independent, the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times.

A number of potential beneficiaries of this change in the law have now written to the Crown Office stating their intention to take their cases to Strasbourg. I think that the Government should accept the underlying principle of this Bill or bring in their own legislation. After all, it is simply logical that what the Government have done quite rightly with the Succession to the Crown Bill were to be extended to the rest of the same system of which the Royal Family is a part.

12.55 pm

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful for the courtesy of the House in allowing me to slip into the gap, as it were. I shall, I hope, be courteous in return by being very brief in so doing.

Members on this Bench have no direct interest in the content of the Bill, for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, I express support in principle and, indeed, in practice for the Bill before your Lordships’ House and hope to hear that the government Front Bench is also sympathetic. I will not rehearse what has already been said in the House in support of the Bill, which I fully agree with, but am sorely tempted to slip in an amendment to the effect that women bishops could be ordained in the Church of England.

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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: That would allow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, to add bishops to her list.

12.56 pm

Baroness Thornton (Lab): Hear, hear to that. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for his introduction of the Bill. No one is more qualified than the noble Lord to raise the issue of male primogeniture and the related matters in the Bill.

I intend to be brief. As the party that has, for more than 50 years, introduced almost all of the legislation that addresses inequality and discrimination, how could Labour be anything but in support of the principle behind this Private Member’s Bill? I agree that it is really quite a modest Bill and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, when he says that the world will not stop turning if the Bill is agreed. My own personal views definitely lean towards those of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, when it comes to this whole issue.

The Equality Act 2006 created a public duty to promote equality on the grounds of gender. Can the Minister explain why our UK aristocracy should be allowed a special or protected status? Surely the law is the law for all of us. Male primogeniture is simply unacceptable. There is no justification for gender discrimination in our society. Other noble Lords have delved into the history of wealth and property that has led us to the unfairness of the current old-fashioned inheritance practices. Surely, after the successful passage of the Succession to the Crown Bill, which introduced gender equality into the succession for the head of state, this Bill’s objectives are most timely. Indeed, this issue peppered the debates on the Bill as it went through the House earlier this year.

I thank Victoria Lambert and others who have written to me about the Bill. I received a lot of letters from fathers and daughters about it and thought it might be worth putting on the record the names of some of those who have written, as it is a very impressive Bill. I thank Lady Willa Franks, Lady Daisy Fane, Sir Michael Leighton, Sir Nicholas Stuart Taylor and Virginia Stuart-Taylor, my noble friend Lord Simon and Fiona Simon, Liza Campbell, the Earl of Westmorland, the honourable Amanda Murray, the Duke of Leinster, Lady Francesca Fitzgerald, Aliki Currimjee—neé Boothby—and Rose Baring, to name but a few.

In the letters, the fathers explain that they wish their daughter, as the oldest child, to inherit the title and the female oldest children say that it is time to end this archaic practice. All intend to contest male primogeniture in the European Court of Human Rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, and Article 1 of Protocol 1, which confers the right to peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions. I would be interested to know whether the Minister has considered these statutes and how they might apply under the circumstances.

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I am the oldest daughter, albeit of a plumber, it has to be said. I think that my younger brother, who is the next one down of the seven of us—six girls and one boy—would find the idea that he would take precedence above me as ridiculous an idea as I would. I might therefore claim to be an honorary member of the Hares. I am told that the Hares have attracted some attention in high places and been told to desist from what they are doing. As a lifelong feminist, all I can say to them is, “Sisters, you are probably right and the ruder the opposition gets, the more right you probably are. Stick with it”.

I wish the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, success with this issue and will be interested to hear from the Minister whether the Government will support him in this matter of equal rights.

1 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, perhaps I might start with one or two personal remarks. I was interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, say that she is opposed to male primogeniture as a principle. Speaking as a third child, I am not entirely an enthusiast for primogeniture as such. Sitting and listening to the debate, I have been ruminating on other forms of inheritance, particularly among aristocratic and ruling families. The Salic law has been quoted—we all remember that passage in Shakespeare in which the discussion about the Salic law and whether women can inherit comes up. In early Viking kingdoms, as I recall, it was the roughest and toughest who inherited, and the others just had to put up with it. The Ottoman succession went further than that: the most successful inherited and then killed off most of his brothers. The Saudi succession is extremely interesting: the family has now created a council to consider who shall succeed to the Saudi kingdom.

The modernisation of hereditary peerages is an interesting concept. Hereditary peerages are inherently non-modern. The whole series of grants and different rules for succession contained in ancient Scottish titles, some United Kingdom titles and elsewhere is part of the glory of the peculiar history of the British Isles and of our partly unwritten and considerably unmodernised constitution. When I receive letters talking about appeals to the European Court of Human Rights in order to modernise this principle, I feel slightly the same as I did when I read the front page of the Daily Mail on one day an attack on the European Court of Human Rights and a demand that Britain should leave, and seeing only two days later the Daily Mail join other newspapers in appealing to the European Court of Human Rights against the new press charter. There is something contradictory in the whole approach.

Belgian aristocratic succession, as I recall, has all sons of a baron with the courtesy title, baron, which is why so many people you meet in the Belgian diplomatic service are barons. There are all sorts of ways in which one might play around with all this; I am not sure that in a modern society we should be in favour of the proliferation of titles to which this might lead us.

However, the Government are committed to equality of treatment before the law, as evidenced by the legislation that they have already taken through this House,

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including the Succession to the Crown Act. The Government are therefore sympathetic to the motives behind the Bill, but they suggest that there are a number of areas where its approach does not present the best way to address equalities.

The Bill would not eliminate differences in treatment of the sexes, as discretion rests with the incumbent. Title-holders may therefore decide not to petition, and the practice of male heirs taking precedence would then continue—it is at the incumbent’s discretion whether to initiate any action. In taking such an approach, we would risk creating a patchwork of different treatment across the peerage and introducing uncertainty for those who currently expect or hope to inherit. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised a number of questions about property and inheritance which I shall not go into here, but I just mark that this is all part of a very complex picture.

While the Succession to the Crown Act could be given effect without disturbing the legitimate expectations of anyone in line for the throne, the same could not be said for any similar change of the rules governing the descent of hereditary titles. Clause 7 provides that, once a female heir has been allowed to succeed, females will be allowed to succeed in all future successions of that peerage and title. Is it right for the present Peer to make that decision for all future generations? If we were to make this minor constitutional change, surely it should be a conscious decision expressed through the will of Parliament rather than a decision left in the hands of each incumbent Peer. Before embarking on such a change, we would certainly want to undertake a full consultation—the pages of the Daily Telegraph would be full of letters for weeks, I suggest—and public discussion to ensure that the changes had no unintended consequences.

There are also a number of difficulties with the role envisaged for the Lord Chancellor. Reference is made to having regard to whether it would be grossly inequitable to allow a petition. However, it does not prescribe that the Lord Chancellor must grant that position unless that is the case. If the Lord Chancellor is not so confined, the basis for that decision is unclear, which could in turn put the Lord Chancellor in an invidious position.

Further, the Bill is not clear on what should happen where a Peer has a daughter and a son and the son has died, leaving his son in his place. Whether the daughter would displace the grandson is not entirely clear. There is also no provision for the daughter to make representations to the Lord Chancellor.

There were a number of interesting interventions on Clauses 9 and 10, including one from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. There is strength in the argument

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that it is inequitable for the wives of those honoured to be able to use courtesy titles while husbands and civil partners, whatever their gender, cannot. In terms of equality, there is an argument to dispense with that long-standing convention and to bring husbands and civil partners in line with wives of those receiving honours. I am interested that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, did not suggest that the way to make them equal is to remove courtesy titles altogether, but we will leave that for another time.

However, parliamentary legislation is not the traditional route to pursue any change, either extension or diminution, of courtesy titles. Courtesy titles are traditionally dealt with under the royal prerogative by way of royal licences. For example, the royal licence signed by the Queen on 30 April 2004 was the means by which courtesy titles were extended to adopted children of Peers. A royal licence was also the means by which justices of the Supreme Court were permitted to use the courtesy title of Lord or Lady in instances where they have not been created a Peer. So Clauses 9 and 10, while interesting, are not necessarily needed in the Bill. That is a question for the monarchy itself.

Having said that, the Government are studiously neutral on the Bill. We look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and seeing how far he will take it. We shall watch with interest how it proceeds.

1.07 pm

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am very grateful to all who have spoken, with some modification of that as regards the Minister. None the less, I take heart from the guidance he has given on the Government’s aversion to uncertainty in these matters. I think it is possible to look more along the lines that my noble friend Lord Jopling proposed of producing certainty in these matters. It may be useful to consider that in Committee to see whether there is interest on the part of the Government and the House generally in pursuing a Bill which made these matters certain but perhaps took longer to introduce that certainty than this Bill would.

I am interested in what my noble friend said about courtesy titles. I very much hope that he will find the opportunity to encourage change in that direction. It seems to me the right time to make such change. I hope that in giving advice to Her Majesty—or whatever is necessary to bring the matter forward—the Government will not be slow to suggest that this has the general assent of Lords Temporal and Spiritual. They might usefully consider making progress on that. However, for now, I commend the Bill.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 1.09 pm.