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Lord Strathclyde (Con): I congratulate the Government on this Statement and the response of the Labour Party by the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for its unity of view. It fulfils the first part of the promise that was laid out during the referendum campaign and which has been monstrously slurred by the separatists over the course of the last few weeks. The noble Baroness is right and I share her view that when it comes to the commission of our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, he will find it very difficult to produce anything that the separatists themselves will not say is too little, too late, not enough, will not do, and breaks the fundamental promises given during the referendum campaign. I very much hope that the Government will be wise to that and give full support to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in his endeavours.

My noble and learned friend correctly pointed out the scale of the victory in the referendum for those who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. This Statement is rightly about strengthening the Scottish Parliament. However, there is another side to this equation, which is also strengthening the United Kingdom and strengthening other parts of the United Kingdom within the overall devolution settlement. The two or three issues do not need to be tied together, but they cannot be left behind. We have to come forward with constitutional proposals which are going to be fair for representation and for taxpayers right across the United Kingdom. It is only in that way that we will avoid in another generation being faced with an argument about separatism again.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his words and for the contribution that he made in chairing the Conservative Party’s contribution to the debate on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. He is right to indicate that it is Scotland within the United Kingdom. I think we made it clear that it is time for the United Kingdom to come together and move forward. Part of that will be a balanced settlement that will be fair not only to the people of Scotland but also to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He will be aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked the Leader of the House of Commons, my right honourable friend William Hague, to draw up plans for that. I hope that they can be taken forward on a cross-party basis. But my noble friend’s underlying point is correct: we need to ensure that there is a sense of fairness in all parts of our United Kingdom.

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan (Lab): My Lords, I think that there is a feeling of relief rather than triumphalism in Scotland. Many of us who were the poor bloody infantry in the campaign were conscious that it took rather a long time for the no campaign’s message to be expressed with the clarity that resulted in the 10% majority. It is also to be said that this document is welcome because it is a clear exposition of what the three main elements in the no campaign had to say. It is also welcome because there is no reference to any change in the representation in Westminster at this stage. We have to recognise that issues of that nature could poison the well from which the noble Lord, Lord Smith, will want to sup. Therefore,

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we have to be careful that in trying to produce what might be devo-max or devo-increased we do not lose sight and end up with Westminster-lite. One of the problems in this campaign has been the inability of many of us to get across the fact that Westminster is an effective institution and that working in partnership with an enhanced Scottish Parliament can provide better government not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, picking up on the point made by my noble friend Lord Purvis, it is important that we remind people that Scotland has two Governments and two Parliaments. Work done in this Parliament has important implications for the people of Scotland across a wide range of issues. If, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, has indicated, we were a bit slow in the no campaign to put that forward, we made the case powerfully towards the end. It is a lesson for us that we do not ignore the many things that are done by the United Kingdom Government and the UK Parliament. Of course, we have our political differences over them but, over substantial and important areas of policy, they matter to the people of Scotland. Perhaps it is incumbent on all sides that we do far more about spelling that out.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab): My Lords, without extending the—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, if we are taking it in turns, it is the turn of the Cross Benches which have not yet spoken on this matter. Perhaps we can go to the Cross Benches, then to the Conservatives and then back to the Labour Benches. I implore noble Lords to be mindful that this is a Statement and that contributions should be kept brief. We have a full day’s debate on this matter and wider devolution implications on 29 October.

Lord Martin of Springburn (CB): I shall speak in order to tidy things up. The noble and learned Lord is right—the turnout was fantastic. I am proud to live in the constituency of East Dunbartonshire where the turnout was 91% and where they overwhelmingly voted no. Unfortunately, there are elements in the media and the so-called “45 brigade” who say that we should have another referendum. It is important that the cost of this referendum is put clearly to the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. There was a great deal of talk and concern about the poor who had to go to food banks and all the rest of it. We should therefore know the amount of resources that had to be put into that referendum so that anyone who says that they want another referendum soon would at least know the cost of the one that we had three weeks ago.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I am sure that the different strands of costs will be published by the Scottish Government as well as such costs incurred by the United Kingdom Government. It would be very damaging indeed for us to continue to have these debates as they were very divisive. Those of us who live in Scotland know just how divisive they were. As

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the Secretary of State said in his Statement, it should no longer be about the 55% or the 45%, it should be about the 100%, which is what we are committed to address.

The Earl of Caithness (Con): My Lords, the Statement makes reference to “working for 100% of people in Scotland”. Does my noble and learned friend agree that all the legislation to date has been for 100% of Scotland, including the Scotland Act 2012, and that Scotland has received more than its fair share under the existing arrangements?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I anticipated my noble friend’s question. We should not talk any longer about the divisiveness of 55% and 45% and should focus on ensuring that we deliver as best we can for the 100%.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab): My Lords, I want to add something about understanding the context of what happened in those last 10 days. I am deeply worried. I absolutely welcome the publication of the Command Paper today and fully congratulate everyone involved in the campaign. Many on the other side of the argument conducted themselves well—not everyone but most people. We are now in a situation where expectations have been raised almost exponentially by the vow given in the last 10 days of the campaign. None of the three main parties’ proposals published today meet that expectation. The discussions that take place over the next few weeks must be serious. They must look at the detail of what my noble friend Lord Robertson, the noble and learned Lord and I spent weeks, months and years in the mid-1990s looking at when trying to get tax and financial proposals right for the Scottish Parliament. Unless these discussions are meaningful and go deep into the detail, we will not reach a settlement that will stand the test of time, even if we also solve the other issues in the United Kingdom that have been mentioned by noble Lords. I ask the noble and learned Lord to urge all those involved to be very careful. Having raised the expectations, we do not want to bring them back down again and find ourselves in a never-ending debate and unable to move on to other issues.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is right to emphasise how much detailed work went into the constitutional convention proposals, in which he, I and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, were involved, and the work in terms of the taxation proposals now embodied in the Scotland Act. It is now two and a half years since that Act was passed. That shows the time that it has taken to get them implemented and to get it right. I agree that we should be under no illusion about that. I do not think for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, is under any illusion as to the challenge he is facing.

On the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about getting on with the powers and using them, he and I did a couple of events during the referendum campaign where we said some of the

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things that the Scottish Parliament had done. I very much hope that a right and proper debate about the extent of powers will not be used as an excuse for not using the powers that are already there. They should be used to tackle many things in Scotland, including education, health, transport and policing, which are crying out to be addressed.

Lord Steel of Aikwood (LD): I wonder whether my noble and learned friend saw the lead story in the Scotsman on Saturday, which began with the sentence:

“The battle lines have been drawn in the fight to shape post-referendum Scotland, as the SNP government yesterday unveiled demands”.

Does he agree that my former constituent, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, will have a difficult time in the few weeks that he has to produce the report? If this commission is approached on battle lines grounds, there is an obligation on those who lost the campaign to recognise that they did lose. There is also an obligation on those who won to recognise that 45% of the population voted the other way. We must hope that what will come out of the Smith commission is the maximum amount of home rule consistent with common sense and that the parties will approach the commission in a constructive and consensus-seeking spirit and not in a battle line way.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I agree with my noble friend that a battle line approach will not be productive. I accept that the time is tight for the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin. I rather fear, however, that if we were to suggest any slippage the cries of betrayal would be even louder so I think it is important that we do stick to that. However, it is important too that people entering into these talks do so with a view to trying to achieve a lasting outcome. Simply to make a concession, for example, on monetary union, that was going to be made anyway in the context of independence, I do not consider a concession.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): I totally agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, but I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is more likely to be correct in his prediction of the outcome of the Smith commission. It would have been better—there is no point saying this—to have defined in advance what further devolution would make sense. Some of us in the House said that. I feel it was a great pity that in 2012 the Edinburgh agreement left only one question on the paper. My concern now is that the difficulties of reaching a consensus on this in the Smith commission will be greatly increased if extraneous issues are brought in. It was a great pity that the West Lothian question emerged at 7 am on the morning after the referendum. I thought that was a very great pity. I hope the noble and learned Lord will agree that in present political circumstances, whatever the mathematical logic of the West Lothian question, the correct answer is get over it.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I do not think it was ever possible for three parties to come together in the heat of a referendum campaign and

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hammer out a single proposal. Many of our opponents would have loved us to have spent our time doing that rather than getting on with deploying the case for the United Kingdom. That is why we now have a Command Paper that sets out the proposals. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that while it is the case that the position on the West Lothian question is being looked at, it has been made clear by everyone that the extra powers for Scotland are not contingent or conditional on that. It is important to underline that.


Wales Bill

Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

6.02 pm

Amendment 4

Moved by Baroness Morgan of Ely

4: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) GOWA 2006 is amended as follows.

(1A) For section 3(1) substitute—

“(1) Subject to subsection (1A) below, the National Assembly for Wales shall determine the date of the poll by a resolution of the National Assembly for Wales.

(1A) The poll at an ordinary general election to the National Assembly for Wales is to be held no later than the first Thursday in May in the fifth calendar year following that in which the previous general election was held.”

(1B) In section 3(2) omit “if the poll is to be held on the first Thursday in May,”.

(1C) In section 3(2)(a), for “that day” substitute “polling day”.

(1D) Omit sections 4 and 5.

(1E) In section 13, after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) The order may not include provision about the date of an election to the Assembly.””

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, I am a little disappointed that the Minister is not here yet. Is she arriving? Should I propose that we adjourn until the Minister arrives?

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, I offer sincere apologies to the noble Baroness and the Committee for the delay in the Minister returning to the Chamber to continue the Committee stage of the Bill. I had been reliably informed that she was just outside the Chamber and I know that she certainly is not far away. I would be happy to remain in place for the noble Baroness’s speech and to ensure that the Minister is properly apprised of the points that the noble Baroness makes as soon as my noble friend returns.

While I am here, I remind noble Lords of what I said following the Statement that we just heard on Scotland: clearly there is much that noble Lords would like to debate about devolution following the referendum. I am pleased that we will have a debate in government time later this month. I very much look forward to that. Once again, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and to noble Lords for their patience.

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Baroness Morgan of Ely: Thank you. We have just heard about the vigorous referendum campaign in Scotland, where people on all sides talked about the need to respect the established devolved institutions. It should be remembered that the current settlement means that Westminster theoretically still has the power to dissolve the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament without any consultation with the Welsh public or the Scottish Parliament, although in practice the Sewel convention means that, generally speaking, Westminster does not intervene in devolved matters.

However, in this clause, we are faced with a situation where an autonomous Assembly is being told what to do by Big Brother in London. Westminster has changed the date of its general election and therefore, of course, so should Wales. If we have learnt anything in the past few weeks, it is surely that you cannot let the teenager find her feet and explore the paths she wants to take, only to put a curfew on her, insisting that she comes home at a particular time when you feel that she needs to be told what to do or when her decisions do not suit you.

If Westminster wants to change the date of its own election, so be it. What seems wrong in principle is that this should lead Westminster to impose a decision upon Wales about when she should hold a vote, without any consultation with her at all. The Presiding Officer of the Assembly said that the power of the decision about when to hold a vote is,

“more appropriately held by the Presiding Officer, as is the case for the Scottish Parliament”.

In the Bill, we have suggested that it should be a matter for the Assembly, but we are open to debate on that. The principle that we are after is at what level the decision should be made—who should be making the decision. If the Welsh Assembly wants to hold its election in the same year as a general election, that is surely a matter for the Assembly itself. It is too early to say to what extent we in the UK will go down the federal route. However, one thing is certain. If you are serious about devolution, you cannot hand over the powers but attach a spring so that they can be hauled back to Westminster every time a devolved structure makes a decision of which you disapprove or every time you make a decision that may impact on that institution.

The Welsh Government outlined in their response to the Green Paper produced two years ago that,

“no change to the Assembly’s current electoral arrangements should be made without the Assembly’s consent”.

This is a fundamental constitutional principle at issue. It is a necessary consequence of a constitution based on the principle of devolution. Clearly, the reason for the introduction of the original clause is to take account of the fact that the five-year Fixed-term Parliaments Act has been introduced for the House of Commons. The principle of broader legislative competence for Assembly elections should be considered by political parties when they draw up their manifestos. This is an issue that was dealt with in Silk 2. However, surely it cannot be right to bind the hands of the Assembly at such a sensitive time in our constitutional discussions.

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Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, I can readily identify with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely. I agree that these matters should ideally be in the hands of the National Assembly to decide. None the less, we have guidelines that have been laid down from here. By virtue of speaking to Amendment 5, I want to draw attention to the fact that there are real dangers when a Westminster election overshadows an election to the National Assembly.

Amendment 5 provides that the poll for a National Assembly ordinary general election should not be held within 355 days of the date of a UK general election, although I accept entirely that it should be a matter for the Assembly finally to decide on these matters if we can give it the power to do so. The amendment mentions 355 days rather than 12 months to allow situations to arise whereby one vote could be held on 7 May one year, followed by a poll on 1 May the following year, or similar circumstances.

The truth, which may not be immediately apparent to colleagues from other parts of the United Kingdom, is that the UK media are heavily biased in favour of England-only issues. That is understandable because most of the media are based in south-east England and look through a prism from that perspective. In the leaders’ debates in the run-up to the previous general election, for example, party leaders answered questions relating to healthcare and education, without mentioning that those policies were applicable only in England and not in Wales or Scotland. These considerations spill over to arguments in relation to the settlement that will be made to Scotland as well.

Circumstances such as these are highly confusing for viewers, listeners or readers in Wales and can lead to voters making choices based on policies that would not in fact affect them. Wales has a number of daily newspapers such as the Western Mail and Daily Post, as well as very good local newspapers, but the majority of people still get their news and election coverage from London-based outlets. Were an election to the Welsh Assembly to occur in quick succession following a UK general election, or in inverse circumstances, it is certain that any debates surrounding Welsh policies would be totally drowned by UK election coverage. The Electoral Reform Society Wales has said that combining polls would always have a detrimental impact by causing confusion for voters, and that Welsh elections would be “subsumed” into media coverage of the UK general election.

To ensure that voters’ decisions are well informed, we believe that provisions similar to those contained in Amendment 5 would be necessary to mitigate such media distortion, although I repeat that I would prefer that initiatives along those lines should come from the Assembly itself.

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords, I agree with the thrust of the amendment but I am bound to say that I am not sure that I fully understand the wording of the first part of it. If one actually looks at the text, it would seem that the amendment proposes that the Welsh Assembly should revert to a system in which the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, with the consent of the Assembly, would be able to determine to hold an election at any moment that he thinks fit. In other

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words, we would be back to the situation that we were in before we passed the Act a few years ago that set up the five-year Parliament gap.

If the intention of the amendment is that the Assembly should be able to fix in advance a particular term at the end of which an election should be held—in other words, that the Assembly should decide whether it should be a five-year, four-year or even perhaps a three-year term—that I understand and fully appreciate. If the intention is, however, to give the Welsh Assembly the additional powers that the Prime Minister had in the old House of Commons, to call an election at the time of his own choosing, I am bound to say that I am not sure I agree. I accept the thrust of the amendment, which is that decisions on the timing of an election should be a matter for the Assembly, but I am not sure whether the wording of proposed new subsection (1) in the proposed amendment goes anywhere near achieving that.

6.15 pm

Lord Rowlands (Lab): My Lords, I understand and appreciate the power of the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has just proposed to make sure that elections are not simultaneous. However, there is a case against that. The most worrying aspect in the whole of my parliamentary lifetime is the decline in turnout. In a democracy, turnout is extremely important. In the last Assembly election, the turnout was just over 40%. In the last general election to Westminster, it was 65%. The high point was in 1950 when we had a UK turnout of more than 83%. It never fell below 70% at the United Kingdom level until 2001, when it fell to 59%. But even now, at 65%, it is some 20 percentage points higher than the turnout for the latest Assembly election. I wonder whether we ought to be concerned about that. Although I understand and appreciate completely the argument that UK issues drown out Welsh issues, there is a point to make about turnout. It is extremely important in a democracy that turnout is upheld.

The turnout when I served Merthyr for 30-odd years was 70% to 75%. It fell to 70% in the last election in which I stood and I was mortified. But at the last election it fell to 59%, and that is in a highly political kind of community that appreciates and understands the nature of politics and elections. A case could be made, contrary to the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that if you run the elections together you intensify the politics. Parties are more engaged in the streets and you raise the turnout from 40% to 65%.

I am dredging my memory but the last time elections were run concurrently was in, I think, 1979, when local elections and the general election were held on the same date. That raised the turnout in local elections to a dramatically higher level than ever before. Although I understand that there is consensus at the Assembly level on separating the elections, I wanted to register the point about turnout.

Lord Wigley: Would the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, accept that one element of an election is to give a mandate to the Government? If the mandate has been generated on the basis of a different election, how on earth can it be interpreted in the context of the Assembly?

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Lord Rowlands: I am not altogether certain that that would happen. There is some indication that if the polls were on the same day, people would vote for the local Assembly Member from one party and for another at United Kingdom level. But if you talk about a mandate, it is always better to have two-thirds of the electorate giving you the mandate than 40%. I am not disputing that it is obviously the wish of everyone in Cardiff to separate the elections, but we should take account of the fact that turnout is important. There is no doubt that there is a big difference at the moment between turnout in National Assembly elections and turnout in UK elections.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Wales Office (Baroness Randerson): My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their participation in this section of the debate. Amendment 4, proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Morgan and Lady Gale, would give the Assembly the power to decide, by resolution, when Assembly elections are held. It would give the Assembly a wide degree of discretion to determine the date of Assembly elections, which is something that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised concerns about. We might all be rather worried about that issue because it has such a wide scope. By a simple majority, the Assembly would be able to vote for a change to the length of its terms. Such a power would go beyond that given to other devolved legislatures, which do not have the freedom to vary the length of their terms.

The Government believe that the devolution of further powers to the Assembly, such as this, cannot be undertaken in a piecemeal fashion. Once again, this is an issue that is better discussed and considered in a wider context of other changes to the Welsh devolution settlement arising from the Silk recommendations. It is a fundamental change, as has been said today, to devolve to the Assembly competence over its elections, and it would undoubtedly have knock-on effects on UK government elections. The noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, made the very good point that you would get a higher turnout by holding those two elections in coincidence. I do not think, however, that that would be desirable because it is undoubtedly true that the media in Wales are not strong enough to lead a debate on Welsh issues that is not overshadowed, at the time of the general election, by UK issues.

Amendment 5 seeks to preclude an ordinary general election to the National Assembly being held within 355 days of the UK general election. As I have said, I fully agree with the sentiment behind this, that these should be distinct and separate events. I share the concerns of the noble Lord and the Assembly that holding those elections on the same day would not give electors a clear view of Welsh issues. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 changed the length of term of the current Assembly to five years on a one-off basis. Without further provision, the Assembly will return to four-year terms thereafter.

Clause 1, however, already provides for five-year terms in perpetuity for the Assembly’s general elections from 2016 onwards. It already does this without the need for further amendment, making it very unlikely that the Assembly general elections and parliamentary general elections will coincide in future. I am sure that

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the noble Lord will welcome this, and I thank him for his explanation for including his amendment. I believe, however, that the provisions already included in the Bill will go as far as is necessary to ensure that Assembly elections and parliamentary elections do not coincide.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, I point out that the Assembly agreed to the change of date of the elections. This is not something that has simply been visited upon it: it has agreed to it. I welcome once again the conversion of the Labour Party to the idea that the Assembly should have the freedom to do such things as deciding its own elections. It is important in that context that we note that views on devolution are changing fast in some quarters, and it is important that there is public debate as to what additional powers are devolved to the Assembly.

On that basis, I respectfully request that the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment and that the noble Lord does not press his.

Baroness Morgan of Ely: I thank those who have participated in this debate. I stand by the principle that it should be up to the Assembly to determine when its election should be. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about discussion of the Welsh election being drowned out, are valid, but the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, about turnout probably increasing significantly if the elections were held on the same day are also worthy of consideration. Ultimately, however, it should be up to the Assembly to decide. I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, made on tightening up the wording of the amendment. It is a lot better than the one they had in the Commons, in which there was no mention at all of when the Assembly should have elections; it could have gone on for ever without any. We have improved on that.

The Minister also talked about this being a fundamental change. I think there are fundamental changes going on at the moment, and so we need to make sure that we keep perspective and an open mind on some of these issues. On that note, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment and to suggest that it could be returned to on Report.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

Amendment 5 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.

Amendment 6

Moved by Lord Rowe-Beddoe

6: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Size of Assembly

The Secretary of State must introduce a bill to provide that the Assembly shall constitute at least 80 Assembly Members with effect from the 2016 elections.”

Lord Rowe-Beddoe (CB): My Lords, Amendment 6 is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Elystan-Morgan. It is rather coincidental that we are debating the Bill on the first

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day back from the recess, and that it has been sandwiched between a referendum on Scotland and the Scottish Statement.

Many noble Lords will recall that, about two years ago, when the House was debating the referendum and further devolution for Scotland, many noble Lords remarked that, whatever the outcome, the United Kingdom would never be the same. I think that already we have seen that start, and it is not just a start—it is a wave of movement.

This is a simple amendment. Whether it is deferred or whether it is delegated, if it has more power then it is proposed that it must have more people. It may not go down very well with parts of the constituencies in Wales but, for the sake of good governance on behalf of the electorate, to hold accountable those elected into the Assembly, we must have further numbers. I have seen and been told that there are insufficient Assembly Members properly to staff the committees that already exist. We have former Assembly Members here; no doubt they will either agree with me or challenge me on that.

The proposal in this amendment is very simple. The current composition is 60, which is considered insufficient to do the business that needs to be done when the Bill, in this form or its increased form, goes to Cardiff. With increased powers comes increased responsibility, and increased responsibility means a decreased accountability. As we can all see from the paper, there are four or five following amendments which sound very complicated as to how these extra Members should be elected. That is a separate issue. The principle here is that there are not sufficient Members to handle further responsibility. I beg to move.

6.30 pm

Lord Richard: My Lords, I strongly support this amendment. If one goes back 10 years to the report of the commission that I had the honour of chairing, we then identified this as one of the problems the Assembly had then and would face increasingly in the future. I will spend just two minutes on analysing where the Assembly is in this regard. We have 60 Members in the National Assembly in Wales; the Scottish Parliament has 129 and the Northern Ireland Assembly has 108.

At first sight, those numbers are a bit odd. I do not see why they should be quite as different as they are. If one then goes on to look at what the present 60 in the National Assembly of Wales do, only 42 of them are actually available to hold the Welsh Government to account and scrutinise legislation. Indeed, at one stage it was even worse than that. At the time of the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition, there were 41 Members either from Labour or Plaid Cymru, leaving only 19 from a non-governing party to scrutinise the whole body of Assembly legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is sitting on the Front Bench opposite me will no doubt remember those days pretty well since he was one of the 19.

Can that many Members do that work? The short answer is no. They could not do it 10 years ago and they certainly cannot do it now. I recently came across a quote from Rosemary Butler, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly. She put it like this:

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“There are only 42 Members to scrutinise £15 billion of taxpayers’ money, and to scrutinise the government on the big issues of the day—the future of our health service, our education system and the economy. On top of that they have to make sound, thoroughly scrutinized laws for our nation. A quarter of those 42 members sit on three committees, half sit on two”.

She concludes with the comment:

“One would simply not find the same level of workload on Members in Westminster, Holyrood or Stormont”.

That is clearly true.

Over the years, we have given the Assembly greater powers. We have not increased the number of people available to deal with those powers and scrutinise the way they are used. In this Bill, we propose to give them more powers. We will no doubt, in the not too distant future, have proposals to give the Assembly further powers again. To keep the limit at 60 is frankly ludicrous. It hobbles the way in which the Assembly works and means that laws are not sufficiently scrutinised. It means, too, that the way money is spent is not sufficiently looked at. Quite honestly, it breeds inefficiency. The argument for increasing it from 60 to 80 is, frankly, irrefutable.

The only argument now is whether it should be 80 or go up to 100. I have an open mind on that. As a first step, going up to 80 would satisfy me for the moment. If you are to give the Assembly more powers, and if it is to become a Parliament in the sense that the Scottish Parliament is one, 80 may not be enough. Assuredly, if you are to do that, 60 will not be. I support this amendment.

Lord Elis-Thomas (PC): My Lords, it is always a delight to follow a debate proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Richard—to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for having defined an ideal model in 2004 of what the National Assembly could have been.

My Amendment 9 has a whiff of relative autonomy about it, which will not surprise noble Lords. Although I deny being a separatist and I am not an upper-case Nationalist, I am certainly an avid, totally committed, complete devolutionist. My amendment—which my noble friend supports—proposes that the Assembly should decide its own size. No doubt many constitutional objections will be put forward to this notion. However, the amendment proposes that the decision should be subject to the very important principle of a majority of not less than two-thirds of voting Assembly Members on a vote of the whole Assembly. That is a feature we have already in our constitution—and use regularly. It applies to dissolution Motions and other Motions within our procedures.

My amendment has the support—and I had the assistance in drafting it—of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru. I will not detain the Committee by quoting from Size Matters—I know the Government have read it. However, it provides a comparative analysis of the size of national Assemblies—that is Parliaments; we will come to this at a later stage this evening, perhaps with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. The key issue is the ratio of Members to the size of the electorate in a given constituency, and the relationship between the two. It also looks at the legislative Assemblies of other comparable European regions or nations—

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whatever you wish to call them. Again, it looks at their size in relation to function. What is relevant in this analysis is the functional level. In other words, with the amount of devolutionary power that the National Assembly for Wales already has, we are reaching the norm of the European Union—and the Canadian provinces, another comparator. However, we are nowhere near the norm in terms of the number of Members.

Therefore, this amendment would give the National Assembly the ability to decide its own membership subject to the agreement of a two-thirds majority of Members. This is a proper devolutionary measure for the nature of the constitution itself. I know that that is a difficult concept for the Committee to understand. I am sorry to say that the United Kingdom is still an extremely centralist state. It is not a unitary state and never has been. It is a state of unions and those unions are different, for historical reasons. But the nation of Wales, despite the great time we had during the Tudor ascendancy, is not well placed in the pecking order of UK devolution. This amendment seeks to redress that. I know the Government will not be able to accept the amendment because it is too autonomous—but it is a constitutional principle that it is important to present in this discussion.

Baroness Humphreys (LD): My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to return to a theme I referred to briefly at Second Reading: the issue of the size of the Assembly. I am also pleased that our debate today may inform opinion in Wales on the number of AMs needed to run our Assembly effectively. My amendment recognises that the Assembly has too few Members to carry out its present functions. It also recognises that there is a simple way to increase its size to 80 Members for the next Assembly elections to be held in 2016, and further recognises that an Assembly of 100 Members at the 2021 elections is possible but dependent on a reduction in the number of MPs that Wales sends to Westminster.

In its publication, Size Matters, the Electoral Reform Society, drawing on the work of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, the Institute of Welsh Affairs and Cymru Yfory/Tomorrow’s Wales, argues that the size of the Assembly is a matter that is,

“too important to be left to politicians”.

However, politicians, whether here or in Cardiff Bay, will ultimately have to make a decision: a decision that will give the National Assembly the tools that it needs to make it the accountable and efficient institution we desire it to be, or leave it overburdened and struggling to cope with its powers.

We are urged, in all our deliberations, to come to evidence-based decisions, and Size Matters provides us with the unbiased evidence we need to guide those deliberations. Of course, it is and would be difficult for Assembly Members themselves to make the case for an increase in their numbers. Fear of criticism from the media and the electorate results in their remaining silent in public. However, privately many will confess that there are too few of them to hold the Welsh Government to account or to scrutinise the volume of legislation for which they are responsible.

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The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has already referred to the fact that with only 60 Members—and only 70% of them, 42 Members, available for scrutiny work at present—their ability to undertake this work is seriously compromised. In the UK Parliament, 85% of Members are available to undertake scrutiny and legislative functions; in the Scottish Parliament, 88%; and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, 85%. There are too few Assembly Members to populate the committees where scrutiny takes place, and because of time constraints arising from other duties they are less able to develop the specialist expertise needed to optimise their effectiveness. Because of this, and the increase in the number of plenary sessions, the Assembly’s own remuneration board has increased the staffing allowance for AMs to allow them three staff members to support their research, policy and constituency work, and is even now giving further consideration to increases that will allow each Assembly Member to appoint a senior adviser.

However, appointing more support or research staff misses the main point. It does not address the issue of AMs being unable to find the time to read papers, however well prepared by their staff, and to prepare for committees. That has led to a strengthening of the Executive, with well briefed Ministers apparently able to run rings around AMs who do not have time to read their briefings.

In these times of austerity, proposing an increase in Members to the National Assembly for Wales is hardly likely to be popular. Arguments we make about workload, efficiency, effective scrutiny, accountability and holding the Executive to account will all seem insignificant to an electorate more concerned about costs. However, the truth is that we get our Assembly on the cheap compared to other legislatures. The average annual cost of an Assembly Member, including pay, travel and other expenses, support staff and equipment is £225,000. The annual cost of an MP is £590,000 and that of an MEP is £1.8 million. Based on those figures an 80-Member Assembly would cost an extra £4.5 million per annum and a 100-Member Assembly an extra £9 million. The Electoral Reform Society’s publication argues that this,

“would be a small price to pay”,

given the benefits that would flow from increased accountability and better scrutiny.

That cost could, however, be offset by the better use of existing resources if Wales had fewer MPs and Peers at Westminster, fewer paid councillors and more AMs instead. The case has long been made for a reduction in Welsh MPs. Each Welsh MP has an average electorate of 76,000 while the figure for the UK is one Member per 97,000. While Scotland cut its number of MPs from 72 to 59 in 1999, Wales did not.

6.45 pm

In a footnote, which I found extremely interesting, Size Matters reminds us that:

“It is important to note that the legislation to cut the number of Welsh MPs by a quarter, from 40 to 30, has only been deferred—to 2017—and so remains on the statute book. ... Unless the new UK Government after the 2015 general election brings in new legislation, the reduction in the total of MPs for the UK to 600, including the reduction in the number of Welsh MPs, will take effect from 2018 … in time for the UK general election in 2020 and the Assembly elections in 2021”.

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There can be no reason for Parliament to continue denying the National Assembly the capacity to deliver on the functions it already has and to prepare it for the further powers proposed for it. The first part of my amendment calls for the next Assembly elections in 2016 to be for an 80-Member Chamber. There can be no doubt that I would not support the option that some have suggested of an 80-Member Assembly, where two Members would be elected from each constituency. A return to a first past the post system would be a retrograde step, denying Wales the opportunity to elect an Assembly where the number of votes cast for each party is, more or less, reflected in the number of Members elected.

To deny fair votes to the people of Wales while allowing a proportional system to continue in both Scotland and Northern Ireland is illogical and perverse and would result in a Labour Government in Wales in perpetuity. To ensure the continuation of proportional results, Wales needs an Assembly election in 2016 in which 40 Members are elected in constituencies and a further 40 are elected on regional lists. Further, as the legislation to cut the number of Welsh MPs is enacted and takes effect from 2018, Wales needs a 100-Member Assembly elected by STV, so ensuring an even fairer proportional result in the Assembly elections of 2021.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 6 only, which I believe to be a model of draftsmanship, put together in such a way as to bring about as wide and substantial a coalition in favour of a principle as one can imagine.

I believe with retrospect that there are two essential questions facing the House. First, do noble Lords in their heart of hearts believe for a moment that the Welsh Assembly can conduct its important duties, including scrutiny of legislation in particular, on a basis of 60 Members? Secondly, if noble Lords do not—and I suspect that practically every Member of the House can see the force of that point—what are we prepared to do about it? Those are two very simple but, I believe, crushingly relevant questions.

The facts have already been set out very clearly. Scotland has 129 Members; Northern Ireland has 108; Wales has 60. Of course, even more important than that is the fact that only 42 Members in Wales are available to scrutinise legislation. In the case of Scotland there are 113; in the case of Northern Ireland, I am not entirely sure whether it is 90 or 92—I think it may be 92. In the case of the House of Commons, it is 522. However, the issue is not really how many Members you have in relation to the population. There may well be a proper argument in that respect that is deployed later; that is not the issue at the moment. The issue is the minimum critical mass. If you fall below that and fail to constitute a critical mass, you are not a legislature; you are a mock parliament and no legislature at all.

That has to be remembered against this background. It is a single cameral House. I am not for a moment arguing that we should have a second House, which might be very interesting to dissertate on some day.

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Be that as it may, we have plenty to worry about at the moment in this regard. It is a single cameral House. The scrutiny of legislation in Wales occurs in the Assembly or does not occur at all. That is the point.

This House does its work magnificently as a scrutinising body. Sometimes, we are given more to scrutinise than we should be. I feel that the House of Commons sends huge pieces of undigested legislation through which almost makes a mockery of the constitutional situation, but that is another story altogether.

Again, one has to remember the point already made by one or two Members. When we think of a critical mass, we should think not just of a number but of whether that critical mass is there, in the main, in the Opposition. If it is not—even if you increase the membership to, say, 80 or 100—if you have a strong coalition between party A and party B that is responsible for, let us say, 70% of the membership, you still fail to have a critical mass where it counts.

We are not talking about mathematical representation; nor, with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys—with whose address I wholeheartedly agree in the main—do I honestly believe that it is a matter of trade-off with local government or the House of Commons. If I remember rightly, the noble Baroness was not a Member of the House when this matter was discussed three or four years ago, when the proposal was carried to reduce the number of Welsh Members of Parliament from 40 to 30. I do not want to spoil the splendid feeling of unanimity that we have had up to now, at any rate on this issue, but the Liberal Democrats could have done better than they did on that occasion. We had a vote to give the Isle of Wight two seats. Not one member of the Liberal Democrats spoke on the issue of Wales. The real condemnation came not from the Opposition but from the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, the grandson of David Lloyd George, who said, “My grandfather would not be turning over in his grave; he would have been in the Dwyfor by now”. That says everything.

The only other thing I have to say about that, which is on the face of it an attractive argument but possibly a dangerous course to take, is that in 1993 a proposal was before the House of Commons to reduce the number of seats in Wales—indeed, I think, over the whole country. The Home Secretary at the time was Mr Kenneth Clarke. He said, “No, as far as Wales is concerned, I am not having it. Wales is a land and nation with characteristics of its own and circumstances which are so special and so unique that I will make it an exception”. I do not believe that Wales is any less of an exception than it was in 1993.

The question then is: what should the number be? The Electoral Reform Society, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, has properly referred, has examined 42 countries which are comparable with Wales in various ways. It has come to the conclusion, taking all things into account, that the average number for such sub-parliaments as those countries have—perhaps I do them less than justice in calling them sub-parliaments, but that is the term used by the Electoral Reform Society—is about 100. It also concludes in relation to Wales that the ideal figure would be of the order of 100.

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The noble Lord, Lord Richard, who has placed Wales eternally in his debt by his report of 2004, mentioned the fact that the committee animadverted on the question of whether the number should be 80 and said that it should, although it was not asked specifically to deal with the matter, nor did it deal with it scientifically or specifically. Nevertheless, it was a measured judgment. Now then: if it was 80 in 2004, bearing in mind the huge changes that have occurred since then, what would it be worth today? I hope that I do not take unfair advantage of the noble Lord, Lord Richard—I certainly would not wish to nor could I do that; he is well able to make his points for himself. If 80 was the genuine estimate that was appropriate in 2004, surely by today one should be speaking of 100.

I would speak myself of 120. Why? If you regard the curve of the development as a constitutional entity of the Welsh Assembly in the 15 or 16 years of its existence, one does not have to exercise a great deal of imagination to see where it might be in a few years’ time. The idea of aiming for 120 is not chimerical, irresponsible or populist—certainly not populist—in any way. It projects what one hopes and expects for in relation to Wales. I would be very surprised if the powers that have been given to Wales do not over the next few years amply justify that.

If we were holding this debate a month or two ago, I would still be making that point, but where do the promises and undertakings that have been showered on the people of Scotland, and the people of Wales and Northern Ireland, about devolution—those promises were falling like autumn leaves in Vallombrosa, as the quotation goes—bring us? If a quarter of what was promised solemnly will in fact be done, 120 could well be justified as the membership. However, it is not a question of numbers. It is more a question of prejudice: the vast storm of prejudice that anybody who argues for an increased number will have to face. That has to be done with courage and integrity. Edmund Burke famously said that for evil to triumph, it is necessary only for men of good will to do nothing. If you wish the Welsh Assembly to fail in its main purpose of being a legislature, all you have to do about the membership is nothing.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made his proposal for 120. I thought that one was reaching the point of, “Any advance on 80? Any advance on 100? Any advance on 120?”. Where does one stop?

Lord Elystan-Morgan: I am deeply grateful to my friend for giving way. Perhaps I may make a point that I forgot to make. The real case for 120 is that it is very simple. It is exactly double the number now, and you can double both constituencies—the individual constituencies and the regional ones.

7 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: That sounds a bit like double the number you first thought of. It is always good to follow the noble Lord. Certainly he cannot be accused of populism—perhaps courage, perhaps recklessness, but not populism.

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I was tempted to go down his path of a second Chamber for Wales. There may, ultimately, further down the path, be a case for a second-opinion Chamber composed of some of the notables from the local authorities and elsewhere in Wales, but that is not a debate for today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, quoted, I think, the Electoral Reform Society, saying that these matters were too important to be left to politicians. That is a little patronising. The Electoral Reform Society consists no doubt of very worthy people who can help us by doing their analysis, but ultimately these decisions will be made by politicians, who have the experience and do not live in ivory towers. However, I agree with her that the whole matter—the matter of numbers—should be seen in the round and that one should look at the numbers in the Assembly and whether those numbers are capable of doing the job. One cannot exclude the number of those in local authorities. On that subject, I hope to move an amendment in respect of the recommendations of the Williams commission on amalgamations of local authorities in Wales, because I detect among the people of Wales a distaste for the number of people currently in the various authorities. Looking at it in the round, including local authorities and the Assembly, and not excluding the House of Commons, I am not convinced of her case for this House, because on the whole we have far fewer Members of this House than Wales warrants. That is, however, another matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, spoke simply and put forward a simple proposition. There is a consensus around his suggested figure of 80. The starting point is that, after a somewhat bumpy start, the National Assembly has now bedded down, is accepted as a proper part of the Welsh political landscape and has been a pioneer for the United Kingdom in several aspects of policy, as I find when I go into my local supermarkets and am charged for bags, a matter that will come to England somewhat later.

The amendment that I am speaking to will not, as politicians often boast, kill two birds with one stone; it will kill three birds with one stone. In respect of the equality of men and women, it is clear that although the position in the Assembly in Wales is better than in most other legislatures, certainly better than in the House of Commons, there is still a disparity. Many parties and many parliaments have struggled with this problem. Selectorates, often with a majority of women, are frequently reluctant to select women for various levels of representation. My own party tried women-only shortlists in both the 2005 and 2010 elections; in the 2015 election, my own Swansea East constituency will have a women-only shortlist.

However, that is not without problems, as one sees in Cynon Valley, and it can be a matter of considerable controversy. It can be a problem when men find it difficult to find a place in the areas where they were born, brought up and worked for a long time. They are demotivated when there is no chance, because of women-only shortlists, of standing in their own constituencies. I put forward this proposal as a serious option for solving the problem. It is a far more acceptable

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device for ensuring equality and would make Wales a world leader, consistent with our normal radical policies and progressive traditions.

The advantages do not stop there. My proposal would also abolish the list system. The list system has not been a success. I am reminded that “hiraeth” in Welsh is not a longing for one’s own region within Wales but a longing for one’s own valley, constituency, city or village. It is difficult to work up loyalty or attachment to a region in Wales. “My region, right or wrong”: I cannot see anyone in Wales going to the barricades to fight for their region. It is more consistent with our Welsh tradition not to have regional lists.

Thirdly and finally, I come to the increase in numbers. It goes logically with what I am saying that as the powers of the Assembly increase—and one does not know how far that will go, and here perhaps the consensus ends, because some will want a great leap forward while others will want a more incremental approach—there should at the same time be an increase in numbers. It is also clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, said with great clarity and power, that the number in the Assembly, the 60, may have been an appropriate starting point—the 40 and the 20. Indeed, there would have been difficulties had the number of 40 constituencies been reduced to 30—it would have been perhaps 30 and 30 at that point.

However, the numbers are clearly insufficient for the job of scrutiny. At the moment, particularly when there is a coalition, as often happens in the Assembly, everyone appears to have a job. It is rather like the jibes at the old Mexican army—everyone was a general, everyone had a job. We want to get away from that. We want people in the Assembly who are able to do a job of scrutiny and we should agree to have 80 of them.

There are three good reasons for the amendment. We should not be afraid of change. In terms of gender equality, the smaller units in Wales and the increase in the powers of the Assembly, which would be matched with a commensurate increase in numbers, this amendment is proper and consistent with our radical, trailblazing tradition in Wales.

Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD): My Lords, that was an extraordinary speech, if I may say so. We Gogs certainly have an identity, and we have an identity when we know that the south-east of Wales is spending the borrowing powers that it is acquiring on two tunnels on the M4 and putting a great deal of development into south Wales that we do not see in the north, where we have our own communication problems. To talk in terms of everyone being concerned about their little valley may do very well in south Wales, but I can tell you that in north Wales we feel very differently about it and we welcome the fact that we have regional AMs in the Welsh Assembly who can express a wider view than that of the little valley that they come from.

Although I am not overly enthusiastic about the list system, I will not see it dismissed in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has done. Nor am I convinced by his idea that we should have proportionality of gender but not of political viewpoint. That would mean that the possibility of a dominant party would

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swiftly arise. My noble friend said that it would be the Labour Party. I would not go that far, because there are forces at work in some of the Welsh valleys today that are not essentially socialist in their approach. I am against the idea of having first past the post in Wales when it does not exist in Scotland or in Northern Ireland and when we have been fighting hard for it not to exist in England as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made the important point that the increasing amount of legislation coming to the Welsh Assembly means that we must have more Members to deal with it. I think that the consensus in Wales at the moment is that there are not enough people to scrutinise the legislation that is going through.

The noble Lord talked about scrutiny. The fact is that this is about not just primary legislation going through but primary legislation without the advantage of a second Chamber. Your Lordships will recall that I suggested earlier that we should surely be working towards a federal, single-tier Parliament for the whole of the United Kingdom, with committees for Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland that could scrutinise the legislation that comes through. As I said, if we have English votes for English laws that have to go through the scrutiny of this House, that will be a considerable advantage compared to single parties putting through legislation without adequate scrutiny. On primary legislation in Wales, there is a lot to be done, but what is not to be done is what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, suggests in his amendment. I wholly support everything that my noble friend Lady Humphreys so ably said.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, I would welcome further explanation from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, regarding his amendment. When he suggests that two Members should be elected from 40 constituencies, should the elector have one vote or two in that election?

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Basically, whether it should be one or two votes is a matter that should be left to the Assembly. My position is that all these arrangements should be left, so far as possible, to the Assembly. It has mature politicians and it is for them to make those decisions.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, perhaps I might reply to my great colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, by saying that if you have only one vote as against two, the whole composition of the Assembly, including the one that is to make the further arrangements, will be totally distorted.

Baroness Gale (Lab): My Lords, once again we have had a very interesting debate on how big the Assembly should be and how many seats it should have. I think that this debate has been going on since 1999, when the first Assembly sat. We know that many changes have been made in the Assembly that give it greater responsibilities, with increased powers to make decisions in Wales for Welsh people.

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Many calls have been made about the number of Assembly Members. A number of reports have been published saying that 60 Members are insufficient to deal with holding the Executive to account. Increasing the number of Assembly Members has been endorsed by the Electoral Reform Society Cymru and by the Richard commission in 2004. In addition, we know that the current Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler, has endorsed this. The Richard commission said that there should be 80 seats. Silk 2 argued for the same and stated:

“The size of the … Assembly should be increased”.

In October 2013, the Electoral Reform Society and the Changing Union project published their report Size Matters and argued that there should be 100 Members, based on examination of legislatures across Europe and the competences for which the Assembly is now responsible.

As other noble Lords have said, there are only 42 Back-Benchers, which means that the ability to scrutinise legislation is severely curtailed owing to the capacity issues experienced by those Back-Benchers. We have noted that other noble Lords said earlier in the debate that the Assembly is small in relation to the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and other legislatures across the world. As the legislation becomes more complex, there is a necessity for our politicians in Wales to develop areas of specialist expertise. That is difficult for most Back-Bench AMs, as they are members of more than one committee and it is difficult to build up expertise. In debating this Bill, we will be discussing tax legislation—a new and complicated area where it will be essential that adequate scrutiny takes place. If the recommendations of the areas to be devolved from Silk 2 are taken up, there will obviously be still further pressure on Assembly Members.

7.15 pm

The noble Lords, Lord Rowe-Beddoe and Lord Elystan-Morgan, and my noble friend Lord Richard spoke of having at least 80 seats by 2016. The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, made the good point that more powers really equates to more seats. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, spoke of having 120 seats. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, argued for having 80 seats by 2016 and 100 seats by 2021, all being elected by STV. That is a controversial suggestion and I am quite sure that it would arouse a lot of discussion in Wales: should we have the whole number elected by STV or should we have the proportions that we have now? I am sure that we will be having that discussion at some time.

My noble friend Lord Anderson also called for an 80-seat Assembly with two Members in each of the 40 constituencies, with gender balance—a good solution, one might think. I am committed to having a gender balance in the Assembly and in all our elected institutions. However, that amendment would be controversial as well, if it were accepted, because we would be saying that there should be a form of quotas in legislation. If you write into law that there have to be two Members in every constituency in Wales, with one having to be a woman and one a man, there would in effect be quotas. I have spoken about having quotas before but

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we need much more examination of that and I do not think that we would get legislation for quotas passed, certainly not in your Lordships’ House or in the House of Commons. My noble friend also mentioned having a second Chamber in the Assembly, which would be even more controversial.

This debate has shown clearly that there is consensus on having an increased number of Assembly Members, so that they can deal effectively with the new responsibilities and hold the Executive to account. I am sure that there will be further debate, not just in your Lordships’ House, before there is a clear decision on how many Members there should be and by what method of election. But one thing is clear: there is general agreement that the number of Assembly Members should be increased. I am looking forward to further debate as we take the Bill through the House.

Baroness Randerson: Thank you, my Lords, for that interesting debate. I have grasped the picture. There is a cross-party and no-party agreement here today. Noble Lords want the Assembly to have more Members but also have very different views on how many more Members there should be, how that process of enlargement should happen and how they should be elected.

I welcome again the conversion of the Labour Party to the cause of having more Members. If we go back to the days—10 years ago—when the noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested having 80 Members, that was not acceptable to the Labour Government then, so I am delighted that we are now reaching agreement on this. However, I have to point out that, although we as politicians here think that what is needed is more Members for the Assembly, I fear that if we asked the general public they would not produce the same answer. Asking for more politicians is not going to be an easy thing, particularly when the public view of politics and politicians is at a pretty low ebb across all parties.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: The deal in Scotland was that it had primary legislative powers and therefore the number of Members was reduced from 72 to 59. The people of Wales have spoken. They have had a referendum in which they have provided that Wales should have primary legislative powers and those have been given. Why should the people of Wales object to a reduction in numbers of MPs and an increase in numbers of Members of the Assembly?

Baroness Randerson: The noble Lord makes an excellent point and anticipates part of my speech. There is an issue of ensuring that if the Assembly is to have more Members, and that is to have broad public support, it needs to be done either when there is a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs, as was referred to earlier, or there is a reorganisation of local government in Wales, when I anticipate that there would be a reduction in the number of councillors.

In the mean time, there is an important public debate to be had and an argument to be made by civil society. I am aware that a large number of organisations within civil society in Wales share the views that noble Lords have expressed today. There is an engagement

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with politics that these things should be done by civil society in order to ensure that any arguments on them are put forward with force and relevance for the people of Wales.

I am grateful to the noble Lords whose amendments have enabled this debate. Amendments 6, 9 and 11, and Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, have formed a useful group and theme. Amendments 6 and 9 require the Secretary of State to introduce a Bill to increase the size of the Assembly to at least 80 Members—in the case of Amendment 6, from 2016. Amendment 9 provides that responsibility for deciding the number of Assembly Members should be devolved to the Assembly. Any subsequent change to the number of Members must be approved by a two-thirds majority.

We recognise in government the legitimate concerns about whether the Assembly has sufficient numbers to provide Ministers and the scrutiny that government through the committee system in the Assembly requires. This has been discussed since at least the time of the Richard commission and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on this issue. More recently, the Silk commission recommended in its second report increasing the number of Assembly Members, although it did not go into the detail of suggesting a number.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: The Silk commission was not allowed to consider the matter. With rather restrained mischief it made the point that there should be an increase. It produced this memorable line, which introduces a point that has not been considered in this debate. It said: good scrutiny leads to good legislation and good legislation pays for itself.

Baroness Randerson: I think that it was not a case of the Silk commission not being allowed to consider the matter; the issue was that this was not within the specific remit of the commission. It was certainly something that it considered and discussed, and on which it made a recommendation.

While all of us here today seem to have an agreement that there is an issue to be considered, the First Minister confirmed in his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill that the Assembly could undoubtedly cope with all its new powers with the 60 Members. Reference has been made to the Presiding Officer’s views. I think that it would be useful if the Assembly itself considered this issue.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I would counsel the Minister not to quote the First Minister or any first minister in any legislature as the authority on scrutiny.

Baroness Randerson: The noble Lord makes a very good point.

The size of the Assembly is a vital issue that goes to the heart of democracy in Wales and the inter-relationship between the legislature and the Executive. The key issue—the noble Lord has just drawn our attention to it—is that with a small Opposition, particularly in the

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case of a coalition, scrutiny is very difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said that everyone has a job. The problem is that everyone has two or three jobs in the Assembly, so the difficulty is with Assembly Members being busy. MPs and your Lordships are busy too, but Assembly Members are spreading themselves across several subjects and committees, which makes it difficult to establish expertise. This is a live issue. It needs to be considered as part of the Silk 2 recommendations and after the appropriate level of public debate.

A recent Electoral Reform Society report found that nearly 80% of Assembly Members believed that changes should be made to the way in which plenary time is used within the Assembly, with a view to making the time that they have available more effective. I am sure that that will have been considered within the Assembly at various times. As our debate today has demonstrated, this is a complex issue with a number of strands of opinion.

I wish now to turn to Amendments 11 and 14. Amendment 11, in the name of my noble friend Lady Humphreys, specifies that from 2021 the Assembly should be elected via the single transferable vote system. That would bring greater proportionality than the current system. We have discussed proportionality this evening. It would replace the current mix of first past the post and the proportional system that we have in the Assembly at the moment. Although we have an element of proportionality in the Assembly, it is not complete proportionality. A change in the electoral system is once again properly the domain of manifestos. I would also like to note a recommendation by the Richard commission report that was accepted at the time by several of the parties in the Assembly but has not been implemented.

7.30 pm

Amendment 14, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, would increase the size of the Assembly by providing 40 Members of each gender but because it does not remove the proportional element it would mean there would be 80 constituency Members plus 20 list Members. The Assembly would have a residual element of proportionality but it would be overwhelmingly dominated by first past the post constituency-elected Assembly Members and would undoubtedly be a very different place. However, it would not necessarily look very different from the Assembly today in terms of gender balance. One of the great successes of the Assembly is that there has consistently been a good gender balance. In fact, there was a time when there were more women than men in the Assembly. We were therefore the only legislature in the world in that position.


Lord Anderson of Swansea: That was by chance and by choice of the parties rather than by statute.

Baroness Randerson: The noble Lord is seeking to guarantee that gender balance. I am normally very supportive of any initiative that increases the number of female elected Members but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, indicated, there would be an element of controversy. For example, if a female was elected as

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one of the Members and a male as the other Member, but the second male, shall we say, on the list had more votes than the winning female, or vice versa, there would be local controversy.

However, the main concern with this proposal is that it would reduce the element of proportionality. The offer of proportionality was intrinsic when Welsh people accepted the Assembly in the referendum. It was an integral part of what was offered.

The interlinked issues of the right number of Assembly Members, the optimum balance between constituency and regional Members and the system used to elect them need to be considered as part of the further step forward in devolution in Wales. If there are to be profound changes, there needs to be wider consultation. I know I will disappoint many Members when I say that I do not believe that the thinking behind these amendments is sufficiently mature for me to accept any of them. There needs to be further debate.

Lord Richard: Can the Minister go this far and say that the Government would accept in principle that the Assembly needs more Members?

Baroness Randerson: I can certainly undertake to relay the points of view put forward this evening within government discussions on the future of devolution in Wales. I understand that there are very clear and strong views. Although I cannot promise action on this issue in this Bill, I can guarantee that I will ensure that the views are widely known within government. I fully understand the issues that have been raised.

Lord Elis-Thomas: That means that we go into the 2016 election without an increase in Members.

Baroness Randerson: The noble Lord is possibly being a little on the cautious side in his estimate of how fast a future Government could produce a further devolution settlement. I cannot give any guarantees about anything that a future Government might do, but if this debate is taken forward and undertaken rigorously within Wales within the next few months, and if parties put something in their manifesto on the increase in the size of the Assembly that they believe is required, we can have a debate on the future shape of devolution during the general election that would enable a future Government to take this forward with considerable speed. I regret that there are a number of “ifs” in that answer, but there is no need for the noble Lord to despair of the outcome.

This debate must continue. It must include civil society and seek to engage the general public if the Assembly is to change as a result of the further devolution of powers so that there can be more Assembly Members. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Rowe-Beddoe: I thank the Minister for her reply and her summing up of a very interesting debate. I am still most concerned that devolved power as contained in this Bill will become law and more money will be devolved, more capital will go down, more

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tax-raising powers will come along and there will still not be a resolution for scrutiny. I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in her concluding remarks. I hope the Government understand that it is inextricably linked. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.25 pm.

NHS: Cottage Hospitals

Question for Short Debate

7.38 pm

Asked by Lord Naseby

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to assess the possibility of all cottage hospitals, both current and future, being established on a mutual model.

Lord Naseby (Con): My Lords, one has to look at this subject against the background of a Government who have taken through some of the biggest reforms that the NHS has had. On the whole, the analysis of those reforms is that basically they have gone down well, despite enormous challenges in the early stages. I say that because satisfaction levels for the NHS today are standing at a high level. It is to the credit of the Government that they have seen them through. Not least, they have provided proper money and resources for the NHS, as they said they would.

Nevertheless, one element is missing. It is the element that will provide the answer to the extreme pressure that A&E units are under up and down the country, basically because of rising demand for healthcare—which is not surprising when the population is increasing at the pace it is—and the fact that regardless of who is in government there will inevitably be tight budgets. That is what prompted this debate. Indeed, the missing link in our healthcare in this country is something that is not missing in much of the world. I say that having looked at a number of examples across the world, which I shall cite later. I refer to the cottage hospitals.

The reason why I was prompted to raise this debate at all was that back in April I used the 24-hour care telephone link and was asked to go to the Biggleswade Hospital, which is about five miles from where I live. I think that it was once a sort of cottage hospital; now the 24-hour unit is there, plus one or two other minor health services. It is in a pretty sorry state, quite frankly, and there have been numerous moves by the NHS to close it, but thank God it is still there. That is what prompted me to do something about this whole topic.

I asked myself whether there was a demand. Yes, there is. Are the public in favour? Yes, they are. Are the chiefs in the NHS in favour? Much to my amazement, when I did a bit of digging for this debate, I found that the new head of the NHS, Simon Stevens, said back in May—thankfully, after I had decided to table this debate—in his first interview:

“The NHS must stop closing cottage-style hospitals and return to treating more patients in their local communities”.

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So the leadership is there and they are onside—that is great. There is a need, plus latent enthusiasm. The question is how we make it happen, organise it and pay for it. What should a 21st-century cottage hospital look like?

What I want to hear from the Minister is that we are going to do some blue-sky thinking. First, we should look at the case histories from around the world. I have looked at Holland, where the Dutch have basically decided that it has to be the local municipalities that determine what each and every cottage hospital does. There is not a formula set up from above; it is totally up to the local municipalities, which involve all the local organisations to decide what they want.

Then I looked at Singapore. I happen to be vice-chairman of the All-Party UK-Singapore Parliamentary Group, so I know a bit more about that in detail, and how good it is to see the president come here next week. They do it differently but, basically, they look at real value for money and really push down hard to make sure that whoever offers the service provides good value for money. Secondly, they have appointed a specific Minister for Wellness. I think that there should be a junior Minister with responsibility for cottage hospitals.

What is to be the catalyst? It has to be the community where there is the ownership; it means a structure where the organisation has involvement at a local level. To me it does not matter whether it is the public sector in terms of parish councils, town councils or district councils. I want to see voluntary groups involved as well as local medical charities and organisations such as Rotary. But you still have to have leadership somewhere, which means that we have to find leadership within those communities. Perhaps that will come from some of the GP practices, or maybe not. Perhaps we can enthuse the Deputy Lieutenants throughout our counties, but we have to find it somewhere.

I move to the nub of the problem—money. We have to find external capital to set up these cottage hospitals. Of course, I accept that the NHS has to determine what the facilities are that have to be provided and to provide the framework and template, but there is no money lying around for more cottage hospitals. That is where, in my judgment, the mutual movement has something to offer. Back in the 1930s, the mutual movement was highly involved through the friendly societies in setting up healthcare and was the backbone of healthcare provision.

I chaired the Tunbridge Wells Equitable Friendly Society for seven or eight years, and we tried desperately to get into healthcare, but we were unable to raise the capital to do it. At the moment, there is one particular friendly society that is at work—Benenden Health. Interestingly, it has announced that it is going to run a pilot with a local healthcare trust to extend the support of the NHS into the community, but it goes on to say:

“Lack of access to capital prevents mutuals exploring this potentially more significantly at present”.

I ask my noble friend to encourage his noble friend in the Treasury to support my Private Member’s Bill, which comes up on Friday 24 October. That Bill is geared to mutuals and mutual friendly societies and their ability to raise capital; it is geared to deferred

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shares—in other words, to the community. Perhaps we as Members of this House as well as local MPs and all the other leaders in the community can chip in 4,000 or 5,000 as a family unit to get these cottage hospitals going. A market rate will be paid on the interest, but it is locked in there—and that is good, because you want families to continue their association with these units. It is a very exciting opportunity. I have had encouraging meetings with a fair number of mutuals and friendly societies which say, “This is the answer, because then we can raise capital”. It is brand new capital; it has nothing to do with existing capital in the NHS. Without disclosing any confidences, I have to say, having had a meeting with the Treasury this afternoon, that things look encouraging, but you must never count your chickens before they are hatched. But this proposal would allow the local community to run an appeal and have a legacy programme, and it would allow the local community to tap into either the national lottery or the health lottery. Perhaps it is time that we looked more closely at getting the health lottery locked into something local throughout the United Kingdom.

There are so many opportunities, and it is possible to make it happen. Of course, someone has to do the groundwork—and I suspect that the Minister will tell me who is doing the groundwork at the moment. Perhaps an organisation such as the Nuffield Trust should set up a task force involving certain of the mutuals, and there should be a specific Minister, perhaps from the Opposition, because this is totally non-political. But to succeed, we have to tap into the community. I do not know about your Lordships’ local communities; all I know is that it is perfectly viable, as far as I can see, in east Bedfordshire. We live in a vegetable-growing area of the country, and I can see people wanting to look after the ground, the flowerbeds and vegetable patches, growing tomatoes and so on. There is a great drive there, but we have somehow to unlock it, and that is the whole purpose of the debate. It needs a great deal of thinking outside the box, but the building blocks are potentially there. It is politically neutral, and I hope that the details will be the catalyst to make it happen.

7.48 pm

Lord Framlingham (Con): My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, on obtaining this debate and on his contribution to it, which I found extremely interesting. I agreed with every word that he said. I completely support the principle of mutualisation in our smaller hospitals, believing, as I do, that in medical matters particularly no one understands the needs of an area better than local people and the medical professionals who support and care for them.

I want to say a few words about the functions and funding of smaller hospitals, with particular reference to the possibility of direct public funding for specific projects. Along with others, as the then Member of Parliament for that part of Suffolk, I fought successfully to keep open Hartismere Hospital in Eye and, after its refurbishment, I was given the honour of performing the opening ceremony in 2012. Hartismere now provides a large number of excellent services for which everyone involved is extremely grateful. But this gratitude is tempered, at least in my case, by what it does not

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provide and what I had expected it would provide. Perhaps the clue was in the change of name. It is no longer called Hartismere Hospital; it has become Hartismere Health and Care.

Hartismere is 45 minutes from the nearest hospital—not from the nearest acute hospital but from any hospital. This was one of the main reasons for keeping it open. Your chances of surviving a stroke in Eye are a fraction of those you would have from within striking distance of Ipswich, Norwich or Bury St Edmunds. A stroke unit is perhaps too much to expect but we do not have even an X-ray unit. How can you possibly have a hospital that cannot X-ray patients? The other big reason for keeping Hartismere was to provide beds. We were assured that beds would be provided to give proper medical care for patients on their way into or out of the other hospitals—what are commonly called step-up and step-down beds. They went when the old hospital was closed. These beds have not appeared, and although beds have been made available in the nearby Paddock House care home, serviced by a community nursing team, it is not the same. It is really not as efficient—with great respect to all those who run the service well—and it is certainly not what was promised. A large care home development is planned for part of the hospital site and it is hard not to wonder whether the medical services provided and the needs of the local people are not coming second to the development plans. I feel sure that mutualisation— the kind of thing that my noble friend Lord Naseby talked about—would prevent this sort of situation arising and ensure that priority was always given to the medical needs of the local people.

I would like to tiptoe very gingerly on to hallowed ground. I say at once that I have absolutely no wish to disturb the current financial arrangements of the NHS. I am talking about extra funding for hospitals such as Hartismere. At the moment, the Hartismere Hospital League of Friends does a splendid job in raising funds but cannot possibly find the amounts needed on a regular basis to make a significant difference. The following are rough figures that I have put together. The two district councils in the catchment area of Hartismere are Mid-Suffolk and South Norfolk. The total number of households in these two areas is 100,000. If every household was happy to contribute as little as, say, £10 a year to Hartismere, that would total £1 million. That might well get the hospital an X-ray unit. It is the principle I am interested in. One pound per week per household would produce £5.2 million. Perhaps the Government could provide matched funding, in which case the prospect becomes quite exciting. To satisfy those contributing to the scheme, there would have to be some very strict rules. The money would have to go directly to the hospital and not come into contact with any NHS funds or management. It would be administered by a small team of mostly medical people and be used for a specific purpose. The households concerned would have to be consulted and give their consent. I feel sure that for the returns that would be received these amounts of money would be forthcoming.

The principle of taking small amounts of money from lots of people for their mutual good is sound and long established. Provided that consent is given and

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the scheme is soundly and tightly controlled, it could work; and at a time when the NHS is in a perilous state in many ways, this could provide a welcome boost for improved care in our smaller hospitals. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

7.54 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for raising this interesting Question. I enjoyed his heroic defence of the 2012 Act and the remarkable—and really quite dangerous—changes it brought about. I thought that today’s Times was an interesting read, and I recommend it to the noble Lord.

The role of cottage hospitals in the National Health Service is a very interesting question. We do not really call them that now; we call them community hospitals. It would be fair to say that they have had a mixed experience in the past few years. They are valued by the local community but are often at risk from the centralisation of services, and have tended to see their role downgraded over the past few years. Like the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, I was interested in the comments of Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, when he spoke about the experience of what he called running smaller, viable hospitals in other countries. I should be interested to know from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, what he thinks about that. Does he think that clinical commissioning groups should be encouraged to reverse the flow of services away from community hospitals into larger, centralised services? If he agrees, what attitude does he think that the regulatory bodies are likely to take? I am thinking here particularly of the Care Quality Commission, which has the responsibility of regulating all hospitals and care institutions.

I take it from the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Naseby and Lord Framlingham, that they would like to see an expansion in the services provided by community hospitals. However, that is unlikely to take place unless the regulator believes that it is safe to do so. I would be interested in the noble Earl’s comments on that. I have no doubt whatever that in terms of the current pressure on acute hospitals in particular, the more rehabilitative services and respite care that can be provided locally the better. Perhaps this could be an exciting role for smaller hospitals in the future.

As far as mutuals are concerned, I do not know if either noble Lord has read a report, sponsored by the Department of Health, called Improving NHS Care by Engaging Staff and Devolving Decision-Making: Report of the Review of Staff Engagement and Empowerment in the NHS. I do not know whether the noble Earl will refer to it but it is interesting because, on the one hand, it makes the point that,

“there should be greater freedom for organisations to become staff owned and governed, on a strictly voluntary basis, following detailed consultation with staff and staff-side trade unions”.

Clearly, some thinking is going on, which suggests at the very least that staff ownership—I know a mutual goes much wider than that—is one building block in the establishment of mutual organisations. On the other hand, I put to the noble Earl the comment made by the UNISON head of health—I should declare my interest as a member of UNISON—stating that there was,

“a very real danger that bringing the mutual model into hospitals will be a Trojan horse for privatisation”.

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I did not take it from the comments of both noble Lords that that was what they had in mind. I took it that they both saw mutuals as being a support to the National Health Service and that they would not envisage patients paying money to go to those hospitals, which would very much be seen as being part of the NHS—although perhaps not run as other NHS bodies are. I thought that I should raise that issue.

I should also like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Howe, whether another approach could be to extend the foundation trust model. I have just given up chairing a foundation trust where we had 100,000 members, consisting mainly of members of the public but also 11,000 staff members. As members, they elect the governing body of the organisation. The governing body in turn appoints a board of directors. I have found that to be a useful mechanism whereby the board of the organisation is locally accountable. I have found the regular meetings of the governing body to be one of the most challenging experiences as chairman because there was a sense of accountability to the governing body, which represented both the locality and the members of staff.

I wonder whether the noble Earl, Lord Howe, thinks that perhaps we need to refresh the governance of NHS institutions in a way that allows much more mutual ownership. If he agrees, does he not think that clinical commissioning groups are an area where we should start? In our debates on the Health and Social Care Bill, one of my concerns about clinical commissioning groups was that essentially they have no accountability to their local population. One way around this would have been to adopt the foundation trust governorship model. Although the CCG is essentially a membership organisation of general practitioners, it could have a much wider responsibility and accountability as well.

We are all interested to hear the noble Earl’s comments on this interesting issue. I hope that, at the least, we get a sense of where the Government stand in relation to the role of community hospitals in the future.

8.01 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, I first congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate. I know that the role that mutuals play within our society is a subject close to his heart, as he has indicated tonight, and of course the future of our hospitals is a subject of utmost importance to all noble Lords. Before I respond to the particular points raised by my noble friend, I should like to acknowledge the great benefits that cottage or community hospitals provide to those in their local area. I shall set out how the changes we have made to the NHS have provided protection to community hospitals wherever they are needed. Finally, I will describe the role that mutuals play in the delivery of our health services, including our community hospitals, both now and in the future.

Cottage hospitals, generally referred to as community hospitals, are local hospitals, units or centres providing a range of accessible healthcare facilities and resources. They can be invaluable assets that make it easier for people to get care and treatment in the community, closer to where they live. They allow large hospitals to

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discharge patients safely into more appropriate care, freeing up beds in major hospitals for people who need them, and they can reduce the need to travel long distances to larger facilities.

There are many excellent reasons why people are often extremely protective of their local community hospital. It may deliver a range of essential services, provide employment for local people and afford space for community groups. It is understandable that community hospitals are fiercely defended and inspire such loyalty. It is right that people think about their future place.

The changes that this Government have made to the NHS have given the power to local clinicians and patients to make improvements to their local NHS. Clinical commissioning groups, led by local clinicians, are now responsible for commissioning services. They are free to work out which services are needed and where they should be located to best meet local needs. I beg to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the accountability of clinical commissioning groups, which is real in the sense that they are accountable to NHS England for the outcomes that they produce and the plans that they put in place; they are accountable to the health and well-being boards on which they sit; and they are accountable to their local Healthwatch, which is the body that represents patients and the public in the local community. So I do not share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in that sense.

It may be helpful if I explain the ownership of community hospitals. Ownership of the physical premises of many of our community hospitals changed when primary care trusts were abolished. Some were transferred to local NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts. Other hospitals went to NHS Property Services, the Department of Health-owned property management company. I recognise that some noble Lords had concerns about these transfers when they occurred. We have been extremely clear that the conditions attached to these transfers mean that these hospitals will be retained unless local commissioners determine that they are no longer appropriate for delivering the local services that the community requires. As with all decisions about local patient services, it is right that these decisions are taken locally, taking account of local views. However, we must acknowledge that sometimes old infrastructure, although much loved, cannot keep up with the community’s needs. Changes in treatments and communities may require new and innovative models of care. Local commissioners should be able to explore a full range of options to ensure that services meet the needs of patients.

I now turn to the potential role that mutuals and staff ownership models could play in the future of our hospitals. However, I need to be clear from the outset that mutualisation is about the services that our hard-working NHS staff and their organisations deliver. It is not about the bricks and mortar where they work. I hope that will not disappoint my noble friend, but we are not considering the transfer of NHS property out of the ultimate ownership of the Secretary of State—unless, as I have said, it becomes surplus to NHS requirements.

Public service mutuals, as we define them, are organisations that originate in the public sector, deliver public services and involve a high degree of employee

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control. Over the last four years, this Government have worked tirelessly to ensure that citizens have access to effective and high-quality health provision. This is why we have broadened approaches to the delivery of healthcare, including through public service mutuals—a model which is revolutionising front-line provision and bringing benefits to staff, local commissioners and service users.

The Transforming Community Services programme, started under the previous Government, saw the separation of commissioning and provision within primary care trusts. As part of this programme, some organisations spun out of the public sector. We now have over 45 mutuals delivering community healthcare across the country, including in some community hospitals, transforming the quality of patient care through a more engaged and empowered workforce. To build on these successes, last year my right honourable friend Norman Lamb, alongside my right honourable friend Francis Maude, asked the highly esteemed Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund, to consider the options for strengthening the voice and the stake of employees in NHS provider organisations, always with the aim of empowering them to deliver efficient, high-quality services centred on the needs of patients. When he published his report in July of this year, he presented clear evidence that more engaged staff are linked to lower rates for some hospital-acquired infections and positive patient reports of dignity and respect. One study demonstrated that each increase of one standard deviation in levels of satisfaction was associated with a 2.4% drop in patient mortality.

We also know that mutuals can lead to greater job satisfaction, higher productivity and reduced absenteeism, and social enterprises and mutuals have a proven track record of delivering high-quality, responsive, cost-effective services. While there are significant numbers of mutuals delivering community services in a range of settings, a number of different opportunities and challenges arise when thinking about how these mutual principles can be applied to a wider range of acute hospital services where they do not currently operate. That is why, in response to Chris Ham’s report on staff engagement and empowerment in the NHS, we have established a pathfinder programme to support NHS trusts and foundation trusts in exploring the potential advantages of the mutual model. We have made available a £1 million fund to support a number of pioneering pathfinder organisations in understanding what mutualisation could mean for them and identifying solutions to practical barriers. We will use this pathfinder programme to explore and identify the benefits and risks of the mutual model in new areas of the health sector—which could include, but is not limited to, staff working in community hospitals.

I must be clear, however, that the establishment of a mutual model is not a panacea. Mutuals can succeed or fail, as can any organisation. Participation in our pathfinder programme, and any subsequent decisions by organisations to consider the benefits of the mutual model, must be on a voluntary basis, driven by the views of both staff and their patients and users in the local community. Therefore, while I can be clear that this Government understand the benefits of the mutual model and want to explore its potential across a range

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of health services, we do not anticipate that we would seek to roll this out across all staff working in community hospitals.

I now turn to some of the questions that have been posed. First, my noble friend queried whether we could look at international examples here. He may know that Sir David Dalton, on behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, is currently leading a review looking at new provider models. The review includes a detailed look at what we can learn from international examples, perhaps bringing those examples to bear in the NHS.

I was aware of my noble friend’s Private Member’s Bill. I am happy to take away his remarks and to discuss with my colleagues in the Treasury the ideas that he has put forward in relation to health services.

My noble friend Lord Framlingham, in his very powerful speech, signalled his concern about the paucity of facilities in some of our community hospitals and the threat of closure that might ensue from that. I hope that I can give him some words of comfort there. As I have indicated, the majority of NHS services, including those provided in community hospitals, are commissioned by clinical commissioning groups, so how those hospitals are funded is very much a matter for local determination rather than a national decision. However, NHS England expects CCGs’ commissioning decisions to be underpinned by clinical insight and knowledge of local healthcare needs, and that those decisions should have regard to the need to address health inequalities.

As I said, I do not think that mutualisation by itself would provide a panacea to prevent community hospitals closing. Where a community hospital is judged to be no longer viable—for example, because of the age of the fabric or a significantly diminished volume of services being provided—a change of organisational form or ownership alone is unlikely to affect local commissioning decisions. I shall come on in a minute to the issue of funding if I have time—although I suspect that I will not and that I will need to write to my noble friend further on that score.

My noble friend raised the possibility of external funding from the community, and I was interested in his remarks. Our view is that that kind of local levy should not be necessary. The Department of Health capital budget continues to rise in real terms, and indeed provider trusts are funded through the depreciation element of their income, with funds to cover their capital expenditure. Where trusts can prove their business case, the department will provide them with capital loans through the independent trust financing facility and may choose to provide public dividend capital directly in exceptional circumstances. Therefore, capital funding is available where it can be justified.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suggested that CCGs should be reversing the flow of services away from hospital. To an extent, I agree with him, although I think that largely we are talking about acute settings rather than community settings. Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has made it clear that there should be no national blueprint for this: CCGs have to be free to determine the services that they commission based on local needs. Of course, this

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issue does not bear upon NHS privatisation. Indeed, the pathfinder programme is there to explore the benefits of the mutual model and ways in which staff can be actively engaged. That is a million miles away from privatisation and, as I have said on a number of occasions, the Government have absolutely no agenda on that score.

In conclusion, as I have overshot my time, the Government have taken steps to secure the sites of community hospitals and ensure that they are used for the benefit of the community. Local clinical commissioners are best qualified to take decisions about the services required locally. We are supporting organisations that wish to explore in detail the feasibility and viability of the mutual model for their organisation or significant parts of their services and explore the benefits of mutualisation in a wider range of services within the health sector.

8.15 pm

Sitting suspended.

Wales Bill

Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

8.25 pm

Amendment 7

Moved by Lord Anderson of Swansea

7: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Role of National Assembly for Wales

All matters pertaining to the electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales contained in this Bill shall be subject to agreement by the Assembly before implementation.”

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, it is my pleasure to move my Amendment 7, which is that all matters regarding the electoral arrangements are subject to agreement by the National Assembly. The key phrase is,

“subject to agreement … before implementation”.

I am not personally against the following amendment, which will shortly be spoken to by my noble friend Lord Wigley, but I submit to him that my amendment is more likely to be acceptable than his, although I think that we are working to the same end.

Essentially, my proposition is clear and simple. It is as clear, pure and simple as the last amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe. In my judgment it is absurd that we should be laying down the rules relating to the electoral arrangements irrespective of the views of the National Assembly. Its Members are the experts in the field. They have the experience of fighting elections for the Assembly in Wales and the decision should be left to them. Even local authorities have a degree of discretion, which is currently denied to the Assembly. Without this, the arrangements are in the spirit of high to low—“We in Westminster and Whitehall know best”, almost as if in colonial times, when the constitutional arrangements were handed down like tablets of stone to the grateful people.

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Surely we are dealing with a mature and maturing democracy in Wales, where the representatives of the people should decide for themselves. However, if leaving it by Order in Council wholly within the responsibility of the Assembly is not acceptable, the next best thing—perhaps the more realistic alternative—is the one proposed in this amendment. Do we really think that we know best? Have we no trust in the Assembly? I leave this question to the Minister: can it be reasonable that we do not involve the Assembly, not as a matter of generosity but as a matter of law, in decisions on its own electoral arrangements?

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, I support the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has moved his amendment and am very supportive of its thrust. Amendment 8 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas transfers all responsibility for Welsh general elections to the Welsh Assembly. The provisions in it and Amendment 10 would mean that the Welsh Government could determine the electoral system used for elections to the National Assembly, as well as having control over the administration of those elections. It would certainly be my hope that, if the Welsh Assembly was granted such powers, it would vote to move towards a more proportional method of electing representatives. Plaid Cymru’s policy has long been for a form of proportional representation. I say that looking at Benches opposite and hope that they would concur warmly with that.

Any decisions relating to the electoral system would of course be up to the National Assembly for Wales to make. It would surely be a common-sense move to allow the Assembly to be in charge of its own elections, just as this Parliament is in charge of its own elections. It would once again strengthen the accountability of the institution and I hope that the Government will see the merits of this amendment.

8.30 pm

Amendment 17 quite simply would enable the National Assembly for Wales to make decisions based directly on the will of the people that it represents. Over the past 20 years in the UK, a number of referenda have been used to ask questions of the electorate relating to constitutional change—the devolution referenda in the 1970s and the 1990s are examples, as well as the more recent AV referendum.

Referenda are hugely popular in Switzerland and state Governments in the United States frequently use them, as do a number in Canada. There is a definite trend in that the public have grown more likely to want decisions to be made closer to home. A way of ensuring that decisions already within the Assembly’s fields of competence are made to best reflect public opinion is allowing that institution to hold binding referenda. A transfer of this power could be granted by an Order in Council.

Transferring the power to the National Assembly for Wales would allow the Welsh electorate to have more say in decisions which affect them. That is what democracy is about. In appropriate circumstances, which include issues that cut across normal party-political divides or are totally non-political issues, a referendum

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may be the only sensible way to resolve the issue. I believe that these powers would improve Welsh democracy and I urge the Government to give serious consideration to giving the Assembly such powers.

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, my noble friend Lord Anderson has correctly suggested that at the very least matters pertaining to the electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales should be subject to agreement by the Assembly before implementation. That sentiment has been echoed once again by the Presiding Officer in Wales. He noted that,

“in the Scottish settlement, the power to make arrangements about Scottish Parliament elections is now divided between Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State”.

Surely this is the very least we should ask for the Assembly. We echo that sentiment and therefore support the position of my noble friend Lord Anderson that the Assembly should agree to electoral changes and that these should not be imposed from Westminster.

Lord Elis-Thomas (PC): Amendment 10, which is in the name of my noble friend Lord Wigley, my parliamentary leader, and myself, is drafted again with the support of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, which has been widely trailed in this debate and which I am sure it appreciates. This is to find a way of ensuring that the electoral system of the National Assembly is determined by the Assembly itself. The Order in Council procedure would enable both Houses to debate this matter before the transfer of functions of responsibility happen.

As in our earlier amendment, this amendment would ensure that there would have to be a two-thirds majority of voting Assembly Members. I take advantage of this amendment to impress on the Government that there are more checks and balances in the regulation of democracy which can be established for a democratic body in terms of its autonomous function. The idea that legislation for elections can be regulated only by Westminster fails to recognise the importance of the two-thirds majority principle, which we have established significantly in the constitution of Wales over the past 15 years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Wales Office (Baroness Randerson): My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Wigley and Lord Elis-Thomas, for tabling these amendments. I begin by discussing Amendment 7, which provides that the electoral provisions in the Bill should not be implemented until the Assembly has agreed them. Let us look at the electoral provisions in the Bill. The majority of the electoral proposals are widely supported within the Assembly. As I said earlier, the initial move to a five-year fixed term for the Assembly, set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, came about as a result of a vote in the Assembly. In the Government’s subsequent consultation on a permanent move to five-year fixed terms, there was also unanimous support from the parties in the Assembly for such a move.

The consultation also showed widespread support in the Assembly for the move to ban MPs from also sitting as Assembly Members, although the Welsh

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Government did not believe that there was currently a need for legislation on this. The Government consulted on these changes. We listened to the views of those who responded and included these provisions in a draft Bill, which was subject to extensive scrutiny by the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee. Therefore, the Assembly has had the opportunity to express its views even though I freely accept that it falls short of the legal obligation that the noble Lords are seeking.

Amendments 8 and 10 would require the Secretary of State to publish draft orders within six months of the passing of the Bill, for the approval of both Houses of Parliament, to provide for the transfer of responsibility for elections to the National Assembly for Wales. It is worth noting that the Silk commission did not make recommendations in relation to Assembly elections in its part 2 report. I also note that wholesale transfer of responsibility for elections has not been devolved under any of the devolution settlements. Therefore, at this moment the Bill is probably not the appropriate vehicle for making such a transfer on a piecemeal basis for only one part of the UK, at a time when a wholesale look is being taken at the whole shape of devolution. If there were not work going on in the Cabinet committee at this time, it would be a more appealing argument. Having said that, I go back to the point I made right at the beginning of my responses: this is a response to the provisions of the Silk 1 report in large part and the Green Paper.

Lord Wigley: The noble Baroness refers to this being a piecemeal approach, which is apparently not appropriate. Would she therefore use the same principle that, when there are devolution proposals for Scotland, they would not be regarded as piecemeal but rolled out for Wales and Northern Ireland also?

Baroness Randerson: They are being looked at in the context of Wales and Northern Ireland, yes. Piecemeal means something different from having solutions that suit the individual countries. Piecemeal is when you pick one thing off at a time without looking at the situation in the round. There are some areas where I would fully agree that the situation is very different from one country to another, and it is appropriate that we respond in different ways. There are other things, such as the conduct of elections, where one needs to look in the round at all three countries and see whether one can have a comprehensive approach—the kind of comprehensive look that my noble friend Lord Thomas referred to earlier—to devolution.

The Bill provides for a referendum to be held on the devolution of a portion of income tax, among other things, and ensures that the decision of when and whether to hold this referendum is in the hands of the Assembly. It is important to point out that issues such as referendums obviously have an impact across the UK and need to be properly considered by not only the Assembly but Peers and MPs. In devolved areas there is already provision in Section 64 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 for Welsh Ministers to hold a poll in all or part of Wales to determine how any of their functions should be exercised.

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I hope that the work of the Cabinet committee on devolution will result in a less piecemeal approach to devolution in the UK, and I point out to noble Lords that the Secretary of State is working across the parties in Wales to achieve consensus on a more robust settlement for Wales.

The amendments, if accepted, would represent a fundamental change to the devolution settlement in Wales. It is therefore important that they are considered in the context of party manifestos for the 2015 general election, and I therefore ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: It is contended that this is a piecemeal approach and “not appropriate at the moment”. Frankly, the whole Bill is a piecemeal approach. The whole process of devolution has been piecemeal. Who can doubt that, following the result of the Scottish referendum, we are now in a new era? Everything has to be looked at again and this has necessarily to be piecemeal. I would not dismiss this sensible suggestion by suggesting that it is just piecemeal.

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, does the noble Lord consider that it is a sensible approach to say that the Bill, which for the first time introduces an important new principle of fiscal responsibility for the Assembly as well as borrowing powers, should be abandoned and we should go back to where we are?

Lord Anderson of Swansea: I have not argued for a freeze or for abandonment. I am suggesting that we are in a new era following a new context and that that context means we are indeed moving piecemeal, bit by bit. So far as “piecemeal” is concerned, I made the point in an earlier debate: what about local government? Surely it is because there is some relation to local government that we have decided to move in a piecemeal manner. Also, it is contended that “it is not appropriate at the moment”, which begs the question: when will it be appropriate? Why should not Wales be different? Scotland has been different for some time. This is an area where Wales could be different. In my judgment, it should be a matter not just of good practice that the Wales Office chooses in its generosity to consult the Assembly on such matters: it should be a matter of law.

Once upon a time I was a civil servant and I could, if asked, choose 1,001 ways of dismissing something. I fear that there must be a lexicon in Whitehall from which people draw from time to time. We have managed to use two of those phrases from the lexicon: “it is not appropriate” and “it is not appropriate at the moment”. That is not good enough. Nevertheless, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Amendments 8 to 11 not moved.


8.45 pm

Amendment 12

Moved by Lord Tyler

12: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

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“Franchise for Assembly elections to include 16 and 17 year olds

In section 12 of GOWA 2006 (entitlement to vote), at the end of subsection (1) insert “, or

(c) those who would be so entitled and registered under this subsection had they attained the age of 18 but who at the time of an election held under Part 1 of this Act are aged 16 or 17 years old.

(1A) For the purposes of this section, the Welsh Ministers must by regulation make provision for registration officers to take necessary steps to register 16 and 17 year olds.

(1B) Regulations for necessary steps under subsection (1A) must include, but are not limited to, those listed in section 9A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (registration officers: duty to take necessary steps).””

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, my noble friends and I are very pleased to lead on this group of amendments, just as we have led the debate on this issue for more than a decade. In that time, cross-party support has grown, not least for my Private Member’s Bill, which was debated in the House in October 2013. We are now pleased to have the support of the Labour Front Bench in both Houses.

Only the Conservative leadership remains unconvinced, and yet the irony is, of course, that it has been the Prime Minister himself who, through his agreement with the Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary and with Alex Salmond, has let the genie out of the bottle. The evidence for this change no longer lies merely on foreign shores but here in the United Kingdom. The new clauses in Amendments 12 and 46 within the scope of this Bill argue separately for extending the franchise for Welsh Assembly elections, and for extending the franchise for any referendum on future tax-raising powers for the Assembly, to 16 year-olds and 17 year- olds.

Sixteen year-olds will be liable to pay tax. Why, then, should they not be responsible, in common with their fellow citizens, for voting on who should levy that tax? We support, too, the spirit of the Labour Front Bench’s Amendment 18, which would extend the right to vote to 16 year-olds at Welsh local elections. Indeed, on these Benches we support the extension to all United Kingdom elections.

This cannot any longer be considered controversial. What would be much more controversial, having extended the franchise on the question of the utmost importance of one part of the United Kingdom in the recent referendum, would be to retract that and go back to a voting age of 18. Removing that right from voters who have had that right in the upcoming general election would be extraordinary—and very controversial.

There will be an important election next year. What could be more important than the future governance of our country? Your Lordships’ House will be familiar with the excellent work of Kenny Imafidon in his two reports on democratic engagement among young people. He has given me a sneak preview of his third report, which rightly concludes:

“If we do not let 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland as well as the rest of the United Kingdom, vote at our next election, we—the UK—will be the first democracy to enfranchise a group of voters, then take away their right to vote … for no logical reason”.

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I could not put it better myself. Enfranchising 16 year-olds has plainly been a triumphant success in one part of the United Kingdom. It is extraordinary to note that their turnout was very good indeed. More than 80% of 16 and 17 year-olds registered to vote. That itself is a record.

No one could claim that their enfranchisement dragged down the overall turnout. The referendum had a higher turnout than any election in living memory. We all saw on our television screens young people who had been engaged by the process and were ready to vote again. What a scandal it would be if some of them were denied that right next year.

International evidence also supports those of us who would extend the franchise to all elections. Eva Zeglovits from the Austrian National Election Study team tells us:

“Results from Austria show that turnout of 16- and 17-year-olds is in fact higher than turnout of older first-time voters and is nearly as high as the overall turnout”.

The argument extends well beyond the simple issue of turnout. If not turning out were a reason for disenfranchising a group of people, all sorts would lose their vote. Some of us might say that, if maturity is the test of whether someone should be enfranchised, many older people would find themselves excluded. Indeed, extensive analysis of voting intentions in the Scottish referendum tells us that it was middle-aged men who took an arguably more emotional and less rational view in supporting independence. They could be said to have been immature.

Of course, their younger and older counterparts, and women, were a great deal more mature in their attitude to that particular question. Meanwhile, recent opinion polls and parliamentary election results might just suggest that it is an older demographic that is the most irrational and immature, giving reasons that seem to show that they are prepared to gamble with the country’s future in an effort to stop the world so they can get off. I suspect that even in your Lordships’ House nobody would argue that such emotional reactions warrant removing someone’s right to vote. Yet somehow that same argument is allowed to go unchecked in relation to 16 and 17 year-olds, whom people wrongly write off as unable to make a rational choice.

Again, there is some international evidence here. The Austrian experience is instructive. The latest study, to which I referred just now, also finds that while political interest was lower among younger than older age groups, young voters still made an informed choice when they cast their vote. It stated:

“The congruence between attitudes and the vote choice of teenage voters is comparable to adult voters”.

I know that the discussion goes on: why should 16 be right and 18 wrong? One of the strongest arguments is that those who cast their first vote at 16 are likely to do so in the community where they grow up, where it means something more to them than, perhaps, when they leave home and go to a different part of the country. We make so much in this country of the importance of a local link between representatives and those they represent. I endorse that, as someone who was very proud to represent the North Cornwall constituency for a fair number of years. That link is a key pillar in the argument for votes at 16.

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In Norway, where they piloted votes at 16 just at local elections, the Institute of Social Research in Oslo found that turnout and interest is higher among 16 and 17 year olds than among the 18 to 24 year-old cohort. It says that two factors explain this:

First, 16 and 17 year-olds are more easily mobilised than their slightly older peers. They still go to school, live at home, and have not moved out of their local community. Second, the selected municipalities made considerable efforts to mobilise their young voters—this was also a prestige project.

It could and should become a prestige project here, too, with the aim of making a 16 year-old’s vote the first of many that they will cast through their life. Amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Roberts, along with the work done by Bite the Ballot, would also be crucial to that project, and to achieving success and extending the franchise. We will debate those amendments later this evening or on a future occasion.

We return from the Summer Recess celebrating that our United Kingdom is still united, and with an unexpected bonus. The referendum opened up debate about how our democracy works and blew away old assumptions about participation. The idea that the electorate is congenitally apathetic was confounded by the response of the Scottish people to a real democratic choice. For too long it has been our political establishment that has been apathetic, content to leave things as they are in the hope that a few middle-aged voters in a few middle England marginal seats would deliver one or other party a tired victory at each election. Well, no more. Extending the franchise is a first step to reinvigorating our politics, creating a seamless link between citizenship education, voter registration and then active participation in the electoral process itself.

Our amendments argue that we should do this in Wales, but we should do it in the whole of our renewed United Kingdom, debunking the idea that these basic rights should differ around the UK. We argue for an equal, constant right for all 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the election next year, the devolved elections after that and, certainly, in any referendum on the vital political and economic issue of the future of this country in Europe. This right should extend to all UK citizens with the responsibilities in society which 16 and 17 year-olds now bear. Any other outcome after the Scottish experience would amount to completely unacceptable discrimination—evidence of a disunited kingdom. Votes at 16 is a principle for which I and my colleagues have argued tirelessly. It is an idea whose time has come—now. I beg to move.


Baroness Gale (Lab): My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 18, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely. I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who made such an excellent case for votes for all 16 year-olds in all elections.

The Labour Party position is quite firmly that 16 year-olds should be able to vote in general elections. We believe that the time has now come for 16 year-olds in Wales to be able to vote in the Welsh Assembly elections. Ed Miliband confirmed at the Labour Party conference that there will be a manifesto commitment for next year’s general election, which will include a pledge to lower the voting age to 16 for general elections,

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as we pledged in the 2010 general election. That would allow more than 1.5 million 16 and 17 year-olds to participate in elections for the first time.

We saw how the 16 and 17 year-olds came out to vote in the Scottish referendum. The shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, has said:

“Despite warnings from the sceptics, 16 and 17-year-olds did come out and vote and engage in the big issues over the future of Scotland. This is all the more reason why the voting age should be lowered for all elections. It’s an idea whose time has come”.

Labour has been calling for a lowering of the voting age for some time. After the referendum in Scotland, there is very little reason why it should not be full steam ahead for all the elections.

The Welsh Labour Government believe that lowering the voting age would demonstrate a strong commitment to an effective democracy in our nation. Encouraging and engaging young people in this way would help to improve voter turnout, again, as the recent experience in Scotland has shown. Lowering the voting age would also clearly demonstrate to young people in Wales that they are being taken seriously and that their views will be listened to. The Welsh Government support and value strong, effective democracy and recognise that the involvement of young people in the democratic process is essential to achieving that. At present, 16 and 17 year-olds are deemed old enough to pay taxes, leave school, marry and join the Armed Forces, along with a wide range of other responsibilities. Why should they be denied the right to vote on how those taxes are spent, as well as on the direction of education, defence and other public policies?

However, the Welsh Government currently do not have the power to legislate on the voting age for elections held in Wales, as the UK Government retain responsibility for the conduct of elections and for the franchise. That is why the amendment is before your Lordships’ House tonight. While the Welsh Labour Government do not have the power to lower the voting age across Wales, in decision-making they encourage youth and pupil participation and have enabled them to have an important voice in our society. One example is the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011, which provided for the appointment of up to two community youth representatives to a community council.

In 2002, the Welsh Government established the Sunderland commission on electoral arrangements. It looked at local government electoral arrangements and recommended a reduction in the voting age to 16. Regulations from the Welsh Labour Government in 2005 also established school councils in maintained primary and secondary schools in Wales. They play a part in making key appointments, as well as implementing budget decisions and representing the views of their peers, which is part of learning about the democratic process. We have given that responsibility to younger people and they have shown that they can deal with it.

9 pm

The Welsh Labour Government have also ensured that duties are in place to promote youth participation in our democratic process via the youth fora. There is

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now a duty on local authorities to promote and facilitate participation by children and young people in decisions that may affect them locally. There are now 400 youth fora and councils in Wales. If the voting age is lowered to 16, the youth service could play its role in empowering young people to make an informed choice.

There is a strong case for 16 year-olds having the right to vote in all elections in the United Kingdom, but tonight, in this amendment, we are dealing with matters relating to Wales. As the Welsh Assembly has no legislative power in this field, it is up to your Lordships’ House to debate it and, I hope, to give full voting rights in Wales to young people. If that is accepted, it would mean that in the next Welsh Assembly elections in 2016, 16 year-olds would have the right to vote.

There is much support for the measure, and I trust that the Minister will agree when she replies.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. The noble Baroness has already set out how the Welsh Government have sought to increase democratic participation in existing public service structures, especially in the development of schools councils. I find that in my regular meetings with young citizens from schools and colleges who are interested in the development of democracy and who visit the National Assembly. We have a substantial programme, as I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, knows because she was there when all this was inaugurated, as was the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. Those programmes encourage people to participate by visiting but also by being electronically and digitally linked with the National Assembly and through school participation.

Before the Minister tells me that we should not do this in Wales because there is no precedent and that we should do it for the whole of the United Kingdom, I advise her that we are there already, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, said. We are already quite a few steps ahead in participation. I have received many representations from young farmers, youth groups, school students and college students who are 16 already and want to feel that they are the cohort now and that their successor cohorts can participate in the democratic process. I raise this as someone who once campaigned for votes at 18; I am very pleased to campaign for votes at 16; if I live long enough, I will campaign for a vote for my six year-old granddaughter.

The issue here is substantial. In the context of National Assembly elections, are we able, on the basis of the citizen programme and the democratic participation that we have encouraged, to take this further? I believe that we are.

Lord Rennard (LD): My Lords, briefly, I support the principle of the amendments as a long-time supporter of the principle that 16 and 17 year-olds should be entitled to vote. It is now 45 years since a Bill was passed that lowered the minimum age for voting across the United Kingdom to enable 18 year-olds to vote. Nearly half a century since then, there have been great changes in how society sees 16 and 17 year-olds. We are no longer a society in which you get the key to the door at 21, or even 18.

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Young people, perhaps through the use of social media, are often politically very aware. The excellent Youth Parliament debates, some of which have taken place in our own parliamentary Chambers, show that many 16 and 17 year-olds are as aware of many of the issues facing us today—if not more so—as many people who are rather older. I do not want this debate to be too stereotypical of UKIP voters, but I was amused by one man who voted for UKIP in the Clacton by-election last week because he was disillusioned with his MP, whom he had not seen since the previous election.

In contrast to this, some three weeks ago we saw 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland considering very carefully what might be thought to be an even more important question than that at any General Election: whether Scotland should be an independent country. After significant deliberation, probably to the surprise of Mr Alex Salmond, this group of young people, according to the polling evidence, decided that it should not. Tonight we are considering whether young people in Wales could be as responsible, and I say: of course they are.

Thirty-eight years ago I watched a 16 year-old William Hague address his party conference. He told his audience that half of them would not be there in 40 years’ time. I am not sure that he realised then that neither would he. However, my point is that it seemed a shame that he could speak eloquently from his party conference platform but not be able to vote in an election. I am the same age as William Hague, and at 16 I was secretary of the Liverpool Wavertree constituency Liberal Association. I was able to organise elections, knock on doors and suggest how people should vote—but not mark a ballot paper myself, much to my annoyance.

These amendments do not, of course, suggest that 16 and 17 year-olds will be made to vote irrespective of their political knowledge and interests, just that they should have the opportunity to vote. There are those who do not wish to see 16 and 17 year-olds voting. Perhaps they fear how those votes may be cast. A few years ago, the much respected columnist Peter Riddell cited opinion poll evidence suggesting that the best hope for the Conservative Party in the future would be to raise the minimum voting age to about 56. The average age of our Members is 68, but we should be able to show appropriate understanding of people in their late teens, encouraging them to participate in our democracy and to engage in the process through which laws will be made in Wales and elsewhere.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): My Lords, we live in an ever changing world. One thinks back over the last year and the issues that we have debated in this House, be it assisted dying or gay marriage, and it is clear that we live in a world that is changing very fast. What do we want of young people? Do we want passion? Do we want interest? Do we want commitment? If we want those things, the way to get them is to reward them with our confidence. I have worked in schools where I have seen members of orchestras who are suddenly given an extraordinary responsibility to their colleagues: they have, if you like, to play as a team. This is also true of sport.

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I have no doubt that many 16 and 17 year-olds want this responsibility. It helps them to grow up, to mature. I say to those who suggest that there are many who are irresponsible—of course there are; that is true of any age group, as we have heard—that I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, just implied, which is that those who are really irresponsible and not very interested simply will not bother to vote. We are talking about those who are interested, and possibly about making those who might be interested more interested, so I wholeheartedly support this amendment.

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, I am very grateful for the contributions to this debate. Amendments 12 and 46 in the name of my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and Amendment 18 in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Gale and Lady Morgan of Ely, would reduce the age of voting in an election to the National Assembly for Wales, and any referendum held under Clause 12, from 18 to 16. I thank noble Lords for a really interesting debate on an important issue which has certainly captured the public’s imagination, particularly that of young people. The passion when my noble friend Lord Tyler spoke was very appropriate to the topic because it has aroused so much interest and it has, more or less, come from nowhere in terms of public awareness and debate. It might not have engaged members of the public very much but Members in both this House and the other place have strongly held views on this issue. We have had agreement here this evening but there was a Backbench Business Committee debate in the other place in January of this year, which aired the often opposing views on this issue.

Amendments 12 and 18 would apply only to elections to the Assembly. I am aware that my noble friend Lord Tyler currently has a Private Member’s Bill before this House, which would apply these provisions to the whole of the UK. I commend him for adjusting his amendments for Wales to ensure that they are within scope of this Bill. Labour’s Amendment 18 also attempts to introduce a voting age of 16 but it is technically deficient because it refers to parish elections in Wales. Of course, we do not have parish elections in Wales but community council elections.

Amendment 46, in the name of my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Thomas of Gresford, provides for voting by 16 and 17 year-olds in a referendum held under Clause 12 on devolving powers over income tax to the Assembly. The events in the recent referendum in Scotland are obviously of intrinsic importance here. A consensus appears to have developed within the Scottish Parliament, across parties, that the voting experiment was a success and should be continued. There is interesting work to be done in assessing the lessons of including 16 and 17 year-olds in that referendum. The Electoral Commission is undertaking work at this moment and will be producing a report which will deal with this as part of its coverage of the referendum.

The Government are committed to increasing democratic engagement and registration across the UK. They are very much at one with, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on the importance of systems of education which encourage young people

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to be responsible and take an active part in civic life. As someone who has spoken often over the years on the issue of votes at 16, I think that the fears of people who oppose it are that 16 year-olds might vote in strangely different ways. Actually, the Scottish referendum showed that 16 and 17 year-olds vote very much in the same pattern as older people. There is certainly a fascinating and probably a very vigorous debate to be had and I hope that that public debate will take place, above all by including young people. It should be a debate including young people rather than about young people. That is the key thing for the future.

Ideas are moving fast and I find it heartwarming to hear reports of so much support for ideas which I have spoken about over many years. I have been disappointed only on occasions that young people have lacked confidence in their ability to participate, but the important thing that my noble friend Lord Tyler pointed out is that young people can be brought along with the voting process more easily. The word he used was “mobilised”. They are often still in education and usually living at home. They are therefore easily accessible for people campaigning in elections.

Having said all that, I shall say what I say every time: this is clearly not an issue for this Bill and I will listen with interest to the debate in future. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

9.15 pm

Lord Tyler: My Lords, until the last few seconds of my noble friend’s contribution I thought that we were going to have a very nice end to the evening. I have heard in this House and in the other House the doctrine of unripe time so often that it is frankly getting rather boring.

I remind my noble friend that in the House of Commons debate to which she referred there was actually a majority in favour of making this change. What is different about this issue compared with a number of the others discussed earlier in the evening, all of them important, is that the clock is ticking on this one. Those young 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland will in a matter of eight or nine months be denied the opportunity to use their democratic right again. The clock is ticking on this. We cannot say that it can be easily delayed and dealt with in other legislation, and that it is premature. The vote in Scotland means that we have to adopt the wholesale approach and avoid the piecemeal one to which the Minister has been referring. We have to make progress on this one. The initiative has already been taken in Scotland, with support across all parties. That is what is different about this issue.

I know that the Minister’s sympathies are entirely with us on this, but I must warn her that she should warn her colleagues in the coalition that this issue is not going to go away. It will come back on Report in your Lordships’ House. If we are able to make sure that it does, it will come up again in the other House. The time has come for this issue. It cannot be delayed. Nevertheless, for the time being I am happy to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 12 withdrawn.

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Clause 2: Removal of restriction on standing for election for both constituency and electoral region

Amendment 13

Moved by Lord German

13: Clause 2, page 2, line 1, at beginning insert—

“( ) for subsection (4) substitute—

“(4) The list must not include more than six persons (but may include only one).

(4A) The list of those persons so nominated shall be printed on the regional list ballot paper.””

Lord German (LD): My Lords, I hope that this amendment will be quite straightforward. I hope to make the case that this Bill is the right Bill at the right time for dealing with this matter, as I will explain.