Noble Lords might be aware that I was an Electoral Commissioner. I served in the group of commissioners appointed by political parties. I saw at first hand how the commission tested the question for the referendum in Wales on additional powers. It then tested the question for the referendum in Scotland. There were concerns that the original question proposed by the Scottish Government was unbalanced and led you in a

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particular direction. When we did our research and published our report, its recommendations were accepted fully by the Scottish Government and, after that point, the question itself was never an issue during the campaign.

Our Amendment 44 gives a role to the Welsh Language Commissioner. It is important that, in constituencies in Wales, Welsh speakers be given a translation of the question that both they and we are confident about. That shows proper respect for the Welsh language and Welsh speakers. Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, just changes the order of the wording, and we are happy to support it.

In previous debates, the Minister has said that the testing of the question will be undertaken by a professional supplier and completed by the 2015 general election. If they do not plan to use the Electoral Commission for this, will he clearly tell the House why not and whom they are proposing to use? It has the experience and expertise for the job: why would they go elsewhere? If the Government choose to go elsewhere, will there be additional costs to the taxpayer? Why are the Government not following the procedure adopted to test the question in the Scottish referendum, which involved getting the question right, with the result that it never became an issue: people focused on the actual question itself, rather than on the wording of the question? I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Colwyn) (Con): If Amendment 40 is agreed to, I will be unable to call Amendments 41 to 43 because of pre-emption.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I have been thinking very carefully about this idea of the wording in the Bill. As the wording is in the Bill, someone who gets the petition has the choice either to sign it or not to take part in the petition process. In other words, it is a one-way process. There is no opportunity for someone who is against the recall of the MP to say, “No”. Why can we not have a straight yes/no question? That is what democracy is about.

The issues surrounding the recall of an MP will generate much excitement—if that is the right word to use—about the behaviour of the MP, sticking strictly to the three triggers, whichever one is to be used. There will be a tremendous bandwagon: there will be no possibility of the MP defending himself or herself. How is that feeling to be translated? The MP who is faced with this petition may well be extremely popular. There is no possibility of that popularity being translated in any shape or form in the petition—and, as we come to in a further amendment, with the proportion of the electorate that is to take part. But it is all one-sided. I cannot see how this can in all senses be fair or sensible. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment so at least there will be further discussion about how the process might go.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, I respectfully suggest to the House that the suggestion and proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is an excellent one. I was thinking about the problem raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Martin, in that there were two principles that were diametrically opposed to each other. One was the principle of the innate secrecy of

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the ballot; the other was the principle of the innate public nature of the petition. The answer and the compromise may very well be in the sort of suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. What would be wrong in having two questions—yes or no? You would have a hybrid; it would be something of a ballot and something of a petition, but you would be free from many of the disadvantages that would attend a situation where the fact of having voted would mean that you had voted only one way.

Lord Howarth of Newport: When the Minister replies, will he explain to the Committee why the Government have not, apparently, involved the Electoral Commission in this process? It is so obviously the organisation equipped and tasked to deal with matters of this sort and it is a mystery why it is not more fully involved here and in other aspects of the procedure. The commissioners are not normally shrinking violets. I even wonder whether the Electoral Commission, in taking the view that this is a thoroughly ill founded measure, has declined to play a part. I do not know, but in any event is it not really reckless to put the definitive wording of the petition in the Bill before it has ever been tried? If it turns out in practice to be inadequate, everybody will be in very great difficulty and primary legislation will be needed to change it.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I hesitate to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has come to the debate a little less well prepared than he sometimes is. I have here the Electoral Commission’s briefing of 13 January for Committee, which does indeed remark on the consultations that it has had with the Government on the Bill. It says:

“Whilst the Commission has given informal advice on the current wording of the petition card and signing sheet based on our experience of testing referendum questions, we have not undertaken any user-testing of the wording. We understand that the Government plans”—

as has already been said—

“to user-test both the petition card and signing sheet with members of the public”.

It goes on to say:

“We are not persuaded that this amendment is necessary, given that the wording of the petition signing sheet can already be amended by regulations”.

The Electoral Commission has not been left out of the process, as one would naturally expect.

Lord Howarth of Newport: That is just what I said. It has been only informally consulted. I do not understand why it has not been given a formal role in this process.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Electoral Commission unavoidably has a formal role throughout this process and has been consulted throughout. Informal consultations are part of the formal process. We need not batter about words too much. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, that an election or a petition process that generates such excitement would be a joy to many of us. Part of the pleasure, in a sense, of the Scottish referendum was that it did indeed generate a great deal of excitement.

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It is the nature of a petition that a petition is one-sided. The noble Lord, Lord Martin, remarked that petitions are petitions—they are not elections. I hesitate to suggest that some wish to turn the recall petition process itself into the by-election that may or may not follow.

I will speak first to government Amendment 43, which would make a small change to the final sentence of the wording to appear on the petition signing sheet that is set out in Clause 9(4). The signing sheet must include this specified wording, as it explains to the eligible constituent that they are signing the petition for their MP to lose their seat and for a by-election to be held.

During debates in the other place, it was suggested that the wording could be improved in relation to explaining when a by-election would not take place. The Government agree and therefore this amendment responds to the debate in the other place by making it easier for the elector to understand that the MP will not lose his or her seat and a by-election will not be held if less than 10% of the registered electors in the constituency sign the petition.

The wording of the petition signing sheet was developed with input from the Electoral Commission before the Bill was introduced, but we have a power to amend the formulation in regulations if that proves necessary after undertaking user testing of the signing sheet and notice of petition with members of the public. In doing this, it will be possible to confirm whether the formulation that we have best serves constituents’ understanding. I repeat that the Electoral Commission was happy with the proposals as set out in the Bill.

Amendments 40 and 44 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, would remove the specified wording of the signing sheet from Clause 9 and replace the power to amend that wording through regulations with a power to set the wording in regulations following further consultation with the Electoral Commission and the Welsh Language Commissioner. The signing sheet must include wording specified in Clause 9, which explains to the eligible constituent that they are signing the petition for their MP to lose their seat and for a by-election thereafter to be held.

There is value in the appearance of the wording in the Bill, as it has allowed MPs to express their views on it. This mirrors the position for UK parliamentary elections, where the form of the ballot paper appears in primary legislation, the Representation of the People Act 1983, but may be amended through regulations that must be approved by a resolution of both Houses. No amendments were tabled in the other place to remove the wording outright, but an amendment was tabled to improve it, so I think we should be mindful of that when considering this issue.

A further modest but worthwhile advantage of the appearance of the signing sheet’s wording in the Bill is that future changes made to it would then be reflected in the text of the parent Act, which helps to make the law as clear as possible for petition administrators, parties and campaigners.

On consultation with the Welsh Language Commissioner, I can assure the Committee that the Government will prepare a Welsh translation of the wording in secondary legislation, as is the practice at other statutory polls, using a power and following a principle established in

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the Welsh Language Act 1993. This translation will be subject to user testing in the same way as the English version. I hope noble Lords are aware that, throughout this Bill, we are following as closely as possible comparable regulations and comparable legislation in other Acts concerned with our democratic process.

As is usual practice, we will consult the Electoral Commission’s Welsh language experts to ensure that the translation is accurate and will accommodate any changes identified through user testing. One of the amendments suggests that, in addition to consulting the Electoral Commission, the Minister should consult the Welsh Language Commissioner. The Welsh Language Commissioner has an important role in promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language, but it has not been standard practice at elections to consult the commissioner directly on Welsh translations of voter-facing forms and notices.

In summary, I believe that it is important that the wording of the petition appears on the Bill but that it is user tested and commented on to ensure that any improvements that are identified can be made. For these reasons, I hope that I have persuaded the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I asked the Minister who would do the testing if was not to be the commission. He has not answered that point.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I apologise. I do not have that detailed information at my fingertips, but I will write to the noble Lord as soon as I can.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Will the Minister make something clear? If it is in the Bill and the Bill is enacted, it is too late for the Electoral Commission to use a test and find out that it is not a good question, is it not?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord was listening carefully. I apologise if I did not speak clearly enough for him to follow my argument. The process for the ballot form—and now for the petition form—is that it appears in the Bill so that MPs can reflect on it, but that it is open to amendment by regulation. In the Bill, we are following what already exists in the Representation of the People Act.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank the noble Lord for his response. I look forward to receiving his letter on the matter that I raised. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 40 withdrawn.

5.30 pm

Amendment 41

Moved by Lord Hamilton of Epsom

41: Clause 9, page 7, line 1, leave out “10%” and insert “20%”

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Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con): My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 41 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Hughes, and myself, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for allowing me to move it.

I have always taken the view that this Bill is a lot more about organisation than it is about indignation. I believe that with a bit of organisation, it would be very easy to get 10% of an electorate to sign a petition. The only way that we can illustrate this is by taking a particular constituency and going through the process. If your Lordships will forgive me, we will have to consider a rather hypothetical situation. The constituency is not hypothetical; it is Richmond Park.

As your Lordships will know, Richmond Park was won at the last election off the Liberal Democrats by my honourable friend Zac Goldsmith. As it happens, Zac Goldsmith thinks that the Bill is a little mouse of a Bill. He thinks that it is a pathetic attempt at recall. He wants recall of MPs on demand. Perhaps when he has read the Official Report of this debate, he may have second thoughts. In the 2010 election, he won the Richmond Park constituency with a majority of just over 4,000, with just under 50% of the vote. The Labour Party polled 5% and UKIP just over 1%.

I shall hypothesise—please do not challenge me on the hypothesis; I am just trying to create a scenario on which we can pin the recall process. Let us say that in the 2015 election, Mr Goldsmith’s majority improves, the Liberal position declines, Labour comes up a little bit and UKIP comes up substantially. I will not go any further than that. Oh, and by the way, there is a Conservative minority Government in power. In two years’ time, the Conservative minority Government are having very serious problems. They are wrestling with renegotiation with Europe and they have the new tranche of austerity measures to push through, and that is not making them in any way popular in the country. They have already lost two by-elections and done badly in another one.

Then the whole question of recall for Mr Goldsmith comes up. I apologise to him; there is no question of him being recalled; we just have to hypothesise that he is. Then comes the question of the petition. Of course, those who believe passionately in the Bill, such as my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, think that it is all about the indignation of the people who live in Richmond Park. It is nothing of the sort. The people who will decide whether there is a by-election are down the other end of the corridor. They will make that decision on the basis of whether they think that there is a good chance of winning the by-election.

They will all get together. I suspect that it will be a clandestine meeting in some room either in the Palace of Westminster or outside. It will be made up of what I shall refer to from here on as the unholy alliance.

The Liberal Democrats will not be part of a coalition, because there is a minority Conservative Government. They think that it is about time that they started winning by-elections again, and of course they came second in the constituency. I see my noble friend Lord Rennard in his place. Is this moment not made for

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him? This will be the moment when he is rehabilitated in the Liberal Democrats, because this is a wonderful situation for him.

UKIP is also very keen on having by-elections, because it thinks that it has a very good chance of winning them as well. I am not sure that Labour will have much of a dog in this fight—it may have—but it would be wonderful for Labour if the Tory lost his seat, whoever won it. So there will be an unholy alliance sitting around that table. They will say, “What we want in this constituency is 100 volunteers to come in”. I go back to our previous discussion: we need only two weeks for this, we do not need eight weeks; two weeks is quite enough.

I apologise at this moment to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I rather rubbished the idea that money would play a role in this. I take it all back: money will be very important. Let us hypothesise again that the decision has not yet been taken on the third runway at Heathrow and that the people who are very keen on it have found Mr Goldsmith quite a pain on all this, because he opposes it vociferously. So they come trotting along and say, “Would you like some financial help with this by-election?”. “Oh, yes please”, says the unholy alliance, “I tell you what we would really like. We would like 25 upmarket chauffeur-driven cars for the fortnight of this campaign. We want to have them on call at any time so that our canvassers can ring up and call them to any house or anywhere else”. Actually, it also might be a good idea if they hung around outside schools when the mothers were coming out, with two cars already sitting there. Canvassers could say to the mothers, “Look, if you sign this petition, you can go for a lovely trip with your children in this car”. You would pile two or three of them in. You would get six names there without any trouble at all.

The electorate of Richmond Park in the 2010 election was just under 78,000. I shall hypothesise, without any justification at all, that that rises to 80,000. The only reason why I do that is that I believe in round numbers because they make life a little simpler. So we need 8,000 names in Richmond Park. We have 100 volunteers. That is 80 signatures from each volunteer. They are on the scene for a fortnight, so that is 40 signatures a week per volunteer. Heavens, if they are going to operate for 40 hours, that is only one signature an hour. Come on, I am sure that any one of us could get one signature per hour for that petition.

So that comes back to the point that if this ever happens, it will be nothing to do with constituents in a state of revolt; it will reflect the degree to which people outside the constituency organise them into deciding on the by-election and signing up to the petition.

Let me speak also to my amendment, Amendment 51, which says that if we believe in any fairness whatever, it should be possible to counterpetition. That would also, incidentally, answer all the problems raised by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, about the confidentiality of the vote. If it became possible to have both the counterpetition and the petition for a by-election on the ballot paper, when someone walks into the signing centre, or whatever it is called, you would not know which way they had signed. That would cover that whole problem.

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It would also, let us face it, be much fairer if a Member of Parliament was allowed to counterpetition. It might mean in certain circumstances that the by-election never happened, in which case it would save everybody money anyway. I hope that my noble friend will seriously consider those proposals.

Lord Snape: Has the noble Lord reflected on the fact that he has just undermined the very good case that he has just made? If the second amendment, Amendment 51, is accepted and if, as he said, it is all about money, Mr Goldsmith would have no difficulty in retaining the seat, because there would be far more people signing the petition to keep him than to get rid of him.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Mr Goldsmith would be in a very strong position to hire his own fleet of cars, absolutely. I must confess that the other weakness that the amendment raises is that on the pathetic threshold of 10%, both sides may get 10%, in which case there would be an interesting stalemate to which I do not know the answer.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, the percentage of people required to trigger the by-election is certainly a very serious matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, has said, the issue of recall will probably not be decided by the constituents themselves, although they are the ones who will sign the petition. It will be decided, first, in the Procedure Committee. Weaning the Procedure Committee away from a quasi-judicial function will be sorely tempting but we do not want that to happen. Secondly, not even they by themselves will decide which particular trigger will be invoked. The decision will largely be governed in the boardrooms which the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, probably attends quite frequently. The editors of the national press will latch on to this as a good idea, as something which the public have been anxious for.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who is temporarily not in his place, seemed quite taken by the fact that I said that a recall petition would generate great excitement. I perhaps chose my words badly—I should perhaps have said great activity, rather than excitement. By and large the discussions in your Lordships’ House have been sober, serious, not entirely dispassionate but, in the tradition of your Lordships’ House, have looked at matters carefully and seriously. Alas, the real world outside is not like this place—it is going to be governed by people’s particular prejudices.

I do not want to rehearse the speech that I am going to make later about the debate but, in relation to the way in which MPs are perhaps no longer free from the scrutiny as they once were, I remember one Friday in the other place when we were discussing a repeal of the Steel abortion Bill. It was a very difficult subject. Whichever side of the argument one was on, it was controversial. In some constituencies it is hugely important.

I was in the Lobby with a colleague who was unhappy about voting against the amendments to the Steel Bill. He said that he believed that the amendments should not be passed and the Bill should be left more or less as it was, but he was concerned about what might happen back home. I said, “Well, don’t vote. Stay

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out of the Lobby”. He said he would have to vote because it was the right thing to do. So we went through the Lobby and we voted. When we passed the Tellers, he almost turned to jelly. He said, “I’ve lost my seat. What am I going to do? It’s dreadful—I’ll be hounded out of the constituency”. I told him to nip into the other Lobby and cancel his vote out.

How did I know that that was possible? I knew because my then pair, the late Iain Sproat, had asked me if I would time-pair with him so he could take his wife out to dinner and I agreed. I was in the Library reading—a euphemism for having a snooze—and the Division Bell went off in the Library. My wife says that even now after I have been out of the Commons for 17 years, when the alarm clock goes off in the morning, I throw the blankets off, shout, “Division!” and start running down the stairs. I got up and automatically went through the Lobby and then realised on that occasion I was time-paired. All of us who are former Members of the House of Commons know perfectly well that the greatest sin one can commit in the House of Commons is to break a pair. I asked what I could do and they said, “Nip in and cancel it”. I was in mortal terror for two or three days that the local press would discover it and make a fool of me, but they did not notice. So I had good cause to tell this colleague to cancel his vote out and he did. That much I can vouch for. In those days, we were not under the same scrutiny.

What has been said—and I cannot vouch for this—is that if someone in favour of abortion wrote to that colleague and asked how he voted, he could send them the page of Hansard which showed that he voted the way that they wanted. If someone was against abortion, he could send them the other page of Hansard. It was a wonderful strategy, except that nowadays, within five minutes of a vote being declared in this place or in the House of Commons, it is published on the internet. That sort of strategy would not work now.

5.45 pm

Issues such as abortion are such that they cannot be left out. Although this Bill is simply described as a recall Bill and it has been emphasised time and again by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that it is a conditional recall Bill, the fact is that once it is triggered, it will no longer be a conditional recall. It will become a de facto total recall Bill. Nothing can stop other issues being brought in to the detriment of the Member of Parliament concerned. What is even worse, of course, is that unless the noble Lord’s amendment about counterpetitions is accepted, it will all be one way. There will be no possibility of a change of mind. For example, over the eight-week period in the Bill, people could sign a petition quite early on, then have further discussions with colleagues or parents and say, “I made a mistake. How can I retrieve it?”. They cannot.

The actual numbers are very important because the smaller the number, the greater the chance of error. People say that it is okay because the MP can stand at the by-election, but this is all compounded by the fact—and the various discussions have made it clear—that in the event of an MP losing a recall petition, the chances of him getting the party’s backing to stand in the by-election are very low indeed.

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This is not just a Bill about recall petitioning—it is in effect about getting rid of an MP. It is very serious because no one could say that in their lifetime as an MP they had not upset somebody one way or another. The figure of 10% is far too low and it should be much higher. That gives us a better chance of getting a result. Without the changes to voting only one way, the dice are stacked against an MP who may have transgressed but not in a hugely serious way. I agree that someone who has committed very serious offences ought to be brought to book but we may be careful that the legislation is right so that it works. I support the amendment which increases the percentage.

Lord Finkelstein: I thank my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom for his serious and persuasive speech, and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his support for this amendment. However, in both cases they passed over the critical part of the scenario, which was otherwise very plausible. It is that the Member of Parliament concerned has to have triggered the clauses in the Bill before any of these processes could take place. In other words, they have to have been sent to jail, found guilty of breaking the expenses laws or been suspended by the Standards Committee for more than 10 days. In those very limited circumstances, the trigger would be operated.

When the trigger is operated, it is certainly true that politics will take place. People will make arguments, spend money and try to persuade other people to sign a petition. The choice that we have in this Bill is whether to have an extremely low trigger where it is easy to trigger recall but very difficult to gather the signatures in the petition, or, what has been chosen by the Government against the wishes of the MP for Richmond Park, to have an extremely high barrier before recall could happen but then a reasonably low barrier in terms of signatures. It is naturally a subjective matter, but I think that is the correct balance. I am sure this House would have a greater objection were it to be the other way round and we had followed the advice of the Member for Richmond Park. As we have gone through various amendments, we have often had the discussion as if the triggers did not exist and this was to be aimed at people merely on the grounds of their opinion. However, this will happen in an extremely limited number of cases where very serious wrongdoing has taken place and where the electorate are being given a chance to think about it.

There then comes the question of the counterpetition. The by-election constitutes the counterpetition and if the recall mechanisms—a very high bar—are triggered and a petition is gathered, at that point people who are against the MP being recalled would have the ability to pitch themselves against those who were in favour. At the end, we could add up who had more. A by-election is a much better procedure for doing that than what would otherwise be a sort of Heath Robinson mechanism of counterpetition. While I can see that this is a serious proposal and I understand that any figure could be picked, the balance between this very high barrier, which I think the House would prefer, when coupled with a relatively low number of signatures, is better than the other way round.

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Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Does my noble friend not accept my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s argument that by that time, the Member of Parliament would probably have been deselected by his party anyway?

Lord Finkelstein: It may be that he or she would be deselected by their party but I did not really understand the relevance of the argument, even though I comprehended what my noble friend was trying to say. A Member of Parliament can stand in the by-election caused by this trigger. I cannot, nor can any noble Lord, compel a political party or anybody else to support them in that by-election. If they have a good case and feel that they want to put it to a by-election, they can. It is not the business of the Bill, or indeed the mechanism, to consider whether they might hypothetically have the support of a political party in that by-election appeal.

Lord Rennard (LD): Will my noble friend not consider that a by-election cannot be an anti-recall petition in the 85% of constituencies where a majority of votes are cast against the sitting Member? It can hardly be an anti-recall petition when it is assumed that the number of opponents of the MP at the previous election normally greatly outweighs the number of their supporters.

Lord Finkelstein: I understand the point that the noble Lord is making. It is not a pure mechanism, merely on recall; that point has been made by other Members. But it is a better mechanism for testing the broad support for the Member than a counterpetition which, under this proposal, has only to reach 10% before it cancels the petition in favour of having the by-election at all. The by-election is a better mechanism for the Member of Parliament’s attributes to be debated and considered by the electorate than a counterpetition, which would not even have the merits of constituting the whole of the constituency.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, Amendments 41 and 51, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, both seem good amendments and I hope that the House will accept them. Amendment 41 deals with moving the petitioners’ threshold of more than 10% being in favour of a by-election up to 20% before the by-election will occur. That 10% threshold is nugatory. As the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, made clear to us in what I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, to have been a plausible scenario, it could be all too easy for a well organised campaign to secure that 10% of votes to precipitate the by-election. Indeed, if we raised that threshold to 20% the team that the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, envisaged would need to secure only two signatures an hour. That is hardly very hard work or a really difficult threshold to cross either, so raising the threshold to 20% is the very minimum upward movement that would be needed.

I very much like Amendment 51, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, because he would even the scales of justice. That seems sorely needed in this situation. With the procedure that the Bill proposes, we would otherwise see a Member of Parliament hung out to dry for a period of eight weeks, during which the media would engage in political blood sports and an animus

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against the sitting Member of Parliament would be all too easy for his critics and enemies to beat up. On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, argues that the Bill is tightly drawn and that only three triggers could precipitate this process. In every one of those cases, the MP would have had to have been judged guilty by his peers in the House of Commons of serious wrongdoing. I take that point but the noble Lord has asked us on a number of occasions to draw comfort from the fact that the Bill is thus tightly drawn.

I suggest that the Bill, without any of the Front Benches intending it to be so, will be a battering ram that will beat down doors through which Mr Goldsmith and those who think as he does—many people outside in the country will be egging them on—will seek to advance in the next Parliament so that they can introduce at least one more trigger, a fourth. That would transform the model of recall that we may be about to legislate into something much more like the American model, in which people who do not like the politics of the sitting Member will have the opportunity to use this procedure to unseat a Member of Parliament of whom they do not approve and whom they resent. That seems massively dangerous. If we are to establish in this legislation a model which could then be used in a much more wide-ranging set of opportunities, that is very dangerous.

The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, said that the by-election would itself be the counterpetition. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, offered some words of caution on that, drawn from all his enormous experience in the way that elections actually operate. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, indicated in his response to his noble friend, such a by-election will not be fought on the narrow issue of what the MP charged with serious wrongdoing has done. It will be fought, as all by-elections are, on a large range of issues so that the MP will be liable to be scapegoated for all the unpopularity of his Government—the brave Government doing the unpopular things that the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, described. That seems to be a formula for injustice and I hope that we will accept both these amendments.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I do not intend to go through all the arguments as I have dealt with them on previous amendments and they have been dealt with eloquently by my noble friend Lord Howarth and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, who did a splendid job in moving the amendment. I am not sure which Minister is going to reply. It will be good if it is the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, as we might get a straight answer. Perhaps, in his reply, the Minister could say why it is 10%. That is all I want to know. Why is it not 5% or 20%? My amendment has it as 20% because I do not want to make it too easy to unseat Members of Parliament, but it could be any figure. Why did the Government alight on 10%?

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I think that only these Benches could participate in these petitions since we have a right to vote in general elections, although there is a convention among us that we do not. I think that the last person who did so was Archbishop Runcie, who simply could not resist voting

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against Mrs Thatcher. He was found out and promised not to do it again, so there is a convention that we do not do it but we could.

As I have listened to the debates and read the previous transcripts, I have thought that there is a difference between the theory and the reality of what we are talking about. The theory that an MP would be subject to this petition, which would have reached the 10% or 20%, and that he or she would stand in the subsequent by-election backed by his or her party is pure make-believe. That is simply not going to happen but that is the theory and it is why a by-election would not be a counterpetition. It simply seems unreal that that is going to happen and, for that reason, there is therefore an argument for increasing the threshold from 10% to a higher figure. It corresponds to the reality of what we are talking about, rather than the theory.

6 pm

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I argued at Second Reading that this Bill would not achieve its purpose, which is to restore trust in politics. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the other place made exactly the same point. In fact, in some respects, the Bill could be quite dangerous. By focusing on sanctions to deploy in response to bad behaviour, it detracts from the need to encourage strong and positive leadership.

I developed the point at Second Reading that if it is a true recall, electors would be in the driving seat. By that, however, I meant electors—not just a small proportion of electors. I take the diametrically opposed view to that of my noble friend Lord Finkelstein. I would argue for low triggers but a high percentage of electors who would have to trigger a recall. I take the point that it should not be a small number of electors, who could be the opponents of the Member, just being able to sign up and trigger recall.

If someone is elected in a general election and gets 40% or 50% of the vote, I do not see why a further election should then be triggered by 10%, who, as my noble friend Lord Hamilton was arguing, could be comprised of supporters of the opposing parties. There is a compelling case for a very high threshold. To some extent, Amendment 41 might be rather generous in being as low as it is. I can see a stronger case for a much higher percentage. If electors in a constituency really want to remove a Member, I think there should be a much higher threshold. I would move in that direction. It would not achieve what I was arguing at Second Reading in terms of a proper recall vote, but at least it would make a bad Bill less bad.

I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Hamilton because there is a lack of equity in the arrangements embodied in the Bill. Although I do not think that allowing a counterpetition would necessarily restore trust in politics, it would probably increase interest in politics. It would allow voters who have a view one way or the other to get engaged. If we got that far, that would be the preferable way to go. But, as I say, what we are debating is amendments designed to render what is a fairly bad Bill somewhat less bad.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, this is a heroic attempt to create, as my noble friend said, a level playing field. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, would

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acknowledge that Amendment 51 could be tidied up but the objective or principle behind the amendment of trying to make some provision for fairness is an important one in a very extended procedure. We know about the time between the Speaker and the petition officer and then the eight weeks that is in the Bill which will all have been preceded by lengthy considerations in perhaps a court or in the committee of the House of Commons, during which time the only case that will be heard is the specific case against the Member of Parliament. During the eight weeks, if the Bill stays as it is at present, the drama, at least at constituency level, will be all about how many have signed so far, “Have enough signed so far? Roll up! Sign up! We’re nearly there”. What is the defence against that? There is no defence.

The principle behind Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, is an impeccable principle. I hope that the Minister, even if he does not like the particular wording of the amendment, will at least acknowledge the importance of the principle.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, I found the travels of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, around the highways and byways of Richmond Park interesting. When this Bill was first thought of, we were thinking it was going to be a Sheffield Hallam one with the NUS bussing in its students. So we have come further south from that early discussion.

Amendment 51 is interesting. As I said earlier, although I think the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, was not in his place at the time, the amendment could answer the queries that I had raised about whether the process is secret or effectively open. It is another way of dealing with that by allowing people to vote against and not just in favour of a recall by-election. It would certainly be a clearer option for electors who know that they have a choice. They can express that choice, having thought about the issue.

It is not, of course, what the Bill proposes so I am not able to offer support for it, particularly as it would negate a by-election simply if 10% voted against. You could have 30% wanting a by-election and 10% against. Under the amendment as drafted, the 10% would trump the 30%, which I am sure would not be a desirable outcome.

With regard to the increase to 20%, what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester was saying was interesting. From that, I might take the other view; if you get the 20% you have lost a fifth of your electorate. Effectively there will be no by-election. After having 20% against them, no one will possibly contest the by-election; so there would be a by-election, but not with the MP there. The purpose of the Bill, as it has been drafted, was that there should be the possibility of a by-election at which the MP refights that seat and tests the issue as to whether, despite whatever they have been found guilty of, they are nevertheless able to represent their constituents. My concern about the 20% is that it undermines the difference between a by-election and a recall petition.

I acknowledge that the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee recommended 20% but I do not think that we should pray that in aid given that it wanted no sight of this Bill whatever. I look forward

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to the Minister’s comments. The interesting thing is why on earth 10% was chosen and not 5% or 15%. The problem of 20% is that it effectively gets rid of the idea of having a by-election that the MP would fight. In that sense, it goes against the spirit of the Bill.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I have listened carefully and seriously to all the points that have been made. I know I am repeating this point, but it should not be forgotten that for a recall petition to be opened in the first place a Member of Parliament would have had to have committed serious wrongdoing and to have met one of the three conditions in the Bill. All of your Lordships know very well what those three triggers are.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, raised the concern that a future Parliament might do this or that with other triggers. We obviously cannot bind what another Parliament might wish to do. This Bill before us is about three triggers which involve serious wrongdoing. That is the right balance. That is the point which the other place had come to as well. We believe that reaching the figure of 10% of constituents signing the petition would show a significant level of support for a recall and would trigger a by-election in which the sitting MP could stand.

Lord Howarth of Newport: The noble Lord is invariably fair-minded. Is he really relaxed about and content with arrangements whereby someone could be subject to a petition by 10% of their electors precipitating this trial by ordeal, which would then take the process beyond the eight week period through to a by-election, while it is entirely possible that 90% of their constituents thought that there should not be a by-election and that recall was the wrong thing to do but have no opportunity under the Government’s proposals to express that view?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I understand that, of course, but the whole purpose of the legislation is for the three triggers to be for serious wrongdoing. If a Member of Parliament has been found guilty, convicted or suspended up to the level, it is a view that there should be an opportunity for constituents to decide whether there should be a recall and then, if a certain threshold is reached—noble Lords have made different points about the level of that threshold—there will be a by-election. It will then be for 100% of the electorate to come to a view about what they want to do for their future representation.

Lord Howarth of Newport: Does the Minister accept the very powerful point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester that in reality it is hardly likely that an MP who had been subject to everything that will have occurred in the run-up to the result of the petition would actually want to contest a by-election? Is he not actually being drummed out of Parliament through this process in a way that must leave the Minister deeply uneasy?

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The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, perhaps I may just add to my point. I take what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, and I can see the argument both ways. I do not think that any political party would support a candidate in those circumstances. Maybe I am misreading this but, given the dynamics of the media, I simply cannot see the reality of a political party supporting the MP in those circumstances.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I think this goes to the heart of the issue. If one believes that the three serious triggers for serious wrongdoing that have been set and agreed in the other place are to be adhered to, there would be this opportunity for the electorate in that constituency to have another opportunity. We are obviously at the heart of whether or not there should be legislation. The Government believe, as I think do the opposition Front Bench, that for certain conduct there should be an opportunity for the electorate of that constituency to have their say again on who represents them.

We have almost got to a point where I know that there are noble Lords who are very unhappy about the Bill, but the point is that the Government and the other place feel that there should be triggers whereby recall should take place. It is perfectly respectable for noble Lords to oppose this, but I am afraid that I disagree with the view that there should be no opportunities for recall—hence this Bill.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: I am afraid that the Minister misunderstood what I said. The recall provision can be triggered only if one of the three things is invoked—there is no question about that. It then goes to the petitions commissioner—no question about that. However, the Minister and I, and indeed all noble Lords in this place, know that the discussion that takes place during the 20 days or however long it is will not be about the trigger at all. It will not be a discussion about how well or badly the MP has behaved; it will be entirely about political matters not connected in any way with the triggers. That is the dilemma that we are in. I am afraid that the 10% level makes it all too easy for that to take place. It is not a case of saying that there has not been wrongdoing, or that it has not been triggered. The question is: what will be discussed during the 20 days? If there are 20 days from the moment when the matter is referred to the petitions commissioner, the debate will take place entirely outside the Member’s individual behaviour.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I understand that. That is why I say that it comes to a different view and a different impression of whether there should not be a recall because of the issues that the noble Lord outlines. However, I think that there should be opportunities, where there has been serious wrongdoing, for there to be recall. That was in the manifesto pledges of the three main political parties and in the coalition programme. We are getting into a discussion—which I respect entirely—with noble Lords who do not like this Bill, but the point is that the other place, the Government and the Official Opposition are of the view that there should be certain opportunities, with safeguards so that representative democracy is not thwarted; of course we should defend that very strongly.

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Lord Howarth of Newport: I am most grateful to the Minister, who is long-suffering. Even if we accept that there should be scope for recall, how does he, speaking on behalf of the Government, justify that a by-election should be precipitated on the say-so of just 10% of the MP’s constituents?

6.15 pm

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I will continue and I hope that it will then unfold. Obviously there can be moot discussion as to whether it should be 5%, 30% or 40%; all sorts of figures could be suggested. However, if I may outline a bit more, the by-election itself would determine who was the MP; the petition would simply trigger the by-election. So while it could be argued that 10% of constituents signing the petition could mean that 90% of them wanted to keep the MP, if that were indeed the case, they would have a chance to show that at the subsequent by-election.

On average—I think this goes to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was seeking to wrestle with me about why 10% was chosen and not 15%, 20% or 5%—a constituency has around 70,000 to 75,000 constituents. With a threshold of 10%, around 7,000 to 7,500 signatures would be required to trigger a by-election. That is one of the reasons why the Government came to the view that that was about the right number; it was a serious number of people. Increasing the threshold to 20% would obviously require between 14,000 and 15,000 constituents to sign in order to trigger a by-election. Again, this is a matter of balance, but there was a feeling that raising the level to 20% would make it more onerous for constituents worried about an MP after serious wrongdoing to hold that MP to account.

One can have all sorts of interesting discussions about what the right percentage would be. The Government set out 10% in the coalition programme for government, and that was the figure contained in the draft Bill and which the other place was content with as the correct level at which to set the threshold. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked me for a straight answer. Those are the sorts of considerations that came into it.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I apologise that I was not here for the earlier part of the debate; I was attending the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. I do not think my noble friend really understands the practical point being made, which is not about the merits of the Bill; it is that if someone finds themselves in a position where they are subject to a petition, they are already dead and their political party will no longer adopt them as a candidate. In those circumstances, they are not going to get elected. So, as was pointed out at an earlier stage in our proceedings, the sensible thing for any Member of Parliament in those circumstances to do, if they still have the support of their party, would be to create a by-election and stand as a by-election candidate.

By creating this procedure, if a Member of Parliament is subject to this procedure and they still have the support of their party, then if the threshold is set at the lower level of 10%, all the people who do not like

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the Member of Parliament because he is a Tory or whatever will be able to campaign and undermine him. So this does not actually deliver what the Government say they want, which is a procedure that allows the electorate to decide, rather than the party machine or the House of Commons, whether someone should be deprived of their seat in the Commons. It just does not work.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My noble friend is of course entitled to his opinion and has made the point a number of times about whether a party would reselect the candidate. I do not think that any of us can say, and it would depend on every circumstance that came forward. As I say, this is the Bill that is before us, and I think that the three triggers are reasonable. If they were not reasonable I would feel very uncomfortable, but serious wrongdoing is a point—

Lord Martin of Springburn: One point of clarification would help me. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, put the case that cars—and quite luxurious ones for that matter—could be used during the course of seeking petitioners. Can the Minister say whether there will be a financial limit on the amount spent for that petitioning purpose? In every other democratic system there is a limit, and a very strict one at that.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I thank the noble Lord for that point. We will come to amendments on precisely those sorts of matters, so I am grateful to him for raising that.

Those are the points on the 10%. I turn to the new clause proposed by my noble friend Lord Hamilton about the counter-recall petition, which would be available for signing alongside the recall petition. That would allow constituents to indicate that they did not want the MP to be recalled from the House of Commons, and for a by-election to be held. The proposed new clause provides that, if the counter-recall petition were to be signed by at least 10% of the constituents, regardless of how many people had signed the recall petition the MP would not be recalled and a by-election would not be held.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, raised the figure of 30%, but I will take it further. If up to 90% of the constituents signed the petition calling for recall, yet only 10% signed the counter-recall petition, despite a much higher percentage and overwhelming public support for the MP’s recall in this case—and I use a hypothetical case to show our concern—a by-election could not be held.

The proposals in the Bill are not for recall on any grounds. Although it is fully understood what those triggers are, a number of noble Lords have brought forward concerns about whether it was on the case of any grounds. These provisions in the Bill are for recall in cases of proven serious wrongdoing; I emphasise that deliberately because those are the triggers that would have to be met. Such is the seriousness of them that all those three triggers—

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: For the last hour or so, led by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, everyone has gone on about serious wrongdoing. We are talking

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about any period of imprisonment. When one appears before a magistrate, they can decide either to say, “Seven days in prison” or “A fine of £500”. It is entirely in the magistrates’ gift to do that. Some magistrates have political views as well, by the way. Someone could be put in prison for seven days instead of being fined £500, and this trigger would take effect. Is that not correct?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: The legislation is very clear that if a Member of Parliament were convicted and sent to prison for seven days, they would be deemed to be in breach of criminal law. The point of the legislation is to enable a constituency or the electorate of that constituency to decide by the recall trigger and then by the by-election. The noble Lord is absolutely right: whether the figure is seven days or 11 months, as one knows, after 12 months there would be a disqualification under the Representation of the People Act.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: That is an automatic disqualification—I understand and accept that. However, the situation is that the magistrate has discretion as to whether to fine someone or send them to prison. I do not know if the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, has been a magistrate; I have. That could be a political decision, which could decide whether to trigger the recall petition. Therefore if I was sitting in the court and a Conservative Member of Parliament appeared before me, I could say, “I’m not going to fine him £500—that would be pointless. I’m going to send him to prison for seven days and immediately trigger that recall petition”. Is that not correct?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I would be surprised if any magistrate did that—I think of the requirements to be a magistrate. The noble Lord was a magistrate. I would be very troubled if a magistrate put themselves in a position where they could be accused of taking a political decision. That would be a very serious accusation of the magistracy to think that it would take a political decision of that sort. I am also concerned about the suggestions about the Standards Committee that we heard. Those are very serious matters.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords—

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I will finish this—I am sorry. It would be a very serious accusation to suggest that people in public office who have very serious responsibilities, or those in the courts, were taking political decisions. I would be extremely worried by that. The Bill deals with the situation in which someone is imprisoned for up to 12 months when there is a trigger if someone is convicted. That would be a trigger, but it would not remove the Member of Parliament. If such a case arose, it would be very interesting to think what the nation thought. If it was suggested that a political decision had been taken by a magistrate, that would be a very serious matter.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I have great respect for the Minister, but I am afraid that he is exhibiting a little bit of naivety with regard to that. If he thinks back to some cases in the past, he will see that on occasions

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decisions have been challenged as being made for less than dispassionate and objective reasons, so that can arise. I am saying that it is very easy for that trigger to be pulled in that kind of instance: a seven-day sentence would initiate it. That is not—as other noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, have described it—a very serious wrongdoing. It could happen because of a series of parking or speeding offences, or some other matter. All sorts of things could trigger that—such as getting your wife to say that she was driving your car.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I am sure that the Government do not wish to prolong this debate unduly, but that is a very important point. In our society a dumbing-down effect happens because of a lot of legal provisions. I am thinking of suffragettes, who were sent to prison, or people who protested against nuclear weapons in certain circumstances. Alternatively, it may be about ethical issues where we have changed the law, such as same-sex relationships. One can think of all sorts of situations in which a limited period of imprisonment might well have arisen. If an MP thought that if that happened there would be a petition process and you would need only 10%, I fear that it would result in a certain dumbing down. Some issues here need to be carefully teased out.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: With the greatest respect, both to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes—and I have great admiration for both of them—is not the real problem that a person of unimpeachable character could be sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment for a motoring offence with regard to a momentary lapse of concentration over a span of two or three seconds? That is the reality—it happens every day.

I do not believe that the danger of judges or magistrates acting in a cynically political way is at all a real one. If Mandy Rice-Davies were alive she might say, “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”. But be that as it may, that is the real point. One is assuming that even a short period of imprisonment is of necessity to be regarded as a serious matter even if it does not involve moral turpitude at all, given that it is a serious matter from the viewpoint of the law, perhaps because of serious injury done.

6.30 pm

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that further contribution. The Bill is about these three triggers. The Government believe that they are the correct triggers for recall. Whether they are for serious wrongdoing or wrongdoing obviously is a matter of opinion; but the Government’s view is that these are three triggers that the other place viewed as being examples and the three triggers for recall.

I ought to make some progress on this. The intention of establishing the recall petition is to allow constituents to hold their Member of Parliament to account. We believe that 10% of constituents is the correct figure. In most cases that would be over 7,000 constituents. Under this Bill, the level of popular support that the Member of Parliament has would be properly tested at the by-election, not through a counter-recall petition.

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I am most grateful to noble Lords for this debate. The Government remain of the view that the 10% threshold is the appropriate level, and therefore I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: I am very disappointed with my noble friend, because I think that we proved very conclusively how very easy it is to reach this threshold. My other worry is that I suspect that this Bill is just a start for more recall Bills, given that—let us face it—people who believe in the recall of MPs are not remotely satisfied by the Bill and will be coming back with additional ideas of circumstances in which Members of Parliament can be recalled. In the mean time, we will have the 10% threshold locked into the Bill, which will be virtually unchangeable and, as I hope we have proved pretty conclusively, very easy to reach. However, although I am very disappointed with my noble friend, I will of course withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 41 withdrawn.

Amendment 42 not moved.

Amendment 43

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

43: Clause 9, page 7, leave out line 5 and insert “as a result of the petition and therefore no by-election will be held.””

Amendment 43 agreed.

Amendment 44 not moved.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed.

Clause 10: Persons entitled to sign a recall petition

Amendment 45

Moved by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

45: Clause 10, page 7, line 14, leave out “18” and insert “16”

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, Amendments 45, 46 and 48 are further attempts to try to improve the Bill, not to challenge it—although, as noble Lords will realise, I have some fundamental questions about it. I say to the Minister that, although I have tabled about a dozen amendments, I could have tabled 100 amendments that would have helped to improve the Bill. It really is a terrible Bill; it has been badly drafted and needs huge scrutiny, but we do not have time to do that.

My first amendment relates to 16 and 17 year-olds. Given that both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party are in favour of allowing 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in general elections, Scottish Parliament elections, local elections and others—just as they did in the Scottish referendum—and to sign the recall petition if they wish, the amendment is anticipating that that legislation will take place.

Amendment 48 would change the position about withdrawing a signature from the petition. Under the Bill, it would be impossible for someone who signs the

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petition to withdraw their signature. If someone signs it at the beginning of what is still going to be an eight-week period, and during the course of that eight weeks realises that the MP is not as heinous and awful after all—because all he did was incur a motoring offence and get sent to prison for 14 days, as we heard from a former judge might be the case—and changes their mind, they cannot withdraw their signature. I do not understand why: there is no explanation.

The amendment suggests that people should be able to withdraw their signature from the petition on giving a reason. How that reason was taken account of, who agreed to it and so on, would need to be looked at. But given that we are going to have weeks, months or perhaps years to look at the regulations anyway—from what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said earlier—there is no reason why this cannot be looked at as well. It seems strange that if someone changes their mind about the petition they cannot withdraw their signature.

Amendment 56 was drafted by my noble friend Lord Hughes, with his long experience and wisdom, so I am sure that he will be able to speak to it himself.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I speak to Amendment 56. It states:

“After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause … ‘Early publication of number of signatories … (1) Petition officers shall not make public a running total of signatories to a recall petition until the final result is announced … (2) Any breach of subsection (1), or any publication purporting to reveal a running tally, shall render the recall petition null and void.’”.

Having reread the amendment, I admit that saying the recall petition would be rendered null and void may be a bit severe. On the other hand, it is probably necessary.

Throughout this debate it has been repeated that the recall petition can take place only if one of three triggers is pulled. That is the beginning and end of the matter. We have tried to say to the Government and to our own Front Bench that whatever cold print is in the Bill, what it describes is not going to be happening in the real world outside. That is because—I am sorry to repeat this—as soon as the matter goes to the Procedure Committee, the question of recall will be raised. If that trigger is agreed to by the Procedure Committee, a notice goes out to the petition officer that the debate will immediately start. Some 90% of the time the discussion will not be about the actual offence that has triggered the recall petition. The argument will be about other things entirely.

Therefore, as we have said, the dice are loaded entirely against the MP who is the subject of the recall petition. As we know, on the day of a general election, agents for the candidate can go to the polling station and get the numbers who have voted, every hour or whatever the agreement is. Of course, that is the precise purpose of making sure that one gets one’s core vote out before the closing of the poll. That is a perfectly legitimate and normal thing to do, because people will not be convinced to go and vote by the numbers who voted at 10 o’clock; they will be convinced to go and vote if they think it is the right thing to do. However, if there is a running tally, on day one the petition officer might say, “Ten people voted today”, and the next day might say, “This is ridiculous. Get more out; do your job as citizens; get rid of the MP; get the recall”.

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If the recall threshold is 10%, the figure may start at 5%. The hysteria of getting more and more people will mount up. As we approach day 19 or 20, there may still be 2% to get, so this huge momentum may be built up to get people to sign the recall petition. Huge pressure builds up for that to be done. In this, the Member of Parliament subject to the recall is totally powerless. He is like a rabbit in the middle of the road with the lights of a car approaching—totally impotent in these matters.

It has been said that former Members of Parliament have a vested interest in the sense that we are overprotective of existing Members of Parliament. However, it is not a question of being overprotective. No one—certainly not me—has suggested that triggers are wrong and should not be discussed, or that there should never be a recall petition. That is not the case at all. We suggest that there should be a level playing field and the possibility of a fair trial, if you like. I fear that it is the other way round, given the way the Bill is drafted. It will not give the MP concerned a reasonable possibility of keeping his or her seat.

As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, if an MP loses a recall petition, there will be no prospect at all of him being re-elected, or reselected by his party to stand. We are discussing not so much the cold print on the paper as the realities. So I hope that—

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am grateful to the noble Lord—what he said is absolutely right. If someone found themselves in a position where this whole procedure was initiated, it is unlikely that a political party would retain them as a candidate. Even at the first stage there would be great difficulty getting a signature from their party, so their career would be over.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: I accept that entirely. Of course, the decision will be made by the constituency party, not so much on the basis of the seriousness of the offence but of whether they think they can win the by-election. I despair at the way in which the Bill is drafted and at the lack of any respect for the MP concerned.

I do not wish to divert down difficult roads, but there has been a lot of discussion in the press recently about the right of a person to return to his or her chosen profession. That has been intensified in the debate about a certain footballer who committed a very serious offence. I will not enter the argument at all about the rights and wrongs of that. However, throughout that debate, rehabilitation has gone out of the window in many respects. I fear that MPs will be subject to the same kind of attack and that, if they commit an offence, they will beyond the pale for ever. So some safeguards have to be built in. I understand that the Minister may not be able to accept the amendment in its present form. However, I hope that he understands its seriousness, and that something can be done to prevent a bandwagon building up not on the merits of a case but simply on getting the numbers out.

6.45 pm

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I sympathise with the argument put forward so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, but I wish to return to Amendments 45 and 46, to which the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, just referred.

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As he said, I and my party have been committed to extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds for a very long time. I am delighted that the Labour Party now supports that position. He will know that I had a Bill before your Lordships’ House to extend the franchise to that age group for all elections, which would apply also in the case we are discussing. That Bill received a Second Reading. I had cross-party support from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who had advanced a similar Bill previously from the Conservative Benches, and from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey.

However, I worry that we are now in a position of complete ad hocery on this issue. The franchise was successfully extended to 16 and 17 year-olds in the Scottish referendum. They registered in far greater numbers than anybody anticipated and took a very lively and constructive approach to the issues raised by that campaign. I think there was a general acknowledgement that in some ways they were rather more realistic, down to earth and sensible about the issues raised than some of their elders. It was noticeable that middle-aged men in Scotland—not the 16 and 17 year-olds—seemed to fall for the blandishments of the separatists. That was a classic and very effective demonstration that some of the concerns that Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House had about extending the franchise were actually ill founded because those young people took a very active role and responsible attitude to the decision they had to take. As Members of your Lordships’ House who followed the proceedings on the then Wales Bill will know, since then we have managed—with the Government’s help and encouragement in the end—to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds, subject to the Welsh Assembly agreeing to any future referendum in Wales. Those were the first and second steps in this regard.

The third step is that the Prime Minister has apparently agreed with the new First Minister of Scotland that at the next Holyrood elections the franchise should be extended to 16 and 17 year-olds. For me, the franchise is an absolute basic foundation stone of our representative democracy. I find it difficult to accept that we should have this process of attrition. I accept that each step forward is a step in the right direction, but surely we should have a comprehensive approach to this. Following these three important steps forward, I very much hope that the Government will now acknowledge that there is an absolutely irrefutable case for extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds for all elections, all referendums—or referenda, depending on your pronunciation and syntax—and, indeed, for petitions of this sort. It would surely be absolutely ludicrous to say to the young people of Scotland—and, in future, of Wales—who have experienced taking a full adult role in our democracy, when it comes, for example, to a referendum on the future membership of the EU, “Sorry, you’re not in on this one”, which is, of course, just as important in terms of the future governance of our country.

It is time to step back from this ad hoc, piecemeal approach to the franchise. It is too important to be treated in this way. I hope that a holistic approach will be taken in the future. That may have to await the outcome of the general election, but at the very least I

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hope that Ministers will acknowledge that, given the three important steps that have already taken place in this direction, they cannot ignore this issue with regard to this Bill. I hope they will at least be prepared to indicate that they have an open mind on the issue and acknowledge that at some point or other we will have to address it.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I take a contrary view. Indeed, I strongly opposed the idea of giving 16 year-olds a vote in the Scottish referendum, not because it was necessarily a bad idea in itself—although I thought it so—but because it was the thin end of a wedge and people like the noble Lord would argue that we have already done it in Scotland, so we have to do it in Wales and at the general election.

The Government presented the issue as being solely about referenda. I agree with the noble Lord that the position we are now in is rather inconsistent. However, the inconsistency that I am concerned about is that, although it is apparently okay for these young people to have a say in whether a Member of Parliament should be dismissed, and okay for them to have a say in who should form the Government of our country, they cannot buy a packet of cigarettes or a pint of beer. It seems to me the most extraordinary distortion. If one takes the view that 16 year-olds are perfectly mature and adult and able to decide these issues, why should they not be able to decide whether they want to have a drink in a pub or buy a packet of cigarettes? What I find very galling, certainly in terms of the Scottish Parliament, is that the people who argued for the franchise to be extended to 16 year-olds were the very same ones who prevented them being able to buy a packet of cigarettes. I think that we all understand what was behind that. For once, in the consideration of these amendments, I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on Amendment 45, but I am very strongly in agreement with him on Amendment 48. This is another example of how the Bill has not been thought through and is a complete muddle.

Why should someone not be able to withdraw their name? They may have read in the newspaper about the circumstances that merited a particular Member of Parliament being subject to recall and then found out that the facts were not quite as they thought. The Member of Parliament may have had the chance to make his case to the voters; they may have already signed, why should they not be able to change their mind and withdraw their signature?

That brings me to Amendment 56, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I do not know what I think about this. I can see his point, that we will get people who are campaigning to get rid of the Member of Parliament for political reasons, or because they feel strongly about whatever the issue is that is being raised. The point was made earlier that it may be a minor road traffic offence and it may be road safety campaigners, or whatever. They will want to know how many signatures there are; they will want to get to the threshold; and I can see that, if there is a running total, that would turn it into something of a campaign. Of course, if one is not able to withdraw one’s signature, then those who are campaigning on behalf of the

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Member of Parliament, or perhaps the Member of Parliament on his own, would not be able to influence people who had already committed themselves.

The reason I am doubtful about the noble Lord’s amendment is that the Government themselves are schizophrenic on this matter. It seems to me that if one is going to sign a petition with these consequences, one’s name should be public and there should be an opportunity for the Member of Parliament to write to the person concerned to say, “I see you have signed this petition; you ought to be aware that these are the facts”. On the other hand, I can see why people might want to do it in secret and to retain that. I missed the earlier part of the discussion, but I gather there was some idea that one should be able to consult the register. I think that this is unclear. If people are taking the view that someone should be subject to a by-election, which in practice means ending their career, they ought to be seen to take the stand in public and there ought to be an opportunity for the person concerned to make his case to them directly, in the way that we have always done. We knock on doors and make our case directly to the voters. It is for them to decide.

I can see that there might be concerns about intimidation and the rest, but all these concerns arise from this process and procedure which I think is fundamentally ill considered. I know that my noble friend will get irritated at me making this point again, but I do not see how this is actually going to work in practice at all. If there is a decision to set up a petition, I do not believe, in those circumstances, that any serious political party would stand by the Member concerned. Therefore, the Member concerned is not going to go through this whole procedure. If the Member has the support of his political party, then the sensible thing for him to do—and, indeed, for the political party—is to cut the whole thing short, a point which was made by the noble Lord some days ago, create a by-election and not go through this extended death by a thousand cuts. The process is lengthy and it would be an expensive campaign both in terms of resources and reputation.

I very strongly support Amendment 48, put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Hughes, and I am absolutely fascinated to hear the Government’s response on Amendment 56, which I hope will clarify the position of those who sign the petition. Will their names be known? Will their names be made known to the person who is the subject of the petition? Will their names be made known more publicly? Will their names be made known to the local newspaper, or will it just be the numbers? Will there be a running total? We need to have clarity on this.

Before I sit down, I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench, please do not say that this has all been discussed and considered carefully in the House of Commons, because this kind of practical detail has not actually been discussed very carefully in the House of Commons, and it goes to the whole efficacy of the legislation and to the justice of the legislation from the point of view of the individuals concerned.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, the Government obviously do not want any change to the Bill at all, if they can achieve that, other than the amendments that the

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Minister himself has put down. However, I urge them to look at Amendment 56, if no other. We cannot simply treat this in isolation from all the other normal electoral practices of our democracy.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I have said, I think three times now, that the Bill follows existing electoral law and regulation as closely as possible. We have not started off on something entirely new.

Lord Grocott: Can the Minister point to me anywhere in existing electoral law where, during a general election, for example, there is a running release of the state of the voting—after the postal vote had taken place, for example—and that is made known? Unless Amendment 56 is passed, that will be the likely situation in respect of these petitions. If the Minister disagrees, please intervene and tell me. I will stop speaking.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Is it not the case that if anyone goes to the opening of a postal ballot and then reveals the result of that postal ballot, it is a serious offence?

Lord Grocott: Yes, it is a very serious offence. But we have been assured by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that the Bill as it stands is entirely in accordance with existing practice. I just cannot imagine the situation in any other election whereby this kind of running total would be available.

I vote Labour; that is what I do. It is in the DNA; it is inherited; it is passed on to future generations—that is how it works. It is like supporting Stoke City; it is what rational people do. I simply put it to the Minister that, even with that pedigree, if I could see the tally in a particular constituency’s voting after the postal votes had been handed in and could see a very close result coming out between two parties which I disliked intensely, but one of which I disliked marginally more than the other, and, sadly, my dear old party was nowhere, clearly there is a possibility that that might affect my judgment. I do not think that it would, actually, but I am putting a hypothetical case here.

Surely the same is true of any kind of running commentary on the numbers of people who have signed the petition. Surely, as my noble friend Lord Hughes has said, it must really render the process void if the returning officer, or whatever he is called, or anyone else, is telling the press, “Oh, it is up to 8% now, and 9%; we only need a few more and there we go”. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, this is entirely in line with previous electoral law in the way we hold elections, fine; but if it is not, I do not understand the point.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. I should say straightaway that I am a supporter of voting at 16, and if my party wins the general election in May then it will be introduced. I do not believe, however, that we can have a situation whereby people cannot vote until they are 18 but are able to sign a recall petition at 16. They have to go together, in my opinion, and as soon as legislation is brought forward to give young people the vote, consequential amendments will have to be introduced

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about such things as the age at which they can sign a recall petition. I hope that my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock will appreciate my position on this issue, though I do agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that the ad hoc, piecemeal approach is not the right way to go about these things.

7 pm

Amendment 48, again in the name of my noble friends Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Hughes of Woodside, highlights an important issue here, which is: should people be able to withdraw their signature after signing a recall petition before we get to the end of the eight-week signing period? My noble friends’ amendment states that that should be only for a “stated reason”. I should be very interested to hear the response of the Government on this one because if you have campaigns going on and someone has signed the petition, but they are then persuaded by the campaign run by the MP that he should not be recalled, they surely should then have the right to withdraw their name from the petition. That amendment poses an important question for the Government to answer, and has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.

My Amendments 49 and 50, also proposed by my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, increase the severity of the offence of double signing from being an illegal practice to a corrupt practice. We believe that if someone is found guilty of an offence in relation to the signing of a recall petition, that offence should be in the “corrupt” category and carry the appropriate penalties. I should highlight that election offences such as not having an imprint on one’s leaflet and paying someone to take voters to the polls are illegal practices. Corrupt practices include submitting false returns when one will have signed a declaration that they are correct, bribery, treating, attempting to influence voters by duress, and making a false statement or declaration. Signing a recall petition improperly is compatible with that list of offences termed corrupt in election law, and this offence belongs in that category. There can be no justification for it being placed in the lower band of offences. To try and unseat an elected Member of Parliament by signing a recall petition improperly is corrupt, and I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that in his response.

The final amendment in this group is proposed by my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside and is excellent. One of the most ridiculous suggestions I have heard in the discussions around this Bill is that a recall petition should have a local feel to it. We are all well aware that if this legislation is ever used it will have huge media coverage, and it would be totally unfair if official figures were released, and the media in whatever form—on television, in newspapers or in blogs—reported that only 5,000, then 3,000 and then 1,000 more signatures were needed to get rid of the Member of Parliament. They may say, “We don’t like them. You don’t like them. Let’s get this signed and get them out”. That is no way in which to conduct a petition process, as my noble friends Lord Hughes of Woodside and Lord Grocott pointed out. I hope that the Minister will give important responses to these important points.

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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Will the noble Lord indicate which side of the argument he is on regarding whether the names of the people who sign the petition should be made public or made known to the Member of Parliament?

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I think that the Government are going to consult on that and will come back on it. They have not made the position clear at present.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: I should make it clear that my amendment does not say that the names should be published but simply that the numbers should be published. The two issues are not therefore connected.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I was sorry to hear my noble friend Lord Tyler talk about a holistic approach. I criticised the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, the other week for using what I regard as a managerial phrase that was inappropriate for someone of his background.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I have never used it since.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The noble Lord has not yet used it since. I stress again that we are following the existing law and regulations as closely as we can, and not attempting to take through major electoral changes. The first two amendments in the group are, after all, an attempt to take through a major change, whereby 16 year-olds would be able to vote for a recall, even though they would not yet vote in the subsequent by-election. There are differing opinions among the three parties; indeed, there are differing opinions within the current coalition Government on this issue. This is not the place to address it. It is an issue on which we need to build consensus. I am personally in favour but as a government Minister I am not prepared to accept that we move towards it. We need to discuss the whole question of the franchise at some point in the not-too-distant future.

The amendment to allow a signatory to withdraw their signature also would introduce a major innovation. There is no precedent for returning officers withdrawing ballot papers on the request of electors who change their minds prior to the beginning of the counting of votes.

Lord Howarth of Newport: The noble Lord is talking about two entirely different situations. If one is voting in a conventional election, one is doing so at a single opportunity on one day, and of course one cannot scratch that vote once one has cast it. It is entirely different when there is an eight-week rolling period, during which campaigning is taking place. What argument does he have as to why people should not be allowed to be influenced by these campaigns?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I have already said that we have now extended the period for postal voting. Indeed, postal votes may be delivered nearly three weeks before the election. If the principle in the amendment were to be accepted, the question would

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come up as to whether postal voters might be allowed to change their minds in the light of events they learnt about in the final two weeks of the campaign. That would be a major innovation also. With postal votes, we have slipped from a vote on one day to a vote that takes place over a period. Perhaps the noble Lord has not yet recognised that, but that is the position we are in and the current law is that when one votes one does not have a chance to change one’s mind.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Minister has already said he will look at the issue of whether the names will be public or secret. There is clearly not a parallel with an election, otherwise the names would all be secret. A petition is different from an election. He has to accept that. He accepts it in terms of public versus private; he ought to accept it in terms of whether the signature can be withdrawn.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am not persuaded by that. There are questions of intimidation regarding giving the name of someone who has already voted to the MP so that the MP can write and tell them not to. I can recall fighting a heavily Labour seat in the middle of Manchester in the 1970s, when Labour councillors were going round to voters saying, “I see you have a Liberal poster up. We have just checked the housing transfer list and you are on it. Are you sure that you want to keep it up?”. There are difficult questions here. I see no reason to change existing electoral regulations in this area.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: The Minister keeps saying that he is following general practice as far as possible. This is an entirely new practice. Will he please tell me where, either in my amendment or at any place in the Bill, it is stated that during the eight weeks when people vote the petition officer will make known the names of those people who have voted?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I will come to the noble Lord’s other amendment. I was talking about the amendment on the right to change one’s vote or attitude to the petition after one had voted. I will come to his amendment on disclosure of the number of signatories. The Bill—rightly, as he noted—does not specify whether a running total of the number of signatories should be published. That we intend to be a matter for the conduct regulations. As is the case at elections, petition officers and their staff will be bound by their official duty, and penalties will apply if information is released without proper authority. Again, I stand on regular practice. It is not allowed for those concerned with the conduct of elections—and, by extension, petitions—to release information of that sort. There will be many occasions on election day when releasing figures at one o’clock on how many people had voted would be helpful. That is not the case, and it is similarly not the case here.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Is the Minister then saying, if we are following existing practice, that that would mean it is a secret ballot and nothing is disclosed, and that after the event a marked register may be available to show who has voted? That is the existing practice that applies to normal, conventional general

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elections. Will that be the position in this respect? It is no good saying that this is a matter for regulations; it is a very important point in terms of the operation of the Bill.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The noble Lord, sadly, was absent at his committee when we were discussing the question of secrecy. I am sure that he will enjoy reading the Hansard of the debate. We will come back to the issue on Report. We have been around the question of the problem of secrecy and I am not going to repeat our position for those who, unfortunately, were away.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am not asking my noble friend to repeat an earlier debate. What I am asking is very simple: when he says that it is the same procedure, does that mean that it is a secret ballot and that the names will not be made available to people? Yes or no?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we spent some considerable time on this issue. When you sign a petition you do so with a clear aim. It is a complicated issue and I am happy to discuss it with the noble Lord off the Floor, but I do not wish to repeat all the arguments that we made at an earlier stage in a fairly extensive discussion.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, raised the offence of double signing. Clause 12 mirrors the offence of double voting in electoral law regarding the maximum penalties that apply on conviction: a person guilty of the offence is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, and so on. Again, we see no reason to change existing law and regulation for the petition, given that existing regulation is clear and is regularly applied. The Government are clear that convictions for electoral offences must result in the appropriate punishment to act as a deterrent for electoral fraud. We have seen courts deal robustly with proven, albeit isolated, instances of electoral fraud in recent years and the current offences framework has enabled significant penalties to be imposed where appropriate. That seems to us to be the basis on which the Bill should extend to the current petition process.

I hope that that provides constructive answers to those with amendments in this group. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord is able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, this has become a farce. Where it suits the Government’s aims they stick to electoral law; where it does not suit their purposes they go on to something completely new. We are wasting our time, the Government are wasting their time, it is making a farce of the whole debate and it is making the House of Lords look ridiculous. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will at some point recognise his part in that. I withdraw my amendment.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, in relation to my amendment, may I make clear that on the day of the general election—I am sorry, am I in the wrong?

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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab): The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has withdrawn his amendment.

Amendment 45 withdrawn.

Amendment 46 not moved.

Amendment 47

Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

47: Clause 10, page 7, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) Any persons wishing to apply to vote by post, who are not registered to do so before the Speaker’s notice is given or before the cut-off day, must do so no later than the end of the fifth week of the signing period.”

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, this amendment is proposed by myself and my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. It puts a strict time limit in the Bill on when electors can apply to sign a recall petition by post. The amendment gives the right balance between allowing people to decide whether they want to sign a petition by post and ensuring that measures and enough time are in place to check that everything is correct to prevent fraudulent activity regarding the timing of the petition. It is very possible, with so few signing places available, that many more electors will choose to sign by post, rather than travel to an appointed signing point. I remember from our debates last week and earlier today my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock telling your Lordships’ House that, in his former constituency, four signing places to cover a seat of hundreds of square miles is totally inadequate. If the Government are not prepared to move on this it is very likely that many more people will want to sign by post.

We are all aware of the concerns that have been raised about postal voting in recent years. Additional safeguards have been brought in to improve security. The amendment would put a clear cut-off point as part of the tools to manage the risk. The political parties have all signed up to a code of conduct respecting elections and postal votes. However, this is not postal voting as such: it is the signing of a petition. There is no code in place, with lots of different campaigners out and about trying to get people to sign, or not sign, a petition. This whole area is very loose and the potential for fraud is very widespread.

I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate he can tell the Committee what role he sees for the Electoral Commission in all of this. As I am sure he will be aware, the commission proposed, and got the agreement of the political parties to sign, the postal vote code of conduct. If he is not minded to accept the amendment, can he tell the Committee how he sees the security of postal vote signing of the recall petition being ensured if there is not a clear cut-off period for the application to sign by post? I beg to move.

7.15 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, Clause 10 provides for regulations to specify the detail of how constituents may sign by post or proxy. The detail about how postal and proxy signing will operate will be dealt with in regulations made under Clause 18. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, laughs. He accused me

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of not taking seriously his attempt to drive a change in the voting age into the Bill on the grounds that it made it a farce. I suggest—with the greatest respect, as he might say—that that was going considerably over the top.

The approach to regulations on postal voting mirrors that of UK parliamentary elections, where the rules for absent voting appear in secondary legislation. At an election, this is usually the 11th working day before the poll, which allows applications received in the days just before and up to the deadline to be processed and postal ballot packs issued to electors for them to complete and return in time for the close of the poll.

For a petition, it is possible to set a deadline during the petition-signing period itself. The last day of the period is, in effect, analogous to polling day at an election, so there needs to be a cut-off point. As noted in the memorandum prepared by the Cabinet Office and placed in the House Libraries before this debate, the Government accept that deadlines will need to be set within the eight-week period for absent vote applications to be made. In doing so, we recognise the additional need to check that the petition has not already been signed in person at the signing place, and to ensure that registers are properly updated to show that an absent vote application has been approved, thus guarding against the risk of double signing.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Will the principle that my noble friend has enunciated—that we will follow the normal conventions on electoral law—be applied in this case? Therefore, as with postal votes, will the number of people who have voted by post be made public?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I need to confirm that, but I have no reason to assume that we will not follow normal and regular procedures, and that numbers—but, of course, not names—would be made public. At which point they would be made public is a question that I will also refer back to. I see the noble Lord’s mischievous argument, but I will make sure that we answer it.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I must say to my noble friend that it is not mischievous. We are not being mischievous; we are trying to find out how this will work in practice and what the consequences are. If there is a large number of postal votes, that has implications, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said. If it is to be made public, when in the campaign it is made public will have consequences for the Member concerned.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: On the question of the deadline for the applications for postal votes, it is normal in an election for the numbers of postal votes cast to be announced after polls have closed.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: In my contribution I talked about the code of conduct regarding postal voting that the Electoral Commission brokered to all the political parties. Of course, when it is a petition it is not postal voting; other campaigners can be involved. What does the Minister envision for a code of conduct for the campaigners?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: That is a very good and detailed question on which I need to take some advice. I will ensure that I do so and I will write to the noble Lord. On that basis, I hope that he is able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank the noble Lord and at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 47 withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed.

Schedule 2 agreed.

Clause 11: How entitlement to sign a recall petition is to be exercised

Amendment 48 not moved.

Clause 11 agreed.

Clause 12: Double signing

Amendments 49 and 50 not moved.

Clause 12 agreed.

Amendment 51 not moved.

Clause 13: Early termination of recall petition process

Amendments 52 and 53

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

52: Clause 13, page 9, line 17, at end insert—

“( ) The fourth condition is that, in a case in which the third recall condition was met in relation to the MP, the conviction in question is overturned on appeal.”

53: Clause 13, page 9, line 20, leave out “three”

Amendments 52 and 53 agreed.

Amendment 54 not moved.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 55

Moved by Lord Hughes of Woodside

55: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—

“Restriction on prejudicial comments

From the time that a recall petition is authorised, any material written, spoken or broadcast on any media with the intention of being detrimental to the MP in question, other than comments directly related to the reason for the recall petition, shall render the recall petition null and void.”

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I appreciate that the tabling of this amendment leaves me open to the possibility of being accused of censorship by refusing people the right to free speech. I understand that point but I believe that this amendment brings us to the heart of the difficulties and problems we have with the Bill. Throughout our discussions, both Ministers have repeatedly referred to the three triggers that can

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start a petition. They have dealt with the matter not as though we are dealing with a general election or a recall Bill. I am sorry to repeat what I have said on a previous occasion but this Bill is wrongly named. It is a recall limited Bill and not a recall Bill. We know that the aim of the people whose driving goes behind the recall is a total recall on grounds of policy.

As much as we may like to believe that in general discussions in a constituency the atmosphere of rational debate will be followed—I agree that, much as in this place, there may be the occasional flash of annoyance—that is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. As soon as the notice goes out to the petition officer that a recall petition is to be held, there will be open season. This Bill will become a de facto recall Bill because under its terms everything that has been said or done by an MP can be called into account.

I believe that no one could have been an MP for any period of time without annoying some constituents or groups of constituents. For example, in my constituency in north Aberdeen, there were boundary changes and we took into the west of the city a new, privately owned housing estate. The traffic from Aberdeen airport and the surrounding industrial estate into Aberdeen and south of Aberdeen caused horrendous problems. The city council decided to do something about it. It proposed a spur road to join the ring road, which would have involved some impingement on the private housing estate, although not a great deal but certainly a significant amount. Of course, the noise generated by the traffic would be significant.

I was invited, or perhaps I should say summoned, to a meeting of 150 absolutely furious people. They said that the value of their property and their quality of life would be destroyed, all for the sake of a few minutes of traffic problems. They proposed an alternative, which was that the spur road, as I call it, should be moved to the east of where they were and run through a local authority housing estate. I accept that this local authority housing estate was not the most salubrious estate in the city of Aberdeen. I am very proud of the housing estates in the city but this one was not the best. These people thought that because they were owner-occupiers they had a better right than council house tenants. I had to disagree with them.

I fully understood their concerns and I said that I would do what I could to alleviate them but I would not agree simply to shift the problem from one part of the constituency to another. I suggested that the road should go to the north of the city, over a flyover in order to avoid a notorious roundabout and then go on from there. I was accused of copping out of the difficulty. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was considering my council house tenant constituents above them. I was told in very menacing terms, “You will pay for this at the general election”. As most noble Lords will know, I was very fortunate. I never had a majority of less than 10,500 and never more than 18,500. I must admit that I was not frightened by the prospect. However, I seriously and honestly ask myself whether I would have been so steely had I been in a marginal constituency. Obviously, I cannot answer that question.

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It is very easy to fall out, not with groups of constituents but with individual constituents. I tell a story against myself. In the good old days, when business in the House of Commons on a Friday was taken very seriously, I was a junior Minister and I had a very fraught and difficult Friday on the Floor of the House. I finally got away and managed to catch the late evening plane to Aberdeen where I had an advice centre on the Saturday morning. I would have happily taken the weekend off and not gone, but it was published so I went. At 8.15 pm, I went to the office to make sure that there were no sudden cases needing urgent attention. The phone rang and I picked it up. A voice that I knew well said, “Oh, it’s you, is it?”. I said, “Why?”. He said, “No one’s ever here by that phone”. I said, “My secretary works from nine to five and, on a Friday night especially, I would not expect her to be here. Do you always phone at this time of night?”. “Oh yes”, he said, “But no one ever answers”. I said, “With respect, how are your broken legs and your broken wrists?”. He said, “What do you mean?”. I said, “Well, you know I hold a regular advice centre on a Saturday morning that is advertised in the press. You must be severely incapacitated if you can’t come down to the office with this problem. How long have you been trying to get hold of me?”. He said, “At least six to eight weeks”. I said, “I am very sorry about that. How are your broken wrists?”. He said, “What do you mean, my broken wrists?”. I said, “Well, if it is so serious, you could have put pen to paper. You know the address”. He mumbled something and I said, with some asperity if you like, “Look, it can’t be a serious problem. You are wasting my time, so bog off”, and I slammed the phone down.

After I had done that, I realised that I had made an enemy for life. Although I met the man frequently after that and the issue never came up between us, he went around saying that I was impolite, did not care for my constituents and so on. That could be multiplied by two or three, plus the 150 disgruntled people at the meeting about the road. Surely everyone knows that as soon as the recall petition is announced, the media and press in every shape or form will descend on the constituency like a swarm of locusts. That is not to mention the cybertrolls whom we cannot control.

As for an MP who is put before the Procedure Committee and his recall petition is announced, you cannot stop the press saying that the guilty, disgraced MP is facing a recall. In fact, even if an MP were to succeed in overturning a recall petition and to continue in his seat, he would always be described as, “The MP found guilty, put to a recall petition, and succeeded”. We cannot stop that, but we have to find some way of controlling the huge influx of publicity and rhetoric, some of which will arise from outside the constituency itself. It will not be generated so much by the constituents as by the press and the media, who will be determined to make the recall a success from their point of view.

We must find a way of controlling that. There is a balance and I am sure that the Minister will see it as a balance between free speech and fair play. From what was said on the previous day in Committee we can see that there is no possibility of an MP in trouble getting a square deal in this matter. The dice are totally loaded against him. He will not get the chance to campaign

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with a counterpetition. He will not get a chance with the media. He will not get a chance because he is dead in the water. I am and always have been all in favour of MPs who transgress being properly dealt with. This country of ours has had a high reputation for its standards of democracy and the standards of its politicians. Sadly, the expenses scandal has almost wiped that out, which is a sad thing to say. The activities of a very few have destroyed our reputation, but that does not mean that we should not seek to defend our reputation and our democracy.

It is my view that this proposed new clause will go some way towards striking the balance. It will stop campaigns being paid for by people on the outside and carried out by those with no real interest in democracy. They are interested solely in proving a political point. They are demanding the total recall of MPs for any reason whatever and sadly this whole process is leading us towards that. I beg to move.

7.30 pm

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I shall be very brief because I know that noble Lords are waiting for the next debate. My noble friend has evoked vividly some of the realities of life as a Member of Parliament and some of the pressures that could be brought to bear on an MP in a recall petition situation. I know that he will also reflect carefully on the difficulties and dangers of limiting the freedom of the press in such a situation, notwithstanding the fact that we have reason to fear that the press may be very virulent and determined to create an even more charged atmosphere in which it is even less likely that the Member of Parliament will get, as it were, a fair hearing.

However, I want to ask my noble friend about one particular point, which is whether Amendment 55 would cover the publication of opinion polls undertaken in the individual constituency during the period of the recall petition. We are becoming increasingly accustomed to tactical opinion polling being commissioned and published for tactical purposes so as possibly to manipulate opinion and thus affect the outcome of the election. It seems that the same considerations that apply to limiting the freedom of the press more broadly may not necessarily apply to the regulation of opinion polling during such periods. One of the dangers we have to anticipate is that there could be manipulative polling to exacerbate the situation. I wonder whether my noble friend has that in mind in part in his amendment and what his view is on the issue.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot support the noble Lord’s amendment because it would be almost impossible to enforce, even if it was desirable in the age of blogs, the internet and everything else. I understand where he is coming from and, at the risk of repeating myself, I think that any Member of Parliament who finds himself subject to a petition is already dead in the water.

I was rather intrigued by our earlier discussion. If someone was present at the count of postal votes in any election and then inadvertently told someone else what the position was, they could very well find themselves facing a prison sentence and a recall petition of this

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kind. That is a good example of something which might be regarded as a matter where one could win the argument, but in practice it would be very difficult to stop the kind of comments that are made.

However, the noble Lord has done the Committee a service by underlining the key point in all this: once you get to the point of a petition being launched, it will not be about the issues surrounding the Member of Parliament; it will be about 1,001 grievances, political views or whatever. That is why I think that the Bill is fundamentally ill conceived. The House of Commons may think that where the committee has decided that someone should be sent away from the House for more than 10 days, that should start the procedure. However, it would have been better simply to have gone to the point of creating the by-election that would inevitably follow. It would save a lot of time, bureaucracy and cost, as well as a lot of grief and further damage to the standing of the House of Commons and the status of Parliament.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, the probing amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside raises the important matter of what is said about an MP in a campaign in connection with a recall petition. Many noble Lords who have spoken in our debates on the Bill have expressed concern that MPs who take up causes that are unpopular and then find themselves subject to a recall petition could find that opponents use campaigns or issues that have nothing to do with the issue in question to try to take advantage of the situation. That raises a very important point for your Lordships’ Committee.

My noble friend Lord Hughes was for many years the chair of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, but not so long ago not everyone was so well disposed towards that organisation and its aims. My noble friend made a point by giving examples of issues in his constituency, and I noted his comments about our reputation in the world with regard to the state of our democracy. He went on to make the particular point that there needs to be fairness in the process so that MPs are not allowed to be judged or abused on the positions they take as part of their job of being an MP and which have nothing to do with the actual issue in question. They should be judged on the subject of the recall petition itself. I hope that the noble Lord will respond carefully to the issues that my noble friend raised.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his amendment, which intends that in the event of any material being written, spoken or broadcast that is unrelated to the wrongdoing which initiated the recall petition and which is detrimental to the MP, the petition will become null and void.

The Government believe that there are three significant concerns as to why this amendment presents difficulties. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, referred to the first, which is the principle of free speech—an issue which of course all of us in this House prize very strongly. I do not think that we should, in effect, severely restrict what individuals, including MPs, constituents and the media, may say or write for a period of eight weeks.

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My second concern is the appearance that this amendment gives of particular and special treatment for a Member of Parliament. The noble Lord’s amendment states that it is only material unrelated to the wrongdoing and which is detrimental to the MP that will cause the petition to become null and void. That leaves the clear interpretation that there will be no such consequences to publishing material unrelated to the wrongdoing that is beneficial to the Member of Parliament facing recall. Indeed, while I realise the view of my noble friend Lord Forsyth on the Bill, here he is absolutely right. The third concern is that the proposals would make recall unworkable. Indeed, who would determine whether something is detrimental—and is that even possible?

I say by way of example that it would be impossible to conceive of an eight-minute period, let alone an eight-week period, which could pass without even one example of detrimental material being put into the public domain. The noble Lord’s proposals would make it very difficult for any recall petition to reach its conclusion because it would be quite simple for the supporters of a Member of Parliament to put out negative comments just to secure that outcome. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that I entirely understand and accept his good intentions, but, for the reasons I have outlined, I hope he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: Someone once said that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. In my initial remarks, I referred to the fact that this might well be seen as an attack on free speech. I appreciate that point very much indeed. Of course, it has been pointed out that people who use beneficial comments might also be struck out. The difficulty I have is that the recall petition is a kind of trial. If you are on trial for a road traffic offence, for example, extraneous behaviour such as that you got drunk the night before or were drunk during the trial would not be allowed in court because it could influence the result of the trial. Therefore, I am deeply unhappy because that is what, in fact, will happen. However, I do understand the problems.

My noble friend Lord Howarth raised an intriguing point about opinion polls. I had thought of that and was not quite sure how to proceed, but I had in mind that an amendment along the lines of banning opinion polls during the eight-week period might well be an amendment for Report. I am glad he has reminded me of that, and I hope it will be taken up, if not necessarily by me, then by others.

We are in extremely difficult times with this Bill. We are torn between trying to see justice for MPs and giving constituents the opportunity to exercise their rights in relation to their MP. In all the circumstances, I believe that the best thing to do is to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 55 withdrawn.

Amendment 56 not moved.

Clause 14: Determination of whether recall petition successful

Amendment 57 not moved.

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Amendment 58 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.43pm.

Government Support for Artists

Question for Short Debate

7.42 pm

Asked by The Earl of Clancarty

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are giving to individual artists, including visual artists, writers and composers.

The Earl of Clancarty (CB): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the concerns of artists this evening, and look forward to the speeches of other noble Lords. We have never had an arts policy in this country that has properly prioritised the makers and the production of art, although, of course, in the support that the Arts Council and local authorities have given over a long period, production has been a significant part of the mix. However, the overriding considerations—especially recently—have been largely instrumentalist ones. For this Government, it is a justification in terms of the economy; for the previous Administration, it was access and social regeneration as well as the economy. Now, of course, the new weapon in the instrumentalists' armoury is well-being.

Yet the bedrock of the arts in Britain since the war has been, in large measure, the work of the individual artist, whether visual artist, film-maker, novelist, poet, composer, singer-songwriter or others, including many whose true influence is yet to be felt because of the long gestation period of much innovative work. Notwithstanding the importance of teamwork in the arts, it is the individual creative vision which, to a large extent, has determined the artistic and cultural landscape of this country. Without the fine artist, there would be no Tate Modern; without the playwright, there would be no contemporary theatre; without composers and musicians, there would be no concert halls. Therefore, this comparative neglect, in terms of an overall arts policy, is wrong, and there are specific issues that the Government should address. My emphasis will be on the concerns of visual artists, although some of these concerns are common to those working in other media.

The first of these, and possibly the most crucial, is pay. Most artists, indeed many working within the arts as a whole, have a low income—often less than half of the national average. The 2010 survey from the Design and Artists Copyright Society found that the median rate of annual income for a fine artist was around £10,000; for a photographer, it was £15,000. For a writer, according to the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, it is now just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005. A theme that emerges is the extent to which, in our current climate of cuts and greater commercialisation, many artists occupy a position at the bottom of a food chain, and are, as a result, being increasingly exploited. Fine artists, musicians and others are, more and more often, being asked to offer their services for free.

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The “Paying Artists” campaign, launched last year by the Artist Information Company, demands that artists are paid fairly by publicly funded galleries. “Don't Work for Free” is another similarly minded campaign supported by journalists, photographers and artists. The Artist Information Company estimates that 63% of artists have to turn down requests from galleries to exhibit their work because they cannot afford to do so without pay. I can see that a standard retort to this might be: “What are artists thinking about in turning down exhibitions at all?”; but artists, writers and musicians are frankly weary of being treated in this way. There is no other industry in the world that is expected to live in such a culture of perpetual loss leaders. Shonagh Manson of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation says:

“Paying artists creates value; it doesn't simply ‘cost’ it. Not paying artists limits the potential of the work they can create and the value audiences derive from it. We know that talented artistic voices are lost as the challenge of making ends meet increases”.

This is an area that the Government need to look into. An important point to make here is that the artist being concerned about pay is not the same thing as becoming more commercialised in the work being done. That is the current pressure coming from the Government, which may lead to doing a different kind of work—the pressure, for example, that has already been exerted on arts centres and theatres in the regions. Artists need to be remunerated properly for the work that they do.

Another concern about exploitation is exemplified by the dispute between DACS and the Copyright Licensing Agency. DACS maintains that the publishers who control the CLA are, in its own words, “bullying” artists, photographers and illustrators—and, indeed, writers too—into accepting unreasonable conditions for publication by signing away copyright regarding the distribution of secondary rights. This needs to be sorted out, and one partial solution—I just suggest this as an idea—might be that the CLA should be owned equally by DACS and the ALCS, with publishers having reduced powers in the decision-making process. However, fair contract terms covering intellectual property might also be addressed through legislation. What is the Minister’s response to these concerns?

Writers are having a particularly tough time. Cuts to libraries must be reversed, and while the ALCS is grateful that the public lending right has been extended to non-print formats, it rightly believes that it should also cover remote lending e-books, e-audio books and voluntary administered libraries.

Something that will affect many artists is the projected changes to the regulations for the self-employed on universal credit, because of the lower cut-off point for consideration of tax credits as well as the way that income is calculated on a monthly basis, as artists’ incomes may vary greatly from month to month. One of the problems is the change in our culture towards one that refuses to recognise that those on low pay might be engaged in a vocational pursuit that might need a long time to develop financially, rather than a business that is seeking to make a profit as quickly as possible. I ask the Minister whether serious thought can be given to this.

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A measure that affects visual artists is the artists’ resale right, which since 2012 has been a benefit for those who have started to gain a toehold in the marketplace. The cap of £10,000 placed on the maximum level of royalty per artwork and the fact that ARR payments represent only 0.1% of the revenues of the art trade mean that they are no threat to it. Will the Government be an active supporter of ARR in Europe, and can the Government ensure that the ARR regulations are properly complied with, as there is no dedicated enforcement measure in place?

A particular problem that fine artists face is the shortage of studio space and, with rising rents, particularly in London, this is an increasing problem, with spaces being sold off. The GLA estimates that there will be a 30% loss of studio space within the next five years. Artists need reasonably permanent cheap spaces. The success story in London is the charity Acme, one of a number of organisations that provide studio space and which for more than 40 years has been supported by the Arts Council, although that support finishes this year—which founder Jonathan Harvey sees as a success as the charity is now self-sufficient. The keys to that success are the long-term support and the fact that Acme has managed to buy its own buildings. But where that is not possible Section 106 agreements might be used by local authorities in areas where studio space is required, enabling continued employment use in buildings and a guaranteed 100% occupancy. This is something that the Government ought to be encouraging where it is appropriate to do so.

My question today is of course directed towards the Government but it would be unrealistic to deny that everyone within the arts world is now concerned with what will appear in all the parties’ manifestos in terms of their arts policies. The response to that now infamous tweet from the Labour press team is telling because it is clear that there is an increasing belief among many in the arts world, especially artists, that an incoming Government should be seriously considering reversing the cuts.

In the past year, there has been a mobilisation of artists themselves: the formation of Artists’ Union England, and the creation of the Artists’ Assembly against Austerity, a group including the artist Peter Kennard, whose demands in a letter to the Guardian on 27 August last year I certainly support. His demands are also those for a better society and include, for example, the capping of rents—one reason, incidentally, why so many British artists now live in Berlin. Production needs to be enabled from the bottom up, which means that local authority cuts in particular really do need to be reversed. But sooner rather than later, cities need to be allowed tax-raising powers to help generate their own production. There has been talk in recent times of statutory provision of the arts. If such a provision is brought in, the artist must be a part of that.

We need a policy that puts the artist before the audience because logically the art comes first and an audience for a new work may take a long time to develop. That audience should not be socially engineered—I think it is patronising to do so. More consideration should also be given to longer-term support. If you do not achieve

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in financial terms immediately, you cannot afford to be a successful artist and have a family; this discriminates against women in particular.

Everything that is making going into the arts more difficult—primarily the cuts but also tuition fees and a school education that undervalues the arts—will make being an artist, a musician, a writer or an actor increasingly the preserve of the rich. Nevertheless, there are still many working on very little or no income who contribute significantly through the work they do as artists to a necessary cultural debate held within the wider society, even as that work is under threat. Public funding is and ought to be an important part of maintaining this debate, and support for the artist is the litmus test of how truly a Government, and by implication a society, value it.

7.52 pm

Lord Patten (Con): Of course, taxpayers and the Government have had a role in helping individual artists since the setting up of the Arts Council back in 1946. Increasingly, big corporations and the financial world have also developed a role in sponsorship, which I think is generally valued. Then there is the long-running, historic role of individuals in commissioning work de novo from artists. I have done a tiny bit of that myself —not yet, I have to admit, from a Nick Trench or a Cally Trench, but perhaps that may come in due course.

It is worth looking around the world to see how approaches differ in the funding of individuals. In the USA there is much less federal and state subsidy of the arts using taxpayers’ funds, and much more from individuals given pretty big tax breaks to fund directly, which they often do, or via the constituent members of the GIA—Grantmakers in the Arts—all closely monitored by the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS, of the United States.

In Germany the approach is very different. There are of course government arts and performing arts funds to apply to but the very possession of, say, a degree from an art school in Germany creates in law a professional artist by that act, and thereafter the simple act of applying for a grant or a scholarship counts as a job application and automatically becomes a passport to benefits and subsidised social insurance of various kinds.

Australia is particularly interesting. There is support in Australia for everything from art resale royalty schemes—which, I agree with the noble Earl, are extremely important—to art business start-up assistance via the ArtStart scheme, which I applaud. Perhaps a little more surreally—my chosen interest, as it happens—is the consideration being given by the current Australian Government to adding arts activities to the criteria for their “Work for the Dole” scheme. I must remember to draw this idea to the attention of my right honourable friend Mr Duncan Smith down there at the Department for Work and Pensions.

So there is a wide range of different approaches in Europe and the western world. We see a cocktail of mixed economies, with individual, state and corporate ingredients, and I do not think we would ever want to decry any one of those. I certainly hope not. For myself, I am cautious about anything that smacks of a subsidy from the poor to the privileged—I do not like that as a

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concept—or where subsidy for the arts crowds out unsubsidised artists, or where there is too much centralised picking of winners, which I disapprove of strongly, whether in industrial or artistic policy.

I believe three things very strongly. First, any increase in funding from taxpayers, rich and poor alike, must be cautiously considered only when economic circumstances allow. Secondly, too much noise about the cuts from arts bureaucrats, who generally get a pretty good salary, is both unattractive and generally counterproductive. Thirdly, the one thing I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister is: what consideration is being given in the mean time to new tax breaks for donations to the arts being increased—for example, including a system based on gift aid, which is well established, and which, carefully monitored, will allow for giving to artistic individuals directly? That is something that I hope may have all-party support.

7.57 pm

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab): My Lords, when I have spoken before in this House about the hugely positive role of the creative industries, I have focused on the crucial role of our higher education institutions in producing the creative artists and innovators who can contribute so much, both to the future success and well-being of the UK and to shaping the way in which other countries perceive us.

The UK is a world leader in this area, and universities and the smaller specialist institutions are the engine which generates the powerhouse of artists, musicians and wordsmiths to maintain that leadership. But the impressive 2014 strategy document of the Creative Industries Council, a body which has done a great deal to reinforce the importance of this sector, finds that access to finance has been one of the major challenges to future growth and maturity in the UK creative industries. It is ironic that we have hugely creative enterprises in this sector, but they are invariably small; employment and continuing funding are precarious; and many young artists or businesses struggle to grow and expand to make their work sustainable.

I know that a number of universities with creative industries or arts degree programmes have introduced employability programmes to equip graduates to set up in business on their own or handle freelance or portfolio working, recognising that this is a likely career path. One example will show how higher education institutions prepare their graduates for this exciting but uncertain world. Artquest, the principal intervention in career support at the University of the Arts London, is a project that supports all artists, not just its graduates, particularly in the first years of their careers. It connects them to the resources, opportunities and networks they need to develop their practices and careers. It supports them to keep making work as the pressures of day-to-day survival grow. It shares the experiences of artists and industry professionals.

That work is informed by ground-breaking research across 26 art and design universities, looking at early career patterns of their graduates. It is titled Creative Graduates Creative Futures, and a telling section in Will Hutton’s introduction reads:

“Many found the only entry into the industry was via unpaid internships, requiring parental support and middle class backgrounds.

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The relationship is close to exploitative, even though the young men and women trying to win a foothold in the industry do not see it that way. The creative industries should offer more paid internships, and take more care of its enthusiastic workforce”.

I would welcome the Minister’s views on this.

NESTA’s 2008 research on fine artists as innovators, still one of the best insights in this area, emphasises the desire of fine arts graduates to take up occupations where they can identify themselves as artists. It states that they have many of the skills needed for wider innovation, and see themselves as brokers across disciplines, taking insights and techniques from one field and translating them creatively into another. However, as I know from my past role at Universities UK, those transferable skills and aptitude for team working, creativity and independent learning are often dismissed.

NESTA’s work, and that more recently of the CBI, along with the work of the Creative Industries Council as well as the universities, shows unequivocally that the sector is a leading global hub for the creative industries but that for success to be sustained, all players must work together to support the sector and the individual artists in it. I hope that the Minister can tell us what the Government are doing to work in partnership with the industry to put creative industries at the heart of the growth agenda and build on what is already a true UK success story.

8.01 pm

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for this debate. He keeps this House talking about the arts and culture, which is so important.

Last week, the DCMS published the latest figures for the creative industries. They demonstrate what the noble Earl, I and, I think, all who are taking part in this debate know and have been saying for so long about the importance of the cultural sector. It grew by nearly 10% in 2013, three times the rate of the wider UK economy.

The noble Earl asked about support for the individual artist. I want to concentrate on when and where it starts. It is essential that the status of the arts in the classroom is properly recognised. There is a lot of debate at the moment—at the time of the Oscars, the BAFTAs and everything else—about how many of our top-flight actors are from public schools. Surely a key factor is that they were fortunate enough to have experienced dedicated time to study the arts at school, and they had inspirational teachers. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this must be extended beyond the private sector?

To quote Grayson Perry:

“For so many children, doing art … isn’t something they come across until they are taught it at school. Not everyone’s mother sits down with scissors and paper and makes collages with them … The idea that art will somehow look after itself—that society will breed untaught geniuses—is rubbish”.

Darren Henley—now, I am glad to say, chief executive of the Arts Council—agrees with Grayson Perry. In his review of cultural education, he noted that,

“this area of education is no longer valued as much as it once was”,

despite the fact that the schools that provide high-quality cultural education get better academic results. Does my noble friend agree that Darren Henley’s national plan should finally be fully implemented?

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I turn to what happens when you emerge from the educational system. The coalition has overseen a record number of apprenticeships in the creative industries funded by government. Eighty-one per cent of those who have gone through such apprenticeships take up jobs in the creative industries, so this is obviously something to build on. I declare an interest here as a trustee of the Lowry. We are involved through our future leaders programme in organising placements and mentoring for those who leave education. And then there is the Lowry Studio, which among other things provides space for new and emerging artistic companies to work. I agree strongly with the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on the issue of space—therein lies a problem. My sister, who is an artist, was part of an artistic co-operative back in the 1980s. A graphic design company—it was called Cubitt; I do not know whether your Lordships know about that—donated a space that was temporarily empty and artists were allowed to occupy it. They could both pursue their art and learn business skills. They learnt about how to run a space. As we know, many empty buildings across the UK could be used in this way. They are not necessarily spaces that could be turned into places for people to live, but they could be turned into spaces for artists.

Have you noticed that whenever an important person visits a school—a Prime Minister or a President—the first things that they are shown are the paintings of the children? The next thing they are invited to do is to listen to the singing of the children. I rest our case.

8.05 pm

Viscount Falkland (CB): My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Clancarty. As the noble Baroness said, he keeps the arts alive in your Lordships’ Chamber and I am glad that that is so. I say that rather ruefully because when I was a member of the Liberal Democrats, which was by and large a very enjoyable time, it was not easy to deal with the arts in the way that I should have liked—as a spokesman I was mostly talking about gambling, drink and other matters. As a Cross-Bencher, I hope that I may be able to be freer in my remarks.

I shall not follow the noble Earl down the road of individual support for artists. He was admirably answered by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who gave us some very constructive views and interesting comparisons with other countries.

I say to the noble Earl that it is true and obvious that the arts win no votes in elections. I do not think that there will be many debates on the doorsteps of England and Scotland on the arts policy of the particular party which is at the front door talking to them—it is just a fact of life. People take for granted the excellence of our arts in this country. We perform enormously well with all the hurdles—in fact, one could argue that artists do terribly well because of the hard road that they follow in whichever field that it may be, be it the world of music, ballet, opera, dance or film, so it is something that we can be very proud of.

Returning to the Liberal Democrats—I am not trying to get back or anything—I think that Mr Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was terribly good yesterday on “The Andrew Marr Show”, not least because he managed to fight his way through the constant interruptions,

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which certainly his predecessors on that programme and the other leaders failed to do. That may augur well for the television debates, if they should take place—it may be why the Prime Minister does not want to be wiped off the floor again by Mr Clegg. Mr Clegg said one thing yesterday which interests me, and that is the party’s commitment to literacy—which is vital, and the uses of literacy, of course, to use the title of Hoggart’s book—but it does not go far enough. If you think about it and you go to museums in London, you will find that they are always full—our museums and galleries are terrific—but you do not see many of our indigenous people there; they are mostly tourists and people who come here to go to them. This suggests to me that something is wrong with our education, and it is on education that I want to concentrate in the short time available to me.

We are closing avenues into the creative arts to young people. It is scandalous that we have exclusions from school at the current level. It is not the business of state education or the academies to decide that disruptive students and students who come from poor backgrounds and are troublesome—although one sympathises with the teachers—should be excluded. A lot of troublesome people become very good artists, as everyone in the Chamber knows. In my youth, I worked as a theatrical agent. Every day of my life, I worked with troublesome people, clever people and talented people. My children are mostly in the arts. My daughter teaches excluded children. She teaches them to think up stories and then to make a four to five-minute film. Some of those children had been in detention and in terrible trouble. The results have been remarkable.

That is my message tonight for the noble Earl: it is education that we need to attack first of all, because we are cutting out the chances for a lot of talented people to emerge.

8.10 pm

Lord Maclennan of Rogart (LD): My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for raising another issue which is central to the success of our creative industries, which are growing and are increasingly recognised by those who may not have been involved in the arts. I should like to speak about the intellectual property aspects of the arts. We have made some progress in this area, but not enough. The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit has now been set up, and could be a means of enforcement of the rights of artists.

Copyright is the mechanism through which writers, composers and music creators are paid for their work. Royalties provide essential income for creators so that they can grow and invest in themselves and their businesses. Therefore, it is essential that the copyright framework remains strong so that composers, creativity and innovation can continue to be supported.

The role of government in helping to set the framework in both the United Kingdom and the EU remains crucial in that respect, but government also has an important role to play in the field of copyright education. I commend the importance of educating people at school and subsequently to understand intellectual property, which will help to reinforce greater respect

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for it. We are all creators today, and individuals should appreciate how copyright positively relates to value creation. Education and consumer awareness programmes that seek to change current behaviour or influence future action are essential to nurture a greater culture of respect and value for the United Kingdom’s creative economy and to negate the impact of infringement.