My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 25. In moving this amendment, I need to step back, without in any way wishing to delay the House, to remind the House and those unable to be present last week that the central argument in the case for many of us is that the Government have picked the wrong system in the referendum question. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I both support electoral reform, but we oppose the multioptional preferential voting system as set out in the legislation. The problem is that the Government failed to do their homework when deciding upon a system. They had three systems from which they could select. First is the classic AV federal system that is operated in Australia. Secondly, there is the multioptional preferential system-the one that they have selected in the Bill. Thirdly, there is the supplementary vote, otherwise known as the London alternative vote.
The Government picked the system in a rush against a background of frantic coalition negotiations. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said in his speech the day before yesterday, it seems that they had in mind when they selected the scheme the fact that the Labour Government had picked a similar scheme when we presented our Bill earlier this year.
My view, and that of many of my colleagues, is that the system that has been selected is nonsense and riddled with flaws. That is why I argue for an inquiry in Amendment 22. I am convinced that whenever more than two or three are gathered together to consider AV systems, they invariably end up with the supplementary vote or London AV, which is the basis for Amendment 25. This amendment would modify the question in Clause 1 where it states:
"At present, the UK uses the 'first past the post' system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the 'alternative vote' system be used instead?".
I simply delete the word "the" alternative vote, and change it to read "an" alternative vote system.
Amendment 25 would enable Parliament to select an alternative voting system out of the three variants of AV available, to which I have referred. The Bill preselects an AV system which many of us reject, as indeed an overwhelming majority of the House would probably do on a free vote. An affirmative vote in a referendum would lead to an inquiry being established to recommend an electoral system to the House, and that inquiry would be able to select from the three systems. It deals with the distinction alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on Second Reading on
The question is simple: why cannot we have a referendum that simply seeks approval for the introduction of an AV system in principle? Parliament could then carry out a timetabled inquiry-perhaps even an independent commission of inquiry-to do the work. The Government could then introduce an order following a debate in Parliament, and at least then the merits of the various forms of AV would be debated. We would then have a system that might prove more acceptable to the voting public. My amendment would secure that pre-legislative referendum, which clearly preoccupies the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and many of his colleagues on those Benches. It would mean that the building block of an electoral system, which I want to see in place-the supplementary vote, or London AV as it is otherwise known-would be on the agenda for consideration in an inquiry.
Amendment 25-the second of my amendments in this block-is the supplementary vote amendment. This would substitute the alternative vote proposal in the Bill in the referendum question with the supplementary vote, which is a tried and tested system in the United Kingdom. It is a variant of the alternative vote. The system has been the subject of substantial international debate among academics who specialise in electoral systems. It has been the subject of critical and supportive review in both its theory and its practice by academics in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Holland, Australia and Belgium. It is the system which supporters of AV have consistently sought to rubbish, as it exposes the flaws in AV. It is simpler to use, is more easily understood by the electors and is invariably supported when subjected to rigorous debate. It is opposed by the Liberal Democrat element in the coalition because Liberal Democrats, and only they, believe that it would not deliver for them the windfall gains which they believe are available to them under the optional preferential system of the Bill.
The supplementary vote is the system that is used to elect the United Kingdom's 13 elected mayors, including Boris Johnson. The coalition hopes to create a further 12 directly elected mayors-which many of us support-presumably under the same, successful system which is now being used and supported by millions of voters in more than 30 mayoral election contests nationally in London, Bedford, Doncaster, Hartlepool, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Mansfield, Middlesbrough, Northside, Torbay and Watford.
It is curious to note that when a noticeable number of advocates in the United Kingdom of AV or even full proportional representation are commenting on electoral systems, they studiously avoid reference to the supplementary vote. It is the system that the Government adopted when they were forced to choose between AV and SV in 1998. How does it work? With the supplementary vote, there are two columns on the ballot paper: one for the first choice and one for the second. Voters can mark an X in each column if they so wish. All the first preferences are counted. If a candidate has more than 50 per cent of the votes, they are elected. If no candidate receives 50 per cent, the top two remain and the rest are eliminated. The second preference votes of the eliminated are added to the votes of the top two candidates and counted. The candidate with most first and second preferences is the winner: simple and fair. I say to the Conservative end of the coalition that when we first presented that in 1989-it is 21 years since it was first presented in Parliament-there was support on their Benches in the Commons for that system.
I have been promoting the supplementary vote since 1989. It arose after a dinner in the Commons where there had been argument for a number of weeks about proportional representation and a system that would be acceptable to Parliament. At the end of the conversation at the last dinner, I announced to my colleague that I would go away to research a new system, drawing on the experience of others in different parts of the world, which I believed would be favourably treated if it was fairly debated in Westminster. I spent nine months researching that system. I brought in Professor Patrick Dunleavy from the London School of Economics, who gave the work academic substance by testing the system using a whole series of electoral scenarios and subjecting it to the rigour of academic examination under his close supervision. We named the new system "supplementary" over a dinner in my constituency, and followed it up with a number of articles in the press and other journals in 1990. It has been the subject of a large number of reviews over all those years.
Soon after, the Labour Party established the Plant commission, which examined electoral systems including AV over four months, again in great detail. It produced the Plant report. The Plant commission, while not completely rejecting AV, came down in favour of a single-member constituency system in recognition of the desire of MPs of all parties in the Commons to retain single-member constituencies. In its comprehensive canter around the course of electoral systems, it came down strongly in favour of the supplementary vote with the following words:
"While other systems provide scope for variation from time to time, according to fashion or political whim, SV is relatively immutable; although it could be abolished (or turned into AV), there is little scope for altering the formula by which it operates. Hence, it is more likely to be durable in an unchanged form, and therefore to acquire legitimacy.
"Although it does not entail 'proportional representation' (in the sense of a direct link between votes cast nationally or regionally for a party, and the number of seats allocated to that party), it is possible that it would go some way to limit the imbalance between votes and seats that has characterised many election results ... While it would reduce the likelihood of any one party gaining an overall majority on the basis of much less than an overall majority of votes, it would not make single-party overall majorities impossible. Landslide victories, firmly establishing a major party in government without minor party support, would still be possible ... In sum, the Supplementary Vote appears to have the advantages that it is a reform which, although possibly far reaching in its consequences, would nevertheless be practical, straightforward, comparatively modest, and would generally be perceived to be fair. However, it emerged that, while there was a clear majority in favour of some form of change from the present system, there was also a clear majority in favour of a single-member constituency majoritarian system. Both the Alternative Vote and the Supplementary Vote would represent a change retaining these features. Between the two, there was, though, a clear preference for the Supplementary Vote; and, accordingly, this is the majority recommendation of the Working Party".
However, what should be of interest to the Liberal Democrats is the comments of the minority on Plant who favoured first past the post. Its view was that:
"The Supplementary Vote would be likely to increase the representation of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons-and so be more likely to produce hung parliaments and thus the possibility of coalition or minority government".
That is why I simply cannot understand the scale of their opposition. In some ways, I hope that that comment deals with remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, at our team meeting the other week in Room 3A when he put it to the meeting that it was some sort of Labour Party stitch-up. It was never a Labour Party stitch-up; it was a very mutually-based system.
The problem with the whole AV/SV debate is that the benefits of SV are often attributed by proponents of AV to the alternative vote, more often than not out of ignorance or a failure to subject both systems to detailed examination. Even the House of Lords Constitution Committee in its report on the Bill likened the system to AV when it stated in paragraph 14:
"This voting system"-
"is not currently used for any other public election in the United Kingdom, although a similar system, the Supplementary Vote, is used for mayoral elections in London and elsewhere".
It is similar, but it is very different in operation and in how the votes are counted. For a start, under SV, bottom-placed candidates' additional preferences do not have priority over the additional preferences cast for other candidates other than those cast for the top two. This avoids results where extremes, such as the BNP, can determine the results of elections, which can happen under the AV system in the Bill.
Also under SV, third and fourth-placed candidates can leapfrog into first place, undermining the credibility of election results. I understand that leapfrogging is the reason why the Liberal Democrats support AV-because it does precisely that-but that is a two-edged sword. They may wish to consider what would happen if there was an election tomorrow under the AV system in the Bill. They should remember that they are part of a coalition that is having to take some very unpopular and difficult decisions. As Plant put it:
"The main disadvantages of AV are as follows ... it is possible for low ranked candidates actually to break through and be elected so that the most weakly preferred candidate could gain a majority ... Following from the fact that the winning candidate has to get"
-at that stage he thought that was the case-
"50 per cent of the vote plus one might seem to be a less compelling principle, if that absolute majority involves weak preferences being counted".
However, that was under the Australian system, which we are not even considering. Only under the Australian system do you have to get more than 50 per cent of the vote.
The other day I referred to the work of Professor Rawlings and Professor Thrasher at length, and I do not want to repeat what I said, except to say that, following their research into voting behaviour in Queensland, Australia, which uses the same optional preference AV system as proposed in the Bill, they concluded that,
"the most likely scenario over time is that many voters will treat an AV election just like 'first past the post', and not cast multiple preferences. Incredibly, under this very same AV system, in Queensland in 2009, fully 63 per cent of those who turned out in the state elections voted for just one candidate".
Their comments on the operation of optional preferential AV completely undermine the justification for AV in this Bill whereby you give the electorate the opportunity to cast multiple preferences.
Rawlings and Thrasher argue that not everyone uses their additional preferences, whereas under SV they are more likely to do so. On
"At the three London mayoral elections in 2000, 2004 and 2008", under SV only, 20 per cent of,
"voters either voted just once or cast both their available votes for a single party candidate".
In other words, 80 per cent voted for more. I would add that the complication in that early SV election arose from the way in which the question was tabled on the ballot paper.
I argue that SV is simple, easily understood, well tried, internationally recognised, more likely to lead to the casting of additional preference votes and easy to count. I have not even dealt with the problems that arise over counting-perhaps I can do that on Report. In replying to this debate, perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity to tell us whether it is proposed under their system to count the votes manually or electronically, which is significant. Unless they are counted electronically it will not be possible to work out how effective this system is. That view is expressed by returning officers in Scotland, with whom our people have spoken over the past few days. It reduces the influence of the extremes. Finally, it concentrates the mind of the voter on the need not to waste votes. I beg to move.
I support my noble friend in this amendment. I do not want to repeat what I have said in previous debates, but we are given an opportunity here to deploy once again-certainly, it will be deployed if and when a referendum takes place-the fact that the proposal in the Bill is fraught with difficulties. What is more, untruths are told about it. It will be the case that every time someone appears on a platform or a television station and says, "Oh, they have got to get more than 50 per cent to win", someone will pop up and say, "Not true". It is not true under the system in this Bill that every MP will be elected with more than 50 per cent of the votes. It cannot happen with an open system. It is impossible. Every time it is said, whether by the Deputy Prime Minister or anyone else, it is not the case. The public are being misled.
We have to look at which system of AV is being used. I know that it is the case-it was the case with the previous Cabinet and will be with this one-that there has been no proper discussion in the Government. There has been no seminar in the Cabinet Room for Cabinet Ministers to say, "There are three ways of doing AV. Which one do you want in the Bill?". There has been no discussion at all. That is why we have a Bill based on ignorance. I am not saying that people are personally ignorant; I am saying that there is ignorance of the system.
It would not be so bad if the Government were offering up the system and telling the whole truth about it or if they said, "Well, this is the system we have got. It is not perfect, but none of them is. Most MPs will be elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote, but some of them won't be. So we won't make the claim that they all will be". But the Government are not saying that, because they cannot say it under this system. They must know that by now because their advisers must have told them about it. As I have said, there is ignorance and lack of party discussion. It was the same with the last lot-no one was ever consulted and it just turned up in the Bill earlier in the year. Part of the reason why there has been no discussion is that there are never any discussions because the Government never meet. The public think that they do, of course, but they do not. That is a difficulty and it is where the Government face a problem.
I want also to confirm briefly everything that my noble friend has said about the start of the supplementary vote. To my certain knowledge, it is true. I was involved in the beginning of the campaign; it was the time when I turned away from first past the post and moved to AV. In fact, I do not know anyone who has moved from first past the post to PR who did not stop off for a few years while they supported AV. That is the case and it was the same for me. I supported AV for four years, then the penny dropped that AV would still leave hundreds of square miles of this country where there would be millions of Tory voters without a Tory MP and millions of Labour voters without a Labour MP. I thought, "That's not fair". That turned me to PR, having been convinced by the geography specialists from Sheffield who published the book A Nation Dividing?. I stopped off by supporting AV because it was seductive. It seems to be fairer than first past the post until you realise that it does not do what it says.
The other thing that I want to point out is the issue of second preferences. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, is in the Chamber because he was absolutely right to raise this last week. I do not know all the ways of dealing with this, but why should someone win on the second preference of a person who voted for the sixth or seventh bottom candidate? That is preposterous. I have put down Amendment 52 to try to deal with this, but we certainly will not reach it today. It provides that the vote will not have the same value. If someone comes sixth, then the second preference would be worth one-sixth of a vote to be transferred, not a whole vote. However, with the supplementary vote, you avoid that completely.
By the way, people can still vote using crosses. It is a majoritarian system, not a PR system, and no one is claiming that it is. The Tory part of the coalition Government does not want a PR system, but this proposal does not offer it a PR system. This offers a majoritarian system, which is exactly what AV is. The supplementary vote is majoritarian and people can vote by making two crosses in two columns. It is actually simpler than ranking in numbers, so you really cannot go wrong, and people can vote in the way that they are used to, with a cross. But it produces a result whereby a constraint is built into the system so that the votes of the bottom candidates-the second preferences may be from the bottom candidates-do not distort the overall winner. The votes are not worth the same. Why should they be when they are at the bottom? They have value and they are used as a vote, but they should not have the sort of value that could swing the result.
My noble friend was right to say that we have not seen the localism Bill yet, but we keep hearing about it. It would be quite useful to have it brought forward because I understand that it is going to deal with mayoral referendums. Presumably that will explain the voting system to be used, which I assume will be the same as that used for the mayoral votes that take place now-that is, SV. The argument will be this: if the Government are putting forward a Bill for electing mayors using SV, why are we talking about AV for the other place? SV is more convenient and more efficient and it is less open to misconceptions and telling porkies about what the outcome might be, which is the case for the AV system proposed in this Bill. Also, it is majoritarian. Let us have an AV system that is honest and clear and where people have a choice. I say again that it would not be my first choice, because I would go down the PR route, but if I am faced with the supplementary vote or first past the post, I will vote for the supplementary vote. If I am faced with the AV system in this Bill or first past the post, I am forced-and that is why I resent it-to stick with first past the post. SV is a much better system. It is one that the Government use now for mayoral elections and which I suspect they will propose in the localism Bill currently chugging its way through the machinery of government.
My noble friend has made a valid case and the Government would be well advised to heed it. As I have said, it is never too late to avoid making a bad decision. SV is in use in Great Britain and millions of people have used it-not across the country, I accept, but only in areas where there are elected mayors. It is tried and tested and it is British. AV, as proposed in the Bill, is not a British way of doing things, notwithstanding what happens in by-elections in Scotland. My noble friend's positive approach to this issue should be supported.
No, as my noble friend explained in even greater detail. However many candidates there are on the list, noble Lords should envisage the current ballot paper but with two columns. Voters put an X in the first column and an X in the second column-obviously for different people-and the contest is then between those two candidates only. One person could get elected, of course, with more than 50 per cent in the first column, as is the case with AV now, and that would be great. However, it would not be possible for the least popular candidate to leapfrog the popular candidate, as can happen with AV.
This is the first time that I have spoken on the Bill. I apologise that I did not speak at Second Reading and I do not expect to speak very often in Committee, which will please my noble friends.
I rise to speak because the debate is about the supplementary vote, which I consider to be an awful voting system. I want to explain why. Before I do, however, in response to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, I should explain that it is not possible under AV for a candidate who gets no first preference votes to be elected. It is possible, but highly unlikely, under STV in a multimember seat; it is not possible under AV. That is a red herring.
I normally expect the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, to speak a great deal of sense and to put forward sensible proposals, even when I am not allowed to support them. Nevertheless, I am astonished that he thinks that the supplementary vote is a good system. However, as he said, he was in at the genesis of the system, which was put together at a dinner party when people were talking around the table. It was something like that, anyway; it is a nice story. The noble Lord also said that it is tried and tested-as, indeed, it is-and that many people seek to rubbish it. That may be because it is a rubbish system. It is inefficient-I shall explain why in a moment-and it results in people being cheated. They think that they are voting and expect their vote to be counted, but it is not counted.
As the noble Lord said, the system is used in 12 mayoral elections for councils and for the election of the Mayor of London, so there is, indeed, a great deal of experience. However, on the evidence that we have, it is not particularly beneficial to any of the political parties. It often seems beneficial to candidates of weird and wonderful varieties but, at the moment, of the 12 mayors, three are Labour, two are Conservative, two are Liberal Democrat, four are independent and one is an English Democrat. People ought to at least ask questions about any system that allows the election of an English Democrat, as the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, against AV included the suggestion that that system might lead to influence for BNP voters.
They would, yes. However, whether they would have stood and whether it would have resulted in their election is a different matter altogether. It may be that the problem is with elected mayors and not with the system used to elect them. However, we will have that discussion under the localism Bill when we come to it. Indeed, at least five of the existing elected mayors were elected with over 50 per cent of first preferences, so whatever electoral system you have makes no difference whatsoever.
I think that you have to look at the outcomes, but my objections and, I think, those of the Liberal Democrats to the supplementary vote are not based on whether it is good for Liberal Democrats. The noble Lord was seductive in trying to find an electoral system that would be best for us, but that is not how we look at election systems. It is certainly not how I look at election systems. We look at election systems as a matter of principle.
That is certainly how I look at election systems. We have here a system that is bad in principle but also shown in practice to be defective. I shall refer to three or four actual elections to explain what happened.
At the last ordinary election in Bedford-we have had a by-election since then-the total number of votes cast was 43,525. The top two candidates, who, under the supplementary vote system, as the noble Lord accurately described, go through to the final round, got 26,676. That means that the first preferences of other candidates amounted to 16,849. Of those, only 6,335 transferred to one of the two candidates who remained in the final round. Therefore, of the second preference votes, 10,514 could not transfer-62.4 per cent of the second votes did not transfer. Some of them may have been spoiled, but I cannot get that information. Nearly a quarter of the total-24.2 per cent-voted for candidates in the second column, for their second preference, but their second preference was thrown away without being counted. I believe that those voters were being cheated of what the system pretends that they can do, which is to cast a first preference and then cast a second preference.
On that matter, again, if the noble Lord is comparing the system with AV and alluding to what he might regard as wasted votes, or unused votes, is it not true that under the system in the Bill a bottom-placed candidate could take a top-placed candidate over the 50 per cent limit? Therefore, every additional preference for all the other candidates would be unused under the Government's proposed system. You would have a whole ballot paper wiped out on the basis of the simple transfer of the bottom eliminated candidate taking the first-placed candidate over 50 per cent. That is an outrageous waste of votes. If the noble Lord's case is based on wasted votes, there are far more votes wasted under AV when you start doing research into election results.
I do not want to talk about AV; I want to talk about the supplementary vote. However, the main votes wasted under AV are where people do not express any further preferences and therefore that vote is not transferable, but that is their decision. It is their decision not to express a further preference after they have decided who they want to vote for down to however far they vote. Under this system, people very clearly express a preference and that preference is discarded. In Bedford in 2007, as I said, it was a quarter of the vote.
In Mansfield in 2007, where the two top candidates got a much larger proportion of the total vote, it was still the case that, of those eliminated on the second count, 2,350 transferred and 3,853 did not transfer. Of those, 1,199 were void as unmarked or for reasons of uncertainty. It may be, of course, that people did not want to express a second preference, but one of the problems of the supplementary vote is that it leads to a much higher proportion of votes being void because they are not filled in accurately. For example, there are many people who vote for the same candidate in both columns. It is perfectly easy to do that, but you cannot do it under the alternative vote system, only under the supplementary vote system. It is clear that that is what people did.
I just want to correct the noble Lord. The reason why that happened in the first mayoral elections in London was that the civil servants meddled with the drafting of the ballot paper that some of us had proposed to the Government. Thanks to that meddling, people ended up misunderstanding how to use their votes in the first London elections. Following that mistake, there was an argument in the House of Commons and the ballot paper was corrected. In the subsequent elections, the problem did not arise.
The problem did not arise to the same extent. I do not have the figures for the London mayoral elections, although those are available-for most counts, no figures are issued to show exactly why people's votes were rejected.
In the 2007 Mansfield mayoral elections, 892 votes were rejected at the first count. At 3 per cent of the total, that is significantly higher than the normal number of rejected ballot papers in an election. Of those 892 ballot papers, 483 were rejected because the person had voted for more than one candidate in the first column. Such errors are to be expected when people are told only, "You've got two votes-you vote for one person as your first preference and one person as your second preference". It is not surprising that a significant number of people vote twice in the first column. Only an inefficient voting system encourages people to make mistakes like that.
These points should be answered because this is a debate on the technical working of the system. Research into AV in Australia found that the requirement to number the candidates meant that people simply numbered "1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6", "7" and so on down the ballot paper, without even thinking of the candidates involved. That is how people thought that they had to use the system, so there are equally problems with AV over how people understand the ballot paper.
I am talking about the supplementary vote and trying to point out why that is a bad system. However, in any long ballot paper with lots of candidates, people near the top of the ballot paper always do better than people near the bottom. That happens with multiseat elections under the first-past-the-post system, for example. If noble Lords have ideas on how to counter that issue-there are several ideas around-perhaps they can put them forward, but that is not what we are talking about today.
In the 2010 Watford mayoral election-which was won by a Liberal Democrat, so I am not making a party-political point about rejected votes, which might have been against the Liberal Democrat candidate-the number of eliminated ballot papers was 12,202. Of those, the number of valid ballot papers was only 5,381, which is less than half.
The most ludicrous example of all comes from the most recent mayoral election in Torbay in 2005-I do not think that there has been another election since-where the 14 candidates, which I agree is an extreme example, included: a Conservative, a Liberal Democrat, a Labour candidate and 11 independents. The Conservative was elected on the second count, after the first preferences were added to those few second preferences that transferred to the top two candidates, with a grand total of 28.9 per cent of the vote. Surely that is not a particularly efficient electoral system. The 9,094 first-preference votes for the top two candidates-who were Conservative and Liberal Democrat-accounted for 37.6 per cent of the vote. The other candidates got 15,076 first-preference votes, which is 62.4 per cent of the vote, but only 3,199 of those 15,000-odd votes that is, 21 per cent-could be transferred. Almost half-49 per cent-of all second preferences votes did not count because they were not transferred, although they accounted for nearly 79 per cent of second preferences. I am not complaining about the fact that the Conservative was elected-the Conservative might have been elected under AV-but what a hopeless voting system to end up with a result like that.
The supplementary vote results in people being cheated out of their second preferences. SV is an inefficient and unnecessary system that was invented for party-political reasons by the Labour Party, which imposed it on the mayoral elections. The supplementary vote is a very bad system that should be rejected.
In Amendment 25, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has offered a lifeboat to the coalition, just as my noble friend Lord Rooker did the other day, when-slightly to their surprise-the coalition Government found themselves in another lifeboat. For two reasons, they might do well to take a ride in it.
First, the alternative vote system proposed in the Bill plainly will not work. It would be very foolish for the Government to plough ahead with the proposal because the inadequacies of the system will be exposed in the process of the campaign. There may not have been a seminar on that in the Cabinet room, but there will be a national seminar. If the system is as fallacious as I believe it to be, those weaknesses will ineluctably be exposed and the campaign for the alternative vote will disintegrate and become a fiasco. That might be a matter for some quiet satisfaction to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but it should be a matter of some anxiety to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and indeed to all of us. Whatever our views on the rights and wrongs of holding a referendum, getting rid of first past the post and having AV instead, none of us wants to see this process reduced to complete impracticality and ridicule, which is what I fear will happen.
Noble Lords would do well to heed the arguments of, and to use the opportunity put forward by, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has sought to persuade the House that the supplementary vote is a bad system. In those very interesting exchanges, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours seemed to have the better of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in the argument. The supplementary vote system has been road-tested in this country through the practicalities of election campaigns. I am not aware of any significant public dissatisfaction of the practical operation of the supplementary vote system. In Amendments 22 and 25, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has offered a lifeboat to the Government; they would be very wise to accept the opportunity that he has presented to them.
My Lords, this is an important debate on an issue that might figure in the course of the referendum campaign. Clause 9 sets out in detail the alternative vote system that the referendum will be about, which is a system in which people could vote "1", "2", "3", "4" and "5" but would not have to use all five preferences. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has identified two other AV systems. Under the AV system used in the federation of Australia, voters are compelled to use all their preferences. Under the third alternative vote system-called the supplementary vote system-voters identify their top two preferences and the second preferences of those who voted for the other candidates are shared out between the top two.
As Clause 9 establishes, the Government have chosen the AV system that is used in Queensland, Australia. For the sake of the electorate, it is important for the Government to set out why they have chosen that alternative vote system in preference to both the system used in federal elections in Australia and the supplementary vote system that has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. Once the Government set out what their reasoning is, this House can judge whether the AV system chosen is the right one or whether amendments should be made in relation to the alternative vote. Perhaps more importantly, the public voting in the referendum will be able to judge whether it is sensible to vote in favour of the particular alternative vote system that the Government have adopted. As we have identified before, this is-as it were-a compulsory referendum because our previous amendment failed. The effect of a majority yes vote, once the new constituency boundaries are in-those are tied in as well in Clause 8-is that the system in Clause 9 will automatically come into effect. The public will be voting not just on the principle of AV but on the detail of the particular system adopted. Therefore, it would be helpful if the Minister would set out the reasoning behind Clause 9.
My children have always thought that I am a bit of a nerd because I am so interested in politics, but if they had heard the invigorating debate between the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, they would think that I was the coolest man alive.
My Lords, I very much admire the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, introduced the amendment. I also admire his perseverance, eloquence and sincerity. He gave us the history of the genesis of the supplementary vote since one of his dinner parties that occurred in 1989. I make no joke about his dinner parties, as I am sure that it was very good. Historians will want to know what on earth he ate at that dinner party, but that is for history.
My Lords, I am a reader of the Guardian newspaper-
That might shock some of my noble friends. However, I was astonished to read in this morning's Guardian a letter from the leading lights of the Labour Party, including many Labour Peers, who support AV in a very different way from that of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. Therefore, he has not quite won over all Labour Party members since 1989. He prayed in aid the noble Lord, Lord Plant-who was not present at the time but appeared later and has now gone again, which is a pity-who was one of the signatories to the letter in the Guardian. Whatever the Plant commission thought then, the noble Lord, Lord Plant, now thinks that AV is the right system to champion and he will vote for it.
Before I get into the detail of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, intends by Amendments 22 and 25, I must stress again that it is fundamentally important that the referendum gives the public a clear choice about the systems that they are asked to choose between. That is the only way that we will get a clear result that will allow voters truly to express what they want. We cannot simply ask the people whether they want "an alternative voting system"; we need to be honest with them right from the start by letting them know exactly which alternative system they are being asked to vote on.
A key problem with Amendment 22 is that, by its very nature, it does not make clear whether the revised question would ask whether voters want an alternative to the current voting system-meaning a system that is not first past the post-or, more specifically, the alternative vote electoral system. Consequently, the noble Lord's amendment raises a very significant risk that some members of the public might vote in favour of "an alternative vote system" because they want something different from the current first-past-the-post system, but they may think that they are voting for the single transferable vote system or the additional member system-they might not want a form of "the" alternative vote system at all. The crucial change of "the" to "an" would make the question so ambiguous that the result of the referendum could be impossible to decipher. We would not know what the people really wanted at all.
Given the noble Lord's interest in the various alternative vote systems-in particular, the supplementary vote system to which Amendment 25 refers-he may intend by Amendments 22 and 25 to debate the merits of those different types of alternative vote systems. The noble Lord referred to his amendment concerning a committee of inquiry that we discussed on the first Committee day. I do not wish to reopen that debate, but I understand that the point that he made then is at least tangential to the point that he is making today. We had a full debate on that then, so I will not reopen it.
However, a number of noble Lords have suggested-including, indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton-that they would welcome a clear explanation of why the Government are putting forward this specific form of AV. I will address that point here, which I hope will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, on why the alternative vote system set out in the Bill is the right choice to put before the public in the referendum.
The type of alternative vote system specified in the Bill that will come into force if there is a yes vote in the referendum is the optional preferential alternative vote system. We believe that to be the right form of alternative vote to put before the people, because we believe that it is right to allow electors to choose to mark as many or as few preferences as they wish. The optional preferential alternative vote system is different from the system used to elect the Australian federal House of Representatives, for which voters are required to express a preference by ranking all candidates standing at the election. The optional preferential system is a more appropriate form of alternative vote, because it prevents people from being forced to vote positively for political parties that might be distasteful to them, such as those on the extremes of politics. The optional preferential system does not put people in such an uncomfortable position. People should not be forced to vote for anybody-no matter how far down the rankings the candidate might be placed-whom they do not want to see elected.
In response to other criticisms, notably from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, of the optional preferential alternative vote system, it is possible to have a situation in which no candidate receives 50 per cent of the vote. That could happen if most people expressed only a first preference. However, that argument will no doubt be used during the course of the campaign both by those who are in favour and those who are not in favour of AV. I will not indulge that argument now.
The Leader of the House is deploying arguments that he has not used so far in this debate. He is to be congratulated for the exposition that he has just given. It naturally follows from what he has just said that it would be completely misleading for members of the Government to persist in claiming that the proposed system will mean that MPs will be elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote. That has got to stop. If he said that that will stop, that would knock one of the misleading issues off the agenda so far as the public are concerned.
I like to think that I have made an authoritative statement from the Dispatch Box as to what the Government believe to be the case. However, as the noble Lord knows, we will not be controlling the campaign-different people will make their different views known as to the merits or demerits of AV. However, the noble Lord is right. I have agreed with him, and I thank him for his earlier words about this case.
I am sorry to come back at this stage, but the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is sitting next to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, so we really need to have this sorted out. During the course of an interview on
"This reform will mean you will go to Parliament with at least half of your constituents having consciously voted for you".
Now, that is why my noble friend intervened. It is really important that this is sorted out, if Ministers from now on are to go on television and admit that. I would make the same point to the very articulate Mr Barclay, I think, who is part of the AV campaign, who also goes on television and repeats this 50-plus per cent argument. Can we be sure now that that is really at an end?
Those who are in favour of the system will no doubt be responsible for what they say during the course of the campaign, but that is not part of the debate that we need to have now. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the Electoral Commission-
My Lords, it is no use saying that those who are in favour of the proposal will deploy whatever arguments they like. Given that the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords have joint responsibility for presenting the Bill to Parliament, presumably they have joint responsibility for presenting some of the arguments to people in the country. If it is not true, as my noble friend has made perfectly clear, that successful candidates under the proposed system would have the support of 50 per cent of the voters in their constituency, could we have that loud and clear, preferably from both the Leader of the House and-after all, this is a double act-the Deputy Leader of the House at the Dispatch Box? Accuracy is important. Surely the noble Lord would agree with me on that?
My Lords, on this Front Bench we are entirely tied by collective responsibility and my noble friend is totally aware of that. The point is that in the generality we would expect more than 50 per cent of voters to have voted for MPs, but there are circumstances, as I and the noble Lord have explained, where that will not be the case.
I was saying as a matter of assurance that the Electoral Commission will provide information on the different voting systems so that people will understand how the optional preferential system works.
My Lords, the circumstance is when most people who vote express only a first preference and do not then list any further preferences.
The Electoral Commission will be providing this kind of information, and voters will know what they are voting for in the referendum. If they choose AV, it will, I assume, be because they want to express more than one preference at an election, because if they do not, they may as well vote for what we have currently got. So I do not think that there is really any need to worry about voters not exercising this right, if that is the very system that they voted for in the first place. Just as we are not convinced that voters should be made to express a preference for all candidates, we are not persuaded that the Bill should limit the number of preferences that a voter may express at an election. Therefore, we do not agree that the supplementary vote system is the appropriate alternative vote system to present.
I have set out our reasoning and I do not want to go on about arguments that I have already made, but I assume that this is the same reasoning that was behind the previous Government's proposals for a referendum on this same type of alternative vote system. I know that we have spent some time on this amendment, but it was worth while doing so and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I shall briefly comment on the interventions. I say to my noble friend Lord Rooker that we have travelled down exactly that route-from first past the post, through an AV variant to an additional member system. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that I dispute the figures he used during his intervention and I shall trawl over them. He is perhaps unaware of the failure to use additional preferences, which goes to the heart of the argument over the AV system that he supports. During the debate on whether this clause should stand part of the Bill, I hope to produce evidence of what happened in Scotland on these very matters.
My noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport is absolutely right to identify the TV campaign as being critical to what is going to happen. I can envisage circumstances in which advocates of this AV system are demolished in argument in front of the nation on news bulletins, on "Newsnight" and so on. We will see slowly dripping away any residual support that there is for this system. I say to the Government that they might be looking forward to that prospect, but on that basis the Liberal Democrats should certainly not be looking forward to it.
I again thank my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer for his clear, lawyer's explanation of my system, and I apologise to the House for intervening repeatedly. However, I did so because it is important in advance of the referendum that we strike down some of the myths that have been used throughout this whole debate. I understand the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on the wording of the amendment and the question of "an" alternative vote system, and I might well return at Report with another amendment precisely to deal with that matter.
Finally, I say this to the Government because I really think that Conservative Back-Benchers, Conservative members of the coalition, should carefully consider what they are doing. In my mind, the question to ask is whether they, as Conservative Members of Parliament, Members of the House, are prepared, for the sake of a possible five-year survival of a coalition, to take the immense risk of allowing a referendum result which could completely transform the British electoral system, could cause huge damage and undermine the whole credibility of parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom. Maybe it is that they are confident that the referendum will be lost, but are they really prepared to take that risk? I say to Conservative noble Lords: be very careful, you are playing with fire.
I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
Amendment 23 not moved.
Tabled by Lord Rooker
24: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out ""alternative vote"" and insert ""single transferable vote""
With respect to Amendment 24, in view of the clarity of the Leader's speech this afternoon, as a reward and to avoid further embarrassment to the Liberal Democrats, I will not move Amendment 24.
Amendment 24 not moved.
Amendments 25 to 27 not moved.
Moved by Lord Snape
28: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert-
"( ) There is to be another question on the ballot papers as follows-
For electing your Member of Parliament in future, would you prefer to vote on a-
(a) Thursday; or
A lot of the debate that has taken place so far on this Bill has been about the referendum itself, about the wording of the referendum or whether different voting systems should be adopted. But, whatever the views that have been expressed by both sides in your Lordships' House, by all parties and by none, the one thing I suspect unites us all is the desire to see higher turnouts in elections generally in the United Kingdom. For that reason, my noble friend Lady McDonagh and I have tabled this amendment about polling day.
It seems to be generally accepted that, in elections, polling day should be held on a Thursday. That is a fairly modern trend. It is not something that we have had for centuries, or even decades. Indeed, my first election to a local authority-to the Bredbury and Romiley urban district council in 1971-took place on a Saturday. Polling for local authorities, particularly UDCs and RDCs, at that time took place on various days of the week. It allowed those of us who had perhaps outgrown train spotting, but were looking for something else to do, to campaign on behalf of colleagues in other elections in other parts-in my case, in the north-west.
Thursday as polling day for elections is not set in stone or in concrete. Nor is it set in stone or in concrete as regards parliamentary elections, or, for that matter, parliamentary by-elections. Back in July 2007, the previous Government published a Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, and followed it with a consultation paper about this very point: whether turnout in elections would be increased or improved if polling was held at the weekend rather than during the week. Perhaps I may quote briefly from the foreword to that consultation document written by my noble friend Lord Wills, who at that time was the Minister of State for Justice. The Government envisaged a summit and notified over 20 bodies as well as publicising to the general public as widely as possible the desire for people to participate in this particular exercise. In this document, my noble friend proposed a citizens' summit to look at the point. He stated:
"I also want to use that Summit to have a broader discussion about the factors that motivate people to exercise their right to vote. The sense of a civic 'duty' to vote has eroded over the last 50 years. It is vital for all of us that we understand the reasons".
Whether turnout on polling day would be improved if we moved the day is perhaps an issue on which he received some replies. I am not sure why we did not take those replies forward. If my noble friend intervenes in this debate, no doubt he will tell us. The idea that polling should not necessarily be held on a Thursday is one that we should look at.
It is only since the Local Government Act 1972, which abolished the Bredbury and Romiley urban district council along with many other units of local government throughout the United Kingdom, that Thursday has been set as the day on which elections should be held. When one looks back at the history of general elections, Thursday appears only infrequently. Up to and including the First World War, it was possible in many parts of the country to vote over a four-week period. I am not suggesting that we return to those days. However, the election on
It is a similar story with by-elections. They have been held on various days of the week over many years. As recently as 1978, the Hamilton by-election in Scotland was held on
I hope that the Government will look seriously at this. It is sensible to look at weekend voting in the United Kingdom. Whether this would be on Saturdays or Sundays I will leave to the opinion of the Government Front Bench. Of course, there are objections to both days on religious grounds, but most of our EU neighbours vote on Sundays and the attendance at various churches throughout the EU does not seem to be adversely affected. It would even be possible to hold elections over both Saturday and Sunday. This would deprive the Dimbleby family of the opportunity to appear on our various television channels presenting the results during the evening, but that is probably a cross that all of us would be able to bear, if not with equanimity than at least without too much disappointment. I will not detain your Lordships further on this point. It is worthy of consideration and I will be interested to hear the views either of the Leader of the House or of his deputy.
My Lords, I remember the words of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, in an earlier debate when he said, "If it's not broke, don't break it". That seems to fit most of the prejudices with which I approach politics. But I think we should look again at the question of voting on Thursdays. That was set up in an age when people did not move very much. We are now dealing with a much more mobile population and people who travel all over the country. How many of us have canvassed on election day, knocking on doors to find that somebody has travelled the length of the country and is sitting in some city a very long way away from where they can vote? There are arguments for moving the date of an election to the weekend because it is much more likely that people would then be at home. This is something that needs consideration. As the noble Lord, Lord Snape, pointed out, the Europeans on the whole vote on Sundays and that seems to be eminently sensible. This has a degree of merit and should be seriously considered because the habits of people are changing.
A noble friend said to me when I was considering supporting this amendment that we now have postal voting and so therefore this becomes less of a problem. I am not certain about that. Postal voting has opened up enormous opportunities for fraud and it seems to be possible to create electors in inordinately large numbers who do not actually exist. There is something to be said for restraining the growth in postal voting and possibly considering moving the election day to the weekend when there will be more people at home and in a position to vote.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, on this and to support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Snape. Both noble Lords are right to draw attention to the fact that in the past there has been a great flexibility on election day and the changing circumstances of the British people now suggest that we ought to be looking at this again. That is why the previous Government held a consultation on this issue. That consultation, for which I was the Minister responsible, proved a very interesting one. There was a mixed response, as one would expect. There were a lot of voices in favour of moving election day. There were equally, I think it is fair to say, a lot of voices very much opposed to it. But what it showed was that there are a great number of issues that have to be taken into account on this: participation in elections, which is a fundamental of our democracy, questions of faith, the patterns of the working day for the great majority of the British electorate and the cost of shifting the election day.
These are complex issues. In the end the previous Government took the view that it was right that the British people should have a decisive say in that. It is their democracy. It is not for us but for them to decide what day would be most convenient, bearing in mind all those other considerations that both noble Lords have alluded to and which the consultation highlighted. We thought in Government that the best way of allowing the British people to have their say was through a citizens' summit, as my noble friend Lord Snape has reminded us. I still think that probably is the best way but I realise that that is not on offer from the Government. I regret that, but we have a unique opportunity with a referendum. It is the next best thing and I urge the Government to consider this. Both noble Lords have made powerful cases for the consideration of this. It is not a question of deciding to shift it from Thursday. This is really about giving the British people the right to decide. I have heard the Leader of the House say many times that the British people are wise and sagacious enough to make these decisions for themselves. Those on both sides of the debate will put their arguments forward but then the British people in their wisdom will decide. He has said that many times in our debates on this Bill already so I urge him to follow his own logic and accept the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Snape and at least put it to the British people to decide.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I am rather surprised by what he is saying. I apologise for the fact that I was not in the House for the beginning of this debate, but is he saying that he would like to see the British people being given the choice as to whether it is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday? If he is, the people will simply split and you will have 10 per cent saying one thing, 10 per cent saying another, et cetera. I have stood in seven or eight general elections, all of them on a Thursday, and I never saw anything wrong with it being on a Thursday. People are used to that and personally I would continue having them on Thursdays only.
I had sat down, but I shall briefly respond to the noble Lord's question. He asked what was wrong with having elections on a Thursday. Quite simply, we have seen turnout falling. It is extraordinarily low in local elections and deplorably low even in general elections, which is the British people deciding on the future of their country and 60 per cent of them turn out. We owe it to them to look at every obstacle to people turning out. I absolutely accept that it is not only to do with the convenience of polling and whether there is electronic voting or voting on election day. Politicians-I include myself in this-are at fault as well in this deplorably low turnout. We should do everything we possibly can. At the very least we have to examine, as one of the options, the question of polling day. That is why I think it is worth examining this matter. The Government in their wisdom have already made a judgment on how we should judge the outcome of a referendum on the alternative vote system. We do this every time we have a referendum. This is not an insoluble problem. The need is pressing and we owe the British people the option of deciding on this.
If one is thinking of opting for weekend voting, it would be preferable to choose a Sunday rather than a Saturday. Of course, it is true that many shops and places of entertainment are open on Sundays nowadays but not nearly as many as are open on a Saturday, when there are a great many choices which the average voter might prefer to queuing up at a polling station. If one wants to optimise turnout, as I think most of us do, of the two I would certainly plump for a Sunday.
I would not follow my noble friend along that very controversial path, but perhaps I may make a broader point, broader than the amendment itself. It seems to me that there is a case for drawing a clear distinction between general elections and all other elections. General elections have, for many decades, been held on a Thursday for a particular reason, which is that by Friday morning one pretty well knows who is likely to form the government and it gives the new Prime Minister, or the continuing Prime Minister, the opportunity of a couple of days to cobble together all those considerations that are so pertinent to the formation of a new government. That applies only to general elections and not to all other elections. Therefore, it seems to me that one should draw that distinction. I have a fairly open mind about the amendment, but if one considers that there is much greater latitude for all non-general elections than for general elections, I think that should be a practical background to our consideration.
I wish to express my support for the amendment of my noble friend, Lord Snape. This may be an esoteric point but reference has been made to elections in other parts of Europe. Over the years, I have witnessed many elections in France and it is not just tradition that demands that they be held at a weekend; there are also some practical reasons and I shall cite just one. It may sound a little bit like French Cartesian logic gone mad, but it is much easier to get people to the polls at a weekend than on a weekday. Where there are still many one-car families, as there are in France, on the weekend the car will be at home and not at the office. That is one example of the kind of thinking in France and it is the kind of thinking that we might want to apply here to see what kind of practical advantages there are as regards weekend elections as opposed to elections on a Thursday.
I was not going to speak on the amendment but perhaps I could add to the debate by referring to the next amendment. Everything short of compulsory voting should be tried to raise the turnout. I am dead against compulsory voting. In my view, that is quite preposterous in a democracy. However, the barriers to increased turnout, such as the hours of polling, or the days of voting, are all things that could be addressed. There is a lot more as well. All these things should be in play. I realise that the Leader of the House is going to ask what on earth this has to do with this Bill, but one has to look for a peg to hang these things on. The localism Bill will probably be another one-it is exactly the same. I have been disabused of the history this afternoon. I always thought that it was a Thursday-and I have repeated this at meetings-because in the old days, that was the day the squires went to market and bought and sold constituencies. It seems as though I may have been wrong.
My Lords, it strikes me that the amendment prompts three questions. The first is whether we should change the date, and that is what my noble friend Lord Hamilton and some others have addressed. The second is whether this is a question that is appropriate to be included in the referendum. That is the substantial point that we should address. There are various problems in including this question. One has already been alluded to: it is a limited choice. It may be that electors prefer to go on a Monday or a Sunday, so we do not know whether providing this dichotomous choice will reflect the actual preferences of electors, as they are being offered too limited a choice. Another problem-it is a technical point-concerns what would happen if electors expressed a preference for Saturday rather than Thursday as far as the Bill is drawn. We know what will happen if they vote yes on the question of AV, but the Bill is merely silent as to what the consequence would be, so in effect it would be akin to an opinion poll.
The third and most important point is why we should have this question rather than others. We will be looking at other questions to be included, but priorities are important. If we start adding to it, there is a danger of overdoing it, and I am not sure this question should take priority for the simple reason that we could find out through an opinion poll. I think that that would be sufficient for these purposes.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. It is one that is had practically every time we have any Bill that mentions voting. The facts are interesting. Since 1935, every general election has been held on a Thursday. In 1931, it was held on a Tuesday. In 1922 and 1924, elections took place on Wednesdays, and in December 1918, as my noble friend Lord Snape said, election day was a Saturday, so weekend voting is not a new idea. There is no statutory requirement for elections to held on Thursdays. They could be held on any weekday except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Good Friday, a Bank Holiday, or any day appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning. It was in 1983 that Saturday and Sunday were also designated as dies non under the parliamentary election rules in the Representation of the People Act. This amendment gives an opportunity to debate whether Saturday should be a dies non, but not Sunday.
To deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, I emphatically think this is obviously not a question for a referendum. If we start voting in a referendum on whether it should be Thursday or Saturday, goodness knows what we will then be voting on in a referendum. I am opposed to it being in a referendum. Referendums should be kept for constitutional questions. I know from talking to my noble friend Lord Snape that that of course was not his intention. His intention was that we should debate the issue in relation to whether it is appropriate. I agree completely with the approach taken by my noble friend Lord Rooker on whether it increases turnout. We all agree that we should try to increase turnout. Attractive as the approach taken by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry is, that he has never had any trouble on Thursdays-because he has always won his elections, presumably, that is why he likes Thursday-I am not necessarily sure that should be the bar to it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that we should look into the question. In fact, pilots have taken place in local elections in relation to Saturdays and it would be helpful to hear from the Government what the evaluation of those pilots was and what the conclusion in relation to it is. Ultimately the test is the one that my noble friend Lord Rooker sets: does it increase turnout? If it does, then I hope that the Government will think about doing it seriously.
The main reason why I shall disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Snape, is precisely the one that we have witnessed over the past 23 minutes. It is a fascinating debate and different people have different views about different days of the week. This debate has yet to mature, so it is not one for the Bill, which is about a specific referendum on AV. In fact, I remember the noble Lord and some of his colleagues complaining that we should not have more than one difficult issue on a day, but here he is proposing one himself. However, I also know that he wanted to tease out the Government's view on this subject.
We believe that a further question on the referendum ballot paper would detract from the Government's main purpose, which is to see whether voters wish to change from the current first past the post voting system to the alternative vote system. As we have heard this afternoon, there are arguments for and against moving polling day from the traditional Thursday to a Saturday, and lots of evidence, supporting or not, on turnout and the use of postal votes. In experiments and consultation, there are divided opinions on whether such a change would be more convenient for voters and whether it would lead to an increased turnout. There are also resource and cost issues, alongside concerns about practicability.
In weighing up those arguments, the Government have seen no evidence that such a move would bring any clear benefits. It is not obvious that moving polling day from the traditional Thursday to a Saturday or Sunday would make it easier for electors to vote. This is probably the subject of a wider debate, or even a Private Member's Bill. I am unable to support the noble Lord.
I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the House for participating in this debate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that this is not a particularly suitable amendment for the Bill, but if not here, where? We repeat as a mantra from all quarters of the House that we are desperate to involve more people in our democratic processes, and this strikes me as one way of doing so.
I am especially grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, who knows what I am thinking when I move these amendments before I have thought of it myself. It is truly the mark of a major and outstanding parliamentarian that he can be so perceptive. I not only accept that this legislation is not suitable for the amendment but I accept the views of the government Front Bench. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for what he had to say. I was not aware that I had complained personally about the number of different issues in the Bill; indeed, I thought that I was responsible for some of them rather than complaining about them. However, in the spirit of co-operation with which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, replied to the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Snape
29: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert-
"( ) There is to be another question on the ballot papers as follows-
Do you think there should be compulsory voting for general elections?
(a) Yes; or
My Lords, I fear that this is yet another amendment that may rouse the ire of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, because of its lack of suitability, but there is perhaps a more important point in this amendment than in the previous one. As I have said, and has been said from all quarters of the House, we are interested in increasing turnout at elections. This is one certain way to do that.
We are aware from previous debates that although only Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia have favoured the system of AV inherent in the Bill, lots more countries have a system of compulsory voting. Across all those countries, turnout has increased dramatically. One might argue that that is because of the punishments for those who fail to vote, but by and large those punishments are minimal, if they are enforced at all. Yet, in Australia, for example, which has the system of AV that we are going to wish on ourselves if this Bill is carried, turnout at general elections is consistently over 90 per cent, although the penalties for failure to vote are very small indeed.
My noble friend Lord Rooker pre-empted this amendment in his comments on the previous amendment by saying that he feels that compulsory voting is unacceptable in a democracy. Instead of having punitive punishments for those who fail to vote, why not have some sort of incentive if we are going to have compulsory voting? A voucher for £10, £15 or £20 off your rates bill, for example, would provide an incentive without the fear of punitive punishment if one fails to vote.
Interestingly enough, countries closer to us than Australia have compulsory voting. I had not realised until I researched this amendment that in France it is compulsory to vote in a Senate election, although I have no doubt that experts on these matters in other parts of your Lordships' House would have realised that. That compulsion is not enforced, but it is believed to bring about an increase in turnout for Senate elections. Although I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will say that this amendment is unsuitable in the Bill, I hope that it will bring about a dramatic increase in voter turnout at this and every other election for that reason in particular.
There is one other reason that I meant to mention: that additional voter participation in general elections would at least remove to some degree the exorbitant and enormous expenditure that political parties indulge in now at general elections. Something like £30 million was spent in advertising and promotional material at the recent general election. I will not go into the division of that money between the various parties. That money could be better spent elsewhere, and if we could guarantee a proper turnout under compulsion, that would be a better way of increasing turnout than throwing the sort of money that all the political parties have to throw at the moment in an attempt to bring about voter participation. I beg to move.
My Lords, unusually, I disagree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Snape. I believe that forcing people to vote is eminently undemocratic. In a democracy, people should have the opportunity to vote or not to vote. If you want to say to people, "You must indulge in this democracy and you must go to the polling station or put a cross on a ballot paper and post it", you are taking away their freedom not to participate in an election to elect people who you perhaps do not like or perhaps dislike completely. I am not at all sure that this is a good amendment in any sense at all. Although more people may very well turn out to cast their ballot, you will have to persuade them in some way that they should do so, and the only way you can do that is by imposing a fine on them. Indeed, that is another argument against trying to force people to vote when they might not want to.
It might also be difficult for people to vote. Indeed, polling stations in some constituencies are getting further and further away these days from the voters than they used to be so that it may very well be inconvenient, to say the least, for some people to go to vote in person. However, I come back to the general position that in a democracy people should be allowed to vote for whom they wish and should make the decision themselves as to whether they should vote at all. Anything other than that smacks of autocracy rather than democracy. If this amendment is put to the vote, I should be delighted to vote against it.
My Lords, I am always struck by the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, but what might happen in such a constituency-not his former constituency, of course: nor, I hope, in mine-if the majority of people who performed their democratic function of going to the polling station wrote on the ballot paper, "None of the above"?
My Lords, I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart: and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on his previous interventions. We are greatly reluctant about compulsory voting, which has to be right. People have to have the option of not voting at all. I am afraid that on this issue I am not with the noble Lord, Lord Snape, as I was on his previous amendment, but I was rather attracted by his suggestion of incentives to vote, rather than doing what the Australians always purport to do, which is to fine people who do not vote. I do not quite know how many Australians get fined for not voting, but I suspect that it is not a very efficient system.
However, an incentive to enable people to vote strikes me as rather attractive. An incentive that takes the form of, say, a voucher to knock something off your rates or something of that sort, which you are given in the polling station, would encourage people to vote in person. That would get us away from the problem of the growing number of postal votes and all the fraud involved in that, which was alluded to in an earlier discussion.
My Lords, I shall not repeat my earlier points about whether it should be included in the Bill, which I will take as given. I will briefly address the substance of the argument. I acknowledge that there are quite substantial arguments for compulsory voting, but my view is very much along the lines advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Voting should be regarded as a civic duty. It should not be a statutory obligation. If people do not wish to vote, we should not force them to vote. I am also a bit wary of the argument that is sometimes used in favour of compulsory voting: that there is an increasing disaffection with politics, which is why people are not voting, so there should be compulsory voting.
I do not find particularly attractive the argument that we should say to people, "Look, you are being put off politics, therefore we are going to force you to vote". That would increase their disaffection rather than ameliorate it. I do not find the argument persuasive, although I accept that there are arguments on the other side. I rather warm to the thinking advanced about incentives to get people to the polling station. That is well worth exploring, but with the obvious proviso of "not in this Bill".
My Lords, this is another interesting debate that was started by my noble friend. The amendment does not necessarily say that compulsory voting is a good or a bad thing. It just asks that this might be added to the referendum that the Government intend. At great risk of taking a slight difference of opinion to that of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, this is probably a better question for a referendum than the previous amendment.
It strikes me that there is an interesting argument here. If this is put in a referendum, the sort of people who will turn out to vote will probably favour compulsory voting. Of course, those who are against it will not go to the polling station.
That, of course, is the danger with the referendum in the first place perhaps. The right to vote is obviously very precious, and we should encourage people to use it as much as possible. As a descendent of Mrs Pankhurst, dare I say that the suffragettes who fought-some, of course, died-in that cause would see this debate as important. Of course they were fighting for the right to vote, not for the compulsion to do so, but at some stage in the future the House might want to give rather more time to this interesting debate than it will this afternoon, for obvious reasons.
Let me make one thing clear. While it may not be a brave view-but it is the truth-I can say from the Front Bench that we have no particular opinion either way as to whether compulsory voting is right or wrong, and I daresay that may also be the view of the Government. It is very much a matter of individual judgment. Compulsory voting has a long and distinguished history. I believe it began in ancient Greece where it was every citizen's duty to participate in decision-making. Those in favour of compulsory votes point to the argument that a Government elected in such circumstances can claim greater legitimacy because it removes the possibility of a party winning an election on 40 per cent of the vote when the turnout stands at just over 60 per cent.
I refer back to the earlier point made by the noble Lord. He said that he does not have a view either way. What would he do if there was compulsory voting in this House?
My Lords, I was careful to say that it was the Front Bench of the Official Opposition that had no official view either way. As it happens I, too, do not have a particularly strong view either way. However, I would say that the Australian experiment in compulsory voting is one that we need to look at quite carefully. It does not seem to be a complete failure, to put it mildly. What is important is that it appears to be understood and accepted by voters in Australia. Obviously compulsory voting boosts turnout and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has already told us, spoiling one's ballot paper is a distinct option if one is not minded to vote. The voter's power to choose remains unrestrained, and there is obviously a bit of learning by experience if you have to vote, although there are problems with compulsory voting.
Voting was described as a civic duty by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, but perhaps it is a civic right and one that no one in a free country should be compelled to exercise. Fines imposed for non-voting could be regarded as some kind of restriction on individual freedom, and in this country in particular there would be administrative difficulties, to put it mildly, in making voting compulsory, as well as many other more historic difficulties in actually putting it into effect.
I want to ask the Leader of the House one question, because different views have been expressed from the government Front Bench over the past few months, although not in this debate. As I understand it, it is compulsory in this country to register to vote. In other words, there is a sanction if you do not register. This is not meant to be a trick question. It is quite important for the House to understand whether it is compulsory to register, and what we mean by "compulsory" in this sense. In theory, at least, fines can imposed on those who do not register, but of course in practice that does not happen. If that is true about registration, it would certainly be true for compulsory voting.
This is a subject for a much longer and more detailed debate than we can give it this evening. A referendum question might be a way of canvassing public opinion on the matter.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has asked his question about compulsory registration because it is an important one. I well remember that the back of the registration document stated that if you failed to fill in the form, you could be fined £25. As far as I can see, that statement no longer appears on the form.
This raises an interesting issue for Part 2 of the Bill. If, as I have always understood, it is legally compulsory to register to vote, surely the other side of the coin is that there ought to be a legal obligation on the Government to ensure that every citizen is registered to vote, especially given that those numbers will be instrumental in determining the size of constituencies and all the other matters that come under Part 2. That opens up the possibility of some interesting amendments to Part 2 on compulsory registration to ensure that both those sides of the coin are dealt with. There must be a clear obligation on the Government to ensure that citizens obey the law, so that the millions of people who are allegedly missed off are not missed off before the constituency boundaries are redrawn.
I agree with my noble friend that this is an important point. Various answers have been given over the past months that have suggested that registration is not compulsory in this country. I am not pressing the Leader of the House to answer on that today; a Written Answer would be satisfactory. However, the issue is relevant to Part 2, as my noble friend said. However, Amendment 29 is on compulsory voting, on which I look forward to hearing what the Leader of the House has to say.
My Lords, it is always fascinating in these debates to discover new information. We were treated to new information-at least it was the first time for me-that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is a descendant of Mrs Pankhurst. I am not quite sure what to do with that information, but it is none the less interesting.
We have had an interesting discussion as part of the wider debate on electoral reform. The debate has been similar to the one that we had a few minutes ago, although this debate has been on the subject of compulsion. Those who argue in favour of compulsory voting believe that the greater turnout that would likely ensue would enhance the legitimacy of the Government elected because the result of the election would be closer to the will of the population as a whole rather than that of those individuals who have voted. Those who are against compulsion say that the argument that greater legitimacy would flow from a higher turnout may be challenged on the grounds that people may be either ill informed or have no wish to support the existing system. Opponents of compulsion may also refute the suggestion that low turnouts compromise the legitimacy of existing elections because not voting may be a valid expression of a voter's opinion-indicating, for instance, satisfaction with the political establishment.
I assure the House that the Government are committed to engaging the electorate in elections and wider democratic activity. In weighing up the arguments for and against compulsion, however, the Government believe that voting should be a civic responsibility and that the importance of political participation should be reinforced without the introduction of any sanction for non-compliance.
That leads us to the interesting exchange about the compulsion to register. Although it was kind of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to say that I could write to him, I have the answer and I can clean up the mystery now: there is no compulsion to register under statute and, therefore, there is no penalty for failing to do so. I hope that that clarifies that mystery. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Snape, not to continue to press Amendment 29.
I am grateful to noble Lords on both sides of your Lordships' House for their participation in the debate. I thought that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, was a little cynical. Of course there is provision under the compulsive system of voting for a person to make any mark that they like on a ballot paper. I noticed that he exempted both our former constituencies on the grounds that we were so enormously popular that that situation would not have arisen in either West Bromwich or in Cornwall in his former seat. According to my researches, as far as they go, there has not been a recorded instance of "None of the above" ever topping the poll. Although that is not quite the answer that the noble Lord wanted, it is the best that I can do at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, deplored the idea that in a democracy we should, as he put it, force people to vote. I do not think that France, Belgium and Australia-to name but three-are any less democracies because they have some degree of compulsion about voting. Without wishing to embarrass the noble Lord, I should tell him that I have his picture, among others, on a wall in my home in Birmingham. The picture is of the Government Whips' Office in 1976 and was taken in No. 10 Downing Street with Jim Callaghan, who was then Prime Minister. I always thought that we were paid to force people to vote in those days, so he was not quite as scrupulous then as he obviously is now.
I am grateful for the partial support of the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Norton. They were both against compulsion, but both thought that there was some merit in the idea of a voucher towards people's rates, or whatever. Perhaps, in withdrawing the amendment, I can point to some degree of unity.
The noble Lord is right about the happy times that we had together in the Whips' Office in the House of Commons, but he will recall that we did not have compulsory voting. We wished, sometimes, that we did have compulsory voting, but very often, when I went round my little flock of MPs and told them that they must vote, they told me exactly where to go.
I do not want to argue with the noble Lord's view of what took place 30-odd years ago, but that was not quite the impression that I had in the Whips' Office at the time. However, that was quite a long time ago.
As one who was a foot-soldier when my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, were exerting authority, I can say only that voting did not seem to be an optional matter from where I was sitting.
We had better leave it at that then.
I referred to the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Norton. I am grateful for their partial support. Both were against compulsion but favoured the idea of a voucher or some financial incentive to the voters to turn up to vote. Perhaps, in withdrawing the amendment, I can point out that we three are all against compulsion but in favour of bribery. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 29 withdrawn.
Amendment 30 not moved.
Moved by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
31: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, at end insert-
"( ) In Scotland, a Gaelic version of the question is also to appear on the ballot papers."
My Lords, I move Amendment 31, standing in my name and in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke. I understand that my noble friend Lord McAvoy has put his name to it as well. I am pleased to see so many noble Lords with Scottish titles in the Chamber today. I presume that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, will be replying to it. No? Well, another Scot will be replying to it-that is, the Leader of the House.
When I looked through the Bill and saw that the question was to be posed in Welsh for voting in Wales, I thought, what a very good idea. I immediately assumed that it would also be posed in Gaelic in Scotland. Going further through the Bill, I was disappointed to discover that that was not the case. I presume that the reason why it is being put in Welsh in Wales is that people who are native Welsh speakers will understand better the nuances of the question, the implications of voting one way or another will become clearer to them, when they read it in their native language, their first language. That is a very good argument and a very good reason for having the question in Welsh.
There is exactly the same reason for having the question in Gaelic in Scotland. There are a number of native Gaelic speakers in parts of Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, and most particularly in the Western Isles, whose first language is Gaelic. These people will understand the question better, understand the nuances and implications of it, in the same way that Welsh speakers will in Wales.
Then I thought that maybe the argument for having it in Welsh in Wales and not in Gaelic in Scotland was that in Wales there are people who speak only Welsh, whereas in Scotland there are no people who speak only Gaelic. In fact, the situation in Scotland is that in the last few years it has become the case that all native Gaelic speakers now speak English as their second language. However, the situation in Wales is almost exactly the same. I quote from Wikipedia-I am not sure if that is the best source, but it is correct on this occasion:
"monoglot Welsh speakers are now virtually non-existent ... Almost without exception, Welsh speakers in Wales also speak English ... Welsh speakers are more comfortable expressing themselves in Welsh than in English"- but that is true also of Gaelic speakers. So the situation in both countries is effectively the same.
I also thought that there might be an argument that there were more Polish and German speakers and speakers of other European languages in Scotland. This would complicate things and mean that we ought to have the question in those languages as well. At present, though, citizens of the European Union resident in the United Kingdom will not be eligible to vote in the referendum. As it happens, I also tabled Amendment 36A, which, if accepted, would allow them to vote and to have the same franchise for both the referendum and the election, which would be helpful. At the moment, though, Polish, German, French and other European citizens will not have the right to vote. So that argument does not arise.
Like Welsh, Gaelic is increasingly being used alongside English in Scotland. I took a journey by rail recently from Edinburgh to Ayr-it is not always easy to make any journeys in Scotland at the moment-and Scotrail now has all the names of the railway stations in Gaelic as well as in English. That is happening throughout Scotland. That is just one example of many.
The argument might be put-perhaps by the Leader of the House, if he is replying-that Welsh is an official language. Since 2005, however, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, will attest to because he was Deputy First Minister of Scotland at the time, under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Gaelic is now an official language in Scotland.
The argument might be that the question is being put in Welsh in Wales because there are more Welsh speakers-in fact, there are 611,000. In Scotland there are 58,652 Gaelic speakers. However, I would argue that the issue is not the number of speakers; rather, it is an issue of principle. Even if there were only a handful of Gaelic speakers, the argument would be the same. Still, there are 58,652 native Gaelic speakers.
There have been a number of considerations regarding this at the European level. In fact, it was pointed out recently, in relation not to Scottish Gaelic but to Northern Irish Gaelic, that the United Nations committee looking at the European Convention on Human Rights recommended that the Administration in Northern Ireland adopt an Irish language Act with a view to preserving and promoting minority languages and cultural heritage in the same way as the Welsh Language Act and the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act. So there was a recognition there, and there is increasing recognition generally that Gaelic is an official language in Scotland.
Given the setting up of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, if we put the Bill through in its present form there would be a case for Gaelic speakers in Scotland to take a case to it on the basis that they were not being dealt with in the same way as native Welsh speakers. We are all in the same United Kingdom but they are not being dealt with in the same way.
This is a very serious matter. Some people thought that some of the comments I made on previous matters were debating points. This is not a debating point or issue. It has become known among some people who speak Gaelic that I had planned to move this amendment, for which I have had expressions of support. Gaelic speakers think that this amendment would be a great advantage to the Bill.
The Leader of the House-or I think the noble Lord, Lord McNally-has put down some amendments to the Bill. We passed a change to the Bill on Monday, so the Bill has to go back to the other place anyway. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept this amendment and that it will go back to the House with a clear instruction or expression of review from the House of Lords that the speakers of Scottish Gaelic should be treated in exactly the same way as Welsh speakers in Wales.
My Lords, not for the first time I rise in Committee to support my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. On this occasion my noble friend has identified a very important issue of support for minority language rights and identities. He has afforded your Lordships' House an opportunity to make a statement about such support in supporting his amendment. As I have said before, I have made a point of reviewing everything that has been said in these Houses in relation to this Bill. I have to say that I was surprised, given the makeup of the other place, that this issue was not raised in Committee or in any other part of the debate that they had about this legislation. This fact and the issue that my noble friend identified have indicated how important it is that we look at this legislation as carefully as we have been doing in Committee because I am sure that we will find many other opportunities to improve it quite significantly and improve the appreciation that the electorate have of the body politic in this country-a point that I made earlier.
In researching my contribution to this short debate-and I am sure that it will be a short but valuable one-I came across the writings of a man, who I had previously not read, called Robert Dunbar, who was, at least in 2006, at the school of law in the University of Aberdeen. I will share his words with your Lordships' House because they make the holistic case for my noble friend Lord Foulkes's argument very well. In the Journal of Law and Society in 2006 in volume 33, number one, in an article entitled, "Is there a duty to legislate for linguistic minorities?", he wrote:
"All three Celtic languages are ... threatened minority languages. Gaelic particularly so, and Welsh and Gaelic are only spoken as community languages-and will therefore only survive-in the United Kingdom. These demographic and sociolinguistic facts are a product, to a very significant degree, of state language policy, which until fairly recently has been directed at promoting the acquisition of English, with little or no regard to the impact of this policy on minority languages".
He goes on:
"Frequently, minority languages such as the Celtic languages have been viewed by the majority as not merely 'less widely spoken', but also as 'inferior', 'backward', 'parochial', and these value judgments have too often coloured attitudes to the speakers of such languages. When such attitudes guide the implementation of an integrationist policy, the effect changes from one of equipping the minority with skills in the majority languages to one of removing the minority language and identity altogether".
I apologise to your Lordships' House for reading that at length. However, in those few sentences, Mr Dunbar made the argument for respecting the minority language of Gaelic, the Scottish people and the identity of those who speak that language in a very good way. I could have adopted his argument and changed the words, which, as a consequence of my researches, I have to say I have done in the past. However, I thought that I should attribute those arguments to him.
I would expect the Liberal Democrats in this House to support this amendment because Scottish Liberal Democrats have for decades overtly supported the equal treatment of Scottish Gaelic and English. That position was adopted more recently by Scottish Conservatives. My noble friend put forward cogent arguments on this issue, which included what could be described as a human rights argument. I noted that that generated mild amusement on the part of some noble Lords, but I will not embarrass them by identifying them. However, that amusement was misplaced as this is a human rights issue. For more than 50 years, Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights has provided that the enjoyment of the various convention rights and freedoms,
"shall be secured without discrimination on any ground, including language. That guarantee in the European Convention on Human Rights, to which all parts of this House signed up, is enforceable in the domestic law of the United Kingdom through the Human Rights Act 1998.
While the Liberal Democrats are part of a coalition that is reviewing its attitude towards the Human Rights Act, they should at least support it. Their principles on this matter may be tested at some time in the future when the review is concluded, but until that time they should respect an Act which I understand they support. My noble friend may well be right to suggest that the legislation could be challenged by Scottish Gaelic speakers. Why should we enable such an unnecessary challenge to occur?
Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House expand on the statement by his noble friend Lord McNally on the front of the Bill, made under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998, that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights? I am sure that he will have somewhere among his papers a briefing note which describes how it is compatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Will he make it clear to noble Lords exactly why the statement of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is consistent with my understanding of the convention rights, which are adopted in our law?
My noble friend described the attempt made by the Scottish Parliament to accord the Gaelic language the official language status that is enjoyed by the Welsh language. The noble Lord the Leader of the House has the advantage of having at hand the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who was the Scottish Parliament's Deputy First Minister when that provision was enacted in 2005. As far as I recollect, it was the stated objective of the coalition Government in Scotland at that time to achieve parity between Gaelic and the Welsh language. So far as I can see, the Scottish legislation is largely the mirror image of the Welsh legislation. If the reason for the discrimination between the Welsh language and the Gaelic language lies in the 1993 provision that promotes the Welsh language to an exceptional position in the United Kingdom, perhaps the noble Lord could explain-after taking advice from the former Deputy First Minister-why the Scottish Parliament failed to achieve that level of protection in Scotland in the 2005 legislation.
The only other reason for discrimination that I can think of concerns my noble friend's point about whether there are in Wales monolingual Celtic language speakers. However, the 2001 census makes it very clear that no such person exists, so there is no longer any reason for the discrimination as between Scottish Gaelic speakers and Welsh language speakers to exist, irrespective of the fact that there is a distinction in their respective numbers.
I think that with this amendment my noble friend has given the House an opportunity for us to do what this House does very well-to improve proposed legislation to the advantage of a significant minority in Scotland and to send a message to them that we respect their rights. I trust that whatever the response from the Front Bench, if it is to reject rather than adopt this amendment-
Can the noble Lord tell us what role he played in this when he was Secretary of State for Scotland?
I do not recollect that this legislation was before any House of Parliament when I was the Secretary of State for Scotland. The point the noble Lord wishes to make is that somehow we should not do the right thing now, because perhaps I or others did not do the right thing before. However, if this is the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do at the point at which we identify it is the right thing to do. I am sure that the noble Lord is not going to make that argument because it would be disrespectful to the House and disrespectful to himself. We have an opportunity to send a very strong message back to the people of Scotland and to Gaelic speakers, a message that I think all the Members of the House would want to send back. If the Front Bench rejects this amendment, I would ask my noble friend to insist upon it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Browne, really could not have made a better case for the constitution of this House in its present form. The noble Lord mentioned that the House of Commons did not look at this aspect of the Bill at all. This is exactly what this House has the time and the experience to look at. With the greatest possible respect, I think the noble Lord deployed quite a lot of the arguments in favour of his noble friend's amendment. When I was at school the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was one of my childhood heroes. He was a wonderfully bombastic loose cannon in the House of Commons when I was still wet behind the ears. However, I do feel incredibly strongly that this amendment would be a total and utter waste of parliamentary time, let alone a waste of money, if it was to be carried. The noble Lord and I obviously have exactly the same figures-58,652 Gaelic speakers north of the border, and it is thought not a single one of them is incapable of understanding fully, speaking and reading English. I would therefore appeal to your Lordships to reject this amendment with the strongest possible feeling.
My Lords, it is not a question of numbers, although my noble friend Lord Browne was perhaps tempting fate in suggesting that there are no monoglot Welsh speakers. I suspect that now he has said that, the Welsh media will be searching in the valleys of the Lleyn Peninsula and will find some dear old lady-perhaps there is even some Cornish lady still-who speaks only Welsh, but I am not sure frankly that that is really material to the argument. Nor is the question of cost, as the cost must be very minor indeed. I shall argue on the basis of Celtic solidarity-hands across the Irish Sea-that this is a matter more of dignity and symbolism, and is all the more important for that.
The coalition has made much of overconcentration in Westminster and Whitehall. That has been part of the leitmotif-that there will be decentralisation, that there will be more status and more dignity given to local communities to manage their own affairs. Surely, to recognise the differences within the United Kingdom is very much in the spirit of that. I concede this is symbolic, but it will do no harm and may well do some good. I speak as someone with a Welsh background, although I concede that I am a monoglot English speaker-I went to a Welsh grammar school at a time when Wales was not being pushed, and I was taught Greek and Latin rather than Welsh, which I gave up at an early stage. However, like most Welsh people, even the monoglot majority who speak only English, I have a tremendous feeling of pride in the Welsh language. One of the great debates over the past decades has been over the ways in which we can encourage the use of the Welsh language without making it a divisive issue. I give credit to the Conservative Party for the Welsh Language Act, which I believe avoided making Welsh a divisive and explosive issue, as happened with regard to language in Belgium. Overwhelmingly in Wales there is a pride in the language, and not a nasty response to it. That Belgian-style row has been avoided here by a process of being consensual and by recognising the importance of difference. It is indeed a source of pride for most of us.
I concede that there are differences, because we have gone further in Wales with the principle of equal validity, but the identity of the nation is linked with that of the language and, however small the number of Gaelic speakers may be, the identity of the Scottish nation is also linked with that language. This is wholly consonant with the new spirit of seeking to encourage diversity in Europe by all possible means-not just in the European Union but in the Council of Europe. Doing that is not only politically important to avoid language being a source of division, but a matter of pride in that which is different.
My final principle is to accept this as a symbolic gesture. It will not cost much and it will do no harm. In terms of diversity and recognising the differences within our United Kingdom, it can do some good.
My Lords, I would be serving the cause of pan-Celticism badly were I not to say that I wholeheartedly supported the amendment; indeed, I support it with great enthusiasm. The situation in Wales is a very powerful and pertinent precedent for the Gaelic situation. In Wales, the Welsh language is a living language; it is some 1,500 years old and has been recognised in statute since 1967. The combined effect of the 1967 and 1993 Acts gave the Welsh language equal validity with the English language in all formal legal situations.
In that regard, there would appear to be an unanswerable case for putting the AV referendum question in Welsh as well as in English. In the clause stand part debate, I will have something to say about the quality of translation, but that is a different matter altogether. The Welsh case is based on the fact that there are a substantial number of people, particularly elderly people, for whom the Welsh language is essentially the only language in which they communicate. They might not be monoglot as one would strictly define that term, but certainly many tens of thousands of people speak Welsh; it is certainly the first language of hundreds of thousands of people in Wales. On that basis alone, it is right and proper that this provision should be arranged. That was the situation in the referendums on the Common Market in 1975 and on devolution in 1979 and the 1990s.
In addition, Welsh is often referred to as "our language" by people who do not speak it. That gives me enormous pride and comfort. I have no doubt that much the same attitude prevails in Scotland. Therefore, there is an unanswerable legalistic case for the Welsh language-a case in chivalry and in the fact that it is part of the rich cultural heritage of the United Kingdom. In the main, that applies equally to Scotland, and it is on that basis that I fervently and proudly support the amendment.
My Lords, I shall make one or two points briefly. My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton mentioned the number of speakers of Welsh and who is monoglot and who is not monoglot. In referring to Wales, he specifically mentioned that he had drawn his figures from the census. My point is not so much about numbers but about proportions. The Scottish Gaelic world is concentrated in the Western Isles and the western part of Scotland, so the proportion of people affected is quite considerable, although the numbers and proportion in the whole of Scotland are certainly less than in Wales. That is why it should be recognised, not only in symbolism but in reality.
Symbolism is important. It should be remembered that, particularly after April 1746, there was a campaign against the culture of that world. The communities were destroyed; they were persecuted by the UK Government, driven into corners and discriminated against, not only for their activities between August 1745 and April 1746, but because of their culture and the communities they represented, so there is a bit of a siege mentality in that world.
That world is not only represented by the Western Isles but by the county of Argyll. Argyllshire comes into it as well. When I was on Strathclyde regional council-Argyll was part of the regional council's area-we went to great lengths to preserve and encourage the Gaelic language, not only in schools within the region's remit but because of the Gaelic population in the west of Scotland, particularly in the city of Glasgow. It could have been argued that a disproportionate amount of money was spent on this, but we thought it important and it was much appreciated by the Gaelic community. As my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock has already mentioned, Liberal Members of this House should support this, but there seemed to be some surprise at that point of view.
Argyll is relevant to what I am going to say next. My very good friend, with whom I shared a lot in common, was the late Lady Michie-Ray Michie-a tremendous person: a Bannerman who represented the Bannerman family. She once said to me that that was because her family carried the banner of Scotland and its many battles, particularly against our now English friends. I remember Ray and I down at Tilbury Docks, along with the noble Lord, Lord Martin. The local council down there was commemorating the centenary of the Jacobite prisoners at Tilbury Docks. That was a war crime if there ever was one. The proportion of the Jacobites who died in those prison holes was quite shocking. That day there was a procession; the noble Lord, Lord Martin, played the bagpipes, followed by the late Ray Michie, me and Andrew Mackinlay, who was then MP for Thurrock. In my opinion, Lady Michie would have been a firm supporter of this amendment. I have no doubt at all about that. There is a lot of principle involved.
An amendment like this would be of relevant use to people in the Western Isles, where, again, the proportion is striking. To its credit, the Scottish Parliament has taken great steps to try and look after the Gaelic language. That is absolutely right. This is a revising Chamber and this amendment could and should be accepted by the Government without any great principle being at stake and without involving any attack on the Bill. It surprises me that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, should behave in such a House of Commons manner by trying to inject a note of controversy by questioning my noble friend Lord Browne. It was really quite shocking and hurtful to see. I hope that he will get away from that House of Commons attitude-a hope that he himself has expressed so many times-and accept the amendment.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Foulkes. Indeed, I suppose it would be surprising if I did not, having my roots in north-west Sutherland, the heart of the Gaeltacht of Scotland. Most of my education was in the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Skye a long time ago. In those days Gaelic was taught, sadly, as a foreign language. I was given a choice, because at the age of 11 one had to make decisions. My parents thought that they might like me to do medicine, so Latin was prescribed for me. Those who had a hankering for divinity were required to learn Greek. If you wanted to do Latin or Greek, you could not study Gaelic. That was part of the education system as it then existed in Scotland. My Gaelic is extremely rudimentary. My father was a native Gaelic speaker and my mother could not speak it, so, sadly, I never became fluent in it.
Things have improved and changed in Scotland, certainly since devolution. There are many Gaelic-medium schools now in Scotland, and they are extremely successful. We have the BBC ALBA channel, which is very successful and which will shortly, I hope, be available on Freeview so that many more can have access to it. However, there is still pressure in Scotland and the view that, because everyone can speak English fluently and read English, there is no need for Gaelic. That is where I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. We hear this all the time about road signs and railway signs in Gaelic; "it's a waste of money". No, it is not a waste of money. There is still suspicion in the Highlands, among Gaels, that the establishment and the Civil Service still have anti-Gaelic sentiment running through them. We should dispel that; we can dispel it tonight if the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, can accept this amendment or indicate that similar wording will be put into the Act, as is the case for Welsh.
We hear a great deal about Ulster Scots and Irish and parity of esteem. Indeed, we hear a lot about this, certainly in Written Questions, in this House. If we have parity of esteem between Ulster Scots and Irish in the Belfast agreement, and Welsh is already embedded in this Bill, we must indeed have Gaelic as well, because there must be parity of esteem for Scottish Gaelic.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, talked about the Welsh speaking of Welsh as "our language" even if they could not speak it themselves, but that points to the fact that Welsh is the adjective from Wales, whereas Gaelic is not the adjective from Scotland in any sense of that expression. There might be an inaccuracy, at least in this amendment, in that it does not refer to Scottish Gaelic, because, as has been said, there is Gaelic in Ulster and of course in the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, I think Welsh itself is probably a branch of Gaelic-it is certainly a Celtic language.
The other point is that the amendment suggests that,
"a Gaelic version of the question is also to appear".
I submit that "a Gaelic version" leaves very open the question of exactly how it would be expressed. That is not particularly satisfactory. It might also be required to specify that a person who wishes to use that question as his information should also have to answer it in Gaelic.
My Lords, I just want to make one short point. This amendment would sit with the rest of the Bill, because under Clause 11, the rules for distribution of seats take out two constituencies: Orkney and Sheltand. I will not attempt to pronounce the Gaelic name of the Western Isles and the Western Isles Council. They are already there because recognition is being given to the Gaelic language. For that reason, the amendment would be wholly consistent with the rest of the Bill.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly. We have heard very powerful arguments for the amendment. We on the Front Bench support the amendment. We do not claim that it is the biggest or most important amendment, but it does have an importance in the Bill. I hope that the Government are big enough to accept a well argued amendment that would improve the Bill. It is about fairness. The Bill already covers Wales in this way; surely it should do the same here. The amendment specifies that the ballot papers would be printed in the two languages only in Scotland. Surely the cost of printing the question in two languages would not be great. Administratively, it would not be difficult to organise; and, practically, such a change could be straightforward.
We have heard from a number of speakers how, in this age of devolution-
I know that the noble Lord wants to be brief, but I put a question to him to which I genuinely do not know the answer. Can the noble Lord remind the House whether his Administration included a Gaelic version of the question for the Scottish devolution referendum?
My Lords, I cannot remind the House because I do not know the answer. However, I think that there is someone who does: the noble Lord who will speak after me. Even if we did not, we were not always right. It is a terrible admission to make, and not one that the present Government are prepared to make at this stage. Perhaps later on they will.
Again, I am afraid that I cannot remember, but no doubt the Leader of the House will be able to help us.
We have moved on since those times. Devolution is a much more significant factor now in British politics than it was. A number of noble Lords have made that clear. My noble friend Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, who comes from the relevant area of Scotland, expressed the view that the Gaelic language is more widely used and appreciated now than it was in times past. In October 2009, a new agreement was made that allows Scottish Gaelic to be used formally between Scottish Ministers and European Union officials. Of course, this does not give Scottish Gaelic official status in the European Union, but it does make it a means of formal communication with EU institutions, and politicians on different sides welcomed the step. This amendment does not ask for much. We ask the Government to be big and to accept it.
My Lords, this has been, not unsurprisingly, a most interesting and useful debate. The ideas that underlie the amendment are not without merit. What is more arguable is whether this is the right Bill and the right time to deal with the matter. I am nothing but impressed by those who master a second language. I am even more impressed by those who master Gaelic. It is interesting to note that next year's Scottish elections will not have Gaelic on the ballot paper or on any of the pages of information that will be provided by statute. Recently, the Scottish Parliament decided to disaggregate the Scottish elections from the local elections; and again, in those local elections, there is no requirement for Gaelic to appear on the ballot paper.
I will refer to my intervention in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, had no reason to protect him; he is perfectly capable of doing that himself. My interest was genuine; I felt the passion and interest of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and thought perhaps that when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, there was a reason why he was unable to progress this. I am not sure that there was a reason. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, explained that although 13 years was a long time, the then Government did not find time to deal with this, or did not think that it was sufficiently important or necessary; I have no idea which was the case.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House, and do not rise to defend myself. I do not feel that my record in the Scottish Office requires defending. However, reflecting on the point that he made, I say that there was no obvious opportunity when I was Secretary of State, for a comparatively short time, to deal with the issue. I admit honestly that it did not occur to me until my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock brought it to my attention with the amendment. He has done the House a service.
The point that I will make to the noble Lord is that his party, our party and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland-indeed, all parties-publish their manifesto in Gaelic and distribute leaflets and Gaelic. Why do we conduct only part of the electoral process in Gaelic and not give the Gaelic speakers of Scotland the right to cast their vote against a question that is put in Gaelic?
I am not saying that the idea that underlies this amendment is without merit: simply that it is the wrong amendment to the wrong Bill at the wrong time. In the long term, after due investigation, there may be those who believe that there should be that change in Scotland at all levels of elections.
There is a clear difference between Wales and Scotland, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, pointed out. Under the Welsh Language Act 1993, it is common for Ministers to prescribe by order Welsh versions of statements that appear on ballot papers, in postal voting documents and so on. In Scotland, Gaelic versions of electoral material have not previously been included in legislation, on ballot papers or on other official materials for elections, even when the elections have related only to Scotland. Therein lies the next issue; I am not aware that this has caused any administrative problems on the ground. That should be a test for whether in this referendum we depart from the parliamentary elections approach.
I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was raising a general point that has received some support from around the House. However, my noble and learned friend, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, pointed out a serious flaw in the amendment that I hope the noble Lord will consider. I also hope that, if he wishes to continue his campaign, he will do so not just in this House but in the Scottish Parliament, of which I believe he is still a distinguished Member.
I am grateful to the leader of the House, in particular for his closing remark. However, I intend to vacate my position in the Scottish Parliament in May next year to spend more time in this Chamber, because I find it so interesting. I have been grateful tonight for the overwhelming and powerful support for the amendment from my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, who is a distinguished academic lawyer and a former member of the Cabinet, and for the Welsh support from the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Elystan-Morgan. When the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred to the Welsh precedent being powerful and pertinent, that was a strong argument as well as a wonderful alliteration.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for his Jacobite version of the argument, which is all the more powerful for it, and to the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, with his background in Gaeldom, for his powerful support. The support has been overwhelming. I have one or two points of criticism. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who referred to the Scottish referendum not having the question in Gaelic, that the major change since then is that the Scottish Parliament, with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and my noble and learned friend the former Lord Advocate as Members, passed the 2005 Act, which changed the whole position of Gaelic in Scotland. And I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for whom I have great respect-he was a very distinguished Lord Chancellor and he and I have had lots of other dealings outside this Chamber-that I accept that it should say "Scottish Gaelic" and that the question should be specified. There could be an opportunity later to do that. If I could have written it myself in Gaelic, I would have done so, but this was the quickest way of expressing support for this and moving in this direction. With his help and with the help of Gaelic speakers, we can refine it so that we can get it right before this Bill finally goes through.
This is an issue of principle and I feel strongly about it. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, pointed out that the 2001 census showed that there are no monoglot speakers of either Welsh or Gaelic, so the position is exactly the same. I do not understand the Leader's argument that this is the wrong Bill in which to have the amendment. This amendment relates precisely to this Bill because it deals with the referendum and because there is a Welsh version. I argue that there should also be a Gaelic version. I thank noble Members for their support. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, pointed out, this is Scottish Liberal Democrat policy. I look forward to seeing my noble friends-I can still call some of them that-in the Lobby with us tonight because I intend to test the will of this House by pressing this amendment to a vote.
My Lords, this clause, establishing the referendum, sets the question. This is probably my last intervention on this part of the Bill. Although I believe in electoral reform and the need for a referendum, I do not believe in this referendum because it sets the wrong question. The Bill seeks approval for a system that I believe is a nonsense.
Now, I almost want to act as a sweep and to place on record a summary of my objections to this referendum and the question being asked. I believe that the core of my objections will surface during the television campaign against the referendum question. I object on the basis that this may well be our last opportunity for a generation to put electoral reform on the agenda. If the public say no, it will be almost impossible to resurrect the electoral reform debate, so we have to get the system right.
The opponents of electoral reform will sell AV as the product of a panic-driven stitch-up between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in the coalition, the intention being to create a coalition. That will not fool the public. The Conservative acceptance of AV as part of the coalition deal will be seen as a cynical ploy when it comes out during the TV campaign that almost the entire Conservative Party, both inside and outside Parliament, is opposed to the AV system on offer and, to some extent, proportional representation altogether.
The coalition is taking the issue of electoral reform to the electorate at a time when there is great political and economic uncertainty. Divisions within the coalition, which will deepen, will inevitably lead to calls for strong governance. Curiously, I believe that coalitions, which I actually favour, are capable of strong government, but coalitions built on the shifting sands of economic uncertainty and the consequential public expenditure reductions are bound to lead to division and the public will inevitably identify division within the coalition with coalition Governments and, sadly, with electoral reform. This is the wrong time to be asking this question, particularly in a referendum that proposes such a controversial system.
The Liberal Democrats, in particular, will have major difficulties in the campaign in squaring their historic position. How do they answer the question: "Do you really believe in the system on offer?". The answer has to be no. If they answer that this is the best on offer, the public will simply turn away. The truth is that the only people who have advocated this system are members of the Labour Party and, even in the Labour Party, they are a minority. Furthermore, we are opposed to this Bill because of the stitch-up on seats, which many Members find objectionable.
Then we have the false prospectus. Many people believe that they are being offered the full Australian classic AV system, but that is not so. They are getting what is being called "a miserable little compromise". We then have those who, either through ignorance or recognition of the inherent weaknesses in multioptional, preferential AV, use arguments to support AV and to justify the system such as, "It works like the London mayoral voting system". That is just a dishonest argument, but we shall hear it in the campaign. It will be fed on the doorstep by proponents of this AV system. They will say that it is like the system used in the London mayoral election. I regard that as fundamentally dishonest.
I also have a fundamental objection to a system that gives equal weight to voters' least favoured preferences and the first preference votes of other voters. How can the seventh preference of a voter in a seven-candidate election be as valid as the first preference of another voter? It is a nonsense.
Equally, I deplore the myth being peddled that AV avoids tactical voting. That is simply untrue. Under the heading, "Factors determining the results in an AV election", the Constitution Society stated in its brief on AV:
"In order to maximise the chances of a preferred candidate, a voter must rank the other candidates in an optimum order, taking account of past results and polling information. (This is a potentially complex exercise which most voters will not attempt themselves: in Australia, the Party organisations publish lists instructing their supporters how to rank the candidates for maximum advantage.)".
In other words, AV provides for tactical voting. I have had some interesting conversations over this past weekend with people in Scotland. I can tell the Committee that the Labour Party, my own party, used tactical voting techniques-and we say it openly in Scotland-during the local authority elections in Scotland. It accepts it as part of the new arrangements that exist while that system is in operation.
Then we have leapfrogging. Under the AV system proposed, third-placed and fourth-placed candidates on the first count can break through and win seats on subsequent counts. This is particularly likely to happen in places such as Scotland, where you have a number of parties seriously contesting what could turn out to be tightly fought marginal parliamentary constituencies. I object most strongly to a system where the sequence in which candidates are eliminated can disproportionately influence who wins an election. Let us take the example of a seat where the top candidate on the first count wins 45 per cent or 46 per cent of the vote. If the bottom candidate, the BNP, wins, say, 8 per cent or 10 per cent of the vote on the first count and 50 per cent of the BNP second preferences transfer to the top candidate, the top candidate wins. The BNP will have determined the result because, following elimination of the bottom candidate and the transfer of eliminated candidates' second preferences, the top candidate has more than 50 per cent and wins. What is most significant about that kind of result, in that count, is that all other additional preferences for all other candidates are ignored, which is the point that I was making earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.
Does the noble Lord not agree that all single-member constituency contests are majoritarian contests because the final result is a contest between the person who wins and either one other candidate or a number of other candidates? Therefore, in a majoritarian contest in a single-member seat, at the final count there are always people who have voted for the successful candidate and people who have voted for an unsuccessful candidate or candidates. That is inherent in a single-member majoritarian system. The important thing is that those votes remain in the system at the end, unlike in the supplementary vote system, which the noble Lord espouses, where votes are simply cast aside and not even included in the final count.
The noble Lord is asking me to reopen the debate that we had on the Floor in a series of interventions, when I answered that point specifically. Before Report, we might be able to do more work on this; we might be able to show that there is a greater loss under the AV system. Perhaps he could ask his researcher to have a look at some of the results in Scotland that I am going to refer to.
We then have this major problem of the electorate's understanding of the proposed system. The Constitution Society in its briefing for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Constitution drew attention to a series of YouGov polls on the issues set out in the Bill. The poll commissioned at the end of August this year interviewed 2,548 respondents. One-third claimed that they knew how AV worked, one-third claimed that they had heard of it but did not know how it worked and one-third claimed that they had never heard of it. The response of supporters of the proposed AV system is that a public information campaign should help public understanding of the system. That is the view, I understand, of the Electoral Commission. However, noble Lords then have to consider the impact of such information campaigns. My noble friend Lord Rooker drew attention to this issue the other day to some extent, but perhaps I can add a little more information. Under the YouGov poll question,
"How would you vote in a referendum on AV? (Before and after being given information)", this is the response under paragraph 2.5.3 of the report:
"Before being exposed to information, responses were evenly balanced between 'Yes' (32 per cent) and 'no' (33 per cent). After receiving factual information, the 'no' vote increased to 38 per cent suggesting that exposure to information about AV tends to convince undecided voters against it".
That is a precarious basis on which to hold a public information campaign or, indeed, to hold a referendum.
I now turn to other extremely important issues. The first is the 50 per cent myth, which I hope we may have destroyed during our earlier debate today. Let us note how the Constitution Society sees it. In its alternative voting briefing paper, it said:
"Nor, in the 'optional preference' proposed for the UK, does the winning candidate necessarily have an outright majority of the total vote (ie of the total number of people who voted). In Australia, where the AV system is used for House of Representatives elections, voting is compulsory and voters are thus required to allocate a preference to every candidate on the ballot. As a consequence, the winning candidate does always achieve an outright majority of the total".
Then we have Rallings and Thrasher, professors at the University of Plymouth, who say:
"Proponents of AV often claim that the need for successful candidates to be able show local majority support is one of the system's main attractions. Yet our Table above"- that is a part of a wider briefing from Rallings and Thrasher-
"would also mean, given the limited vote transfers between parties, that more than 4 out of every 10 MPs would still be elected with the endorsement of less than 50 per cent of the voters in their constituency. The claim that AV will guarantee local majority support can only be validated if every voter is compelled or chooses to cast a full range of preferences. There seems little prospect of that happening in a general election conducted under AV in the UK".
Professor Patrick Dunleavy, whose work on electoral systems is internationally acclaimed, treats as risible the suggestion that you need 50 per cent to win. He is not a great supporter of AV; he sees it as a compromise system that to some extent has to be supported. But he, like me, is a supporter of electoral reform, in that both of us support AMS-based systems.
However, the real evidence on this came to me by a curious route, following the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and I will quote him because I want to take on this question of Scotland. He said:
Here we have STV operating in Scotland, apart from in by-elections, when the system automatically switches to AV, because we are talking about single-member wards. The noble Lord goes on to suggest that we pray in aid the information gleaned from the Scottish experience. I have done precisely that. With the help of Mr Paul White, a researcher whose expertise on these matters-in particular his statistical analysis-has been of great benefit to me, I tracked down all 32 AV by-elections in Scotland since the system's introduction. I want to place the 32 by-elections on the record, because this is relevant to the campaign that is to take place. Eight of them were won with less than 50 per cent of the vote. In Aberdeen City, Midstocket/Rosemount, it was 43 per cent; in Elgin City ward in Moray, it was 42 per cent; in Lerwick South, Shetland, it was 44 per cent; in Abbey ward, Dumfries and Galloway, it was 48 per cent; in Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside, Aberdeenshire, it was 43 per cent; in Bannockburn, Stirling, it was 45 per cent; in Coatbridge North and Glenboig, North Lanarkshire, it was 42 per cent; and in Forres, in Moray, it was 44 per cent. There is the evidence of an AV system in operation where members are elected with less than 50 per cent of the poll.
Can the noble Lord calculate from those figures how many of those by-elections would have been won by a candidate with less than 50 per cent of the vote in the event of the first-past-the-post system being used? He has clearly demonstrated that, in three-quarters of those cases or thereabouts, the candidate elected had to have 50 per cent of the vote. How many cases would have been won by someone with less than 50 per cent had first past the post been retained?
That is not the question. We are dealing here with those who argue that a candidate should need 50 per cent of the poll to win, so do not switch the question to another area. I am only addressing what happens. There are problems with first past the post, which is why I am in favour of electoral reform. I am trying to place on record material to show that those who argue that we need a majority of the electorate to win are simply wrong.
The second important issue is the incidence of the use of additional preferences, which is the principal argument used to justify AV. Last week, I referred to the work of Rallings and Thrasher on results in Queensland, Australia. Colleagues may recall that in the 2009 state elections, 63 per cent of all those who voted "plumped", or voted for, only one candidate. In some areas, as many as three-quarters of all those voting voted for only one candidate. The question is: what would happen in the United Kingdom?
Again following the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, I enlisted the help of Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde. Let me make it clear that I am not reflecting his views-I do not know what he believes in-as I simply asked him for statistical information to be provided. Professor Curtice has given me factual data. I tracked down the six by-election results in Scotland that provide data that indicate the usage of additional preferences under AV. Such data can be secured only where votes are counted electronically, which is why I asked the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, whether the counts would be based on an electronic or a manual basis. Remember that we are dealing here with AV. However, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, is shaking his head. Perhaps I have misunderstood something.
I am not entirely sure why the count had to be electronic to get the information on where the transfers went.
To be frank, I do not understand that either. However, I asked that question and I understand that it is because of the way that votes are counted manually. One returning officer in a seat in Scotland told us that he had different buckets into which he placed different votes and, as the tellers went from count to count, they moved the votes from one bucket to another. Perhaps that has something to do with how they count the additional preferences. As I said, I have not been able to trace that information up to now.
As I said, remember that we are dealing with what are normally STV local authority arrangements where there are by-elections in individual seats. Let me take six seats that were up for single-member election. In Glasgow Ballieston, of those who voted: 100 per cent -obviously-used their first preference vote; 51 per cent did not use their second preference vote; 68 per cent did not use their third preference vote; 84 per cent did not use their fourth preference vote; 91 per cent did not use their fifth preference vote; 92 per cent did not use their sixth preference; and 93 per cent did not use their seventh preference. At another Glasgow Ballieston by-election, of those who voted: 47 per cent did not use their second preference vote; 74 per cent did not use their third preference vote; 83 per cent did not use their fourth preference vote; 92 per cent did not use their fifth preference vote; 93 per cent did not use their sixth preference vote; 94 per cent did not use their seventh preference vote; 94 per cent did not use their eighth preference vote; and 95 per cent did not use their ninth preference. What a system. People are not using their additional preferences.
I am slightly perplexed by that argument, which seems to point in the direction of second and further preferences being purposive. One of the noble Lord's earlier arguments was that they were inconsequential.
The argument that the noble Lord is advancing suggests that the use of second and further preferences is purposive-that is, the voters are exercising a real choice. If voters are indifferent to some candidates, they may not use their other preferences at all. That is surely right and good, but it works against his earlier argument.
The noble Lord is correct and has hit the point right on the head. Voters often use their second preferences. That is why we go back to the supplementary vote. Under the supplementary vote system, all the second preferences of all the other candidates are transferred to the top two, whereas under the AV system, that is not the case.
The noble Lord is now going back to the supplementary vote. The whole purport of what I said earlier about the supplementary vote is that not all the second preferences of those who voted for other candidates are transferred to the top two candidates. I provided a number of statistics showing that usually a clear majority-sometimes an overwhelming majority-of such votes are not transferred to the top two. That is what is wrong with the supplementary vote. If, in exercising their preferences under the alternative vote, people choose at any stage vote not to choose between remaining candidates, that is entirely their right. However, if people exercise their right to record a second preference, all such votes should remain in the count to the very end.
However, we are measuring the efficacy of the system. We want the system to work. We want it to make a difference in results. If we are to change to a system in which people simply do not use their additional preferences, why change the system? The advantage of the supplementary vote is that people would use their second preferences. That is what has happened in the mayoral elections, as the noble Lord will know from having seen the data.
In the by-election for the Doon Valley ward of East Ayrshire Council, 52 per cent did not use their second preference vote, 68 per cent did not use their third preference vote, 77 per cent did not use their fourth preference vote and 81 per cent did not use their fifth.
I hope that my noble friend is not casting any aspersions on the good people of Doon Valley, whom I represented for 26 years in the other place. They are the salt of the earth-good mining stock-and people whom he would be proud to know as friends. Indeed, many of them I know as friends. I am sure that he does not mean in any way to disparage them.
I am sure that they are the crème de la crème and the very best, but I am just trying to help them. I want to see a system in operation that works and that does not result in people wasting their votes.
The interesting thing about all these results is shown in my final example. In the by-election for the ward of Drumchapel/Anniesland, 38 per cent did not use their second preferences, 51 per cent did not use their third preferences, 62 per cent did not use their fourth preferences and 68 per cent did not use their fifth preferences. All of that comes from the beginning of the use of AV in the United Kingdom, in Scotland.
On top of that, as we find in Australia, once the parties begin to devise strategies for "plumping", people stop using their preferences altogether and treat the election as a first-past-the-post election. In effect, that means that there is no major change to the system, apart from when people deliberately set out to remove particular Members of Parliament. Those are the circumstances in which there may well be freak results.
We who have campaigned in such elections, including in another one in East Ayrshire in my former constituency that produced similar statistics, along with all the parties who are represented in this House-and some that are not-know that that is exactly what happens. Before we impose this system more extensively and more widely as the only choice in the referendum paper, we should think carefully about the electorate's experience of the system. I have to say to my noble friend that there is no party represented in this House that does not do exactly what he has identified-I include in that those who are the most active proponents of some form of proportionality.
Being a Welshman, I do not know how to pronounce these names. However, 43 per cent of second preferences, 63 per cent of third preferences, 74 per cent of fourth preferences and 77 per cent of fifth preferences were not used. That is before we get into the big "plumping" campaigns that will be imported from Australia. The results indicate massive abstentions on additional preferences. What are the implications of AV for general elections?
Will the noble Lord tell us to what extent he is cherry-picking the results? Would the same sort of figures be produced if he took all 35 council by-elections in Scotland into account?
When I asked Professor Curtice for all the results that could be identified, he said that, because of the distinction between manual and electronic counting, we can identify only six results that provide us with the data. If I can secure any more, I will make sure that I make them available to the noble Lord.
The candidates who will be most under threat at the next election under AV will be the Conservatives. Let there be no doubt at all about that. The Conservatives will probably run a fairly straight-forward campaign as they normally do, but the Liberal Democrats will not. In council leaflets being put out by focus groups in parts of the United Kingdom, we are already seeing derogatory references to people in the coalition and to its policies. That is only the start. By the time that we get to the elections next year, we will see some pretty scurrilous literature coming out of the Liberal Democrats about what is going on nationally within the coalition. The Liberal Democrats will put out leaflets claiming credit for the more progressive coalition policies and advising electors to vote tactically, which they will.
The Liberal Democrats election guru-I see the noble Lord, Lord Rennard in his place-cannot stand up now and deny that they will use the AV system tactically in the way that I am suggesting, despite the fact that advocates of the AV component in the Bill say that people will not vote tactically when it is clear that they will be advised to do so. The Liberal Democrats objective will be to unseat Conservatives wherever possible by advising the electorate to use their additional preferences on outsider no-hope candidates. In seats where Labour has been marginalised, they will desperately set out to woo Labour additional preferences by disassociating themselves from their coalition partners. All I can do is warn the Conservatives in advance to watch their backs. I cannot understand why Conservative Peers are tolerating this nonsense. Liberal Democrat campaigns are unlikely to work-
I promise that this is the last time that I will intervene-I am just getting the noble Lord back for his previous interventions on me-but I am not at all sure what the right and wrongs of a particular electoral system have to do with all this tittle-tattle about political campaigning at local level.
I think that there is a direct connection because the coalition is comprised of two elements, one of which-the Conservative element-is almost completely hostile to the AV system. All that I am pointing out in advance is the danger of allowing this system to slip through on the back of a referendum. I do not think that the referendum will be won, but it may be won and the Conservatives will have it historically around their necks.
I remind the House and colleagues that the three dirtiest campaigns that I have witnessed in my political life were in the Chester-le-Street by-election, the Manchester Exchange by-election and the Bermondsey by-election. It may well be that many Members here today worked in those campaigns. Those three by-elections had one thing in common: the Liberals were in contention, believed that they could win and were absolutely determined to do so. The Lib Dems believe that they can break through on the back of-
That is not something that I condone, but it is insignificant compared to what happened and to what we picked up on the doorstep during the course of the three campaigns to which I referred. I remember the Bermondsey campaign, which was utterly appalling. The Liberal Democrats believe that they can break through on the back of AV, and they will ruthlessly use this system. I warn the Conservative element in this coalition that this will backfire.
It is very tempting for me to think that, having heard the formidable argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, it is necessary to reply to each of the points he made because as a supporter of AV, I could, and would, readily do so. I think I have some sense that the House would prefer to proceed a little more rapidly than that would imply, and therefore I will resist that temptation and keep my remarks as brief as they can be in view of the substance that I need to impart.
I noticed that during my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savour's speech, the Lord Speaker deserted our proceedings. I can only think that she was so convinced by my noble friend's arguments that she realised that she was not a legitimate Speaker of this House. She was elected by AV, a system which my noble friend was destroying, and perhaps because she had not heard me put the counter-case, she felt it necessary to desert her seat. However, I can assure her that she was legitimately chosen by a proper AV system, as are the leaders of the political party of which I am a member, and it is a very good system too.
When debating between SV and AV, as opposed to between first past the post and AV, I sometimes feel that I am back watching television some years ago and watching the Tooting Popular Liberation Front fighting it out with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tooting. As I am Lord Lipsey of Tooting Bec, I particularly enjoy that contest. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and I agree on one thing. It is more important than the things on which we disagree-SV against AV. We are both electoral reformers and therefore hope to see electoral reform emerge eventually from this Bill.
There is at least as formidable a case to be made against SV as my noble friend made against AV. Let us take a point on which the House has spent much too long this afternoon; that is, whether AV requires someone to get 50 per cent or more of the vote. Without going into detail, quite apparently, SV leads to people being elected with a much lower share of the eventual vote than does AV. This can be very serious in four-party marginals, particularly in Scotland. SV simply does not allow the same breadth of choice and the same degree of voter choice as AV. That is just one example of the many points that could be levied against SV.
I shall go through some of the arguments put by my noble friend. He said that this was a panic creation by the coalition. Clearly, it was stitched together in order to create the coalition, but there is nothing panicky about AV. My party has stood for it for quite a while. The Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, favours it. If noble Lords care to look, there is a long list of signatures of very distinguished members of my party who favour AV. Whatever the circumstances that have brought it on to the stage now-I would much rather that it had come on to the stage as the result of a Labour victory in the general election and a Bill containing this clause was being put forward by a Labour Government-I do not think that that is sufficient reason to be against it today. It is not a newly forged system, as noble Lords opposite have pointed out. It has been about for about 100 years and quite often nearly came about.
Moreover, it has been closely examined in recent times by the Jenkins commission, of which I was a member. AV formed part of what was recommended by Jenkins. SV did not. AV maximises voter choice whereas SV gives a relatively limited voter choice. I regard the issue of lower preferences being of lesser importance as being completely without foundation. I would greatly prefer, for example, a Green candidate to a candidate from the British National Party. That is quite low on my list of preferences. If I am wholly honest, once upon a time I did not terribly care whether I voted Lib Dem or Labour, but I always voted Labour, of course. That seemed to me to be a much less important choice. However, at the next general election, as a result of this coalition, I daresay I will approach that question in a different frame of mind.
I would not claim that AV eliminates tactical voting altogether. Of course, it does not. But it eliminates the most difficult choice for a voter; namely, what will a person do with his single vote if it is a first past the post system? Will he put first the party that he really prefers or will he put first the party that he would prefer to the third party for which he might vote? That becomes vastly more important between SV and AV in four-member seats.
We will have a long referendum campaign. Whatever system comes out of this Bill and is the system debated in the referendum, I very much hope that all electoral reformers will choose eventually to rally behind it, although having heard my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, it may be that that is an overoptimistic prediction. It is certainly true that the great majority of electoral reformers, including the electoral reformers in the Electoral Reform Society, which historically is almost keener on STV than the Liberal Democrats, have chosen to back this system.
Let us have the debate. This clause will enable it to be put before the people in the referendum, particularly if, in the course of further amendment of the Bill, we make sure that that referendum does not take place, as the coalition proposes, on
My Lords, I failed to contribute to the Second Reading debate on this Bill and have not had the opportunity to spell out the reasons why I am so deeply unhappy about Part 1. Unlike the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Lipsey, I do not believe in any form of proportional representation. The first past the post system has served us extremely well. I do not think that we should move away from it. The problem is that if you believe in any form of proportional representation, you have to believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in coalition government. I know that we have such a Government, but I do not think that that is an overwhelming reason to change the electoral system, which would make it more likely that we would have coalition government in perpetuity.
Surely, the problems of coalition government are being pointed out very well. For example, one could think of the problems that the Liberal Democrats have on the whole question of student fees. The press say to the Liberal Democrats, "Ah, it was a commitment in your manifesto that you would stop student fees rising. Why aren't you voting against the rises in student fees?". But the whole point of coalition government is that the coalition partners bin all their manifesto commitments. That is what comes from coalition government. You end up not with any precise party that you voted for with its commitments in its manifesto; you end up with a mish-mash and certain commitments are dropped. I as a Conservative am rather unhappy that the coalition Government seems to have dropped all the commitments that we had in opposition. I think I remember the Prime Minister saying when he was in opposition that he regarded reform of your Lordships' House as a third-Parliament issue. Now we have reform of the House of Lords trundling down the road as fast as it can be organised.
Would my noble friend be prepared to go a little further and say that one of the inevitable consequences of a fully proportional system is that the Government and the programme that emerges thereafter is, by definition, a programme that no one has voted for?
I totally agree with my noble friend. Indeed, you could argue that the coalition agreement drawn up immediately after the election was something that no one voted for. I thought that the Conservative commitment was to repatriating powers from Europe, but nothing much seems to have happened on that front, and I thought that we were going to repeal human rights legislation. A number of things have gone from the Conservative manifesto. I am rather surprised that the Liberal Democrats have been attacked in the way that they have been for binning commitments in their manifesto. That comes with coalition. If the country votes for coalition, which basically is what it has done, it must expect to end up with a Government who produce a number of policies for which no one has voted. That is why I am extremely unhappy about changing our electoral system to make coalition government more likely.
I agree absolutely with the noble Lord that coalitions are likely to arise almost inevitably from a proportional system. But I was interested to hear what he said about the coalition. In the light of his remarks, does he agree that what is happening is that the tail is wagging the dog?
Indeed, that is another argument. I have been agreeably surprised by the achievements of this coalition Government in terms of the fact that they seem to have grasped many issues, such as welfare reform and reforms in education which former Prime Minister Tony Blair used to dream about and which have been long overdue. I am a great supporter of much of what the coalition is doing, but that does not mean that I want to see coalition governments in perpetuity from hereon.
I was very interested in the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, about the YouGov poll on the alternative vote. In fact, there was a bare majority from a completely ill-informed electorate-in fact, there was a no vote by 1 per cent. But when the implications of the alternative vote were spelt out a 33 per cent no vote went up to 38 per cent. I would say to any Conservative that that is very significant indeed. If you have time to explain to people how perfectly ghastly the alternative vote is, the chances of defeating it are greater. Under this Bill, however, we are insisting on cramming the referendum together with the local elections, a point we debated earlier on in this clause.
It worries me tremendously that, if we are not careful, this thing will get muddled through with the local elections. The issues will not be debated properly in the country because people will be much more concerned about whether they are winning or losing in the local elections, and they are not going to come to understand the appalling difficulties that the whole business of an alternative vote brings into the argument. I am deeply apprehensive about it. I keep hearing from people on my side of the House that they support the Bill and think it is a frightfully good idea. They all say, "Don't worry. We are going to defeat it in the referendum". But I notice that a lot of them are the same people who told me that we would get a commanding and overall majority at the general election.
None of us knows what the outcome of any referendum will be. It cannot be forecast with any accuracy because many other factors come into play. I do not have that deep feeling of assurance that we are going to defeat the idea of an alternative vote without any difficulty. Things could very easily go wrong, and if they do, I believe that it will put the Conservative Party at a permanent disadvantage.
My Lords, the arguments about AV, SV and STV are fascinating arguments that embrace ethics, philosophy and, one might almost say, theology. But the House will be relieved to hear that what I want to raise is a very limited point which I need only mention in limine, as it were. It relates to the Welsh translation of the question that will be put on the AV ballot paper. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, and I have already raised this matter with the department, but it seems that it may be too late for anything to be done about it. The reason, as I understand it, is that time is of the essence and that it would involve a long exercise in ping-pong between the Electoral Commission, the Welsh Language Board and possibly other bodies which might take many months. Possibly that is the reason why the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, did not go any further than it did.
Be that as it may, perhaps I may point out that the translation that appears in the Bill is one that it would be wholly impossible for the ordinary, intelligent Welsh speaker to understand. I do not doubt that a panel of distinguished academics could justify many parts of it, but in total it is as obscure as ancient Sanskrit to anyone who speaks Welsh from day to day. I speak as one of the half a dozen Members of this House for whom Welsh is their first language, and I must say that it beats me that anyone could have arrived at such an agglomeration of so many different facets.
First, the term, "the UK" is perfectly understandable to anyone living in the United Kingdom, the full term in Welsh, "Deyrnas Unedig", is also well understood, but the initials "DU" have no meaning whatever. "Duw" means "almighty God" in Welsh. I am sure that many people will wonder why there is a reference to the Almighty in this translation. The next matter is the first past the post system, which is referred to in the English version. Whether there is an aversion to taking a reference from the field of horse racing, I know not. It may be something that Non-Conformists would reject totally as a matter of instinct. But in Welsh it reads as, "y cyntaf i'r felin". There is a saying in Welsh,
"Y cyntaf i'r felin gaeth falu".
My noble friend opposite is nodding his head. It means, "The first to the mill shall grind". If one wanted to translate that back into English, one might say something like, "The early bird catches the worm", which would be more understandable. But it has nothing at all to do with first past the post. Someone looking at the English version might ask, "What has this to do with mills and grinding?".
Then we have, "pleidlais amgen", which translates to "the alternative vote". I am no grammarian, but I think I am right in saying that the word "amgen" came into the Welsh language 20 or 30 years ago. Strictly it means "an alternative", but it came into the language in the context of alternative energy, "ynni amgen". Again, people will ask, "What has this to do with energy?".
The totality of this is utterly grotesque and impossible. It may be that nothing can be done about it, but it does no great service to the Welsh language, it does no great service to those whose first language is Welsh, and indeed it is less than worthy of whoever was responsible for the drafting of this part of the Bill.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. We have an unusual situation here in that the debate on whether this clause should stand part has excited so much interest and depth of discussion. However, it might be for the convenience of the whole House, particularly of the speakers who are expecting to take part in the Question for Short Debate, which would normally commence at about this time, if noble Lords would agree to a proposal by the usual channels that the Committee might adjourn in the middle of this debate and reconvene after the Question for Short Debate. I note that my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath, who is to lead the debate, is in his place, and I believe that most of the other Members who are due to take part are here. I think I can see agreement around the House to this proposal, so it would be appropriate for me to move that the House should now resume. I also suggest that the Committee should not resolve itself into a Committee again until 8.27 pm.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.27 pm.