Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill — Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

– in the House of Lords at 8:17 pm on 8th December 2010.

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Debate on whether Clause 1, as amended, should stand part of the Bill resumed.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour 8:27 pm, 8th December 2010

My Lords, I was rudely interrupted by the usual channels, who adjourned the House just as I was on the point of delivering my remarks. I shall try to pick up the morale of the whole debate by opening out this time. We are debating whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill. What I really want to say, perhaps more than anything else, is that any observer watching the debate on this clause so far would have noticed one thing above all else-that there was absolutely no real detectable enthusiasm whatever for having a referendum: and if we did have a referendum, there was certainly no enthusiasm for the choice of having the alternative vote.

We are having a debate about a flagship Bill of this Government. It is more than a flagship Bill; it is a major constitutional Bill. Indeed, as Nick Clegg has said, it is part of the most ambitious programme of constitutional reform since 1832. Three members of his party at the moment want to be part of this great constitutional Bill, the greatest since the Great Reform Act. I am absolutely certain that if my Government had brought forward a great constitutional Bill, not only would a fair number of people have wanted to take part in the debates, they would do so enthusiastically. It does not happen very often-we have the statistics and it happens only once every 170 years, or however many years it has been since the last huge reform, according to Nick Clegg. That has been noticeably absent. The overwhelming majority of the speakers have either been very strongly in favour of first past the post, as I am, or else they have been people like my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Rooker who, while not being supporters of first past the post, have given so many good reasons why the option that is being delivered to the electorate is a very bad one. That is something that any neutral observer would have to report on. I do not know whether that will change during the passage of the Bill, but I doubt it.

I have to say that I was slightly fearful of contributing a lot to this debate, because I acknowledge that I am one of life's anoraks when it comes to looking at electoral systems, and I really do not want to be labelled as an anorak, although I have not got past first base on being an anorak. Another thing was really noticeable in, for example, the exchanges between my noble and very good friend Lord Campbell-Savours and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. It scrambled my brain, and I do not know what it would have done to the electorate in the course of a referendum. That is one of the many, many reasons why this is a bad Bill and this clause is a bad clause. Although the debate is important and significant, it has been in some parts almost unintelligible, certainly incredibly detailed. Now, if that is the case when we are discussing it among people who acknowledge that we are in a tiny minority of the electorate who are actually very interested in these things, how on earth will that be a substantial debate in the country? You can just imagine the near impossibility of getting some of these arguments over to the electorate. Of course I am not saying that it is because the electorate are dim, of course I am not saying that. I am saying that it is of no great concern to people, and if it is of no great concern to you, you do not apply yourself to the arguments. That is what I confidently expect will happen as and when this referendum takes place.

We all know that we have the authority of the Electoral Commission in its report, which is in a pile of documents in my office. I am sure that Members on the Front Benches will have read it cover to cover. The report states clearly that the public simply do not understand AV. Noble Lords may check it. If any of the proponents of AV are happy, as my noble friend Lord Snape has said, to go down any road that they are familiar with in any part of Britain, in any constituency, they should ask the public what they make of AV, let alone the single transferable vote or whatever else is on the menu.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

On that question of understanding, when I asked MPs how AV worked, the great majority did not know or gave a completely wrong explanation. So if MPs do not understand it, how can we expect the great British public to understand it?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

As we know, my noble friend is a reformer who supports change, and he is honest enough to acknowledge just that. The debate that we are having-the subject that we proposing to spend a large sum of money on and put to the public-is basically of interest to only one or two university departments. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Norton, who is sound on a lot these issues, in his place. If I was the parent of a university-age son or daughter who was thinking of taking politics, I would say, "Go to the University of Hull".

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I agree absolutely with my noble friend, and I think that my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath does, too. His son, as I understand it, has just started a course at the University of Hull.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

That is very wise. I bet that he comes out of his course sensible on Lords reform.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I should say that my daughter also studied at Hull, but she is absolutely staunchly in favour of AV. She had the right influence from the noble Lord, Lord Norton.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours asked which AV system, but no doubt there is a specialist MA course on that. Does that not give us some of the answers? A few university departments quite properly consider these things, as well as one or two writers for the Guardian newspaper, which seems to think that this is the way that you can solve most of life's ills, and I assume that these debates take place at branch meetings of the Liberal Democrat party. They must be a lot of fun. I am sorry that I missed them.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

They do not meet any more.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

We are spending millions of pounds on dealing with, as far as the public are concerned, a non-existent problem. That is one of several reasons why I am not sure it is worth proceeding with the Bill, let alone endorsing Clause 1.

On the Government's defence of the Bill, I should make one or two observations that are fair. Perhaps the most serious is that there has been no attempt, so far as I can see, even to address the issue that Nick Clegg raised: that this is part of a great reforming programme. There has been no attempt to relate what we are doing in this Bill to what is happening on any other constitutional reform measure. This is particularly true when considering electoral systems.

You would not think that somewhere down the track-I hope, or expect, a long way down the track-a Bill will come forward about Lords reform. We are already told that the electoral system to be used is proportional representation. What form of proportional representation? I really do not know. There are far more forms of it than there are of AV. I did not know about all the alternatives to AV until my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours got cracking on it. He will be a joy to listen to when we discuss the various forms of proportional representation in detail. Whenever I have had a debate with proponents of proportional representation-I have had several-and whenever I thought I was close to winning the case for first past the post, their rejoinder was always the same: "Oh, it's not that kind of proportional representation that we are in favour of. It is some other kind". So those private debates and discussions go on.

I would really like to know from Members on the Front Bench opposite, before we proceed any further with the Bill, how many different electoral systems they think it is proper for the United Kingdom-a country of 60 million people-to have. We already have five different systems.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I hope that the noble Lord will remind us that in 1997 there was only one system. By 2010, there were considerably more, and they had been brought in, on his watch, by the noble Lord's Government, whom he avidly supported.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I have to admit in the privacy of this Chamber that I did my very best to stop them. However, you do not get all that you want in life, as the two parties in the coalition know well enough. It is an issue that must be addressed, and I tell the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if he would like to report this back to senior management-

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

He is senior management.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

He is senior management, but not top management. Perhaps he should bring back a Bill that said, "Let's have a single electoral system for the United Kingdom". He can attack the Labour Government if he wants; I would not agree with him on that, although I will on this issue. We have tried all these other systems. They all have serious failures. Is anyone going to challenge me on that on the systems that we have actually seen and observed? They all have serious failures. They do not end the debate. If any Scottish colleague wants to suggest to me that there are no longer any discussions in Scotland about the merits of the additional member system-

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

Here is where my noble friend and I part. The additional member system in Scotland gave, for the first time in years, Conservative representation to Conservative voters. So there is a discussion: that is, that it works. That was the problem. My noble friend was defending first past the post at very high levels during our time in government. Can he explain how, during the 13 years while the iron curtain was collapsing and democracy was starting to flourish in eastern Europe, we could not export first past the post to a single country? Add to that South Africa, eastern Europe. There was not one. We could not export the system that we had in 1997, so it is quite right that we tried other systems, because they proved to be wholly beneficial.

Photo of Baroness Adams of Craigielea Baroness Adams of Craigielea Labour

I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that the additional member system does not work. We may have Conservatives representing not Conservative voters but Conservative Party policy and cherry picking issues because they do not represent any particular constituents. We have a system in which those directly elected by the local people have up to eight members following them around from the additional list, picking off issues and raising them in policies. I am sorry; it does not work.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I am very grateful to my noble friend Baroness Adams. I would just like to gently remind my good friend Lord Roper, and he will remain my good friend whatever different views we take on this issue, that the Berlin Wall did not come down during a Labour Government. The new democracies in eastern Europe predated our beloved Labour Government, but the international comparisons-for me, at any rate-can never be as telling and compelling as the operation of different systems in a single unitary system. That is the most telling evidence: not what happens in any other country in the world, but what has happened here in European elections, Scottish and Welsh elections, local government elections, mayoral elections and the rest of it. Let us have an academic debate no longer. Let us have an honest discussion about how well these systems have performed.

The only comments I would make on the performance of these systems are these. First, the question does not solve the debate about electoral reform, for the very simple reason that as soon as these systems come into operation, their faults become manifest. To me, the one good thing about having all these systems is that I no longer have to debate with people on the basis of an existing system with failings-I acknowledge that first past the post has its failings-against some El Dorado of a system that solves all known ills. I am able to say, "You told us this would happen with this particular electoral system, and I can demonstrate that it did not happen". If someone has continually told you over a period of many years-most of my political career-that proportional representation for Europe, for example, would greatly increase public interest and involvement in elections because it would offer a real opportunity to get Labour members in the south-east or Conservative members in the north-east, where both parties are badly underrepresented, now you can say, "It simply has not happened".

There are two real characteristics of the various attempts at different electoral systems, and they are crystal clear for anyone who takes an objective view. First, they are associated with low turnouts. There is no greater involvement by the public, and no greater connection that we heard so much about from one or two people before, than between the public and their elected representatives. The second characteristic, which I fear very much for the AV system and which is very noticeable and should be of concern to everyone in the House, is that they are associated with very high levels of spoilt ballot papers.

I do not want to predict what would happen if the AV vote were carried-God forbid that it were-but if it were, you can be absolutely certain that the numbers of spoilt ballot papers would increase, and increase dramatically. There are more spoilt ballot papers for the European elections, where the turnout is about 35 per cent, than there are for Westminster elections, where the turnout is 64 per cent. If that is not a statistic that should be put on the table and be of concern to anyone who cares about our democracy and its operation, then it really should be.

Finally, the only really solid justification that I have heard from the supporters of AV, as it is in this Bill, is that it ensures that MPs are elected on a majority vote. I loved the exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and my noble friend Lord Rooker, and I thought-you would expect me to say this-that my two noble friends comprehensively demolished the argument that even under AV there was a guarantee that the winning candidate would be a majoritarian.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

The noble Lord does me the privilege of talking about me the moment I walk into the Chamber. Can I just say that I have never made that argument about AV. Others no doubt have but I have not and never would, because it is clearly not strictly true. It is, as noble Lords have said previously, clearly more true than for first past the post or for the supplementary vote, but it is not strictly 100 per cent true. That is obvious. I would never claim that.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I think that is a very honourable and honest thing to say. I was not so much referring to what he had said so much as to the debate between the two of them. I do wish that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, with his characteristic honesty on these matters, would gently, while we are debating things over here, move forward and whisper in the ear of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who constructs his near total defence of the AV system on the idea that it guarantees that MPs would have majority support. I do not know who is right. Is there another division among the Liberal Democrats on this particular issue? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McNally, could address that. I do not know whether he is responding to this debate or not. He is not. He looks relieved as he says not.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

I was listening to a "News at Ten" bulletin the other day and there was a discussion about AV. Again the newscaster referred to it requiring more than 50 per cent. We have to get the story out to a lot of people that the 50 per cent issue does not arise under AV. The national media still keep peddling this story.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I am not surprised. During the time in office of the previous Labour Government, the national media frequently said that Labour had a majority in the House of Lords. They do not know the difference between "majority" and "largest party": we are used to that. My concern about the constant reference to a majority is more fundamental. I simply report to the House that I was not as clever as some of my friends who ensured that they represented seats in the Commons where there was majority support in election after election. I had that luxury on only one of the four occasions when I managed to convince the electorate that I should be their Member under the first past the post system. I cannot remember the figures. They were about 42, 44 or 46 per cent: then in the end-bingo-it was more than 50 per cent. I did not think that it was of any great significance until I started reading some of the debates in the run-up to this one.

I assure the House-and if any noble Lord wishes to intervene, they are welcome to do so-that I do not know whether I had 50 per cent of the vote. I had to check it because I am now a fully paid-up member of the anorak society and had to know the facts about my own electoral history. It does not make a shred of difference. First, your voters do not know whether you have a majority. If I did not know, I am sure that they did not. It does not make a scrap of difference to your work as a Member of Parliament. The notion that it is vital for Lib Dem, Conservative or Labour voters in constituency A, B or C to have a Member of Parliament of their party is wrong, because 99.9 per cent-and that is a low estimate-of the people who come to you when you are a Member of Parliament do so irrespective of your party or theirs. They come to you with exactly the same range of issues whether you have a majority or not.

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

If the noble Lord is so convinced by the strength of his arguments over the past 21 minutes, why is he so frightened of putting this to the British people in a referendum so that they can decide the issues?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I would not have taken so long if I had not had so many interesting interventions. I am afraid that I will have to toss this back at the noble Lord. If the Lib Dems are so convinced, as they have been telling me ad nauseam over the years, that the British public are crying out for electoral reform, why on earth are they desperately putting the referendum on the same day as other elections, in the hope that they might get 30 or 35 per cent of the electorate to turn out? I understood that the public were queueing up to take part in any opportunity to get rid of the old, discredited system, as the Lib Dems call it. I am afraid that that is another theory that has been tested under fire and found wanting.

This clause will stand part of the Bill. It has limped along, drawing no enthusiasm from any of its proponents. I understand that there are always dilemmas about whether you can support your own Government in office. I do not criticise anyone, but I have no doubt what would happen if we had a good old-fashioned secret ballot on the Bill, nor about what would have happened if a secret ballot had been held in the Commons before they sent the Bill here. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, knows this as well as I do. He is well versed in the machinations of the higher echelons of parties-at least he was when I knew him-and he knows perfectly well that this is a friendless Bill and that this clause is certainly a friendless clause. I hope that we will remember that when we continue debating the Bill.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has been rather unfair on his noble friend Lord Lipsey, who gave an excellent and much briefer speech in support of Clause 1. I will follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, by being brief and to the point. I will concentrate for a few minutes on the issue of turnout, which has been a constant concern of all of us across the House this evening-and rightly so, because we are all anxious to look again at the involvement of our fellow citizens in the way in which we vote.

There have been one or two trips down memory lane this evening, and I hope your Lordships will indulge me for a couple of minutes. On the last wintry day of February 1974, in a very scattered rural constituency in Cornwall, 83 per cent of those who were registered to vote turned out. In those days, there were many fewer postal votes, so most voters went to the polls. Why? Because those very wise Cornish men and women knew that the result would be very close. It had been relatively close at the previous election. They were right: I had a majority of nine, which, even in those days, was thought to make mine a rather unsafe seat. In subsequent elections I did better. I confess to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that I cannot remember whether I constantly got more than 50 per cent of the vote, but I certainly did on one or two occasions, and I built a majority of 9,000. What happened?

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Labour

Perhaps the noble Lord could explain that the importance of that day-which I, too, remember well-was that it was a verdict on the Government rather than on his good self. Perhaps he could also remind us of the outcome of that election.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

That is not true, because in other parts of the country the turnout was not 83 per cent. It was 83 per cent in my constituency because the contest was seen to be very close. When I had a majority of 9,000 plus, down it went. Because it was not so interesting and the votes were not going to be so important, it dropped to 63 per cent. There is a direct correlation between safer seats and turnout. Nobody can deny that. I see the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is agreeing with me. Where constituents feel that there is not a real chance of change-whether they fear it or hope for it is immaterial-they do not register on the same level and they do not turn out. For example, in May 2010 the lowest turnout-well under 50 per cent in Birmingham Ladywood, Manchester Central and Leeds Central-was in seats where the electors knew there was very little chance of change, whether they wanted it or not. On the other hand, in Westmorland and Lonsdale and in Richmond Park, where there was clearly going to be a very close result, up went the turnout to 77 per cent. People vote and register to vote when they think that their votes are going to be important in terms of the outcome. That is surely the most important lesson we should all learn.

Short of compulsion, which we discussed earlier, the most effective incentive for people to vote is because they think their vote will make a difference and that is the case for AV. I have never pretended-I agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves-that somehow this is the magic solution and everybody is going to turn out and will inevitably go for a first preference. It does not necessarily mean that everybody will have a majority. But look at the alternatives; look at first past the post. It is a staggering fact that there is not a single Member of the other place who can put their hand on their heart after the May 2010 election and say, "I am supported by more than half the people who could vote in my constituency". Not one can say they have more than 50 per cent of those registered to vote in their constituency. Not one. If we are saying that AV is not perfect, first past the post is much less perfect.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

I missed the first part of the debate on Clause 1 and I regret that. The noble Lord gave the example of the second defect, which my noble friend Lord Grocott did not address-not so much the argument about everybody getting 50 per cent but the second porky that it does away with tactical voting. We heard that today from the people who launched the pro-AV campaign. Yet the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has just said it will be their second preference. That is what will get them out to vote. That is where the tactical voting comes in. What we need on the record, like we had from the Leader earlier on, is a definitive statement from the Government that it is not true that every MP will get elected by 50 per cent. We also need on the record that AV does not do away with tactical voting because the tactical vote is on the second preference, not on the first vote. It would be quite useful if this debate could get that on the record because all our words will be used in leaflets next year, I can assure noble Lords.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

It is obviously true that if the elector chooses not to vote tactically, they do not have to. But it is also perfectly true-as the noble Lord's colleague, Mr Ben Bradshaw, has acknowledged on behalf of all those members in the Labour Party who are supporting AV, including the leader of the party of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who has come out very strongly in favour of AV-that it reduces the need for tactical voting. Ben Bradshaw said yesterday that AV gives more power to the people-nobody can deny that-freeing them from the pressure to vote tactically. They do not have to vote tactically. They can do their first preference and their second preference. But the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is quite right. It does not necessarily abolish tactical voting. It makes it much less effective and much less necessary. Mr Bradshaw, his colleague in the other place, is right on that.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I want to take him back to a point which I heard him make a moment or two ago to confirm that I understood him correctly. His criticism of the first past the post system-he seemed to be building up to this criticism because he made it so vehemently-was that there was not one Member of the House of Commons who could claim to be elected by 50 per cent of the registered voters in his or her constituency. Do I understand that the noble Lord is now setting that as the bar for a credible voting system? If he is, can he point me, an ingénue in these matters and not in any sense an anorak or a wonk, to one example of the operation of this alternative vote system that meets that challenge that he has now set?

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am not saying that AV would automatically mean that every Member of the other House would have 50 per cent but first past the post clearly goes nowhere near to achieving that result. AV can make that more possible. More people can have more influence on the outcome of their constituency election and as a result there will be many more seats in the country-not all of them, there will still be safe seats-where it will be possible for people to have more confidence that their vote will make a difference.

Photo of Lord Browne of Belmont Lord Browne of Belmont DUP

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord. He is very patient with me. Other Members of his party have shown exasperation when I have intervened, but if he will bear with me, I need education on this issue. I have listened carefully to what he has to say and resisted the temptation to intervene on him on two or three occasions because I wanted to see the point he was building up to. I am not asking him for an assurance that this will deliver that benchmark all the time. I am asking him, as a self-professed expert on these matters, to give me just one example of the system of AV which he is promoting in this referendum delivering against that benchmark.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat 9:00 pm, 8th December 2010

The noble Lord is simply taking a question that I have not posed and which I do not intend to claim. All I am saying is that the present system discourages people in large tranches of the country from thinking that their vote will make a difference and, therefore, they do not bother to register or to vote. That is a fact. No one can deny it.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Let me hit the flaw in the noble Lord's argument. He is presuming that the remotest preference cast by an elector, which might be the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth preference, should be given the same value within the electoral system as the first preference. That argument is ludicrous. His whole case is based on that and that is why he is wrong.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

That is what happens under the present system. The present system is totally inadequate in that respect because you have to plump. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who undoubtedly understands the point I am making, I say that under the present system many people in this country feel that they are forced to vote in a very artificial way because their first preference is not likely to win. I am arguing that in many parts of the country people do not bother to register or to vote at all because they think that their first preference is not likely to win. The safer the seat-

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

My noble friend's argument is based on the premise that people are aware that under a different system-in this case AV-their votes will make more of a difference than under the present system. I should be interested know what his empirical evidence is for that.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

The empirical evidence, of course, is the way in which so many other elections, outwith elections to Parliament, operate. I think I am right in saying that all the parties now select their candidates through a form of AV and it is seen to be very effective. Many other professional organisations and trade unions use it and, as was pointed out earlier, the Lord Speaker was elected under that system. There are plenty of examples where people understand that by making a number of choices or preferences they can make a difference.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

On one of the noble Lord's examples, trade unions, there was recently an election in the Unite trade union for the general secretary. There was a huge campaign around the country, which was very hotly contested between two very different front-running candidates. Does the noble Lord know what the turnout was? It was less than 20 per cent. Surely, that is one of many examples which fully undermines his case.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Indeed, if the noble Lord looks at the Scottish results to which I referred, he will see that the average turnout was just over 25 per cent under the system he is advocating.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

As was pointed out only a few minutes ago, the noble Lord was very selective in the ones that he quoted, and 25 per cent is not a bad turnout in a local election. I would argue that AV is not perfect and I have never said it is perfect, but I believe it has real advantages in terms of the relationship between the elected Member and his or her constituency. In that respect, in many ways it has advantages over a pure proportional representation system. Incidentally, my noble friend Lord Hamilton was utterly wrong in describing anything in the Bill now as a proportional system. It is not. Some of us might think that in due course there may be a proportional system, but this is not a proportional system and I would never claim that it is. If his opposition to AV is based on that, I am afraid he is deluded.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

Does my noble friend accept that if we move to an AV system, we are more likely to have coalition governments and, if we have coalition governments, we have coalition agreements, such as we had at the beginning of this Parliament, and we end up with a government who are governing with a new manifesto that is only vaguely related to the two manifestos of the parties in the coalition?

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

All the evidence from Professor John Curtice, who was mentioned earlier, is that AV is less likely to result in a balanced Parliament, as we have now, than first past the post. The noble Lord may be able to look to the future and have a better idea, but the academic evidence is that AV is less likely to do that because there is a sort of bonus towards the larger party as a result of the election.

I find it incredible that so many Members opposite are ignoring what has been said by their party leader-and in the Guardian today-by saying in absolutely firm terms that they believe that AV is the right way forward. Of course, they are being consistent with what they said previously in Parliament and in the election, but I find it quite extraordinary that so many Members opposite feel that it is necessary to rebel against their own party at this juncture and to weaken the position of their new leader.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I would like to help my noble friend. It is not the position of the Labour Party that there cannot be an open debate-I hope that he will encourage an open debate as well-and there is no party obligation to support AV. We support the idea of a referendum, but not necessarily AV. We want the country to debate it, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord for contributing to that debate.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, because he has pre-empted the question that I was about to ask. I am assuming, from what he has just said, that he will support-not just not vote against-the motion that Clause 1 stand part, because what he has said implies that he will do so. If we had known that an hour or so ago, this debate might have been rather shorter.

It is true that the previous Labour Government twice committed itself to this precise form of words for putting the issue to the people. I believe, as Churchill said, that we should trust the people on this issue. I am quite prepared to debate in any television studio with the noble Lord-

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

Churchill did not want AV. As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, told us, Churchill is on record as doing the best rubbishing job on AV that anyone has done.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

I have to tell the noble Lord that Churchill was a supporter of electoral reform when he was a Liberal, and then-I am sorry to say-disappeared off into a different party.

I believe with both the coalition Government and the Labour Party that those same citizens who have been cheated by our current system for so long should be given an early opportunity to vote for a better system. The proposal may not be perfect-I agree with those who made that point-but we have had the moment of truth, in that the Opposition Front Bench are now saying that they will support the motion that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill. That is good news. I hope that we can make equally good progress with the rest of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

What a rip-roaringly good debate it has been. Only the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who keeps putting words into my mouth, slightly spoils it.

These are the questions that need to be addressed as a result of the debate. First, there is a strand in the debate from the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and my noble friend Lord Grocott, who said there should not be a referendum at all. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said it would lead to a worse system; the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that there is no case made out adequately for AV. One of the purposes of us debating it in Committee is for the case to be looked at. The first question that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, should deal with, is why should there be a referendum with AV as the only alternative in it? He should answer the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Grocott, because for people voting in the referendum, there needs to be a credible case for it made by the Government, which goes beyond saying, "I agreed it with my coalition partners, therefore it must happen". That carries no wait with the electorate.

The second question that has been raised is: why choose this sort of AV? That was the debate between the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Greaves, which is beyond most of our abilities to comprehend. I say seriously that it is important because the Government are saying, "A detailed proposal for an alternative vote system is set out in Clause 9 and if you vote "yes", that is the one you will get". The noble Lords, Lord Greave and Lord Campbell-Savours, are at each others throats about whether that is right system of alternative vote, and in voting yes, the individual members of the electorate in the referendum have to decide whether they think it is the best.

I say in parenthesis how glad I was to see the Deputy Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, going to speak to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves-I think, to encourage him to continue to participate in the debate. The moment that the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, instead of keeping to his seat, he immediately got up to intervene in the debate. I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on that.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

I reveal that my noble friend was actually passing on a piece of scurrilous gossip which I would never reveal to the House.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, deteriorates dramatically in the light of that.

The explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, of why they were choosing what I may describe as the Queensland alternative vote system, as opposed to the federal system, had detail and substance to it. His explanation of why they were choosing the alternative vote system as opposed to the supplementary vote system was tragically lacking in any detail. I invite him to take the opportunity of replying to this debate to give that explanation, because it is not possible to say that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has not got the ball well over the net on the question of the supplementary vote system, which is accepted as being a sort of alternative vote. That requires consideration. Why are the Government not adopting that form of alternative vote rather than the form set out in Clause 9? The public are entitled to know.

The third question which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, needs to deal with in this significant debate is: why not give other choices to the electorate-a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Rooker? Why is an alternative vote system favoured by the coalition? Yes, it was the one favoured by the Labour Party in both the CRAG Bill and the manifesto but, unfortunately, in the context where parliamentarians are not that respected by the public, the argument has to be advanced. It is not enough to say, "We have agreed with the Liberal Democrats, therefore we imagine that you members of the electorate will accept that as sufficient reason". They will not. There must be an argument. I assume that there is an argument why it was accepted in the coalition agreement.

Those are the three points of principle that need to be addressed. There are five other points of detail that are of significance. The first is the point made in the incredibly impressive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, about the Welsh translation. I do not know whether noble Lords know this, but I do not speak Welsh. I accept completely that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, understands Welsh. What he said left me worried about the position of the Welsh translation. If, for example, DU means God willing, not the United Kingdom, to the people of Wales, something has gone badly wrong in the translation. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who has had the whole of the dinner hour to deal with that, to tell us why the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, is wrong. I regard it as a significant issue. Welsh is a recognised language in Wales, and although I do not think that there is now anyone in Wales who is monolingual and speaks only Welsh, it will be the first language for some of the 200,000 people who speak Welsh, who may well go to that translation first.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

There are 600,000 people who speak Welsh. It is the first language of many hundreds of thousands of them. It is the first language of half a dozen Members of this House, including me. If I may say so without straying beyond propriety, it is the first language of the Reading Clerk of this House, whose English is flawless but whose Welsh is perfect.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 9:15 pm, 8th December 2010

I am quite sure that the Reading Clerk will therefore go to the Welsh question and wonder what it is about the electoral system for God that we are now seeking to deal with. I did not know about this point. Had we known about it, we would have put down probing amendments in order to get it. I think it is quite an important point.

The next detailed point is that this is being dealt with at unseemly speed. We sought to deal with that through the amendment that this House agreed on Monday giving the Government the opportunity to bring the referendum forward between May and October. I have to tell noble Lords that this has caused the Electoral Commission much upset. It has asked the Government to please get Parliament to make up its mind quickly about the position. I shall read what the chair of the Electoral Commission has written to the right honourable Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, at the Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall:

"Given the importance of clarity about the rules on how the referendum will be conducted so that the commission and others can successfully deliver their responsibilities and campaigners can plan properly to put their arguments to voters, I urge you to set out how the Government intends to proceed to ensure Parliament can specify the date of the proposed referendum as soon as possible".

As I understand it, the Electoral Commission is asking the Government to ensure that Parliament can specify the date of the proposed referendum as soon as possible.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

When I saw the note from the Electoral Commission, which it copied to many of us moving the amendments, I wrote back briefly, saying:

"I am sure high quality lawyers will see a route forward and grab the chance of flexibility. Why don't you recommend an order making power in the Bill. Make a draft order with May 5th while maintaining the fall back of ... 31 October in the Bill".

It is very simple. We all say that the target date is 5 May. The way to do it is to put an order-making power in the Bill and put a draft order before the House while the Bill is going through so that the public sector, the private sector and everybody knows that that is the target date. The Bill itself-the Act of Parliament-will have "before 31 October" so if something goes wrong, it is possible to change the order. It is simple.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I think it is pretty clear that the Electoral Commission is very dissatisfied with the way that we have behaved in relation to this and have amended the Bill because it wants clarity as quickly as possible. It wants to ensure that Parliament can specify the date of the proposed referendum as soon as possible. Could the Minister indicate what the Government's position in relation to that is?

My noble friend Lord Rooker puts forward a sensible solution. I would have thought that the solution is even simpler than what he said. There is nothing wrong with the Government saying that they intend to have the referendum on 5 May, but if they cannot, they will have it on a date when they can have it.

There is another significant point. The timing is presumably a pressure only if the referendum is on 5 May. I think it is very hard to understand that you would need clarity about the date if the referendum was to be later in the year. Therefore, I assume that this letter from the Electoral Commission applies only if the referendum is to be on or about 5 May. If it is to be in June, July, September or October, I do not see why you would need the date to be fixed now, but perhaps the Minister can tell me whether I am right or wrong on that.

I have a letter from Mr Mark Harper MP, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, 70 Whitehall, London SW1A 2AS. He writes:

"We will therefore seek to ensure that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill includes provision for that date".

Perhaps the Minister can indicate what he has in mind to achieve that course of action. So, on the question of date, is it too fast? We are happy with the approach that has been adopted by this House. What is the Government's position on that?

Secondly, we wanted it to be indicative, not compulsory, so that Parliament could subsequently debate, if there was a yes vote in relation to alternative votes, what the right method of alternative vote systems would be. Thirdly, we did not want it to be combined with other elections. Again, I would ask the Government to set out their position in relation to that. I assume that their position remains as set out in Clause 4. Those are the four significant points.

We have made it clear that we support in principle the idea of a referendum on AV, but I should like to hear the Government's justification on the three points of principle. Should there be a referendum at all? Why choose this sort of AV? Why not go for other opportunities? I would also like to hear the Government's position on whether this is too fast, whether it is indicative, not compulsory and whether it should not be combined.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

The noble Lord should say it again. It is up to the noble Lord whether he wants to answer these points. Something that has been particularly good about today is that the electorate has had the opportunity to hear for the first time some of the Government's defence for this political change. Prior to that, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has indulged in fantastically attractive and amusing political points, which unfortunately the electorate will not find very attractive.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, it has been a useful and interesting debate. We have covered a lot of ground. A lot of different views have come from those opposite, including those who are wholly opposed to a referendum of any kind or to any change. The noble and learned Lord seemed to say slightly half-heartedly that he wishes to have a referendum. I cannot help feeling that secretly he rather wished that there would not be one. I am in favour of having a referendum.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

If the noble Lord is prying into my personal views, will he tell the House his personal view on a referendum?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I am wholly in favour of us having a referendum because I am in favour of people having a choice and being able to deal with the issue. It is important that they should. I have no difficulty in supporting a referendum. I think that I have already told the House that I will not be supporting the yeses; I will be supporting the noes when we get to it.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Perhaps the noble Lord could express his view as to how disappointed he was that the Conservative manifesto did not contain a commitment to such a referendum.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, it is for the noble and learned Lord to apologise as to why it was in his own manifesto. What did Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, say-not six months ago when he was writing the manifesto-today? He said:

"I believe that changing our electoral system so that every MP has the support of"-

I am not trying to rile the noble Lord, Lord Rooker-

"more than half their constituents is one way in which we can begin to restore trust in politics".

The leader of the Labour Party said that. I am responsible for many things, but I am not responsible for the leader of Labour Party-thank goodness.

The Welsh issue was an important and substantive point, which worried me when it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. It worried the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. One thing I am trying to do during the course of these debates is relieve the noble and learned Lord of worry. I understand that Cabinet Office Ministers will write to the noble Lord shortly with a full explanation of the Government's position. But I can furthermore advise the Committee-this is really interesting-that the Electoral Commission is statutorily responsible for advising on the intelligibility of the English and Welsh versions of the question. Not only did it consult the Welsh Language Board, but it has conducted focus groups with Welsh speaking voters on the Welsh question now in the Bill. In its public report, it advises that concerns on intelligibility, along the lines raised by the noble Lord, did not arise. The Electoral Commission will send explanatory leaflets in English and Welsh in Wales to all voters to explain the issues. I have no idea whether that is good enough for the noble Lord. He will be receiving further letters from the Cabinet Office on that important point.

This is a clause stand part debate, so what is the clause about? It provides for a referendum to be held on 5 May 2011 on whether to change the voting system for parliamentary elections. Following the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which the Government resisted, the clause also allows for the referendum date to be moved. The Government remain committed, because we believe it to be achievable, to holding this referendum on 5 May next year. That view was set out in Mark Harper's letter to Jenny Watson today. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in the debate and I thank him for what was a positive and constructive suggestion on the way forward.

The clause also sets out the question that will appear on the ballot papers in English and Welsh. The noble and learned Lord asked why we are bringing forward a referendum on the alternative vote system. We are doing it because it has been agreed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, as the coalition partners in government-I know that noble Lords do not like the idea, but that is what has happened-that it will form part of our coalition programme for government. The two parties in the coalition have differing views on the merits of the two voting systems, and those views will no doubt be played out in the campaign. The Government are clear that there should be a referendum on the issue and that it is for the electorate to make the choice between the systems. This is not a panic driven stitch-up, which is what I think either the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, or the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, called it.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, simply disagrees with any change to first past the post, so he is making a campaigning case-

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I am sorry. The noble Lord is in favour of the system he dreamt up over dinner. It is the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who is opposed to any change from first past the post, thus making his campaigning points now, but he is rehearsing. All power to his elbow, but in a few weeks' time I hope that he will be tramping the streets of Britain to make his case. He does not need to make them here. We have heard them and I understand them.

The noble and learned Lord also asked whether we are still in favour of combining the date. We are because 84 per cent of the UK electorate will already have a reason to go to the polls on 5 May. That strikes me as being a good thing. It is a benefit for the electorate already to be going to the polls. Ensuring that electors do not have to make another visit is more convenient and will save money.

Photo of Baroness Adams of Craigielea Baroness Adams of Craigielea Labour

Can the Leader of the House help me on a point? At the moment, my household falls into two different constituencies. For the Scottish Parliament we are in Paisley North, and for the Westminster Parliament the votes of my household fall into Paisley South. If, as I will be entitled to do, I go to the polls for the Scottish Parliament elections, I will vote in the north-east corner of Paisley, but if my household is going to vote in the Westminster election, they must vote in the south-west corner of Paisley. Where will my referendum vote be held?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, that is a great question because I find myself in exactly the same position. I am also in two different constituencies, one for Westminster, which I do not vote in, and another for the Scottish Parliamentary elections, where I will vote. So this is of as much interest to me as to the noble Baroness. I shall be demanding an answer very soon and I will make sure she knows what it is. But that does not cut across anything else because this is a unique situation for the noble Baroness and I-perhaps near unique because there may be one or two others as well.

Photo of Baroness Adams of Craigielea Baroness Adams of Craigielea Labour

It is not a unique situation to the noble Lord and I. It affects all the people in these constituencies. They are in exactly the same situation. Do they have to vote for the Scottish Parliament candidate and then race diagonally across the town to vote in the referendum if it is to be based on the Westminster constituency?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 9:30 pm, 8th December 2010

My Lords, I am assuming that they will still vote in the same polling booth, although there may be different registers. However, I have said that I will get a substantive answer for the noble Baroness, and I shall do so.

It is not unusual for different voters to be asked to vote on different issues at different levels on the same day. There has been a great deal of talk about this from noble Lords opposite, but it is not unusual and there is no reason why people should not be able to make up their minds. The question has been fully tested and cleared, not by the Government but by the Electoral Commission, and should enable the electorate to understand the choice they are being asked to make and to express their views. That is why there is no alternative; that is why we are saying, "Make it clear and easy for people to decide between one system and the other", which will be duly explained.

Why this kind of AV? In no particular order, we chose it for the following good and legitimate reasons: this is the system for which the House of Commons voted; it voted on all the others and this is the one on which it could unite; it is the system on which the two parties of the coalition could unite and agree on; it maintains the constituency link; and it tends to return Members with more than half of the electors voting for them, although not on every occasion. These strike me as good reasons for why the coalition chose AV above all other systems.

However, the fundamental part of this clause is the referendum. We are removing choice from parliamentarians and we are giving it to the people of this country. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that; it is an extremely good thing to do. We do it very occasionally, but it is right that we should do so.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

The Leader has given a number of reasons why this AV system was chosen and has argued the case very powerfully. Why then did Nicholas Clegg call it a miserable little compromise?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My noble friend Lord McNally said, "Ask Nicholas Clegg". I have no idea why he said that; I suppose it is what he thought at the time.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

Earlier in the debate-I have sat through most of it, listening carefully-the Leader of the House said on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that there is collective responsibility, so surely he can explain what the Deputy Prime Minister meant.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I have not asked him; I have not got a line on it; and it is not a question that will trouble me much at all.

I have laid out the reasons why I believe the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I am grateful to the Leader of the House, who has been very patient and good humoured. However, perhaps I might ask him one final serious question while he is dealing with the referendum. He thinks the referendum is absolutely right and is the proper thing to do when you are making a constitutional change of this kind. Given that we were told that all the constitutional change Bills were part of a coherent whole-I repeat, 1832-he must be able to confirm now that should there be a proposal to abolish the House of Lords in its present form he would clearly want to see that referred to a referendum.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

That is a good question. The committee on which the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition sits is discussing these issues. No final view has been taken but, when it is, no doubt it will be transmitted to the noble Lord-if not directly by her then when a Statement is in due course made to Parliament at some stage in the new year.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

The noble Lord shows a consistent admiration for the importance of the referendum and allowing the people to decide, but he is not allowing the people to decide on whether or not they would prefer the supplementary vote system-which is a form of alternative vote-to first past the post. He has not yet answered that question and the public would be grateful to hear why that system of alternative vote has not been adopted.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

We made two decisions. First, we made a decision about AV, and I have given the reasons why we thought that the system should be AV. The second decision, not to give a further choice, was because we wanted to have a very clear indication from the people of this country on whether they want to make a change to AV, which we feel is the best of the alternative systems, or to retain first past the post.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I am sorry to press this, but the supplementary vote system is a form of AV that does not compel people-as the federal Australian AV system does-to vote for unsatisfactory candidates. What was the basis of decision to provide for the system described in Clause 9 rather than the supplementary vote system?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I have explained all the reasons, not the least of which is that the House of Commons united around this particular system, which I am very happy to support.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

When these matters were being considered in the coalition talks, there must have been a point at which a decision was taken to proceed with AV. Were all three AV variants on the table? Were they all considered? Was there a discussion about each of the various systems? The proposal in the Bill derives from the coalition agreement, so there must have been, at some stage, some discussion about the detail. Did those discussions take place on the basis that I am referring to?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The discussions took place before we came into Government. They were part of the agreement on becoming the Government. I was not there and I was not part of the discussions. However, I cannot imagine that we decided on AV without having taken a view about the other systems and taken a decision that AV was the right one.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Let me put it more simply. In the Government's view, why is the system in Clause 9 better than the supplementary vote system? If the noble Lord could explain that, the public would have some understanding of why we have the Clause 9 system. That is what I am getting at.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

In a series of votes in the House of Commons, Members of the other place united behind this system and decided to put it forward to this House.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

Can my noble friend tell the House whether the Government took cognisance of the fact that the previous Government, having obviously gone through a very similar thought process, decided on precisely this form of AV for the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act and then repeated the proposal in the general election?

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

As the noble Lord is aware, it was a Conservative Member of Parliament, Mr Christopher Chope, who moved what was in effect the supplementary vote amendment in the House of Commons. He had support from Members on his own Benches, but it is a pity that he did not drive them into the Division Lobbies.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My noble friend Lord Tyler makes a great point. Six months ago, that was the view of the Labour Party. That is the view that we have taken as well, for the reasons that I laid out. The system that we propose gives the widest possible choice to voters. That is why it is a good idea.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Should I understand from the warm embrace that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has given to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that the Government are proceeding with the system because we did so?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Not just today, but on the last time that we met-and, I expect, the time before that-I laid out the reasons why we chose AV. The noble and learned Lord may not like it, but that is what we said. There is very little left to say

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

The one thing, I am afraid, that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, cannot get away with is that he has never laid out the reasons why the Government have favoured the alternative vote system proposed in Clause 9 over the supplementary vote system. The paucity of his arguments was demonstrated, if I may say so, by his saying, "We are doing it because the Commons voted for it".

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

No, it was a statement.

Clause 1 agreed.

Clause 2 : Entitlement to vote in the referendum

Amendment 34

Moved by Lord Dubs

34: Clause 2, page 2, line 10, leave out paragraph (b)

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I give an undertaking that, although Amendment 34 is relevant and important, it has nothing to do with the type of voting system that I favour. However, I am very happy to be flexible on that, if that is the wish of my colleagues.

My aim is to achieve something basic for all Members of this House by bringing it about that we have the right to vote in general elections. At first sight, the Bill is not be the right Bill for that, except that, if the Bill provided that we as Members of this House were entitled to vote in a referendum that will determine the system of voting in elections, we should also have the right to vote in any subsequent general election.

We have just had a good debate, in which there were legitimate arguments on all sides. There is no question that there is no legitimate argument against giving us the right to vote-that is crystal clear. The only people who are against that are those who say things such as, "Well, we've never done it before, so why should we start now?" or "Oh, it's not important enough".

In the debate that we have just had, it was clear that Members of this House are passionately interested in voting systems and the way that people may vote. There is a high level of interest. It is then a small step indeed to say, "Given that level of interest, shouldn't we be able to cast a vote in general elections?". It seems such a modest thing to ask for. I am quite sure that, whatever answer I get, everyone in this House would agree that that is the right thing to do.

I have said that the Bill is not the right vehicle to achieve such a change, but a Bill dealing with such a referendum is the first and best occasion that I have had since the election to put forward my suggestion. I give an undertaking to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that, if the Government do not feel able to accept the approach in Amendment 34, there will be other occasions. Although I am reluctant to make a nuisance of myself by going on about a particular issue, I undertake that I will do so-not today, but on a future occasion-when there is a Bill that is absolutely right for such a change. However, why do the Government not pre-empt me by bringing about a change that is self-evidently right?

I understand that, before long, the Government will bring forward their proposals to give prisoners the right to vote-there is a later amendment on that-so we will be the only inmates left who are not allowed to vote. It is even more absurd that prisoners in jail will be given the right to vote in general elections, in which we may not vote. Even the general public would agree that that is an anomaly. If we had a referendum on that subject, we would win hands down.

I do not want to go on at great length-it is fairly late-but I say to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that I genuinely feel deeply about this. Although people say to me that I did not have to accept the privilege of being a Member of this House, the fact is that I did so. I am delighted that I am here, but every time that there is a general election I feel a sense of pain that I am not able to take part in a process after I have canvassed, knocked on doors and done my best to further the democratic process.

To those individuals who say that we have so much influence here that we do not need the right to vote, I say that there is a world of difference between influencing legislation as it goes through the House and playing a part in deciding who will be the Government of this country. That is why we have a vote in general elections for most people. It is because at the moment we are not able to influence any Government when there is a general election that I feel that there should be a change-it is quite wrong.

I agree that there are not going to be demonstrations in Parliament Square supporting my position. I accept that, because I am honest and realistic about it. That does not mean, however, that there is not an important point of principle here. I challenge the noble Lord the Leader of the House or the noble Lord, Lord McNally-whoever is going to answer this debate-to give me any good reason why my amendment should not be accepted. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Labour 9:45 pm, 8th December 2010

My Lords, I will speak only very briefly on this. Being one of the newest Members of this House, I have yet to have a general election where I have not been able to vote. I have to say that I am very grateful to the new coalition Government for having announced some more Peers because, shortly, I will not be one of the newest members of the House, which I look forward to greatly.

The question that I pose is slightly less about voting in general elections than about giving Peers the vote in the referendum. Two groups cannot vote in general elections: Members of this House and European Union citizens from other member states, who can vote in our local and European elections. I am particularly interested to know why one group of people who are excluded from parliamentary votes have been given the right to vote in the referendum, whereas another group-those European citizens who appear on our electoral register-have not been given the right to vote in the referendum.

Obviously there are some Members of this House who are great experts on AV and other systems. I am not. I am an anorak on other things but, your Lordships will be pleased to know, not on this one. The people who really understand different electoral systems, however, are European citizens living in our country and voting in our European and local government elections, who have enormous experience of systems from their own countries. If ever there was a well informed group to vote on what system would work here, it would be them. The question that I hope may be answered is why one group of excluded voters was singled out to vote in the referendum but not the other group.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, I am a bit troubled by the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, because I am a passionate believer in an appointed House. The passion with which I believe in an appointed House will become more apparent as the Lords reform Bill finds its way through this Chamber. One thing that worries me about the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is that Members of the other place have a vote in general elections but also stand for election in those general elections. If Members of this House were to press to have the vote in general elections, we would make it more likely that others would suggest that we should therefore stand for election here as well. There is a correlation between standing for election and having the vote. It is a dangerous business to play with the idea of Peers in this House having the vote, when many of us will be trying to resist the whole idea that this should become an elected Chamber. That is one of the reasons why I totally oppose the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

How much I admire the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, for his courage at every stage of this Bill. This is obviously not an appropriate Bill to make a change in relation to whether Members of this House should vote, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, accepts. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs is right, however, to put the amendment down. Under this Bill, Peers will have the right to vote in the referendum on what the voting system should be and yet, once they have played their part in deciding what the voting system should be, they have no right to vote using that voting system. This is an opportunity for a short debate as to what the right course in relation to Lords voting is.

It is obvious, historically, why the Lords cannot vote in Commons elections. The nature of Parliament was that the Commons were elected because they were representative. We were not representative. The whole lot of us turned up in the upper House. Therefore, there was no need for any elections. The whole lot of us still turn up in the House, except for the hereditary Peers, who vote for hereditary representatives. Does that mean, therefore, that we do not need to have a vote in relation to the Commons? The answer is no, because the Lords no longer select the Government. The Government are selected exclusively by the Commons. We have influence in relation to Bills. We have a say in what happens in relation to policy. However, it is only a say. We do not vote in relation to the body that selects the Government.

Therefore, once the prisoner issue is dealt with, we, and we alone, are the only group in the country that has no say in selecting the Government of the day. The fact that we do not have the vote is an historical anomaly. There are 700 or 800 of us; no doubt the figure would go up to about 2,000 if the coalition had its way. Therefore, the number suffering the effects of this anomaly will increase, but it is an anomaly that no longer has constitutional justification. In those circumstances, one is obviously looking not for agreement from the Government that this matter should be dealt with in this Bill, but simply for the Government's view on the matter. I do not expect any time to be allocated to this matter in any legislative programme, but if the Government were to express the view that it needed to be dealt with at an appropriate time, that would have a very significant effect on the processing of the issue.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, that if we have the vote people will want us to be elected. The public will not think that because we can vote we should be elected. The question of whether we should be elected depends very much on the quality of what we do and the extent to which we persuade the public either that we should go on as we are or that there is a need for change. It is an important issue and one that will not get an airing in this House except on Bills such as this.

I return to the point that I started with. We are rightly accepted as participants in the decision-making process of whether there should be a change in the system. We are accepted as participants in that process because there is no basis on which it could be said that we should be excluded from that. That is the view that the Government have taken. We are included in Clause 2 as people entitled to vote in the referendum. The Government think that it is wrong that we should be excluded from that. There must be a basis on which the Government have come to that conclusion. I support that conclusion, because the obvious reason for saying that we should be included in the process by which a voting system change should be effected-if it is to be effected-is that there is no democratic reason why we should not be allowed to be included. It is wrong to say that this is a matter for other people; everybody accepts that it is a matter for us. It is an important issue. It is like a whole range of anomalies that you can say do not really cause any problems. However, how you put the constitution together and the extent to which there are consistencies in the constitution are very important. A justification for Peers not being entitled to vote is now required in a constitutional sense. If there is not one, the right course for a Government who are prepared to follow the logic of their constitutional position is to say-

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

Does my noble and learned friend acknowledge that it is an enormous privilege-obviously, it is not a unique privilege, but it is given only to the 800 or so Peers-to take part for life in the determination of the Bills that go through one of the two Houses? If you have that near unique influence on the legislative process, I do not think that it is too much to ask that you should not then have a clear determining role in deciding who the Members of the other House should be. It is rough justice but it seems to me a kind of justice. You forfeit that voting right because of the advantage that you have over all your fellow citizens of being able to take part in debates and influence the progress of legislation.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I disagree with what my noble friend Lord Grocott says for two reasons. First, there are other people who have very important roles in relation to what happens to policy legislation. Even in the period of my noble friend's pomp, I suspect that the Cabinet Secretary was more important than he was, but nobody ever suggested that he should be deprived of his vote. The Chief Justice is more important than almost everybody in the country in determining what legislation means, but nobody suggests-

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

Does the noble and learned Lord accept that the Cabinet Secretary would not have had any vote on legislation?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

The Cabinet Secretary would not have had any vote on legislation, but he might have had an even more important influence, I respectfully suggest, on legislation than people voting here would. What is more, as we can see from the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, he could reasonably have expected to come here to legislate at the end of it. There are lots of important people in the state and a lot of people with privileges, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, says. However, I respectfully suggest that the key point is that this is a democracy and the Government are chosen not from the Lords but from the Commons. The key question is: why are we excluded from being democratic participants in choosing the Government? The essence of democracy is that it is not just a process; it also represents values. The critical value that democracy represents is that we are all equal in the choice of the Government. Why are we not equal in that respect? I do not think, with respect, that either the answer that the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, gives-"They will elect us next"-or the answer that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, gives, which is, "Well, we are jolly privileged", is an answer to that essential democratic argument. I would be interested to hear what the Leader of the House has to say.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I would be equally interested in what the Deputy Leader of the House has to say.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I have been stripped and ready for action for three days. As the Leader of the House has pointed out, he and I are joined at the hip on this Bill. However, in that spirit of co-operation, he said, "Tom, you take Clause 2 and I'll take Clause 1". That seemed fine at about 7 pm on the first day of this debate, when I thought that I would be coming on straight after the dinner hour. Three days later, I come on with three minutes to go.

This has been an excellent mini-debate and I suggest that those who are interested in it should read the speech given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. No wonder he was facing the other way to deliver it; he was giving us both sides of the argument. It is very good that he should do so.

I fully respect the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I know that he has campaigned on this and that he feels strongly about it. I hope, given what he has said, that perhaps we will get one of the opposition days to debate the issue, or perhaps a Question for Short Debate. The issue is worth debating and I look forward to him carrying on his campaign. The problem is, as he himself acknowledged and, indeed, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, acknowledged, that this is not the place for it. It is a good political ploy to use a Bill to hang a campaign on and to get the issue raised and I fully respect the noble Lord for doing so. However, we are concerned specifically with who should vote in the referendum on the parliamentary voting system. Basing the franchise for the referendum on that for the Westminster general election seemed the most sensible thing to do. Yes, we have made a concession in that we have put alongside that noble Lords, who are entitled to vote in other elections. The Government thought that that was a fair and logical approach. I suspect that, if we had not included noble Lords, there would have been an amendment to include them.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 10:00 pm, 8th December 2010

Does the noble Lord genuinely mean that? I regret losing my vote, but I agree more with the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Hamilton, than with the Front Bench. Why make the concession? If you are going to keep the Bill narrow, clean and tidy, whereby it relates purely to the electoral system for the other place, we are entitled to scrutinise the Bill; so there is no argument about that. There is no justification for giving Members of this place a role in choosing the voting system for the other place. If you are logical about it and you want to keep the Bill clean and simple, why make that concession in the first place?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

It is because we judge that to be a fair and logical approach. As I said, whichever way we had done it, amendments would have been tabled. Perhaps the noble Lord wants to table an amendment for Report to take out Peers' votes? See how that goes.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My name is not on the other amendment. This amendment is to remove part of Clause 2. I shall leave it now; it is time enough.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

There will be other times. Now is not the right place for this debate. I understand why the issue has been raised, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will not press his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Labour

My Lords, I was wondering whether the noble Lord was going to respond to my question on why, having put one excluded group into the referendum, the Government did not include citizens of other European Union countries.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

It is because I was intending to reply to Amendment 36A, which is in a later group, and deals particularly with that point. When we all return-I hope including the noble Baroness-we can have that debate.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

I shall respond only briefly. First, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, that I have heard many arguments against what I have proposed, but I have never heard that one before. It characterises a feature of this House-the "thin end of the wedge" argument that whatever change one brings about, it will lead to other undesirable changes. Surely to goodness, it is possible for us individually to troop off to a polling station and cast a vote, without opening all sorts of other floodgates. I would simply be doing what in every election I encourage a lot of people to do, which is to go and vote. In my case, I of course urge them to vote Labour. I watch them go into the polling station knowing that I cannot do so, if it happens to be a general election. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, he made a good effort at the thin end of the wedge, but I do not think that that is a good argument.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, did not give any hint that he agreed with me. In his heart of hearts, of course he does. He is too sensible a person not to agree with me. In his heart of hearts-

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

I encouraged the noble Lord keep on with his campaign. As they say where I come from, a nod is a good as a wink.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

I am really grateful, because I was about to say, when the noble Lord said that an issue is worth debating, that that left it in the realms of Questions for Short Debate, or whatever. I take a lot of comfort from what he has just said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 34 withdrawn.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.04 pm.