The use of personal identifiers for elections has caused a great deal of debate throughout the bill's progress—I entirely understand why. The requirement for personal identifiers was introduced by Jackie Baillie at stage 2.
I say at the outset that I both understand and respect the motive of all those who have pursued the change. We all want a robust approach to the administration of elections, but I am not persuaded that it is proportionate to insist on personal identifiers for pilot elections, as opposed to full roll-out of the elections. Our proceeding with the requirement for personal identifiers would add in excess of £800,000 to the cost of the pilot elections—a sum that many will consider to be disproportionate to the overall cost of the pilot elections, which is just under £3 million.
However, the debate is not just about cost. It is also the case that to require personal identifiers would, I believe—unless we were prepared to abandon proposals for a postal ballot—be a considerable mistake, in that it would delay the pilots significantly. I do not believe that anyone in the chamber wants delay, whether they strongly support the principle of direct elections to health boards, as my colleagues and I do, or are more sceptical about direct elections but are keen to see the experience of the pilots. I do not believe that anyone wants delay in the process.
The arrangements that we propose to follow for the pilot elections are similar to those that are already in place for national park elections in Scotland. We want to follow that approach because we want to ensure that health board pilot elections can take place soon, and that the maximum number of people possible are able and willing to participate.
I stress that the bill is about what we will do in respect of the pilot elections. What we choose to do in the future, should Parliament agree to roll out direct elections, would be up to Parliament at that time. The operation of the elections will be assessed as part of the independent evaluation of the pilots, and that experience will form part of the report that will be placed before Parliament. If elections were to be rolled out, I, for one, think it is highly likely that it would be considered sensible and proportionate to insist on personal identifiers. I do not, however, believe that their use is proportionate for the pilot elections.
The original approach that we took in the bill at stage 1 represents a sensible and balanced approach that is proportionate to the scale of the proposed pilot elections and will, crucially, allow them to proceed both cost-effectively and within such timescales as I believe we all want.
I move amendment 2.
I speak against the cabinet secretary's amendment 2 because it seeks to remove the requirement for personal identifiers in postal ballots. Parliament should be aware that the Health and Sport Committee unanimously agreed the following on personal identifiers:
"The Committee considers that health board elections should be seen to be taken as seriously as other statutory elections. The experience of the Scottish general elections in May 2007 shows that the robustness of any new elections introduced in Scotland will rightly come under serious scrutiny."
The committee recommended that
"the Scottish Government reconsider using personal identifiers for postal votes in health board elections."
That was the view of the whole committee and it remained the majority view at stage 2, so I am genuinely disappointed that the cabinet secretary has lodged this amendment at stage 3.
I will explain why I think amendment 2 is wrong. First, under existing arrangements for local and national elections, voters are, if they use a postal vote, required to provide personal identifiers—the identifier can be something as simple as a signature—which are, of course, used to ensure the security of the vote.
Members will surely not have forgotten the difficulties that we experienced in the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections. In some areas, questions were asked about the validity of the outcome because majorities were small and the number of rejected ballot papers was large. I even recollect that the Scottish National Party recently questioned the integrity of one aspect of the Glenrothes by-election result. The SNP was mistaken, but the validity of elections clearly exercises us all. I do not want there to be a scintilla of doubt about the validity of health board
Although I fully appreciate Jackie Baillie's concern that the elections should be valid and seen to be so, the cabinet secretary said that she did not object to the use of personal identifiers per se, but to the expense that they would incur during a pilot. If the member could be assured that there is another cheaper way of monitoring, would she be satisfied with that?
I am afraid not. I will come to explain why.
They elections will be the fifth set of statutory elections and will be run by returning officers, so they must be robust and consistent with other elections. I know that there will be considerable interest in them and that my local community shares my enthusiasm for them. I hope that they will be hotly contested, because the elections will represent the democratic means by which people will be able to express their views on their health boards. The cabinet secretary argued that personal identifiers would lead to increased costs and delay, so I find it strange that she has promised to consider them should there be roll-out of the elections. If the cost for the pilot is too high, the cost for the roll-out will be even higher. I say to Margo MacDonald that it is surely at the pilot stage that the proposal should be tested.
What price do we attach to democracy? How much do Scottish Parliament elections cost? There is no suggestion that we should do away with personal identifiers for those. We all believe in increasing voters' access to postal votes. At the heart of the matter is the status that we accord to health board elections. I ask Parliament whether we are content to settle for a lower electoral standard than exists for local government, even though health boards are responsible for spending more than individual councils.
The cabinet secretary points to the elections to the boards of the national park authorities, which have postal ballets without identifiers. The annual budget of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority is £7 million. The annual budget of Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board is £2.6 billion. There is a difference.
I know that some people might not be convinced by what I think, so I ask them to look at the evidence from the experts, such as the Electoral Commission and local authority returning officers from throughout Scotland. They are the people who have the responsibility for overseeing and running our elections. They are the experts, and they all believe that personal identifiers should be used in postal ballots. If members will not listen to
I am sorry that Jackie Baillie did not give us the full quote from paragraph 84 of the committee's report. It is important for members to be aware that the committee was indeed cognisant of the potential cost. The final sentence of that paragraph states:
"If the cost and logistical implications are too great to be overcome, the Scottish Government may also have to reconsider holding an all-postal ballot."
In the committee's view, as stated in its report, there was no question but that all aspects of the efficacy of the elections and, regrettably, the costs that might be attached to them, must be considered.
The Liberal Democrats' position is that we have to consider the end gain. There will be some form of pilot election. The result will have to be analysed and we will then have to come to a decision. If the pilot is to be valid, we must know that no questions about how persons came to be elected were asked at any stage. The Liberal Democrats believe that the experiment upon which the cabinet secretary seeks to embark is an important one. Regardless of the difficulties, if we are to have confidence in its outcome, we must have confidence in the basis upon which it takes place. We therefore oppose the cabinet secretary's amendment.
I listened with interest to both the cabinet secretary and Jackie Baillie. The case that Jackie Baillie made—or restated—for personal identifiers is powerful, particularly given the need to protect the integrity of our democracy in future national elections. However, I also listened with care to what the cabinet secretary said: Conservatives have concluded that we see a distinction between national elections and pilots for health board elections and that there is therefore no need for the use of personal identifiers in the pilot phase. The additional costs would be substantial and hugely disproportionate and would militate against the proposal in that they would almost undermine the desirability of the pilots in the first place. Secondly, we too are concerned about the delays that would be attendant upon them. With that in mind, we will support the cabinet secretary's amendment.
I decided to comment because I suspected that Jackson Carlaw was going to make that speech. It seems to me that the Conservatives have a difficulty: their predominant objection is to the cost of the elections, yet the cabinet secretary made it clear that she has not ruled out the use of personal identifiers in full roll-out of the elections. If we are to test the proposal properly in the pilot
I will not reiterate the arguments that my colleague Jackie Baillie has made, but I stress that what happened in 2007 makes the point about the credibility and validity of the pilot elections much more important than it would otherwise have been.
I do not think that that alters my argument. The £800,000 cost for the pilots might make the difference between the elections being credible and not being credible. If the elections are questioned on the basis of credibility, Parliament will be in a very difficult position when we come to debate full roll-out. Therefore, I hope that Parliament will oppose the amendment.
Jackie Baillie knows how much I admire her skills of persuasion and charm, but in this case I feel that she is in danger of making the best the enemy of the good. We heard good evidence that, in a perfect election, one would have personal identifiers, but we also heard evidence that including identifiers in the pilots would add £800,000 to the cost, and would delay their onset. The pilots might fail for all sorts of other reasons. If we go ahead with the full roll-out and decide that the elections are going to be the pattern for the health service in Scotland for many years to come, that will be the time to consider including identifiers. However, we can find out enough about the election process without having identifiers.
We all agreed that having personal identifiers is the ideal way to run an election, but we are in the real world and we are trying out a pilot, which is entirely different from the full elections. That is the difference. As my Health and
I thank all members who have contributed to this interesting and important debate. I do not for a second diminish the importance of the issue.
Ross Finnie—and Jackie Baillie, more by implication—suggested that if the cost of personal identifiers in the pilots would be so great, we should reconsider having an all-postal ballot. I think that would be a mistake. It is important that we encourage and enable as many people as possible to participate in health board pilot elections. The argument also leads me to point out an anomaly in the amendments that Jackie Baillie got passed at stage 2. Those amendments require personal identifiers only in an all-postal ballot. If I were to decide that we should move instead to a traditional ballot, personal identifiers would not be required for those who opted to vote by post in such a ballot. That seems to be an anomalous and bizarre situation.
The second point that I want to make is about the principle. I accept the principle of personal identifiers leading to the security of the ballot when we are dealing with a national election, but we are talking about pilot elections. There are two reasons why I think personal identifiers are not proportionate in this case. One is the cost. I stress that I do not object to the incurring of costs for personal identifiers per se; I was, rather, pointing out the disproportionality of that cost in a pilot election. Should Parliament decide later to roll out elections, and decide that personal identifiers would be appropriate in that context—that would be Parliament's decision, not mine—that cost, which would be disproportionate in a pilot election, would become proportionate in a national election.
Even if we are not worried about the cost, the requirement for personal identifiers would delay the pilots significantly, although we would try to minimise that. I want the pilots to go ahead and I know that Jackie Baillie wants them to go ahead. Even members who are not yet convinced that elected health boards are the way to go want the pilots to go ahead, so that they can assess the experience.
For all those reasons, I believe that personal identifiers for the pilots are not the right way to go. There would be a different consideration for full roll-out. I urge Parliament to vote for amendment 2.
Division number 3
For: Adam, Brian, Allan, Alasdair, Brocklebank, Ted, Brown, Gavin, Brown, Keith, Brownlee, Derek, Campbell, Aileen, Carlaw, Jackson, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, FitzPatrick, Joe, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Goldie, Annabel, Grahame, Christine, Harvie, Christopher, Hepburn, Jamie, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, John, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McGrigor, Jamie, McKee, Ian, McKelvie, Christina, McLaughlin, Anne, McLetchie, David, McMillan, Stuart, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Alex, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Elizabeth, Somerville, Shirley-Anne, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Thompson, Dave, Watt, Maureen, Welsh, Andrew, White, Sandra, Wilson, Bill, Wilson, John
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Curran, Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Foulkes, George, Gordon, Charlie, Gray, Iain, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Jamieson, Cathy, Kelly, James, Livingstone, Marilyn, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Ken, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Tom, McConnell, Jack, McInnes, Alison, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Mulligan, Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Elaine, O'Donnell, Hugh, Oldfather, Irene, Park, John, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Jamie, Tolson, Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Whitton, David
Amendment 3 relates to a matter of some difficulty: how best we not only enable young people aged 16 and 17 to vote, but ensure that names can appear on an electoral register, given that details of persons who are 14 or 15
The cabinet secretary tried hard to resolve the issue and continues to do so. I do not blame her for the problem; she is somewhat in the hands of the electoral registration officers who run our systems. As we emerged from stage 1, the committee learned that there were grave concerns about proposals to have a private register, which would be inimical to the open approach that we operate in elections in this country.
I lodged a probing amendment at stage 2 and I find myself in the same position today, to try to secure the appearance on the register of the maximum number of people in the simplest way. I acknowledge that the cabinet secretary has made considerable progress on the matter. I understand that the idea of a private register has been dropped and that electoral registration officers have proposed an alternative scheme, which would allow 16 and 17-year-olds who are on the local government register by virtue of the annual canvass automatically to be registered to vote in health board elections. That takes us quite a bit further.
Given that electoral registration officers update registers monthly, as we all know, it is unfortunate that they cannot propose a simpler arrangement that would reduce the requirement for 16-year-olds to apply for a vote. Liberal Democrats are asking the cabinet secretary to give an undertaking that work on the matter will continue, to try to ensure that the persons who are eligible to vote will appear automatically on the register and will not have to apply to do so. If such an undertaking is given, I will seek to withdraw amendment 3.
I move amendment 3.
I will speak to amendment 4 and consider how we can extend the franchise to cover people who are 16 and over.
I know that Ross Finnie agrees that it is right to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to participate in the elections. That approach will allow young people to express their views on a service of which they will all have had experience. I noticed that during the Scottish Labour conference at the weekend Ed Miliband agreed with our position that changing the voting age to 16 more generally is the right thing to do. Of course, we recognise that achieving such a change is not without difficulty; after all, we are trying to use existing electoral mechanisms, which are set up to manage those aged 18 and over—
I agree with everything that the cabinet secretary has said about those aged 16 and over. However, those who are not entitled to vote at general elections comprise three groups of people: lunatics, prisoners and peers. What is their position in respect of the proposed health board elections?
Perhaps Lord Foulkes should have declared an interest before asking that question. I look forward immensely to his voting for the bill at 5 o'clock this evening and to his enthusiastic participation in the first elections, if those are piloted by Lothian NHS Board—which, in case anyone gets the wrong idea, is a decision that I have not yet taken.
We are debating an important principle, which is that 16 and 17-year-olds should have the right to vote. I was in the process of saying that such a change is not easy to achieve because the current arrangements cater for those aged 18 and over. Concern has been expressed, particularly during the committee stages of the bill, about the original intention to use a private young persons register. Having listened carefully to those concerns, we have identified a way forward—the subject of amendment 4—that will use existing systems.
Let me briefly run through the key features of this alternative approach. First, those 16 and 17-year-olds who are already on the local government register by virtue of the annual canvass will automatically be registered to vote in health board elections. A cut-off date will be set, by which 16 and 17-year-olds who are not already on the register could apply to register so that they can vote in a health board election. The cut-off date will allow for registration of such voters and the preparation of a voting pack for them. Similarly, anyone whose 16th birthday falls before the cut-off date will be able to apply to register at any time up until the cut-off date once they have turned 16. We will maintain our original approach to publicising to 16 and 17-year-olds that they have a right to seek to register and participate in the elections.
The proposal means that a small minority—I hope very small—whose birthdays fall between the cut-off date and the election date will be excluded from the election. However, the approach will remove the need to store data on persons aged under 16 in a separate register. In my view, that deals with the concern that the committee expressed. Discussions with EROs have indicated that that would be a more straightforward approach than using a young persons register, as it would allow EROs to use
Amendment 4 will ensure that the approach can be implemented in the election regulations that are made under the bill.
In response to Ross Finnie, I say that I believe that the approach represents a step forward from that which we discussed at an earlier stage of the bill. However, I am more than happy to agree with him that further work might still be required. I give him a clear commitment that we will continue to work with electoral registration officers, returning officers and the Electoral Commission to identify an even better system that will be robust enough to use if health board elections are rolled out across the country in the future.
I encourage members to vote for amendment 4.
The Scottish Conservatives supported the reduction in the voting age from 21 to 18, but it is not our policy to reduce the voting age to 16. The SNP Government has raised the age for buying cigarettes to 18 and proposes to raise the age for buying alcohol in off-licences to 21, yet it proposes to lower the voting age for health board elections to 16. Voters who will be too young to give blood or to buy cigarettes and alcohol would be tasked with voting for people who will address Scotland's very serious public health problems. We are not convinced that lowering the voting age to 16 would increase voting turnout or interest in health board elections. If the piloted elections are to be considered on an equal basis with other elections, it would be consistent and appropriate to leave the voting age at 18.
I support amendment 3 in the name of Ross Finnie.
I, too, rise to support the amendment in Ross Finnie's name. I appreciate that a considerable amount of work has been done on the subject. As I said in an earlier debate, I am one of those in my party who is more relaxed about the idea of people voting at 16. That said, we should work with the electoral registration officers to look at the matter more generally. We should not pilot voting for 16-year-olds at the same time that we are piloting other public participation issues and assessing how they have worked. For that reason, I, too, ask Ross Finnie to press amendment 3.
We now know the answer to the question who cannot vote in the health board elections: lunatics, peers prisoners, and those under 18. That is not a happy combination and I hope that Lord Foulkes will not be proud of it.
Like the cabinet secretary and my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I am very much in favour of the principle that persons under 18 should have the right to vote. It is disappointing therefore that no member of the Labour Party or Conservative Party raised any fundamental objection before the stage 3 debate. They raised no objection at committee. I can think of no evidence that has been adduced in the five or six weeks since the conclusion of the committee process that could have led any member to come to that conclusion.
I repeat what I said earlier: my purpose in lodging amendment 3 was not to interfere with the principle or the right of people under 18 to vote. My purpose was to extract from the cabinet secretary the undertaking—which, I am pleased to say, she has given graciously—that she will continue to work with the electoral registration officers to ensure that the maximum number of persons who are eligible to vote can vote. As other members who had concerns about the private register will be, I am extremely pleased that it will be no more and that its replacement is a system that should—if that further work is carried out—allow the maximum number of people to be included.
On that basis, I seek leave to withdraw amendment 3.
Division number 4
For: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Ted, Brown, Gavin, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Carlaw, Jackson, Chisholm, Malcolm, Curran, Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Foulkes, George, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Gordon, Charlie, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Jamieson, Cathy, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Lamont, John, Livingstone, Marilyn, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Ken, Martin, Paul, McAveety, Mr Frank, McConnell, Jack, McGrigor, Jamie, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Mulligan, Mary, Murray, Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Park, John, Peattie, Cathy, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Elizabeth, Whitefield, Karen, Whitton, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Allan, Alasdair, Brown, Keith, Brown, Robert, Campbell, Aileen, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, Ross, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Christopher, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Adam, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McArthur, Liam, McInnes, Alison, McKee, Ian, McKelvie, Christina, McLaughlin, Anne, McMillan, Stuart, Munro, John Farquhar, Neil, Alex, O'Donnell, Hugh, Paterson, Gil, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Robison, Shona, Rumbles, Mike, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Alex, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Somerville, Shirley-Anne, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Thompson, Dave, Tolson, Jim, Watt, Maureen, Welsh, Andrew, White, Sandra, Wilson, Bill, Wilson, John
Division number 5
For: Adam, Brian, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Allan, Alasdair, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Keith, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Campbell, Aileen, Chisholm, Malcolm, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Margaret, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, FitzPatrick, Joe, Foulkes, George, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Gordon, Charlie, Grahame, Christine, Gray, Iain, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Christopher, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Adam, Jamieson, Cathy, Kelly, James, Kidd, Bill, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Ken, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McArthur, Liam, McAveety, Mr Frank, McConnell, Jack, McInnes, Alison, McKee, Ian, McKelvie, Christina, McLaughlin, Anne, McMahon, Michael, McMillan, Stuart, McNeil, Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Mulligan, Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Elaine, Neil, Alex, O'Donnell, Hugh, Oldfather, Irene, Park, John, Paterson, Gil, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Robison, Shona, Rumbles, Mike, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Alex, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Somerville, Shirley-Anne, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Thompson, Dave, Tolson, Jim, Watt, Maureen, Welsh, Andrew, White, Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Whitton, David, Wilson, Bill, Wilson, John
Against: Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Ted, Brown, Gavin, Brownlee, Derek, Carlaw, Jackson, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McGrigor, Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Elizabeth