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Deputy Prime Minister

Volume 535: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2011

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Electoral Registration

1. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on levels of voter registration of not creating a legal offence of failure to return an individual electoral registration request. (80655)

Before turning to the question, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in echoing the tribute paid by you, Mr Speaker, to Alan Keen, the Member for Feltham and Heston, for his 19 years of service as a Member of this House.

We need to establish some facts about what is and what is not changing in electoral registration. At present, it is not an offence not to register to vote, and that will not change. It is an offence not to provide information when requested to give it, and that will not change either. The civic duty to register to vote, which everybody recognises, remains, and that will not change. There are suggestions, including from the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, to create a new offence—one that does not currently exist—of failing to apply to register to vote. Of course the Government will listen to that, but I would warn against thinking that the only solution is criminalising people, because only 144 people were prosecuted in the last year under the present offences. There are a whole lot of other things that we need to get on with to ensure that we transfer people on to the individual electoral registration system over the coming years, which is exactly what we plan to do.

A high level of voter registration is fundamental to our democracy. Credit companies are concerned that if the electoral register is reduced, it will be more difficult to carry out credit worthiness checks. Have the Government considered data sharing with the credit companies, which have excellent personal address information, to increase voter registration in our democracy?

I certainly agree with the principle that we should try to use data sets to compare the data that electoral registration officers hold with the data held by other people in easily accessible databases, and that is exactly what we are piloting at the moment. However, I do not think that I can do any better than to quote the Electoral Commission, which said:

“We would not want to see a move away from the current approach—where electoral registration, though not compulsory, is regarded as an important civic duty”.

That is precisely what we are doing.

If we are to have a strong and thriving democracy, should it not be a civic duty for everybody to be obliged to register to vote? Whether or not they actually vote, they should at least have a duty to register.

As I said earlier, it is a civic duty, and that will not change, and the offence of not providing information when requested to provide it will remain as well. I just think we need to pause and reflect on whether we think it necessary, on top of that, to create a new criminal offence of failing to apply to register to vote. Those who feel that it should be up to individual citizens whether or not they vote, should pause and reflect on whether it is necessary to criminalise people to get them on the register in the first place. I am not sure, bluntly, whether that is the right way forward.

The Deputy Prime Minister has quoted the Electoral Commission, but when the Government publish their Bill on individual electoral registration will he take on board its advice and publish details on the implementation of IER and the necessary secondary legislation at the same time?

Of course we are considering that very carefully, and of course we will wish to prove to this House that we have thought through all the necessary steps, such that each and every voter is properly approached, initially through individual contacts or approaches to households. People will canvass door-to-door to ensure that those who have moved or not yet registered have the opportunity to do so. As we debated last time at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions, the Electoral Commission had concerns about the opt-out system. That was its main concern, and I think we have provided satisfaction on it.

Succession to the Throne

2. What recent discussions he has had on changes to the law on succession to the throne; and if he will make a statement.


As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 28 October, the 16 Commonwealth realms have agreed in principle that we should modernise the Act of Settlement with regard to the rules of royal succession. That means that if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a first-born daughter, she would eventually become Queen of our country. In addition, we will remove the barrier to those who marry Catholics retaining their position in the line of succession, thus repealing an explicit and unique discrimination against the Roman Catholic religion.

After many years of campaigning, I thank the Government most warmly for finally grasping the nettle and removing this unique discrimination against Catholics. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree, however, that this issue and the wider issues have now moved beyond statute? The fact is that the monarch gave up appointing Anglican bishops in the 18th century, and the Prime Minister has recently given up that power. In the future, can we ever prevent anyone from holding a post that they are born into, simply because of their religion or beliefs?

As I have explained, this is a significant step. I understand that there is a perfectly legitimate debate to be had about whether there should be other reforms, but all the Commonwealth realms must move as a convoy on this. We must all translate it into exactly the same legislation, which is what we will be working on in the months ahead. It is important to welcome this step, as my hon. Friend has done. It removes a unique discrimination against people of the Roman Catholic religion, and we must ensure that we implement it in full.

May I ask what discussions have taken place with the devolved Administrations on these changes, which affect all parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? If the Deputy Prime Minister has not already held any such discussions, what plans does he have to do so?

I spoke to the First Minister shortly before the announcement was made at the Commonwealth meeting in Perth. He is also reflecting on whether there should be other, wider changes, but he welcomed this as a significant step, in and of itself.

May I express my delight that the coalition Government have at last ensured fairness and equality in succession to the throne? Does the Deputy Prime Minister share my disappointment, however, that although I and others raised this matter many times under the previous Government, they put it in into the “too difficult” box for 13 years?

I certainly think that most reasonable people would say that, in this day and age, it cannot be right to have rules that discriminate on the basis of gender or religion. This is clearly a sensitive area, however. I have always been explicit in my own view, which I have expressed publicly on several occasions over the years, that we needed to look at these rules. I am delighted that we have now been able to mobilise a consensus among all the Commonwealth realms, so that we can now put this into practice.

Electoral Registration

3. What discussions he has had with local authorities on (a) voter registration and (b) maximising participation in local and national elections. (80657)

We have been having regular discussions with local authority registration officers and those involved in our electoral data-matching pilots and the smooth implementation of individual registration. Everyone in the House has a responsibility to encourage people to participate in elections. Mr Speaker, you will know that the Electoral Commission has a particular role to play in that work, which the Government find very valuable and which I am sure is supported by every Member of the House.

Surely the Minister realises that a party that seems to believe in the big society and in localism would want participation to increase. Local authorities are deeply unhappy about the effect that the changes that are being mooted will have on local participation. Is he aware that the Deputy Prime Minister’s constituency—the wealthiest constituency in the north of England—could manage only a 73% turnout? What are we going to do about the others?

The hon. Gentleman is confusing two things. Clearly, the Government want to ensure that the electoral register is complete and accurate. As regards the turnout for elections, however, it is the responsibility of all of us in the House to ensure that we provide people with compelling reasons to vote. For example, we are taking the necessary steps to clear up the mess left for us by the Labour party.

In seeking to maximise participation in elections, what action is the Minister taking, and considering, to counter voter fraud and what I call the farming of votes?

My hon. Friend raises the question of potential fraud. That is exactly why we are introducing individual registration.

That measure was supported by all three parties in the House, despite what the hon. Lady might say from a sedentary position. The previous Government legislated to introduce individual registration in order to move away from the household-based system. In this way, we will have a register that is more complete and, importantly, more accurate.

Coalition Agreement

The coalition agreement underpins all the work of the Government and is the subject of many ongoing representations to Ministers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that creating jobs in the economy is a vital objective of the coalition and that the private sector is indeed creating those jobs? Do the Government believe that the present system of tribunals to adjudicate on unfair dismissal is encouraging firms to take on new people or is it discouraging job creation in the economy?

As my hon. Friend will know, we are looking at all the measures that we think hinder growth and job creation. We have already announced a significant change in the tribunal system such that the qualifying period is extended from one year to two years. We have also announced that we will explore the establishment of what are called “protected conversations” so that employers and employees can talk, as the name implies, in a protected way about the performance of those employees, which employers have demanded for a long time. They have welcomed it because they think it will help them create more jobs.

The Deputy Prime Minister is appointing seven new special advisers. Some of his Conservative colleagues have described them as “spies”. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how those appointments match the coalition agreement’s proposal to limit the number of special advisers?

As with any new Government, both parties in the coalition Government—we have not had a coalition Government in a long time—have had to adjust the way in which they are supported in government to make sure that we deliver in full on the coalition agreement to which I referred.

Electoral Register

5. What assessment he has made of the effect of introducing individual electoral registration on the completeness of the electoral register. (80660)

The hon. Gentleman will know from listening to previous answers that we are taking a number of steps to ensure the completeness of the register, learning from the experience of the introduction of individual registration in Northern Ireland—including, for example, the carry forward of electors for a year—and looking at the data matching pilots to see whether they will be successful.

Individual voter registration is worth pursuing only if, as well as making the register more accurate, it makes it more complete. I warned the Minister about this more than a year ago. Does he not realise that by combining this measure with a voter suppression policy such as not requiring people to collaborate with the electoral register, he is basically participating in the Florida-isation of UK electoral registers?

That was not up to the hon. Gentleman’s usual standard—no, on reflection, I am afraid that it was. I made it clear from this Dispatch Box when I announced the policy that we are just as focused on completeness as on accuracy. As the Deputy Prime Minister set out, we are listening carefully to the responses to our consultation and to what was said by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, and we will bring forward our proposals in due course.

The Minister will be aware that councils such as Cornwall are taking action to deal with multiple property owners being on the register in several places. I welcome the Government’s change of view on the 10% discount on council tax, but as that is one way of encouraging people to register their ownership of a second home, making it easier to cross-match data, has the Minister considered other ways in which councils could fulfil their duty of ensuring that the register is accurate?

I have not considered any proposals arising from our council tax moves. The hon. Gentleman and I have had conversations about this matter, and I know that his electoral registration office has been making sure that the law is applied fairly but firmly in registering people who reside in Cornwall, thus ensuring that it is indeed more accurate as well as more complete.

Electoral Registration

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on levels of voter registration of not creating a legal offence of failure to return an individual electoral registration request. (80661)

As I have explained, we believe that individual electoral registration is the right thing to do. Her party does as well, as it was in her party’s manifesto. Preparations were made under the previous Government to introduce it. We brought it forward slightly and, as the Minister and I have explained, we are taking meticulous steps to ensure that it does not lead to a decline in overall rates of registration.

The Electoral Commissioner says that with these changes more than 10 million people will fall off the register. How will the Deputy Prime Minister protect people in urban areas such as mine of Sunderland Central from disfranchisement?

The hon. Lady must be careful not to misrepresent what the Electoral Commissioner said. It did not say that this system will lead to a drop-off on that scale. [Interruption.] No, the Electoral Commissioner clarified the point in subsequent publications. The Electoral Commission said:

“We would not want to see a move away from the current approach—where electoral registration though not compulsory is regarded as an important civic duty”.

We are maintaining that civic duty; we are maintaining the offence of failing to provide that information when asked for it; and we are seeking to address the Electoral Commission’s specific concern about the opt-out system.

Political Party Funding

I consider reform of party funding to be very important in and of itself, and we made a clear commitment to it in the coalition agreement. I look forward to the contribution of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to the debate when it publishes its report shortly. It is immensely important for us to clear this up, because it has affected all political parties negatively, but it would not be right to ask our hard-pressed taxpayers to pay more to political parties at a time when they are having to deal with so many cuts and savings elsewhere. I should like to proceed with as much cross-party consensus as possible, and I am keen to work towards that aim, but I repeat that no one should doubt the determination of this coalition Government to deliver reform in this area.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that interesting answer. Does he agree that it is time for the Labour party to be honest about the privileged influence that some of its larger donors have had on legislation that is debated in the House, and will the Liberal Democrats join the Conservatives—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

Questions to Ministers should be about the responsibility of office-holders for public policies. It is no good the hon. Gentleman nodding at me; his question was out of order, and it is about time that he learned that fact.

The Deputy Prime Minister has previously endorsed the long-held convention that issues of party funding should—as he has just said—be resolved by cross-party agreement when that is possible. He has told us that the Committee on Standards in Public Life will report shortly: in fact, it will report next week. Is he concerned about the objections from the chairman of the Conservative party to the £10,000 cap proposed in the draft report, and is he worried about the possibility of a situation similar to that which arose in 2007 when the Conservatives walked away from the opportunity to secure a cross-party agreement? [Interruption.]

Order. It would help if there were not so much noise from Whips on the Treasury Bench, so that the Chair could hear what was being said. Questions must be orderly. The Deputy Prime Minister will answer that which is orderly, and not that which is not.

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman’s question was written by the GMB, because I hear that Opposition Front Benchers have got into the habit of asking their union paymasters what questions they should ask and what amendments they should table. If that happened in any other political party, Labour Members would say that it was an absolute scandal. We know that the trade unions can speak for themselves; it is time that we knew whether the Labour party can think for itself.

Topical Questions

I am sorry, Mr Speaker. I enjoyed the last answer so much that I temporarily forgot where I was.

As Deputy Prime Minister, I support the Prime Minister on a range of Government policies and initiatives, and, within Government, I take special responsibility for the Government’s programme of political and constitutional reform.

I am pleased to note that the Deputy Prime Minister remembers what his Department actually does.

One of the main topics of interest to people in my constituency is the commission that will consider the West Lothian question. Can the Deputy Prime Minister give us a firm timetable for consultation, and can he name all the parties that will be consulted, including the Labour party, the new Labour party leadership in Scotland and the trade unions, which are a fundamental part of the fabric of the Scottish people?

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), will give more details about the commission in a statement before Christmas.

T3. Will my right hon. Friend elaborate on the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) about industrial tribunals? If there is to be any reform, will he give us a timetable, and may I respectfully ask whether I may help out, given my experience in this regard? (80672)

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is keen to proceed with the reforms that I mentioned earlier: the change in the timetable from one year to two, and the idea of protected conversations. I am sure that he would be delighted to benefit from my hon. Friend’s expertise.

T2. Does the Deputy Prime Minister support the many charities and advice agencies—including most recently Scope—his party conference resolution and his Justice spokesman by opposing the complete removal of welfare benefits and the majority of social welfare laws from the scope of legal aid, even when the problems involved are interrelated and complex? (80671)

If we consider the recent massive expansion in legal aid and the budget for it, and the types of dispute brought within its scope, I think any reasonable person would agree that it is worth trying to put the budget on a more sustainable footing and that where there are alternatives to court—such as tribunals, mediation and citizens advice bureaux—they should be explored first, rather than immediately decanting people and disputes into the court system.

T4. In Cumbria we are very proud of having close business and cultural ties with Scotland, but does my right hon. Friend share my concern that business confidence on both sides of the border is being badly affected by the uncertainty caused by the Scottish Government’s obsession with separatism? (80673)

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. At a time of huge economic uncertainties in Europe and the world that are, understandably, creating anxiety among many families in this country, the last thing families in Scotland need is this constant guessing game—the First Minister’s cat-and-mouse game on the future of the Scottish people. What people want is certainty, because certainty is what delivers prosperity, jobs and growth.

May I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his tribute to our colleague, Alan Keen? He was proud to represent a London constituency, but he never lost his fierce, passionate commitment to social justice, which he brought with him from his roots in the north. We will miss him greatly, and our sympathies are extended to Ann and his family.

May I ask the Deputy Prime Minister about the shocking increase in the number of young people out of work for more than six months? In London, the increase has been 93%, in Warrington there has been a 200% increase since May, and the situation is even worse in many places. Because of this Government’s actions, the economy is too weak, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s programmes to help the young unemployed are too small. Will he admit that he urgently needs to take further action to help the young unemployed?

I accept that we need to take more action; it would be a real dereliction of duty if we did not do more to try to make sure that young people are given a real pathway into training, further and higher education or the labour market. As the right hon. and learned Lady will know, youth unemployment has increased pretty remorselessly since 2004, so it increased during the second part of the Labour Government’s time in office. Indeed, it increased by about 40% under Labour. There are some very big structural problems in the labour market that we need to address. I am leading some work on that in government, and we hope to make announcements on it very shortly, before the autumn statement. The right hon. and learned Lady was right to raise this subject.

But long-term youth unemployment was going down, and, before the recession, was at its lowest level. As rising unemployment makes it harder to pay down the deficit, why have the Government cut work programmes by a third, and why are they closing jobcentres, including in my constituency of Camberwell? We expect it from the Tories—youth unemployment is a price worth paying—but how on earth can the Liberal Democrats be prepared to go along with this?

The right hon. and learned Lady should not be quite so pleased with herself. Under Labour the number of NEETs—young people not in education, employment or training—increased by 50%. Is that a record she is proud of? I think it is a good thing that we have delivered more apprenticeships than her Government ever did. We will deliver a quarter of a million more apprenticeships than were planned under Labour, and we are also creating a new network of university technical colleges to give young people the skills to get into work and rolling out a new Work programme aimed at supporting young people. As I acknowledged earlier, yes there is more work to do, and we must do more to support young people, particularly those aged about 18 or 19 who are making the difficult transition from full-time education to trying to find their feet on the first rung of the jobs ladder. We will do more—we need to do more—but the right hon. and learned Lady should not be quite so complacent about her Government’s record.

T6. I am concerned about the possible role that the EU foreign service had in recently deposing the elected Heads of two sovereign Governments. Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that he has sought assurances that EU officials based in this country do not abuse their positions here? (80675)

I do not think that there is any remote possibility of a coup being engineered from the European Commission office just around the corner. The whole world is looking at what is happening in Italy and Greece with growing alarm, and only Labour Members take it as a role model for their own behaviour. There is a big dividing line in British politics now between those on the Government Benches who believe that Governments should be in charge of their own economic destiny and those on the Opposition Benches who think that bond traders should be in charge of the economy.

T5. We are just two weeks away from world AIDS day, in this the 30th year of the HIV epidemic. We now have scientific evidence to show that new HIV treatments are 96% effective at preventing the spread of HIV. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the Prime Minister should support the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and make the HIV generation a priority for the British Government in order to maintain our commitments to the millennium development goals? (80674)

As the hon. Lady may know, that is already one of the key priorities in our aid budget and programme. As she will also know, that budget is increasing substantially, even though we have such huge pressures on the public purse elsewhere, in order to meet the UN target of 0.7%. I know that a great deal of discussion is going on with the American Administration and others who are trying to work collectively. I am more than happy to look into the details of her question if she feels that there is more we should do on this front.

T7. I strongly support the principle of fairness in constituency size, which is behind the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, but does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that the Boundary Commission’s proposal to relocate Gloucester’s entire city centre into the Forest of Dean constituency seriously damages the link between the Member of Parliament and the city, and the accountability of the MP for Gloucester’s regeneration? Does he agree that the Boundary Commission could split a ward? Will he confirm that that is in order? (80677)

I feel in a slightly invidious position having to answer that question while the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) is sitting next to me, because I know that he has an adjacent constituency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) knows, this is simply not a matter for Ministers. We have legislated—[Interruption.] I know that the idea of an independent Boundary Commission is alien to the Labour party, but that is what is going to happen.

T8. When a warning about the penalty was included on a letter to constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) in Rhyl West, the poorest ward in Wales, voter registration in that ward increased by 40%. If the Deputy Prime Minister really is a democrat, will he consider that startling statistic and make sure that there is not only a civic duty but a requirement for people to register to vote? (80678)

Only the hon. Gentleman thinks that you are a democrat by criminalising lots of people. Only the Labour party thinks that the solution to everything is to put more crimes on to the statute book. As I explained to him, the civic duty remains. It is not an offence at the moment not to register; it is an offence not to provide information where requested to do so.

Order. The House must come to order. Members must not keep shouting at the Deputy Prime Minister simply because they do not like what he is saying. It is called democratic exchange, and the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) should be used to it.

T10. The Deputy Prime Minister will be well aware that Cornwall is a distinctive region within the UK, with its own unique language and history, and that it has modest ambitions for devolution, not to cut itself off, but to cut itself into the celebration of diversity. Will he meet a delegation from Cornwall so that we can explore how Cornwall can help the Government to make better and more efficient decisions there? (80681)

I would be more than happy to meet a delegation such as my hon. Friend suggests. As he knows, this Government are pursuing a radical agenda of devolution, not just to the devolved Administrations within the UK, but to the regions and communities within England.

T9. As a result of his Government’s economic policies, youth unemployment in Nottingham is back up to the level it reached the last time the Tories were in power. The Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire chamber of commerce is calling on Ministers to reprioritise their spending plans to promote growth, investment and exports. The Deputy Prime Minister would not listen to our concerns on police cuts. Is he going to listen to our concerns on growth and jobs? (80680)

As I have said, I accept that we need to do more. I do not believe that the generation born in the boom should suffer most in the bust, but I remind the hon. Lady that this is quite a complex issue. Youth unemployment has been increasing steadily since 2004; it increased by 40% during the Labour Government’s time in office. I am leading some work on this in Government and I hope to make an announcement soon, particularly in relation to youngsters who are trying to make the transition from education into work. If she has any ideas on this I am very keen to listen to her.

T11. May I relay to the Deputy Prime Minister the frustration, concern and anger of my constituents in Kettering that he is acting against the national interests by using his position to block the repatriation of powers from Europe and by preventing the scrapping of the Human Rights Act? (80682)

No Front Bencher in the coalition is talking about the unilateral repatriation of powers from the European Union. Why? Because it simply is not possible—it does not work like that. We have to seek agreement with 26 other countries to get that repatriation. The idea that one could simply get on to the Eurostar, go over to Brussels and come back with a bag load of powers simply is not feasible. Yes, let us examine the balance of powers, as we committed to do in the coalition agreement. I am a pro-European, but I believe in reforming the European Union. I do not believe the status quo is right, but I also believe that we need to act smart and move sensibly.

Last year, the Deputy Prime Minister, speaking in a professional capacity, set out how he would end child detention by May. It is now November. Does he still believe this practice is immoral and does he still plan to keep his promise? If so, will he tell the House when?

Compared with the previous Government’s record of thousands of young people being detained—yes, immorally—behind bars when they were entirely innocent, the new arrangements are a complete, humane, liberal revolution, of which I am very proud indeed.

T13. Currently, the new electoral register is published on 1 December each year. Will there be any change to this system in 2012 to allow the most up-to-date information possible to be available for the police commissioner elections due to be held on 15 November? (80684)

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) mentioned the issue of Rhyl West. I put down a parliamentary question asking the Minister to look at the specifics of that case. To go from 2,500 to 3,500 registered voters in one year in the poorest ward in Wales, which has 900 houses in multiple occupation, is a fantastic achievement. If the Minister is serious about registration, he needs to look at best practice, so will he look at the issue of Rhyl West?

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), and I are more than happy to look at that example. The Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform has recommended that a new offence should be created and of course we will look at that—it is always right to look at suggestions from such a distinguished Committee. Under the current offences, only 144 people were prosecuted out of the millions of people on the electoral register last year. That suggests that some of the other things we are doing, such as data matching and making sure that everybody is approached in 2014 to get them on to the register, might be a higher priority than once again creating more new criminal offences on the statute book.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he has the opportunity in this Parliament to continue the work that was started a century ago by his predecessor, Asquith, and reform the House of Lords? Does he agree that the absolute bare minimum of progress would be the removal of the remaining hereditary peers and the Church of England bishops?

As my hon. Friend knows, our proposals are now subject to extensive scrutiny in a Committee that I hope will report in the early months of next year. I have always believed, as do many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that those who make the laws of the land should in some way or another be accountable to those who have to obey the laws of the land. That founding democratic principle, which is respected in legislatures all around the democratic world, is one that I should like to see installed in the other place as well.

Now that the Deputy Prime Minister has displayed a high state of excitement about party political donations, will he do the decent thing as leader of the Liberal Democrats and instruct them to surrender their ill-gotten gains of more than £2 million from that jailbird Michael Brown?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that matter was independently examined; the Liberal Democrat party was entirely within its rights, and it was entirely reasonable, to accept the money at the time, even though, of course, we would not have done so if we had known then what we subsequently knew. Given that his colleagues on the Front Bench are tabling amendments and deciding how to vote according to what their paymasters in the trade unions say, we need to know whether he and other Labour MPs are voting for what they think is right, or what they think is right for the trade unions.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is duly flattered, but it is no part of his responsibility in the House to answer questions, or at least not at this mid-point in his parliamentary career.

I do not think that there is the remotest possibility that this country will join the euro while I am in government.

There are concerns that the net effect of the Government’s changes will be under-registration in England and Wales. Has the Deputy Prime Minister appraised the impact of that on the distribution of seats to the territorial boundary commissions under the Sainte-Laguë formula?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not agree that moving to individual elector registration in the way we are—in the way advocated by the previous Government, too—will necessarily lead to the outcome he suggests. That is why we are putting so much time into data matching, making sure that there is a period of grace so that people can re-register on the other side of an election, and ensuring that people go from home to home to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be individually registered.

The Deputy Prime Minister told the House that he is responsible for constitutional and political reform. If the ambitious programme that he has set himself proves too ambitious, will he allow a little bit of slippage in reform of the Lords and the equalisation of boundaries?

It is important to be clear about our ambitions, and we have been, right from the outset, when the coalition Government were formed. We have five years to deliver the changes. Yes, they are major changes, but as we saw with the reforms to the Act of Settlement, even the most intractable issues that people believe are not susceptible to reform can be reformed if there is sufficient debate, and sufficient consensus in all parts of the House that reform is desirable. Most people believe, for instance, that reform of the House of Lords is long overdue; it is 100 years since it was first debated.