My Lords, today's date was fixed without consultation. Had we been consulted, we would have said that there was no reason not to comply with the usual interval of three working days between Report and Third Reading, meaning that Third Reading would have taken place tomorrow.
I raise the point not to invite debate or to seek change now but only so that the precedential effect of this is as limited as possible.
Clause 5 : Press comment etc not subject to spending controls
1: Clause 5, page 4, line 48, at end insert—
“( ) Party election broadcasts during the referendum period will not be broadcast if they deal with pictures or implied support of any particular side in the referendum on the voting system for parliamentary elections.”
My Lords, for noble Lords who are interested in this amendment, perhaps I may start again. The first amendment on today’s Marshalled List deals with expenditure on the campaigns in support of or against the alternative vote system. My amendment to Clause 5, and that of my noble friend Lord Bach, seeks to prevent a party political broadcast that supports one or other side in the AV debate being broadcast. I want to achieve that because there are complex and, in my view, sensible rules that one would have changed in a number of respects, but in principle it is sensible that there are rules to ensure that no one campaign can expend significantly more than another in support of or against AV. These rules can be got around if a political party can use its expenditure limits to support or oppose AV in the campaign.
My amendment seeks to prevent any political party using the party political broadcasts that it gets from the state, on the radio or on television from supporting or opposing the AV system. It is of practical significance in this particular debate on AV—whether or not we should introduce the change on the referendum—because the AV referendum, as noble Lords will know, is being combined with other elections in which parties will seek support for individual candidates.
In addition to broadcasts relating to the alternative vote referendum, party political broadcasts in support of individual candidates in local authority elections will be made available for the state and in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament elections. The Tories—the Conservatives—and the Liberal Democrats, as well as the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, will put out party political broadcasts throughout this period.
One party—the Liberal Democrats—unreservedly supports the change to the alternative vote system. It will be possible for it to put into its broadcasts indications of support for the alternative vote in the referendum, which will give in effect a significant broadcast. I do not know how many broadcasts there will be during the election period—perhaps five or six on the television and the radio. It gives them an edge that is not caught by the expenditure limits that are rightly put in the Bill. The amendment has the effect of saying that if you support AV or are against AV in your party political broadcast, that broadcast should not be granted.
There is already a section in the 2000 referendum Act that says that a party political broadcast on the television or radio cannot be broadcast if its purpose or its principal purpose is to support or oppose a view in the referendum. The question is whether it is better just to leave the law as it is and to let broadcasters decide the purpose or principal purpose, which is quite a difficult question of analysis. It is reasonable to assume that the principal purpose of a party political broadcast by the Liberal Democrats will be to promote the Liberal Democrats, but a subsidiary purpose might well be, from their point of view, to support the alternative vote system, which is a question of quite fine judgment. Or is it better, as I submit it is, to be quite clear about what you are saying and simply to say, “If you support one or other side in your party political broadcast, it should not be broadcast.”? That means that the political parties, in particular the Liberal Democrats but also any party that opposes them, will know precisely where they stand.
This point was first raised in Committee and it was agreed that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and I would speak, but we were not able to do so. I then received a letter on Report just as that stage was coming to an end, so it was not possible to debate it at that point. The Minister, Mr Harper, was kind enough to ring me at ten to two on Friday afternoon last week to discuss it, and he sent me a letter that arrived in my hands at approximately a quarter past two today. Because of that sequence of events, it has been possible, unusually, to raise the point on Report today.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I apologise: at Third Reading today. It is an important issue, and I wait with interest to hear what the Government have to say. In the course of my telephone conversation with the Minister last Friday, one of his officials, plainly reflecting policy, said that either the Electoral Commission or the broadcaster—I cannot recall which—had not yet decided whether it was going to be permissible, in its book, for a party to say in its broadcast whether it supported AV or not. In other words, the broadcasters’ committee that was going to determine what was acceptable had not yet made up its mind whether a political party, in a party political broadcast, could say, “Our political party supports AV and we urge you to do so as well”. I respectfully submit that it is right for Parliament rather than a committee of broadcasters to decide this matter, and therefore I invite the House to support the amendment.
In the light of the wording of his amendment—which is a bit strange, if I may say so, particularly the section that reads,
“will not be broadcast if they deal with pictures or implied support of any particular side”—
what if the Lib Dems put out an election broadcast, let us say, six weeks before the referendum in which they said, for example, that they are strong supporters of constitutional reform across the board, or words to that effect? Would that fall foul of this amendment?
I accept the noble Lord’s implied, or indeed express, criticism. My wording is not good and that is my fault. It would have been much better if the amendment had said: “Party election broadcasts during the referendum period will not be broadcast if they support any particular side in the referendum on the voting system”. It would have been much simpler if I had just said that, and then one would have known where one stood.
On whether the proposition put by the noble Lord in his question would fall foul of my amendment, if the six-week period is within the referendum period, then it would. I would have to check with the Minister because I am not sure whether the six-week period is within the referendum period. However, if we assume that it is within the referendum period, then saying, “We are strong supporters of constitutional change”, implies support, I would have thought. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has indicated, this matter has been debated in Committee and on Report, and it is clear that the Government have taken a different view from him. However, I accept that it is helpful for us to be able to have a further exchange on the issue.
The Government believe that the framework that is set out in this Bill and indeed in other legislation is sufficient for this referendum. Perhaps I can establish some common ground. We agree with the principle that party election broadcasts should not be used as referendum campaign broadcasts. However, Section 127 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 prevents the main purpose of any broadcast other than a referendum campaign broadcast being to procure or promote an outcome in a referendum, which we believe is sufficient reassurance. In other words, it ensures that a party election broadcast does not become a referendum campaign broadcast. I think there is common ground here and that the mischief which the noble and learned Lord identified—although I would not necessarily accept it—is an incidental part of an election broadcast in which one side or the other is endorsed.
Our view is that there is clear merit in maintaining some flexibility in this area while acknowledging the clear limits already imposed by Section 127. Such flexibility might enable, for example, the inclusion of a brief statement during a party election broadcast that referred to the referendum and to whether the party supported a particular outcome. Although the noble and learned Lord did not say it, I understand from him that he would find nothing wrong with the existence of the referendum being referred to or indeed with an encouragement to vote; it is the endorsement of a particular yes or no position that he seeks to address.
If such a reference was an expression of a party’s wider policy on matters—for example, on political reform—that were of relevance to the elections on 5 May, one might say that precluding mention of that position in a related election broadcast could have an adverse impact on campaigning for a particular party in those elections. To pick up on the point made by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I can confirm that six weeks would be within the relevant campaign period for the referendum. I understood the noble and learned Lord to agree with the proposition that if in that broadcast a party was to support, let us say, constitutional reform—I do not think that my noble friend even specified a particular outcome of the referendum—that would fall foul of the law if his amendment were passed.
I ask the House to consider that to legislate to forbid a party to articulate its legitimate policy position is an important step to take.
I have an important question for the Minister as to what happens during the broadcast. He referred to flexibility. He is a Liberal Democrat Minister in the coalition. Will he assure us that the flexibility to which he referred will preclude in a Liberal Democrat broadcast any reference to the fact that more than 50 per cent of the electorate would be required to secure the election of a Member of Parliament? In other words, if there is flexibility, I seek to be assured that it in no way leads to misleading statements being made on the 50 per cent requirement.
I have two points in response. Speaking as a member of the Administration, I am in no position to offer detailed assurances on the content of a party political broadcast when that party is only one part of the coalition. However, I shall indicate what the dynamic might be in how the broadcasting authorities treat this issue and, indeed, are doing so—it is not hypothetical.
We believe that it is ultimately a matter for the broadcasters to see that the rules in Section 127 on the content of party election broadcasts, together with relevant guidance issued under the Communications Act 2003, are adhered to. That is the Government’s position. I accept that the noble and learned Lord might disagree with it, but we have not yet heard any compelling reason to convince us that that stance is wrong. The proposed approach would in any case still require broadcasters to take a view on whether the proposed content in a broadcast complied with the new rule. Broadcasters would have to make some sort of judgment as to whether the content of a party election broadcast indicated a preference for a particular referendum outcome. Such a judgment might well be in the field of whether a general endorsement of constitutional reform fell within that or whether the content had to be much more specific, endorsing a yes/no position.
As I indicated on Report, the chair of the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group has already written to the political parties, drawn their attention to Section 127 of the PPERA and asked them to contact him if they intend to include any reference to the referendum in a party election broadcast in order to ascertain whether any reference crosses the line into Section 127 territory and could in the group’s view be unlawful. We believe that these lines of communication will clarify how the legislative framework will apply in the context of the combination of the referendum with other polls on 5 May. The framework for regulating party election broadcasts sits under the Communications Act 2003 and within the broadcasters’ guidance. We believe that that, combined with the Section 127 provisions in PPERA 2000, provides the necessary clarity.
That said, the Government acknowledge the important issue that has been raised by the noble and learned Lord in tabling this and other amendments at earlier stages. The PPERA framework for referendum regulation was introduced by the previous Government and, despite the confidence that I have expressed in the legislation, aspects of the framework might need a longer-term refresh. I reassure the noble and learned Lord that the Government will reflect further on these points in the light of the referendum and the experience of the poll on 5 May. In the mean time, I urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his speech, but there is a fundamental problem with it; he referred to flexibility, but the amendment seeks to establish the principle that in a party political broadcast you should not be able to support an outcome in the AV Bill. The Electoral Commission says that it supports the intention behind the amendment, but goes on to say that it is not sure that it is necessary to achieve the intended outcome because of the main purpose issue in Section 127. Surely it is better that there should be clarity about what is and is not allowed—and what should not be allowed is support for an outcome in a party political broadcast, because that would drive a coach and horses through the expenditure limits. I seek the opinion of the House.
In the event that the amendment is successful, it seems an awful pity that we should use this language. It makes no sense as drafted, as I think the noble and learned Lord accepts. Is there a way, even at this late stage, in which we can adopt his alternative language, which is much clearer?
My Lords, the Clerk, brutally, is shaking his head. I would be willing to adopt the noble and learned Lord’s approach to this matter. However, if the House adopts the approach that I am taking, I anticipate that the Government will either reject the amendment in the other place, or, if having had time to think about it the amendment is accepted there, the House of Commons could then tidy it up. I respectfully and tentatively suggest that the House should vote on the principle of whether there should be a prohibition on political parties being able to support or oppose the AV referendum in their party political broadcasts. If my amendment is carried, it can be tidied up or rejected in the House of Commons later.
My Lords, we are at Third Reading and the noble and learned Lord has sought to test the opinion of the House. He has taken one interruption, but I fear that if we have multiple interruptions we will prolong the debate. With the greatest respect, I suggest that we should now continue to a Division.
Clause 7 : Interpretation
2: Clause 7, page 6, line 41, at end insert—
“( ) In section 1(2)—
(a) “the electorate” is defined as those persons entitled to vote in the referendum, as defined in 2;(b) the turnout figure is to be calculated on the basis that 100% turnout is defined as the total number of individuals who are entitled to vote in the referendum, as defined in section 2;(c) and “vote” is defined as votes counted under Part 1 of this Act.”
My Lords, I shall not detain the House too long. I think that it was generally accepted, after the vote last Monday on Report, that Amendment A1, which the House carried by just one vote and which is now in the Bill at Clause 1(2), requires tweaking. That amendment stated that less than 40 per cent of the electorate turning out meant that the vote was not binding; in other words, it has come back to Parliament, to a Minister. We had a brief discussion across the Floor that the amendment needs tweaking—and I fully accept that, but this is not that tweak.
Clause 8 is binding. That is accepted, and there is no problem about that. The amendment carried last week simply states that it is not binding if there is a turnout of less than 40 per cent, so it is not fatal. It is not a threshold, and it does not wreck the change. The amendment passed last week is a constraint that limits action.
I am moving Amendment 2 today as a result of a very long discussion last Thursday in the Political Reform and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the other place after we had finished our proceedings on the Bill. The witnesses were the Electoral Commission and Professor Johnston. I have to admit that I watched all the proceedings of that committee, some two hours, on Saturday afternoon, so I gave up quite a bit of time. In all honesty, I have to say—and I watched a bit of it twice, just to get it right—that there was a misinterpretation of the amendment this House passed last Monday by the Electoral Commission, some members of the committee and the chair, which was bordering on the wilful because the context always was that of a fatal threshold. In other words, the whole lot failed without a 40 per cent turnout. That is not what the House passed last week. What it said was that if the turnout is not 40 per cent, the referendum is not binding. The implication was that we have to make it discretionary, so that the Minister can come back. If the turnout is 10 per cent, it does not matter what the result is. The Houses of Parliament could still pass it, so it is non-fatal. The whole discussion in the Select Committee was based on the fact that it is a killer threshold. I was quite astonished at that.
The amendment the House passed last week was a compromise between having a consultative referendum and a binding referendum. Frankly, when the Prime Minister was asked about the issue by Christopher Chope last Wednesday at Question Time, he started to say that, generally speaking, in this country, we do not have thresholds at referendums—as I said, this is not a threshold—but generally in this country, we do not have binding referendums either. This is the first we have ever had. I do not know whether anyone has drawn that to the attention of the Prime Minister—and I add that I will be happy to share a no platform with him during the referendum.
This issue goes well beyond what has happened in the past. At no time during the Select Committee discussion was the unbinding bit of the Bill ever raised. The discussion proceeded on the basis that we cannot measure turnout, because there is no national register, and cannot measure what a vote is. That is what the Electoral Commission said to the Select Committee. We cannot measure the turnout because it is too complicated. We do not even know what a vote is because it is not defined. What is a vote? Does that mean we count the spoilt papers as well as those that count? All that was trotted out before the Select Committee without any challenge. Then the size of the register was raised. Given that we have legislated on the basis that by common consent there are 3.5 million people missing from the register and hundreds of thousands of voters entered twice, either as undergraduates or second-home owners, it could be argued that there is a distinct lack of precision about the register in the first place for all purposes, let alone this one.
It seems to me to be reasonable to call the electorate those people defined in Clause 2 as entitled to vote. The vote is those counted under Part 1. That gives clarity. The Bill sets out the electorate in Clause 2, on which we had long debates. The vote is defined as voters who are counted under Part 1 of the Act, namely those who are yes or no. Those are the only votes that count. Spoiled votes do not count. I would have thought the Electoral Commission would have been aware of this, yet it has raised these issues as if, if there is a little doubt about the result, the whole thing is down the plug hole. It is not. It simply becomes unbinding. That is my worry.
To conclude, if it becomes the case—
Could the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, clarify one point? The Electoral Commission points out that there is some doubt about his definitions. In particular, does he accept that the register may be considerably out of date by the date of the referendum? For example, anybody who has died in the intervening period would, under the terms of his previous amendment, be counted as a no. Every abstention is, effectively, a no when it comes to looking at his threshold. Does the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, accept that the Electoral Commission may not be right about everything but it is correct in saying that his current amendment is defective?
It is certainly wrong about it being fatal; I will argue that until the cows come home. The Electoral Commission bordered on being wilful. I was about to come to the point that the noble Lord raised, which is a very fair one, about the register. My point is this: after the referendum, when everything is counted, if it comes down to such a fine definition that we have to look at the number of people currently on the register who died or left the country before 5 May—in addition to such elements as foreigners who are able to vote in some elections but not for Westminster—we will have precisely the situation that I seek to avoid in a binding referendum. If all those factors come into play—that is, if the result is narrow and there is an argument over the numbers—it will be the very reason why we should not have a binding referendum in the first place.
My compromise is to say that the threshold should be 40 per cent. My original compromise was that it should all be consulted on. The House threw that out by 17 votes in November. That is my point. If it comes down to the fact that these issues start to matter, we will have a serious problem on our hands. Therefore, if the referendum was not binding, Parliament could then look at it, Ministers could advise Parliament, we could take a rational view and maybe—I fully accept this—still go ahead and introduce AV. This amendment does not stop the introduction of AV. If the circumstances are such that we have that problem, we will also have a problem that is even bigger.
I have listened to what the Electoral Commission told the Select Committee and to the chairman of the committee, who swore blind that she voted for this amendment in the Commons last year. She did not. The amendment in the Commons last year, which was defeated by around 500 votes to a couple of dozen was on a killer, fatal threshold. The Labour Party voted against it and quite right, too. If the threshold was not met, that would be it—the referendum would be off. That is not what this is about. Those who refuse to accept that are being disingenuous about the situation we have arrived at. It is not too late.
In other words, this amendment is directly consequential on what the House passed last Monday. Irrespective of what the Government choose to do in the Commons in the morning, it would be wrong to reject it—I make no assumptions either way—on the basis that the Electoral Commission said that it cannot define “votes” and “the electorate” if we cannot today add this consequential bit to the amendment we passed last Monday. One flows from the other. If the argument is not used tomorrow, this does not apply. However, is it intended that the Electoral Commission brief the Commons and say, “This won’t stand. As we told the Political and Constitutional Affairs Committee last week, ‘votes’ and ‘electorate’ are not defined.”? Since I have made a modest attempt to define them in the context of the Bill, that would be quite wrong. The amendment should be added to what we passed last Monday.
My Lords, I thought I heard my noble friend be told by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that not voting would count as a no vote in the referendum. This worries me deeply. With my noble friend’s amendment, Parliament will be able to decide, however many people vote for or against AV. That is my understanding. By not voting, people will not contribute to a no vote barring AV being adopted. It is merely a question of whether it becomes automatically binding on Parliament or whether it becomes something that Parliament can judge. I was deeply worried by the description of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler—
My Lords, the House should remind itself that we are at Third Reading. The amendment has not yet been moved. There will be an opportunity for any noble Lord to address questions to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, when he decides what to do with his amendment in due course. May I take it that this amendment has been moved?
My Lords, this is an important point. I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker on the meaning of his amendment. I completely support him when he says that this is not a fatal threshold, by which I mean that if more than 40 per cent of those entitled to turn out vote, there is no issue because the turnout threshold is met. If the figure is below 40 per cent, the position is exactly the same as in the Scotland Act and the Government of Wales Act, in which case it becomes an advisory referendum and it is for Parliament then to decide whether to pass an Act of Parliament. I say with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that his question was misleading as far as the public are concerned in relation to the threshold that has been put in and was also misleading in relation to what had happened in the House of Commons in this regard.
The second issue is a statutory construction issue. I do not think that it is necessary to put in a definition of “electorate” in order to make Clause 1(2), as amended on Report, make sense. Clause 1(2) states:
“If less than 40% of the electorate vote in the referendum, the result shall not be binding”.
The “electorate” in the referendum is defined in Clause 2, as amended on Report. In answer to the Electoral Commission’s question posed in its briefing, that will include people who are not on the roll at the beginning of the period but are put on to it during the campaign. Therefore, I do not think that any amendment is required in relation to that.
The Electoral Commission asked what would happen in relation to a spoilt ballot paper and whether the person who spoils their ballot paper, whether deliberately or by mistake, is counted as somebody who has voted in the referendum in order to satisfy Clause 1(2), as amended on Report. My view is that they should be counted as having voted in the referendum in those circumstances but I should be interested to hear what the Government have to say about that. I suspect that there is an answer to that which probably does not require amendment. On the basis that the first question raised by the Electoral Commission has an easy answer and the second one has an answer, I suspect that amendment is not required.
The third issue, which is separate from those two matters of statutory construction, is the approach of this House to amendments. Where an amendment is passed by this House which is going to go back to the Commons, whether the Government agree with it or not and irrespective of whether they intend to seek to persuade the Commons to overrule it, the approach, as I understand it, is that the Government, who have access to parliamentary counsel and a full team, do what is necessary to make the Bill whole in the sense of it being consistent with the amendment that this House has agreed to so that when the House of Commons is addressing the amendment, which may be opposed by the Government, it is addressing a Bill which is consistent in all its parts. This would normally be done by amendments from the mover, but quite often it is not. I would expect the Government not to allow an inconsistent Bill to go back to the Commons but to move such consequential amendments as are necessary to make sense of the Bill. In those circumstances, I take the fact that the Government are moving no amendments in respect of my noble friend Lord Rooker’s threshold amendment, if I may call it that, to mean that the Government, having consulted with parliamentary counsel and the Bill team, take the view that no issue that requires further amendment has been raised. That may well be right and is, in effect, the opinion I have expressed on the two difficulties posed by the Electoral Commission in its briefing to the House.
For the purposes of process, which is important, I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, could confirm that the broad approach I have defined is the one taken by the Government.
My Lords, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, seeks to clarify two points in relation to the amendment in his name carried at Report stage; namely, that if fewer than 40 per cent of the electorate vote in the referendum, the vote shall not be binding. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, indicated that the amendment was directly consequential on the amendment passed on Report. Paragraph (a) of this amendment defines “electorate” in reference to Clause 2, which sets out who is entitled to vote in the referendum. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, says that the amendment was unnecessary. We on the other hand think that it is to some degree helpful to clarify what defines the electorate for the purposes of the referendum. It would exclude European Union nationals who can vote in some elections. It obviously includes Peers, who would not be entitled to vote at a Westminster parliamentary election.
However, this is more of a political point, because there is no way of dealing with it otherwise. The noble and learned Lord is absolutely right to say that those who come onto the roll, perhaps as a result of a campaign encouraging people to register, would be included in the electorate, but that account could not be taken of, for example, undergraduates—who, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, might be registered at two places but can vote only once—and those who have died since the canvass which took place perhaps some five months earlier. Those points are perhaps more of a political, rather than a technical, nature.
My Lords, I accept the point about people who have registered more than once in separate constituencies, but it is very demanding on their honesty. What checks will be made on whether they have voted more than once in the referendum? If any check is made, what action will be taken against someone who has voted twice?
My Lords, I cannot indicate what checks are likely to be made. It is obviously easier to check if that happens in the same constituency, but if a person is registered in two far-flung parts of the country, it is not readily obvious as to what check can be made, other than the fact that voting twice is of course illegal. Therefore, if it were somehow proved that that had happened, the person would have to face the consequences set out in the schedule to the Bill.
Paragraphs (b) and (c) of the amendment define 100 per cent turnout as the total number of people entitled to vote in the referendum under Clause 2, and “vote” as “votes counted” under Part 1 of the Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, indicated, that means that the turnout figure would not include those who had turned out to vote on the day, but whose votes, for whatever reason, were deemed to be void. That is because paragraph 42 of Schedule 2 to the Bill specifies that void votes should not be counted, albeit they are recorded by the counting officer.
If eligible voters go to the polling station on 5 May and vote, they have in fact turned out, and should be included within the turnout figure, even if their vote is subsequently deemed to be invalid. The noble and learned Lord agreed with that proposition.
The amendment is not ideally worded. It is silent on whether a single independent body should be made responsible for verifying the turnout and whether the 40 per cent figure has been met. It leaves it unclear whether that would be left to the Government or would be a matter for the Electoral Commission. However, despite the drafting issues, it would not be helpful for us to be obstructive, so it will be for Members of the other place to decide whether the amendment and the one that it supports are acceptable.
Perhaps the most important issue raised by the amendment is not what it does but what it does not do. It does not address the problem with the original amendment because it does nothing to change Clause 8(1), which still imposes a legal obligation on the Minister to implement the alternative vote. I fully accept the explanation of the amendment given by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—that the intention is to make the referendum result non-binding if a 40 per cent turnout is not reached. He is right that it would not be fatal. Nevertheless, it is an important and significant provision. The effect of retaining Clause 8(1) is that the obligation to implement AV will apply even if the turnout is less than 40 per cent.
I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord intended by his amendment. I recognise that this matter should be dealt with before the Bill becomes law. We understand and share the concern that any statutory provision should be technically effective. We are considering the way forward on this issue and will set out our plans when the Bill returns to the other place. It will be for Members there to decide tomorrow how to respond when considering your Lordships' amendments. On the basis that the amendment goes some way to clarifying the position in the light of the earlier amendment, it is not our intention to resist it.
I am extremely grateful for that response from the Minister. I do not mind whether or not spoiled votes are counted as long as we have clarity and rules.
On Clause 8(1), the “may/must issue”, I fully accept that if this stayed in the Bill according to the wish of the other place, the Government would have to make available, in the exchange of amendments, the discretionary part for the constraint—it is not a threshold—to be made to work. That is all that I seek to do. If it comes down to having an argument about whether or not someone has died in order to determine whether we should have a major change to our constitution, we will have a serious problem on our hands. I am extremely grateful for the way that the Minister has dealt with the amendment. I beg to move.
Amendment 2 agreed.
Clause 11 : Number and distribution of seats
3: Clause 11, page 11, line 1, after “4(2),” insert “6,”
As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, indicated, this is a consequential tidying-up amendment following the amendment that was passed last week. We had a good debate on the issues. The House made its decision and we share the concern that any statutory provision should be technically effective. The Government are considering the way forward on this issue. We will set out our plans when the Bill returns to the other place tomorrow and your Lordships' amendments are considered. On that basis, the Government do not object to the amendment.
Amendment 3 agreed.
4: Clause 11, page 13, line 38, leave out “and London boroughs and their wards” and insert “London boroughs and their wards and the City of London”
My Lords, the amendment responds to the indication given on Report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, that an accommodation could be achieved on the treatment of the City of London. Noble Lords who followed the exchanges on the City of London, in Committee and on Report, will know that the point at issue is the inclusion of the whole of the City of London in one parliamentary constituency. This requirement of current legislation is noticeably absent from the Bill. My earlier amendment sought to deal with the issue by requiring the whole City to be included in one constituency so far as practicable. A qualification was included to avoid an absolute obligation that might have collided with the allocation method enshrined in the Bill. I also related the requirement to the City being seen as a “special authority” to emphasise its individuality. The noble and learned Lord the Minister acknowledged that individuality in his response on Report, and I am wholly content not to include that reference in the amendment which I have now tabled in agreement with the Minister.
I shall briefly explain the effect of the amendment. It adds a reference to the City of London as a whole into the interpretation of “local government boundaries” in rule 11 of Schedule 2, which is inserted by Clause 11 of the Bill. That, in turn, makes the City of London as an entity a factor for the Boundary Commission to take into account in any future review. Unlike a number of amendments with which your Lordships’ House has been concerned, this is about keeping a small area with particular attributes but few parliamentary electors together in what will inevitably be a much larger single parliamentary constituency. That is why reference in the amendment to the City of London as a whole but not to its sub-divisions, such as wards, is so relevant.
One point not covered in the amendment is the inclusion of a reference to the City of London in the name of the parliamentary constituency. Although I appreciate that the question is ultimately a matter for the Boundary Commission, it is, I think, in order for me to invite the Minister to express a view on the appropriateness of such a reference in any future constituency which includes the City.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to record my gratitude to all the Members of your Lordships’ House across the Chamber who have actively supported this case. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin, who has supported me throughout, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who earlier tabled her own amendment, and finally my noble friend Lord Newby, who also added his name to my original amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville has explained, the amendment adds the boundaries of the City of London to the local authority boundaries which the Boundary Commission for England may take into account when drawing up constituencies. I thank my noble friend for his amendment and for the interest which he and the other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, together with others, have shown in this matter, and for their persuasiveness in pressing their argument. I believe that his proposed wording provides the best way of including the boundaries of the City in the commission’s considerations, and the Government are content to accept the amendment.
My noble friend raised the question of the name of the constituency and indicated that it is of course a matter for the Boundary Commission to decide. I see a very good argument for including the City by name in any constituency that it falls within, and no doubt those who feel strongly about the matter will be able to make representations to that effect to the commission as part of the review process. Therefore, I am pleased to be able to support my noble friend’s amendment.
Amendment 4 agreed.
Schedule 1 : Further provisions about the referendum
5: Schedule 1, page 23, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) The Chief Counting Officer must take whatever steps the officer thinks appropriate to facilitate co-operation between that officer and the officers to whom sub-paragraph (3) applies in taking any steps under sub-paragraph (1) or (2).”
My Lords, I hope that I can move this amendment even more briefly than I did in Committee and on Report. I, too, thank many Members of the House who have supported the principle of the amendment, not least the opposition Front Bench.
It is a straightforward, practical and modest amendment but it goes to what many noble Lords will think is one of the hearts of the Bill—the bit which seeks to ensure that as many of our countrymen as possible take part in the referendum. In paragraph 10 of Schedule 1—I pay tribute to the Government for including this from the outset—there is a series of provisions under the heading “Encouraging participation”. Among them is one which casts upon each of four officials—the chief counting officer, a regional counting officer, a counting officer and a registration officer—a formal duty to encourage participation in the referendum. As noble Lords will see from the way in which I have drafted the amendment, it simply maximises the effect of the provisions in the Bill by ensuring that someone seeks to co-ordinate the activity between those four sets of officials. Without someone having that responsibility—not to order them what to do but to facilitate co-operation—one might find black holes and serious and unnecessary overlapping and, of course, we have little time in which to generate interest and informed interest in this referendum. The amendment simply seeks to do that.
If anyone has questions about how I have moved the amendment or about the amendment itself, I will be happy to answer them. I hope that that is sufficient to spread understanding of the amendment and I invite your Lordships’ appreciation of it. I beg to move.
My Lords, we support the amendment and we supported it previously. The noble Lord invited our appreciation of the amendment. I expressly appreciate the amendment for its drafting and also its mover who has spent a lifetime supporting participation of this sort. He thoroughly deserves to get his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Phillips for the amendment and I join in the general approbation of it. For all the difficulties that we have had during parts of this Bill, a common theme in all parts of the Chamber has been the importance of participation in the referendum process. As my noble friend indicated, this paragraph of the schedule does that anyway but he has highlighted the way in which it can be done even better. I am grateful to my noble friend for the constructive discussions we have had on this and the result of those is that the Government agree that the proposal adds useful clarification to the Bill, particularly by emphasising the importance of co-ordination and co-operation. I am pleased to urge the House to accept my noble friend’s amendment.
Amendment 5 agreed.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.