2: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Powers of the Assembly to extend the franchise to younger people
(1) The Assembly may legislate to extend the franchise for Assembly elections to every person in Wales aged 16 and over on the date of the election.
(2) The Assembly may legislate to extend the franchise for elections to local authorities and for any Welsh referendum, whether held throughout Wales or locally within Wales, to every person in Wales aged 16 and over on the date of the election.
(3) No resolution to extend the franchise to people aged 16 and over, under this section, will be valid unless supported by at least two-thirds of the Assembly members participating in the voting on such a resolution.”
My Lords, Amendment 2, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas, seeks to enable the National Assembly to extend the right to vote to 16 and 17 year-olds. A number of amendments have been grouped with this one and they point in the same direction. If the amendment is passed, the Assembly would be empowered to determine whether those aged 16 and over could participate in Assembly elections, Welsh local authority elections and any Welsh referendum that may be held. Subsection (3) of the proposed new clause ensures that no such change could occur unless,
“two-thirds of the Assembly members participating in the voting”,
support the provision. As might be expected, the amendment was drawn up partly in response to the decision of the Scottish Government to empower 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the September referendum, and having noted the outstanding take-up of that right in Scotland. By polling day, 109,533 16 and 17 year-olds had registered to vote in the Scottish referendum. The impact of that referendum has understandably been felt keenly in our debates on the legislation before us. Whatever people’s politics may be, I hope that I would be correct in asserting that the decision to allow those aged 16 and over to vote in that referendum was commendable and opened up democracy for a new generation. The sheer level of engagement in the referendum was staggering, and if we in Wales and indeed across the United Kingdom can try to emulate such engagement in politics and public life, that will be a tremendous success.
In terms of principle, I believe that there should be no taxation without representation. Young people aged 16 and 17 can have left school, be working and thus paying tax. They should have the right to vote on their representation in Parliament and the Assemblies which determine any such taxation. In 2012, the National Assembly for Wales voted in favour of lowering the voting age to 16, but at present, of course, it does not have the necessary powers to implement that decision. Amendment 2 would give it the powers to do so.
Voting at16 is common practice in many European countries, including Austria, Germany and Norway, as well as in Latin America, in countries such as Argentina and Brazil. I would like to see Wales lead the way in this matter, especially as Assembly Members have already signalled their intention to introduce such measures. My party, Plaid Cymru, is committed to this, and I know that other parties in Wales are also committed.
The other amendments in this group have the same objective. I realise that if the amendment is carried, the Government might want to tidy it up in another place, although the advice that we were given was that the wording was both effective and clear. At the very least, I hope that the Government will realise that there is a widespread wish for this to happen and will not stand in the way of such progress. I beg to move.
My Lords, in speaking to the amendments in my name in this group—Amendments 3 and 19—I can be relatively brief, since I proposed similar improvements to the Bill in Committee, as those who participated then will recall. The principle of including 16 and 17 year-old fellow citizens in the franchise is now an accepted fact. All parties in this Parliament have endorsed this change. Contrary to the doom mongers’ forecasts, a very high proportion of this age group registered to vote in the Scottish independence referendum—nearly 110,000, which is a remarkable figure. Incidentally, I received the Answer to a Question today indicating that nearly 500,000 young voters in the age group 16 to 18 are currently registering under the new system, so this is a success story under IER.
On 18 September, a very large percentage of those—thousands of them—voted in the actual referendum. In the words of the Intergenerational Foundation newsletter,
“16 to 24 year-olds actually favoured staying in the union by a small margin (35% to 33%) ... the idea that the vision of an independent Scotland would appeal to an iconoclastic streak among the youngest members of the electorate appears to have been misplaced”.
That is putting it mildly. Curiously, it seems that middle-aged men, not women, were the most influenced by the fantastical claims of the separatists. Therefore, if we were to exclude the less mature, the less well informed and the less rational, we might wonder just which cohort we should be excluding from the franchise. It is not the most young; it is others.
There was another testimony from the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke:
“Does the Minister agree that the quality of debate among 16 and 17 year-olds during the referendum debate was astonishing? I admit I was wrong; I was one of the people who thought that it was wrong for the franchise to reduce the voting age to 16. I was comprehensively proved wrong. I heard some of the best debates I have ever heard in a lifetime in politics from 16 and 17 year-olds”.—[Official Report, 16/10/14; col. 295.]
My noble friend Lord Cormack, whom I am pleased to see in his place, made a similar confession on 29 October:
“My eldest grand-daughter voted at the age of 16. I do not necessarily agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, on that, but I know that my grand-daughter and all her classmates took this matter exceptionally seriously”.—[Official Report, 29/10/14; col. 1261.]
Of course they did, and I will say something about that if I have an opportunity later. However, I did not, do not, and do not think I ever will, agree with extending the franchise to 16 year-olds universally.
My noble friend is the personification of constitutional rectitude, so I will not be surprised if he finds my argument absolutely conclusive, that having extended the franchise to this particular group in one part of our United Kingdom, we should look at the relevance of that to other parts. That brings us to the heart of the matter: it is surely unthinkable that this hugely successful precedent could or should be simply overturned. I ask my noble friend to think about this: if my brother, long-since resident in Wales, had a grand- daughter aged 16, and there was a similar referendum vote there, which Member of your Lordships’ House—including my noble friend—would deny her the franchise? Which noble Lords would dare to suggest that Welsh young people are less mature, less well informed or less rational than their Scottish counterparts?
Anyone who still doubts that we have moved on—that the dam has broken—should read the excellent Youth Select Committee report, published last week, entitled, Lowering the Voting Age to 16. With remorseless logic, the committee examined all the familiar arguments and then arrived at this clear conclusion:
“We recommend that the Government introduce legislation to set the age at which people become eligible to vote in all elections at 16”.
As the Select Committee makes abundantly clear, we are no longer discussing theories. Any of my Conservative friends who retain misgivings must now accept the facts: the time to resist on principle has passed. The precedent is unanswerable.
My two amendments deliberately distinguish between elections to the Welsh Assembly, on the one hand, and any future significant referendum in Wales on the other. The latter, of course, is even more relevant after the Scottish experience than the former.
My noble friend is making a very strong argument in principle for 16 year-olds benefiting from the franchise, but why not extend that to allowing them to stand for election? Why not extend it to the general election? Where is the principle here that he is applying?
My Lords, I do not know if my noble friend heard some of the discussion earlier about the piecemeal way in which we are attacking these problems. It would just be inappropriate—as he will know, as a very distinguished parliamentarian—for me to try to insert this into this particular Bill, so I am not trying to do so.
Since Committee, the Minister and her officials have responded most helpfully and with continuous attention to the points I raised then. She has been fully committed to the positive answers that she gave to me and the rest of your Lordships’ House, and I am enormously grateful to her. I note that in Amendment 2, noble Lords opposite have taken up a suggestion I made in Committee, that the referendum issue should be treated on a similar basis as that in Scotland. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There is clearly a strong case for the decision to be taken in the Assembly, but we believe that a strong steer from this Parliament is appropriate on something as crucial as the franchise.
Here I would like to refer to the similar exercise that took place before the Scottish referendum. In the Edinburgh agreement, in paragraph 10, there was this statement:
“The Scottish Government’s consultation on the referendum also set out a proposal for extending the franchise to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the referendum. It will be for the Scottish Government to decide whether to propose extending the franchise for this referendum and how that should be done. It will be for the Scottish Parliament to approve the referendum franchise, as it would be for any referendum on devolved matters”.
That was not the end of the matter, and I would be grateful if the Minister would consider this point, because there was then a vote on the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill in the Scottish Parliament on 27 June. There was a vote, and the Deputy Presiding Officer told the Parliament that the result of the Division was: 103 for; 12 against; abstentions, nought. I think we should record abstentions in this House, because abstentions would usually outnumber those attending, but that is a different matter for a different occasion. The reason for mentioning that is, of course, that that was a simple majority in the Scottish Parliament, and I would like the Minister to give some consideration to that in her response to this group of amendments.
The main point, which I hope the Minister will now accept, is that the case in principle is unanswerable. I hope that she therefore will be able to give us a very positive response to these amendments today. I hope that, if we are not able to conclude the matter today, we can do so before the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House.
It would be surely be constitutionally improper, in what has now been reinforced as a United Kingdom, to differentiate between the basic civic rights and duties of citizens here, simply on the basis of their area of residence. If, as I believe, the franchise is the foundation stone of our representative democracy, then discrimination on that basis must surely be totally unacceptable.
As a footnote, on 11 November 2014, we can recall that young men and women gave their all in two world wars to secure true representative democracy. This is just one more step to advance that cause and prevent unfair discrimination between our fellow citizens.
My Lords, the noble Lord spoke with great passion but he is not right that all political parties are committing to going down this particular road. As far as I know, my own party has made no such commitment. I am still quite open-minded about the basic question. I have not made up my mind and am not necessarily hostile to it. I will listen with great care as the merits of the case are debated over the wider field. I may well finish agreeing with him that votes should go to 16 year-olds, although I have not got there yet.
I am brought to a halt, so to speak, for the same reasons that my noble friend Lord Deben referred to in his speech earlier—as did the noble Lord, Lord Empey. They spoke about devolution bit by bit and a series of random decisions. My problem is that, although I understand of course that these particular proposals are to apply only to votes in the Welsh Assembly or Welsh referendums, once you put 16 year-olds on the register and raise their expectation that they will have a vote it is very difficult to see how you can then say to them, “Oh, but you are not going to have a vote in general elections”. It also seems essential in a sensible democracy that if we are to move to a franchise at 16 for elections to the Westminster Parliament, that should be on the basis of all-party agreement and after proper consultation and consideration, not just because we have to keep up with Scotland or Wales.
I find myself contemplating the possibility that it is somehow not possible to take the 16 year-olds off the register when we come to general elections. I, in the Monmouth constituency, would find myself elected by an electorate that includes 16 year-olds, while in Herefordshire, across the border but 500 yards from where I currently live, the Member of Parliament would be elected without 16 year-olds voting. That would be an intolerable situation and totally unacceptable. Once again, we come back to all those who argued for some kind of proper consultation, whether it be a royal commission or whatever form it takes, in which we can reach a consensus and an all-party way forward rather than saying, “Oh, well, the Scots have done it and therefore the Welsh have to do it”. They can do it in their own Assembly, and that is fine by them, but we are not really saying—or are we?—that it is going to happen in general elections in Scotland and Wales, too. We are on a very dangerous path. I am perfectly happy to go down that path on the basis of proper deliberation and consultation, and agreement by the political parties. I am not prepared to go down it on the basis of ad hocery and “Gosh, we must keep up with the other chaps”.
My Lords, I am a little less worried than the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about the prospect of different rules applying for certain elections between Monmouthshire and Herefordshire. I tend to be of the view that a constitution breathes through its anomalies. Anomalies can give a kind of flexibility and help us cope with day-to-day developments in politics. Of course, I am not at all against the search for a wider coherence but it is very hard to find that ideal coherence. In the mean time, it is right to be responsive to the democratic aspirations of people, differ as they may in different parts of the country.
I am much in sympathy with the purport of this group of amendments. I recall that sixth-formers in my constituency of Newport in south-east Wales were curiously diffident about voting at 16. I used to ask them whether they thought it would be appropriate and there was a good deal of hesitation. However, if all the parties in Wales think that introducing this is the right thing to do, it is not for us to stand in their way. Wales should have the power to set its own electoral arrangements for elections that are strictly Welsh elections. We can look again at the wider issue of arrangements for general elections across the United Kingdom. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that the principle of no taxation without representation implies that the voting age should be reduced to 16 for elections to the Welsh Assembly. After all, we are contemplating in this legislation the possibility of income tax raising powers being devolved to Wales. It seems to me that that should probably follow.
The difficulty about that proposition is that the bulk of the money is still going to come to Wales from grants voted for in the Parliament at Westminster. Indeed, every change in that alters the position of grants going to Scotland. It is very difficult. If you want to start with the argument that you must have votes at 16 for everyone voting for the money, then you have decided that it has to go to the Westminster Parliament as well. Until that happens, you really cannot carry that argument too far.
The noble Lord is absolutely right about the significance of grants that I hope would continue to be made from the Government in London—the Government of the United Kingdom. I have some anxieties that the conferral of tax-raising powers on Wales may be the prelude to a rather drastic withdrawal of redistributive taxation and grant giving across the United Kingdom as a whole. The noble Lord is quite right that these are very difficult issues. I acknowledge the force of what he said on that particular point.
Where I have a reservation about this group of amendments is that they seem to envisage perpetual referendums. There is a reference in all of them to referendums. Personally, I very much hope that the people of Wales will not reach a point in their politics when they conduct a referendum on independence for Wales. I do not want to contemplate that. Nor would it be a good idea if the people of Wales developed the habit of conducting a series of referendums on ad hoc issues. To the extent that we resort to referendums to solve tricky issues in our domestic politics, we tend to undermine representative government and the Parliament of Westminster. I will just finish the point and then give way to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. We would equally undermine the authority of the Welsh Assembly if it became a habit or reflex to have referendums, however populist that might be.
I just wanted to draw the attention of the noble Lord to the fact that there is of course a very considerable section of the Bill dealing precisely with referendums—or referenda, as I prefer to describe them. The noble Lord will have to accept that these are entirely relevant to the Bill and therefore a very likely prospect in Wales at some point.
They are relevant to the Bill but the fact that the Bill deals with referendums does not make referendums any more desirable. On the question of gerunds and gerundives, I hope that there is perhaps a noble Lord in the House who can resolve this issue between the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and myself, and tell us whether they should be referred to as referenda or referendums.
My Lords, I am not rising to resolve that particular problem. Though I am by nature and inclination a referenda man, do not let us go too far down that line. I frequently agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, who is a friend of long standing, but I cannot go along with him on much of what he said, although I agree with him emphatically that—I hope—the Welsh people will not wish to vote on independence. At the moment, the polls indicate that only 4% of them are inclined to move that way. Somebody interjects to say it is 3%; the proportion is going down by the minute.
I come at this from a slightly different angle: I believe that among the things that should be common to the United Kingdom as a whole is the franchise. That is why I was critical of the Prime Minister and others, who conceded to Mr Salmond votes at 16 for the referendum in Scotland. I have mentioned my highly articulate and intelligent 16 year-old granddaughter in this Chamber before. Of course, because 16 year-olds were going to have the vote, I engaged with her, and through her with others, on the subject, because it was of such significance. That was far more important than any single vote I have cast in over 50 years of having the franchise; when I was able to vote for the first time it was at the age of 21.
We did concede to Mr Salmond that 16 year-olds should have the vote—and I entered into the spirit of it within family and so on—but I regretted that we had done so. We must consider carefully the wisdom of giving the vote to 16 year-olds. After all, there are so many other areas of life we could talk about in terms of what people can do at 16; some will work and pay taxes and some will not.
Only yesterday in this House the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, introduced an amendment that the Government accepted. He made an exceptionally moving speech, and the Minister gave an extraordinarily generous reply. The substance of that amendment was that 17 year-olds apprehended by the police should be treated in a similar way to 16 year-olds. He advanced an extremely convincing argument, which the Minister accepted.
A 16 year-old cannot drive a car, and is not legally allowed to take a drink. There are, and I think there should be, rites of passage. I believe that there is a danger in giving votes to those who are in full-time school education—I distinguish clearly between school education, and university and further education. We ought to treat this matter extremely carefully. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell made a generous speech in which he said that he was not necessarily against the idea, but that it should not be dealt with as yet another piecemeal reform. We heard quite a lot about those in our earlier debate on this Bill today.
There I entirely agree with my noble friend. This issue has not been dealt with on a UK-wide basis; it has just grown, like Topsy. If we are to move in this direction, with all the implications for the age of majority and everything else involved with it, we should do so only as a result of comprehensive debate and discussion within both Houses of this Parliament. It should also be part of the remit of the constitutional convention or royal commission. A royal commission is the option that I personally would favour, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is not now in his place, also came down on that side. Any such move should be part of the remit of any such convention or commission. We would not be serving the people of Wales, or any other part of the United Kingdom, well if we continued with this piecemeal approach.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way to me; he knows that I have very much respect for him. Does he not accept that, in its own way, this entire Bill is, in his terminology, piecemeal reform, in that it is reform for Wales and not across the United Kingdom? If we were to go down his road in all matters relating to devolution, we would not be able to do anything for Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland unless it was also acceptable in the regions of England, or in England as a whole. Is that really what he is advocating?
The respect is mutual, may I say. My noble friend—I shall call him that—and I have known each other for a very long time. We have travelled together and talked together on a whole range of issues, and frequently found ourselves in agreement, not least about the fact that his wife is one of the most accomplished harpists in the whole of the United Kingdom.
I am very critical of the piecemeal approach, as is my noble friend Lord Deben. As I said in an intervention, it is a pity, too, that we are setting artificial deadlines: “This must be decided by Burns Night”, “That must be decided by St David’s Day”, and so on. Thank God that this Parliament will not be in existence on St George’s Day, or goodness knows what we would have promised to achieve by then. It is a great pity that the leaders of our parties are so motivated by targets. Targets have not exactly achieved a great deal for our National Health Service, and they are not going to achieve a great deal for our constitutional progress.
In answer to my noble friend, I say that we are indeed legislating here for Wales, and I am sorry that the approach has been piecemeal. Of course the Bill will go through, but with as few additions as possible, I hope.
Does my noble friend not accept that, if there is to be a comprehensive exercise involving a royal commission, a convention or whatever, it will take quite a long time? I think that he and I will both wish to make representations to it, and on past form the whole process could take several years. Would my noble friend be kind enough to address the question that I put specifically to him and to others in the House: if there is to be any sort of referendum, in the terms of the Bill, within that period, is he prepared to deny to my notional great-niece in Wales what his granddaughter experienced, enjoyed and took such good advantage of in Scotland? During the period before the comprehensive exercise is complete, is a 16 year-old in Wales to be denied what has been permitted to 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland?
I do not favour votes at 16, so I would be hypocritical in the extreme if I said, “Yes, of course”, to the idea. I think that we made a mistake in Scotland, and the whole thing needs looking at very carefully. If, as a result of that careful deliberation, the consensus solution—as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell puts it—is votes at 16, so be it. But I do not wish to move further in that direction at the moment. I do not think that is a necessary part of this Bill; that is a further answer to my noble friend Lord Wigley. I therefore hope that the Government will resist these amendments, however persuasively they have been put by people for whom I have real regard and affection.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his kind comments about me. May I return the compliment by saying that the families, particularly, and also the campaigners, including myself, were most grateful to the Government, the Home Secretary and the Minister for moving more swiftly than we had expected yesterday and bringing about that change, which will protect children—17 year-olds—in future far better than they are protected now. We are all very grateful to the Government for what they did yesterday.
I would like to raise some concerns in this debate, but first may I apologise for arriving so late to the debates on this Bill? I should manage my time better, and I apologise for entering the discussion at this late stage. Perhaps I may be slightly forgiven because it is a Welsh Bill, and perhaps I may have thought that, because I am not Welsh, I might not—I am digging a hole for myself, so I shall stop there.
There is much to be welcomed in the proposition made by those who have tabled these amendments, in relation to hearing the voice of young people. However, I am concerned that they betray a certain difficulty in the English-speaking world in terms of understanding child development. If one looks to those who treat people best, one might look to Italy, France or Spain for the way that they care for families and children. I should be interested to learn how far discussions there have gone in this direction.
Let me stress the good things about the proposal. It is so important to hear the voice of young people. Visiting schools, I heard young people talking about the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance. Many young people felt passionately about that, and the proposal would give them an opportunity to vote on the matter. One could talk about school uniforms and concern about their cost and other issues for young people that they could push harder if they had the vote. Giving young people more responsibility is a well recognised way to help them to develop in maturity. In the care system, for foster children and children in children’s homes, it has been recognised how powerful it has been as a tool to improve outcomes to allow young people’s voices to be heard, particularly by those who make the decisions about allocation of resources—putting those people in the same room.
The principle is much to be welcomed, but—I know that this has been raised before—I am particularly concerned about a misunderstanding of child development and of human development. For instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, is shortly to have a debate about children, the internet and social networking. I hesitate to presume what she may say, but I think she will say that we have been unkind to children. We have not given them any guidance; we have released this technology on them and expected them to deal with it. We have treated them just as if they were little adults, and we need to do better and give them better guidance.
There are welcome improvements in the criminal justice system, particularly in what the coalition Government have done to remove so many young people from custody, but in general, we are still far harsher to children who misbehave but are also troubled than they would be in France, Germany and other continental countries. As in America, the English-speaking world has difficulties in this area. The age of criminal responsibility in this country is 10; on the continent, the average is probably between 12 and 14.
What is the issue about the rate of human development? There is probably a biologist who may help me here, but the distinguishing feature of humanity is that we allow our children so long to grow up. Most animals have to face a hostile world from a very early stage in their lives. They may have to leave the womb and be walking within minutes. It may be one reason why humanity is so sophisticated that we allow our newborns, our children, our young people, to grow up and mature over a considerable length of time. In Denmark, for instance, children do not start primary school until the age of seven. The Danes feel that it is right to allow young people to enjoy their infancy and young childhood for longer.
First, I am concerned about people arguing for us to be harsher on children and using the fact that the voting age moves to 16 as a means to say that we can punish young people and keep the age of criminal responsibility at 10. I know that young people can marry at the age of 16, so it can be argued the other way.
I am taking too long, but let me give your Lordships one more example: the Rochdale sexual abuse of children. The Times reported last week or the week before that the police were saying, “The girl knew what she was doing; she wanted to be in that relationship”, about a 13 year-old. That highlights confusion within the police, but perhaps more generally—a difficulty about judging when a child or young person can make the right decisions for their age. I am concerned about the general principle of reducing the age and allowing young people to vote at 16. I fear that that reflects a general misapprehension. We do our children wrong when we ask them to act as adults too soon.
At the end of the 1960s, the renowned child psychotherapist, Donald Winnicott, wrote a book the final chapter of which dealt with the revolution in the 1960s. He said that it is right that children and young people should revolt. Teenagers should be kicking against adults and against the system. That is absolutely right; if they do not do that, they will not mature properly and become proper individuals as adults. But it is adults’ duty to stand against that, to set boundaries for children and young people. As difficult as that is—in particular, not to be overly punitive, not, because children challenge them again and again, to start locking them up or physically beating them—we must find ways to contain them.
As I said, I worry that this move reflects a misunderstanding on our part of the need to allow young people to grow up gradually over time. I cannot support the amendments. Again, I apologise for coming to this debate so late.
My Lords, if I had had the vote at 16, I would have voted Labour, but I grew out of it. I grew up and I grew out of it. The experience of the Scottish referendum was remarkable. I guess that those on my Front Bench probably want me to make a short speech. If I was to make a short speech, I would say: “I told you so”.
When we agreed that the Scottish Parliament could decide the franchise for the referendum, we gave up the argument. It became impossible to resist the argument for referenda in other devolved areas. We did that, I believe, without giving the matter proper consideration. We have not at any stage had a debate on the franchise. I asked my noble friend Lord Tyler whether he would extend it to general elections and candidates, and he gave me a politician’s answer. He did not answer the point; he said that it is not relevant to the Bill; but it is, it seems to me. If we are to give 16 year-olds the vote, why should we not allow them to stand as candidates for the bodies for which they have the vote as councillors or Members of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly? Why should we limit that?
Other issues arise. Why do you have the right in Scotland to decide to break up the United Kingdom but not the right to buy a packet of cigarettes? We need to have a considered debate about what rights should apply to 16 year-olds. My noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Cormack emphasised earlier today that you cannot proceed with constitutional reform on a piecemeal basis; it must be looked at in the round.
I am becoming desperately alarmed at the way in which the political parties are now engaged in a competition to use constitutional reform to get votes. That is disastrous. I was brought up in a tradition where constitutional reform was something which you did not do unless you had consensus, unless you could show precedent and unless you had taken a considerable time to consider the implications and unintended consequences, which always follow from constitutional reform. I am very much in the camp of the Labour Party in wanting a constitutional convention, a royal commission, or something to look at all the issues in the round, recognise how far we have gone so far and do something about it.
We are engaged in highly dangerous stuff. If you do not believe that, look at the opinion polls in Scotland today. We have just won a referendum. We won the argument decisively. What has happened? The unionist parties have seen their support slump. According to the opinion polls, Labour is looking at having only four seats in Scotland. The Tories have our lowest ever recorded share of the vote—that is saying something—at 8% to 10%, and the nationalists are romping ahead. Why? Because of that last-minute promise made of extra powers, not defined, and the consequences that have followed from that. We are in grave danger of dismantling our British constitution like some fine clock, taking out the wheels and finding that we no longer know the time of day.
Perhaps I may take my noble friend back from his party-political forays to the issue of principle, with which I have sympathy. He said that two things were essential: consensus and precedent. Does he accept that there was consensus? The Prime Minister led the consensus that the Scottish Parliament should be permitted to include the franchise for 16 and 17 year-olds. He may not agree, but there was one between the parties. Secondly, the noble Lord must accept that there is now a precedent. Young people in Scotland have exercised the vote in a referendum. We know that the commission—or conventions or whatever it may be—that will look at the constitution in the round will take some time. In that intervening period, does he not recognise that for young people of comparable age in Wales, in a comparable referendum, the precedent is established?
No, I do not accept that there was a consensus—a consensus between whom? The last-minute promise made in the referendum to which I just referred was dreamed up by three party leaders and the editor of the Daily Record. Not even the leaders of the parties in Scotland were consulted about it. That is why the Labour leader in Scotland resigned—because she had not been consulted. That is not a consensus. That is a kind of dictatorship. That is people deciding, for political effect, to make changes that have not been properly discussed and considered by everyone—not just the party leaders or people in Westminster, but people in local government, in civic society and people not engaged in politics at all. These are important matters that are central to how we govern our country and the extent to which we carry the support and consensus of the people. That is what I am complaining about. I am complaining about people making changes to our constitution because they see some short-term political advantage, which is brought forward on a piecemeal basis without considering the consequences.
The second part of this intervention asked whether I accept that the precedent had been created by giving 16 year-olds the vote in Scotland in the referendum. Of course I do. By the way, that is why I spent hours boring this House by arguing that they should not do that. I argued that the Prime Minister should not have allowed Alex Salmond to decide the franchise unilaterally, because it had implications for the rest of the United Kingdom and its constituent parts. In the same way, it is irresponsible, frankly, to have as we have at the moment, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, sitting with the party leaders to find some deal that they think they can sell to Scotland without considering what the consequences are for the rest of the United Kingdom and without involving the United Kingdom in that process. They should be doing it in a considered and timely way, and not doing it in the heated months and weeks before a general election when the parties are competing for votes. It is not the proper way in which to go about our constitutional reform.
So, although I accept my noble friend’s point that having given 16 year-olds the vote in the referendum in Scotland it is impossible to resist it in Wales, I am simply saying that, if we are to save our United Kingdom, we should look at the issue of the franchise across the piece, but in the context of what we are going to do having embarked on this process of devolution without thinking through the long-term consequences. This is serious stuff and I hope that my noble friend will resist this amendment but accept some of the points that have been made. Change is necessary, but it is change that has to be agreed across the United Kingdom in a considered manner through some kind of Speaker’s Conference, constitutional conference or royal commission. Call it what you will but it must be something that will put a brake on this and get us to look at the thing in the round.
I fully support the noble Lord’s desire and call for a royal commission but royal commissions do not always achieve what they set out to achieve. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the royal commission on the House of Lords, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. We came into that commission with totally divided views and we ended it unanimously in favour of a particular scheme, which we all know has not been settled and we have had virtually no reform since then. The fact of the matter is, I am afraid—we have only to look at the reform of the House of Lords in particular—that, historically, changes in this country take place incrementally due to particular pressures at the time. That is the particular genius of our political system, whether we like it or not. I fully support the royal commission; we should have one, but should not think that it will necessarily solve anything, even if people are agreed on it.
I entirely accept that. Incidentally, I thought that the report that was produced by the royal commission had a great deal of merit in it, but it failed because it did not carry a consensus down the Corridor. Members of the House of Commons realised that they would be threatened by the changes that were proposed in this House. I am not suggesting for a moment that a royal commission, a constitutional convention or whatever body we set up will come up with the answers. I am suggesting that we should make sure that we consider these matters in the round, so that all the arguments are understood. Then it is for Parliament to decide. Parliament should not be deciding these matters in a kind of cheese-paring way without looking at the knock-on consequences—sorry, if I am mixing my metaphors.
I was assured from the Front Bench that giving the Scottish Parliament the right to decide the franchise for the referendum would not be a precedent and would not result in pressure for change elsewhere. That assurance has not lasted six months. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the best way is to proceed incrementally. In doing so, however, it is a good idea to know in which direction you are setting forth and where you are going to end up.
My Lords, the most striking feature of the Scottish referendum was that there was an 86% turnout and that the political life of Scotland was energised. Those of us who followed the debate in Scotland closely were aware of the contribution that was made by young people—16 and 17 year-olds—to the debate. As one looked at how the campaigns were developing, there were arguments breaking out within families, between young and old, and between friends. In the debates on television, young people were considering very carefully the issues that were put before them. They were articulate. When one looks at the result, they voted in a sensible way, as we would have thought, with a majority for no. They considered all the arguments. Contrast that with the political system that we have at the moment in Westminster. There is a lack of energy and an imbalance between the elderly part of the population and the younger part. When the next election comes along, all the political parties will be aiming a considerable part of their campaign at older voters. Why? Because older voters vote more regularly than younger people.
The campaign for votes at 16 and 17 is based on the idea that, having given young people their education in civics, politics and the political system up to the age of 16, why should there then be a gap which results in low turnouts among those aged over 18? Why should they not be given the responsibility when it comes to a devolved Assembly? What are young people most interested in? As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, they are interested in educational issues; they are interested in job opportunity. They are less interested, perhaps, in health because they expect their health is for ever, but they are certainly interested in housing. These are issues that young people are considerably concerned about and they are issues that are devolved to Wales: jobs, education, health and housing. Why should young people at the age of 16 not exercise the responsibility they have been trained to accept?
My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate and it has been good to hear noble Lords from different parts of the United Kingdom taking part on the Bill today. That does not happen often; when we have had Welsh matters in the past, there have been just a few of our Welsh Peers here, so it is great to have everyone taking part here today.
I shall speak to Amendment 11, which deals with votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in Welsh elections. The Labour Party is committed to lowering the voting age, so that 16 and 17 year-olds will in future be able to vote at all elections throughout the United Kingdom. We will have a manifesto commitment at the next general election to this end.
There is plenty of evidence now to show that 16 and 17 year-olds would like to have the vote. The British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee for 2014 recently published a report Lowering the Voting Age to 16, so here we have young people making out an excellent case for lowering the voting age and for them to have the right to vote. The Power commission, established by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, reported in 2006 on how participation in British elections and politics could be increased. In its report, Power to the People, its recommendations included that the voting age should be lowered to 16. The Welsh Government established the Sunderland commission in 2002 on electoral arrangements. Having looked at local government electoral arrangements, it recommended a reduction in the voting age to 16. Those are just three examples of where the case has been made for votes at 16.
Is it also the view of the Labour Party that young people of 16 should be allowed to drink and to drive?
We certainly have not agreed to that at all. I am absolutely positive that we have not, but I take the noble Lord’s point.
The Welsh Labour Government believe that lowering the voting age would demonstrate a strong commitment to effective democracy in our nation. Engaging and encouraging young people in this way would help to improve voter turnout, as the recent experience in Scotland has shown. Lowering the voting age would also clearly demonstrate to young people in Wales that they are being taken seriously and their views are listened to. The Welsh Government support and value strong, effective democracy and recognise that the involvement of young people in the democratic process is essential to achieving this. However, the Welsh Government do not currently have the power to legislate on the voting age for elections held in Wales, as the UK Government retain responsibility for the conduct of elections and for the franchise. So while the Welsh Government do not have the power to lower the voting age in Wales, in decision-making they encourage young people’s participation. That has enabled them to have an important voice in our society in Wales.
I believe that there is a strong case for 16 and 17 year-olds to have the right to vote in all elections in the whole of the United Kingdom, but today we are dealing with matters relating to Wales and the Welsh Assembly, which has no legislative powers in this field. Your Lordships’ House could give full voting rights in Wales and, if this amendment is accepted, it would mean that at the next Welsh Assembly elections in 2016, 16 and 17 year-olds would have the right to vote.
I ask the Minister: if this coalition Government are unwilling to lower the voting age, then why do they not give those powers to the Welsh Government, who are committed to doing so? If the Welsh Assembly had such powers, I have no doubt that it would use them. There is now such strong evidence that this would be a popular move and that young people would welcome it. I trust that the Minister can now accept the evidence and, although there are different views, the force of the debate. I really look forward to what she has to say.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she tell me whether the Labour Party’s position is also to allow 16 year-olds to stand as candidates and, if not, why not?
My Lords, that is a very good question. It was only in recent years that we lowered that age to 18. I know that when the last Labour Government did that, people had doubts as to whether 18 year-olds should stand as candidates. I know, as most of us probably do, that 18 year-olds now have the right to stand as candidates and I know of 18 year-olds who have been elected to local councils and are doing a really good job. However, we have not discussed that, so I am afraid that I cannot answer the noble Lord today on that question.
My Lords, Amendments 3 and 19, in the name of my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Gale and Lady Morgan, would reduce the age for voting in an election to the National Assembly for Wales and any referendum held under Clause 12 from the age of 18 to 16. Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, would devolve to the Assembly the power to lower the voting age to 16 for elections to the Assembly and local authorities, as well as referenda.
The debate around whether the voting age should be lowered has of course been given fresh focus by the independence referendum in Scotland. As many noble Lords have made clear in their remarks here today, that was the first major poll in the UK in which 16 and 17 year-olds were able to participate. Whether your Lordships regard that as a mistake or not, it was a very successful mistake. Taken as an exercise in civic engagement, it was extraordinarily successful. As a long-time supporter of lowering the voting age, I very much welcome the fact that so many young people took advantage of the opportunity offered to them to have their say on that vital question on the future of Scotland. I share the joy of my noble friend Lord Tyler that so many of them appear to have voted to preserve the union.
However, I recognise that lowering the voting age is in itself no magic bullet. For example, in the Isle of Man the voting age is 16 and it still suffers from very low turnout rates. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that children do not grow up overnight and that there is a period of transition when young people are trying out their wings, if I may put it that way, in which they need support and proper civic education. Yet it can work well, as the Scottish situation has proved.
The Government have recognised the strength of feeling in the House, expressed in Committee and by a number of noble Lords this afternoon, that 16 and 17 year-olds in Wales should have the same opportunity to participate in the income tax referendum that their counterparts enjoyed in Scotland. The ability of 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in that referendum represented the will of the Scottish Parliament, answerable to the Scottish people. It was not a decision made in Westminster, as Amendments 2, 3 and 19 would be. That is why I can today commit that, at Third Reading, the Government will bring forward amendments to enable the Assembly to decide whether 16 and 17 year-olds should vote in the income tax referendum, whenever it is held.
My noble friend Lord Tyler referred to the vote of 103 to 12 in the Scottish Parliament; noble Lords can do no better than to read the debate on this issue in the Assembly record of 24 September to gain an impression of how the Assembly would vote on this issue. There is overwhelming support in the Assembly for votes at 16.
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend and to her officials for all the discussions that have taken place since Committee. I want to ask her one particular question. She referred to the Scottish Parliament decision which I read. The Scottish Parliament does not have the same internal regulations about the nature of the vote. It was a simple majority. Am I right in thinking that in the Welsh Assembly there is a precedent for decisions of this sort to require a two-thirds majority? That is an important difference. In giving a lead to the Assembly at Third Reading, as she is proposing, we may want to consider that matter.
I may stand to be corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, whose experience of Assembly Standing Orders is much more recent than mine, but I believe that the two-thirds majority would still stand on issues such as this. I can see that he is nodding so there would be a requirement for a two-thirds majority, which is an Assembly Standing Order requirement.
I think we would all agree that this is a significant step in terms of Welsh devolution.
Why is this being restricted to the referendum and not extended to votes for the Assembly?
There is no feeling in the Government that the Bill is an appropriate vehicle for establishing a different franchise for Wales from that for the rest of the United Kingdom. There is, as the noble Lord has argued several times today, a need for consistency across the United Kingdom on certain franchise issues and it is important that we do not take a decision in relation to one part of the country without considering the other nations and regions.
My understanding is that the noble Baroness’s party is strongly in favour of a constitutional commission or convention. Surely the amendment that she is going to table at Third Reading will pre-empt any decision or recommendation that such a body might make.
The noble Lord does not seem to be entirely taking into account the considerable length of time that a convention would take. If it were going to do its job well, it would take a number of years to reach its conclusions and for those conclusions to be implemented. If there were to be an income tax referendum in Wales—I emphasise the word “if” because it is not a foregone conclusion—I hope it would take place before the outcome of any convention were decided.
A constitutional convention or royal commission could take a very long time. However, the referendum on income tax may never happen at all as the First Minister has said that he is not very interested in this concession. Therefore, what appears on the face of it to be a significant step on the part of the Government may in fact not be a step at all because such a referendum in respect of income tax provisions is not likely to take place.
If the noble Lord is telling us here today that the Labour Government in Wales have already decided that under no circumstances would they call an income-tax referendum, I am very disappointed. The line I have heard from the Labour Party up to now is that it is open-minded to it as long as there is progress on other issues connected with devolution. I want to take this opportunity to repeat that the UK Government believe that there should be a referendum on income tax powers in Wales as soon as possible. That is something we would strongly encourage in Wales. We regard this as a significant step in Welsh devolution because we are planning to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading on this with the intention that it should be used.
The wording of the National Assembly’s resolution on the future of devolution emphasised that a referendum on tax-varying powers should reflect the view of the people of Wales. The Minister is as able to interpret that as myself and my noble friend, so I think the position is as the Minister described it.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I interpreted that phrase to mean that the decision should be made in Wales and that is what we will be seeking when we bring forward the amendment.
The Government do not accept that it would be right to impose on Wales a new franchise for elections to the Assembly or to local government as Amendments 3 and 11 seek to do, nor do we agree that this Bill should be the vehicle for devolving that power to the Assembly as Amendment 2 seeks to do. Devolving to Scotland the decision on whether 16 and 17 year-olds were able to vote in the referendum had no automatic read-across to the franchise for elections. As I have already mentioned, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that he intends to begin discussions to seek cross-party consensus on the way forward for Welsh devolution. Electoral arrangements in Wales will form part of those discussions. That is the appropriate context for discussing these issues.
I apologise for interrupting my noble friend once more and I promise that I will not do it again. Can she be clear about what the principle is? I take her point about consistency across the United Kingdom. Is the principle that 16 year-olds will be able to vote in referenda which are concerned with devolved bodies, or is it a principle that is to be generally applied to all referenda? In other words, would 16 year-olds have the vote, for example, in a referendum on our membership of the European Union, should that ever arise, or is it solely limited to devolved bodies?
My Lords, the amendment we are in the process of drafting specifically relates to this referendum on tax-raising powers because there are discussions still to be had across all parties—I suspect there will be lively discussions during the coming general election campaign—on whether votes at 16 should be adopted on a much wider basis.
Will the Minister also explain the difference of principle which makes it appropriate for people to vote in this particular referendum at 16 but not to vote in other elections in Wales at 16?
There are various strands to that question. One point is that there must be a consistency in franchise across the United Kingdom in ordinary elections. It is also important to bear in mind that a referendum is in many ways a useful way for young people to be able to express their point of view in a very clear-cut manner. A referendum campaign is a very tight and straightforward campaign.
In the light of the Government’s commitment to bring forward amendments at Third Reading enabling the Assembly to decide whether 16 and 17 year-olds can vote in the income tax referendum, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the considerable number of noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. A number of issues have come out that go well beyond the Bill we are discussing. I welcome the statement made by the Minister. It is a step in the right direction. One issue has come out loudest and mostly clearly. It started to raise its head in the earlier debate. It is the extent to which there is acceptance in this Chamber and at Westminster that we are now living in a pluralist democracy. By virtue of having devolved Governments and of having accepted devolution as a means of acting not only in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but in London as well and possibly within England, we have accepted that things will be different in the different areas. There is no point whatever in having devolved structures if one does not accept the consequence that decisions will differ from area to area. The question that then arises is about which of the matters that we discuss here really do need to be decided on a UK level because of the basic nature of those decisions and which decisions can be devolved without making a considerable difference to what some Members of this Chamber would regard as the essential unity of the United Kingdom. That is something that has to be decided before one goes down the road of looking at commissions, conventions and all the rest.
I picked up one point that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made. He referred to a convention slowing matters down. Perhaps he used those words inadvertently, but they were the words that he used. I can understand, possibly, from his point of view, that that is how people would want to see it, but if that is the general approach of establishing a commission or a convention, it would also raise a lot of questions, not least in Scotland, if there are ideas that all this is going to slow down the whole process that has been so focused on in recent weeks.
I ought to be old enough not to have fallen into that trap. I was suggesting that, rather than rushing to solutions on a piecemeal basis and in a pre-election period, these issues need to be considered carefully. I have no desire to delay this matter. The sooner we stop talking about the constitution and concentrate on the issues that matter to our country, the happier I will be.
Many of us believe that getting the right devolution package is essential to all the countries of these islands in order to enable us to go on tackling the problems of day-to-day life in the economy, education, the health service and all the rest. That is basic. That is the purpose of it. I accept entirely that one does not make rushed decisions, particularly on constitutional matters, but neither should one be delaying them because delay is what causes frustration and sometimes brings the structures of government in these islands into question. We need to be able to take the proper decision on the right basis in a timely manner and in a way that carries people with us.
With regard to issues such as voting in referenda in Wales—I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his kind remarks which I will pass on to my dear wife Elinor, who will be very grateful—I see nothing wrong in deciding these things in Wales. That applies to local elections or referenda that relate to matters purely within Wales. I understand that we could not decide in Wales alone to have votes at 16 for a UK election because that is the nature of the body. I was therefore very grateful to the Minister for the commitment to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading. I welcome the fact that that amendment will give the Assembly the right to take the decision with the two-thirds majority to which my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas referred. That is the right approach. The decision should be there, but there should be safeguards. The two-third majority builds in that safeguard.
I regret that there is no willingness to look at this question in terms of elections. I hope that at some future stage, possibly in the context of a broader debate, that matter can be given further consideration. On the basis of the very significant step taken by the Government in this matter, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendment 3 not moved.
4: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Role of National Assembly for Wales
All matters pertaining to the electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales contained in this Act shall be subject to agreement by the Assembly before implementation.”
My Lords, Amendment 4 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Morgan. It states that all matters pertaining to National Assembly for Wales electoral arrangements contained in this Bill must be subject to Assembly agreement before implementation. It has been grouped with Amendment 5, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Wigley. It is more comprehensive than my amendment in that it extends to its constitution, structure, membership and elections and suggests that they should be decided by a vote of the whole Assembly by a majority of no less than two-thirds of voting Assembly Members.
I make only this comment on the two-thirds supermajority. I know there is apparently precedent for this, but I call on the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that traditionally in jurisdictions that require a two-thirds supermajority it has been a recipe for inertia. It has led to gridlock and immobilism. In this sort of matter, to impose the necessity for a two-thirds majority suggests that there will be no reform at all as it is very difficult to find an issue on which there is that level of majority, but I defer it. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me suggesting that it is almost certainly true.
I have been impressed by what the Minister has said thus far in respect of the two amendments which have been before us. She has shown a readiness to listen and, certainly, to respond. On the previous amendment, in particular, she argued that this is a matter that should be left to the Assembly because there is a consensus among the various parties in the Assembly. My submission in respect of this amendment is that it is certainly a matter that should be left to the Assembly. I would have thought that there is no doubt whatever that all parties in the Assembly would agree to this. If the Minister is prepared to say at this stage that she will follow what she said in relation to the previous amendment in relation to this one and that she will move an appropriate amendment at Third Reading to let the Assembly decide its own electoral arrangements, I can save this House a lot of time by sitting down and saying, “Thank you very much”.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—
I have given the Minister the opportunity to truncate my speech, but perhaps I should set out the terms of the amendment, otherwise I shall be truncating myself. My broad proposition is that we are devolutionists now. We may disagree on the pace of devolution and on the terminus, the end station, of devolution, but there is a broad spirit of agreement, particularly post the Scottish referendum, and a new spirit of seeking to allow the assemblies of the nations and of the parts of the United Kingdom to make their own decisions—or, as they would say in colonial times, to make their own mistakes. In some cases, central government has shown itself reluctant to relax the reins, and this matter has, thus far, been one of them, but I nurture the hope that, consistent with her previous responses, the Minister will make a more positive response to this.
The proposition is simple and clear. It is absurd that in Westminster we should be laying down rules on how the devolved Assembly in Wales should organise its own elections, irrespective of its views. Surely it is the expert in this field. It has the experience of fighting elections on the current rules and we should listen to it with respect. If decisions, at least for the moment, are not left to the Assembly, as is suggested in the other group, at least its agreement should be necessary to any proposals. Even our local authorities have a degree of discretion currently not left to the Assembly.
It is difficult to see how this can be opposed, save on grounds of inertia, as there would surely be no opposition in the Assembly itself. There is a taste otherwise of “Westminster knows best”, from high to low, delivering electoral arrangements like tablets of stone to a grateful Assembly. Surely we should all accept that we are dealing with a mature Assembly? I am sure that my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, would be the first to concede that there were some initial teething problems, but now the Assembly has settled down very well indeed, and has gained the support and approval of the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales. They should be allowed to decide for themselves how they wish to be elected. Currently there is not even the statutory obligation to consult them on these arrangements.
Do we really know best? Do we wish to continue to impose our wisdom on the Assembly? Have we no trust in the Assembly on such matters, which should be wholly within its own domain? I leave this question to the Minister and the House: how can it be reasonable not to allow the Assembly to make decisions on such electoral arrangements, not as a matter of generosity, but as a matter of law? I beg to move.
I thank my friend the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for continuing to move his amendment. I was afraid at one moment that he was seeking to withdraw it before he had actually proposed it, and that would have been entirely disorderly.
I am delighted with the progress of our discussions today. I had a list of three issues that I wished to raise on behalf of myself and my noble friend Lord Wigley, and our colleagues of all parties in the National Assembly. This is the third issue. The response to the previous two has been extremely good, so I am expecting an even better response to this one.
In addition to the points that had already been covered on the reserved powers order and on the recognition for a decision involving tax-raising powers reflecting the agreement of the people of Wales, part of the resolution that was passed unanimously by the National Assembly two weeks ago was a call on the UK Government to give the National Assembly the power to determine its electoral arrangements. The Minister indicated in an earlier response that this might indeed be a matter that would be looked at in the great deliberation before St David’s Day. We are very keen that these arrangements should be agreed before the next Assembly elections so that we are able to benefit from any changes that will take place.
I will call in aid no greater authority than my friend in the Assembly, and a neighbour of my family in the Vale of Glamorgan, the leader of the Opposition. He is not yet the right honourable Andrew RT Davies, but no doubt will be at some stage. He argued strongly on this resolution and said:
“I find it bizarre that we have an institution that has primary legislative competence and that Ministers are appointed by the Crown, but, ultimately, the electoral arrangements for this institution do not reside in this institution. I do believe that that would be a relatively simple Act to undertake”.
I hope the government Front Bench in this House will agree with that analysis.
This issue was also discussed more recently last week, when we had the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee’s report on the inquiry into the disqualification from membership of the Assembly. Both the First Minister and the very distinguished Deputy Presiding Officer, David Melding, agreed entirely with the view that the Assembly should indeed be in charge of its own electoral arrangements.
I will not quote any further from the record of the Assembly on this matter, but it is clear that that is the unanimous view. I will say something about the use of the two-thirds majority. In an institution of 60 Members, the two-thirds majority is a very useful device to ensure that anything that is agreed, especially of a constitutional nature, is agreed across parties. The present Minister was a Minister in a coalition government between the Liberal Democrats and Welsh Labour in Wales. The cohabitation of those two parties in Wales ensured that the work of the Assembly could continue. A similar situation occurred between my own party, Plaid Cymru, and Welsh Labour, more recently. The two-thirds majority could be achieved in the Assembly only if there was agreement across more than one party. Very often in constitutional cases issues have been agreed across all parties.
It is in that spirit that we wish to continue to pursue the development of Welsh devolution. I am very grateful for the response we have had from the Minister so far today, and I look forward to Third Reading. I cannot wait.
My Lords, before we go any further, I might not be the only Member of your Lordships’ House who detects an ambiguity which we need to clarify before proceeding. Is the proposition that electoral arrangements shall be subject solely to the agreement of the Assembly, or are electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales subject indeed also to legislation by this Parliament, and in addition to the agreement of the National Assembly for Wales? That has not become clear and I have been listening very carefully to both noble Lords who have spoken. If it is the case that it is to be solely subject to the agreement under the special provisions—which I hope I understand—then this amendment is probably pre-empted by the undertaking that the Minister has already given, and we should not be discussing it. If, on the other hand, the assumption is that it is to be understood that electoral arrangements are solely a matter for the National Assembly for Wales, it would be very helpful to have that clearly stated. Is the agreement of the Assembly additional to the agreement of this Parliament, or is it solely the agreement of the National Assembly for Wales?
What we have here are two amendments, appropriately grouped together, but with two different principles. The amendment in my name and that of my noble friend calls for powers on electoral arrangements and constitutional aspects to be devolved to the Assembly through Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. Under the subject National Assembly it becomes an additional action that the Assembly is unable to legislate upon in that area. That is the way that it is phrased in this particular discussion, although we had a different discussion on this principle in Committee.
The principle that my noble friend seeks is statutory consultation—
Yes, agreement with the Assembly on the outcome—a need to negotiate an agreement. So there are two principles there. Indeed, the noble Baroness is right that this has been overtaken by the undertaking given earlier, but I did not even dream that we would have so many undertakings, so I tabled the amendment in expectation rather than in hope—and now my hope is about to be fulfilled.
My Lords, I would be disappointed if the more radical interpretation of Amendment 4 that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, has adumbrated were not to be the case. The National Assembly for Wales should have power to determine the electoral arrangements for the people of Wales whom it represents, in exactly the same way as the Parliament of the United Kingdom, subject to experts and objective advice, determines electoral arrangements for the United Kingdom.
I do not understand this paranoid insistence on standardisation in electoral arrangements. It could be that using the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the electoral body in Northern Ireland as laboratory experiments would enable us to learn how better to conduct our electoral affairs and democracy. After all, this Parliament has foisted, or intends to foist on the people of Wales, the most absurd reorganisation of constituency boundaries. It would be much better for the people of Wales as far as possible to be able to determine their own electoral arrangements.
The noble Lord’s remarks have prompted a question in my mind. What is the role of the Electoral Commission in this connection? When we are dealing with constitutional affairs here, the Electoral Commission has a very important role. If this matter is being handed over in this way, is it going to have a role in relation to the Welsh Assembly?
The Electoral Commission has certain duties that are defined under statute and it offers authoritative advice. However, ultimately, these matters remain to be determined by the elective bodies in question, and that is how it should be.
I want to say a word about Amendment 5, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, which seems to ask no more than that the National Assembly of Wales should take responsibility for its own standing orders. How could we possibly deny it that?
My Lords, I add my appreciation of the fact that we have seen some significant movement during this debate, and I hope that we can continue in that vein for the rest of the day. I want to talk specifically about the agreement or necessity for the Assembly to agree to electoral arrangements. That is very much where the Labour amendment comes from. We have a proposition in this Bill, and we think it would be incorrect for the Assembly not to have a say.
In Committee, the Minister underlined the fact that the majority of the electoral proposals contained in this Bill had been discussed and agreed by the Welsh Government. That is important; there is an important principle here that should be respected. But the principle of devolution also means that it should be a formal process; the Assembly needs to agree to these measures formally and legally rather than have them handed down, even if it is through an agreement that is not as formal as we would like. It is important for us to move to a more legislative approach, and that is what we seek to do with our amendment.
It is also important to note that the Scottish Parliament has the power to make arrangements about Scottish parliamentary elections. That is a divided power between Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State. So we are simply asking for a degree of consistency. This is a discussion that will go further when we come to Silk 2 and other arrangements. In the context of what we are talking about here the electoral arrangements being proposed should formally and legally be approved by the Assembly.
The Minister spoke in Committee about the danger of a piecemeal approach to devolution and said specifically in relation to elections that there was a need for a “comprehensive approach” across the UK for powers and conduct of elections. That is precisely what we are asking for here—a similar system to that which already exists in Scotland. We do not quite understand why there is a reluctance on this. Could the Minister specify whether there is a principled objection to this or whether this is a question of timing?
My Lords, I fear that I might be about to disappoint one or two noble Lords by not being able to make the leap in one bound to the position that they would like us to be in—but I am pointing roughly in the right direction.
Amendment 4 would prevent electoral provisions in this Bill being implemented until they were agreed by the Assembly, and Amendment 5 would devolve to the Assembly powers over its constitution, structure, membership and elections. As the noble Baroness has just said, the electoral provisions in the Bill arise from consultation undertaken by the Government on the Green Paper that they published in May 2012, and it is fair to say that a lot of devolution debate has flowed under the bridge in the past couple of years. That consultation sought views on, among other things, permanently extending the term of the Assembly to five years; preventing Assembly Members from sitting simultaneously as MPs; and overturning the ban on dual candidacy. In response to that consultation, all parties in the Assembly, including the Welsh Government, supported the permanent move to five-year fixed terms. There was also general agreement that AMs should not be able to sit simultaneously as MPs. The one area of disagreement was on the area of dual candidacy, to which we will undoubtedly return later this afternoon.
There is widespread support in the Assembly for the majority of the electoral provisions in this Bill. It would be wrong to delay the commencement of these provisions as Amendment 4 seeks to do purely because of the desire in the long term apparently to hand over a power.
Amendment 5 would put electoral arrangements among other things more generally in the hands of the Assembly by devolving competence over these issues to the Assembly itself. I am more sympathetic to the intention underlying that amendment. It is a characteristic of most mature legislatures, as the noble Lord said, that their composition and electoral arrangements and the conduct of their Members are issues that are decided on and legislated on by the legislature itself. The Presiding Officer of the Assembly has made similar arguments on a number of occasions, and the Silk commission made a number of recommendations about the Assembly and the statutory restrictions that currently apply to it.
The constitutional debate in the UK at the moment presents an historic opportunity to achieve a clear, stable and lasting devolution settlement for Wales by moving forward together on the basis of consensus. The proposals in Amendment 5 should therefore be considered as part of the cross-party process that I have already mentioned. One or two noble Lords anticipated that point. I ask noble Lords to forgive me for saying once again that this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for taking them forward. They can be taken forward at this very time in the cross-party discussions that will take place over the next few months and should reach a consensus and agreement, because it is obvious that there is a lot of cross-party agreement that the Assembly should ultimately be responsible for the conduct of its own internal affairs and for issues such as elections.
My joy is unbound.
Then I very much hope that the noble Lord expresses his joy by not moving his amendment.
My Lords, I was hoping for a more positive response. As I may have said earlier, once upon a time I was a civil servant. In Whitehall there is a little book called something like 1,001 Ways of Avoiding a Decision. “Yes Minister” is in that same vein. The argument put forward is that this is not the vehicle; this is not the time. I would argue that it is the vehicle and it is the time. The Minister’s speech could have been made a month or two months ago. My noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas indicated that there have been two recent developments in the Assembly—the resolution and the response to committee recommendations—which suggest that there is all-party agreement in the Assembly.
Does the noble Lord accept that discussions are going on at this time on whether these issues should be devolved to the Assembly? His amendment would simply have the effect of delaying things which have been agreed some considerable time ago as a result of the normal form of public consultation.
The last thing I would argue for is delay. There is surely a case for delay if there are genuine differences between the various parties in discussion, but I understand that there is no lack of consensus, as indicated in the points made by my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas. If the argument is that I may be seeking to delay, I can say that I am certainly not doing that. If the argument is that my amendment may have the effect of delaying, I would respond: what is the effect of what the noble Baroness is saying?
Will there be some agreement in time for Third Reading on this matter, on which there is substantial agreement and on which we have the precedent of the relationship between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster? Why the difference? If there is agreement why cannot it be done now, as indeed on the concession that the Government made in respect of the voting age? Is the Minister prepared to say, given the consensus, that this can be remedied and changed at Third Reading? If not, I think it is unfortunate but I would certainly not wish to proceed with the amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendment 5 not moved.
Clause 2: Removal of restriction on standing for election for both constituency and electoral region
6: Clause 2, page 2, line 1, at end insert—
“( ) for subsection (4) substitute—“(4) The list must not include more than six persons (but may include only one).
“(4A) The list of those persons so nominated shall be printed on the regional list ballot paper.””
My Lords, I am pleased to move this amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lady Humphreys and Lord Roberts of Llandudno. I do not wish to repeat what I said in Committee but it would be worth outlining the two purposes of this amendment. First, it would reinstate the names of the candidates on the regional ballot paper; and secondly, it would reduce from 12, as it is now, to six the maximum number of names on the ballot paper.
The first of those objectives requires an order which, of course, can be tabled within six months or so of the next elections to the National Assembly for Wales. But, of course, the second of those matters requires primary legislation and was a block in the 2011 Assembly elections. I remind noble Lords that the names of candidates appeared on all the ballot papers for the regional ballot in Wales for the National Assembly for Wales, except at the very last elections in 2011 when they were removed.
I have three reasons for bringing the amendment forward in this format again. The first is to establish what progress has been made on the proposal. Originally it was that of the Electoral Commission—to reduce the number of names on the ballot paper from 12 to six and to examine timing issues. The second reason is to see whether it is possible, in this debate, to establish the views of the political parties towards the proposal that names of candidates should be on the ballot paper. The third is to try and establish accurately the reasons why candidates’ names were removed from the ballot paper and judge on that basis whether these reasons can be looked at afresh. Like many noble Lords, I would not want an acceptable solution ruled out because of the lack of primary legislative time.
On the first point on progress, I have read the consultation letter from the Electoral Commission, and much of what it says is that the barriers to putting the names on the ballot paper are to do with the interests of the administrators rather than the voters. It is to do with the fact that it takes some time to unfold them, lay them out flat and count them. Having stood in the regional ballot for the National Assembly for Wales, I do not think that I ever got away from a count before 7 am the following morning. That was in 2011 when I was present, as it was for the previous three elections. I do not think that it is markedly any different in time depending on the way in which the ballots are counted. That is not a reasonably rational solution. It is curious that in the letter which the Electoral Commission sent out to all the political parties and interested parties on this matter in its consultation recently, it did not mention the need for primary legislation to implement one of its proposals, which was its proposal back in 2009.
I have seen a letter to the Minister, which was copied to me by the Electoral Commission, which would lead us to believe that once the Secretary of State at that time had ruled out reducing the number of names on the ballot paper, that primary route was no longer a possibility. As my noble friends who put their names to this amendment will know, and as noble Lords here will know, we are reviewing the whole position of the way in which the National Assembly is treated. It seems to me that this is a real opportunity to examine the issue once more. I am sure that noble Lords would not want a recommendation from the Electoral Commission’s recent consultation which effectively said the same as it did in 2009—that the solution of only six names is not possible because, as at that time, the Secretary of State says that primary legislative parliamentary time cannot be found.
I turn now to the second point, which is the views of the political parties. The Electoral Commission’s evidence-gathering session has ended and all political parties in Wales have made their positions clear. I know the position of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. As noble Lords can see, the amendment follows closely my party’s policy, so I am happy to move it. I guess from the sympathetic words I received in Committee from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that Plaid Cymru supports putting the names back on the ballot paper. Perhaps my noble friend can tell us in her response whether her discussions with the Secretary of State indicate that the Conservative Party supports placing the names on the ballot paper. The position of the Labour Party still remains a mystery to me, but I am sure that I will be enlightened in the course of this discussion.
Before the noble Lord concludes his remarks—I support his general thrust—does he accept that if the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, as Minister, moves ahead with the undertakings that she gave on the earlier group of amendments, her provisions may well allow the Assembly to decide this issue for itself, as opposed to us taking the prescriptive decision in the way in which it is laid down in the amendment?
I understand, but I repeat what I said in Committee—that it is a matter of timing. We are talking about a decision for the 2016 elections, which require an order some time between six and nine months before those elections take place so that ballot papers and everything else can be put in place. But importantly, if the Electoral Commission were to think that it needed primary legislation, this may well be the only opportunity to have it in place before 2016, given that you need to have it in place well in advance of the elections. I remind noble Lords that the current legislation states that a political party can place a maximum of 12 names on the ballot paper. However, there are only four vacancies. I am not wedded to six persons but it seems fairly reasonable that, if you had a candidate who had held a seat on the regional ballot, you are not likely to get five deaths in a row which would mean that you had nobody left on your list to fill that vacancy. Certainly, that was the view of the Electoral Commission.
Finally, I tried to establish why the names were removed in the first place. There is something of an inconsistency in the letters from the Electoral Commission on this matter that I have received and seen. It said that there was no legislative time available and therefore its recommendation of having only six names maximum in order to have a shorter ballot paper—one that was easier to manage and easier for voters to see without the print being so small that you could not read the names—was rejected by the Secretary of State because there was no time in which to introduce primary legislation. The second letter I have seen does not say that in such stark terms. It simply says that the Secretary of State rejected this proposal. I wonder whether anybody can throw any light on that issue. If we are going to put the names of candidates back on the ballot paper, we should not have a restriction placed upon us by virtue of primary legislation.
In the first three elections to the National Assembly, when the names were on the ballot paper, postal voters could also see the names and see who they were electing. In those early elections there was the possibility of candidates being on both ballot papers at the same time—a position which will be re-established under the clause we are debating. That meant, of course, that people could see the read-across from both ballot papers and make their decision accordingly. In other words, if the same names were on both ballot papers, that provided more information to the voter. Taking the names off, of course, meant that the postal voters could not see the names of anyone and would not have a clue who they were electing, which is a fundamental process in our elections, as it is for the European elections in Wales, where we do see the names of candidates on the ballot paper.
In conclusion, I would like to ascertain what progress has been made, try to establish the political parties’ views on this and ask my noble friend what progress we can now make to bring back the names on the ballot paper, especially in relation to the other parts of Clause 2 which are so relevant to this amendment.
My Lords, as the noble Lord has just said, Amendment 6 would provide that the names of candidates standing on a regional list in an election to the Assembly must be printed on the ballot paper and that the maximum number of candidates that a party can nominate for inclusion on the regional list would be reduced from 12 to six.
The Government of Wales Act 2006 provides that a party may nominate up to 12 candidates for each electoral region. As the noble Lord said, until 2011 in the Assembly elections the names of all those candidates were included on the regional ballot paper. However, following the 2007 Assembly election, the Electoral Commission reported that electoral administrators were concerned that including the names of all these candidates on the ballot paper was making ballot papers unwieldy in size and potentially confusing to voters. As a result, the names of candidates for the electoral region were removed from the ballot papers for the 2011 elections, although the names were still required to be displayed in polling stations. However, it is clear from the Electoral Commission’s report that there were problems with that display of names in a number of cases. In its report, the Electoral Commission committed to consult on whether candidate names should again be printed on regional ballot papers. This consultation recently closed and I have had a meeting with the Electoral Commission since the close of that consultation.
Once the commission has made its recommendation to the Secretary of State for Wales, the Wales Office will consider this as part of its wider work in drafting amendments to the conduct order for the 2016 Assembly election. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is taking a keen interest in this. He understands the powerful arguments for maximum transparency, which is obtained by having names on ballot papers. There will, of course, be consultation with the Electoral Commission, the Welsh Government and electoral administrators as well as political parties in Wales. The final order will be subject to agreement by both Houses of Parliament. This is a tried, tested and robust process which will ensure that a wide range of views, including those of political parties, will be taken into account before a decision is made.
My noble friend’s amendment refers to the reduction to six names on the ballot paper. I point out that this could be achieved by simple agreement across parties. In fact, efforts were made to reach such an agreement last time. I hope that in the interests of voters and their understanding of the election it will now be possible for discussions to take place that would achieve that agreement. In that case, if we can get cross-party agreement that there should be only six names on the ballot paper—parties could not be prevented from fielding up to 12 candidates because that is their legal right—it would enable shorter and easier to manage ballot papers for the administrators of elections.
In the light of that additional information, I urge my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
I thank my noble friend for her remarks. I have only two comments to make. At the outset, I said that I would like to establish the views of the political parties to see if they were represented. I now know that this is getting a sympathetic hearing from three political parties, but the fourth—the Labour Party—was silent. We will therefore have to wait and make a judgment accordingly when we see its written submissions when they are made public.
However, as my noble friend said, the issue of getting consensus and agreement means that a political party that does not agree could go ahead and field 12 names. I hope that my noble friend will agree that, should the majority of political parties putting forward candidates for the 2016 National Assembly elections agree in that consensus, we will go ahead with putting only six names on the ballot paper and not allow a single party to veto that happening on behalf of all the other political parties in Wales, given that we have such a broad, strong principle, and where there are precedents in all previous elections to the National Assembly for Wales, bar one. Is my noble friend prepared to go ahead on those terms? I do not know whether that is possible.
It is important that the noble Lord takes account of what I have just said. I will certainly ensure that this debate is drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State, who has the power to make the decision and present the measure to both Houses of Parliament in due time.
I thank my noble friend for that and, on that basis, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
7: Clause 2, leave out Clause 2
Amendment 7 stands in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lady Morgan. My initial submission is that the area covered by the amendment should be a matter for the National Assembly and that it should not be for us to intervene. I note the two-thirds, super-majority suggestion. Given that the current membership of the Assembly is 40 directly-elected Members and 20 elected on the list system, that proposal would mean that the list system—even if it were deemed to be inappropriate—could not be judge because, on the “turkeys not voting for Christmas principle, those on the list system would be unlikely to vote for it to end.
The Government saw in the Bill, quite properly, a way in which to implement Silk 1. Clause 2 stands as an eccentric—something outside Silk 1. These are the only matters that deviate from the Silk recommendations, and one is constrained to ask why this is used as a vehicle for this important change. I shall not cover the same ground that we covered at Second Reading, although we did not consider this matter in Committee. However, I wish to counter the charge of naked partisanship that was used. Your Lordships may recall that I mentioned the significant comments of leading Conservative and Liberal Democrat spokesmen. It is significant that their comments were made freshly after the actual experience of dual candidacy. Perhaps memories are now fading; for example, regarding the experience of the Clwyd West constituency election in 2003. It was won by Labour’s Alun Pugh. However, three of the other candidates—Brynle Williams, Conservative; Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru; and Eleanor Burnham, Lib Dem—all became Assembly Members as a result of the regional list. It was a certain Alice in Wonderland world in which everyone was a winner; everyone had a prize.
To the suggestion that this is new and that the only country in the world to have had a similar ban on dual candidacy is Ukraine, Professor Roger Scully said in his evidence that a number of Asian countries have a similar ban. I cite Taiwan and South Korea. New Zealand, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in Canada have in recent years considered bans on dual candidacy. It is not, as has been suggested, confined to Ukraine. It is best surely that the normal rules should apply. If someone is rejected by the electorate in an election, that same person should remain rejected by the electorate and not come in by the side door and be on a par with other candidates.
The implication in suggesting that there should be dual candidacy is that we have a dearth of suitable candidates in Wales. That is not my experience. I recently watched a selection in my former constituency as an interested observer. I have seen many other candidate selections and there is a very good list of quality candidates who are ready and available for selection. We demean Welsh politics by suggesting that we do not have sufficiently able, competent people available.
I note the submission of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, which is, if I have interpreted it correctly, that it wishes to rescind the ban on dual candidacy but impose a supermajority. Obviously we must respect its view, but equally recognise that this is not an ex cathedra statement. Yes, we respect it, but we in this case are the cathedra: it is we who dispose. The arguments against dual candidacy arising from the experience prior to 2003—I cited in the past not just Clwyd West, but the position of Llanelli—are sufficiently cogent for us to say that this matter should remain as it is. We should continue the ban on dual candidacy. It is, after all, in the interests of democracy that if someone is rejected by the electorate they should remain rejected by the electorate.
My Lords, I want to say a word or two in support of my noble friend Lord Anderson. The principle that party-political candidates stand as individuals should not be ignored. People are not simply representatives of their parties: they are individuals and characters. Electors form judgments about their individual suitability to represent them in the Assembly. That is why I think that the permission to offer dual candidacy is wrong in principle.
Happily, the National Assembly for Wales has not been subject to the same pressure of scandal and disgrace as the House of Commons in respect of expenses, but there can be no doubt at all that when electors voted in the 2010 general election they formed their judgment, in the case of certain candidates, on the basis of those candidates’ personal records. That is the background to the introduction of the recall legislation. It is against that spirit to say that a candidate is no more than the representative of a party and that if that candidate does not win the first past the post part of the election that same individual candidate can acceptably come back on the list.
Even if it was not for that consideration, voters feel that it offends against an instinctive sense of political propriety that people should run as candidates under first past the post, lose the election and then turn up an hour or two later elected on the list system. That was offensive, and it was absolutely right that the previous Labour Government remedied the error that they had made in the original devolution legislation. The Government of Wales Act 2006 removed the possibility of people standing as candidates twice in the same election. It is regrettable that the coalition—here it is a coalition not just of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but also of Plaid Cymru—is seeking to restore a system that is designed by them to be advantageous to minority parties. It is entirely acceptable that under the electoral system we have for elections to the National Assembly for Wales extra provision is made to ensure that minority parties are represented there. However, we must avoid what was generally taken in Wales to be an abuse, whereby defeated candidates come back and reappear, contrary to the clearly expressed wishes of electors.
My Lords, mistakes were made by the Labour Government in the first place with the electoral system that they chose. First past the post had to be maintained under any conceivable circumstance and the only way in which proportionality could be introduced was by way of the list system. Certainly, you can abolish the list system and replace it with the single transferable vote. We, on this side of the House, who argued for that in the first place, would willingly go along with it. One of the consequences of the Labour Government choosing, in 1998, to put in the system that they did was that a person could then stand both as a list candidate and as a constituency candidate. It is all very well talking about being rejected by the electorate. Where you have a first past the post system, you can have a political party with substantial following throughout the country—I am thinking about an up and coming party at the present time—which may win no seats at all. The system that was introduced in 1998 of being able to stand in two places was simply as a result of the Government at that time rejecting our argument for the single transferable vote. The sooner we get to that system, the better.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—perhaps he has already sat down—does he agree with me that, if we went for a single transferable vote system throughout Wales, that would immediately make the regions the constituencies rather than the present constituencies because, clearly, for STV to work there would have to be a broader area of representation?
I accept the logic of that. We have always argued for it and will continue to do so.
My Lords, I speak to this amendment in support of what my noble friend Lord Anderson said. When the Welsh Assembly was set up as an elected institution, it was the Labour Party that introduced PR for the regional list—along with the traditional first past the post system—which was in direct opposition to its own political interests. It is only a few years ago that we had a referendum for the people of this country to decide what system of voting they wanted. Overwhelmingly, they decided that first past the post was the best system.
Removing the ban on dual candidacy would mean that candidates who have been rejected by the electorate under first past the post could get into the Assembly via the back door. We believe that that is subverting the will of the electorate. The majority of people responding to the Government consultation on this issue disagreed with the Government’s position. We share the wider concerns of the public that removing the ban would be anti-democratic. As my noble friend Lord Anderson clearly illustrated, it would allow losing candidates to be elected by the back door. It is not what the voters want.
As I said on Second Reading, it is not surprising that two significant surveys carried out on dual candidacy have both found a clear majority in favour of a ban. One was the Government’s own consultation and the other the Bevan Foundation study. According to the Government’s own consultation, there was a small majority in favour of the ban. It does seem strange that the Government are completely ignoring their consultation—I assume because it did not give them the answer that they wanted.
The Explanatory Notes on the Wales Bill say that this change will be made to the benefit of the smaller parties in Wales. They say that studies by the Electoral Commission and others,
“have demonstrated that the prohibition has a disproportionate impact on smaller parties who have a smaller pool of potential candidates to draw upon”.
If that is the case, we are changing the law in order to help smaller parties because they cannot find enough candidates. I have seen no evidence of that. At every election, every party in Wales fields a full slate of candidates, so to me there seems to be no problem. If that is the reason for changing this, it does not hold up very well because no party has had any candidate vacancies.
There should be strong democratic reasons for a change back to dual candidacy, but I do not think that the Government have produced any. I can give a commitment that if Labour is in power after the general election, and if this is carried through, we will reintroduce the ban on dual candidacy.
My Lords, Amendment 7 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, would remove Clause 2 from the Bill. The clause overturns the ban on dual candidacy by the previous Labour Government, thus reversing their own position as set out in the Government of Wales Act 1998. Dual candidacy refers to the situation at an election where a candidate stands in both a single member constituency and on a party list at the same time. Perhaps I may say first that the amendment seems to be supported only by the Labour Party. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, referred to the fact that the three other parties are very much against this change, which should suggest to noble Lords that this is something of a partisan manoeuvre on the part of the Labour Party; it would seem that everyone else is out of line except for that party.
Let us look at some of the arguments which have been put forward. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, knows that I respect him immensely, but I cannot understand the argument that when people go into a polling station and cast their vote, they are voting against candidates. They are voting for a candidate. There is no evidence to suggest that when people voted in Clwyd West they were voting against Brynle Williams, Eleanor Burnham and Janet Ryder; they were voting for Alun Pugh. Unless noble Lords on the other side are suggesting that some candidates have more validity than others or some Members have more validity than others, it is hard to see their objection to people being elected on the proportional list who have been candidates for constituencies. I cannot follow the argument that people are voting against candidates; they are voting for candidates when they vote.
There may or may not be validity in what the noble Lord is saying. Some people may vote positively for a candidate while others, knowing certain candidates, will vote against. It is not a question of either/or.
This comes back to the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord German where the candidates’ names are on the list. I should like to see the evidence that people are voting against candidates; none has been brought forward that I have seen.
When the last Labour Government introduced the ban on dual candidacy in the Government of Wales Act 2006, Ministers claimed to have done so as a result of the general public’s “considerable dissatisfaction” with dual candidacy. I have heard it suggested again today that an overwhelming majority of people are against it. Let us look at the two surveys referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. I turn first to the Government’s Green Paper. It was suggested by the shadow Secretary of State in another place that an overwhelming majority of respondents to the consultation were opposed, but in fact the summary of responses published by the Wales Office in 2012 notes only a small majority—in fact, it was a majority of one.
Let us look at those who actually submitted to the consultation. The majority in favour of removing the ban were Labour AMs with responses written in remarkably similar language. I would ask noble Lords to look a little more closely at the evidence before they assert, as was done in another place, that an overwhelming majority of respondents thought that it was right to have the ban. Frankly, that is not the case. It is true that the 2006 paper produced by the Bevan Foundation found that a small majority did consider it to be unfair, but the foundation went on to say that any change should be “based on sound evidence”.
Perhaps I may take noble Lords with me to look at some of the evidence. Independent bodies such as the Electoral Commission have disputed the change. They have suggested in evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee that the view is clear that prohibiting dual candidacy in Wales is not something that they are in favour of and is not supported by evidence as necessary. It seems to me that no evidence has been brought forward since then that suggests that such a change is necessary.
An acknowledged expert on this issue is Professor Roger Scully—who has already been mentioned—from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre. I do not know his politics, but I know that he does not vote for the Conservative Party. He said:
“No substantial independent evidence was produced at the time of the GOWA”—
the Government of Wales Act 2006—
“(or, to my knowledge, has been produced subsequently) of significant public concern about dual candidacy. The claims made about dual candidacy ‘devaluing the integrity of the electoral system’, and ‘acting as a disincentive to vote’ therefore remain wholly unsupported by solid evidence”.
It is a fact, and one recognised by the Arbuthnott commission established by the last Labour Government, that dual candidacy is a feature of mixed-member proportional electoral systems the world over; yet of all the countries that use this system, it is only Wales that has such a ban.
That brings me to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Taiwan, which I believe he mentioned, Thailand and Ukraine all have a different system where they have two completely separate lists that do not interact; so it does not apply in the same way. In New Zealand, whose system he also recommended, the Electoral Commission has urged against introducing such a ban, so there is very little evidence elsewhere out there that this ban is desirable.
I come to a point that has not been touched on—rather significantly—that, apparently, at the same time as we were saying that this ban was so necessary for Wales when it was introduced for Wales at Westminster, for some strange reason it was not introduced in relation to the Greater London Assembly or to Scotland. At the time, of course, both bodies had regional members who represented the Labour Party, whereas in Wales there were no regional members for the Labour Party. Cynics might suggest that there is something to read into that, but we have not heard any mention of why the ban is only something that is right for Wales, but not right for Scotland or Greater London.
If one looks at the votes that are cast for the regional lists and the constituencies, Labour tops the poll in each of them. Because of the way the proportions are divided out, Labour does so well in the constituency section that it cannot—under the d’Hondt system—get many seats in the list system. This time around, we had two seats, even though we topped the poll in the regions. In the whole of Wales, Labour got 36.9%, the Conservatives 22%, Plaid Cymru nearly 18% and the Liberal Democrats 8%. As far as Wales is concerned, therefore, Labour tops the poll in the regional lists and in the constituencies, so we are grateful to the people of Wales for showing their support for us. I cannot see the validity of what the Minister is saying.
I thought that the noble Baroness was going to address the point about Scotland and the Greater London Assembly, but she did not. In relation to what she has just said, she has just expressed the essence of a proportional system. Nobody needs to explain to me that, the better a party does on first past the post, the more likely it is to lose seats on the list. I certainly know that to be the case, but that was the essence of the system that the Labour Government introduced, and I applaud them for it—it is a proportional and fair system. However, the question the noble Baroness did not address is why it is right to have the ban in Wales, but not right to have it in Scotland and London. I leave Members to ponder that one.
I return to the point that this, as I see it, is a partisan measure—I am afraid I have to say that because that is what I believe—and I cannot see other than that, particularly in light of the fact that in Scotland and Greater London it seems to be all right by the Labour Party to continue the system. Therefore, although I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I cannot agree with him on this point, and I invite him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, to the Front Bench for the first time on a Bill. Let us warmly welcome him. He has made a major contribution, not least to constitutional matters in Wales.
On what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said on STV, this is certainly worth debating. It would get around the dangers of dual candidacy. Of course, the problem is that people can identify with a constituency but are less able to identify with a region, but it certainly would be more democratic and would remove the dangers of this particular proposal from the Government.
On the evidence, I concede that it is not overwhelming, but the surveys that have been mentioned all point one way. There is no popular demand for this and there is a slight majority in the relevant two surveys showing that there is opposition to the dual candidacy—for good reason.
What puzzles me is that the Bill is broadly non-controversial and has been made even more palatable by the concessions made today by the Government. Yet, the Bill essentially puts into practice the recommendations of the Silk commission except for this provision. If you were a geologist you would call that eccentric and something outside that. One wonders why the Government have added this to what is essentially a non-controversial Bill.
This is not a partisan amendment in any way on my part. I have mentioned before that the leading spokespeople of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties earlier opposed dual candidacy—for good reason. They had seen it in practice during the first Assembly. I gave quotations at Second Reading to show that, since this had been introduced by a Labour Government, the amendment could hardly be deemed partisan. As the rejection was supported by these two leading spokespeople, it again could hardly be deemed partisan. In my judgment, this is an unwise inclusion in what would otherwise be a non-controversial Bill. The Labour Party has pledged to reverse this when we get into government. Having made my point and looking forward to that reversal—
My main concern about this whole issue is the constitutional situation where the electoral system for the Assembly is to be changed whenever there is a change of United Kingdom Government. Quite frankly, I find that reprehensible. We require stability in an electoral system. Would my noble friend agree that it is better that this matter is devolved to the Assembly, so that we can create an electoral system that would be responsive to the people of Wales and would be established by only a two-thirds majority?
I have argued in the past that all the electoral arrangements, including this one, should be devolved to the Assembly, but I am less inclined to accept the latter part of my noble friend’s submission that there should be a two-thirds majority. It would not be a two-thirds majority but a one-third blocking minority, so it would be minority rule. Given the fact that under the current system a third of the seats are on the list, I suspect that nobody on the list will vote for any change. On the whole, we should let the Assembly makes its own decision on this. I therefore wholly accept the view of my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Clause 3: MPs to be disqualified from membership of Assembly
8: Clause 3, leave out Clause 3
My Lords, Clause 3 is straightforward. It disqualifies Members of the House of Commons from sitting as Members of the National Assembly for Wales. The provision implements recommendation 40 of the 2009 report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, MPs’ Expenses and Allowances. The committee’s recommendation derived from consideration of the position in Northern Ireland, where all the parties with representatives at Westminster wanted to bring multiple mandates to an end.
The clause also appears to be supported by the main parties at Westminster. At Second Reading in the other place Owen Smith, speaking for the Opposition, said that the Labour Party welcomed the provision, as the party had,
“always had an internal party position whereby it does not support people having dual mandates”.—[Official Report, Commons, 31/3/14; col. 618.]
What, then, is the basis for outlawing dual mandates? The argument appears to be that one cannot do the job of an MP while also holding another mandate. It was that conceit of the European Parliament that led to the EU prohibiting members of national legislatures from serving as Members of the European Parliament. We had to legislate to exclude Members of this House who were elected as MEPs.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life also contended that a dual mandate did not meet the conditions it prescribed for MPs holding other jobs—namely that it did not interfere with the primary role of the MP, was completely transparent to electors, and did not present a conflict of interest. The committee conceded that the second of these did not apply to a dual mandate. There is obvious transparency.
I am not persuaded that the other two conflict with holding the dual mandate either. I do not see a conflict of interest—not, at least, if one is representing the same constituents. The point about interfering with the primary role of the MP brings us, in essence, back to the practical argument. I am not clear that a case has been made that it interferes with the primary role of the MP. One could argue that it introduces an element of cross-fertilisation of benefit to both bodies.
Last week I had the honour of attending, indeed of chairing, the Speaker’s Lecture, given by Nick Raynsford, a former Minister for Local Government, who drew attention to the decline, which he regretted, in the number of MPs who serve concurrently as local councillors. The numbers have decreased significantly in recent decades, to the point where there are now virtually no MPs who also sit as local councillors. As he pointed out, this is in stark contrast to what happens in a number of our European neighbours.
Supporters of the clause will doubtless argue that it is no longer possible to do justice to the job of an MP while also serving as a local councillor. Some seem to manage—but that is not my point. The argument ignores a fundamental issue of principle. If one is to have a public office filled by election, one should not infringe the freedom of choice of the electors. If electors wish for a particular candidate to serve them in more than one assembly, that is a matter for them. It may be difficult or near impossible to serve in both, but that is not a sufficient basis for prohibiting voters by law from electing whoever they wish to represent them.
The late Lord Bannside was well known for having a triple mandate, never mind a dual mandate. Fulfilling all three roles may have been overly demanding. He may not have served his constituents effectively—although I am not saying he did not. My point is that it was a matter for him, and for those who elected him. His constituents put him in those positions. They knew what to do if they felt he was not representing them effectively.
I have a principled objection to restricting by law the choice of electors. I do not regard it as our role to say who electors should or should not elect. It is for that reason that I supported lowering the age at which one could stand for election to public office. I have no problem with that age being lower than the voting age; it used to be the other way round. If you lower the voting age to 16, you empower 16 year-olds. If you lower the age at which someone can stand for election to 16, you empower electors. My view is that we should be widening the choice of electors, not restricting it.
There are some positions that are incompatible with elected office. Those are generally already provided for, but we should keep them to a minimum. I see that in Amendment 10 my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford wishes to exclude any,
“member of the legislature of any country or territory outside the Commonwealth (other than Ireland),
from being eligible to be elected to the National Assembly. I suspect the chances of any member of such a legislature standing are pretty slim, but why should we legislate to prevent that? If political parties wish to have internal rules to limit such dual candidatures, that is a matter for them, but we should not be using the statute book to forbid it. If an AM wants to stand for election to the House of Commons or an MP seeks election to the National Assembly, that should be a matter for them and for the judgment of electors.
As I said, my objection to the clause is one of principle. We should apply stringent standards of scrutiny to measures of constitutional significance, not least those that place a restriction on electors. That is what, in effect, the clause does. It is important to get this on the record. We are in danger of creating a patchwork quilt of restrictions through bans on a dual mandate. We need to be more alert to the implications. If we are to proceed with the clause, we need to have on record a clear, principled justification for it. I invite both Front Benches to address the issue of principle engaged by the provision. There is no need to address the practical implications; we know what those are. We need to have the principle underpinning the ban that trumps the right of electors to elect the candidates of their choice. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Norton, says. He argues on a point of principle that the choice of the electorate should not be channelled in any way in respect of dual candidacy. He mentioned the position on the continent. He will know that the stream is moving strongly against an accumulation of mandates on the continent—certainly in France, which I know reasonably well. When I represented Swansea, I would have loved to be the Mayor of Swansea at the same time and, perhaps, to have had another mandate. That would have been very useful in cross-fertilisation and no doubt added to my local standing. I work on the simple principle of practicality. People tend to vote for the party, which stands against the principled point which the noble Lord enunciated. Also, no person can serve two masters. My experience in the other place was that, if done properly, it was a full-time job. Equally, as we add to the responsibilities of the Assembly, if an Assembly Member is to do the job properly, that is also a full-time job, and the electorate should not be short-changed by allowing a person to do the two jobs. They will do one well and the other not.
My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for inviting us to reflect on the principle involved here. When he comes to respond to the debate, perhaps he would give us the benefit of his thoughts on how his principle would apply if, as has been proposed, there should be a senate of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Admittedly, I understand that the proposition is that members of the senate should be indirectly elected: they should be sent from the Assemblies and Parliaments of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. However, I should be grateful for the noble Lord’s guidance as to what principle ought to apply there: whether he considers that a dual mandate in those circumstances should be permitted by law, discouraged or something that the rules of the political parties should embrace—or would he advise a degree of caution in the matter?
Briefly, it is a good idea in principle for there to be a cross-fertilisation of people from Westminster to the Assembly. That principle was particularly important when the Assembly was set up. However, there is a recognition that there is a time commitment to both the institutions. We now have a situation where the people in the Assembly already do not have the time. We will be talking later about possibly needing more Assembly Members. We do not have the people to do the job at the moment. My point back to the noble Lord is that, although I understand that there should be a principle that the electors can choose who they want, there are other principles that need to be considered. There are the practicalities of how that would work but also the needs of the institutions themselves. Those points should also be taken into account.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for his amendment, which allows us to discuss a clause in the Bill that we have not touched on in our previous discussions. I should also say that this is an additional matter that was not covered in the Silk report. The noble Lord comes to this debate on Report with an enviable and well deserved reputation on constitutional issues. I listened very carefully to what he said.
The noble Lord touched on the 2009 report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which did indeed recommend that the practice of Members of the House of Commons holding a dual mandate with a devolved legislature should be brought to an end by 2015 at the latest. As my noble friend has set out, that has so far prompted action additionally in relation to Northern Ireland.
The committee questioned whether it was possible for someone sitting in two legislatures simultaneously to do justice to both roles. The Government share the committee’s concern, and listening to noble Lords across the Chamber, it seems that this is a widely shared concern. I very much agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, that this is not just about serving the needs of constituents, although, of course, that is important; it is also about the ground rules and the practicalities of what is going on in the institutions concerned.
No Assembly Member is currently an MP but, historically, a number have been so. Indeed, we have two distinguished ones here today who could probably speak to the difficulty—near impossibility, I think—of doing both roles, certainly on a sustained basis. In the Government’s 2012 Green Paper, Future Electoral Arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales, the Government consulted on whether the practice of having multiple mandates should be brought to an end. A large majority of respondents—this time a reliable sample, I think, and a very large majority of respondents—agreed that it should, including opposition parties in the Assembly and the Electoral Reform Society.
Although the Welsh Government did not consider legislation to be necessary, at the Bill’s Second Reading in the Commons the shadow Secretary of State agreed with the proposal, as my noble friend Lord Norton affirmed. Following consultation, in March 2013 the Government announced that we would introduce legislation to prohibit multiple mandates between the House of Commons and the National Assembly at the earliest opportunity. This clause provides that membership of the House of Commons automatically disqualifies someone from sitting in the Assembly, subject to specific exceptions.
If a sitting Member of Parliament is subsequently elected as an Assembly Member, they are given eight days’ grace in which to vacate their seat in the House of Commons, by requesting appointment to a disqualifying office such as the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. The eight-day period also applies if parliamentary and Assembly elections are held in close proximity and a candidate is elected to both legislatures. This is to allow them to decide which post to take up. Similar provisions apply in Northern Ireland.
No grace period is given to an Assembly Member who is elected as an MP except where a scheduled Assembly election is expected to take place within a year, the maximum possible period actually being 372 days between parliamentary and Assembly elections. In this instance, an individual will be able to retain both seats for that limited period of time to avoid a costly Assembly by-election when a scheduled Assembly general election is relatively imminent. The draft Wales Bill allowed for a six-month grace period, but following pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill, the Welsh Affairs Committee recommended that the period be extended to one year, and the Government have accepted this recommendation. This clause does not apply to the House of Lords, where there are no constituency interests to represent.
This clause will ensure that an Assembly Member will be able to concentrate on representing the constituents and can contribute significantly to the institution. There was cross-party agreement on these proposals in the House of Commons, and I would therefore ask my noble friend Lord Norton to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, it is precisely because there was cross-party agreement that there is a valuable case for raising the issue. I am grateful to those who have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, invites me to digress somewhat on to the proposal for a senate of the regions and nations—the words “back of an envelope” come to mind. In terms of the principle that would apply, it would be that which I have enunciated. He talked about caution, but I think that caution should apply to the very proposal for such a senate, rather than the method by which its members should be chosen.
On the points that have been raised, the principal argument deployed from both Front Benches against the amendment is, in essence, that being an MP is a full-time job. There are two problems with that. It was not accepted by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its report, where the challenge was a conflict with the primary role, not an argument about its being a full-time job. It is also belied by the fact that the House of Commons is not unable to function because MPs are doing other jobs. It is quite possible for an MP to fulfil the functions of a Member of Parliament while being a Minister of the Crown, for example. I really do not see the argument that—
While there is a difference between being a Minister and a Member of Parliament, they are in the same building at the same time. I invite the noble Lord to consider the example of someone who is a Member of the Assembly and yet is called to vote in the House of Commons—as the Prime Minister was yesterday, in full evening dress—and therefore neglects what might also be an important vote in the Assembly. A number of conflicts will arise in that way and a Member of Parliament or a Member of the Assembly will have to choose which he would prefer.
My Lords, I recall that, particularly pre-devolution, we had Ministers who were responsible for different parts of the United Kingdom and who had to spend an awful lot of time not being in London. If there are challenges from being in both assemblies, that is a matter for the Members. Certainly, at times Members have managed to achieve that. Let us not forget that when we talk about a dual mandate, we are referring only to the House of Commons. There are Members of this Chamber who have a dual mandate, including one who is present at the moment.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I was—
Perhaps I could remind the House that, after the Minister has spoken, it is only the mover of the amendment who can speak.
In that case, I will not be able to anticipate what my noble friend Lord Crickhowell may have been about to raise with me. My point is that the objection to what I am bringing forward is one of practice. I am challenging whether, in effect, one can really do that. Essentially, when your Lordships think about it, those who are making that case are saying: “We know best”. That is not an argument for restricting the freedom of electors. The task may be difficult. It may be close to impossible, which is the point being put forward, in which case it is open to those people not to stand and put themselves up to fulfil those dual roles and it would be open to the electors to make the decision not to elect them. As the Committee on Standards in Public Life made absolutely clear, there is at least transparency in this respect. You know what you are getting into, at least on whom you are electing, because of the positions that they hold, so I think that that principle holds.
The other argument put by the Committee on Standards in Public Life is that of a conflict of interest. However, I do not regard that as being persuasive either, because Members of Parliament have at times a conflict of interest between what their party wants and what they see as the interests of their constituencies. I suppose that the logic of that would be to ban MPs from being elected on a party label, which I think is not what the parties particularly want.
In response to the arguments put forward, there is a practical argument, but I do not think that it is sufficient to overcome what is a fundamental issue of principle. We are restricting the right of electors and it is important to get that on the record. That may not suffice today to prevent such rights from being restricted but I hope that it may help to give thought and prevent such incursions in the future. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
9: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Government of Wales Act 2006: exceptions and relief from disqualification
In section 17 of GOWA 2006 (exceptions and relief from disqualification), omit subsections (3) and (4).”
Listening to the last debate, I was reminded that in 1998 the original Government of Wales Bill did not include a provision for dual membership of both the House of Commons and the Welsh Assembly. I was leading on Welsh matters and I acceded to a request from the then Secretary of State to have my party support the inclusion of an amendment that permitted the Secretary of State and others to belong to both bodies. The argument then was that it was necessary to have some Members of Parliament who had the experience to assist in the setting-up of the new Welsh Assembly, using their experience to good ends, so it is interesting that we have come to the point where the Government wish to reverse that decision.
What is also interesting is that in Clause 3 a Member of Parliament who is returned at an election as an Assembly Member has a period of eight days beginning with the date of his being returned to resign as a Member of Parliament to avoid disqualification for being an Assembly Member. That is pertinent to Amendments 9 and 10, which I am moving and speaking to on behalf of myself and my noble friends Lady Humphreys, Lord German and Lady Walmsley. It is unfair and unduly restrictive that a person should be required to give up a public position, or even paid employment, simply to stand as a candidate in an election. That is the basic principle.
There is a conflict between the provisions of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which deals with disqualification, and the National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) Order 2007, dealing with aspects of electoral law. That conflict needs to be resolved. It led to problems that I outlined in Committee. In the last elections to the Welsh Assembly, two Liberal Democrats were disqualified as a result of being members of public bodies that appeared in the list of disqualified bodies in the 2007 order. Arising out of that controversy, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Assembly, at the invitation of the First Minister, considered the issue under the chairmanship of the Deputy Presiding Officer. It took evidence and obtained a legal opinion from the Counsel General. Its report, published in the middle of last July, made a number of recommendations which my amendments reflect. In particular, the committee felt that the disqualifications should be spelt out without reference to the legislation dealing with Westminster elections.
The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to the fact that in paragraph (2) of my Amendment 10 there is reference to a person being disqualified because he is,
“a member of the legislature of any country or territory outside the Commonwealth (other than Ireland)”.
It seems rather unlikely, but that is the current position because the previous Act simply incorporated the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 and the disqualifications that were contained in that schedule. Accordingly, when the committee of the Welsh Assembly said that these disqualifications should be spelt out in Welsh legislation rather than in a reference to the 1975 Act, I followed that recommendation. The amendments are quite simply as the committee suggested.
The nub is in subsection (5) of the proposed new clause:
“A person shall not be disqualified from standing as a candidate for the position of Assembly member by reason of his holding any office designated by an Order in Council under subsection (1)(f)”.
The material word is “candidate”. However, if he wins the election, he should be given the same period of grace that a Member of Parliament is given elsewhere in the Act—namely, eight days—within which to resign the position that disqualifies him as an Assembly Member. It is really a reflection of what already appears in Clause 3 of the Bill.
There is nothing party-political about this, even though it was Liberal Democrats who fell foul of the provisions. There are upward of 60 or 70 bodies for which disqualification exists under the 2007 order and I understand that other candidates who were not successful at the last election would have fallen foul of the same provisions, because those provisions are so widespread and not very clear. I am endeavouring, through this amendment, to clarify the position completely. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to my aim. I beg to move.
The disqualification list includes judges in subsection (2)(a). We understand perfectly well from the provisions in the Constitutional Reform Act that members of the Supreme Court, for example, cannot speak, sit or vote in the House. That is well understood. However, there is something much more fundamental about this. It is not simply the practicality of holding a judicial office and serving as a Member of the Assembly, which has all the important work that the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, reminded us about a few moments ago. It is also the issue of principle. I cannot imagine any member of the senior judiciary engaging in party politics at all, because of the great risk of compromising his or her independence. I know of at least one case in which a judge in Scotland who was a Member of this House and was involved in presenting legislation was regarded as disqualified from sitting on a case that involved that legislation because of his previous involvement in debates in this House on related issues. Judges in the senior judiciary tread into great danger if they engage in politics at all and even more so if they become a Member of an Assembly. I cannot imagine any of them wanting to compromise their judicial position by doing so. I am open to correction about whether this is really necessary, but I express great surprise at seeing members of the senior judiciary in this list.
I assure the noble and learned Lord that they appear in the schedule to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Indeed, Scottish judges are listed in that schedule, none of whom I would have thought would have had the least intention of standing for Parliament, but they are there, and that is why the list has been repeated in this amendment, without the Scottish judges.
I am grateful for that intervention. I noticed the absence of the Scottish judges. I wondered whether perhaps there was a message that they would be welcome in Wales. I am afraid that distance might make it rather difficult for them to participate, but I think that there is a much more fundamental point, which is the extent to which we now understand the importance of judges remaining completely separate from legislatures, wherever they happen to be.
I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord’s point of view.
My Lords, it seems that the exchange between the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord has amply illustrated that there are two issues here. There are some offices, such as being a judge, for which standing even as a candidate would fundamentally undermine public confidence in their impartiality. A judge may be an obvious example, but there could be others at the edge. People might ask whether the Auditor-General for Wales, or a member of his staff, would be able to stand. On balance, people would probably agree that they should not be allowed to. But beyond that group there is another group, often consisting of councillors, and usually councillors representing political parties, who are nominated in their role as party members or as councillors elected on a party-political ticket to bodies funded by the Welsh Government. Therefore, their candidacy is not a problem. Everyone knows that they are there because of their political position, and their election to that position. But we would not wish them to remain on whatever board or group it is that they have been nominated to once they become Assembly Members, because the Assembly funds that organisation, so it is not appropriate for them to be both funder and funded.
Amendments 9 and 10 would implement a number of the recommendations, as my noble friend made clear, made in the report by the Constitution and Legislative Affairs Committee of the National Assembly for Wales. Amendment 10 would set out a list of disqualifying offices in this Bill, and provide that a candidate who holds a disqualifying office would not be banned from membership of the Assembly so long as they resigned that position within eight days of having been elected. As a result, Amendment 9 would also remove the power of the Assembly under the Government of Wales Act 2006 to resolve that a disqualification may be disregarded in specified circumstances.
When we debated similar amendments in Committee, I sympathised with noble Lords’ concerns that someone would need to step down from a disqualifying office in advance of nomination, even if, for instance, they were listed 12th on a party list and therefore had no realistic prospect of being elected. However, amending electoral legislation can be an immensely complicated affair, so making changes to the way in which Assembly Members are elected requires considerable discussion before it can be implemented—not least because, as my noble friend has indicated, this approach to disqualification is not limited to the Government of Wales Act but applies across all UK legislatures.
In fact, in its response to the report of the Constitution and Legislative Affairs Committee published last month, the Welsh Government recognised that:
“It is not likely to be possible to secure amendments to these provisions before the next Assembly elections in 2016”.
But in a debate on this issue in the Assembly just last week, the First Minister committed to working with the next Government to consider changes to the Assembly’s disqualification regime ahead of the 2021 Assembly election.
There is a good case for including,
“only those offices for which there is a strong case for inclusion”,—[Official Report, 13/10/14; col. 104.]
on this list. I am pleased that, following Committee, the First Minister wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales to give the Welsh Government’s assurance that this is indeed the approach they will follow in drafting the order. I therefore look forward to a very much slimmed-down list of disqualifying bodies whose members cannot stand for election. This is in the interests of attracting the strongest possible field of candidates, because, after all, those people well qualified and prepared for being candidates to the Assembly are very often those who already serve their communities on a number of such bodies.
The Wales Office will, of course, be working closely with the Welsh Government as they prepare their draft disqualification order. Further discussion will be required on the wider topic of disqualification from the Assembly. I thank my noble friend for introducing these amendments, as it has enabled us to shine a spotlight on this important issue and to liaise with the Welsh Government. There are agreements between the Welsh and UK Governments as a result of the amendments introduced here and of the report from the Assembly’s committee. Those two events have moved the debate on this issue on. Although action may not be taking place as quickly as my noble friend would like, we have the First Minister’s commitment that he will bring forward appropriate measures after the general election. I therefore urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the work that has obviously been done in the Wales Office on this issue. Anyone standing as a candidate in the 2016 election will be very much on notice of this problem, and I hope it will not arise again. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendments 10 and 11 not moved.
12: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“National Assembly for Wales: increased membership
The total membership of the National Assembly for Wales (Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru) shall be increased to 80 members.”
My Lords, in moving this amendment that stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Wigley and myself, I can summarise the situation very briefly. The case for adding to the present 60 Members of the Welsh Assembly is irrefutable, because the Assembly is already badly understaffed as regards membership. That was the situation from the very start, but it did not matter a very great deal because in the first instance, in 1998, the Assembly was not essentially a legislature, as has already been mentioned in this debate. It dealt only with delegated legislation and spent only 4% of its time reviewing legislation; it had a tangential function with regard to legislation—but things are very different now. Since the referendum of March 2011, a wholly new situation has been developed.
Without wishing to overstate my case, I would say that it was ludicrous to consider that the small number of Members that constitute the membership of the Welsh Assembly can possibly carry out the task of scrutinising legislation properly. Put in other words, if we wish to limit the Assembly to nothing much more than an Executive and a talking shop, all we have to do is nothing. We will emasculate the possibilities of it being a legislature because it does not have the critical mass to be that.
The figures speak for themselves. The Scottish Parliament has 129 Members, the Northern Ireland Assembly has 108 Members and the Welsh Assembly has 60 Members. However, it is not the gross membership that matters but the number of Members who are free to deal with the scrutiny of legislation. If we take out the Scottish Ministers and those who are not available for scrutiny, that leaves a figure of 113. If we take out the same persons from the Northern Ireland Assembly, apparently that leaves a figure of 92. If we take out the same persons again from the Welsh Assembly, it gives a figure of 48. It could be argued that if we included two or three persons who are chairmen of committees, and the party leaders, who do not normally take part in scrutiny, we would have only 42; this is not part of my case, but is merely a footnote, as it were. That is well below the critical mass necessary to be able to deal competently with legislation.
The problems concerning primary legislation in the Welsh Assembly are considerable. They constitute a huge challenge. It means that the Cardiff Assembly—the Cardiff parliament, as that is essentially what it is—in very few years will have to acquaint itself with the problems, immerse itself in the experience, and gain the expertise that this House and the other place have enjoyed for centuries. That is a huge task, and one that is all the more complicated and difficult if only a small number of Members are available. The situation can be worse under a coalition Government. If two fairly big parties join, it means that opposition Members—they, after all are the persons who day in, day out, challenge legislation most effectively by way of scrutiny—are very reduced in number. For those reasons it is essential that if the Welsh Assembly is to succeed and continue as a credible legislative body, an increase in the number of Members should be made very swiftly.
In my amendment, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has attached his name, I have suggested the figure of 80. It could not be less than that. The Richard commission, which reported in 2004, recommended then that it should be 80. That was before the Government of Wales Act 2006, which considerably added to the powers of the Assembly by way of Schedule 3, which enabled salami slices of authority in respect of legislation to be brought about. We could not have anticipated the detail of that Act. The 2006 Act, of itself, suggests that membership should be more than 80. In addition to that, the Silk commission commented on the very problem that I have described. More than anything, a very small review in detail and depth by the Welsh Electoral Commission was published in March this year. That study entailed a scrutiny of some 42 regional bodies—in Europe, North America and Australia. Those 42 bodies were in some way reasonably comparable with the situation in Wales. That body came to the conclusion that the least that it would recommend in the circumstances would be a membership of 100. If one considers the curve of development of the Welsh Assembly from 1998 to today—the 16 years of its existence—one does not need a great deal of imagination to consider how that curve might continue. One very much hopes that that will be the case. Therefore, before very long, reasonable people would be considering a membership of not 100 but even 120.
In Committee some weeks ago, my friend—indeed, he has been my friend for many decades—the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, said that this process would look like an auction with cries of, “80, 100, any advance on 100? 120”. It is not an auction. However, I believe that it is reasonable to consider this issue in the context of the track record of the Welsh Assembly’s development.
A figure of 120—we would not come to that for quite some time—would be very attractive for the simple reason that it would nearly double the membership. Doubling the constituencies might be a very simple exercise. However, there is one huge snag: even to mention an advance on the 60 current Members would be regarded almost as blasphemy in some parts of Wales. There would be very little popular support for it. That is where public leadership comes into play. Those who advocate it would not be popular. It would be extremely difficult for elected Members of Parliament to support it without risking their futures. It would be difficult, indeed, for Members of the Welsh Assembly to support it without running the same risk. However, it is essential that people who take part in public life should be prepared to run such risks and to adopt moral stances which are absolutely necessary. Such a stance is very necessary in this case to secure the future of the Welsh Assembly.
My Lords, I am delighted to have added my name to this amendment and very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said. At an earlier stage of the Bill, we had an opportunity to go into this issue in some detail. I will not repeat that or repeat the arguments that he has put forward. I will just underline that, ideally, I would like to see the control of the number of seats, as with other aspects of the Assembly, in the hands of the Assembly itself. However, an amendment on that will not be forthcoming now, which is why I am very glad to support this amendment.
Although noble Lords made persuasive cases at an earlier stage for the membership of the Assembly to be more than 80—to be 100 or even 120, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said—I accept that 80 is a logical number to go up to now. As my noble friend can confirm, the design of the building is such that it can expand to accommodate 80 Members without too great difficulty, so that at least avoids any additional cost in that regard.
As an elected Member of the Assembly in the first four years, I found the work pressure enormous. I accept that the nature of the work was a little different then. There were probably more committee meetings and they have been rationalised, possibly because of the pressure on Members’ time. I was on five committees and I was finding that very difficult indeed. Sometimes people say, “Ah, well, you should be there from nine o’clock on a Monday morning onwards”, but that does not overcome the problem of a shortage of Members to sit on all the committees.
An increase to a membership of 80 would also allow for the possibility of having a greater range of expertise in the Assembly cohort. I know from my time there of the benefits of having Members with first-hand medical experience; I think of Dr Dai Lloyd. All parties have people with various types of expertise. Clearly, the more Members you have, the better chance you have of getting a full balance of expertise.
I felt the pressure when there was no more than a secondary legislative role for the Assembly. To do justice to the increased workload of a full legislative role, and not having a second Chamber to go through the detail—I am not arguing for there to be one—much more attention needs to be given to scrutiny of legislation on a line-by-line basis. That requires people with the time, commitment and ability to do the job.
I very much hope that the Minister, if the proposed new clause is not accepted, can indicate that this question will be taken on board between now and St David’s Day.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made his case in masterful fashion and has given a political explanation of why he confines his proposal for an increase in the size of the Assembly simply to 80, not a higher number.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said in the debate on an earlier amendment, in constitutional change form should follow function. A rigorous analysis is needed of the functions that the National Assembly for Wales already has to perform and the functions that are increasingly to be devolved to it. This legislation provides that the Assembly should take control to a significant degree of income tax and borrowing. The obligations that will fall upon the Members of the Assembly are not therefore solely in terms of additional legislative scrutiny but invigilation of public expenditure, authorising expenditure, and controlling and examining its quality. Whether the National Assembly for Wales would wish to replicate the sort of committee structure that we have in this Parliament, such as the Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons, I do not know. That should rightly be a matter for the Assembly. However, what is beyond doubt is that the scale, range, complexity, difficulty and importance of the tasks that the Assembly has to undertake have been growing, are growing and will continue to grow.
Therefore, following the example already given by the Electoral Commission in Wales in certain respects, further analysis should be made of the membership required in order for the Assembly to manage to perform the tasks that the people of Wales, and indeed the United Kingdom, will expect it to carry out. For that reason, I very much welcome the spirit of the amendment. I would be happy if it were to be accepted but it would be seen only as a provisional step. It might be preferable that further work be carried out on this proposition, so that we can see exactly where, in practice, it should take the National Assembly for Wales.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, wisely and realistically observed that there is a constraint on physical space in the Assembly building. However, we should not be unnecessarily deterred by that factor. After all, when the House of Commons was reconstructed after the war, Winston Churchill, as Prime Minister, thought it appropriate deliberately to recreate a Chamber that would be a pretty tight squeeze for all its Members. That works rather well so we should not be worried.
The words Churchill used were, “a sense of crowd and urgency”.
The noble Lord always has a sense of historical drama. He imports that even to these very proceedings. We are grateful to him.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. As long ago as 2004, when the commission that I had the honour of chairing looked at this issue, we came to the conclusion that there was a need—not just a desirability but a need—for the number of Members of the Assembly to be increased. We based that conclusion on the fact that not enough Members were untouched by government—if I may use that phrase—to man the committees in a neutral and oppositional way. If that was true then—and I firmly believe that it was—it is even truer now, and will increasingly be in the future.
The first debate we had today was on whether the Assembly should move to a constitution based on reserved, rather than devolved, powers. Remarkably, the House agreed that we should move to a reserved powers model. Not only that, the Minister gave some pretty strong undertakings that she and the Secretary of State for Wales also took that view and were holding talks to achieve it. If the Assembly moves to that model then the need for an increase in the number of Members of the Assembly is increased. I hesitate to use lawyers’ phrases, but, a fortiori, the argument is underlined and indeed is strengthened.
I do not know whether the Minister can go this far. I suspect that her sympathies may be at least broadly in line with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, but I would not expect her to say that she was prepared to accept it. On the other hand, if the Government are to have a great look at what is to happen by 1 March, particularly on whether or not we should move to reserved powers, could she go so far as to say that, in the course of that review, one of the matters to which the Government will give urgent consideration is the size of the Assembly and whether it should increase from 60 to 80? I am not going to enter into a bidding war as to the precise number of Assembly Members there should be. In 2004 our figure was 80; I think that 80 is probably my figure now. Having a somewhat incremental view of these matters, I would be reasonably satisfied if we got 80 in this bite.
My Lords, I support the amendment most warmly. I do not wish to rehearse the Committee stage of the Bill, but I moved a very similar amendment at that time, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Elystan-Morgan and Lord Richard. I now have a mnemonic for the situation, PRAT. It works something like this: increased powers—which is what I focused on in Committee—brings increased accountability; increased accountability produces a necessity for greater transparency. I think those are totally linked. It is therefore important that we put a marker in the Bill. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that this may well be determined in future by the National Assembly for Wales. In the mean time, a marker should be put down to recognise that we all feel—I think there is consensus in the House at this moment—that there are not enough Assembly Members to do the work that will be put on them by the powers they will be given by the Bill. I strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, I, too, have sympathy with the amendment. I was recently in Cardiff Bay, speaking at a conference organised by the Welsh Government centre looking at the challenges facing the National Assembly. I focused on the challenges that derive from the fact that it is devolved, relatively new and small. Size does matter; it is especially important in a parliamentary system. As we have already heard, it affects the committees that are operating, not least because, with the small number of Members, there are problems setting up a comprehensive series of investigative committees where Members are not stretched by having to serve on several. That limits the capacity of the legislature to effectively scrutinise the Executive.
The other point about size is that the proportion of the Assembly that forms the Executive tends to be somewhat greater than with larger assemblies. The National Assembly is nowhere near the position in Gibraltar, where there are actually no Back-Benchers at all. However, the proportion of Ministers in the National Assembly is greater than it is in the House of Commons. In order for it to fulfil its functions effectively, you need members who can do that and to ensure that the Executive are not too prominent as a proportion of the Chamber itself. For these reasons, I have considerable sympathy with this amendment.
My Lords, I support Amendment 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I am compelled to do so as a matter of natural justice because I come from a region of the United Kingdom where the local Assembly has 108 members on the basis of a significantly lower population than that of Wales. Even if it is the case, which is widely rumoured in Belfast, that the Assembly will be reduced in size to 90 before too long, there will still be a significant anomaly in relation to Wales.
I have never been an uncritical admirer of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am currently the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. As has been referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Norton, that committee has made significant criticisms of some of the practices of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Those criticisms are nothing to do with its size. The better features of the Northern Ireland Assembly are its greater size and, I submit, a greater variety of opinion and debate. It also has a greater representation of parties and politicians who would not normally find their way to that Assembly in the face of the large battalions of local politics.
The argument has been eloquently made in favour of the need for the Welsh Assembly to have more members in order for it to deal with the volume of business in a more effective way. That is not the only argument, although I fully support it. There is also the argument that the larger Assembly will contain more variety of opinion—and therefore more vitality—and that can only be to the benefit of the people of Wales.
My Lords, I want to add a few words in support of the amendment. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, I do not think that he overstated the case in moving the amendment. I say that against the background of such experience as I have of the Scottish Parliament which is operating under the reserved powers model. If we cast our minds back to 1998, when these figures were being devised, the structures of these various legislatures played a part in deciding the numbers of members that were thought to be appropriate to staff them. One can well understand how the figure of 60 was arrived at for Wales. We have watched how the powers of the legislature have expanded and, no doubt, if it moves to the reserved powers model, we shall find that these will be built on even further, as they are being in Scotland.
There may even be a case for thinking that the membership of the Scottish Parliament is too small, given the immense pressures on the committee structure within which it operates. The more powers that are devolved, the more these committees are being stretched. One cannot simply live with the expanding system and increased powers of these legislatures without remembering that the figures were struck in a different world. It is quite absurd to be stuck with those figures which were devised originally under a different system.
There is an immense amount behind what the noble Lord has said and behind the other points that have been made. Like others, I hope that serious consideration will be given to a way in which that figure may now be increased to recognise the reality of what is going on and the requirements that it imposes on the individual members.
My Lords, once again we have had an interesting debate, as we did in Committee. There was general consensus then that the number of Welsh Assembly Members should be increased. Indeed, over the 15 years of devolution, many calls have been made to increase the number. Different reports have been produced, including by the Electoral Reform Society Cymru. The 2004 Richard commission supported an increase, and we know that the current presiding officer, Dame Rosemary Butler, has said the same. The Richard commission said that there should be 80 seats, while the Silk 2 report said that the,
“size of the National Assembly should be increased”.
In 2013, the Electoral Reform Society and the Changing Union project published a report recommending that the number of AMs should be 100. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, asked how many Members we should have. He also pointed out the small number of Back-Benchers, at 42. It means that the ability to scrutinise legislation is curtailed, as is holding the Government to account, which is really important in a democracy. As legislation becomes more complex, it is necessary for politicians to develop areas of specialist expertise, but that is difficult for most of the Back- Benchers because they are spread so thinly and they have to do lots of different things. The Minister will have experience of that and obviously she understands everything we are saying in this debate.
The debate today shows that there is consensus around increasing the number of AMs. I do not think that the Minister will be able to make a commitment because we need more discussions in order to decide exactly what would fit the bill, as it were. The Senate was built to cater for 80 Members, so someone must have been thinking ahead, but I do not think that that would be a restriction if the consensus declared it should be 80 or whatever number we come up with. However, I am sure the Minister will agree that there is consensus on this point and generally there is a feeling in Wales that we need to increase the number of Members of the Welsh Assembly.
My Lords, Amendment 12 would increase the size of the Assembly to 80 Members. In Committee we had amendments from across the House on increasing the size of the Assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, spoke in favour of an increase to at least 80, as he did today. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, agreed but suggested that there might be 100. My noble friend Lady Humphreys also spoke of having 80 Members after the 2016 election and then 100 in 2021. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, spoke of a desire for 120, although, as I mentioned, his amendment today calls for 80.
I say all this because it illustrates in a nutshell the problem with any debate on the size of the Assembly. Even if everyone agreed that the number of AMs should be increased—I suspect that there would be a good deal of agreement among politicians—there is no consensus on how many more Members there should be. And, of course, among the public there may not be that consensus and agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said in Committee:
“‘Any advance on 80? Any advance on 100? Any advance on 120?’ Where does one stop?”.—[Official Report, 13/10/14; col. 65.]
I should say to noble Lords that discussions with Welsh party leaders both here and in the Assembly will deal with all the recommendations made by the Silk commission, and it is right that we should try to seek consensus on this issue, as we will on the other issues set out in the Silk 2 report.
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, made a very important point: form should follow function. Surely, the size of the Assembly should be decided in the light of how many additional powers it will get and exactly how significant those powers are. Once that part of a cross- party discussion and debate has taken place, it would then be the appropriate time to address the issue of the size of the Assembly. It is important to settle this discussion rather than agree on a certain number of additional Members now and then in two years’ time talk about more again. That is not easy for the general public to appreciate and bear with. It is important to make sure that the size of the Assembly fits the job it has to do. As for the timing, as part of the four-way discussions, I suggest that it is for the political parties to set out their views in their manifestos, which would give the parties the opportunity to put to the test whether the electorate believes that the Assembly should be made larger. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, for at least the second time today, the angel of good will and of progressive tolerance has been with us, and I am deeply grateful to all who have spoken and for the tone of each contribution. I appreciate, in the case of the noble Baroness, that we are clearly looking in the same direction. She does not challenge the basic tenets of the argument. I would respectfully suggest that once one does that there is an inevitability as to the conclusion that a person should eventually reach. It is not only a matter of absolute necessity for the future of the Assembly. The second Silk report of March this year has this sentence which encapsulates it all:
“Good scrutiny means good legislation and good legislation pays for itself”.
Be that as it may, I have no doubt that we shall, on many occasions in the future, be debating this matter, but I hope that it will be in a spirit of the near inevitability of progressiveness here and the acceptance of indisputable realities. I was not able to accept the undertaking so generously given by the noble Baroness today in relation to Amendment 1. I explained to her my reasons and I hope that she accepted my sincerity in the matter. However, on this occasion, I am very happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
13: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Part 1AVoter registrationPower of Secretary of State to make regulations for data sharing
(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations impose a duty on government bodies requiring those bodies to provide specified information to registration officers in Wales for the purposes of electoral registration.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must include as government bodies the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Passport Office and the National Health Service.
(3) Regulations made under subsection (1) shall include the provision of data collected by specified government bodies by virtue of specified applications, which must include applications for new or renewed driving licences, Disability Living Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, new or renewed passports, and to register with a GP (as applicable to the specified government body).
(4) Registration officers shall use the specified information received in relation to a person—
(a) if the specified information received contains all of the information required, to register that person on the appropriate electoral register or registers; or(b) if the specified information does not contain all of the information required, to make further enquiries of that person to receive the information required to register that person on the appropriate electoral register or registers.(5) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this section shall give any government body the power to share any information about a person without that person’s consent.
(6) In this section—
“electoral register or registers” means the registers in section 9 of the Representation of the People Act 1983;
“specified applications” means any applications made by a person potentially eligible to be registered to vote as are specified in regulations made under subsection (1); and
“specified government bodies” means any government bodies specified in regulations made under subsection (1).”
My Lords, we very much appreciate the work of all those who have been involved in the Welsh Assembly in different ways. It has been a struggle sometimes, I am sure. Some have their reward when they reach this place and we appreciate what they have done in the other place as well.
I spoke at some length on these amendments in Committee, so I am not going to go over most of those arguments, but I would like to say now that people, especially young people, feel completely alienated from Parliament and from every authority that we exert here. They say: “They do not belong to us”; “They are a different crowd”; the “Westminster bubble” or “those people in Cardiff”. Somehow, we must build that bridge between, especially, young people and the political life of our country. This is the most important thing: to involve our young people especially and to involve them as early as we can in active engagement with the lives of their communities and their country.
How can that be done? Of course, it depends a lot on schools and colleges. This is where we need inspirational teachers able to bring great determination and a feeling of “We, too, want to be involved” to the young people they teach. First, we need that involvement of schools and colleges in preparing our young people for political life and a full life in their communities. Why do we bring up this amendment? At present, not many of our young people are involved or register to vote when they are able to do that. I am told that only 35% of 18 to 24 year-olds voted at the last election. Somehow, we need to bring the others into feeling, “We, too, want to be involved. This is our country, our Parliament, our Assembly.” To do that, we must get as many of those people as possible on the electoral register.
Amendment 13 is a very substantial amendment that I hope we will be able to discuss at some stage. Amendment 14 is a very small amendment and provides that each electoral registration officer should go to every school and college in his or her area at least once a year in a voter registration drive. This is not asking a lot. It is a very simple thing. We want young people to vote. Where do we register them but at the schools and colleges where they are? There is nothing in this that is at all suspicious or that noble Lords might feel is a threat. It is the simplest thing. That is why this amendment is so straightforward. We ask that it be included in this new Wales Bill. There is no reason whatever why that should be denied. The electoral registration officer would be under an obligation—it would not just give him an encouragement—to ensure that every single school and college had at least the opportunity once a year to register.
The amendment is very simple and has been approved by many. Even today, there is another letter from the leaders of the four parties in the Welsh Assembly: the Conservatives, Labour, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrats. They all signed it. They want this. Who are we or the Electoral Commission to deny the people of Wales what they themselves want? I am so delighted to see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry with us today. I think he will speak on behalf of the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan. The Church is behind this. Every single organisation approached has given it their support—every single one. Not a single voice will deny this. So why on earth can we not see this amendment included—happily, without a great arm-twisting or anything like that—in this Wales Bill? I leave it there but remember: if we deny the people of Wales, the Parliament of Wales and the organisation of Wales a voice, then who knows what the consequences might be. I beg to move.
My Lords, these amendments deserve, and indeed enjoy, wide support. I added my name enthusiastically to them, just as I backed my noble friend’s previous amendments in Committee. Surely it is our duty to do everything we can to help raise the low level of electoral registration among our young people. In one part of our country in which I take a particularly deep interest, Northern Ireland, a striking success has been achieved. Under its schools initiative programme, officials working for the chief electoral officer visit the best part of 200 schools each autumn.
The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, Mr Graham Shields, has described the initiative as,
“very successful in improving the rate of registration amongst our young people”.
As a passionate unionist, I believe strongly that success in one part of our country should be emulated in others. Indeed, what should any sensible person do, having seen positive evidence of success? The answer surely has to be, “Copy it”. Mr Shields himself has told us that he has,
“no doubt that our success will be similarly replicated in Wales”.
As my noble friend has reminded us, across the political spectrum in Wales the feeling is unanimous. “Give us the means to get more young people on the electoral register”, the parties in Wales say—and surely we must heed them.
The case is overwhelming, and I urge the Government either to adopt the amendments or to take action themselves to achieve the objective embodied in them. Franklin Roosevelt said,
“The real safeguard of democracy is … education”.
Where more obviously to advance education about democracy than in our nation’s schools, particularly now, when—here I look at my noble friend Lord Tyler—the extension of the right to vote to 16 year-olds is an idea whose time may be coming?
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 13, 14 and 15, which have my name attached to them, and in support of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. I commend the noble Lord’s persistence in his work in this area. I also thank the Minister for meeting us last week. We had a good opportunity to explain the reasoning behind our amendments.
My thinking on this issue has been brought to the fore because of the number of young people I speak to about their involvement in politics. Some of it has been formed by the work I do with the House of Lords outreach programme, and I commend the work of the Lord Speaker’s Office on that. I also support the work of Bite the Ballot, a non-party-political organisation, and I have been to a number of its events here in the Palace of Westminster, where we see the change in young people when they realise that their voice and their vote matter. We see what happens when they become engaged. I am concerned about the number of young people in the wider world who just do not see the value. We can argue that perhaps it is their fault, or their parents’ fault or lots of other people’s fault that they are not engaged. But we have to find a way to ensure that young people see the value that they have.
Because of the lateness of the hour I shall limit my speech, and just ask a few questions for clarification. I shall be happy if the Minister wishes to write back to me on these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has already raised the 35% turnout in the Assembly elections. For me what is most worrying, in terms of engagement, is that only 12% of 18 to 24 year-olds say that they are certain to vote. As the levels are so low, I ask the Minister what action she sees as necessary to bring about change.
Is it not right to instruct the EROs to go into schools and colleges—first, because that that is where young people are obliged to be; secondly, because in Wales, owing to its rural nature, other registration methods cannot be as effective; and thirdly, in view of the success in Northern Ireland, where the chief electoral officer has said repeatedly that this is a “no-brainer” and that he expects Wales to be as successful? It makes absolute sense to go where young people are.
As everyone acknowledges that there is a problem, and everyone praises the Northern Ireland schools initiative, there are two options. Either this is about funding or it is not. If it is about funding, should not the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly sit down with the CEOs of the 22 Welsh local authorities and ensure that there is money available? If it is not about money, I do not understand why we do not put the duty on the EROs. We give them a duty to go door to door to register adults. Surely it is an awful lot easier to go into schools, where young people already are.
Are we really saying that we do not trust these people to register attainers? I am not a revolutionary, but we need a registration revolution in the UK. That process can and should, I believe, start in Wales. Registering all young people in schools and colleges should be a question of when, not if. There is lots of support for this measure. I think that most Members have today received a letter listing the Assembly Members and party leaders who support it.
Finally, has the Minister spoken to all four leaders to ascertain their level of support? In the light of the positive response earlier this afternoon about votes at 16 and the amendments to come forward, perhaps she will favourably consider the amendments.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and to indicate that there is all-party support for the amendments. Noble Lords will be aware of the letter which has been circulated by Bite the Ballot, signed by all four party leaders in Wales and pressing the importance of the matter.
We have heard in several debates about the degree of consensus in Wales, and this is another example of it. Where there is such consensus, we should build on it. The fact that education is a fully devolved matter and that it will now be possible, as the Minister indicated earlier, for those aged 16 and 17 to take part in the referendum on income tax, when it comes, underlines the need for us to maximise registration.
I very much hope that the Government will be able to respond to the points made and look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is 94 years since the voice of the bishops in Wales has been heard in this House but, as my noble Lord Roberts implied, I thought it right to consult the Church in Wales, and the Archbishop of Wales in particular, about the amendments, which seem to me to have a great deal of merit, to see whether their voice might be heard today indirectly, as it were. As a result, I can say that the Archbishop of Wales has asked me to convey to your Lordships’ House that the bishops of the Church in Wales are very supportive of the amendments. Indeed, I understand that they also support the extension of the franchise, as was proposed and discussed earlier, but I chose to concentrate my consultations on these amendments.
As are Members of your Lordships’ House, the bishops in Wales are very conscious of and concerned about low levels of political engagement in Wales. The Church in Wales has been working hard on its own structures to increase participation in its governance, especially among young people, so it is very glad to give its backing to the amendments as practical steps in national government both to encourage a higher level of voter registration, especially among young people, and, as a necessary corollary, to further political education in the schools and colleges of Wales.
On a more personal level, I believe that the bishops of the Church in Wales are right to support the amendments. I hope that what is done in Wales will model ways forward—somewhat along the lines described by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth—as laboratories of best electoral processes for the whole of the UK, as was underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. We need ways to improve levels of voter registration and to educate and, moreover, inspire young people in the responsibilities and opportunities of political engagement.
The amendments seem to me to be of great help in hooking young people into the political process, so that when they are entitled, they are primed and ready to go.
My Lords, I am delighted to be a cosignatory of Amendment 15 in the name of my noble friend and others. I want to take issue to a very limited extent with both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who I think are being slightly too pessimistic about the level of interest of young people in registration. The Scottish example is wonderful in that respect, but it is also true that Bite the Ballot, to which reference has been made, has made some real progress this year. It has been by making sure that it there is peer-to-peer encouragement—I do not mean Peer in the sense of Members in this House, I mean the real reference of young people to young people of the issues that are at stake. I have today had an Answer to a Question from the Minister for the Cabinet Office. My Question was:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to improve electoral registration rates among those attaining the age of 18”.
I will not read the whole Answer because it is substantial, but just two important paragraphs:
“To support the transition to Individual Electoral Registration, the Government has invested £4.2 million in 2013/14 shared across every ERO in Great Britain and 5 national organisations to support the costs of activities aimed at increasing the rate of voter registration.
The Government has also introduced online registration in Great Britain. As of midnight 28 October, 478,177 16-24 year olds had registered online”.—[Official Report, 10/11/14; col. WA 4.]
In a relatively short period this is a success story. I do not think that we should be too depressed or pessimistic about this problem.
As the Minister will know, I have sat for some time on a small cross-party informal group advising the Electoral Commission. Therefore I take very seriously indeed the guidance it gives us. In its note on this part of the Bill and the amendments to the Bill, it says:
“We strongly support the principle of EROs—
that is obviously electoral registration officers—
“visiting schools and talking to young people about democratic participation. This should form part of their local strategies to promote electoral registration generally and to target those groups who are least likely to be registered to vote … All 22 EROs in Wales have specific plans in place highlighting how they will work with schools and the further education sector in order to engage with attainers and young people”.
I think there is a consensus across the House—certainly among all those who have already spoken—that this is an important issue. Maybe, however, the concern some of us have is whether it is appropriate for statute. Is it appropriate to be in the Bill to this extent and in this detail? Hence the very brief amendment that I endorse.
I accept, however, that my noble friend the Minister may well feel that the Government are already committed —in supporting the Electoral Commission financially, and in terms of guidance and instruction where that is appropriate—to make sure that what we are seeking will happen with or without this amendment. I therefore look forward with interest to hearing how the Minister feels that we can best achieve the objectives which I think we share throughout the House.
My Lords, is it not a principal purpose of education to enable young people to think for themselves, to form views on informed and discerning bases and to take good decisions? In no sphere of life is this more important than democracy. Education should be a preparation for democracy. That is why I support these amendments, and very particularly Amendment 14.
My Lords, I support Amendment 13 very much in the spirit of the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, who has already explained the successes in electoral registration which have characterised the situation in Northern Ireland. I add one word of caution: in the last general election, 14 of the 20 constituencies with the lowest turnout were in Northern Ireland. There is still plenty of work to be done. The Assembly, I am glad to say, now has a good outreach programme. Only yesterday my colleague at Queen’s University, Belfast, Professor Rick Wilford, spoke to representatives of 50 schools in Stormont itself. The Electoral Commission is attempting to engage radically with young people.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will not be surprised to learn that there was a great spike in the interest of young people in response to the Electoral Commission’s efforts after the decision was announced that votes would be available to those aged 16 in Scotland—a very obvious and clear spike of interest.
Broadly speaking, the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, is correct. There have been successes in the registration programme in Northern Ireland which are quite remarkable. I can see no reason why similar methods cannot work in Wales. I simply add that in struggling against the alienation of young people, a number of approaches will be necessary.
My Lords, I am again pleased to take part in this debate and it seems that, once again, consensus reigns across your Lordships’ House. I support these provisions because the idea is to empower our citizens to register to vote. We know that turnout in Welsh elections has been lower than we would like it to be, especially among younger voters in Wales. Anything that can be done to increase participation, especially among our younger people, is to be welcomed. We know of the success in Northern Ireland, which is a great example of how it can be done. We have seen how the young people of Scotland were enthused by the referendum. Obviously, they all had to register to vote and they took part in that referendum because they were excited by it.
I am pleased to say that the Labour Party will have a manifesto commitment at the general election on voter registration and that we will be putting forward measures to encourage young people to vote. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, made out a very good case for taking active steps and engaging at the school and further education level. If action were taken as set out in the amendments, it would mean that young people, people with disabilities and ethnic minority groups—those who are consistently underrepresented in Wales’s democratic processes and, at present, the least likely to take an active part in democratic life—could be registered to vote and, by voter engagement sessions, be encouraged to use their vote. We need to get those at schools and further education colleges to understand how important it is for them to register and to vote.
The four Welsh party leaders have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Wales, and the Wales Office Ministers showing their support for these moves. We know that in a letter today, which other noble Lords have mentioned, they again urge your Lordships’ House to support these amendments. I will not read out the whole letter but it says that, “We the undersigned”—that is, the four leaders—are supporters of these voter registration amendments and therefore,
“ask you to incorporate this important provision into the Wales Bill”,
to set in train,
“easier, engaging and accessible voter registration for the people of Wales”.
If the Minister will take all these views into account, as I know she will, we could move forward on this and encourage our younger people and the underrepresented groups to register and vote.
My Lords, I start by paying tribute to my noble friend’s very energetic campaign on this issue, which has certainly helped to raise awareness of the problem. Knowing about the problem is part of the way to solving it. This is a complex issue so, while I know that it is late in the day, I hope the House will forgive me if I take some time to explain why these amendments would not in themselves solve the problem. That is not the Government being complacent—far from it. We all agree that there is a problem that has to be solved but registration alone will not solve it. An answer has to lie in civic engagement and education as well as in a vigorous programme to increase voter registration. I want to explain the programme that the Government are undertaking.
Amendments 13 and 14 are complex, detailed amendments but Amendment 15 provides that registration officers in Wales must arrange a voter registration session in each school and FE college in each academic year. It is similar to Amendment 14 but is very much simpler. I welcome the fact that my noble friend put down that amendment in the interest of simplifying this debate down to the core issues.
The problem of under-registration did not happen overnight and it will not be solved overnight. Its causes are varied and complex and it is linked both to increased population mobility and disengagement from traditional party politics. The most recent research by the Electoral Commission shows that levels of electoral registration have stabilised since 2011 following a decade of decline, but while the decline in the completeness of the register has been arrested, I want to make it clear today that the Government accept that this is not enough. That is why we have taken a number of vital and novel steps to transform electoral registration in this country. I set these out in great detail in Committee and I do not wish to take up the House’s time by repeating myself today but there are some additional things that I need to say.
In Committee I also committed to raising the concerns of noble Lords with colleagues in Government and more widely. Since then I have discussed them with the Minister for the Constitution, the Minister for Public Services in the Welsh Government and the Electoral Commission. In my meeting with the Electoral Commission it confirmed that the amendments tabled by noble Lords would be unhelpful in the case of data sharing, which I will explain in due course, and unnecessary in the case of registering young people. Indeed, it has provided additional briefing from which my noble friend Lord Tyler quoted.
In short, Amendment 13 could see EROs inundated by duplicate data from a range of sources held in different formats which crucially do not differentiate between those who are already on the register and those who are not. Dealing with the fallout from this would distract EROs from the important work they are already undertaking. They would simply be besieged by massive amounts of data. Those of us who have looked at electoral registers and delivered leaflets to houses—I suspect there are quite a few of us in the House today—will know that a slight variation in an address can occur. As an individual you know very well that the house is there and it is just a slight mistake but every mistake will be magnified within that data-matching process.
Amendments 14 and 15 were said in a recent Bite The Ballot briefing to empower EROs into going to schools. I want to clarify that EROs already have the power to go into schools. Indeed, as required by the Electoral Commission as part of the transition to IER registration, all 22 EROs in Wales have specific plans in place for working with schools. They all have engagement plans and they all include schools and the further education sector. EROs also now have access to ward-level data which are provided by local authorities to their EROs as part of local-level data matching. All EROs use the most appropriate data for their area. For example, in Cardiff, they might use parking permits. They would not be appropriate to use in Powys, where you would chose different data. Among the data that they use are education data. They are already looking at those issues. That allows them to focus their efforts on problem areas rather than using a blanket approach, as envisaged in the amendment. They also have access to demographic data which they can cross-reference with the ward-level data further to pinpoint those areas which require additional work.
Several noble Lords referred to the excellent progress made in Northern Ireland. I remind the House that there is no legal duty on EROs in Northern Ireland to go into schools, but they do it. The scheme was developed in Northern Ireland to tackle a specific issue, as the registration rate for that age group had plummeted to 8% in the middle of the last decade. This was in large part because the annual canvass was stopped in Northern Ireland. We have learnt from that mistake and we are not repeating it in Wales. The registration figure in Wales is more than 50%. This amendment would impose a specific statutory duty on the 22 EROs in Wales that they would have to fulfil, even if there was not a low registration rate in their area among this group. The EROs might have a different priority or a different group where registration rates were particularly low.
Electoral registration activities in Wales, as elsewhere, are funded by local authorities. Local authorities in Wales are part of the Welsh Assembly’s devolved responsibilities. As has been said, the leaders of the four main parties in the Assembly have indicated that they support this amendment, but I am not aware that they have committed the additional funding that it would require to make it workable. Without additional funding, this amendment would simply divert EROs from something else, as they have finite resources. This point was made strongly by the Electoral Commission in its briefing.
The noble Lord said that engaging young people early means that they are more likely to be engaged for life. I agree, but just registering does not provide that engagement. I am afraid that despite the success that is quoted in Northern Ireland, the figures do not bear out that story of ongoing engagement. In Northern Ireland, registration rates dropped dramatically by 15 percentage points to just 51% among 18 and 19 year-olds. That is sharply lower than in Wales and the rest of Great Britain, where 76% of 18 to 19 year-olds are registered. The schools initiative also appears to have had no discernable impact on turnout rates among young people in elections in Northern Ireland, an issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Bew, referred. Although the Northern Ireland situation has been successful in one aspect of this hugely complex problem, it has not followed through. Older young people, if I can put it that way—people in the next age group up—are not continuing to register and at the earliest age they are registered but they are not voting.
The Government have also provided additional funding to maximise registration in this financial year. Each of the 22 EROs in Wales received a share of this funding. Not all of them will have spent it on young people, but they are not the only group that the EROs need to target. Ministers are currently considering a further package of measures to maximise completeness among underregistered groups in the coming months. I hope that my colleagues will be in a position to make an announcement on this in the near future, which I hope will please my noble friend and provide confidence that the Government are determined to do even more.
While it is certainly for Parliament to legislate on issues surrounding electoral registration, education and schools are a devolved matter, as I have said. I urge the Assembly to consider what more can be done to use the school and college environment to educate, enthuse and engage young people in registering and voting. Citizenship education, which is on the curriculum in England but not currently in Wales, can play a vital role in preparing young people for the exercise of their democratic rights. In my discussions with the Welsh Minister for Public Services, I made it clear that I would be happy to ensure that we work closely together to facilitate this approach, but we do not feel that it is right to impose this on the Welsh Government—as this amendment would do—as this issue is devolved. However, I can undertake to discuss the issue again with the Minister when I meet him, which will be in the very near future.
I conclude by saying that I cannot imagine an electoral returning officer who, on being approached by a school or college, or a student council, to assist with this important task, would decline to do so. But that is only part of solving the problem and the Government are determined to look at the big picture. I hope that I have been able to explain satisfactorily to my noble friend why the Government resist his amendments and I hope that he is sufficiently reassured by what I have said about the positive steps that the Government are taking. We are continuing to tackle low registration rates among young people and other groups and I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reassurance. I now know that we can go ahead with the discussions between the Electoral Commission and the Welsh Assembly. Together they will make sure that every one of the 22 EROs in Wales fulfils that empowerment—I would call it an obligation—to enter schools to make sure that the numbers registering are far better than they have been in the past. In saying that, I pay tribute to Bite the Ballot and other organisations that have woken us up to the importance, not only in Wales but throughout the UK, of re-engaging young people with politics and life generally in the community. I look forward to Third Reading, when we might even hear some more from the Minister. I hope that we have, with this amendment, at least made an important intervention. Some might remember that I have put forward a Private Member’s Bill, also in the same direction. In 1911, there was a stand-off between another Welshman and this House; that was David Lloyd George. I do not compare myself at all with him, but at least we have today had a new approach. I hope that it will be of benefit not only to Wales—and we are going to keep an eye on this one—but also to the whole United Kingdom. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendments 14 and 15 not moved.
Clause 6: Taxation: introductory
16: Clause 6, page 7, line 13, at end insert—
“(10) In the event that the power to add new devolved taxes under section 116C of GOWA 2006, or the power to add new devolved taxes under section 80B of the Scotland Act 1998, is used, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must undertake a review of the benefits of symmetry in the devolution of taxes between Wales and Scotland.”
My Lords, it is getting late, but I want to move this amendment, in which we seek to future-proof the legislation before us. It is clear that constitutional reform north of the border will move forward apace now that commitments have been made in the referendum—and, of course, these commitments must be respected. However, we need to understand that reforms of Scotland are likely to have an impact on Wales. In this amendment, we are asking the Government to undertake a commitment promising that if new taxes are introduced in Scotland we will need a review of the impacts on Wales and to probe whether there will be any benefits from introducing such measures in Wales.
I will give noble Lords the example of corporation tax, to which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will refer. If corporation tax were to be introduced in Scotland, there would undoubtedly be an impact on Wales. Let me be clear—the Labour Party does not want to see devolution of corporation tax to Scotland. It is hard enough to get large corporations to pay the tax that is owed already and the last thing that we want to see is a race to the bottom in terms of taxation across the UK with the consequent knock-on effect on the limited pot available for public expenditure. But the reality is that Labour is not currently in the driving seat in Scotland, and we are not sure what is going to come out of the Smith commission, so if corporation tax is introduced in Scotland and if it were to undercut corporation tax in Wales, or if we were to see a similar kind of thing being introduced on air passenger duty in Scotland, and being introduced and then reduced in Wales, it would be more difficult to attract inward investment into Wales.
We are asking for a degree of flexibility to be able to respond to whatever is introduced in Scotland. If we do not write that into the Bill, we could be waiting for a wholesale constitutional reform debate to be settled but, in the intervening period, Scotland may have started off that process of undercutting us on corporation tax, for example. Scotland may have whipped in and claimed advantage over other parts of the UK, and I do not think that we should allow that to happen.
We do not know where we are heading in terms of direction of travel on devolution. We do not know what the timetable is for constitutional reform, and we need this amendment as a belt and braces approach to protect Wales from the possible introduction of taxes that could be damaging. If the Minister is not going to accept this amendment, I would like to know how she proposes to protect Wales if the situation were to arise.
My Lords, I have listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, with interest. There are certainly arguments in support of symmetry in constitutional terms; they usually lead to various forms of federalism. If the Labour Party is indeed moving towards a federal approach, that is certainly an important development.
I wish to address Amendment 20 in my name, which would provide that, if corporation tax were devolved to Scotland it should certainly be devolved to Wales or be available. Noble Lords may recall that I tabled an amendment in Committee proposing that if corporation tax were devolved to either Scotland or Northern Ireland, it should also be devolved to Wales. I based that on the fact that all four parties in the Assembly had agreed that this was needed, and that the Silk commission said that corporation tax should be devolved to Wales if it was devolved to Northern Ireland. The response that I elicited from the Minister, Lord Newby, on that occasion, was entirely centred on the comparison with Northern Ireland, not with Scotland. He based his argument on two factors: first, that Northern Ireland has to compete with the lower corporation tax in the Irish Republic. Wales also has to compete with Ireland for footloose inward investment projects, tourism businesses that cross the sea, and in the agricultural food sector, for example, in cheese manufacture. We share a maritime border with Ireland so I refute his argument on that count.
Secondly, the Minister argued on the basis that the tax devolution to Northern Ireland is in order to help it to rebalance its economy, with the implication that Wales does not need to rebalance its economy. That is absolute poppycock. Wales has the lowest GVA per head of any nation or region in the UK, following the rundown of coal, steel and slate. We desperately need to rebalance our economy. I am seriously concerned that a Treasury Minister, for whom I have very great respect, should have been advised by Treasury officials that Wales does not need economic rebalancing.
The Government do not recognise Wales’s needs vis-à-vis Northern Ireland. Be that as it may, the Minister did not try to defend not devolving corporation tax to Wales if it was, indeed, devolved to Scotland. I understand that this has been raised in the context of the Smith commission that corporation tax should be devolved to Scotland. Certainly, in the pre-referendum pledge the impression was given that the devo-max model being touted would include fiscal autonomy, and that certainly includes corporation tax.
In tabling the amendment I am seeking an assurance that if Scotland gets control over corporation tax the question should be firmly on the agenda of similar provision for Wales. I hope that on this occasion I get a more conciliatory response from the Minister, not just for me but for all four parties of the National Assembly that seek such powers.
My Lords, I support Amendment 16, standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely. It is very clear what it says, and without trying to rehearse arguments previously made, I want to discuss the devolution of air passenger duty. I refer your Lordships to my register of interests with regard to Cardiff Wales Airport. The Silk 2 implementation stated that long-haul air passenger duty should be devolved. The arguments put forward in Committee have been considerably amplified—perhaps extended—recently by an unlikely ally in Mr Willie Walsh, the chief executive officer of International Airlines Group, which as noble Lords know, incorporates British Airways and Iberia.
In an article in the Times on 30 October—it was after our Committee meeting; it would be flattering to consider that Mr Walsh was actually watching our proceedings—he takes it much further and calls for a total abolition of this tax across the whole of the United Kingdom. It was a stunning headline but when analysing what he said, and doing a little more research, it is worth making a mark as to what was behind his statement. He said that this tax, permissions, or whatever it may be,
“should be consigned to the annals of history”.
The argument put forward is that the estimated £3.5 billion that the Treasury receives would be more than offset by a boost of some 0.5% to our GDP and the creation of some 60,000 jobs.
The interesting thing is that it is possible to avoid this tax, and people do. For example, a family of four flying economy to the United States pays £276. A Japanese visitor flying back home from London to Tokyo pays £81. This may well have a connection with the flattening level of Japanese visitors to this country, both business people and tourists, over the last 10 years. This tax is a disincentive. Holland got rid of it after 12 months and has never looked back, so there is something to be said for replacing this tax.
I may be proved wrong but I believe that Scotland could well be getting something out of this. We all know what happened in the Republic of Ireland but what we do not know and do not realise is the damage that is done to Northern Ireland because of the hundreds of thousands of people who start their long-distance flights south of the border as £276 is a lot of money for a family of four flying economy. I support the amendment. I am sorry to bring up air passenger duty again but at present it is, I am afraid, a rather hot subject.
My Lords, these amendments utter an important warning. It is one thing to devolve minor taxes, such as development land tax and landfill tax, it is another to devolve more significant taxes such as air passenger duty, of which the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, has just spoken. But when it comes to the major taxes such as income tax and corporation tax, very deep thought needs to be given to the viability of such devolution if the United Kingdom is still to hang together. It worries me very much that we can toy with such propositions without them having been thought through. My noble friend is absolutely right to insist that, in the event of further proposals for tax devolution being made, deep thought needs to be given to them, led by the Treasury, and there needs to be a responsible debate across the United Kingdom because we risk unravelling if we continue to play these games.
My Lords, the issue underpinning Amendments 16 and 20 is symmetry between devolution settlements. Noble Lords have set out three guiding principles to support tax devolution. We believe that it should have cross-party support, be based on evidence and not be to the detriment of other parts of the UK. Based on the second of these principles, the Government have been consistently clear that decisions on devolution must be treated on their own merits using all the available evidence. This reflects the fact that what is right for one country is not necessarily right for another. The devolved countries are different and so, rather than seeking to achieve symmetry, it is more important that the three devolution settlements work in the best interests of the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
I point out to noble Lords that there are obvious differences. Reference has been made to the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The nature of the border between England and Wales is very different from the nature of the border between Scotland and England. Differences of that nature do affect decisions on devolution. Above all, we are determined to work in the best interests of each of the individual countries. Most recently, for example, we have removed the income tax lockstep from this Bill.
In response to the questions asked by noble Lords, I refer them to the Silk 2 report. Corporation tax was part of those recommendations, so it will be a natural part of those four-party discussions. I stress that both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have pledged to put Welsh devolution at the heart of the debate, and that is what the Secretary of State and I are seeking to do in discussions with the four party leaders. I hope that noble Lords will believe that our timetable for those discussions proves that we are determined to press ahead. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness but we must consider and understand that whatever we would like for Wales, it may be influenced by what is happening elsewhere. What the amendment was asking for was simply a report to be written on the benefits of symmetry; we were not necessarily asking for it to happen. We were saying, “Please look at it; would it be an advantage to us?”. I am therefore disappointed that the noble Baroness cannot accept that position but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Clause 8: Welsh rates of income tax
Amendment 17 not moved.
18: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of Welsh funding
Sections 8 and 9 shall not come into force until a Welsh Government Minister has laid a report before the National Assembly for Wales containing a statement to the effect that the Welsh Government, with regard to the Statement of Funding policy, is content with the fairness of the arrangements for allocating funding from the UK Government to Wales.”
My Lords, I turn now to the issue of fair funding for Wales. The Labour Party is keen for this Bill to pass because, for the first time, the Welsh Government will be allowed to borrow money. That is essential to help kick-start the economy, following years of government cuts, which have impacted in particular on the infrastructure budget—essential for investment and driving the economy of Wales.
We agree that in order to help leverage this funding, Wales should have landfill tax and stamp duty tax devolved to it. As we suggested in Committee, the Labour Party does not object in principle to income tax devolution to Wales but we have a key concern. Before embarking down this route, which must have the support of the people of Wales—demonstrated in a referendum—we need to be sure that Wales will not be left worse off than it is now.
We have real concerns that the funding issue in Wales has still not been comprehensively addressed. We now know that the Barnett formula will remain in place, but there is widespread acknowledgement that it has done no favours to Wales. It does not reflect the needs of a nation that has an older, sicker population and a more rural make-up, thereby adding to the costs of providing essential services. We accept that negotiations on this issue have been taking place between the UK Government and the Welsh Government and that there is recognition that a floor should be put in place to ensure that Wales does not lose out. That process was started through a statement in 2012, which acknowledged the problem, but we are looking for a more definitive agreement.
The four-party, cross-party agreement that came from the Assembly in the past month asked for,
“an updated assessment of the current level and likely future direction of Welsh relative funding”.
The Assembly asked for those talks to be completed by January 2015, and this seems to be realistic in terms of a timetable, as the Secretary of State for Wales suggested. He wants a devolution settlement by St David’s Day, 1 March. We are therefore happy that we know that something will happen, at least by 1 March, in terms of reserved powers. We are looking ideally for another little present for us for St David’s Day.
The Minister suggested in a recent answer to a question on the Barnett formula in your Lordships’ House that, in terms of funding, Wales now receives 114% of the UK average. This is welcome information but it would be useful for us to have sight of this evidence. Would the noble Baroness or the noble Lord be willing to share the data that demonstrates that 114% has been reached? It is worth noting that the figure quoted by the Minister was at the very bottom of the range that Gerry Holtham, in his report, indicated was an acceptable and fair level of funding, which ran from 114% to 117%.
There were a few factors that determined the lower levels of funding that arose as a result of the funding formula. The 114% could be considered fair only if we did not undertake to include Welsh-language education provision in Wales, for example. They do not do that in England, so it is not included in the Welsh figures. Also, Wales has already made an upwards adjustment on council tax receipts. If England applied the same formula, Wales would be eligible for more money in the block grant. Those two examples alone mean that fair funding should probably be more like 116%, rather than 114%.
We also know that Wales will lose out once public expenditure starts to rise again, which is why we need this sorted once and for all with a long-term commitment. If we can secure a commitment to the floor being in place—even if that does not happen in practice until Wales holds a referendum on income tax powers, alongside the outcome of the continuing discussions on the off-set required in Barnett—I believe we will then be well on our way to securing a decent and fair funding outcome. However, we are not there yet, which is why, central to the introduction of income tax powers for Wales, we need to be assured that the Welsh Government are happy with the outcomes of those negotiations. That is why we have tabled the amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment that my noble friend has just moved. It is as important as any other that we have debated today. I cannot see a satisfactory future for devolution in Wales until the Barnett nettle has been grasped. It is scandalous that no Government have dealt with this problem since the mid-1970s when the formula was introduced. Cumulatively, since devolution was introduced, Wales has lost out on some £5 billion of funding that it ought to have had, had there been a fair funding formula based on needs rather than on population.
It is true that the gap between what Wales ought to receive and what it does receive has narrowed somewhat in recent years, but we have to anticipate that, as economic growth continues to recover, so the gap in funding and the unfairness of funding will be exacerbated again. It is therefore imperative that there is no further procrastination on this and that the Government agree, with real urgency, to act to secure a just settlement for Wales. The Government were quick to respond to political pressures in Scotland. Political pressures in Wales have been expressed in gentler terms so far, but there will be a continuing sense of injustice that will undermine all the other efforts that we make to establish harmonious and satisfactory political arrangements on devolution for Wales. There are, of course, wider issues affecting the relationships between the nations and regions of the United Kingdom as a whole. I look forward to the Minister giving us a very positive response to the amendment.
My Lords, I always enjoy the conversion of the Labour Party to the idea that the Barnett formula is unfair. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, made a very important point, which is that it is scandalous that this formula has lasted for so long without anyone inquiring into it. I can assure noble Lords that the Government are aware of the issues and have taken measures to ensure that they are addressed.
This amendment would make the devolution of an element of income tax conditional on changes in funding arrangements. Specifically, the First Minister has raised this issue on numerous occasions, saying that he would not be prepared to recommend devolution of income tax unless fair funding were obtained. The amendment suggests that the Welsh Government have to confirm that they are content with the way in which funds are allocated to Wales from the UK Government before the element of income tax can be devolved.
This Government have already recognised that there has been convergence between the levels of funding in England and Wales since devolution. We took steps in the matter just two years after taking office. In October 2012, we set up a joint process with the Welsh Government to review the levels of funding in Wales and England in advance of each spending review. If convergence is forecast to occur over the spending review period, there will be a joint discussion of options to address the issue in a fair and affordable manner. That system worked well in advance of the 2013 spending round and confirmed that spending is not forecast to converge during the period up to 2015-16. It also established that relative funding levels in Wales were within the range that the Welsh Government’s own Holtham commission regarded as fair. In that context, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, quoted the 114% figure that my noble friend Lord Newby referred to last week. I am happy to write to her, and to set out further detail on that figure.
In relation to ongoing discussions about the funding situation, following the first meeting of the Joint Exchequer Committee between the UK and the Welsh Governments last month, we have now further committed to revisit jointly the review process in the light of the powers in the Bill. In other words, we have agreed to find a way of facilitating fair funding. The Government therefore believe that there is a sound basis for an early referendum to be called and I urge the Welsh Government and the Assembly to do so as quickly as possible.
I hope that I have assured noble Lords that the Government are aware of the issues on funding and are addressing them in discussions with the Welsh Government, who are fully conversant with our plans. I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, we acknowledge that the Government have taken certain steps to improve the scandal of Barnett in relation to Wales and we acknowledge that discussions are ongoing. We want the Assembly to be happy and comfortable with that funding process and to accept that it is a fair system, so I am a little disappointed that it should be so difficult to accept this amendment because that is what is being worked towards. It is simply saying that, before these things kick in, let us make sure that everybody is happy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
Amendments 19 and 20 not moved.
In the Title
Amendment 21 not moved.