House of Lords
Tuesday, 11 November 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
Mediterranean: Refugees and Migrants
My Lords, the Government are working closely with other EU member states to address this distressing situation. It is important to find solutions that tackle the root causes. We are, therefore, focusing our efforts on enhancing co-operation with source and transit countries, including strengthening protection in the region and disrupting the activities of traffickers.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Does he agree that since this issue was last raised in your Lordships’ House, it has become clearly unacceptable to allow some people to drown to deter others from risking their lives at sea? In this situation, will the Government seek to get safe sea lanes agreed between Africa and Europe? Will they mobilise all possible technology—for example, drones, radar and satellites—to supplement the work of rescue ships? In the long run, will they work to get interviewing done in Africa before migrants and refugees leave?
The noble Lord asked about surveillance. We are part of the general effort, through Eurosur, which is the surveillance component of Frontex. We have offered to provide additional services if they are called upon. Eurosur is doing a lot of work in that area through drones, exactly as the noble Lord suggests. Through our partnerships in-country, particularly in Syria, we are trying to head this off at source by making people aware of the Syrian resettlement programme and other UNHCR resettlement programmes, of which our Government are a part.
My Lords, the country in the front line in dealing with this problem is Italy. In so far as many of the people crossing the Mediterranean are intending to come to the United Kingdom, what support are we giving the Italian Government to deal with the problem?
Yes, it is the Italian Government, as well as the Spanish and the front-line Mediterranean states, including Greece. They are part of the Schengen arrangement. The Frontex programme and organisation is behind them. We have said that we will offer support as required. We have already assigned one liaison officer and the Home Secretary is meeting with her Italian counterpart. She has said that if they need additions, we are prepared to look at that.
My Lords, the whole House will recognise that my noble friend is doing a manful job defending a completely untenable position. May I change tack a little? Why does the Government’s policy seem to be to support measures that can have only one result—to drown more refugees in the Mediterranean—rather than a policy whose aim is to lock up more people traffickers? Only one has ever been arrested—in Egypt, which is one of the main departure countries. Does my noble friend remember a few years ago when Her Majesty’s Government used all the resources at their disposal, including Special Forces, to rid the Caribbean of drug smugglers? Why can we not do the same thing to rid the Mediterranean of people traffickers?
My noble friend hits the nail on the head. We need to tackle the traffickers who are exploiting this situation by placing vulnerable people in unseaworthy vessels and setting them afloat in exchange for €2,000 or €3,000 a head. That is absolutely morally outrageous. They are responsible for the deaths. That is why the National Crime Agency is working with Frontex and other organisations to bring them to justice. The legislation that your Lordships’ House passed in the Serious Crime Bill, and will pass in the Modern Slavery Bill, will help in that effort.
I do not have the exact numbers today but we accept that they are small. However, the numbers for the general gateway resettlement programme are around 750 to 1,000. That is a pinprick. However, this Government have a proud record of being the second largest donor of bilateral aid to Syria, giving £700 million to try to tackle the problem at source so that Syrians do not have to travel.
I suppose the short answer is that you would have to ask them why that is. I am sure that there are a number of draws in this country; we all agree that it is a wonderful country. The problem is that those people who are seeking asylum have the responsibility to claim that asylum in the first country they reach, which in this case is often a Mediterranean country.
My Lords, this is an extremely serious issue. The whole House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for raising it today and for first raising it in a Written Question. I agree with the noble Lord that this issue should be tackled at source in the countries affected and that they should look to tackle people trafficking and the reasons why people want to leave their homes. However, last week, I asked the noble Lord—the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised this as well—whether the Government really believe that this needless loss of life, with people drowning in the Mediterranean, will ever act as a deterrent to the criminals trafficking people or to those desperate enough to get into small boats and leave. He failed to answer the question then. Will he answer me now?
I have tried to answer it. These are very early figures but there is some evidence from Frontex, in a briefing that we received in the past 48 hours, that the trend is turning. We should remember that the relevant figure went up from 70,000 per year to 150,000 and that the number of deaths went up from 700 to 3,000. We think that there are between 300,000 and 600,000 people in Libya waiting to make a crossing. The indications are that the numbers fell in October. There could be other reasons for that and we are following the situation closely. This is something we take very seriously indeed and are trying to abate.
My Lords, does not this Question illustrate the wisdom of the Government in dedicating a larger proportion of GDP to international development than any other developed nation and in recognising that we need to support countries following conflict, and prevent them entering conflict, to avoid the terrible suffering that we are now seeing in the Mediterranean?
I am grateful to the noble Earl for his question. I am incredibly proud to be part of a Government of a country that is the first major economy to honour its 0.7% pledge and to provide £11.46 billion in aid to the most vulnerable and conflict-torn countries in the world. That is a record we all ought to be proud of.
Low Pay: Resolution Foundation Report
My Lords, the Government note the report and conclusions, particularly the recognition of the economic recovery. The economy is on the road to recovery as a result of the Government’s long-term economic plan. There are now more people in work than ever before, more people able to support their families with the security of a regular wage, and we have seen the first above-inflation increase in the minimum wage since 2007.
Is he aware that in responding to this Question he has two audiences. He has this Chamber; and what he has said may satisfy noble Lords. However, does he agree that to his other audience—to the people in this report whose lives and jobs are on a downward trend, and whose lives are becoming much more difficult—his response is irrelevant? In fact, they may even say that his response is complacent. Does the Minister have any words to connect with them?
I thank the noble Lord for the first part of his remarks welcoming me. I am sorry that he already thinks I am going to seem complacent. The reason we address those people who we acknowledge are in the difficult position that the report has mentioned, is that we believe that the economy is the foundation for increasing personal wealth. In fact, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that real household disposable income will rise every year to the end of the forecast period 2018-19.
Does this report cover the issue, which I have raised in the House before, of people in jobs such as carers being paid nothing at all for travelling between work, and whose pay therefore comes out at about £2 an hour? Sometimes it is even worse, particularly if they are self-employed. There is a minimum wage if one is employed but if one is self-employed or working for any of the agencies, one is not covered in any way. Is it covered in the report?
I think that it is covered, but the position on workers such as those mentioned by my noble friend is that if one is working as part of one’s job, one should be paid the minimum wage. People who are travelling should be paid the minimum wage. If they are not, that is a question of fact, which should be taken up at employment appeal tribunals. That would determine whether they are paid the minimum wage.
My Lords, we are in an economic era of falling unemployment but falling wages, with the number of people earning less than £7.69 an hour at a record 5.2 million in the United Kingdom. Do the Government recognise that economic growth alone will not solve this problem and that we need new policy initiatives in the labour market so that we do not end up with a working society of haves and nearly-haves?
I completely agree with the noble Lord. It is not just the economy itself but the other things that need to be done to address this issue. We need to create jobs, reduce the tax burden on the lower paid—in that respect, 3.2 million in this Parliament have been taken out of income tax—and invest in skills.
The right reverend Prelate is right to bring this subject up. The minimum wage is a minimum as a catch-all; the Government support people and businesses paying above that, if they can pay the living wage, but only when it is affordable and not at the expense of jobs. In BIS, the department I represent, we have recently increased the pay of the lowest-paid workers in the department so that everyone receives the living wage. We support that as long as it is not at the expense of jobs.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s last point—that BIS is paying everybody in the department the living wage—but it would be even more welcome if he could give us a guarantee, as the Government say they support the living wage, that every government department should pay its employees the living wage. Also, should there not be a condition that people who have the advantage of gaining a public sector contract should be paid the living wage as well?
My Lords, in his Answer the noble Lord commented that the Government had ensured for people the security of a weekly wage. How does he ally that with the growth in zero-hours contracts, when more than 1.5 million people do not know on Friday what hours—and, therefore, what earnings—they will get on Monday?
We have looked at the position of zero-hours contracts. We think that all workers, regardless of the type of contract they have, are entitled to core rights. We think that the flexibility offered by zero-hours contracts will suit some workers. Interestingly, the research from the CIPD found that those on zero-hours contracts say that they are equally satisfied with their job, but we are going to deal with some criticisms and problems with zero-hours contracts, such as exclusivity clauses and lack of transparency. That will be dealt with very soon in the business Bill.
My Lords, the Government have set departmental budgets for the remainder of this Parliament. No departmental budgets are set beyond 2015-16, including for health, international aid or defence. However, the Government are committed to ensuring that we have properly funded Armed Forces, which continue to be the second biggest contributor to NATO, and to growing the defence equipment programme at 1% above inflation each year until 2020-21.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, as far as it goes. However, the defence cuts since 2010 are the largest since Options for Change in 1990, which were taken against a much bigger set of forces. On this very special day—I know that all of us are thinking of those who have given their lives for this country—it is a hard thing to say, but as Plato said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. Are the plethora of experts and, indeed, the Chiefs of Staff correct when they say that the structure of Future Force 2020 planned by this Government cannot be achieved without the injection of extra funding, which was promised by the Prime Minister in 2010?
My Lords, I support the noble Lord’s comments about the importance of today. We must work endlessly to promote peace, which of course is partly the result of the defence budget, but is also something we do via our political, economic and aid budgets. There are many views on the appropriate level of the defence budget. All parties are considering what they believe an appropriate level of defence expenditure should be as they begin to think about the spending review, which will be conducted early in the next Parliament.
My Lords, the threats that we currently face are obviously very different from those that we have faced in the past. We have accepted that we would have a smaller but more flexible defence force, enabling us to deliver one enduring operation or two non-enduring operations. We are still committed to that. We are also spending increasingly more on cyber expenditure, including some £210 million next year on the national cybersecurity programme.
My Lords, following on from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord West, does the Minister agree that the SDSR in 2010 was means before ends? It was negligent in that we had unpredicted events, one after the other—Libya, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine—and our Armed Forces cannot even fill Wembley Stadium. Will the Minister assure us that we will stick to the 2% spending commitment to NATO and that we will not cut our Armed Forces any more?
My Lords, the Government are committed to that 2% for the remainder of this Parliament and into the next Parliament and to keeping the defence equipment budget growing. Any commitments in the medium term beyond that are commitments that the parties will be making in their manifestos.
My Lords, I am sorry for taking up time in the Chamber, but it is actually the turn of the noble Lord opposite.
My Lords, has the Minister read the analysis in Monday’s Financial Times which shows that, on the basis of what at least the Conservatives are proposing, the implications in the next Parliament for non-protected departments will be a budget cut of one-third? What might be the impact of this analysis on the defence budget? Does he believe that the Prime Minister’s assurances to the defence community carry any credibility whatever?
My Lords, I did read the Financial Times article. It is fair to say that all the parties going into the next election will have different views about how to bear down on the deficit. The Conservatives have one view and the Liberal Democrats have a different view as to where the balance between expenditure cuts and tax rises should fall. I have no idea what the Labour view is.
My Lords, I want to be more specific. The Government’s original plan was to purchase 138 F-35B joint strike fighter aircraft. This was reduced to 48 and it has been further reduced to 19. How will this commitment be affected by budget requirements and how will budget requirements and the needs of the defence of the realm be balanced?
My Lords, at this stage of the Joint Strike Fighter programme, aircraft are being procured via a rolling programme of annual contracts which confirm customer requirements two years ahead of purchase. We will make further announcements on new contractual commitments in due course. The overall number of F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft to be purchased will not be determined before the next strategic defence and security review.
My Lords, as on this day we look with sadness on the past, should we not also be constructive about the future? Does the Minister agree that the strategic defence and security review should be put on a statutory basis, brought before Parliament to ensure that it is robustly scrutinised, and that this process should take place once in each Parliament, as my party is proposing?
My Lords, the Minister referred to the fact this country is still the second largest contributor to NATO. Sadly, that is not a terribly high bar to clear these days. At the recent NATO summit in Wales, the Prime Minister stressed the importance of alliance members contributing at least 2% of their GDP to defence. While no one can commit the next Government, does the Minister not think that, were the current Prime Minister to form the next Government, it would be utterly bizarre if he and his party were not to adhere to this principle which he so strongly espoused so recently?
EU: Free Movement of Labour
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent remarks by the Prime Ministers of Sweden and Finland at the annual meeting of Baltic and Nordic leaders in respect of the free movement of labour within the European Union and its relationship with the internal market.
My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of free movement in relation to the internal market, but free movement is not an unqualified right. We are working with other member states to tackle abuse of this right and to ensure that we prevent sudden and uncontrolled migrations of the kind seen following previous accessions of new member states.
My Lords, the Prime Minister found himself isolated from his supposed friends and allies at the Helsinki meeting in his approach to the question of placing limits on the free movement of labour in the European Union. Does he recognise that, by his continuous appeasement of UKIP and by what the Economist called his recent “railing” against the institutions of Europe, he is setting Britain on the path of exit from Europe? Can the Minister assure us that there will be no more appeasement of UKIP before or after the Rochester by-election because, unless he changes course, in the event that he should become Prime Minister again after May he could go down in history as the Prime Minister who did more to destroy British influence in America, among our friends in Europe, in the Commonwealth and in the rest of the world than any of his predecessors?
My Lords, the Prime Minister was certainly not isolated when he met Prime Ministers at the Northern Future Forum. There was a strong and constructive discussion over dinner about many subjects, with migration clearly being an important one. Although it was a private meeting, the result was that when those present met the next day for their press conference, the Prime Minister was able to say in front of them and with their agreement that:
“I think there was common ground on a number of points”.
Some “problems and issues” had been identified in relation to welfare and benefits but,
“all of the countries around the table last night said that was something that should be looked at”.
He was supported in that by the Finnish Prime Minister, Mr Alexander Stubb, who thanked us for opening our borders in 2004, but also said that we should see what we could all do about the situation to try to alleviate it. In arguing for the interests of this country, the Prime Minister can find those of a like mind who see that a strong Europe addresses the problems that all states are facing. That is because it is to the benefit of all the states of Europe to ensure that we have a system of migration which is not an unqualified right, but is founded in the right to work, contribute to the economy and assimilate into society.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Prime Minister, in seeking to ensure that we have control of our own borders, is not seeking to appease UKIP but is reflecting the views of the vast majority of people in this country? The failure of the Liberals to understand that may explain why their support is evaporating.
Does my noble friend accept that it would be a good thing if both the Government and the Opposition spent a bit more time explaining why and what immigrants from the rest of Europe contribute to our economy, how much good they are doing here, and how valuable it is for us to have the free movement of our labour into the rest of the European Union?
My Lords, the Prime Minister is the first to explain how membership of a reformed EU is for the benefit of this country. I think that he did rather tease the Lithuanian Prime Minister by pointing out that 6% of the population of Lithuania now lives in the United Kingdom, so clearly we all have different problems with migration. My experience over the years has shown me that migrants form a very valuable part of our society. It is clear, though, that the increase in EU migration has caused some stresses and strains in some areas of the country on services such as health. That should be of concern to us all. We need to put that right to ensure that, when migration works, it is to the benefit of everybody.
My Lords, can the noble Baroness clarify whether the Government are still committed to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament—no ifs and no buts? That is despite evidence, as the noble Lord has just suggested, that EU migrants alone make a £20 billion contribution to the UK economy. Can the Government confirm whether they are still committed to capping the number of EU migrants to Britain irrespective of the comments of the Prime Minister’s so-called allies? How does he intend to convince them that this would be a good idea?
My Lords, the latter point referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, is of course not part of government negotiations. It is something that may be proposed in the future in a manifesto. On her first point, on television this morning the Home Secretary made clear our commitment to ensure that the numbers are reduced.
If we are all very brief, we should be able to get in a question from the Cross Benches and a question from the Liberal Democrats.
My Lords, everyone would agree that we should clamp down on illegal immigration and those who come to take advantage of this country. However, is the Minister aware of a recent poll ranking the contributions of immigrant communities? One of the countries that came highest for a positive contribution was the Polish community, with 44%. On the other hand, the Bulgarians were on just 18%, although the Bulgarian ambassador pointed out that only 1,000 Bulgarians were on benefits. Why, then, do we not appreciate the contribution of immigrants from the European Community as well?
My Lords, we do indeed appreciate the contribution of those who come from the EU to work here. The problem relates to those who come and decide that they will not work. That is why we made changes to the benefits system; that is why Germany is in the process of doing much the same.
My Lords, does the Minister welcome the judgment of the European Court of Justice just this morning, as I do, confirming that benefit tourism is not part of the free movement scheme, which is indeed a right to move for work? It has also confirmed the three-month wait period before even those genuinely seeking work can claim benefits. Does she agree that it is entirely in the UK’s interests to support the single market, including liberalisation of services, of which the free movement of people is a part? Cherry picking is therefore not in our national interest.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing the attention of the House to a judgment that was handed down only this morning. It related to a case taken against the German Government and, in effect, the judgment confirmed that EU migrants who do not have sufficient resources to support themselves and would become an unreasonable burden cannot access national welfare systems. This really highlights that the EU needs a clearer legal framework, clarifying the original treaties and allowing member states to retain control over their own national security systems. It is an important judgment and we will look at it carefully. It will have ramifications across the EU and we will have to consider all matters in much more detail as a result.
Prime Minister (Limitation of Period of Office) Bill [HL]
A Bill to limit the period during which a person may be Prime Minister.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Owen, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Consumer Rights Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 60, Schedule 1, Clauses 61 to 63, Schedule 2, Clauses 64 to 70, Schedule 3, Clauses 71 to 75, Schedule 4, Clauses 76 and 77, Schedules 5 and 6, Clauses 78 and 79, Schedule 7, Clause 80, Schedule 8, Clauses 81 to 85, Schedule 9, Clauses 86 to 92.
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Reserved powers for the National Assembly for Wales
The Secretary of State shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of Parliament on further legislative steps needed to establish a model of reserved powers for the National Assembly for Wales, which shall include a detailed timetable for implementation of this new model.”
My Lords, this amendment, which stands in my name as well as the names of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, is dedicated to streamlining the constitutional transfer of authority to Wales and to making clearer the boundaries which, to some extent at the moment, are obfuscated. The effect of the amendment would be to place the constitutional transfer of legislative and other parliamentary authority to Wales on a reserved basis, rather than a confirmed basis.
The meaning of that in lay terms is, as I am sure nearly every Member of this House appreciates, that there are two ways in which a sovereign parliament can transfer power to a sub-parliament. One is to transfer the totality of a subject heading and then say that there will be certain reservations, spelling them out—A, B and C—so that one knows exactly where that boundary is drawn. The other way of doing it is less simple and far more cumbersome: transferring piece by piece different legislative powers or, in a much wider way, describing certain subject areas but without setting out in detail exactly what they mean. The latter is what governs the situation in Wales, I am afraid.
Following the referendum of March 2011, and under Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, there are 20 subject headings ranging from agriculture to the Welsh language. They are not intended to be definitive of the powers that are transferred; they are more descriptive. Then, they are qualified—again, in a general way—rather than setting out exactly with ruthless correctitude what reservations and exemptions there are. One cannot overemphasise the difference between those two systems. One achieves the very best that devolution can achieve. The second brings out most of the weaknesses in the situation and guarantees great difficulties in future.
The Welsh Assembly has seen a number of developments over the past 16 years of its existence. It started off as, essentially, an executive body with very limited powers of delegated legislation. I think only 4% of the time of its plenary sessions was spent in the examination of legislation. Then, with the Government of Wales Act, things changed considerably. There was the provision under Schedule 3 that enabled what might be called the “salami slices” of authority to be conferred. Indeed, some such transfers did occur. But the fundamental change occurred, of course, following the referendum of March 2011 with those 20 areas of authority. They are very considerable in totality. The calculation of the Silk report is that they represent somewhere between 50% and 60% of the total expenditure of government in Wales. The area of jurisdiction is very considerable.
However, the system falls down on the question of ascertaining swiftly and clearly exactly what has been transferred and within what limits. I have used this expression before and do not apologise for it: it is such as to create a constitutional neurosis among those who practise the vocation of law in Wales. That of itself may not be a bad thing but it means that you have to chase little pieces of legislation almost like confetti. You have to trawl through various instruments and legislative provisions to get the truth. Even then, you may not be absolutely certain that you have covered everything that might be relevant. In addition, the exemptions are in such general terms as to be ineffective —and, indeed, perhaps downright dangerous, because of the dubiety created in such a situation.
The amendment therefore asks for a complete transfer, clearly and specifically, of a subject heading, and then a remorseless description of every exception that can operate. That is no more than the Welsh people deserve, and I believe that a solid body of consensus has grown around it by now. It would mark the further maturity of the National Assembly for Wales, and would remove the areas of dangerous dubiety that exist. It is on that basis, and with some confidence, that I ask for support for this most necessary amendment to the constitutional situation in Wales. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is with pleasure that I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. There are three reasons why I do so. First, the Welsh Assembly has won its right to a new and better model of government, and its right to be granted, like Scotland, all the powers not reserved to Westminster.
Secondly, with experience, it is now indefensible, within a small kingdom, to have different forms of government —for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Hence my firm belief, which I have advocated for some time, in the need, particularly post the Scottish referendum, to appoint a constitutional convention, with greater authority than the Kilbrandon royal commission because it would have party leaders on it, to give it maximum authority. Royal commissions have fallen out of favour; Kilbrandon itself was inconclusive. The thrust was there for devolving government, but the options were many.
Thirdly, with the symmetry of equality of powers for the three Governments, we could then consider the part that England would play in a federal state. I explored the proposals of the MacKay commission in my National Library Archive lecture last November, and surmised then that there would be a great deal of agonising before any agreement was reached. I trust that my party will take a statesmanlike view and a broader perspective than short-term number-crunching, and will make the good governance of the whole of the United Kingdom paramount.
The arguments against my noble friend’s amendment, which I have learnt from the considerable time that I spend in Spain, my favourite European country, amount to “mañana”—or, to paraphrase St Augustine, “Oh Lord, make me good—but not yet”. However, I am confident that the ever efficient Whitehall machine has already done a great deal of the spadework. Indeed, it had done that as far back as the devolution Bill of 1976, of which I was the architect—and, I suspect, also did it as part of the work on the schedule of powers in the most recent Act, to which my noble friend referred. Those powers were not delineated lightly. So, from my experience of legislating, my noble friend’s proposal of six months seems a perfectly reasonable time within which to bring forward proposals.
At Second Reading, we heard some quite ill informed criticism of the present arrangements. As the architect of Harold Wilson’s Bill, I plead guilty, together with the other members of the Government I was proud to serve. I was warned then that this was a novel and untried proposal, and that reserved powers would be much simpler. Let me enumerate briefly the realpolitik facts—they can be proven historically—about why the decision was taken on granting powers as opposed to reserving powers.
First, we were spoilt for choice by the many proposals of the Kilbrandon commission, which deserve rereading. Secondly, the first draft of the Queen’s Speech in 1974 did not include any devolution proposals. I was warned in the first few days of the new Government to send an amendment to No. 10 to include devolution, and I did so—as it happened, from my sick bed. The reason for the omission was that the Cabinet Office drafters thought that a reforming Labour Government would have other, more general, priorities in the first year of government.
Thirdly, my great fear was that there would be a Bill for Scotland but not for Wales—mañana again. Wales might come at the tail end of a Parliament. My mission was to hang on to the coat tails of Scotland and, if necessary, compromise my ambitions to ensure that there would be contemporary Bills in the early years of the Labour Government.
Fourthly, the Labour Party was split, and many of my colleagues lacked appetite for any kind of devolution.
Fifthly, the Cabinet was split. The Prime Minister was the main protagonist and appointed his two deputies in turn, Ted Short and Michael Foot—such was the importance of the committee—to chair the Cabinet committee dealing with the day-to-day work of drafting the Bill. The difficulties, fears and doubts of all Whitehall departments were paraded in the twice-a-week meetings of that committee.
Eventually, one of the greatest and most intellectual civil servants, Sir Michael Quinlan, a distinguished future Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, was appointed to head the Whitehall machine. I tend to gauge the prospects of success of a particular policy by the quality of the civil servants appointed to run it. I knew with the appointment of Sir Michael—he was Mr Quinlan then—that we would get the proposals over the hurdle of the Cabinet legislative committee.
If anyone wants intellectual analysis of our political difficulties, I invite him to read or reread the admirable diaries of the period written by my noble friend Lord Donoughue, who had a ringside seat at many of the all-day meetings in Chequers and elsewhere. They are historical proof of the difficulties resulting from the different views of the Cabinet. The opposition changed from meeting to meeting: Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Elwyn Jones and so on—all big beasts. At one time, my noble friend says, they were quarrelling like monkeys at Chequers. It was only the steadfastness of the Prime Minister that got us through, and I am eternally grateful to him.
The intellectual defence of our proposals, which we now find inadequate, was that we proposed what we thought we might get away with in the party, in the House of Commons and in Wales. That was the realpolitik. In the event, we were proved wrong because of, as Mr Macmillan once said, “Events, dear boy, events”. Now is the opportunity to right the wrong. I, for one, marvel, now that everyone—well, almost everyone—is a devolutionist, how far we have moved in the 55 years of my parliamentary life.
My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, and to learn some aspects of this question that I had not been aware of before. I am very glad that he has added his considerable expertise and weight to support the amendment. I am delighted to support the words of my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan and I am grateful to him for putting this amendment forward. I pay tribute to him for his consistent advocacy for the maximum self-determination for Wales within the framework that we are discussing.
I moved a very similar amendment to this in Committee, supported by my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas. I do not intend to repeat the arguments that I put forward then, but I would like to highlight two points. First, the basis for having a reserved powers model is that it would be similar to that in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so it at least has arguments of symmetry in its favour as well as the practical arguments that have already been outlined. Secondly, the reserve powers model was unanimously recommended by the Silk commission, which included people from all four parties in Wales. There were some discussions before coming to that conclusion, and clearly it is something that should carry weight.
The principle of that amendment in Committee was supported by noble Lords on all Benches. It was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell—I was delighted at that time to hear his words—and by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Rowlands, Lord Richard and Lord Anderson, as well as my noble friends Lord Elystan-Morgan and Lord Elis-Thomas.
In her response to that amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said:
“I am delighted that there is now a broad consensus that moving to a reserved powers model of devolution is desirable”.
She assured the Committee that the Wales Office was,
“working proactively on how we go forward to a new reserved powers model … we must … ensure that sufficient work is done on the reserved powers model so that there is cross-party agreement”.—[Official Report, 13/10/14; col. 26.]
She was then challenged by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, as to why the reserved powers model,
“cannot be accepted in principle in the Bill, with all the details to be worked out in due course”.
In reply, the noble Baroness said that she would,
“take it away and think about it”.—[Official Report, 13/10/14; col.28.]
She invited me to withdraw my amendment, saying that events were moving on very rapidly. It was on that basis that I withdrew the amendment that I had put forward.
Well, we are now at Report stage. I warmly invite the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, now to indicate that the Wales Office has indeed worked proactively on this matter and can now accept the amendment and tell the House of the anticipated timescale to get the constitutional change put into effect.
My Lords, I very much enjoyed the history lesson that we received from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris. It was a revelation of what life was like in the Labour Cabinet at that time. I also have a great deal of sympathy for what he said about the need for a commission to look at the whole devolution package of constitutional change, and I have also expressed my views on that.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has reminded the House, I have already expressed sympathy for the reserved powers model. I have just one point to make, which arises from the phrase in the amendment,
“within six months of the passing of this Act”.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, has said that a great deal has no doubt already been done and it should be possible to get a measure together within about six months. We have heard that the Wales Office has probably been doing some work on it. However, this Bill is likely to pass into law quite quickly, and I am a little concerned, if more work needs to be done, that the implementation of this proposal might be required almost exactly at the time of the general election—or perhaps even worse, in the interesting period that may follow it, when attempts are being made to form a coalition Government.
It does not seem to me to be very wise that a new Government in those circumstances should be required, almost as their first act, to bring in this measure. My concern is that by using that phrase “within six months of the passing of this Act”, the noble Lord may have inadvertently created an unnecessary obstacle and difficulty. I would be happy with the general thrust of the amendment if we had a rather more relaxed timescale so that, if the matter has to go beyond the general election, it would enable it still to be dealt with expeditiously but not in the immediate aftermath of that general election.
The six months is not set in stone at all. I think it necessary to have some idea of a timetable to concentrate the mind, as Dr Johnson might have said. However, I do not think that six months is sacrosanct. If a manuscript amendment or any such change was appropriate, I would willingly be prepared to make such amendment.
My Lords, I, too, was very much interested in the historical statement that we had from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. His was a very important speech, which I am sure will find its way into the history books of the time.
I indicated in Committee that, in the Bill that I drafted in 1967, we had a reserved powers model which was presented by Lord Hooson in the Commons and by Lord Ogmore in this House. Shortly after that, I gave evidence to the Kilbrandon commission and called for a reserved powers model. When the Government of Wales Act was going through in 1998, I was calling for a reserved powers model. If this amendment today were for a reserved powers model, I would be in very considerable difficulty. However, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, is one of timing and, as he has just indicated, he is prepared to be flexible about that timing. In such circumstances, I am prepared to defer to the views of my noble friend the Minister, who I know shares my views on this issue.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, for his amendment and for the flexibility that he has just expressed. As he says, we have now achieved critical consensus in support of a reserved powers model, which is a result of the growing esteem in which the reputation of the Welsh Assembly is held and the maturing of time.
I think that it now strikes almost everybody—I hope that it strikes the coalition Front Bench—that it is a matter of simple equity between Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland that devolution should be reconfigured for Wales so that it is on a reserved powers basis. That must make pragmatic sense because it is highly undesirable that questions of policy jurisdiction should have to be resolved in the courts. This is a policy for which the time is ripe. Whether it will be precisely ripe in six or nine months’ time is something that we can consider, but the noble Lord is drawing attention to a matter upon which we should now seek to precipitate universal agreement.
I was fascinated by the historical excursion of my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon and I would demur in only one respect. It is presumptuous for me to do so, given his vast experience of these matters, but I am apprehensive about his proposal for the scope and make-up of a constitutional convention. It has suddenly become very fashionable to favour a constitutional convention, since the dramatic and very difficult events that occurred in Scotland—indeed, in the United Kingdom—only a few weeks ago.
I am not against a constitutional convention, and I think it would be a good idea to have senior politicians as members of such a convention along with academics who are deeply expert in these matters, constitutional lawyers, appropriate representatives of civil society and so forth. However, I think it would be a very bad idea for party leaders to be members of such a convention. They would be prudent to keep their distance from the convention, because the problem for a convention is that, toil as it will and wise as its members may be, almost certainly they will get it wrong. As my noble friend acknowledged, the Kilbrandon royal commission was inconclusive. I think he even said of himself and his colleagues and partisans in that Labour Cabinet, “In the event we were proved wrong”.
The complexity and scale of potential constitutional change is such that even the wisest are most unlikely to hit upon a blueprint for the future of our constitution that will prove as universally beneficial as they hope and stand the test of time. Even the preternatural wisdom of those who met at Philadelphia seems now to be tested by events. Many people consider that the constitution of the United States of America has become pretty dysfunctional. Well, it has served its purpose very well for a very long time. But there are many other instances of constitutional conventions that have started off in a blaze of optimism and ended in a blaze of political destruction, so we should be very cautious about this. Constitutional change occurs most benignly when it is incremental and incrementalism has been the approach for constitutional change in Wales.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, proposes one more phase of incrementalism. It invites us all to acknowledge that the moment has come for devolution to be reconstituted on a reserved powers model. Let us be content with that as we think further and feel our way forward on some of the more difficult aspects of all of this.
My Lords, I rise because I feel that there ought to be an examination of what the noble Lord has just said. I am very unhappy about this amendment although I agree with it in terms of the next increment. I just think that we are fumbling around in constitutional discussions without taking things in the round. It is all right talking about increments but there has been no constitutional incrementalism as far as England is concerned. That is our problem and we ought not to allow ourselves to continue with these bits—a bit here, a bit there—with no real consideration of the totality of the United Kingdom.
We are fumbling in the dark and I very much hope that my noble friend will not accept this amendment, not just because of the time but because I hope she will go back to the coalition Government and say that, although it may be tough, there comes a moment in a nation’s life when it has to consider what its constitution ought to be as a whole, not just in bits, and what happens to the other bits when you change some of them. We must face up to it. I know it is not going to be perfect and I know it is going to be very difficult but if the choice is between randomness and trying to work something out, I am in favour of rationality. I want people to think this through and try to discover what the balance ought to be.
As the son of a Welsh-speaking father I have some reason to congratulate the Welsh people on the way in which devolution has worked in the Principality. I am not speaking against this because I do not think that it should continue; I am merely saying that the United Kingdom matters too much for it to be left—
Does the noble Lord not agree that if it were not for the pressure for change in Scotland and Wales in particular, and perhaps in Northern Ireland, England would do nothing? Therefore, if we do not have that pressure, there is no incentive. Rationality is all very well, but you need to do something.
I quite agree with my noble friend, but that pressure is there. It has been there, and it has meant that we have had to do things. I have always believed that we should have worked this out rationally before we were pressurised into it, but pressurised we have been. It is not going to stop now. Let us make the answer rational. Let us not just say that we will add another bit here and another bit there and hope that the result is something sensible. I believe the moment has come to grasp this nettle, not to say that it is too difficult. Let us do it as well as we can. It will not be perfect, but I suggest to the noble Lord that it is more likely to be closer to perfect if it has been thought through rather than if it happens accidentally.
My Lords, I did not intend to speak in this debate until I heard the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I shall make two points. First, he is absolutely right that the constitution of the United Kingdom as a whole needs a good looking at. There is no question about that. It needs looking at rationally, sensibly and at a very high level. Therefore, I have for a long time been in favour of some kind of convention or royal commission which would do precisely that task. That is one issue.
The other issue is what you do about Wales now. You cannot mix the two up and pretend that the Welsh issue is not an issue that has to be dealt with before the royal commission begins to sit. The position with the Welsh Assembly at the moment is that it has—to use the noble Lord’s phrase—an irrational system whereby it is entitled to legislate. I would have thought that the noble Lord would agree that perhaps some rationality should be brought into the Welsh system. You would then at least have conformity between Wales and Scotland.
The relationship between the devolved Administrations and the centre is precisely the issue that then has to be looked at by a royal commission when it comes to consider the constitution as a whole. I do not think you can just pretend that the situation in Wales does not really exist and wait for the deliberations of a royal commission, which may take some time, as they usually do, and when it reports, the report usually takes a long time to be properly considered. I think there is a distinction there.
My Lords, I am a little reticent to enter the debate on the basis of rationality because I once had to resit an examination in logic, happily in the university of which I am now the chancellor, so some things work out. This has been an extremely illuminating debate for all of us, not least because we have had further highlights from the memoirs of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, which I am sure many noble Lords have already read. I remember those days in the 1970s very vividly. I pay tribute to him for his consistency in this matter and for his consistency at that time. He has pointed out how he was so keen to ensure that there was not a flanker movement on the part of the Scots, as there always is in politics and occasionally is in sport. He ensured that the issue of Wales stood alongside the issue of Scotland at that time. We had a few cups of tea, and other things, at that time to discuss these matters, and we are where we are today because of the way that he stood firm.
If this is the day of the eulogy of the conferred powers model, I want to say some positive things about it. I was elected Presiding Officer in the Assembly, and I had to work with the three constitutions we have had so far: the executive period; the transitional period of the late lamented—perhaps not—requests for permission to legislate; and now the period post the 2011 referendum on the conferred model conferring full legislative powers with exceptions.
As I mentioned in Committee it is important to say that in constitutional theory, as far as I am concerned, conferred powers with reduced or no exception, bring us to the same place as reserved matters. It means that the subject set out in Schedule 7—the latest and most relevant model—and Clause 108 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 gives us those powers as defined. There is no ambiguity there.
I hate to disagree, gently, with my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan. We have both been through a long political journey together and I always value his judgment, now as I did then. But we have the strong determination of the Supreme Court on the agricultural wages board in July. It sets out quite clearly that there cannot be an interpretation of the Government of Wales Act and the relevant Schedule 7 which does not take literally what is in the schedule, nor seek to surmise that there are any other ways of defining the powers as was suggested by certain other law officers of another government. So the position is clearer than he was indicating. Having said that, I speak strongly in favour of moving to the reserved powers model as very clearly set out in the report of my noble friend Lord Richard, which one day will be fully implemented, I hope sooner rather than later.
This move to establish reserved powers is now supported by all parties in the National Assembly. This is very important to me; I have worked closely with both my colleagues on the Government Front Bench over the years, when I was presiding in the Assembly, to ensure that the constitution worked to the extent that we could make it work. Working together, cross-party, has been the basic feature of the success of devolution in Wales. Let that be clearly understood. But there is a flip-side to that. When all parties in Wales agreed, and when all leaders came together as they did in the debate that we had a couple of weeks ago on the future of devolution in Wales, the cross-party agreement said that the National Assembly:
“Seeks confirmation that the Reserved Powers model will be instituted for Wales”.
That is what we are doing by means of this amendment. It has been confirmed by the UK Government through a Minister who was also a Minister in the National Assembly for Wales, and aided by a colleague on the Front Bench there who was leader of the Welsh Conservatives, clearly a very high ranking position in the National Assembly. It is good to have them both here responding to this debate. So I will now give them the opportunity of responding. I emphasise that I always enjoy my debates with the noble Lord, Lord Deben. We agree on most things environmental. I know he is of proper Welsh stock in terms of his theological roots, but he, like me, has wandered in the direction of Anglicanism.
The noble Lord’s key point is rationality and he asked why this is happening in Wales and not in England. I am so old-fashioned in constitutional matters that I still believe in the self-determination of peoples. If people request democratic change, that is a test of whether it should be considered; it is also a test of its acceptability. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that incrementalism has worked in Wales, because the people of Wales have seen the gradual development of our devolution as something they can support, over successive polls and referenda. It is on that democratic basis that this has happened. It is not something that has come out of nowhere. In the United Kingdom, as we now call it—it has been called lots of things in its history, and may be called other things in future—the relations between the peoples and nations of this island have always been negotiated in this ad hoc way. It is not irrational, it is democracy.
My Lords, far be it from me to intervene in a discussion among the representatives of the people of Wales on their devolution, but I wanted to make an observation. As someone who was involved in negotiating a reserved powers model some years ago, I can tell noble Lords that it is not the Valhalla that they expect it to be; it has its downsides as well as its upsides.
I wanted to comment on some of the remarks from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. First, on the consistency issue throughout the United Kingdom, I do not think that it will be achievable to have an entirely consistent model everywhere. Indeed, why should we necessarily have one? The famous vow issued immediately before the Scottish referendum had a section in it that almost supersedes devolution, by almost implying that the Scottish Parliament will be a totally free-standing and permanent institution that is not in future perhaps capable of being legislated over by this Parliament. That is one interpretation of the vow.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, made a significant point when he said that the people of England may feel left out of the constitutional debate. There is quite a bit of substance in that, but I point out to him that it is the Government who have brought forward in this year alone the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which brought more powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as the Scotland Act, which gave more powers to Scotland—and now they are bringing forward the Wales Bill. Parliament can respond only to the legislation that the Government of the day bring on to the Floor of the House—and it is the Government who are bringing forward these Bills.
The noble Lord will get no argument from me on that. How we are going about our business is a tragedy in many respects. Obviously, this Government have tried hard on the economic front, and so on, to help us recover, but their Achilles heel has been how they have dealt with constitutional matters. This is only part of it; there are other examples from the earlier days of the coalition Government, when things were brought forward that were not successful. So there is no question that we need to get a grip. There are those with much more parliamentary experience than me—and, whether it is through conventions or royal commissions, we have got to get a grip on this.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, the Lord Chairman of Committees, is in his place. The question of how this Parliament relates to the devolved institutions has not been satisfactorily resolved. The Minister will know that on a number of occasions I have raised issues about the fact that the Sewel convention operates in a particular way; it was a product of its time. By removing this House from anything to do with the day-to-day running of the devolved regions is a mistake. It was a historic mistake in my own part of this country because, if Parliament had had some engagement between 1920 and the late 1960s, we might not have ended up in the position we were in. Noble Lords should not believe that it is not possible for something similar to happen in Scotland, Wales or any other form of devolution. This Parliament cannot absent itself, because it is voting on how the resource, in very large measure, will be dispensed by these devolved Administrations.
In our devolution debates, I said that there was a risk that the devolved institutions would become giant ATM machines, and that local people would see all this money flowing out and the local politicians all at it, cutting the tape. I am sure that the Minister has had her day of glory doing that, as did many of the rest of us who were devolved Ministers. The fact is, if we run out of money or do not have enough, as is the position at home, the evil Westminster Parliament is to blame. We cannot have our cake and eat it, so there is an issue to be resolved on how the people of England are dealt with. They are becoming frustrated and angry, which cannot be right. That cannot be good for the United Kingdom.
I also just observe on this amendment that, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has already conceded, the six-month deadline is neither practicable nor realistic. I am sure that he will bring forward proposals to amend that in due course.
The Government are continuing to introduce these Bills, and they are being brought forward in a totally independent process from looking at the wider constitutional issues. The more Bills on devolution, the less consistent the United Kingdom becomes. That only exacerbates the position of the people of England, which must be resolved. It is entirely inconsistent that the regions get these powers, if indeed that is what they want; if anybody thinks that the people of Northern Ireland are queuing up for more powers, with the sole exception of corporation tax, I have to say that that is not our position. On the idea that we have income tax powers devolved to Stormont, for instance, I do not particularly look forward to paying 99p in the pound. I think that is where we would end up. At the moment, I believe that the incremental process is the right model to follow. I hope that we get off the blocks, whatever we do in England, but things cannot be left as they are. I think that everybody knows that.
My Lords, in declaring my interest as recorded in the register, I mention in particular my chairmanship of the Society of Conservative Lawyers. In an attempt to satisfy my noble friend Lord Deben, I refer him to a very detailed report on devolution as a result of a group headed by a senior barrister, Anthony Speaight QC, which concluded that the time has come to move from a conferred powers model to a reserved powers model in Wales. That should be put in the context of other necessary changes.
I greatly welcome the consensus which exists, and which I have heard in this House today for us to move forward on the reserved powers basis in Wales. I, of course, agree with my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Thomas of Gresford that the timetable set out here is unrealistic. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend how we should proceed. My message is simply that the time has come, and let us now move on.
I shall be very brief. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, made an interesting speech and I have much sympathy with so much of what he said. He said that you cannot have your cake and eat it, but of course you can; you cannot eat your cake and have it. We should get that aphorism right in this House. We are in danger of getting things in a real muddle if we are not careful. My noble friend Lord Deben, as always, made an extremely persuasive, articulate and convincing speech, and I think that we have to move to a royal commission very soon before we get more tangled up in constitutional change that has not been properly thought through. When we were debating the future of this House, time and again people were saying that form must follow function. That is right. We have to determine what the respective Governments within the United Kingdom do before we make final decisions on how they relate to each other. While I accept that the Bill before us—one of a series of random Bills, as my noble friend Lord Deben said—has to be dealt with, I infinitely regret the constitutional incoherence with which this coalition Government have behaved over the last four years. They have not served the commonwealth in any way whatever.
My Lords, it is wonderful to listen to noble Lords who worked so hard to establish the Welsh Assembly and have the battle scars showing the history of all that went on. The establishment of the Assembly was a gift to my generation and the generation that follows it. Even more importantly, people support it and, indeed, are asking for more powers for the Welsh Assembly. However, it is worth noting that the appetite for independence in Wales has dropped to an all-time low of 4%.
I have a degree of sympathy with the position adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, as this hotchpotch of constitutional efforts to put things together lacks any consistency or coherence. That is the way we have traditionally done it and that is why the Labour Party supports the establishment of a constitutional convention. However, if you follow the logic, you would have to throw out the whole Bill and I do not think that we would like to see that happen. There is an appetite for the Bill to go through. We want to see some important points in this legislation being adopted, particularly the ability for the Welsh Assembly to have borrowing powers. Having said that, it is also important to draw attention to the fact that the constitutional model on which the Welsh Assembly is established has passed its sell-by date. This amendment seeks a massive simplification and clarification of that system of governance over the current so-called conferred powers model.
At present, it is not at all clear what is devolved to Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, pointed out, if you want to be absolutely sure about that, you have to consult countless Acts and be an expert on constitutional law. That does not help transparency or accountability, both of which are important when there is a clear problem about the way in which people relate to politics. At the very least they need to know who is responsible for what. The introduction of a reserved powers model would help that.
On two occasions, the Welsh Government have been challenged in the courts in relation to their power in certain policy areas. On those two occasions, the UK Government lost the case against the Welsh Government, most recently in relation to the retention of the Agricultural Wages Board in Wales. Thankfully, even the Government have now seen sense and recognise the need to change to a reserved powers model. In Committee, the Minister suggested that a lot of proactive work is already being done on how to move towards a new reserved powers model. We look forward to hearing more detail of how the Government intend to do that. However, the Minister also suggested that pushing for this now would prolong the process and cause serious problems for the Bill in the other place. I do not concur with that assessment because we know that there is a cross-party consensus for this position. We know that much of the work has already been done, as was indicated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, so we do not understand why the Bill cannot refer to the reserved model and accept in principle that which we all agree with. It makes sense to be given clarification on this prior to the general election and the Assembly election. We understand that there may be a problem with the timing but we are looking for clarification. It makes sense to lay the report before the end of the six-month period; you do not have to take six months in its entirety. There is no reason why we cannot get on with it before then.
My Lords, there has been a strong sense of history here today and I would say that this Bill adds its little bit to that history.
Amendment 1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before both Houses six months after this Bill has received Royal Assent, setting out a timetable of the legislative requirements for a move to a reserved powers model for the National Assembly. As many noble Lords have said, Amendment 1 reflects the general consensus that a move to a reserved powers model for Wales is desirable. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, explained the disadvantages of the conferred powers model and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred to working with that model. As a Minister in the Wales Office working with that model on a daily basis, I am well aware of the issues. Several noble Lords have provided us with a vivid analysis of the weaknesses of the current model. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, said of the 1970s model that the Government proposed what they thought they could get away with. One may possibly make the same judgment of the late 1990s model, which is the one that was used to establish the Assembly. It is reflected, of course, in the conferred powers model.
A change to a reserved powers model would provide much needed clarity in the devolution settlement—clarity which would make further referrals to the Supreme Court less likely. The Government fully agree with the underlying intention of the noble Lord’s amendment, if not with its detail. Rather than waiting for Royal Assent of this Bill, the Government intend to take forward work over the next few months to produce a reserved powers framework for Wales. Through cross-party discussions and discussions with the Welsh Government, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I intend to produce that reserved powers framework and a set of commitments to further devolution agreed by all the parties by St David’s Day 2015. This will be a comprehensive look at the whole picture. Several noble Lords have discussed the need for a constitutional convention. I am sure noble Lords will recognise that this is not something for today. However, in respect of Wales, the Secretary of State—
The noble Lord possibly does not recognise the importance of St David’s Day in Wales. However, the day is chosen not simply because it has significance within Wales but because it falls conveniently before the next election and before the start of the campaign proper of the next election.
The Minister has made a very important concession. Clearly, the Government have listened very carefully to what was said in Committee, but the problem remains of what vehicle will be used to bring this new consensus into operation. The noble Baroness will know how difficult it is to find a slot in the legislative programme. It is also very difficult, obviously, for the Government to give any firm undertakings. How does she respond to that?
The noble Lord makes an important point. By moving forward on a cross-party basis, it is the intention to ensure that there is commitment across the four parties in Wales to ensure that the Bill can come forward in the early stages of the next Parliament.
I will of course look at the record but I was firmly intending 2015. I think noble Lords understand that.
Perhaps I may have a moment to flesh out a little further the plans that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I are attempting to achieve. We are determined to achieve a comprehensive approach to the next stage of devolution in Wales and to achieve cross-party consensus. The simple fact, therefore, is that the noble Lord’s amendment is unnecessary.
The Government are committed to taking forward an ambitious programme for Welsh devolution and to achieve that programme through agreed, cross-party discussions. It is an ambitious timetable—much more ambitious, certainly, than that proposed in the amendment —but it is achievable and the Government are committed to delivering on it. Indeed, it is important to note that we are already working on this.
In this context, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment because the Government are determined to deliver on these commitments. We want to establish a common set of commitments that all parties in Wales have signed up to for the 2015 general election. This is an historic opportunity to achieve a major step towards a lasting and fair devolution settlement for Wales so that we are not constantly, year in and year out, having an ongoing discussion about what the next powers to be devolved to Wales should be. We want to settle this for the foreseeable future. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, seldom have I been so proud to be a Welshman and a Member of this august House. It has been an excellent debate. Many issues have arisen—some of them bordering on the philosophical, if not the metaphysical. One could spend many hours on the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. All I say to him on the issue of the survival of the Anglo-Saxons, as far as the parliamentary institutions are concerned, is that he can sleep quietly, peacefully and happily in his bed. There is no danger that they will be swamped by the Celts on the fringes of the United Kingdom. It is an old question. It was raised in Gladstone’s time in 1893. The difficulties then were regarded by him as being insurmountable—of dividing a purely English issue from those matters that were directly or indirectly relevant. That will be the whole question. However, that is a matter for another day.
We have had an excellent debate and I am very grateful indeed to everyone who has contributed to it. The hallmark of the debate was unity. The consensus on this matter transcends every political boundary. That has not come about by accident. I have already paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and to the noble Baroness for the work that they have done over a long period in laying the foundations of such a consensus.
The Minister has graciously told the House of plans that the Government already have to bring about these changes. Clearly, work has been done already. It would not have been possible for the seventh schedule to the 2006 Act to be contemplated—the 20 different areas of authority—without considering with some care exactly where that left one. However, I still think, with the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas, that there are massive ambiguities. However, it is not for an ex-circuit judge to try and animadvert on the wisdom or otherwise of the attitude of very senior judges in this matter.
The offer made by the Minister is generous but turns on many contingencies. Presumably, the work will be done by 1 March—not 1 April—2015. Then it will be for the next Government to decide exactly when and how the proposals will be brought into law. Who will the next Government be? Is there a Delphic oracle who can tell us? Can anyone read the runes or look at the entrails and tell us who is likely to succeed? If we pass the amendment—I will ask the House to divide on the matter—we will be giving the noble Baroness strength vis-à-vis Her Majesty’s Government. We will be placing solidly and clearly, and with total resolution, exactly where we stand. I say “we” because I hope that I can speak for the people of Wales in this matter. There is unanimity and a sense of urgency. Time is of the essence. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will not think me churlish. It is as much to strengthen her arm and in no way to frustrate her position that I ask the House to divide.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“On 7 July I told the House that the Home Office Permanent Secretary had commissioned Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC to conduct a review of two existing independent reviews into how the Home Office had acted—or failed to act—on information it had received in the 1980s about child abuse. The full report by Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC has been published today. A copy has been placed in the House Library. I want to place on record my gratitude to them for their thorough work.
In terms of the first review considered by Wanless and Whittam—which was about the extent to which the Home Office acted on the ‘Dickens dossier’—they say,
‘we found nothing to support the concerns that files had been deliberately or systematically removed or destroyed to cover up organised child abuse’.
In terms of the second review considered by Wanless and Whittam—which was about whether the Paedophile Information Exchange ever received any funding from the Home Office—they say,
‘we have seen no evidence to suggest that the Paedophile Information Exchange was ever funded by the Home Office because of sympathy for its aims’.
Wanless and Whittam have made three sets of recommendations for the Home Office, all of which relate to the way the department deals with sensitive allegations, how officials pass such information on to police, and how the details are properly recorded. The Permanent Secretary has accepted all three sets of recommendations.
I want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned when it comes to the work Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam have undertaken. So I have written to them today to seek further reassurance that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately upon receiving information relating to the Dickens dossier or related matters from the Home Office. I have also asked them for similar assurance about any such information that was passed to the security services and if any such information was passed to them.
I should also make clear that the Wanless and Whittam work is about how the Home Office responded to information relating to the Dickens dossier, how the police and prosecutors acted on any information passed their way, and—because of concerns expressed by many people including Members of this House—how the security services also responded to that information. Their work does not relate to wider allegations about child abuse or the failure of institutions—including police, prosecutors, security and intelligence agencies and government departments—because those are matters for the panel inquiry which I have established and whose work is now under way.
Many people who have made allegations relating to child abuse and the failure of the authorities to prevent abuse have been ignored for too long. Some have even been written off and traduced as conspiracy theorists. I want to be absolutely clear that nobody with any information about child abuse should be ignored, nobody should be written off or dismissed, and nobody should be left to themselves. If we want to get to the bottom of what has been going on in our country for far too long, we need to come together, to work together and to listen to what survivors and witnesses have to say. That goes for all of us in positions of responsibility—the police, prosecutors, government officials, Members of Parliament, public servants in a whole range of institutions and beyond.
The Home Office Permanent Secretary commissioned Wanless and Whittam to establish what the department did and did not know and does not know. Their work shows that the original reviews did not cover anything up, but neither do they prove or disprove that the Home Office acted appropriately in the 1980s. Likewise, they do not prove or disprove that public money ever found its way to the Paedophile Information Exchange. This is no fault of Peter Wanless or Richard Whittam, who have been investigating all files, many of which seem no longer to exist. I know that this is a cause of frustration for everybody, but this is not the only aspect of this case. As several honourable Members have said, there are other allegations, other lines of inquiry and other possible evidence that needs to be considered.
The right place for the consideration of these matters—apart from the live criminal allegations which should be dealt with by the police—is the panel inquiry into child abuse that I have established. That inquiry will be comprehensive in looking at institutions in this country, accessing all relevant paperwork and taking evidence from survivors and witnesses, so we can expose what has been going on. It may take time, and I know we have slipped twice in our attempts to get this right, but I am determined that we will succeed in doing so—and I know the whole House shares with me that determination”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating that Statement but I am sorry that the Government did not choose to make a Statement to Parliament today. We had to request one in the other place through an Urgent Question.
These are very serious matters. We do not know how many children and young people’s lives have been damaged through sexual abuse—damage that was then compounded either because their accounts were not believed or, worse, because of a failure to investigate followed by a cover up. That makes openness, honesty and transparency all the more essential. I hope that the noble Lord will take this message back to the Home Secretary and that he can assure us that, as this matter progresses, any Statements will be made orally to your Lordships’ House to give noble Lords the opportunity to question and to clarify points on which they may seek assistance.
It was appropriate that the Home Secretary added her thanks to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC. Clearly, they answered their responsibilities with great care and dililgence. I note their comments about not having been involved in the drawing up of their terms of reference and about public confusion around the inquiries. We need to make the distinction that the reviews we are talking about are reviews of evidence previously examined and not a full inquiry, although they did seek further information and were clear that they were not hampered in doing so.
Has the Home Secretary had further discussions with Mr Whittam QC and with Mr Wanless about whether there were areas outside their terms of reference that they now feel should be examined further? I am curious about paragraph 5 of the Statement that the noble Lord repeated. Although it is welcome, I seek some clarification. The Home Secretary said that she has written to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam,
“to seek further reassurance that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately upon receiving information relating to the Dickens dossier or related matters from the Home Office”.
She has also asked for some reassurances from the security services.
I have had only a brief opportunity to read through some of the first report because it has not been available for long. It states how hard it is to establish the truth because acquiring evidence as to whether information has been destroyed or whether it was filed in the first place is extremely difficult. Is the noble Lord able to tell us whether the Government consider that other sources of information should now be made available to Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam, and have they asked for greater access? I would be interested to know how they can offer further reassurances because they seem to have been thorough with the information which has been made available to them. Is more information being made available or will there be greater access? I am just asking how they can offer a further assurance.
The Government’s inquiry, when it starts properly with a new chair, is to be overarching and wide-ranging. These reviews into the previous reviews seem to highlight a slightly different issue. What is needed are investigations into, first, the cover-ups, and secondly, the destruction of evidence. Is the noble Lord satisfied that these issues will be fully addressed?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for welcoming the Statement. We have had a number of Statements on this issue, which I think is indicative of the fact that, as other noble Lords have put it, we are very much lifting the stone here. We are gradually becoming aware of the scale and scope of what has been going on in our country for far too long. I suggest that there will probably be many other occasions when, sadly, we will have to discuss these matters in our effort to get to the root of them.
On the noble Baroness’s point about cover-ups, it is important to say that Wanless and Whittam did not find any evidence to prove either that there had been or there had not. We are not trying to say that there were no cover-ups, only that thus far there is no evidence to show that there were. We also need to remember that Wanless and Whittam were asked to undertake their work after the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office had conducted his own internal inquiry into suggestions that had been made about the so-called Dickens dossier. The terms of reference were narrowly defined for the specific purposes of speed and to give the public confidence that the investigation by the Permanent Secretary had been carried out thoroughly.
In response to the specific point about other agencies that might have been involved, this has led the Home Secretary to write today to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam to ask them not just to look at what happened within the Home Office but to satisfy themselves about information that was passed to the police and to the then Director of Public Prosecutions. Within that ambit, which relates to the specific point about the security services, there was a suggestion that copies of these documents may have been held by the security services, and that this was simply a follow-up by the Home Secretary who wants to be absolutely sure about all these issues. This is an unfolding story and it will be well within the scope of the independent inquiry to take evidence from any of these people and to pursue any lines of inquiry that may come out of the additional information.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for the Statement and I particularly welcome the assurance that, in future, files in relation to child abuse will be marked with the significance they so richly deserve, because they are about such a horrible crime. In relation to the last paragraph of the Statement, does my noble friend recognise that the inquiry panel is not the only opportunity for the survivors of child abuse to make their views known? Is he able to tell me when the public consultation on mandatory reporting will be launched? If not, I am sure he will write to me. Finally, is the Home Office working with other relevant departments to consider how budgets should be deployed in the future? I ask this because, as we carry out all these inquiries, it is absolutely certain that a whole lot more child abuse that was previously hidden will be exposed through the sanitising effect of daylight. That means an awful lot of survivors will require services, which will cost money in the short term but save it in the long term.
I am grateful to my noble friend, and I shall respond to her with three brief points. The first is on record-keeping. Very specific recommendations were made by Richard Whittam and Peter Wanless, all of which have been accepted. We are looking to improve the system. The second refers to mandatory reporting. We were discussing this with officials just yesterday and we are looking to work with my noble friend on the terms of the inquiry and will seek her expertise on how to set it up. On budgets, the Home Secretary has said that she recognises that, as we lift this stone, additional burdens will be placed on many agencies, chiefly the police in the first instance. She is discussing that with the national policing lead, and by inference she remains open to the statement that the police may need more resources.
The noble Lord and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State are placing great reliance on the upcoming independent inquiry. I believe that he said in the Statement he has just repeated that the inquiry had already begun its work. Can he give us any up-to-date information on whether it is likely that a chairman for the inquiry will be announced any time soon, and who is chairing it in the mean time?
The panel is working together as a team without a chair at the moment. The members are requesting pieces of information. Effectively, in the research context, they are conducting a literature review and requesting evidence. The Home Secretary set out the process to try to ensure that this time we get the appointment of the chair absolutely right. That involves meeting with victims’ groups, which is happening this week. It also involves going through the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place, and that will be followed up. A long list of names is emerging and I am very grateful to Members of your Lordships’ House for suggesting some very well qualified people.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 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.
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.