Clause 13: Proposal for referendum by Assembly
1: Clause 13, page 18, line 35, at end insert—
“(1A) A resolution moved under subsection (1)(a) must state whether the voting age at the proposed referendum is to be 16 or 18.”
My Lords, during the passage of the Wales Bill through this House, many noble Lords pointed to the numbers of young people who registered to vote in the recent referendum in Scotland as a great example of how young people want to get involved in the political process. Noble Lords also expressed the opinion that it would therefore be unfair for young people in Wales to be treated differently from their counterparts in Scotland in the referendum on income tax powers for which this Bill provides. I therefore committed on Report to bring forward amendments at Third Reading to allow the Assembly to decide whether 16 and 17 year-olds should be able to vote in an income tax referendum.
These government amendments provide that when a resolution to hold a referendum on income tax powers is moved in the Assembly, the Assembly must state, as part of that resolution, whether the voting age is to be 16 or 18 for that referendum. Let me be clear: we are not devolving the competence over the franchise in Wales to the Assembly. The franchise will remain solely within the power of Parliament. What we are doing is allowing the Assembly to make a decision in relation to an income tax referendum provided for under this Bill.
The amendments set out that if the Assembly resolves that the voting age in the referendum is to be 16, the resulting order to be laid by the Secretary of State must also provide for the creation and maintenance of a register of young voters. Many 17 year-olds will already be on the register of local government electors as attainers; that is, those who would reach the age of 18 before the creation of the next register, each 1 December. They would not be moved onto this new register of young voters but would still be able to vote in the referendum. This is because eligibility is based on being on either the register of young voters or the register of local government electors. In short, if, come the day of the referendum, the only thing that would stop you from voting in an Assembly election on that day is that you are 16 or 17, you would be eligible to vote in the referendum.
Of course, the voting age at an income tax referendum would be a matter for the Assembly to decide on when it triggers the referendum. At the moment, the Welsh Government have yet even to commit to holding such a referendum. I again urge Welsh Ministers to do so at the earliest opportunity. I have made no secret of the fact that I personally believe that lowering the voting age might help to reinvigorate our democracy. Many of those who spoke in the Assembly debate on this issue on 24 September also support reducing the voting age and would hope that, if and when the time finally comes to hold a trigger vote, Assembly Members will look at how much the debate on the Scottish referendum was invigorated by the number of 16 and 17 year-olds who became involved and would vote therefore accordingly. I therefore ask noble Lords to support these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to speak in support of Amendments 1 and 2, which I and my colleagues have signed. I want to pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister and her officials for the patience, persistence and professional care with which they have managed to perfect these proposals after so much discussion and improvement in meetings since I first raised the issue at an early stage of our consideration of the Bill. I am confident that we are now well on our way towards this timely reform. I cannot believe that anyone in the other place, or indeed anywhere else, will stand in its way. It would surely be a brave reactionary—even a foolhardy one—who would now claim that Welsh young people are less mature, well informed and well intentioned than their Scottish counterparts.
I have heard mutters that this is the thin end of the wedge. That is not so. The wedge was firmly implanted by the record number of 16 and 17 year-olds who not only registered to vote in their thousands, but then on 18 September ignored the blandishments of the separatists and voted to stay in the United Kingdom. We should recall that all UK parties endorsed the Edinburgh agreement which introduced this simple reform. I observed during the Report stage of this Bill:
“It would 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 their area of residence. If, as I believe, the franchise is the foundation stone of our representative democracy, discrimination on that basis must surely be totally unacceptable”.—[Official Report, 11/11/14; col. 158.]
As my noble friend said, it will now be for the Welsh Assembly to complete the process. I am sure that this will prove uncontroversial since a substantial majority of Assembly Members have already declared their support. In the debate of 24 September, to which my noble friend referred, the Conservative spokesperson, Andrew Davies AM, said that:
“My group has a free vote on this particular issue, because there is no party line on whether there should be votes for 16 and 17-year-olds”.
Julie Morgan AM from the Labour Party said that it was encouraging and quite inspiring to see 16 and 17 year-olds involved in the Scottish referendum. The debate was led by my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Assembly, who committed themselves there and subsequently, but perhaps even more significant was that the Minister, Jane Hutt AM, said that,
“we support the lowering of the voting age to 16”.
The outcome of that debate, held just two months ago and just after the Scottish vote, was 41 to 11 in favour of this reform. It is now surely unthinkable that any future referendum with equally long-term implications for the country and its citizens could be permitted to lapse back into the pre-2014 limited franchise. Whether that is on UK membership of the EU or any similar major decision, these young people have now earned the right to have their say.
This is a triumph for those who have worked so hard for so long to achieve this reform. The recent Youth Select Committee deserves special mention for its authoritative report, published just a few days ago, which carefully weighs the arguments. But the final and conclusive credit must go to the 110,000 young people in Scotland who showed by their actions that they were ready to take on this responsibility as fully adult citizens of the United Kingdom. I am delighted to support my noble friend.
My Lords, I am delighted to support the amendment as far as it goes. Of course we had amendments on Report that went a little further and would have dealt with voting for young people aged 16 and 17 in other referenda and in elections within Wales itself. I realise that as far as the Bill is concerned, the peg for this change is the fact that income tax is included in it. My colleague and noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas and I would like to have seen a more general approach by giving powers to the Assembly in the generality in order to address issues such as this. The fact that it does not go as far as we would have liked does not mean that we do not support it in going this far.
I was very conscious of the tone set by the Secretary of State, Stephen Crabb, as background to today’s debate. Only last Monday, addressing the Institute of Welsh Affairs, he said:
“We now have a unique opportunity to reshape the future of our Union. The appetite for change is there. People want a stronger voice over their own affairs. It is unmistakable in Scotland … And palpable in Wales. And it is a sentiment that cannot, and will not, be ignored. And I am determined that Wales should not play second fiddle in the current debate on devolution”.
That is very interesting, in the context of the amendments before us today, but it begs the question of how much further—and when—the rest of that commitment is going to be borne out.
We are very much aware that we expect to have the report of the Smith commission on Scotland tomorrow and, no doubt, this will have a relevance to these things. In relation to this amendment, however, can I take it that the Government would be minded to enable the Assembly to use similar powers in any further referendum which was only in a Welsh context? Does the fact that the provision goes only as far as income tax indicate—or not—that the Government do not foresee any further referendum in Wales in the context of further devolution and that that will be undertaken as quickly as possible, without being held up by the need for a referendum?
My Lords, I think I avoided being placed among the die-hards by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, when I spoke on the subject on Report, because I said that I was still open-minded and prepared to be persuaded about the desirability of moving the voting age to 16. However, I did express anxiety about the idea that we should do this step by step, nation by nation, area by area. I would have preferred to see us having all-party discussions and taking a decision on the issue so that it applied to all votes, whether national ones or partial votes of this kind. I regret that we are moving in this ad hoc way because it is not the best way of undertaking constitutional reform. However, my noble friend has put forward these amendments and I am not going to oppose them. My successor as Member of Parliament for Pembrokeshire, or Pembroke South—my former constituency has been split in two and I always forget what it is called now—is Secretary of State. He has made firm commitments and I am delighted that he has taken such a strong position on these matters.
I will raise only two questions today. I am not going to challenge the decisions that have been taken, even if I would have preferred that we had got there by a somewhat different route. Many noble Lords will have received a note from the Electoral Commission which raises two issues. It points out that there are time constraints for introducing any change:
“In order to give Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) sufficient time to identify and encourage eligible 16- and 17-year olds to register to vote ahead of any future referendum in Wales, any primary legislation would need to be in place and amended regulations would need to be clear early in the calendar year before the referendum is expected to take place (e.g. by early 2015 if a referendum were planned to take place in 2016)”.
Later, it draws attention to the resource implications by stating:
“EROs would require additional resources to identify and encourage eligible 16- and 17-year olds in Wales to register to vote, including raising awareness of how to register to vote for this new group of eligible electors. The Commission may also seek further resources as part of our public awareness activity before any referendum”.
All I am asking is that, in the context of these amendments, we should be given the Government’s thinking about these issues and their reaction to the recommendations and report of the Electoral Commission. It seems to me that before we approve the way forward, we should know exactly what the position is going to be on the matter of resources and timing.
My Lords, in the debate a couple of weeks ago I indicated my worries and concerns. I do not want to detain your Lordships for long but I will make just a few brief points.
First, I was one of those who voiced considerable concern when the Prime Minister—wrongly, in my view—conceded votes at 16 in the Scottish referendum. The subject of the franchise is of enormous importance and it should have been addressed in a proper debate, both in your Lordships’ House and particularly in another place, and Parliament should have come, on a free vote, to a collective view as to whether it was indeed wise to reduce the age from 18 to 16.
When I intervened on the Labour Party spokesman two weeks ago and asked whether it was the intention of the Labour Party to make 16 the age at which you could drink alcohol and drive a motorcar, I was told that that certainly had not been gone into by the Labour Party—and the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, who was speaking on that occasion, certainly seemed to indicate that she would not favour such changes.
We have to look—and should have looked—at what the age of majority should properly be. That was why I opposed what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister conceded over the Scottish referendum. I accept the logic of what my noble friend Lord Tyler said—having granted it in Scotland perhaps you should grant it in Wales—but if we grant it in Wales it is almost inconceivable that we will not move to the profound and important decision of the franchise coming down to 16 all over and for all elections. Some of your Lordships will welcome that. I respect that view but I profoundly disagree with it. We are walking into this ad hoc, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell indicated, without having given mature and sensible consideration to all the implications of what the age of majority should properly be.
I am not going to seek to divide the House this afternoon. In the circumstances, that would be ill advised, if not preposterous. I am not going to do it, any more than my noble friend Lord Crickhowell is going to do it. But he has indicated that he is not totally happy. I will go further and say that I am very unhappy about the way in which this has been done. This is not the way to change a constitution. There will be a debate at some stage about the franchise age throughout the United Kingdom for elections. It will not be before the general election next year, where it will remain at 18.
I will just say to your Lordships that although the pass has probably been sold—and, to mix my metaphors, the bandwagon is probably unstoppable—we have not done this in a mature, considered way and we should have done.
My Lords, I add my voice to that of my noble friend Lord Tyler in congratulating my noble friend the Minister on the progress that has been made as the Wales Bill has made its way through your Lordships’ House. There is great satisfaction among her colleagues on these Benches that so many principles that the Liberal Democrats—and, of course, the Welsh Liberal Democrats—have believed in and promoted for so many years are coming to fruition in the Bill.
I also thank and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Tyler—a fellow Celt from Kernow, or Cornwall—whose diligence and persistence in Committee and on Report have resulted in these amendments today. These Liberal Democrat amendments will see Liberal Democrat policy on votes for 16 and 17 year-olds, if they are agreed by your Lordships’ House, coming to fruition in Wales.
I must admit that these amendments, allowing the Assembly to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds in a referendum in Wales, have the 16 year-old that still exists somewhere inside me, smiling with quiet satisfaction and with perhaps a little jealousy because I am one of those people who believed that I should have had the right to vote at 16. My first foray into politics was as a 16 year-old within a couple of weeks of my 17th birthday, when I was agent to a candidate in my school’s mock election at the time of the 1964 general election. Noble Lords will recall that it was not until 1969 that the suffrage was extended to 18 year-olds and I am sure the same concerns voiced in the Chamber today were voiced at that time. However, had anyone told us in 1964 that in the future young people would not have to wait until they were 21 years-old to vote, but would be trusted to do so in a referendum in Wales from the age of 16, there would have been joyful celebrations. Perhaps, as there is now, there would be a sense of pride that Wales was following Scotland in forging the way to extend full voting rights to 16 year-olds sometime in the future.
My political inspiration came, in part, from an inspirational history teacher who opened our eyes to the world. Since those days, unfortunately, teachers in schools have become far more wary of political education and the danger of being accused of political indoctrination. However, I see these amendments as presenting opportunities for the Welsh Government to introduce an element of political education for those under 16 in the future. They already have, in the Welsh baccalaureate, a module produced by Aberystwyth University entitled “Wales, Europe and the World”, which presents students with an unbiased overview of political systems and political parties throughout the world and allows students the opportunity to debate issues as they arise. A simplified version of this would be ideal as a short module for those under 16.
However, as I said, that is for the future. In the meantime—and in conclusion—I am very pleased to support the amendment and to put on record my grateful thanks to the Minister for being able to accept and promote issues that have had support from noble Lords on all sides of the House and my hearty congratulations on the masterful way in which she has steered the Bill through your Lordships’ House. I, along with colleagues from across the House I am sure, wish her continued success as she seeks to build on the consensus she has already begun in preparation for the next stages of devolution to Wales.
My Lords, in joining this debate, I congratulate the Minister on how she has handled us and steered us through the discussions. I would like to bring in two slightly different matters. First, in speaking of devolution to Wales, I understand that last week transport became the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. How do we somehow get this movement between Wales and England as the line goes from Newport up to Chester? Who is going to be responsible as we go from England to Wales, Wales to England? That needs to be cleared up. Also, in her statement following last week’s debate, the Minister said that she had promises from the 22 electoral registration officers that each one of them had plans to increase the registration in their areas. It would help us tremendously if somehow or another she could make us aware of what each of these 22 various electoral registration officers intended doing.
Finally—I shall not be long—the anxiety in Wales and other places is that young people, as well as others, are becoming divorced from politics. They leave it to other people. Turnout is down. People do not feel that they have any influence over their lives through the ballot box. The eagerness to get people registered is not just so that they will vote and be on the electoral register but that they will be part of political life and involved in the lives of their communities. The Scottish referendum has been mentioned. There, young people did register and vote. They were an essential part of the debate in Scotland.
More strongly still, I remember 27 April 1994, when the South African franchise was opened and Nelson Mandela’s struggle had been won, how enthusiastic people were about the policies of the parties and how they queued for hours—some of them, for days—to register their vote. We need to do something that will enhance registration. Imagine that we have the European in or out referendum and that less than 50% of young people are registered to vote and that fewer than that actually cast a vote—the whole thing would be a shambles. The same applies to older people. We need the majority view on such an issue to be represented.
On the way here today, I was reading a book by David Tecwyn Evans recalling his memories of his life in Llandecwyn in Merionethshire at the end of the previous century and the beginning of last century. Here, he speaks of the elections of 1886, where the children of the school, although their parents were probably not entitled to vote, knew the name of every MP in Wales. They knew the issues—tithes, education, disestablishment—and they were interested. It is our job now not just to get people to register to vote but to enable them, through the education system and in other ways, to understand and to feel: it is not only a matter for the head but a matter for the heart. The facts are important, but being part of the argument is also important.
I thank the Minister for the work that she has done. I hope that she will be able to answer my two queries and that, somehow, we as representatives at various levels can enthuse people so that young people feel “rydym yn perthyn”, we belong.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a severely practical question or two. What was the turnout among the 16 to 18 year-olds in the Scottish election? Was it indeed much below that of the 18 to 24 year-olds? My noble friend Lord Rowlands asked her how many 16 year-olds there are in Wales. How many 18 to 24 year-olds are there in Wales, so that we can make a comparison? I cannot sit down without saying a sentence about the speech that we have just listened to. Even in my headiest moments as a convinced Welshman, I have never quite seen England’s relationship with Wales as that of the Nationalist Party to the rest of South Africa.
My Lords, I intervene very briefly and with a note of apology. I was ill, which no doubt saved your Lordships a lot of time in Committee and on Report, so this is just a last-gasp intervention to say that I support the amendment, which seems highly desirable and long overdue, and I congratulate the Government.
I want to make one point in relation to my very good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has raised the important question of whether this is the way to change the constitution. The truth is that we have no way of changing the constitution; it is a matter of an extremely haphazard nature. The last time that we changed the constitution was with the Act of Settlement in 1701, which took a synoptic view, but which is a little early for even this noble House to consider. There is no way of changing the constitution rationally, and there should be. I have always supported a codified, written constitution, and I profoundly hope that when the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee reports, it will accept that, partly because I am one of the authors of the report that it is considering, so naturally I support that proposal.
There have been so many illogicalities in considering Welsh devolution such as—I understand that this was discussed when I was not here—why the Welsh Assembly should not have reserved powers, why the Welsh Assembly should be the victim of an asymmetrical form of devolution and why the Welsh Assembly did not have financial powers in the first place. No clear logical view was entertained for any of those questions, and we therefore proceed empirically and haphazardly. In this case, we are considering simply whether it makes sense, not whether it is in what you might call an agreed constitutional tradition or follows a convention. Clearly, it does make sense; it is not possible to have young people aged between 16 and 18 in Scotland able to vote but not in Wales—there is no rationality in that. Why should Wales yet again be the victim of constitutional illogicality in a country that prides itself on its constitutional illogicality, showing that its constitution is not therefore unwritten?
That is the settled view of the National Assembly, and it is clearly beneficial in itself, as many noble Lords have said. Young people are able to make a strong contribution, as indeed, as the noble Lord said, they did in 1886. Lloyd George, whom he knows about, is an example of a young Welsh schoolboy who took a very active part long before he was able to vote or enter the House of Commons. So on the merits of the case, on the merits of the value of an input from a thriving and important part of the Welsh electorate, and because there is otherwise no logical or constitutional rubric why we should exclude Wales from this change, I certainly support the amendment.
My Lords, I rise on account of two matters about which I have strong feelings. One is the Act of Settlement of 1701. Although my respect for the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, of Aberdyfi, whom I may call my noble friend, is total and absolute, I still have doubts about whether that Act is indeed one that Parliament does not have in its sovereignty the right to repeal. The Act of course settled the succession of the Crown; it said that the succession should devolve upon the Electress Sophia and the heirs of her body, and of course the relevant heir of her body was George Lewis, the Elector of Hanover, George I. It seems to me that Parliament, being sovereign, could repeal the Act of Settlement any day, but that is by the by—I have said my piece.
The second matter is that I support the amendment, which seems to be based on very sound principles. One we have already have adumbrated, and that is the fact that it is a matter for the Welsh Assembly, which is the parliament for the land and nation of Wales, to decide on the right to vote and what age should dominate in such a situation. That is a healthy principle, and one that has been steadfastly upheld by my friends the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Wigley, as Members of the Assembly and indeed as Members of this House. When the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 and jurors were entitled to sit at the age of 18, there were siren voices of caution. Looking fairly and objectively at the evidence, it seems that there was no justification for panic at all. It has worked well in the courts and in relation to Parliament.
The main point is one that has not been made: it is that age is relative to the situation you are dealing with. The age of 18 was decided, if I remember rightly, just before the 1970 election; in other words, 44 years ago. Could one not reasonably argue that a young person of 16 now is probably as mature mentally and physically as such a person 44 years ago? Society is changing rapidly all the time. Standards of health, learning and understanding are improving, and on that basis there is ample justification for this amendment.
My Lords, following the decision to reduce the voting age in the referendum in Scotland, young people distinguished themselves during the campaign with their level of participation, and I will be very interested to hear the Minister’s response to the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Rowlands, on the statistics. However, I share a lot of the views of the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Cormack, on the manner in which this issue is being dealt with. It is piecemeal and haphazard. There has been no systematic debate. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made a point about the reduction from 21 to 18, and there will always be an argument. We all accept that. Why not 15? We can make any argument we want with justification of one degree or another. That is not quite the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was trying to make. The point was that it came out of left field from negotiations between Mr Salmond and the Prime Minister and is being reflected in the Bill. Of course, it would be a very brave person who came to the Dispatch Box and defended not putting it into the Bill in view of what happened just a few weeks ago in Scotland. What possible justification would there be? However, I ask the Minister to reflect and to pass back to her colleagues the fact that there is no process here. It is just random, along with a long series of other constitutional aberrations.
I participated in a process that was anything but haphazard. It took two years to work out our settlement in Northern Ireland, which then came to Parliament to be debated and enacted. There was a process. As I understand it, the noble Lord’s party believes in a constitutional convention or a commission of some description, whatever we call it. We should not be precious about it. Those are all perfectly meritorious ideas. My point is that the change introduced by the Bill, which follows the process that happened in the Scottish referendum, inevitably has implications for the electorate more widely. We have a position whereby 18 year-olds will be voting next May and 16 years-olds will not, yet the decision that many 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland took two months ago was very important. People could say it was of greater importance than a general election.
The point I am trying to make, which I ask the Minister to pass back to her right honourable friend, is on the concern that this is one further example of a haphazard attempt to change our constitution without any structured debate or rational process. I look forward to hearing her response to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the statistics. However, I will make another, tangential point, which applies whatever referendum takes place, whether on tax or anything else.
When the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, asked about transport and the roads, to some extent he hit the nail on the head. Scotland is, of course, an independent country which has shared its sovereignty with the rest of the United Kingdom; Northern Ireland is separated by sea from the rest of the United Kingdom, while Wales is not. You go from one side of the street to the other, from somebody’s back gate, and you are in Wales. Clearly, that means that unique issues need to be discussed when devolved powers are exercised. Again, there is no structure for that; there is no process or long-term debate, and we are basically making changes on the hoof. This process issue is a mistake.
My Lords, we welcome the Government’s amendment, which would give powers to the Welsh Assembly to decide on whether 16 and 17 year-olds will be able to vote in the referendum on income tax. However, can the Minister say whether this is a government amendment, even though three Liberal Democrat Back-Benchers have put their names to it? There is cross-party support for this amendment, and I am sure that the Minister could have asked Peers from other parties to put their names to it as well. However, we welcome it.
To give the responsibility to this age group is a good step forward, which will eventually lead to all 16 and 17 year-olds having the vote in all elections in the United Kingdom. There is no longer any good reason for a delay. Labour will make a manifesto commitment at the general election to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to have the right to vote in all elections. Although some Peers have expressed their views that this is piecemeal, haphazard and so on, this is another step on the journey we are making with devolution. This is how it has been done since 1999—it has been a step-by-step approach—and when the Bill becomes an Act it will give more powers to the Welsh Assembly. However, we appreciate that this is not the Bill that will give universal franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds; that will be a United Kingdom decision, taken by the Westminster Government.
I was pleased that the Minister was able to refer in the amendment to the need to include,
“provision for the preparation and maintenance of a register of young voters”.
We understand that the responsibility for compiling the electoral register rests with local councils and is a devolved matter. The registration of young voters must be a priority and needs active and constant engagement. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, in his enthusiasm, expressed his wishes; I understand that, and we support what he was saying. We therefore hope that when decisions are made on a referendum, the Welsh Government will give every encouragement to EROs in Wales to ensure that they prioritise the registration of young people through at least one visit to every school and college in Wales in enough time to ensure that all young people are fully aware of their right to vote in the referendum. We believe that to be of great importance. I am sure that the Minister will do all she can in her discussions with the Welsh Government to ensure that that happens. We thank the Minister very much for her commitment in bringing these amendments forward today.
As this is our final opportunity to discuss the Bill, I would like to thank the Minister for her co-operation on it. We knew when we started on the Bill back in July that the Scottish referendum could impact on the nature and tone of the debate, and that has indeed been the case. The very fact that we have so many people in here today talking about the Bill tells us something. The scope of the devolution debate across the whole of the UK has changed since September. It feels as if this Bill is slightly out of date even before the ink has dried. It is, however, another welcome step in the process of devolution for Wales. It is clear that it is not only the Scottish referendum that has changed the tone of this debate during its passage, but the appointment of a new and more conciliatory Secretary of State. We very much welcome the shift in tone since his appointment.
I take this opportunity to thank colleagues on all sides of the House, especially people on the Labour Benches, for their co-operation and support on the Bill. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lady Gale, of Blaenrhondda, for her sterling work and active support on the Front Bench. I also thank officials in the Wales Office and Catherine in the Labour office for their work. In particular, I applaud the co-operation afforded by the Government Front Bench, led by two extremely distinguished experts on the issue of devolution in Wales. In particular, we are extremely pleased that we have managed to find a resolution to the issue regarding the reserved model power of government, and we look forward to seeing the fruits of the department’s work on 1 March. Thank you for also agreeing to the issue of votes at 16 in the referendum on tax powers.
The devolution debate is far from over. The Labour Party is in favour of a constitutional convention to iron out some of the anomalies across the UK that many noble Lords have talked about today. If, and when, we form the next Government in 2015, the Labour Party has also committed itself to presenting a new Wales Bill, pushing the boundaries of the devolution settlement further. This obviously needs to take into account the changes across the UK. We know that the coalition Government have agreed to present a cross-party approach in March to further devolution for Wales. We would like a cast-iron assurance that both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat party will, if they are through some terrible tragedy elected to run the country again after the next election, match Labour’s commitment and bring forward a new Wales Bill in the next Parliament.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and indeed throughout the numerous debates we have had on the Bill. My noble friend Lord Tyler started his response on this amendment by pointing out that all parties endorsed the agreement that led to votes at 16 in Scotland. I make it clear that I strongly appreciate the work that my noble friend has done over a very long period to raise awareness of, and develop a campaign generally on, votes at 16.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made the point that he would have preferred there to be wider powers for votes at 16, but he will understand that this question is best considered as part of the devolution of further powers to the Assembly, which is something which is being considered at this time, with a view to agreement and announcements by St David’s Day. He also asked about the precedent for future referenda. These amendments deal with the referenda provided for in the Bill. There are no further referenda planned in Wales. I point out to the noble Lord that the Welsh Government have not yet committed to this referendum. My view is that we should get this one out of the way first before thinking of further referenda.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell referred to the ad hoc approach on this. I believe that our general approach to the devolution of further powers for the Assembly overcomes this problem. The noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Empey, also referred to the way in which the decisions were being made on votes at 16. There has been a response to the success of the votes at 16 in Scotland. There will be a full analysis of the impact of that in due course, but the success in Scotland has certainly sparked debate. Given the points that the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, made about the way in which we make constitutional decisions in this country, it is important that there is considerable public debate on this. One could say that that debate has started in Wales, in general terms, with the debate that was held in the Assembly in which an overwhelming majority of Assembly Members supported votes at 16.
The important thing is that the Wales Office and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales are leading on the four-party discussions, in which the options for the future of devolution in Wales are being considered—the reserved powers model and the scope of any additional powers. That will include, for example, the devolution of powers over election arrangements. I believe that we are embarking on a period of considerable reflection and debate on the nature of our democracy in the UK as a whole, but we have already taken steps to ensure that that debate takes place in Wales. In line with the commitment made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 19 September, we have made sure that Wales is at the heart of the debate on devolution.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked two questions. One was related to the Electoral Commission’s concern about time constraints. I point out to him that the detail in the amendment ensures that time would be available in practice to assemble the electoral register required. The details in the amendment are based on a franchise Act of the Scottish Parliament. The Bill, as amended, will allow for 180 days for the Secretary of State to lay the order, plus the time that it would take to pass through both Houses of Parliament and the Assembly. There would be a pre-election period as well. If one takes all those periods of time together, they come to approximately seven months, which is the time that the Electoral Commission recommends for new legislation of this type. We believe that there is sufficient time to amass the register as required. My noble friend also asked about resources for awareness raising and so on. I assure him that we are well aware of the resource implications of this.
On that point, clearly local authorities are subject to considerable constraints. To be “well aware” of the resource implications begs many questions, such as: what are the resource implications? What discussions have there been already with the relevant authorities and are the Government satisfied that this can be done without taking on any extra staff?
I did not say to the noble Lord that this would be possible without taking on additional staff. It is important that the views of the Electoral Commission have been communicated to noble Lords because it is obviously involved in the discussions. The Assembly has made its views very clear on this and there are resource implications from its perspective as well because, as several noble Lords have made clear today, it is important to bear in mind that there has to be a period of awareness raising and education as well as the sheer issue of assembling a register.
The Minister is absolutely right. The National Assembly has resources in the Assembly Commission to promote its own activity, promote democracy generally and promote a particular referendum as we did prior to the previous referendum, which ensured that we have now proper law-making powers. I am certain that the present Assembly Commission will take the same positive view. Indeed, at an event that was part organised by the Assembly Commission last week, a vote was taken on this matter by young people. The young people were in a majority—a small majority—for generally reducing the voting age to 16.
The noble Lord brings information from the front line, if I can put it that way, in far more detail than I could have provided to your Lordships. The noble Lords, Lord Rowlands and Lord Richard, asked detailed questions about the numbers of young people who voted in Scotland and the turnout. The turnout of 16 and 17 year-olds was remarkably high. It is my recollection that it was slightly lower than among the older sections of the population but it was remarkably high. I refer noble Lords to the fact that the Electoral Commission is, at this moment, undertaking a detailed study of the impact of the votes of 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland. That report will be published in the relatively near future and I would recommend it as very important reading for those of us who are interested in these issues.
I will have to write to the noble Lord on that issue because if I were to venture a figure, I fear I might mislead him, and it is important that I am completely accurate on that.
My noble friend Lord Roberts asked about the further devolution of the rail franchise announced last week. His question pointed to the difference between Wales and Scotland in the nature of their borders. He referred to the fact that the rail line between north Wales and south Wales goes across the border from Wales to England and back again. I will write to him with the details of last week’s agreement. I can assure him that the issue has been taken fully into account in the discussions between the two Governments. I will ask the Electoral Commission to write to the noble Lord with the details of the 22 electoral returning officers in Wales.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, considered the issue of the maturity of young people now compared with 40 years ago. It is important to bear in mind that young people consider rather more strongly that they should have a say in the way their lives are run than was the case a long time ago. My noble friend Lord Cormack talked about the variable age of majority. I would say to him that there has always been a variable age of majority in this country. One could argue that some ages of majority are not entirely consistent with some others. It has always been the case that one could, for instance, join the Army younger than when you could get married without your parents’ consent. There are therefore different approaches to different aspects of life. Perhaps that is something else on which we need to have a consistent and long-term debate, but that has been the state throughout the whole of my life and, I dare say, we will not resolve that debate in the near future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, referred to the signatures on the amendment. I tabled the amendment and three noble Lords exercised their right to add their names, as is the custom in this House. They had signed the original amendment. I would have strongly welcomed the noble Baroness adding her own name because one of the things signifying the tone of debate on the Bill has been cross-party consensus.
I was trying to point out to the Minister that there is cross-party support for the amendment, which could have been reflected in the signatures if I had been allowed. I am not sure whether I would have been allowed as it is a government amendment. However, I think the Minister will accept that there is cross-party support for the amendment.
I wholeheartedly recognise that there is cross-party support but repeat that this is a government amendment to which three people added their names. It would have been in the hands of the noble Baroness to add her name if she had wanted to.
Finally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for the way in which she has expressed her appreciation for our efforts here today. She made the point that the Bill is already rather out of date. I would say to the noble Baroness that the fact that we are already planning, working on and discussing a future Bill indicates that this is a developing process.
Before I sit down, I should like to thank all those who have participated in our debates on the Bill. It has been a personal pleasure for me to steer a Bill through your Lordships’ House to devolve new powers to the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Ministers. “Historic” is a word that is sometimes overused in political debate, but I believe we can justly claim that the devolution of fiscal powers to the Welsh Assembly for the first time is an historic step forward. Although some noble Lords have expressed frustration at the pace of devolution, if we look back, we can see that Welsh devolution has come a long way in 15 years. Our debates have reflected the gathering momentum for further change. The Government are committed to ensuring that Wales remains at the heart of the development of devolution. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I are committed to publishing a framework for a reserved powers model of devolution by St David’s Day with—and I emphasise this—cross-party support.
I am pleased that the Government have been able to listen and respond to the views of noble Lords on two key issues during the Bill’s passage: first, on the lock-step mechanism for income tax and, secondly, on the referendum voting age, which we have just been discussing. I believe it is a better Bill as a result. At its heart, this is a Bill about accountability. It will provide the Welsh Government with the tools to help to build a stronger economy and a fairer society in Wales. For the first time, the Welsh Government will have the power to raise some of their own revenue, making them accountable to the people of Wales not just for spending, but for raising money as well.
I look forward to seeing how the Welsh Government capitalise on the opportunities we are giving them and once again urge them to call an income tax referendum as soon as possible. I thank my noble friends Lord Newby and Lord Bourne for their support and assistance with the Bill. The expertise of my noble friend Lord Bourne has been extremely useful in view of the fact that we have discussed the Silk commission on so many occasions. He was, of course, a member of that commission.
This is a short Bill but it has benefited from the expertise of officials from a number of departments: the Wales Office, the Cabinet Office, Her Majesty’s Treasury, HMRC and the DWP. It has been a pleasure to work with them on the Bill. They have been assiduous and endlessly prepared to give their time to assist me and support the many meetings I have held with noble Lords, both as individuals and in groups. I thank them for their assistance. I also thank the many noble Lords who have spoken in our debates. They have displayed a wealth of experience and understanding of devolution. I appreciate the willingness of so many noble Lords to give their time to attend a number of additional informal meetings that I arranged. I commend the amendments to the House.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Schedule 1: Referendum about commencement of income tax provisions
Amendments 2 and 3
2: Schedule 1, page 33, leave out lines 5 to 10 and insert—
“1 (1) Where a referendum held by virtue of section 12(1) follows on from a youth franchise resolution, a person is entitled to vote in the referendum if, on the date of the poll at the referendum, the person—
(a) is aged 16 or over,(b) either—(i) is registered in the register of local government electors at an address within an Assembly constituency, or(ii) is registered in the register of young voters at such an address in accordance with provision made under paragraph 1A,(c) is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote (age apart) within the meaning of section 2(1)(b) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, and(d) is a Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a relevant citizen of the Union (within the meaning given by section 202(1) of that Act).(2) Where a referendum held by virtue of section 12(1) does not follow on from a youth franchise resolution, a person is entitled to vote in the referendum if the person would be entitled to vote in a general election of Assembly members if one were held on the date of the poll at the referendum.
(3) For the purposes of this paragraph and paragraph 1A, a referendum held by virtue of section 12(1) “follows on from a youth franchise resolution” if—
(a) a resolution is passed by the Assembly under section 13(1) which states that the voting age at the proposed referendum is to be 16,(b) the First Minister complies with section 13(2) in relation to the resolution, and(c) as a result, a draft of the statutory instrument containing the Order under section 12(1) which causes the referendum to be held is laid in accordance with section 13(3)(a).(4) An Order under section 12(1) may include provision for disregarding alterations made in a register of electors or voters after a date specified in the Order and sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) are to be read subject to any such provision.
1A (1) Where an Order under section 12(1) causes a referendum to be held which follows on from a youth franchise resolution, the Order must make provision about the registration of young voters.
(2) That provision must include—
(a) provision for the preparation and maintenance of a register of young voters;(b) provision prohibiting the publication or other disclosure of that register, or any entry in it, except as provided by such an Order.(3) Provision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) may, in particular—
(a) apply or incorporate, with or without modifications, any enactment relating to referendums or elections;(b) make other modifications of any enactment relating to referendums or elections.(4) An Order under section 12(1) must make such supplementary, incidental or consequential provision (if any) as appears to Her Majesty to be appropriate for the purposes of, in consequence of, or for giving full effect to—
(a) any provision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1), or(b) the entitlement of 16 and 17 year olds under paragraph 1(1) to vote in the referendum.(5) Provision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (4) may, in particular—
(a) make modifications of any enactment;(b) make transitory, transitional or saving provision. (6) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (3)(a), “enactment” includes the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 (asp. 13).
(7) For the purposes of this paragraph, “young voter” means a person who—
(a) will be aged 16 or 17 on the date of the poll at the referendum, and(b) is not registered in the register of local government electors at an address within an Assembly constituency.”
3: Schedule 1, page 36, line 17, at end insert—
““Assembly constituency” has the same meaning as in GOWA 2006;”
Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.
My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I appreciated the tenor of the Minister’s remarks a few moments ago. It has indeed been rather revolutionary in the history of the land and nation of Wales that there should have been so much compromise, understanding and unity in relation to very many matters. We as a people in Wales have a reputation of fissiparous disaffection of a general nature, and nobody could gainsay that, but it may well be that with this Bill—in both Houses but particularly in this House and particularly due to the attitude of the Minister—we have shown a different approach. It is a small but impactive Bill and I believe it to be of very great historical significance in so far as the constitutional situation of Wales as a land and nation is concerned.
I want to raise one matter, and that is the question of the relationship of the Bill to the undertaking given by the Prime Minister on 19 September—that cold morning which followed the heavy events in Scotland the day before. He said that,
“there are proposals to give the Welsh Government and Assembly more powers. And I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations”.
Those were his exact words and they could mean a very great deal or nothing at all. If by “powers” one means the powers contained in this Bill, for which I wish Godspeed, then those words are utterly meaningless because they were spoken in the heady atmosphere of massive undertakings given to Scotland and weighty undertakings given to Northern Ireland. However, if in fact they referred to nothing more than this Bill, then they meant that no additional powers in relation to Wales were contemplated than existed at that moment—in other words, there was no addition to the status quo. In my view, that would be a very unsatisfactory situation. At best, it would be misleading. It would mean that there was a negligent misrepresentation, to use a technical legal term, on the part of the Government. At worst, it would mean something much more serious than that.
For a number of reasons, I do not for a moment impugn the Prime Minister of any lack of integrity in this matter. First, this was an ex cathedra statement—not something that had been cobbled together in the wee small hours of the morning of 19 September but probably something that had been prepared a long time before when it was anticipated in the months preceding the referendum that the result might be much more clear cut than it was. Secondly, the second part of the statement reads:
“And I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations”.
If no further devolution of a substantial nature were contemplated in relation to Wales, how could that possibly have any relevance whatever? It seems therefore that, with one additional factor, the Government must be contemplating powers well beyond those that we are considering in the context of this Bill. If a Cabinet committee is set up to consider the situation in relation to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and to report in January 2015 on the whole question of constitutional development, if there was to be no constitutional development in Wales, what would be the point of including Wales in such an arrangement?
Therefore, I ask the Minister—I am confident that she will give a general reply, although one would not expect a detailed reply—to say whether the power that the Prime Minister was talking about on 19 September goes over and beyond the powers in this Bill. Furthermore, specifically with regard to the undertaking that she has given, which the House greatly welcomes, in relation to an 11 December report on reserved powers, will that report be implemented if it is in favour of reserved powers? The second part of the Silk report was accepted on the very day of publication by the Deputy Prime Minister. He did not accept it on behalf of the Government but on behalf of his party. Does that mean that the coalition Government will espouse that statement and undertaking given by the Deputy Prime Minister?
Finally, on a matter raised in our excellent debate earlier this month on membership of the Assembly in Cardiff, will there be a movement deliberately to increase the number of Members to make it a body that can be a credible legislature, which it can never be unless and until there is an addition to the 60 Members because there is no critical mass of Members available to scrutinise this issue? These matters are of the utmost importance and to which the people of Wales are entitled to have answers.
My Lords, it is not my intention to detain the House, despite this interruption, for more than a few minutes. I welcome very much the significant powers granted to Wales in this Bill, which has been so ably steered by the Minister. Perhaps of greater importance will be the conclusions of the consultations which will be produced, I hope, by 1 March. They will be groundbreaking. I also welcome very much the role being played the Secretary of State who is carrying out what I hope is the mandate given to him following the reshuffle by the Prime Minister in the words of my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan.
Following 7 May, my hope is that a Labour Government will bring forward proposals. By our votes in Committee, the Labour Front Bench underlined its commitment, as did my noble friends Lady Morgan of Ely and Lady Gale at Second Reading. They have provided the basis for a manifesto commitment. In the 1970s, when I set up the role of the Attorney-General to police the Assembly if it exceeded its powers, I never expected or contemplated one of my successors being so trigger happy and repeatedly trying to overturn the Assembly, and getting, for his pains, black eyes on two occasions. A simpler, cleaner, reserved powers model would be much better.
I close on the need for a high-power constitutional convention. In 1969, the setting up of the Kilbrandon royal commission by a Labour Government was the vital catalyst for the path that we have been treading over the years. I shall never forget the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, coming up from the beach at Newquay in Cornwall one lunchtime and brandishing his idea for a royal commission as a way forward. It seems from the papers I have seen at Kew that other work along the same lines was also being done by Ministers. The announcement at the next Labour Party conference of a royal commission was the culmination of that work.
Today, something more profound and influential than even a royal commission is needed to map out the role for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England as partners in the future of the United Kingdom. I hope that there will be courage on the part of all the parties to work out a broad-based convention so that we can come to the end of piecemeal reform.
My Lords, I have no wish to detain the House but I want to place on the record on behalf of my noble friend Lord Wigley and myself, both of us former Members of the National Assembly. In fact, I am still a Member—so far—dependent on the will of the electorate, as were the Minister and her colleague on the Front Bench. I thank the Government for their very positive response on all these matters. I should like to refer in particular to one great joy as regards this Bill, which is the passing of a phrase with which I have always had constitutional difficulty: the Welsh Assembly Government.
First of all we were the Welsh Assembly. That meant all of us—the whole family of legislators, officials and Ministers, or rather secretaries in those days. Then we went through a transitional period as the Welsh Assembly Government. Now, thank goodness, we are the Welsh Government for Plaid Cymru and the National Assembly for Wales, and long may we remain so.
My Lords, I have been talking about devolution and independence with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, since around 1962 when we were both solicitors in Wrexham. Indeed, I even voted for him in 1964 when he was a Plaid Cymru candidate. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will be interested to know that. Thereafter we developed our ideas on devolution and it was those ideas, which we produced in 1967 in a Bill in the House of Commons and here that was taken up and considered by the Kilbrandon commission, to which I gave evidence. I say all this because of the history that everyone has been giving.
This Bill is just a step; it is not the end. I notice today that the Glasgow Herald says that the intention of the Smith commission is to introduce votes at 16 for the next Scottish Parliament elections. If that happens in Scotland, I am sure it is going to happen in Wales. Similarly, it has been said that Scotland may very well be looking for an airport tax. If that happens in Scotland, to the delight of the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, it will necessarily come to Wales as well. There are further steps to be taken before we have the complete and satisfactory home rule that the noble Lord and I dreamed of over 50 years ago.
My Lords, I shall respond briefly to the salient points that have been made in this, our last debate. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred to the words of the Prime Minister. Perhaps I may point out to him the solid steps that have been taken since 19 September. The Cabinet Committee has been established under the chairmanship of William Hague. The Secretary of State is of course a member of that committee and, indeed, I attend as well when Wales is being discussed. I would also point to the establishment of cross-party discussions here in Westminster. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will also be in discussions with the leaders of the Assembly groups. We have made the announcement which has been referred to on numerous occasions in our debates of the date of 1 March, St David’s Day, by when we expect to have resolved the issues to a sufficient extent to be able to produce a reserved powers framework for future legislation in respect of Wales. That will deal with the proposals for additional powers in Silk 2, in so far as there is cross-party agreement relating to the size of the Assembly. Silk 2 was accepted by the Deputy Prime Minister in his role of leader of his party. The long-standing devolution credentials of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, are well known and respected by this House. The recent Supreme Court judgment has made it imperative that the issue of the reserved powers model is dealt with.
The noble Baroness touched on Silk 2 and the fact that, in Wales, we had a remarkable cross-party agreement in the Silk commission to deliver it. A lot of parties compromised to reach that agreement. Can we be assured that there will not now be further compromise? The compromise has already taken place, the Government have a unanimous report and Wales expects it to be enacted.
It does not, of course, lie in my hands whether there is compromise. It is an issue for the four parties within Wales. I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, who has made clear that the devolution debate has changed. It has gathered force and moved on since Silk 2 was published. I join the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in being delighted at the end of the concept of WAG. I always regarded this as an unfortunate acronym of the Welsh Assembly Government. My noble friend Lord Thomas made the very important point that the Bill is just a step. I say to noble Lords who make me feel like a newcomer that I have only been campaigning for devolution in Wales since 1979.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.