House of Lords
Thursday, 26 February 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.
My Lords, no formal economic assessment has been made, but HMRC monitors and regularly publishes information on entrepreneurs’ relief and its take-up. The value of entrepreneurs’ relief is forecast to rise from £1.5 billion in 2010-11 to £3 billion in 2014-15. This Government have increased the lifetime limit from £2 million to £10 million and this is expected to benefit those who want to grow their business and reinvest their gains into new enterprises.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend and draw your Lordships’ attention to my declaration in the register of interests. The great success of the UK economy has not happened by chance, but by the implementation of policies designed to encourage business. As mentioned, the increase in the cap from £2 million to £10 million has had a dramatic effect in allowing and encouraging entrepreneurs to start new businesses. However, many of them have gone through this cap, which is a lifetime amount. Will the Minister consider taking away that cap and possibly the 5% limitation as well?
My Lords, as the noble Lord has pointed out, we have increased the cap fivefold. However, we believe at this point that the limit is necessary as part of the overall design of the relief and to ensure that the relief is well targeted and not open to misuse. As I said in my initial Answer, it is worth £3 billion already.
My Lords, in noting the success of government policies in entrepreneurialism and enterprise, may I draw my noble friend’s attention to the Burt report, entitled Inclusive Support for Women in Enterprise, produced by Lorely Burt MP, the government ambassador for women in enterprise? It has a particularly helpful set of recommendations, not least on the work—and the possibilities for additional work—done by local enterprise partnerships. Do the Government have any plans to give the Burt report their very full consideration?
Excuse me. I apologise for my extremely embarrassing mobile phone. Is the Treasury monitoring the extent of entrepreneurial activity and success in this country? Never in my lifetime have I known such an explosion of entrepreneurship, particularly among all the new technologies, where other government measures are helping. This is a sort of Schumpeterian thing that is happening, which ensures our future. I find it quite difficult to access detailed figures—for example, on how many of the 1.5 million new companies over the last two years are new enterprises or other things. Is the Treasury monitoring the amazing thing that is happening in this country?
My Lords, the Treasury is keeping records and noting the number of businesses. There are a record number of private sector businesses in the country at the moment, with an increase of 760,000 compared to 2010. There is of course a whole raft of measures, from having a long-term economic plan that has kept interest rates low to much more specific measures to support small business, which is helping this phenomenal growth.
My Lords, we have had a trade deficit for a very considerable time. One of the reasons we have such a large deficit now is that the amount of net income from UK investments abroad has fallen dramatically, not least because a lot of foreign companies have been investing here. However, the Government have set an ambitious target for increasing exports. By common consent, UKTI is far more focused in what it is doing than it has ever been. We are seeing an increasing number of British companies exporting to an increasing number of countries.
Did I hear the Minister refer to the Government’s “long-term economic plan”? I knew that, in the other place, Conservative Members of Parliament were obliged to say that in all their speeches on every conceivable occasion but I had not realised that the implant was operating in the brains of Liberal Democrats as well. Can he confirm whether that is the case?
My Lords, I am sure the Minister realises that there is a point in the growth of new companies, especially high-tech companies, where they have gone through the first phase but their next phase requires not a few million pounds but perhaps £100 million. In Cambridge, we have certainly lost some very successful companies to US investors at that stage. In fact, it is quite a regular occurrence. Are the Government thinking about that, and about perhaps persuading our City to fund some of these new companies and not always leave it to the Americans?
Yes, my Lords, but while the problem to which the noble Lord refers is of course a long-standing one in the UK, the Government have done a number of things. One is the growth of the enterprise investment scheme, which generated investment of £1 billion in 2012-13. The seed enterprise investment scheme is another, albeit for slightly smaller firms, and some of the initiatives of the Stock Exchange on AIM and the development of the retail bond market are also designed to help fill that funding gap.
Is my noble friend able to cool fevered brows on opposite Benches and confirm that part of that long-term economic plan is to continue the extraordinarily successful growth of job creation, which has given this country an unemployment and employment record finer than any other economy in Europe?
My Lords, it is far beyond my powers to cool the fevered brows opposite, but I repeat: we have been extremely successful in terms of private sector employment. Over 2 million additional private sector jobs have been created in this Parliament, which means that we now have more people employed in the UK than ever before, and the joint-highest rate of employment.
My Lords, does the long-term economic plan, developed against a background where the Government have postponed the ability to eliminate the deficit, have as a constituent part no decision on the fundamental issue of aviation in terms of Heathrow or the third runway in the south-east? Does it also contain a commitment to continually run a low-wage economy and zero-hour contracts for an awful lot of the people who get new jobs?
My Lords. The UK continues to call for a negotiated political transition in Syria as the only way to end the conflict and allow refugees to return home in safety. We have pledged £800 million in response to the crisis and we are working closely with host countries to support refugees in the region.
I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. The whole House will know very well that many Palestinians are still stuck in the camps to which they moved in the late 1940s. Given the low capacity for absorbing Syrians into the neighbouring states, do the Government agree that maximum family reunion for Syrians, both in Europe and elsewhere, together with permanent resettlement in those countries that are open for immigration, is the best way forward?
Where an individual is accepted under the vulnerable persons scheme in the United Kingdom and is part of a family, we are already bringing the family with them as a unit to the United Kingdom. Those granted asylum status are also eligible for family reunion. Clearly, decisions by other countries depend on their own rules. The noble Lord is absolutely right to point to the huge problem in the region. That is why we have committed £800 million to help support the refugees in the region and, in particular, those countries that are hosts to them.
My Lords, while acknowledging the amount of money that we have put into tackling the difficulties facing, in particular, Lebanon and Jordan as a result of the vast number of refugees that they have taken from Syria, could the Minister remind us how many Syrian refugees we have taken into this country?
We have taken in 143 under the humanitarian protection scheme—people who, for example, have very severe medical needs—and we have taken in almost 4,000 Syrians under the asylum claims system. The noble Lord will recognise that this is a major problem and the numbers in the region are such that it is extremely important that we support the many refugees who are looking to return home.
My Lords, UNICEF estimates that the number of Syrian refugee children will reach 2.2 million in 2015. Does my noble friend agree that its help is key to the future of Syria? Will the Government therefore, in collaboration with UNICEF, do everything possible to ensure that these children are vaccinated, not only against polio and MMR but against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus?
My noble friend is right. That is why we put a great deal of emphasis on both health and education—so that there is not a lost generation. Syrian refugee children are vaccinated against polio and measles when they arrive in neighbouring countries as part of the registration process. Vaccination in those camps takes place on a routine basis; it is run by local ministries but supported by the UN and NGOs. There is constant review of which diseases need to be targeted, and at the moment we are especially concerned about the resurgence of cases of polio.
My Lords, given that, as the Minister will be aware, peace agreements in this area have been done to the people, from Sykes-Picot nearly 100 years ago onwards, what contacts are the Government making with those who are in the camps and need to have a voice in the peace settlement, and in particular with women’s groups?
The most reverend Primate is right to highlight this. There is constant contact with those in the camps, to try to engage them in moving things forward. With regard to support for women and girls, we are acutely aware of how vulnerable they are, and we have a number of programmes to help support them. As he will probably know, we are very concerned about early marriage and so on, and those who are particularly vulnerable to that. We are trying to ensure that we link up to support those girls so that that does not happen, and seeking out leaders to help protect girls and women more widely.
Does the Minister agree that it is in Britain’s interest to give maximum aid to Italy to help it police Europe’s somewhat porous maritime border? Regrettably, not all refugees want to return home. Some of them are ISIS implants. By coincidence, I was in contact with friends in Sicily only this morning, who say that they are becoming increasingly worried by the threats of ISIS atrocities in Sicily. What are the Government going to do to help?
It is extremely concerning to hear what the noble Lord says about Sicily; I had not heard that. It is certainly the case that the UK is working extremely closely with all our European allies on the situation of those who are seeking to come across the Mediterranean, often in incredibly dangerous and dire circumstances.
My Lords, in her first reply, my noble friend referred to the desirability of a transfer of power in Syria. Does she recognise that the most likely recipient of any transfer of power at present would be ISIS? That would be a great deal worse than the status quo, because at least the present regime in Syria, for all its faults and misbehaviour, does not slaughter Christians because they are Christians, which ISIS does. In fact, the present regime has always had a reputation for considerable religious tolerance.
In my first Answer I did not mention a transfer; I talked about a negotiated political transition in Syria. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, we are engaged with moderate groups within and around Syria, helping to ensure that they work effectively together—because it is extremely important for the future of Syria that that happens.
My Lords, we welcome the Local Government Association’s report, which provides a valuable contribution to this debate and demonstrates the contribution that local authorities can make and are making. This Government see local authorities as key to tackling obesity and other public health issues. Local communities know best how to tackle obesity, based on local understanding and need. To support this, we have given local authorities £8.2 billion of ring-fenced funding over three years for public health.
My Lords, I am grateful for that reply, but as the Minister will recall from his reading of the report, LEAs say they are the people to do the job but they simply do not have the cash to do it. They have had a 40% cut in their grant aid over the past five years and they do not have the money available to carry out this work. Will he look again at whether, particularly with what is happening in Manchester, some freedom might be given for people at LEA level to raise additional funding themselves?
My Lords, there is always scope to raise additional funding from charities and, indeed, from industry. Alongside the ring-fenced budget we have given to local authorities—it is the first time that this has been done for public health—we have a number of programmes in train which can work side by side with local authorities, such as the work going on in NHS England’s five-year forward view programme. Public Health England, in conjunction with the Local Government Association and ADASS, is commissioning work to support local authorities to take a whole-systems approach and look more widely in the way that the noble Lord has suggested. Public Health England’s Healthy Places programme is also relevant here, looking at how we can use the planning system to promote public health.
My Lords, in light of the alarming increase in type 2 diabetes, which is closely related to the incidence of obesity, what advice are the Government giving to the population at large about the dangers of overeating? When I was in clinical practice I used to advise my overweight patients to take a large dose of will power three times a day with meals.
My Lords, the noble Lord very eloquently makes an important point. There is no simple answer to the problem of obesity: it is multifactorial. However, in recognising that we need to communicate our messages to health experts and, indeed, members of the public—which is his central point—my department and Public Health England are leading work with a group of experts to consider how to make the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines easier to communicate to health professionals and the public. That work is progressing well, but we do need to progress it.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walton, and I speak from personal experience. The problem of obesity is simply a matter of eating less and drinking less and that is 100% a matter of will power. It is not a matter of giving more money to local authorities, much as I understand their desire to have it.
I think that we should give money to local authorities, nevertheless, but I take my noble friend’s point: overweight and obesity are a direct consequence of eating and drinking more calories and using up too few calories. That is the message that we need to get across.
My Lords, have the Government taken into account the issue of epigenetics in their advice on obesity? For example, is the Minister aware of the research by Gregory Dunn of the University of Pennsylvania which has shown that a great-grandmother can pass on imprinted genes which affect her great-grandchildren, but only the females and not the males? That argues environmental influences that we do not yet understand. Is that being factored in with the advice that the Department of Health is giving? It will be an increasingly important issue. This is not only a question of overeating; it is a very complicated problem.
Yes, my Lords, that is being factored in, but I do not think that we should confuse that point with a certain sort of fatalistic approach to obesity. There are things that people can do with their lifestyle to influence their own states of health in all sorts of areas and we have to help people understand what those things are.
Does the Minister agree that this report is a model of its kind? It is brief and free of waffle and it emphasises the important point that obese people do not need to increase their activity one iota in order to lose weight; all they have to do is to eat less.
My Lords, has the Minister had the chance to study this morning the reports of the research from the health campaign group Action on Sugar, which demonstrates that enormous quantities of sugar are found in so-called sports and energy drinks and that these are targeted at children in particular? One particular drink produced by a well known high street grocery—
Yes, my Lords, I was aware of that report. We certainly know that some energy drinks are very high in sugar. That is partly the reason why we have been so keen on making labelling work better. Public Health England is currently considering the evidence in relation to potential actions to reduce sugar intake generally. That includes a review of the evidence on fiscal measures; looking at marketing and promotions; and looking at incentives that have already been implemented internationally and at how effective they are. This is an important area.
My Lords, we estimate that the introduction of enhanced court fees for money claims may generate around £120 million in additional income annually. There is a statutory requirement that income from enhanced fees must be used to fund an efficient and effective system of courts and tribunals. For the reasons set out in the Government’s consultation response published on 16 January, we do not believe that the policy will have a negative impact on access to justice.
Did the Minister, whose personal commitment to justice I do not for a moment doubt, notice that on Monday, when the Lord Chancellor was piously quoting Magna Carta to the Global Law Summit—
“to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice”,
Mr Grayling intoned—his unfortunate junior Minister, Mr Vara, was attempting to explain to the House of Commons that what the Government euphemistically call “enhanced court fees” are actually intended to protect access to justice? Are not these increases in court fees, ranging to more than 600% and following upon the Government’s assaults on civil legal aid and judicial review, simply the latest instances of how this Government do in fact sell, deny and delay justice, in brazen contempt of Magna Carta and the rule of law?
No, I do not accept that characterisation of the Government’s policies in general or the enhanced court fees. The Government are committed to providing effective access to justice and a good and satisfactory court system which is paid for by litigants. The qualification to our enhanced court fees is that the 90% who are below £10,000 will not pay increased court fees, and we believe that the cost of the court system should be borne by those bringing larger claims.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the Lord Chancellor told the Global Law Summit that he is incredibly proud of our legal heritage? The next time the Minister sits down with the Lord Chancellor to discuss our legal heritage, will he point out that the best way to manifest that incredible pride would be to abandon regulations that will do incredible damage to access to justice because they will require traders and businesses who want to sue for £200,000 to pay an upfront fee of £10,000, which many of them will simply be unable to afford?
On the general point, there was reference in both questions to the Global Law Summit. Many pooh-poohed this enterprise, which noble Lords may now realise attracted more than 2,000 delegates, more than 100 Ministers of Justice and Attorneys-General and representatives of more than 100 countries, all of whom came to celebrate our heritage of the rule of law. I remain an adherent to that, as I am sure other noble Lords are. Nothing about the contents of that conference in any way derogated from that principle.
As to the more specific point, there are different provisions depending on the size of the claim. As the noble Lord will know, court fees usually form a small part of the overall bill compared with lawyers’ fees, which tend to be much higher. We do not believe that the increased court fees will act as a significant inhibition on claims.
My Lords, in my time, the consent of the heads of division was required to achieve an order for court fees. That requirement has since been removed, with the result that the heads of division are now no longer in complete control, as they were then. Notwithstanding that, I was successfully judicially reviewed in a court fees order that had the consent of all the heads of division. That could also happen. What is the purpose of dealing with this matter in a way that does not require the consent of the heads of division? I assume that the Government have answered the consultation. Does the Minister have the answer ready to hand?
My noble and learned friend will know that there were two consultations regarding these proposed enhanced fees, in which the judiciary’s comments were fully taken on board by the Government and certain modifications were made to the original proposals. However, ultimately, the question of fees and the cost of the courts is a matter for the Government to decide.
My Lords, I refer to my interest as an unpaid consultant in my former solicitor’s practice. On 15 February, the Observer reported Vince Cable’s request for information about the overall decline of 80% in employment appeal tribunal applications and 90% in sex discrimination cases since the imposition of substantial fees for those applications. Can the Minister tell us what reply the Lord Chancellor has made to Vince Cable’s request for information, and to his question about the Lord Chancellor’s failure to implement a promised review? In the light of this experience, why should we accept the Government’s assurances that increasing fees by up to 600% in the civil courts will not lead to fewer claims being brought there?
The question of employment tribunal fees is very different. There were, in fact, no fees at all. As a result of a relatively modest fee, there has been a significant decline in the number of claims brought. I am sure the noble Lord would accept that some of the claims brought hitherto were somewhat on the speculative side. That no longer takes place. Furthermore, the intervention of ACAS, as from May 2014, has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of these cases getting to employment tribunals, and surely it is better that tribunals should, on the whole, be avoided. What is more, as a result of our long-term economic plan there has been a significant increase in the number of people in employment. This Government are about hiring, not firing.
House Committee Report
Motion to Agree
My Lords, the House Committee reviewed the access and privileges available to non-sitting and former Members following the House’s agreement to the provisions for Members retiring under Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. A range of rules had developed over time and the Committee wanted to rationalise them.
Our report recommends that Members on leave of absence, Members who are MEPs and holders of disqualifying judicial office should no longer be provided with paper copies of parliamentary papers—they are available online—or have access to Library research facilities, but may still have access to the Library. Both provisions have a financial cost to the taxpayer, and are provided to support Member participation in the proceedings of the House. We also recommend that Members in those categories should have the same access to catering facilities as retired Members.
Finally, access privileges for the spouses and civil partners of Members in those categories—that is, Members on leave of absence, MEPs and holders of disqualifying judicial office—would no longer be extended, although they could of course still attend as guests. The spouses and civil partners of Members in those categories could also still obviously make use of the facilities of the House as guests.
If agreed today, these changes would take effect from the start of the new Parliament and the Clerk of the Parliaments would ensure that affected Members were aware of the new arrangements. I beg to move.
Referral and Investigation of Proposed Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Order 2015
Referral and Investigation of Proposed Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Northern Ireland and Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 2015
Proposed Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Conduct of Investigations, etc.) Regulations 2015
Motions to Approve
Local Government (Transparency) (Descriptions of Information) (England) Order 2015
Non-Domestic Rating (Shale Oil and Gas and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2015
Non-Domestic Rating (Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) Regulations 2015
Community Right to Challenge (Business Improvement Districts) Regulations 2015
Motions to Approve
That the orders and regulations laid before the House on 12, 14 and 23 January be approved.
Relevant documents: 20th and 21st Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 24 February.
Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 41, Schedule 1, Clauses 42 to 77, Schedule 2, Clauses 78 to 81, Schedule 3, Clauses 82 to 84, Schedule 4, Clauses 85 to 94, Schedule 5, Clauses 95 to 97, Schedule 6, Clauses 98 to 111, Schedule 7, Clause 112, Schedule 8, Clauses 113 to 126, Schedule 9, Clauses 127 to 133, Schedule 10, Clauses 134 to 144, Schedule 11, Clauses 145 to 163, Title.
Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill
Order of Commitment Discharged
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged
Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedules 4 and 5 and Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2015
Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 20 January be approved.
Relevant documents: 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 9th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, as the House well knows, on 18 September last year the people of Scotland, including tens of thousands of 16 and 17 year-olds, voted in the Scottish independence referendum and made the historic decision that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. The participation of our young people in that vote was truly historic. They showed that they were more than capable of being part of Scottish democracy when they helped their country to take the biggest decision we have faced for centuries. It demonstrated a desire to be involved in an event which would shape the future of their country.
In the run-up to the referendum, pledges were made to the people of Scotland. The three pro-union parties—the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats—all made a vow to devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament, should Scotland remain within the United Kingdom, thereby ensuring that Scotland retains the best of both worlds. In keeping with that vow, the day after the referendum the Prime Minister made the announcement that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, had agreed to lead a commission to agree what those new powers should be. The commission would work with the five parties represented in the Scottish Parliament to make that determination.
The commission invited submissions from political parties, a wide range of business and civic organisations and the wider public to help guide its consideration of what further powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Following due consideration of all submissions and views garnered by the commission, on 27 November 2014 the report detailing the heads of agreement was published. That report was welcomed by this Government, and, as this House is aware, on the 22nd of last month we published the draft clauses which will make up the substance of the next Scotland Bill to implement the recommendations in that report.
However, one of the recommendations made by the commission is being taken forward separately from that Bill: the recommendation that the United Kingdom Parliament devolves the relevant powers in sufficient time to allow the Scottish Parliament to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds for the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections, should the Scottish Parliament wish to do so. That is exactly what this draft order seeks to achieve. Not to have taken this forward now, by means of this order, would have risked the Scottish Parliament having insufficient time to bring forward any subsequent legislation, should it choose to do so, to implement it and to have any necessary measures in place well in time for the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections.
I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend for giving way. The document to which he referred, Scotland in the United Kingdom: An Enduring Settlement, published in January, suggested that the alterations to the franchise should require a supermajority of two-thirds in the Scottish Parliament. The order being presented today bypasses that. If it was thought appropriate to have a supermajority to change the franchise in January, why is it not thought appropriate in February?
My Lords, that point was made by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, and I will deal with it when I come to deal with the points made by the committee in its report, published earlier this week.
The draft order is made under Sections 30 and 63 of the Scotland Act 1998, the Act that set out the original devolution settlement for Scotland and that continues to demonstrate that devolution is remarkably resilient and flexible. Several Section 30 and Section 63 orders have been made under that Act and, even with the new upcoming Bill, we do not expect that to change. Where a need for change is identified and agreed, those changes will be made by the most appropriate means.
By virtue of Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998—which I shall refer to as the 1998 Act—this draft order will give the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate to reduce the minimum voting age to 16 at elections to the Scottish Parliament and to Scottish local government elections. The Scottish Parliament will also be given the power to legislate to make provision about the registration of electors in order to give effect to any such reduction in the minimum voting age. However, I wish to be clear that the draft order itself does not actually reduce the minimum voting age to 16 at both of these elections. Rather, it paves the way, by conferring the necessary legislative competence on the Scottish Parliament, to make the necessary legislation to achieve this, should it choose to do so.
Section 63 of the 1998 Act allows for an Order in Council to provide for any functions, so far as they are exercisable by a Minister of the Crown in or as regards Scotland, to be exercisable by the Scottish Ministers concurrently with the Minister of the Crown. This draft order will give the Scottish Ministers the ability to exercise certain functions relating to the individual electoral registration digital service—which I shall refer to as the digital service—in or as regards Scotland, when giving effect to provision reducing the minimum voting age to 16 in Scottish Parliament or Scottish local government elections or both. Provision relating to the use of the digital service for applications for registration, or for verifying information contained in applications for registration, is otherwise reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament.
The draft order will also have the effect that, if the Scottish Ministers exercise the functions given to them in relation to the digital service, in certain cases the requirement to consult the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner, and to publish reports prepared by the Electoral Commission, will apply to the Scottish Ministers. I would like to make it clear that the Scottish Ministers will be able to exercise these functions given to them by virtue of this draft order concurrently with UK Ministers and subject to the agreement of a Minister of the Crown.
I appreciate that concerns about the draft order have been raised by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, and I turn to these now. A question was raised about the propriety of using Section 30 of the 1998 Act to make this change. As I have already stated, several orders have been made under Section 30 since 1999, and it is right that they should have been. Section 30 is a tailor-made power for altering, by an Order in Council, the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament without the need for primary legislation. Section 30 orders, as they are known, are part of the agreed process set out in the 1998 Act. That Act, including that particular process, was fully scrutinised, and the Section 30 process approved, by this Parliament. Therefore, the use of a Section 30 order is an entirely appropriate way to take forward this matter.
Again, I remind your Lordships that it would not have been possible, in the time available, to deliver this important aspect of the Smith commission agreement if the provisions had been contained in a Bill to be brought forward after the next general election. Any consequent legislation brought forward by the Scottish Parliament to reduce the voting age to 16 for Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections will be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament in the normal way.
On the point raised by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, the committee queried whether or not it was appropriate that this order does not include the supermajority procedure requirement. The order delivers the recommendation in the Smith commission which was agreed by all five political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament. Paragraph 25 of the agreement states that the Scottish Parliament should be given the power to legislate to enable 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in time for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections should it choose to do so. The five parties represented in the Scottish Parliament which agreed this issue during the Smith process will therefore be responsible for bringing forward this change in that Parliament, should they choose to do so. This is a question not even of consensus but of unanimity. I am advised that earlier this morning the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee of the Scottish Parliament unanimously recommended that the Scottish Parliament approve this order. No other change to the operation and structure of the Scottish Parliament has that political consensus at the present time.
These are matters for future Scottish Parliaments to debate and any such change will, as my noble friend pointed out, be subject to a supermajority provision. However, we are talking about a recommendation that came forward from the Smith commission which commands unanimous support within the Scottish Parliament. We therefore believe it is not necessary to include a supermajority provision in the current order.
My noble and learned friend is saying to the House that the reason that no supermajority provision is required is because it was a recommendation from the Smith commission. However, this document, An Enduring Settlement, which was the Government’s response to the Smith commission, said that there should be a supermajority for changes to the franchise or important constitutional changes. He has not explained why he has changed the Government’s position in a matter of weeks.
My Lords, the Government’s position has not changed. My noble friend will have heard that I said in my first paragraph in moving this order that it was laid before the House on 20 January 2015. That was before these clauses were published. It was always clear that there was not going to be a supermajority requirement for the order, which is on a proposal that commands unanimous support in the Scottish Parliament. There are further technical issues. The clause that deals with the supermajority is somewhat complex and would have led to unnecessary complexity in an order for which there is unanimous agreement that it should go forward.
I do not believe that it was ever the intention that this order would require the supermajority provision. To have done so might have led to accusations that we were going back on something that had been agreed. It was announced early on, before the clauses were published, that we would proceed by way of a Section 30 order to meet not only the spirit but the specific recommendation of the Smith commission that this part of the agreement should be taken forward ahead of the Bill to implement other aspects of it.
It is noted in the Constitution Committee’s report that the change made by this order does not directly affect the franchise for UK general elections, European parliamentary elections or local government elections beyond Scotland. Therefore the order has no direct constitutional implications for the rest of the United Kingdom. I emphasise that the power to set the franchise for voting in United Kingdom parliamentary elections will remain with this Parliament. It is not the Government’s policy to do that—indeed, it would be impossible—for the next general election in the four or five weeks that are left.
While the committee raises concerns that any reduction in the voting age in Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections may lead to pressure to extend the franchise for other elections, this is not exactly a new debate. Indeed, some parties represented in your Lordships’ House and one of the parties in the coalition—my own—believe that there should be a change in the franchise: it is not a new debate. During the debate on the order in the House of Commons, this was seen to be a positive development. While there may not be a consensus in this Parliament at the present time for changing the franchise for general elections, I am sure the debate will continue.
Rather than devolve only the powers necessary to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to participate in the 2016 and subsequent Scottish Parliament elections, as the committee pointed out the draft order devolves the power to enable the Scottish Parliament to legislate to lower the voting age to 16 in time for the 2017 local government elections in Scotland if it so desires. I can hear a Member saying that this was not in the Smith report. I was just going to explain why it is being done, albeit that it was not in that report. It is another very sensible, practical thing and the Government should be given credit when they do such things. The draft order does, indeed, go further than is specified in the Smith report but in terms of timing only. Unlike with Scottish Parliament elections, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, did not specify the timescales within which the Scottish Parliament should be given the power to enable 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in local government elections. However, the commission did recommend that:
“The Scottish Parliament will have all powers in relation to elections to the Scottish Parliament and local government elections in Scotland”.
The order clearly does not go beyond that overall recommendation.
Including the power to enable 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in Scottish local government elections in this order was felt to be beneficial and practical for two reasons. First, there is an issue of timing. If the Scottish Parliament wished to take forward such legislation, then the timing of the forthcoming Scotland Bill would make it very challenging to devolve the necessary powers in sufficient time for the Scottish Parliament, in turn, to legislate in time for the Scottish local elections in May 2017 without breaching normal electoral guidelines. Secondly, the franchise for the Scottish Parliament election is currently the same as that for the local government franchise and the former is set by reference to the latter.
Devolving only the legislative competence to reduce the minimum voting age for Scottish parliamentary elections would have meant that the Scottish Parliament would have needed to separate the Scottish Parliament franchise from the local government franchise. That would have introduced unnecessary complications into the registration system. In the absence of a strong policy reason to make the two franchises different, there seems no reason to separate them when all it would bring is unnecessary cost and complication for electoral administrators and potential confusion for electors.
Finally, the committee raised the issue of data protection and individual electoral registration, particularly in connection with individuals under the age of majority. Enacting provisions to protect the data of the prospective young voters is part of the implementation of the order. The Scottish Parliament is well aware of its obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 and, generally, to adequately safeguard the information provided for, and used in, the process of registering electors. Further, as already mentioned, this draft order will give the Scottish Ministers the ability to exercise certain functions relating to the digital service. I can assure noble Lords that all information used by this system is treated appropriately and is adequately protected. The service is the name given to the series of interlocking digital systems which allow applications to register as an elector to be made online and for the personal information given by applicants to be verified against government data. It comprises the online application service, the secure environment which receives and directs data, secure connections to electoral registration officers and to the Department for Work and Pensions, the DWP processing environment and the interface with electoral registration officers’ election management software.
The other place approved this draft order on 2 February. If the approval of this House and the Scottish Parliament are also secured, then the order will go forward for consideration by Her Majesty in Council. When the order comes into force, the Scottish Parliament will have the legislative competence to bring forward the legislation necessary to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in all Scottish Parliament, Scottish local government elections or both. The United Kingdom Government have fast-tracked devolving the power for this as an exception to the rest of the Smith package so it can be in place in time for 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections and the 2017 Scottish local government elections. It is my understanding that the Scottish Government intend to introduce this legislation, to lower the voting age, in the Scottish Parliament as soon as possible once this order has been made by the Privy Council. I commend the order to the House.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend for setting out the arguments which the Government advance on behalf of this order. I am not entirely persuaded by the force of those arguments and I shall come to that in the course of my speech. However, the main thrust of what I will address is the constitutional aspect of bringing forward this measure in an order of this kind. My noble and learned friend referred to the fact that several Section 30 orders have been used. That does not, in itself, make it right. What matters is the content of the orders and the circumstances in which they are presented.
I am concerned partly with the substance of what is proposed but mainly with the procedures from which the order has emerged. Your Lordship’s Constitution Committee is conducting an inquiry and will in due course publish a report on the draft clauses published to enact the recommendations of the Smith commission. As my noble and learned friend said, the policy enshrined in this order has been brought forward in advance of that so we have issued a short report on it which we published at the start of this week in the hope of assisting the debate. I say in passing that haste is the hallmark of bad law in matters constitutional. This whole process has been redolent of haste.
Our first concern has been the failure of the Government directly to address the constitutional implications of this proposal—or, indeed, the draft clauses to implement the whole of the Smith commission’s recommendations—either in a Command Paper or in the draft Explanatory Memorandum for the order. The changes to the voting age in Scotland have no direct effect on the franchise of other UK elections, as my noble and learned friend said, but there are clear indications that they set a trend. The Wales Act 2014 provides for the reduction of the voting age to 16 in any referendum on tax-raising powers for the Welsh Assembly. In evidence to our committee, the Secretary of State for Scotland said he thought it “unthinkable” that the franchise for the UK general election of 2020 would not include 16 and 17 year-olds. What a contrast that slide towards a new policy across the United Kingdom is to the procedure followed in the late 1960s, when the age was reduced from the age of 21 to 18 only after two separate commissions had reported, one into electoral law and the other into the age of majority. Consider the contrast also with the Republic of Ireland, where a constitutional convention discussed the issue in 2013. A referendum on whether there should be a reduction to the age of 16 is to be held.
This change in the voting age is highly unusual, looked at across the globe. Internationally, 171 countries have a voting age of 18. Three have an age of 17: Indonesia, Sudan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Four have 16: Brazil, Austria, Nicaragua and Cuba. One, Iran, has 15. A larger handful, including Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Tonga, have ages around the 20 to 21 mark. We in the United Kingdom propose to enable Scotland to do this without adequate recent consultations, with no White Paper or debate in Parliament, just an unamendable piece of secondary legislation which prevents effective scrutiny. I do not think that that is an appropriate way to proceed with constitutional legislation of this kind—legislation, be it noted, that goes beyond the Smith commission recommendations, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth pointed out, by including local government elections as well as Scottish Parliament elections. Again, there has been no consultation on that or proper parliamentary consideration.
One of the proposals that I do welcome in the draft clauses, to which my noble friend Lord Forsyth again referred and which are not before us today, is draft Clause 4, which will provide that future change to electoral law in Scotland will need a two-thirds majority in the Scottish Parliament. That is an important point of principle which I welcome, but if that is to be introduced shortly, why not now, for this significant change to the voting age being proposed? It really is not good enough simply to say, “Because it was in the Smith commission proposals”. Those proposals were not the basis of parliamentary consideration either. We will now be presented with draft clauses, which have not yet had any scrutiny whatever.
Notwithstanding whether noble Lords are wedded to a supermajority or opposed to the 16 age-limit threshold for voting, can the noble Lord do a better job of explaining the Government’s transition during the last few months than the Minister did? The only reason I heard for not having a supermajority was the unanimity in the Scottish Parliament. That seems to completely undermine the argument against having it. If there is such unanimity, a supermajority would not in any way preclude the possibility of that passing. Can the noble Lord explain why the Government’s position appeared to change from January to February, and back again from February to March?
My responsibility is not to explain the Government’s position; my responsibility is to hold the Government to account. I am grateful for the noble Lord’s contribution, which does a great deal in that direction, and I am sure that my noble and learned friend will wish to return to this matter in his reply to the debate.
Another issue on which your Lordships are expected to be swept along is the important one of data protection, to which my noble and learned friend referred, and the implications of including details of minors in a public document such as the electoral register. I heard what my noble and learned friend said, and I accept that attempts are being made to take this matter seriously and reduce the risk that might arise. But again, that is a matter that should have parliamentary scrutiny.
Individual electoral registration means that more personal data will be collected and held by registration officers than happened under the old household registration system. Most young people about to turn 16 will probably apply for registration as attainers, at which time they probably will not yet have received their national insurance number, which is the primary means of verification. The examination, acceptance and storage of alternative proofs of identity will need the most careful thought and reassurance. None of this has had the kind of parliamentary scrutiny that the Committee stage of a Bill would provide—although I do welcome what my noble and learned friend said about the attention being given to the matter.
There have been many false dawns with earlier consultations on a reduction in the voting age. None has led to a firm conclusion in support of it. In 1998 the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee decided not to recommend a change. In 1999 the Howarth working party on electoral procedures reached the same conclusion. In December that year, in proceedings on what was to become the Representation of the People Act 2000, an amendment to reduce the age from 18 to 16 was rejected by an overwhelming majority.
As for the merits of the case for younger voting, of course we want young people to take an interest in our democratic process and in the issues of the day, and to start to develop their political beliefs. But if giving them the vote at 16 would achieve that, why does the 18 to 21 age group have the lowest turnout rate of all at general elections? It is not getting the vote earlier that matters, but attaining sufficient intellectual maturity and involvement in the issues that will affect their lives which will begin to engage them. Then, when they do get the vote, they will value it and be more likely to use it.
I mentioned the number of reports that came out in the early years of this century. People addressed the issue, and some of them left the door open. But broadly they all agreed, as successive Governments have done, that the present position should remain in place. In 2003 the Electoral Commission reached that conclusion as well.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for the excellent report his committee has produced. Did the committee consider why, if it was proposed to reduce the age of the franchise and give the right to vote at 16, it was not also proposed that people should be able to stand as candidates at 16?
Again, my noble friend makes an extremely relevant point. The relationship between voting age and the age of majority has not been adequately considered, either. I hope that this will emerge in the course of the debate. I do not wish to take up too much of the House’s time, so I will bring my remarks to a conclusion. I am sure that other noble Lords will wish to explore further the pros and cons of that change. The burden of my message to your Lordships today is simply to state that the appropriate parliamentary processes for a constitutional change of this kind have not been properly observed—and that is something that should not pass without comment.
My Lords, this is a short measure, but one that I believe will have a very positive impact on our democracy—across the United Kingdom as a whole, but most particularly in the relationship between the Members of the Scottish Parliament and local authorities in Scotland and the people who elect them, and on how politicians respond to the desires of voters when they are elected.
On the assumption that the Scottish Parliament will vote to use the power once it has been transferred, for the first time in these islands parliamentarians will be elected by people aged 16 and over. That will mean that in elections to the Scottish Parliament and local authorities, not only will 16 and 17 year-olds be taught about citizenship and informed in schools and colleges about the processes of democracy, but they will be active citizens themselves. They will be enfranchised, and they will be participants. That is right and proper, and a considerable and positive step.
MSPs will no longer see 16 and 17 year-olds simply as people for whom services are provided in schools or colleges, or by councils and elsewhere; they will have to consider them as voters—not only as the receivers of services but as people who will have a direct say in how those services are shaped and delivered. They will become part of the democratic relationship between those who are elected and those to whom they are accountable. That is important and this proposal is a first step towards that.
There are two aspects to that. The first is the desire of young people themselves. For many years a consistent theme in campaigns to give people the vote at 16 is that participating in the democratic process does not automatically assume that exactly the same process should apply to those who are elected to Parliament to make these decisions. That comes from young people themselves. Secondly, the age of majority is not necessarily applied consistently as regards young people’s rights and responsibilities. For example, different approaches are taken as regards the minimum age at which one can drink alcohol, drive, join the military or buy knives. Today, we are discussing the specific issue of the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year-olds. The age of majority and whether young people of 15, 16 and upwards should be granted other rights and responsibilities is quite rightly an area which we continue to debate—and which young people themselves continue to debate. I see that my noble friend is itching to intervene and I am delighted to give way.
I am saying that there are differences in the rights and responsibilities of young people, and for those aged under 21, in these islands. In many instances the decisions made on why those rights and responsibilities differ for different ages are taken on their own merits. For example, decisions on the age at which one has the legal right to drive, join the Armed Forces or, indeed, buy articles that could potentially be used as weapons are taken on their own merits. Likewise, the proposal that 16 and 17 year-olds should also have the vote should be taken on its own merits.
I agree that there has not always been consensus on this issue among the political parties. When I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, the Liberal Democrats worked hard with our Labour coalition partners to persuade them of the merits of this proposal, and we have done the same with our partners in this coalition. However, as my noble and learned friend indicated, there is now a settled consensus among the parties in the Scottish Parliament representing the whole spectrum of political view that this is the way forward.
I need not rehearse the arguments further about the merits of 16 and 17 year-olds voting, because to some extent the best evidence that I can provide was presented by the young people themselves in the referendum in Scotland. Those of us who took part in debates on the referendum will know that some of the best and most profound points in terms of perspective, responsibility and maturity were made by 16 and 17 year-olds who participated in them. Of course, that was a binary decision about the future of the country but there is no doubt in my mind that it demonstrated absolutely that not only can 16 and 17 year-olds be trusted to decide how they elect their representatives but it is important that we should now enshrine that in law.
My noble friend Lord Lang referred to turnout. He is quite right: the Electoral Commission’s assessment of the referendum in Scotland showed that the turnout of 16 and 17 year-olds was 75%. The rate dropped for those aged between 18 and 24 before it started to pick up for those aged 25 to 34 and those above 35. If I follow his rationale that democratic participation should start early and then develop, the best way of enhancing 18 to 24 year-olds’ participation in democratic elections is to enfranchise 16 and 17 year-olds, as the evidence on turnout suggests that that will indeed be the case. Therefore, this delivers an agreement. The agreement is unanimous and I am delighted to support it.
My noble friend raised two final points on the committee report in which I was quite interested. First, I do not accept that a possible concern that other parts of the UK may have a desire to follow Scotland should be used as a negative to delay this. That other parts of the UK will learn from Scotland’s experiences should be seen as positive. I have no doubt that the Welsh experience that he cited was a result of people seeing the way in which 16 and 17 year-olds participated within Scotland in the referendum.
Secondly, as regards the supermajority, I see in the draft clauses that accompanied the White Paper that there are other aspects that will be the protected subject matters of the supermajority in the Scottish Parliament where there is no consensus. There is no unanimity, and there may be none in future, on whether the regions or constituencies should be redrawn, or the number of regional Members or the balance between regional and constituency Members. I was a constituency Member, not a regional Member, and I know that there was no consensus across the parties. But in this case there is not only consensus but unanimity.
On the final aspect of the technical issues going forward, the Electoral Commission report on the referendum was quite helpful.
My Lords, my question did not concern the merits of a supermajority; I went out of my way to say that notwithstanding whether you were for or against it. My question was about the apparent transition from one position to a second and then to a third one. Since the noble Lord, Lord Lang, understandably refused to take responsibility for explaining the Government’s journey in that direction, perhaps the noble Lord can explain it. That was my question; it was not about the merits of the supermajority.
It is only an apparent change. The noble Lord considers it one, but in fact there is no change. The Smith commission and indeed the introductory remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, are perfectly clear on the powers to be extended to the Scottish Parliament over the franchise, as part of other aspects. The draft clauses accurately reflect the ongoing view in paragraph 27 rather than paragraph 25 of the continuation of the supermajority. In the measure that we have in front of us today—this instrument—and in the draft clauses that Parliament will be debating after the general election, there is no change, as far as I see, in the Government’s position. The noble Lord may not agree with that, but that is my view.
It is not about whether I agree with the merits of it; it is about the objective, factual position. I was not referring to the Smith commission. I was referring to the Government’s publication in response to the Smith commission. The noble Lord may say that it is apparently at odds with the legislation; I think that it is. I am not questioning the merits of the case that he is putting; I am just trying to get an explanation on why there has been an apparent change three times in three months.
I was referring, in my answer to the noble Lord’s previous intervention, to the heads of agreement of the Smith commission, in paragraphs 25 and 27, and, in annexe A, to draft Clause 4 on page 93, which brings into effect the recommendations of the Smith commission. This clause also brings into effect a recommendation of the Smith commission, which is to move, on the basis of unanimity in the Smith commission, to the delivery of this power for 16 and 17-year olds, so that the Parliament will have that authority in advance of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. There is no difference in that position on the Government’s part, apparent or otherwise, as far as I see it.
Finally, I joined my party at the age of 16. One of my reasons for doing so was because of the position that my party had to empower 16 year-olds to take part in parliamentary elections. I am delighted that this Government have acted on the unanimity of political views in the Scottish Parliament to deliver this, and that is why I will be delighted if this goes through Parliament today.
My Lords, all I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is that he must have been quite an extraordinary 16-year old if at that age he was thinking of joining the Liberal Democrats because it was going to reduce the franchise age to 16. I have to say that when I was 16, I thought that I was a socialist, but I grew out of that after a while.
I am participating in this debate not to argue the merits or otherwise of whether people should have the vote at 16, but because I think that the process by which this is being achieved is absolutely lamentable. We began our proceedings this morning by discussing whether former Members and MEPs should have access to the facilities—the restaurants and bars—of this place. I sat here thinking that this place is presenting itself to the outside world as if it was some kind of club, rather than a House of Parliament. This debate, and the way that the Government have dealt with the matter, shows that we are being treated as a kind of club and not as a second House of Parliament with particular responsibilities for constitutional matters.
We have here an excellent report from the Constitution Committee. My noble friend Lord Lang has explained the reservations which have been drawn to the attention of the House by the committee, but the Government propose to charge on regardless. I have the highest regard for my noble and learned friend the Minister, but even he was struggling to make bricks out of this particular straw. He suggested that there was not really a commitment that contradicted the terms. Scotland in the United Kingdom: An Enduring Settlement was published in January 2015 as Command Paper 8990. It has a foreword signed by the right honourable Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and the right honourable David Cameron, the Prime Minister, which states that it is their response to the Smith commission proposals. On page 17, it states:
“To provide an adequate check on Scottish Parliament legislation changing the franchise”,
which is what we are discussing,
“the electoral system or the number of constituency and regional members for the Scottish Parliament, UK legislation will require such legislation to be passed by a two-thirds majority of the Scottish Parliament”.
Is this not UK legislation? Are we not discussing the franchise? What do those words mean if they do not mean what I say they mean? My noble and learned friend is being Humpty Dumpty. Words, it appears, for this Government mean whatever they believe them to mean and not what they say. This was a document presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister only a few weeks ago. We are entitled to ask why this change has been made.
As the noble Lord, Lord Reid, pointed out, my noble and learned friend made a contradictory statement. He said that we are not having a supermajority because there is consensus that it should happen. As the noble Lord pointed out, if there is consensus, what is the problem with having a supermajority? My noble and learned friend did not make clear whether that supermajority is still required. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said that there was consensus. Suppose that there was a majority in the Scottish Parliament that, having had a bad experience with the franchise set at 16, wanted to change it from 16 to 18. Would that require a supermajority, or has that provision simply been dropped? If the answer to my question is, yes, it would require a supermajority, is it not going to look a bit ridiculous to tell the Scottish Parliament that it can change the age to 16 but it needs a supermajority to change it back to where it was?
I am really dismayed that matters of this kind should be being dealt with by orders and regulations, which effectively prevents this House or, indeed, the other place, from making any amendments or changes and having any debate.
That brings me to my next point, which my noble and learned friend acknowledged. Included in the order is a proposal that the franchise should be extended to local government. There was nothing in Smith about that. There is nothing in this document that I can see—I stand to be corrected about that. It has come from nowhere for the sake of convenience. Therefore, the idea that we extend the franchise for local government, which may or may not be a good idea, has not been subject to proper scrutiny. No one in Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom has had an opportunity to discuss the merits of it: there has been no consultation. As my noble friend Lord Lang pointed out—and has pointed out in the excellent report from the Constitution Committee of this House, which has had to be rushed out in order to meet this timetable, ahead of discussing the draft clauses to which this apparently relates—it is an extraordinary way of doing business.
In the early 1960s, as has already been mentioned, when we changed the franchise from 21 to 18, we did it after having two commissions. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, may take credit for it, as a Labour Government did this. The Labour Government in those days were very concerned about consultation and constitutional propriety and there were two separate commissions created to look at this before the change was made. One was on the age of majority, which is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was struggling with. How can it be right to have an age of majority that is different to the age of the franchise? We end up with the absurd position that 16 year-olds are not allowed to go and buy a pint of beer, to buy a packet of cigarettes, or to drive a car; but they are allowed to decide the future Government of their country. They are almost certainly not paying income tax or other taxes apart from indirect taxes; they will not even have a national insurance number when they are required to go on the register, because they will be 15. The national insurance number system, as the Constitution Committee report points out, is the means by which we check the identity of voters for the voters’ roll, so how is that going to work? There is nothing that I can see in the explanatory material provided by the Minister to explain any of this or to deal with the issue of whether 16 year-olds should be able to stand as candidates.
I happen to believe that, if you have the right to vote, you should have the right to stand. It is true that there has been a difference in the past. When I was at St Andrews University with the late Robert Jones—who was in the other place as the Member for West Hertfordshire and died rather prematurely—he stood as a student in St Andrews. He promptly got himself made chairman of the planning committee and started to block the principle of the plans of St Andrews for the expansion of the university, which caused a degree of consternation. It was argued then that a student should not be able to be on the council deciding these matters, but at the time people accepted that if you had the right to vote and participate in the election you should be able to stand as a candidate. This is illustrated by this House: the reason why Members of this House do not have a vote at the forthcoming general election is that we are our own representatives in Parliament. That is the constitutional theory. Therefore, if you are able to vote in the election, it seems to me that you should be able to stand and put forward your views. This is completely muddled.
What on earth are this Government doing? They seem to be making up constitutional change as they go along. They seem to be doing it under electoral pressure from the Scottish Nationalists, and—do you know what?—it does not seem to be working. Ladbrokes will give you very good odds on the SNP winning more than 39 seats in the forthcoming general election. You would not have got these odds before we made this foolish vow in the last minutes of the referendum campaign. This process of appeasement and making it up as you go along is creating instability in our country and feeding those who wish to break our United Kingdom. These are facts.
I have bored the Minister to death on this subject; I have spoken on it before and I warned him that if we introduced the opportunity for 16 year-olds to vote, then it would be argued that other parts of the United Kingdom should get the same. What do we have from this Government on the position in respect of Wales? Do we have a similar provision for the Welsh Assembly? Apparently not: we have a provision that 16 year-olds in Wales might get the vote in order to vote in a referendum on tax-raising powers for the Welsh Assembly. Where is the logic of that? You would get to vote on tax-raising powers as a 16 year-old when you may not have to pay them but not get to vote for the Members of the Welsh Assembly. However, if you move north of the border you would get the opportunity to vote for the Scottish Parliament because there is consensus among the political parties about this. Why is there a consensus in Scotland? What about England?
What are this Government doing in bringing forward measures based on the Smith commission, which had a narrow remit? Its remit was to consider what was right for Scotland. It did not look at the rest of the United Kingdom or the implications for it.
My noble friend is seriously misinformed on this matter. If he looks at the Smith commission’s report, he will see the principles that guided the commission, which included “no detriment” to other parts of the United Kingdom. That was one of the principles which all parties to the Smith commission agreed to and which informed the proposals with which it came forward. He is absolutely wrong to say that there was no regard to other parts of the United Kingdom.
In which case, why on earth are we still retaining the Barnett formula and allowing Scotland to raise its own tax, if the principle was that there was “no detriment” to the rest of the United Kingdom? There was no representation from anyone from the rest of the United Kingdom; it was the political parties in Scotland looking at the position in Scotland.
My noble and learned friend, who is a very clever lawyer, is making a quite separate point. You can look at what is in the interests of Scotland in such a way that it creates no detriment to the rest of the United Kingdom, but that is not the same thing as looking at the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole and considering the knock-on implications. That is a matter for this House and, more particularly, the other place but they are being given no opportunity to debate and consider it. In the case of the changes to local government there has been no opportunity for anyone in Scotland, in the Scottish Parliament or anywhere else to consider that.
I return to my point. We had the Smith commission looking at Scotland. Then we had this ludicrous vow made in the last few days of the campaign—after I and many other people had voted, because many people voted by post. It was done without consultation with the party leaders in Scotland, hence the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland resigned and described her party as being treated like a branch office. Our leader Ruth Davidson, who did such an excellent job in the referendum campaign, was not consulted. This was three privy counsellors on the phone, cooking up a scheme. We have not had that style of government, where privy counsellors could consult each other and create legislative change of this kind, since the days of Wolf Hall. We should be very concerned indeed by the way in which this matter has been done and brought forward.
Then we had the childish timetable where the Government were required to respond from September by St Andrew’s Night, and then from St Andrew’s Night we had to have draft clauses by Burns Night. This is pantomime politics. Not only did we have these draft clauses by Burns Night but, a week later, we had the architect—the hero—of saving the union, Gordon Brown, telling us all that what he had produced and agreed by Burns Night was no longer satisfactory and that we needed to do something else. This is riding for trouble. We should consider constitutional matters carefully and they should carry consensus. We should consider the implications for the United Kingdom as a whole. It should never be driven by political expediency or short-term political consideration.
I am enjoying my noble friend’s contribution but, with regard to symbolism, I wonder which has the richer symbolism in what he is referring to. Is it David Cameron not consulting Ruth Davidson in advance of making that joint statement with the other leaders of the UK parties or, in some form of symbolic suggestion, moving the Stone of Scone up to Scotland in 1996 to cross the River Tweed with great fanfare?
I am sure the House will get cross with me if I go on much longer but, as the noble Lord has raised the Stone of Scone, the reason that I persuaded the Prime Minister, who in turn persuaded Her Majesty the Queen, that the stone should be returned to Scotland—and the reason it came up as an issue—had nothing whatever to do with any symbolism.
I shall tell noble Lords the truth of the matter. I do not know if it has been made public before. The reason it happened was that the registrar wished to release the papers in connection with the theft of the Stone of Scone on Christmas Eve in the 1950s, which showed that the then Conservative Secretary of State was then in favour of returning the Stone of Scone to Scotland. It was not returned because at that time Scottish nationalist elements were blowing up postboxes because they had EIIR on them, not EIR, and the then Government decided that to return it at that time would be to give encouragement to those lawless courses. I realised full well that people such as my noble friend Lord Purvis, when those papers were released, would immediately start a campaign and therefore reconsidered the merits of returning the Stone of Scone, on the basis that a treaty, the treaty of Northampton, was signed by the English that promised to do so. As Secretary of State, I felt that, after about 600 years, I ought to maintain the rule of law. It certainly was not a stunt. Given the trouble we were in in 1996 politically, if my noble friend thinks that I thought that returning the Stone of Scone would make one whit of difference, he underestimates my intelligence.
I say to this Government: this constitutional tinkering absolutely has to stop. Look at us—the House of Commons, the other place, went down the other evening at 6 pm. Have we not learnt from the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill? Have we not learnt from the Recall of MPs Bill, which I have been involved in? We have had several debates where I have said, “This is not going to happen. If someone gets into trouble, their party will withdraw the whip and they will not be able to stand”. Very sadly—most unfortunately, I think—Sir Malcolm Rifkind now finds himself with the whip being withdrawn within 12 hours, before any report is given. The whip is taken away from him and he cannot stand. This is coming from a Government who are telling us that Members who get into trouble have the right to face the electorate and the electorate will decide.
This kind of constitutional stuff, which is about partnerships between parties and trying to seize political advantage, was started by Tony Blair and it absolutely has to stop. I very much regret that this House can do nothing about it because of the way that the Government have approached it.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. As he knows, I do favour that. I believe that the Liberals favour having a constitutional convention and the Labour Party favour having a constitutional convention. Perhaps if we called it something else—let us call it a constitutional convocation or a bright idea—perhaps then we could get a consensus. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord: these things need to be considered; they need to carry wholehearted agreement; and, of course, with each step along the road that is made without thinking of the long-term consequences, it becomes even more difficult to unravel and create a proper settlement. So I entirely agree. On that note of consensus, I hope I have persuaded the Minister to withdraw this ridiculous order.
My Lords, my noble friend will be astonished to hear that I agree with him on one of the main points that he has been making. However, it is about time that somebody from another part of the United Kingdom commented on my noble friend’s very proper regard for the consequences that he has identified for other parts. I am a fellow Celt, but I cannot pretend to be speaking on behalf of Scotland. He is of course correct that this is not something that can simply be left across the border. We would not be speaking about it in your Lordships’ House if it did not have wider implications.
I want to return—this is why I felt the need to speak—to the Constitution Committee’s report, particularly to the contribution of the chairman, my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton. The critical sentence in the report is the warning about this potentially piecemeal and incremental approach to changing the voting age. What the committee should have gone on to do—this is the missing sentence, if I may humbly submit this to members of the committee and its chairman—was say that the Government should have picked up my Private Member’s Bill, the Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill of the previous Session, which received a Second Reading in your Lordships’ House with encouragement from Members on all sides.
I thought that the Minister very neatly put on one side the implications of this order for other parts of the UK, as I will come back to in a moment. Obviously, it is unacceptable in the UK that the critical foundation stone of our representative democracy—the franchise—should be quite different in different parts of our United Kingdom. If Scotland had decided to separate from the other nations of this country, this could have been a discrete issue for the Scottish Parliament, but it is not, they did not and therefore it is of relevance to us all. As my noble friend has indicated very effectively, there has already been a very practical demonstration of the maturity of young people in the Scottish referendum campaign. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Cormack is here because it was he who gave a practical example during the previous debate of the way in which his granddaughter took a very active and well informed part in the debates.
I apologise for intervening—I missed the first part of this debate—but I must make it plain that, although I have the highest regard for my granddaughter’s intelligence, I do not believe in votes at 16, for all the reasons that my noble friend Lord Forsyth cogently made in one of the best speeches I have heard in this House for a very long time.
I also enjoy my noble friend’s speeches, whether or not I agree with them, because he takes us back to Wolf Hall and other Tudor examples of the behaviour of Governments. In this case, we can look at more recent history. It is not true, as was implied by the Constitution Committee and my noble friends, that this matter suddenly appeared on the political agenda; that is simply not true.
I shall take just one example. I am amazed that no one else in your Lordships’ House seems to have read the excellent Youth Select Committee report from last autumn, published soon after the example that we were given in Scotland, which was very properly given some extra credence by Mr Speaker in the other place. In that report, the very cogent argument for reducing the age of the franchise to 16 is set out in great detail, answering a lot of the points that have already been made in your Lordships’ House. Also, as my noble friend Lord Purvis said, at the end of their secondary school experience with citizenship, in the parental circumstances that they are likely still to be in, young people are much more engaged in the issues that affect them than they are when they go off to work or higher education at 17 or 18. That is why, interestingly, the turnout in Scotland was better among the 16 and 17 year-olds than it was among the 18 to 24 year-olds. Not only that, and I do not know whether everyone in your Lordships’ House will agree with this, but they also voted by a majority to remain in the United Kingdom, while middle-aged men—I emphasise “men”—voted by a majority to separate. It was young people who saw with maturity the advantages of remaining in the United Kingdom.
My point is that if the merits of this order are to be considered carefully, we have to think about the implications for other parts of the United Kingdom. Already, as my noble friend has mentioned, as a result of an amendment that I tabled to the Wales Bill before Christmas, we have made some advances there. The Assembly in Cardiff will have the opportunity to match the change in the franchise that has been demonstrated in Scotland. Similarly, since then, not only has there been this unanimity in Holyrood that has been referred to, but the Prime Minister himself has said, I think, that although he does not personally feel that the time is right for this change, he accepts that there will have to be a vote in due course on extending this further. I think he said that he anticipates there being a free vote in the House of Commons.
Incidentally, there has been a free vote in the House of Commons on this issue, on a Back-Bench day, and there was a majority for making the change. My noble friend Lord Purvis also pointed out that the Labour Party is now committed to this change and has adopted the Liberal Democrat policy. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, is looking so enthusiastic about this change: it is obviously a step in the right direction.
Earlier, I heard my noble friend saying that he became a member of the Liberal party aged 16. I can tell him that on my 16th birthday, which coincided with the then Government sending RAF planes to bomb Suez—which, for international reasons, I thought was outrageous—I decided that I was a Liberal. I fear that noble Lords may think that this is an unfortunate coincidence and it would be much better if I had stayed completely unaware.
It is true that there has been extensive discussion of this issue. It goes back many years. In the past two years—nearly three years now—there has been a steady evolution of thinking about this. It goes back to the Edinburgh agreement in 2012, when my right honourable friend Michael Moore agreed that this was a sensible way forward. There has been, as has been said several times already today, the clear example of what happened in Scotland on 18 September last year. There has been the discussion of this issue in the Scottish Parliament. There is already some consensus in the Welsh Assembly on this issue. I think I am right in saying that the Conservative leader in Holyrood has accepted the logic of this case.
On the critical point, however, I am not sure that I am quite on the same wavelength as the Government. It seems to me to be absolutely classically so—I am disappointed that the Constitution Committee did not pick this up—that if, as I was just arguing, the franchise is still the bedrock of our representative democracy, we cannot have geographical discrimination between different parts of the United Kingdom. I do not think that it has been mentioned today, but reference has been made in this context to the evolution of women’s suffrage. Yes, of course it was a gradual process, but at no stage was it suggested that women in Scotland were more mature, more ready for full citizenship than women in other parts of the United Kingdom. We have to look at this as a United Kingdom issue.
Therefore, I think the Constitution Committee is right to say that ad hocery is not appropriate here. Incidentally, I hear from some of the same sources that ad hocery is just what we want as far as the constitution of your Lordships’ House is concerned: we do not want any big change, do we? We want a little ad hocery every generation or so. Nevertheless, on this issue, it is essential that we think through the consequences. There, I think the Constitution Committee has a point.
My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness said in his introduction to this debate that he anticipated, as, indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland anticipated, that this process is now unstoppable. I say: godspeed.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, would like to hear views from people in other parts of the United Kingdom on the implications of this order. He is right: there are implications. You cannot compartmentalise the United Kingdom and have such drastically different franchises in different parts of it. Of course, Scotland has its own law, and we understand that there are differences and nuances, but the one area that brings everybody together is elections to our national parliament and elections to the European Parliament, and below that we have other tiers. It seems utterly unsupportable in the long term that we have this pick-and-mix process where you have a franchise here for this, a franchise here for that, and a franchise here for somewhere else. It is just nonsense.
Without getting into the merits of the voting at 16 issue—a debate I am very happy to get into and certainly some of the arguments are meritorious and others need consideration—the methodology that has been adopted in this case is indefensible. Since 2012, and, indeed, even long before that, the Government have got Scotland completely wrong. The question was wrong and the timing was wrong. We are reacting to the tyranny of populism and nobody is thinking this through. If Alex Salmond got up and said, “15 years old”, we would be saying 15 years old today. He got his question, which was the wrong question, and everything he wanted. The logic is that if we do that, everything will go away. It will not.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I just want to add something that he omitted. I refer to the exclusion of 800,000 Scottish people living in the same state from having a vote on the future of the country. It was an absolute disgrace and must never be allowed to happen again. If you want a historic reason for it, I point to the very reason for devolution, which was to recognise the distinct background on philosophy, culture and politics of the nations of the United Kingdom. The difference between Scotland and England has been that sovereignty in England lies in Parliament before the Crown, but for eight centuries sovereignty in Scotland has lain with the Scottish people, not the people in Scotland, but the Scottish people. Therefore, to exclude 800,000 Scots from a vote on the future of their country was not only a political expedient to gain advantage but was contrary to everything that lies intrinsically in the basic difference in politics between Scotland and England.
The noble Lord, Lord Reid, has a very strong argument to make. The irony was that citizens from other parts of the European Union who happened to be registered in Scotland had a vote, even though they were not remotely in any sense Scottish. That seems to be another inconsistency.
The truth is that this order is a symptom of a fundamental flaw and malaise in the constitutional approach of our current Government. While this Government have done so many good things, the one area where they have been at their worst has been in dealing with constitutional matters. We have had one flaw after another. Some of us sat for years trying to work out a constitutional way forward for our own part of the United Kingdom. You cannot make this stuff up on the back of a fag packet and expect to have a system that will be respected in the long term.
The Minister made a point about the Smith commission and doing nothing to demerit the other parts of the United Kingdom. I understand that the clause was within the remit. However, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is irrefutable. Something such as this cannot be done in Scotland without implications for the rest of us. It is impossible. What will happen now? We will have a dog’s dinner of a franchise, which will apply in certain places. We have now invented a Welsh model, which is going to change things. How on earth can we say to 16 year-olds in Brighton, Belleek or Aberystwyth that people of their age in Scotland are fit to make a huge constitutional decision but those 16 year-olds are unfit to elect their local parish councillor? It is not sustainable and we all know that.
In many respects, I understand the panic that enveloped our leaders when they were a few days out from the referendum. One could see why. They saw things going down the drain, and there was a reaction of “We’ve got to do something to stop this”. There is no doubt that the right honourable Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath did have an influence, but he came on to the scene and basically bounced the leaders into these vows. He is now going on to part two of them, which takes us into an even deeper jungle.
I understand what the Minister is doing here but he must understand—he does understand because he is a very clever person—that this series of constitutional inconsistencies is unsupportable. It would not be possible to go out and argue this case in front of an audience and expect to be treated with respect as people would know that it had not been thought through and whether one calls it a commission or a constitutional convention it needs to have a sensible time limit. It cannot be seen to be put on to the long finger. We need to sit down and look at all of this. It is one awful mess. I am really distressed about it because I can see what is going to happen. We must not distinguish between our young people. Young people from those regions come together in universities or in further education or technical colleges. They mix with one another and they meet each other. We cannot have a situation where one young person is at one level and is treated as being at that level, while another person is treated as being at a different level. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that cannot be sustained.
I seriously suggest that the Minister should say to his colleagues—I am sure that he has tried to do so—that this blunderbuss, inconsistent approach which we have adopted will do permanent damage to our country. It will create constitutional chaos. We are making things up as we go along. Far from assuaging the rabid appetite of Scottish nationalism, this is feeding it. People can see that the more they shout for this, the more they get. It is not rocket science; it is Pavlov’s dog. It is the same thing. They shout and they roar, and they get a feed, and they do it again. Why would they not do it? That is the question I ask myself.
I have lived surrounded by people who also wanted different constitutional outcomes but who went to the use of force. Force did work for them to a very large extent until eventually we managed to pull the community together to face them down. We will not solve this problem by feeding it and running away from it. It has to be confronted and the arguments for the union must be put in a coherent and consistent manner. We will not maintain the union by producing measures which serve only to prove how hopeless the union must be if it needs such a mishmash of a constitutional mechanism. This will not be the last of it.
My Lords, it seems to me that at times in this debate we have drifted some distance from the core issue of the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedules 4 and 5 and Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2015. What we have here today is quite a narrow technical measure that focuses on the change that will potentially be introduced to give votes to 16 and 17 year-olds in Scottish Parliament elections and in Scottish local government elections. As I understand it, all the parties in this Chamber, in the House of Commons and in Scotland support that move. Therefore, this is about practical, simple and straightforward politics.
Frankly, I do not care how many times the Government have changed their position from one document or from one day to the next. Sometimes in this House we very much welcome a change of position from the Government as long as they get to a good position, and surely that is the core issue here. I think that on this they have reached a practical, sensible, progressive and positive way forward. To be frank, having read the document, I am no great fan of supermajorities. I do not know how many other noble Lords recall that my noble friend Lord Forsyth spoke out against supermajorities. A supermajority is not something that I particularly wish to see. As I understand it, it was agreed as a compromise as part of the tough negotiations under the Smith commission that the Labour Party, as well as the other parties, was very much involved with. The other parties were not necessarily pushing for that supermajority. Regardless of that, let us come back to the issue. This is a simple, straightforward—
I am not sure whether the noble Lord is speaking for himself or for the Liberal party, but when he says that he is not that keen on supermajorities—a view that I share—does he think that that should apply to the other things, other than the franchise, which at the moment, according to the Government, would be covered by a supermajority?
I am simply explaining my personal position, which is that of being sceptical about the need for supermajorities. However, they are not unique and if, as part of achieving consensus on the way forward on some of these issues, that was the position adopted by Smith, I could understand the background and the reasons for it.
Coming back to the issue in hand today, I think that this is a much more straightforward measure than we have reflected in our debate. The danger is that it will look as though we are dragging our heels and that we are a bunch of elderly dinosaurs who really do not want this to happen. That is a real concern. The debate is one thing but the suggestion in the headlines in the press that it will lead to, and in the political discussion in Scotland, will be that 16 and 17 year-olds do not have—what was the phrase used earlier?—“intellectual maturity”. Sometimes you could debate whether 30 year-olds, 50 year-olds or 70, 80 or 90 year-olds have intellectual maturity. I hope that that is a debate that we will never have, and I hope it is not an issue that we will focus on in terms of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds. Some of them have incredible intellectual maturity and a real interest in political issues. I say to my noble friend Lord Forsyth that I think they could make very good local councillors or Members of the Scottish Parliament.
I recall that when I was elected at the age of 22 I was the youngest councillor in Scotland. That felt very young at the time. You could be 18 when you voted but under the then Conservative Administration you had to be 21 before you could stand. I stood and was elected. I always used to argue that it would be very bad if all parliamentarians were 21 or 22 years old but that it was very good that some of them were young people, and I would argue the same today. I would argue to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds because I think that if you can get married and have children, join the Armed Forces and pay taxes, you should be entitled to a vote. It is a simple, practical and straightforward measure, and it represents constitutional change. I support the idea of a constitutional convention. Constitutional change in this country can be difficult to achieve, so I say, “Grab it when you can and build on it”. I think that we will build on it and that votes for 16 and 17 year-olds will come for all the rest of the United Kingdom in all elections.
However, it is not uncommon to have a different franchise for different elections. We have it already with EU elections compared with local government elections, UK elections and Scottish Parliament or Assembly elections. Different people have a different entitlement to be on the register. It is a different situation from that of age but it is a different register and a different entitlement. Similarly, in Scotland I would argue that far more important than a move to introduce votes for 16 and 17 year-olds was the move by the Scottish Parliament to introduce fair votes by introducing proportional representation for local government. That change was never introduced in the rest of the UK, although I hope that one day it will be. However, that is the sort of progressive constitutional change that I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues want to see right across the United Kingdom.
So let us vote for change. Let us try to implement change, making it coherent, well thought out constitutional change that is not piecemeal. Sadly, my experience of politics in this country is that change tends to be far too piecemeal, and it often tends to be long delayed and not very progressive.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Lest he unwittingly feeds the very headlines that he seems to fear so much, I want to make plain the burden of those of us who have questioned the measure today—and questioned it in terms of asking for an explanation, which is the essence of accountability. We were not saying that 16 and 17 year-olds lack the capacity or the maturity to vote; we were saying that it was a gross inconsistency to provide those people with the ability to vote for the future of a country but to exclude them from the ambit of intelligence when it came to buying cigarettes or driving. We said that it was incoherent to give them the vote in one part of this country but to deny them the franchise in other parts of the country. In other words, far from arguing that 16 and 17 year-olds were not capable, we questioned why they were capable of this—which many of us, including me, support—but not given access to the many other things that they are capable of doing. I hope that that undermines any anticipatory headlines. Finally, we should not be making policy on the basis of what we think the tabloids will write tomorrow.
I am not suggesting that we do. I have supported this measure since becoming a councillor at the age of 22. I have taken part in many debates on the issue and have heard many people challenge the position for the reason mentioned in today’s debate—that of intellectual maturity. It is a charge that I would like to rebut. The number of young people who were involved in the referendum debate in a constructive and positive way—not all of whom by any means supported Scottish independence—and who took a very mature, well thought out and well researched view on the matter underscored the importance of this issue. It also underscored why most Peers today, I hope, support this extension of the franchise. To make it consistent, it should be an extension across the UK, and the sooner that can happen, the better.
The noble Lord has characterised us as being opposed to votes for 16 year-olds. For myself, I think that the genie is out of the bottle. We will need to have votes for 16 year-olds throughout the United Kingdom, and I would expect the coalition Government to come forward with proposals to that effect, having had a proper consultation period and having considered what the age of majority should be. The noble Lord has been very eloquent but can he deal with this point? It is not a unionist position to do this on a piecemeal basis. Also, if he is right about 16 year-olds, as I am sure he is, what on earth are we doing stopping them buying a packet of cigarettes or buying a drink?
I agree that there is great logic in the argument that has already been put forward in the exchange with my noble friend Lord Purvis about the age of consent, the age for voting, the age for driving, the age for marrying and the age for watching a film with an 18 certificate. We should be reviewing these things, but I am making a practical point. There is a strong argument for much greater consistency and I firmly believe that today’s measure can be part of driving that argument forward and can be the beginning of further change for the rest of the UK. That is why I think that today’s moves are very important. It is almost as if we have flushed out the position of some noble Lords that they do, in fact, support the extension of the franchise to the age of 16, and I warmly welcome that. As Peers and as politicians, we should spend more time engaging with young people, encouraging them and being positive about them. Too often in politics we tend to demonise young people and do them down, and that is a concern of mine.
I finish by paying tribute to Lord Mackie of Benshie, who, sadly, passed away last week. He had an incredible war record. Without people like him, the democracy that we have today simply would not exist. He had an incredible track record both in the House of Commons and in this House. My recollection of him is as a mentor. I got involved in politics at a very young age. I was 22 when I was first elected to the council, and very quickly after that I got involved in campaigning with Lord Mackie of Benshie, who was the president of the Scottish Liberal Party. He was a big influence in my life. I have no idea what his views on these issues would be and I do not pretend to set down his opinion, but I am sure he would be delighted that we are debating this issue and trying to engage more young people in politics, because that is what he did with me. He was very much a mentor, a counsellor and somebody who inspired my place in politics; and each of us can have that role for other young people. The tenor of the debate that we have on these issues is very important. That is why I believe that this Motion should go forward for approval.
My Lords, I have listened with tremendous interest to this debate and with the utmost appreciation for the wonderful exposition of the unionist case from my noble friend Lord Forsyth. One point above all has been borne in upon me: the absolute need for a consistent voting age throughout our country. It is a question of deep principle. Surely that is what we need to settle. Against that background, would it not be appropriate for the Government to withdraw this order, to secure—although, of course, it cannot come immediately—a proper parliamentary decision on the voting age? That should surely come first. That point will stay with me above all from this tremendously enjoyable and important debate.
My Lords, let me come to the aid of the Government. I have really enjoyed the debate and want it to go on longer, but I think we might be getting to the time when we are pushing our luck. I will be relying very heavily on the speech made by Margaret Curran in the other place: a brilliant exposition of the Labour Party position on this issue and on this methodology. I understand the concerns raised about the methodology and I will deal with that later in what I have got to say.
As Margaret Curran said, it is worth remembering that the referendum was decisive in what it decided: to stay within the union. It was also decisive in looking for change. Here I must say that it is easy for people to demonise and insult Gordon Brown, but he is a giant of the international stage, a giant of the Westminster stage and a giant of the Scottish stage, and people who nark away are pygmies in comparison. He came forward almost single-handedly at a time when the future of our country as a member of the United Kingdom was in doubt. It is easy to deride some of his actions, but I am one of those who take the view that, had it not been for the highly significant intervention of Gordon Brown, the outcome of the referendum may not have been so decisive. The call for change is certainly there. That referendum resulted in a degree of consensus on new powers for Scotland, coalescing around the Smith commission.
As the noble and learned Lord the Minister explained, this order deals specifically with the power promised in Section 25 of the final report; that is a fact of life. I will not dwell so much on the issue of 16 to 18 year-olds getting the vote—that is another issue, separate from providing the Scottish Parliament with the power to do that. Many in this House and the other place mentioned the significant involvement of 16 to 18 year-olds in the debate and in the voting itself. Liberal Democrat noble Lords mentioned the 75% turnout, I think it was, of 16 to 18 year-olds, and that is absolutely right. Like many other noble Lords in this House, I also go on the outreach visits representing the House of Lords, and I freely confess that I have changed my mind as a result of the experience of going around the schools and as a result of the referendum debate. Previously I was opposed to votes for those under 18, but the level of awareness, activity and involvement showed that my point of view might have been correct a few years ago but it certainly was not correct now, and we are getting the result of that. Unlike the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Stephen, I was not consumed with ambition at the age of 16 to join a political party; I was more interested in joining the local branch of the Celtic Supporters Club, so that I could get on the away bus. I came later in life to politics. But these young people, I think, justify the measure.
Let us come to the point I made about methodology and why we have done this. With regard to people outwith Scotland, it is not a criticism; by definition, it is not their fault. We have to remember the atmosphere in Scotland at the time for those of us who stayed in Scotland and were involved in Scotland. We were not reacting in panic. I have great admiration for many colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, but there was no sense of panic. There was a sense of realisation that people not only voted to stay within the union, which I am delighted about, but that they were also looking for change, and it is right to respond to that.
The House and, indeed, the public owe a great deal to the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, for the brilliant consideration of this measure by the Constitution Committee. He was absolutely right to raise these concerns. The reaction of some of the Scottish Nationalist people, and the venom with which they responded and in particular turned against the noble Lord, Lord Lang, were completely out of order. He and his committee were providing a good service; it was right that they did that and that these issues were discussed. However, the thread running through them was, I believe, a feeling that there was a sense of panic in Scotland. The noble Lord often stays in Scotland. As I said, I do not agree that there was an air of panic. There was a feeling that something had to be done to respond to the wishes of the Scottish people, and that they were looking for change as well. I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He seems to be making the case that there was no last-minute panic with the so-called vow in Scotland. I do not know how he can possibly make that case, because many of the 16 year-olds—and others, like me—had already voted by post when the so-called vow was published. The vow was not even called a vow by the privy counsellors concerned. This was an antic by the editor of the Daily Record, who put the declaration on the front page and called it a vow, and it was done in the last 48 hours of the campaign. If that is not panic, I do not know what the definition of “panic” is.
The noble Lord referred to the Daily Record. In a previous life he was not so keen on quoting the Daily Record when it called for his resignation over various matters.
This is about not only the vow but the conduct of Gordon Brown in leading the Better Together campaign in public meetings. He was accompanied by Ruth Davidson—she performed brilliantly as well and sat on the same platform as him—and the message got through to the Scottish public. The thoughts of Gordon Brown—not the thoughts of Chairman Mao—and his attitude to Scottish independence and a more powerful Scottish Parliament will go down in history. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, may not like it but certainly he will be viewed as the architect of that.
I do not wish to contradict anything my noble friend has said but perhaps we should clarify the difference. My noble friend said that there was no panic in Scotland. I think what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, referred to was panic in London. Both may be right.
I intervene to mention Alistair Darling and many other people who spent a great deal of time over a long period when things were difficult. We should put on record our appreciation for the man who led the campaign.
I have not studied them in detail so I am not quite sure. However, we are dealing with this measure today.
On my noble friend Lord Reid’s point, Alistair Darling led the campaign, Jim Murphy went round the country with his Irn-Bru crates and a large number of other people were also involved. One of the hidden powers behind the transformation of the Better Together campaign was my honourable friend Frank Roy, MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, whose training in the Whips’ Office came through in spades and he certainly helped to deliver. I hope that completes the panoply of people I have to thank for the result.
I have mentioned Ruth Davidson—she was fine—and I am trying to think of a Liberal I can mention, but I will move on.
This is not about what Gordon Brown says now. I cannot deal with a matter that Gordon Brown has no influence on other than within the referendum campaign. What was said in the Smith commission is agreed. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will send me these alleged quotes from Gordon Brown and let us move on. I remind the House that it was the disparaging remarks about Gordon Brown from the Benches opposite that inspired my defence of him. I will always come to his defence.
My noble friend Lord Reid is right: there may have been panic in London—I am not party to the higher echelons of power in London—but in the political parties in Scotland there was no panic. There were the strident calls of the SNP and its negative reaction to the referendum result, but that was it.
It is quite clear that the changes proposed in this order are welcome in Scotland. I am Scottish and involved in Scotland and I know that the order is welcome, and it is right that the Secretary of State has brought it forward. As I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, has done the House a service by raising these issues and allowing the Minister to respond to them. I make it absolutely clear—even if it invites further interventions—that we are fully behind this order. It reflects the Smith commission recommendations and the requests in Scotland that we should do this, and it is right that the Scottish Parliament should have the power to do so. It is also right and logical that the Scottish Parliament should be given the power to alter the franchise for local government elections.
I hope that we can move forward with consensus and use the consensus that exists in Scotland. Everyone knows that relations between the Labour Party and the Liberals have not always been consensual; the Conservative Party has certainly never been too consensual —especially when the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was Scottish Secretary, but I will not dwell on his guilty past—but the consensus is there. Without any doubt we fully support the order and wish to place that on record.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this robust and good natured debate. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, may have got a lot of things out of his system about the vow and so on, but I suspect that, when we come back after the election, at the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill which will bring forward the clauses, we will have a reprise of his speech and there will be even more things for him to get his teeth into.
The debate has ranged widely, from Wolf Hall, to the Stone of Destiny, to the roll of honour of those who took part in supporting the no campaign during the referendum. A number of important points have been made—for example, the one put succinctly by the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, in his intervention on my noble friend Lord Stephen. There are inconsistencies in the things you can do at 15, 16, 17 and 18. You can get married and join the Armed Forces at 16, but the ages for driving and buying cigarettes are different. The order is not about ironing out these inconsistencies. An overview of the differences is for another time and another place; it is not what this order is about.
There was a degree of consensus around your Lordships’ House on the merits of a constitutional convention or convocation, which included the noble Lords, Lord Empey and Lord Maxton, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth, who pointed out that my own party supported it. It is not going to happen this side of the general election—it cannot practically be set up in the next three or four weeks—but, post-election, it is almost inevitable in some form. It will involve not only the political parties but civic communities, which is important, but that is for the other side of the election. It has happened before. In the debate we had in October after the referendum, views from different parts of the United Kingdom and from different parties were expressed about the importance of a constitutional convention.
One of the other themes was the thin end of the wedge, as it may be called. If voting at 16 happens in Scotland at the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections, it may well happen elsewhere. My noble friend Lord Tyler made clear why he hopes that will be the case. With due respect to noble Lords who do not wish to see votes at 16, I could take technical shelter behind the fact that the order does not legislate for votes at 16 in Scotland for the Scottish Parliament; rather it confers the powers for the Scottish Parliament to do so. However, given that the Scottish Parliament has made it clear that it will do so I shall not hide behind the order, but it is important to remember technically what it does.
My noble friend Lord Stephen made the point that we have debated important issues, including the vow. It is quite clear that my noble friend Lord Forsyth does not like how we got here. I voted no, in spite of the vow, not because of it. I voted no because I wanted Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom and I am delighted that we got the very convincing outcome to the referendum that we did. At the time, it was said that a vote for no was not a vote for no change. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, reflected that when he referred to the speech made by Mrs Margaret Curran in the other place. I will come on to the process in a moment.
Yes, I did. I voted out of sheer conviction that the right thing to do was maintain Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
My noble friend Lord Stephen asked us to do a reality check on what we are about here. This is taking forward recommendations from the Smith commission. The Smith agreement is important, not least because it was endorsed by five political parties in the Scottish Parliament. Looking back, the Scottish Constitutional Convention engaged many parts of civic society in Scotland but, in terms of political parties, it included only the Labour Party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party. It did not include two large parties: the Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party. The Calman commission, the recommendations of which led to the Scotland Act 2012, engaged the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, as well as others, but it did not engage the Scottish National Party. Here we have an agreement that has been fed into by representatives of five parties, including the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party.
It is important to remember that the commission involved the Scottish National Party, which signed up to it. We are seeking, with this order, to implement one of the parts of that agreement. I have not heard anyone in this debate query whether we should be following this course. No one has acknowledged or faced up to the fact that, if this was done by primary legislation in a Bill after the general election, it would be almost impossible to do all the work required to get 16 and 17 year-olds onto the roll between Royal Assent—at the end of this year or even at the beginning of the next—and the election in May 2016. It was, therefore, necessary to do it by a Section 30 order. That order is what gave the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for the referendum itself. No one has gainsaid that this is an appropriate way to honour the Smith agreement.
My noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Lang talked about some of the important data protection issues. My noble friend acknowledged that we are seeking to put in place some ways to take care of these. The order will allow the Scottish Government to set up their own system of identity checking for 14 and 15 year-old attainers and it will be for them to decide how this will be put into effect. I repeat what I said in my opening remarks: the Scottish Government are familiar with the Data Protection Act and must abide by data protection legislation. I recall that this important issue was raised when the legislation for the referendum was being drawn up. I have not since heard any complaints that proper procedures were not put in place to address these important issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Reid, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth spoke of an apparent inconsistency on the question of supermajority. As my noble friend Lord Stephen pointed out, it does not matter so long as you get to the end result and it is the right one. My noble friend Lord Forsyth quoted from page 17 of the command paper. That quote—which is in a box—is from the Smith commission agreement. The agreement itself does not suggest that there should be a supermajority for this one measure of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds and I do not recall anyone doing so. I know the logic that my noble friend Lord Lang and his committee pointed to, but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced very early on that we would deal separately with the power to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds and no one has suggested that the supermajority should apply to that. The Government’s position has not changed on that at any time.
I am most grateful to my noble friend. I may be mistaken, but I thought that the Government published draft clauses that provided for a supermajority in these circumstances, in line with the Smith commission proposals. I thought I had asked him, at the Dispatch Box, why on earth we were introducing the alien concept of supermajorities and that the Government had defended it.
There is provision in the draft clauses for supermajorities covering a range of matters. The Smith commission recommended this but, so far as I can see, no one has ever suggested that it did so with regard to the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds. The recommendation regarding extending the franchise for Scottish Parliament elections to 16 and 17 year-olds was a very separate one and we have proceeded on that basis. There has not been any switch in position, as has been suggested. As I indicated earlier, to include such a provision in the current order would involve detailed consideration on how to amend very key sections of the Scotland Act. For example, thought would have to be given to how the role of the Presiding Officer would be affected by this in deciding whether the provision is applicable and the relationship that the provision would have to the limits of the Parliament to make law. Given that there was never any dubiety about it, the better course was for the order to be in the simple form in which it is presented to your Lordships’ House today.
I fully acknowledge that it was not part of the recommendation that local government should be taken forward now. However, it makes good sense for practical purposes. The franchise for local government elections in Scotland is the same as that for Scottish parliamentary elections. I rather suspect that, if the Government had not done this, someone on the Constitution Committee might have said, “This is what you get if you legislate in haste. Does the Minister not appreciate that the franchise for local government is linked to the franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections? It will lead to considerable additional cost if they are separated”. It is a very practical thing to do and the timing is important. If this were to wait until primary legislation went through both Houses of Parliament and got Royal Assent, there would still need to be legislation done by the Scottish Parliament if it chose to. It would be very challenging to get that done, without breaking some of the timing rules, before the Scottish local elections in 2017.
I listened carefully to my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Lang. My noble friend Lord Forsyth mentioned the referendum experience in a number of respects. Neither of my noble friends referred to the fact that 16 and 17 year-olds voted in the referendum on 18 September. I am not going to join those who thought that the whole referendum campaign was a great festival of democracy. Some of it was not very nice at all. Some noble Lords will recall messages that were not nice being tweeted and read out in our debates. However, people of all parties thought that the engagement of 16 and 17 year-olds worked. Schools held hustings and there was an opportunity for 16 and 17 year-olds to ask proper questions of MPs and MSPs from different sides. There was a turnout of 75%. If we have that turnout among those aged over 18—or 90, or whatever—in the forthcoming general election, it will be a significant improvement on 2010. Young people were not only involved and engaged: they turned out and may have set a lesson to the rest of us about how people might engage.
Therefore, the Smith commission agreement on this particular recommendation did not just come out of the air. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said, it is not as though, had Alex Salmond said, “Give us 15”, it would have been 15. I do not think it would have been; it was for 16 and 17 year-olds. The Smith commission was informed by that experience and by how those people had engaged.
It would be very odd if a number of people who could have voted, and possibly did vote, in the referendum were not allowed to vote in the 2016 election—as they would not be if this change does not take place. This agreement came forward and the Government, with the support of the Opposition, said that they would wish to see it happen. If we were suddenly to renege on that promise, the damage would be incalculable. It would be said that this is just the first of many other things that we would renege on. We are therefore asking the House to approve an order that transfers legislative competence and to do something that all parties in Scotland have asked for. As the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, said, it is welcome in Scotland. We should not stand in the way of that. I therefore commend the order to the House.
Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015
Motion to Approve
My Lords, after that short interlude we come to what is clearly the most fascinating business of the day. I assure the Opposition that, as far as I am aware, these are the last SIs concerning electoral administration to be laid before the election, so the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and I will cease to have this opportunity for such regular meetings.
These measures are not part of the transition to individual electoral registration. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has a Question tabled on that in some 10 days’ time. I look forward to discussing it further. The transition is still going well, although not as well as we would like. As I announced to the House in an Answer to another Question some weeks ago, we are still putting further resources into it. I anticipate, particularly as far as young people are concerned, that the surge in registration will come in the last week before it becomes impossible to do so. Sadly, that is the way that things go.
For today, in addition to the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, I will also speak to the Representation of the People (Ballot Paper) Regulations 2015 and the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2015. These are being brought forward for the general election, which, as noble Lords may have noticed, will be on 7 May this year. The Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2015 is being made as a consequence of the combination of polls regulations, to which I now turn.
The regulations remove the restriction that prevents returning officers commencing the count of UK parliamentary ballot papers at combined elections—as we will have in many parts of the country in May—before verification has been completed for all ballot papers for all the polls taking place. They do this by amending provisions in the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) Regulations 2004, which modify the parliamentary elections rules where the parliamentary election is combined with other elections—most commonly, of course, local elections, as is the case this year. The order applies the provisions in the regulations to police and crime commissioner elections where they are combined with UK parliamentary elections. If approved by Parliament, the instruments would come into effect on 7 May, the day of the general election, and would therefore apply to the counts for the general election and the May local elections, which will then be taking place.
The provisions allow counting of parliamentary ballot papers from a ballot box to take place once they have been verified and mixed with parliamentary ballot papers from another ballot box for which the ballot paper accounts have also been verified. They allow counting of postal ballot papers to take place once they have been mixed with ballot papers from at least one ballot box, for which the ballot paper accounts have been verified. By allowing the count of UK parliamentary ballot papers to proceed in this way and by allowing the count to commence before the verification process has been completed, the count of UK parliamentary ballot papers can commence sooner where there may be delays in the delivery of some ballot boxes from polling stations to the returning officer. Returning officers can thus more easily meet the requirement in the Representation of the People Act 1983 to take reasonable steps to begin counting the votes given on parliamentary ballot papers within four hours of the close of poll.
Importantly, verification for all the polls for the combined election must have been completed before the result of the UK parliamentary poll can be declared. This will ensure that any UK parliamentary ballot papers that have been wrongly placed into ballot boxes for other polls are detected and included in the count. By allowing the returning officer to get ahead with the count of the UK parliamentary ballot papers, the time between the completion of the verification stage and the end of the count of UK parliamentary ballot papers will be reduced, and an earlier announcement of the UK parliamentary election result thus encouraged.
These provisions were developed in discussion with regional returning officers and are supported by them. The Electoral Commission has been consulted on the instruments and is satisfied that they will allow more flexibility in verifying and counting in a combined election. The Association of Electoral Administrators and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives have confirmed that they also welcome the changes.
I now turn to the remaining instrument before the House, which is the Representation of the People (Ballot Paper) Regulations 2015. These regulations make changes to the form of the ballot paper used at UK parliamentary elections by amending provisions in the parliamentary elections rules set out in Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983. The instrument is intended to come into effect the day after it is made, so that the provisions are in place for the general election on 7 May.
A similar draft instrument that provided for the changes was debated and passed by both Houses of Parliament last year. However, it was not moved for approval on the floor of the House of Commons by the date it was due to come into force—6 April 2014—so unfortunately it was not possible to proceed with making it. We are therefore laying a new instrument based on the previous one. As before, the instrument amends the ballot paper: to remove numbering against candidates’ names; to provide for the left-alignment of candidates’ details; to require the title of the election to be displayed; and to replace the traditional grid pattern with horizontal rules.
The Electoral Commission found that numbering on ballot papers can confuse voters who do not know what the numbers mean or what they are for. Usability testing carried out for the commission found that some individuals—especially new voters—were unsure whether to circle the number next to the party or candidate, or to use the box. The commission’s guidance on design of voting materials states:
“As some elections require people to vote using numbers, it is better not to print any numbers on the ballot paper itself to avoid any confusion”.
All the changes in the revised ballot paper have been subject to additional user testing carried out on behalf of the Government, followed by stakeholder consultation, to make the ballot paper as clear and easy to use as possible. The regulations amend the directions for the printing of the ballot paper to support the changes. The new instrument is identical to the previous version, except for some very minor changes, which include a new provision at Regulation 1(1) to change the commencement date and a new transitional provision to mandate that the changes to the ballot paper do not apply where the notice of election has been issued before the regulations come into force.
Again, we have consulted the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives on the instrument. The Electoral Commission confirmed that it welcomes the Government’s acceptance of its recommendation to legislate for the removal of numbers from UK parliamentary ballot papers. The AEA and SOLACE raised no objections to any of the changes. The disability charity Scope supports the changes. The Royal National Institute of Blind People, while not actively supportive of the removal of numbering from UK parliamentary ballot papers, does not object to it. The RNIB considers that the regulations do not significantly affect the ease with which the tactile voting device can be used by blind and visually impaired voters.
Changes to the UK parliamentary ballot paper form part of a wider exercise to update forms and notices used by voters for the full range of elections in the UK, including poll cards, postal voting statements and the ballot paper. The changes are intended to make the voting process more accessible for voters, and to encourage voter engagement. The three instruments are being made to facilitate a successful general election—towards which, I trust, we are all working—and I commend them to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear explanation of the two sets of regulations and one order before your Lordships’ House. I have no issues as such with the matters in question; I am happy to support them. It is good that the Government are making sure that the required measures are in place, that we have well designed, easily understood ballot papers and other stationery in connection with the election, that proper provision is being made for the combination of polls that will be taking place at the same time, and that how and when the counting of votes will take place, after the completion of the verification process, has been made clear.
However, on a day when there is little business for your Lordships’ House—these instruments were moved from the Moses Room to pad out the Order Paper because there was a real risk that the business in the Chamber would have closed before the Grand Committee was due to sit—I find it staggering that there is not a government Motion before the House expressing the Government’s concern about the crisis in electoral registration, and explaining what they are going to do to sort it out, and get the millions of people who are eligible but are not registered on to the electoral register.
We are light on business, and we have a crisis. On Tuesday, the Electoral Commission published a report of its analysis of the number of people who were on the electoral register on 1 December. It found that there were 2%—that is, 920,000—fewer people on the register than in the previous February and March. Who are the people most likely not to be on the register? They are people who are moving home, students and attainers—young people who are not 18 yet but will be 18 by polling day. That figure of 920,000 fewer people on the register is scandalous. This is a crisis, and rather than debate it here in your Lordships’ House on a government Motion so that we could hear what urgent action the Government were taking, we hear nothing about it, and it falls to the Opposition, on the back of regulations about election stationery, the combination of polls and how are we going to count the votes after verification, to raise these serious matters.
That is a dreadful state of affairs. I have an Oral Question down for 19 March asking the Government what action they will take to get people on the register before 20 April, and I am giving the Minister another chance to set out his plans today. We need urgent action, and we want to be reassured. It looks to me as if the Government are coasting on these matters. That is a truly dreadful state of affairs.
My Lords, that is slightly specious, if I may say so—but it does help me, because I wanted to raise one question with my noble friend. My experience is that there is no regulation relating to the right of a person who is unable to enter a particular polling booth to have the ballot paper brought out to them. I understand that it is open to the particular officer in that place to give that service.
I raise this matter because of the Assembly of Bethel. This is an organisation, rather small in its numbers, that has a particular view about what buildings its members may enter without impurity. It is an unusual view, and not one which I share, but holding it should not deny people the right to vote. In my former constituency I had a member of the Assembly of Bethel, and she was unable to enter the building because on top of it was a cross with a circle round it, and the organisation believes this to refer to the sun god rather than the Son of God. I discovered, in this very curious circumstance, that it is not even for the returning officer to insist that the ballot paper be brought out. He has to rely on the personal decision of the officer in charge of that particular polling station.
I am therefore taking this opportunity to raise what I know is an esoteric example, although it is none the worse for that—I am a believer in a bit of esotericism from time to time. People should have the right to deal with the ballot paper outside for all kinds of reasons, not necessarily just because they are in a wheelchair. Have the Government considered whether it might be an appropriate principle to say that such decisions should be governed by the local returning officer overall, rather than being left to whoever happens to be on duty as an assistant officer in a particular polling station? I do not expect my noble friend to have an immediate answer to the problems of the Assembly of Bethel, but he may be prepared to look again at whether we need to change the regulations in this regard.
My Lords, may I, too, raise a small point? I was not in my seat for the whole of the Minister’s speech but I was standing at the other end of the Chamber, so I hope I may be allowed to intervene briefly. My noble friend referred to the voting provisions for blind persons, and the ballot papers that are available for them. Is it not possible to have available in polling stations a small number of voting papers in Braille, which blind persons can have access to, so that they are more fully informed about the choices that they are making?
My Lords, I first met the noble Lord, Lord Deben, rather a long time ago, but I did not realise until many years later that he was such an expert on esotericism. I shall now always think of him as an esotericist of the highest order. All I can say is that I will take his point back—it is extremely esoteric—and ask the officials to reply.
The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne—I think that I did mention this in passing—is that devices are provided in polling stations for the visually impaired, to guide them round the ballot paper. These devices have adhesive elements that stick them in the right place on the back of the ballot paper. I have not actually seen them myself, but that is what I understand to be the case. My understanding—I shall write to the noble Lord if I am wrong—is that what is necessary is provided.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that we all recognise that electoral registration in Britain is a voluntary activity, with mild penalties for those who do not do it. It is not a necessary obligation as part of citizenship. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, would like us to have identity cards and registration would be part of that, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, would like registration—and, I think, voting too—to be compulsory. But we must recognise that part of the reason why, over the past 20 years, people have not registered—I stress that we have faced this problem for some considerable time—is the fact that they are disengaged from politics. In campaigning over the past few weekends I have found, in some areas more than in others, that we come up against a wall of, “You’re all the same”, “Politics is nothing to do with us”, “There’s no point in voting in this constituency”, and so on. I regret to say that some recent events in Westminster are likely to feed into that.
I repeat that we all, political parties as well as the Government and others, have to work extremely hard to enthuse the electorate. The Government have not yet completed all their efforts. In the week of National Voter Registration Day we managed to register nearly half a million extra people, and we will be continuing to maintain these efforts right up to the last day that people can register for voting. We have provided extra money for a number of agencies, as well as for electoral administrators in the areas of greatest need. As I said in opening the debate, we are not satisfied with the current position but we are maintaining our efforts, and we hope that by 20 April we will have as accurate and as full an electoral register as possible.
I understand that one of the phenomena we are facing at present is that the December figures do not include a number of new students who registered during the late autumn. I am also told that a large number of 18 year-olds are registered at their home parental addresses and not yet at their university or college addresses. We do not know whether they will register at the latter addresses. That may be one of the reasons for this situation.
We are, of course, actively engaged in pursuing the maximum number of registrations as well as making sure that the register that we have by 20 April is as accurate as possible. As I said, we will return to this issue in some 10 days’ time when we discuss the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I trust that we will all maintain our efforts inside and outside Westminster all the way through to the election as we need to have not only the maximum number of registrations but the maximum number of voters. I think we all recognise that we face a tide of disillusionment and disengagement with conventional party politics among many voters, against which we have to do our best to struggle.
I accept that the noble Lord is as concerned about this matter as I am, and we regularly raise it, particularly in the Moses Room. However, as I said, the House is not exactly pushed for business and the election is fast coming down the track. Will the noble Lord talk to his colleagues as I do not see why the Government could not table a Motion to enable us to discuss this one evening so that he can set out the Government’s plans in full? This is a crisis and it is really serious now. I am very worried about the 20 April deadline. I do not understand why that is in force. A lot of people will not register in time. We will hear lots of dreadful stories during the election and on polling day about people who have lost their right to vote. We should do everything we possibly can to avoid that. I hope that the noble Lord will take that point back and initiate a debate on this issue before the Dissolution.
My Lords, I thought that I and others were keeping the House as regularly informed on this as possible. I have long since lost count of the number of Questions I have answered on individual electoral registration over the last 12 months. However, I will take the noble Lord’s suggestion back to the usual channels and we will see what we can do. I think that I have answered all the points that were raised.
Representation of the People (Ballot Paper) Regulations 2015
Motion to Approve
Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2015
Motion to Approve
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to have this short debate about farming because farming is facing something of a perfect storm at the moment. It is a storm made up of low prices, overregulation and unwarranted regulation, in many cases, from Brussels, and the imposition of a new payment scheme—the basic payment scheme—to replace the single payment scheme, but more of that a little later.
Some noble Lords may be familiar with Noel Coward’s song “There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner”, which states:
“From Colwyn Bay to Kettering they’re sobbing themselves to sleep,
The shrieks and wails in the Yorkshire Dales have even depressed the sheep;
In rather vulgar lettering a very disgruntled group have posted bills in the Cotswold hills
To prove we’re in the soup”.
I declare my interest as a member of that disgruntled group of farmers. I farm in Warwickshire and I am disgruntled because during my time in the Lords I have served on the committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who is in his place, and have spoken in many debates, including debates in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2008. I think that in nearly all those debates there were calls for reform of the common agricultural policy. I think that both Front Benches in this House have always agreed with the idea of reforming the common agricultural policy. However, what has happened after all those fine words? Where are we now? Has anything changed? Has the common agricultural policy become less bureaucratic, less centralised and less corrupt? No, it has not. Has it made farmers any more prosperous? No, it has not. Actually, things have got worse, as I will explain.
Let us look at where we are now. Dairy farming is on its knees and in many cases producers are being paid less than the cost of production. In some cases, milk is absurdly being sold at less than the price of water. I checked this out for myself in my local branch of the Co-op supermarket in Shipston-on-Stour last week and found that one litre of milk was priced at 85p, while a litre bottle of San Pellegrino water cost £1.35. Perhaps noble Lords should put San Pellegrino water on their cornflakes as it is obviously better than milk.
The beef and sheep sectors are suffering under overregulation, passports and identification schemes, many of which are unnecessary and certainly very burdensome and time-consuming for stock farmers. Arable farmers are regularly stripped of their ability to grow profitable, healthy and viable crops at a time when they are being enjoined to feed an ever increasing population, but the rules from Brussels make it more and more difficult to do that. I take the example of winter wheat. One of the big enemies of winter wheat is the black-grass weed. Over the last couple of years, the most effective black-grass herbicides have been gradually withdrawn against the advice of our own very independent and expert Advisory Committee on Pesticides and that of the previous government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington. However, their advice does not really count. What counts is what goes on in Brussels. The ayatollahs in Brussels decide what we are going to do and we have almost no say there any more. The rules are decided by the agricultural bosses in Brussels in the Commission and are subject to qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, where we are regularly outvoted. Perhaps the Minister can explain why Britain’s much trumpeted strong voice in Europe—about which we hear all the time from the Liberal Benches and the—
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, who is famous for his continental courtesy. When people ask, “What did the Normans do for us?”, you have to say that, after the initial fracas at Hastings, they brought a great degree of courtesy to our debates, as we will see when the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who is legendary for his courtesy, replies to this debate.
Does the party of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, wish us to withdraw from the European Union and, if so, would we not still be subject to these terrible regulations which he has described, with only one difference—that we would no longer have any vote in what they were?
I am very sorry but I do not want to take any more interventions. If the noble Lord wanted to speak in the debate, he should have put his name down. Farmers can survive in this country without the CAP.
As the Minister will remember, the humiliating position of having no say in what goes on in agriculture in this country was underlined last summer when the Commission, spurred on by demonstrators dressed up as bumble-bees, suspended the use of neonicotinoid seed dressings for oilseed rape and other brassicas. Yet again, our Advisory Committee on Pesticides was against this, as to their credit were the Government and the Minister. Yet again, we are being forced to enforce a policy with which we do not agree.
The rule of unintended consequences will now kick in. Large acreages of oilseed rape have been damaged. The percentages are arguable, but these acreages have certainly suffered. According to Home Grown Cereals Authority estimates, about 40,000 acres of oilseed rape last autumn had to be destroyed, abandoned or re-drilled. The consequence of that is that as oilseed rape is a major food for bees and pollinators, there will be less food for them: there will be less oilseed rape. Now that neonics are banned, farmers will use airborne sprays. They have to be put on at flowering time. This initiative by the Commission will definitely damage bees more than was the case when we had neonicotinoid seed dressings—but welcome to the EU, and have a nice day.
Next on the EU shooting-itself-in-the-foot department were genetically modified organisms. Last year the scientific adviser to the European Commission, Professor Anne Glover, was effectively sacked by the new President of the Commission, Herr Juncker. He simply abolished the post. While she was not an active supporter of GMOs, her big mistake—her misdeed—was to say that she understood that the technology is safe and used all over the world. She made the serious error of actually saying this, when she told an organisation called EurActiv:
“I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food”.
For this extreme view she was vilified and pilloried by the usual suspects: Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association. Her job was abolished.
The result of this negative, damaging and anti-scientific approach to risk-based regulation, which is what we should have in this country, is that British farmers are disadvantaged by not being able to use technologies that their rivals all over the world are using to their and to consumers’ benefits.
It gets a bit worse. Brussels has come up with a shiny new and exciting replacement for the single payment scheme. It is called the basic payment scheme, or BPS. It is even more complex and irrational than the scheme that it replaces; it sounds hard to do, but Brussels has done it. There is a whole lot of bumf in six papers that I have had that covers 160 double-side pages of print and weighs in at 1 pound and 7 ounces. It defines what a farmer is and tells us what we can do on our own land.
The critical point here is that as farmers we can no longer decide what we grow. We are now handed down a demand and requirement by the Commission that in order to get the subsidies from the BPS we must grow three separate crops. The peasantry can no longer decide what it wants to grow. Presumably we are too stupid to decide what grows best on our own land, too ignorant to grow food that the market requires, and not fit to know what sort of rotational scheme we should have. We have to be told what to do by the European Commission.
This is complete madness. Do the Government really think it right to remain in this wasteful, corrupt, mismanaged, bureaucratic and utterly hopeless organisation, when the common agricultural policy has been condemned on both sides of this House for many years with, as far as I can see, absolutely no result? We would surely be better off bringing agricultural policy back to this country. This would be better for consumers and farmers, and much better for our self-respect.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on getting time for this important debate.
In the world today we face a burgeoning population and a growing demand for food, yet EU and UK agricultural production is at best stalled and in some cases decreasing. Clearly not all is well. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that there are serious costs to UK agriculture from being in the EU. So what are the difficulties?
For the first time, the majority of the world’s population live in urban areas and for the most part understand neither farming nor the country. This will only get worse, whether we are in or out of the EU. The latest CAP reform was not fit for purpose. The three different crops for arable farms of over 30 hectares is the prime example. Decision-makers in Brussels pay too much attention to unelected, unaccountable NGOs. The so-called green lobbyists, funded in part by the taxpayer—quite wrongly in my view—are starting to do real harm. They will increasingly affect future decisions and regulations—and again, it does not matter whether we are in or out of the EU. EU regulations are far too often based on emotion and politics, not on sound science. A good example is the banning by the Commission of the neonic group of pesticides. This was a dubious decision that undoubtedly makes the lives of farmers more difficult.
The conclusion of the Anderson report on the plant-protection products regime as currently run by the Commission, commissioned by the NFU and others, makes for sober reading. It concludes that in the UK some crops, such as peas for freezing, carrots and apples, will probably not be grown in the future. The gross value added of UK agriculture will fall by about £1.6 billion per annum. There will be a drop of over 36% in farming profits, and a loss of between 35,000 and 40,000 jobs in the associated workforce. These are serious and worrying conclusions, and my noble friend must give us an answer today as to whether he agrees or disagrees with these findings.
I turn to GM crops. The EU position is not just to commit millions of the poorest to a worse diet and more starvation; it is driving research, development and production out of the EU when these are exactly what we need to boost growth and jobs. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, that the sacking by President Juncker of Anne Glover as chief scientific adviser, and the demolition of her job because of her approach to GMOs, was a huge black mark and a terrible decision.
Dr Roberto Bertollini, chief scientist and the WHO representative to the EU, said:
“Ideology and vested interests continue to dominate the public debate in Europe and elsewhere irrespective of the attempts to bring knowledge and science-based advice in the picture”.
Anne Glover’s sacking and the removal of her post was a victory for the green NGOs that sought to undermine her position and won. The result is that the future is bleaker than it should be.
Let me be fair. Good regulations do come out of the EU. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, will have welcomed the minimum apple content in cider that has led to an increase in cider-growing orchards in this country. Although EU regulations on agriculture are perhaps one of the best arguments for leaving the EU, that would be totally wrong. From time to time we are bound to have less good commissioners and Commissions, just as we have less good Governments and Ministers in the UK. One has only to look at ex-Prime Minister Blair, who failed us on many fronts and in particular gave away a large part of our rebate in return for reforms of the CAP that never happened. Getting out of the EU will not solve agriculture’s problems. It will probably make matters worse and is not wanted by most farmers, particularly those in Scotland. I know that the noble Lord is a farmer and that he wants to get out, but not all farmers do.
There has been an encouraging start by Commissioner Hogan, however, who has said many of the right things. I hope that he is more in the MacSharry mould than his predecessor. In his keynote address to the NFU conference in Birmingham two days ago, Commissioner Hogan said that he had made simplification a top priority for his work programme in 2015. He went on to say that he had launched a comprehensive screening exercise of the entire CAP to identify which sections may need simplifying. He went on to say that more than 200 Commission regulations implemented by the common market organisation will be reviewed and simplified. If 200 are being looked at, what is happening to the others? Why are they not being looked at? In what timescale will this happen? How will we hold the commissioner’s feet to the fire? He has said the right things; how will we make him perform?
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the same NFU conference highlighted many problems. She talked about the 30 hectare farming nonsense. Is that one of the reforms that Commissioner Hogan will look at, or does it fall into the category of getting at the principles of the recent CAP reform and is therefore untouchable?
The commissioner mentioned something else that is very important but which the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, did not mention at all. He rightly pointed out that not all the complaints fell at his door. With the greater flexibility produced under the CAP reforms, we need to look at our own Government and, in particular, gold-plating. I must commend Defra—in recent years, it has been considerably better than its predecessor, MAFF—but we still have problems. Let me give an example from Scotland. The debate refers to British agriculture. I know that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, will not reply to this, but as recently as 1 January this year, the Scottish Government introduced a more aggressive penalty matrix to drive the prompt reporting of cattle movements to fit with Scotland’s three-day reporting window, rather than the EU’s seven-day reporting window. That is stupid, and also detrimental to farming.
I will not let Defra get away with it completely: it might not be making new gold plates, but what about some old gold-plating? What about the 2007 regulations about the density of poultry stocking? That was way worse than what the EU had recommended but has not yet been repealed. I hope that that will be first on my noble friend’s list of things to do after today’s debate.
Let me end on a positive note. Sometimes one forgets what we do in this House. Sub-Committee D has recommended a number of things. When I was serving on it, it produced an innovation report which we sent to the Commission. A lot of that was incorporated in the CAP review. As recently as 31 January, another initiative under the European innovation partnership for agricultural productivity and sustainability was taken forward. That is to be welcomed, and Sub-Committee D deserves a pat on the back. It is worth staying in there and having our feet under the table—irritating as it is at times. That is the right thing for our countryside and our farming community.
My Lords, in his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, reminded me that we have often debated these issues in this House, even in the 16 years I have been here. We always seem to come to the same conclusions. I respectfully suggest to him that the reason for that is nothing to do with Europe. It is more to do with the fact that our food system has been so broken over those years. I shall lay out a few reasons for that before turning to the question of the EU.
The food system in the UK is not working for farmers or consumers. We produce some world-famous items, such as beef, lamb, potatoes and apples, and some others that are not so often thought of, such as watercress, pears and trout. They are fabulous, health-giving food. At the other end of the scale, we have consumers who are malnourished or obese. What are they living on? They are living on processed food saturated with sugar, palm oil and salt, which is doing no good to their health. That has nothing to do with the EU; that has to do with the food system, which has broken down. That is what we have to mend. In this country, we need an overarching food strategy that covers the spectrum from what Defra covers to what the Department of Health covers. Not since the Second World War have we had that.
From the EU, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, mentioned, we have lots of good regulation. We have had regulation about water pollution, air pollution and all sorts of other things without which we would probably have never had the incentives to make those steps forward. Of course, we have also had overregulation, and the noble Earl has cut short what I had to say about that, because I, too, was going to mention my hope from what the new commissioner has said about deregulation.
I remember that a few years ago the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, was championing the cause of honest meat. With that, he had a point: it is about labelling meat so that consumers here can really see what they are buying. If, like me, he had been at the meeting of the All-Party Group on Agroecology yesterday—I must declare my interest in that I chair it—he would have heard from John Turner, who initiated the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. It is a vibrant and growing association which ensures that we are using grass, which grows so well in the UK—probably better than anywhere else—to produce the absolute highest quality meat. The results of studies show that meat from pasture-fed animals has a higher nutritional quality than meat from animals fed on other things. That group did not mention that it is suffering from EU regulation, but it is suffering from the lack of proper, open labelling, which would make it much easier for consumers to see what they are buying.
One effect of the tabling of this debate was to make me look at UKIP’s agricultural policies. I was most surprised to see that number one on its agricultural policy list is to impose stronger controls on bush meat. Controlling bush meat, with all its health implications, is clearly very important, but that is not really a British agricultural issue. It is not in competition with beef or lamb. To mix my metaphors, it is a total red herring. That is an issue for the Home Office and border controls. The second top policy of UKIP is to support the trial culling of badgers for the control of bovine TB if veterinary opinion substantiates it. That is not original. It is common to all sides of the House so there is nothing to disagree with there. The third is that UKIP supports the principle of science before emotion on any agricultural topic. Who does not?
There is the issue of how strong the precautionary principle should be. Noble Lords have today raised the issue of neonicotinoids, which is highly important. We cannot do nothing about our pollinators dying out. There is a good argument for trying different approaches and not just allowing the continued use of neonicotinoids as a blanket solution to pests without seeing whether their use is what is causing such a dramatic fall in the number of our pollinators.
I contend that UKIP’s proposals would be an environmental disaster for farmers themselves because they suggest that pollution does not matter. Not only that, they would be a disaster for the wider community and for the food-buying public. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, made fun of the fact that the policy defines what a farmer is, but there is good reason for that. Why should CAP public money go to support the so-called slipper farmers? People who put their feet up and do nothing should not be receiving public money. It is understandable that the Commission is to try to define what a farmer is. The UK Government would join it in being anxious to ensure that public money does not go to people who should not be receiving it.
As for the effects of UKIP’s proposals economically, I will simply echo the words of Ross Murray of the CLA. He said that it was a fallacy to argue that if we opted out of Europe, British farmers could survive, let alone survive well. He said:
“If we opt out of the EU our exports will be cut to shreds and we will be completely at the mercy of the supermarkets, who will always buy on price”.
I go back to where I started with this. The food system in this country is broken, but it is not the fault of the EU. One of the big steps that this Government have taken was to bring in the Groceries Code Adjudicator, which we need to do more to strengthen. We can see that from the dairy sector, but that is a different issue. Socially, UKIP’s policies would be an utter disaster. UKIP has nothing to say about young farmers, the price of land, capital machinery investment or food quality assurance and it wants to get rid of all of these border controls and regulations. What is going to happen when we have another horsemeat scandal? Finally, UKIP seems to have nothing to say on animal welfare issues, which certainly concern the Liberal Democrats and the public, and should concern the noble Lord.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on achieving this debate. I thank him for his contribution, some of which I agree with and some of which I clearly do not. I should also declare my family farming interest and my membership of the NFU and the CLA.
I understand that farming is one of the most regulated industries. We should be working towards minimum regulation and the encouragement of good practice, only legislating where it is truly necessary. The question is: what is the problem? Has risk-assessment research been undertaken, and has sound science been implemented there? If the answers to those questions are yes, should regulation be introduced with a review planned afterwards?
I am grateful to this Government for responding to Richard Macdonald’s task force review and for the work undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, chairman of the Better Regulation Executive, who looked at smart regulation. I was, like others, encouraged to read of the incoming Commissioner Juncker saying that removing unnecessary red tape was at the centre of his political agenda and that his first vice- president has been given responsibility for looking at better regulation. I do not mind whether we call it better or smart, but it needs to be looked at and I, like others, am concerned about the dismissal of the scientific officer.
In this country, the Government have been tackling the current position on regulations. The Secretary of State, the right honourable Liz Truss, speaking at the NFU conference earlier this week, said that Defra was on course to cut 80% of the guidance given to farmers over the course of this Parliament. My goodness, that would be an achievement. They will have cut some 34,000 farm inspections due to farmers who have gained earned recognition. I cannot go into this more deeply, but I know that the Minister will know about that. This has been made possible by the various assured schemes on offer to farmers, so progress is being made.
However, one cannot be complacent. Relevant regulations over the years have protected food production, the environment and animal health and welfare, and have recognised the importance of soil and water in growing crops. However, there are concerns: some have been touched on but I will reinforce them. The new cap, the greening rules and the proposed three-year crop rule—which has been introduced for farmers with more than 30 hectares of land—bring huge challenges to many farmers, particularly the smaller ones and dairy farmers, who normally grow grass and perhaps only one crop on the farm as cattle feed. Those farmers are under serious threat and I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say when he comes to wind up at the end of the debate.
Secondly, as has been mentioned, the loss of plant protection products—such as herbicides, pesticides and fungicides—due to EU regulation has had an alarming effect on production. I do not know if your Lordships are aware, but since 2001, half of these products have been removed due to the overly cautious regulation principle, rather than taking into account, for example, the dose level and exposure of existing products. This risks reducing yields and exposes the crops to black-grass, which is a huge problem in the long term. Will the Minister tell us whether research is being undertaken to review bee colony numbers, now that these products have been withdrawn; or whether it was more climatic and other conditions, rather than the neonics themselves, that caused this problem? I am sure it would be a useful study if it has not been undertaken already.
Yesterday, an article in the press referred to an EU proposal that I nearly did not believe existed. It would require insurance cover for all owners of lawnmowers, golf buggies and mobile scooters that never leave private land. If they were in the public domain, it would be understandable, if slightly questionable, but these are only on private land. While I know that this comes within the remit of the Department for Transport, it obviously affects farmers as well. It brings to mind the proposal, which I think was then dropped, to restrict the driving of tractors to four hours a day. We just need to be very aware of some things that are not practical.
We need to be constantly aware of regulations that are not fit for purpose. Does the Minister agree that the EU GM regulations are not fit for purpose, either in respect of the current process or in anticipation of new crop biotechnologies, such as gene silencing and site-directed nucleases? I welcome the recent EU announcement that allows member states to take the decision on whether to grow GM crops, but there are some persistent questions that need answering within that. There are many who have reservations about GM technology. There are reports of its success in some parts of the world, but some express concerns about the effects experienced by other countries. Does the European Commission track such evidence; where does this responsibility lie; and who, if anybody, challenges the evidence that is coming forward from other parts of the world?
Food security, increasing populations, climate change and the growth of energy crops all put great pressure on agricultural land. In this country, we produce only 60% of the crops we need indigenously, which means that we are reliant on importing 40% of our food globally. That also has an effect on our balance of payments. Whether that can be sustained in the long term or not is a big question. “Backing British Farming in a Volatile World” was the title of the NFU conference held earlier this week, which recognised the challenges facing farmers today.
Another way in which agriculture across Europe can be helped is by greater co-operation and research-sharing between member states. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Caithness referred to EU Sub-Committee D, on which he and I used to sit together and on which I now, temporarily, still sit. Over recent years, we produced two reports to which I want to refer, one of which he touched on. In the summary of that report, Innovation in EU Agriculture, we stressed the importance of science and research as key elements for increasing yields, but that this knowledge and innovative changes must be put into practice on the ground for farmers to understand and take benefits from. The report stated:
“Regulation should help, not hinder. Politicians and society must not be afraid of new properly tested technologies … Benefits and risks must be clearly articulated, recognising that too cautionary an approach may pose risks to global food security”.
The other report, which we produced more recently, was called Counting the Cost of Food Waste. In that, we recognised:
“The EU has an important role to play in encouraging co-operation throughout the supply chain. It must also look at its own regulatory framework and consider where that may impede food waste prevention throughout the component parts of the supply chain”.
I guess that in this Chamber, it will not surprise its Members to hear that we waste a third of the food that we produce in this country and across Europe. If we could save and make better use of that food, there would not be so much pressure to produce more and more, while at the same time we know that we have more and more mouths to feed.
I am passionate about the way in which we in this country and across Europe can and do produce food. I believe that farmers want to be allowed to get on with it within reasonable constraints of correct regulation where it is needed. I am not as pessimistic as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.
Perhaps I might take up the point made my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who talked about healthy eating. I come back to square one: I believe that we are tending to go so much towards the nanny state. At the end of the day, it is really for us as individuals to take responsibility for what we eat, how much we eat, what we do and the exercise we take. Having said that, it is the Government’s prime responsibility to defend the nation and to feed it—and in that, I am very glad that my noble friend Lord De Mauley is the Minister at this moment.
I thank the noble Lord. I intervene because the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, was unwilling to accept my interventions during his speech.
When the Minister sums up in answer to this debate, will he confirm that the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, is entitled to grow whatever he likes on his rolling acres, provided that he chooses not to apply for a subsidy? It is when he fills in the forms that he becomes subject to the regulation on issues such as the three-crop rotation. If you believe in reducing the cost of the CAP, as I certainly do and as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, has argued down the years, a good initial contribution would be for him to decide that he is happy to farm his land unsubsidised. It is if he applies for a subsidy from the EU that he has to play by the rules of the game.
Will the Minister also confirm that, if the UK left the EU, farm products or food from Britain would be subject to the 10% common external tariff on entering the EU that we had left, and that the regulations on food standards and quality would still have to be honoured if we were going to sell into the single market that we had left? In other words, we would still get the regulation but would have absolutely no say in the writing of the rules.
Finally, I think I am right in saying that the proportion of our GNP represented by agriculture is now a lot lower than it was in 1972, but that the cost of agricultural subsidy to this country is a lot higher. Will the Minister confirm that? He might want to consider whether that is one of the reasons why the CLA and the NFU do not agree with UKIP.
My Lords, I can bring no farming expertise to this debate but what I can do is to bring memory. I well remember that, before the war, the farming industry was allowed to decline. That was a great strategic mistake. It is necessary, for strategic reasons, that we are as near self-sufficiency in this country as we possibly can be. Before the Second World War and for a long time during it, we were not self-sufficient and we suffered for that.
I happen to have been evacuated from London to a farm in Mapledurham, so I have a certain amount of experience of farming. The farmer was a member of what were then called the war agricultural committees. They had enormous powers to take over farms, if necessary, and have them run by the Government or people who they appointed. I remember going around with the farmer to some of those derelict farms. It was an absolute disgrace that farms which could have produced food were producing nothing and that their buildings and systems were completely derelict. So I know that we must not let our farming industry decline. I also believe that, for strategic reasons, we must have control of its policies. That is what we have not got under the European Union and the CAP.
Following the Second World War, the then Labour Government brought in a new agricultural Act, which treated farming probably better than it had ever been treated before. That lasted quite a long time but we can—and should—still be responsible for our own farming decisions. I understand of course that the farming industry and farmers themselves are concerned that, if we left the CAP, they would lose the subsidies without which they could not operate. However, we have to remember that we pay a net contribution to the European Union and that half of that goes to farmers. We could then use that in ways that save our own farming industry, rather than being beneficial to other farms throughout the EU.
It was correct of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, to have raised this matter. This has been an excellent debate and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, it is always timely to consider for a moment the status quo of agriculture in the EU, what is current reality and what our objectives are for UK agriculture. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, for initiating this debate today and I declare my interest as a farmer receiving CAP funds.
The topic is wide ranging and all speakers have highlighted various areas for concern, but let us be careful with our conclusions. It will be no surprise that I do not share the conclusions of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. All nations support their agriculture. The figures speak for themselves. In England alone, the total support from CAP payments in 2012 was just over £2 billion. That is 27% of the value of farming, which is some £7.25 billion in total. To those who say that Britain could be like Norway or Switzerland, I would suggest that they look at the comparison with agricultural subsidies in those countries: they are far higher, at 60% in Norway and more than 50% in Switzerland. I cannot see this as a likely or credible outcome for agricultural support here, should the UK leave the EU. Agricultural support would be nowhere near this level, or even at the status quo level.
Furthermore, Britain is a trading nation, which pertains in agriculture as well. EU exports would be in jeopardy. In 2013, some 105,331 tonnes of British beef went abroad, of which only 4,574 tonnes went to non-EU states. Sixty per cent of it went to Holland and Ireland. This reliance on exports to the EU would mean that UK producers still needed to comply with EU trading regulations, yet would be without influence on any future decisions, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has argued. What British agriculture produces is world-class and competes with any of its neighbours on quality. Britain needs to be at the table in Europe, shaping the decisions that will affect its farmers and food supply chain. The agri-food sector contributes £97.1 billion to the economy each year and supports the jobs of more than 3.5 million people.
Yet this not to deny that there are issues to address and implementations to be improved. Under this Conservative-led Government, however, the outcomes of the reformed CAP have been rather disappointing, failing to deliver simplification and failing to achieve further progress on decoupling support with a move towards a greener CAP and more profitable farming.
The Labour Party is clear that we want to see UK farming profitable, thriving and competitive. UK farming can respond to international food markets and meet global demand but at the same time protect and enhance natural resources, without a trade-off between food production and the wider issues of sustainability. The CAP has a clear role in the delivery of this and in providing resilience to enable responsible land management, recognising the public goods delivered such as mitigating flood control and providing recreation against an attractive landscape. This is why modulation from Pillar 1 payments to Pillar 2 payments of 15% from 2017 will be necessary. The next Labour Government have a clear commitment to support agriculture in the context of doing more to support the rural economy and get best value for money.
The delivery of all this through regulation is a vital area of concern to all speakers in the debate today. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, has highlighted the withdrawal of crop protection products, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. Labour supports this precautionary principle, as both have spoken about, but this must be underpinned by science and be evidence based.
We recognise the contribution provided by the Crop Protection Association members, with investments of nearly £4 billion per annum globally to develop innovative solutions that support safe and sustainable food production. The process leading to the licensing of new protection products will be complex, costly and lengthy. But the process must be consistent and focus on mismanagement and evidence rather than be hazard based. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have highlighted the report produced by farm business consultants Andersons: the impact of hazard-based regulations will curtail profitability, restrict most crops and even curtail some food altogether, with consequential job losses along the food supply chain.
Perhaps the Minister in his remarks, and in answering the questions of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, can reflect on how regulation has slipped into this, what protocols exist whereby the Government may re-examine the basis of assessments and what his Government are doing to ensure that British agriculture has the tools at its disposal to increase production and productivity, which we believe should be at the heart of policy-making.
Several noble Lords have mentioned neonicotinoids as a further example of inappropriate regulation. The studies and research on pollinators are incomplete, with insufficient data at the moment. That is why the Labour Party supports the temporary ban on neonicotinoids, for the mean time, as an appropriate response to the European Food Safety Authority’s evidence on the contribution of neonicotinoid use to pollinator decline in the UK. The ban is due to be reviewed this year.
On the subject of genetic modification of crops, once again the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, have argued that this is far from fit for purpose. We recognise the assiduousness with which ACRE—the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment—undertakes its assessments. The safety of citizens and consumers with the environment should be the Government’s top priority. Any decision needs to be based on scientific evidence on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, genetic modification and new agricultural biotechnologies and techniques could be a powerful tool to tackle the challenge of global food security. These technologies have the potential to put crop protection in the seed rather than in the environment.
Labour agrees that it is right that EU member states should be able to decide themselves whether to allow certain GM crops, after careful consideration and in tandem with public recognition of their acceptance. In the light of the recent decision of EU Environment Ministers to enable member state decision-making on GM crops within the EU framework, when does the Minister think the first commercial application for GM cultivation in the UK will take place, and for what products? How will the Minister take forward a balanced argument to the public, based on science and evidence, robust safety controls, responsible biosecurity and labelling?
While there are many regulations that can cause problems, the one that has perhaps received most coverage, especially as it is pervasive to cropping systems, is the three-crop rule. This is one of the criteria to be met by farmers and growers to secure 30% of their direct payment. In England, although the NFU and environmental groups alike are critical of the overall EU reform package, they have conceded that the UK Government have done the “best of a bad job”. Perhaps in his remarks, the Minister might reflect on why his department could not have done a better job. Does the Minister consider that the new Commissioner’s approach, as highlighted by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, could provide a solution in this situation? After all, this rule cuts across many businesses that have been developed to generate efficiencies and co-operative practices. What are the Government doing to mitigate unintentional consequences from this element of the package?
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, mentioned food security. This concept is often spoken about as if it is only to be assessed against self-sufficiency of production. The Labour Party believes it is more complex than that and is also a function of distribution and reducing food waste, as has been mentioned, in the face of challenges such as climate change and decarbonisation. It is also a function of social and economic policies and good governance.
The Labour Party has a strong record on food security. It was the previous Labour Administration who undertook a coherent analysis of food security in 2009-10 with the Food Matters report, the Foresight report on land use, leading to the strategic Food 2030 report—regrettably now scrapped by this Conservative-led coalition. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, had forgotten this report in her statement that there had been no such strategic analysis in the past 30 years.
I do apologise. May I be allowed a minute to wind up—or half a minute?
I was going to go on to reflect on our party’s approach to climate change, the global demands for food and the strategies of the CAP. I was going to conclude that the conclusions of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, in his opening remarks are quite wrong. The logical conclusion would be to call for a new Labour Government—after all, it is the only party with a long-term economic plan.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, for raising a series of very important matters. Like the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I start by declaring an interest as the owner of a farm and the beneficiary of the common agricultural policy.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has repeatedly emphasised her vision for our farming industry to be the best in the world. Indeed, at the NFU conference earlier this week, which has been much mentioned in this debate, she set out a long-term economic plan for food and farming which will ensure that this vital industry continues to grow and create jobs. One key element of this plan—making EU regulations work for British food producers, so that they can innovate and grow their businesses—is closely linked to the subject of today’s debate. As we have heard, being part of the EU brings benefits as well as challenges—regulations, in fact, on most areas of British agriculture and on the consumer. Quantifying those impacts is complex and challenging. However, noble Lords should be aware that the Government’s review of the balance of competencies between the EU and the UK, published last year, addressed these matters in great detail. Three of the reports published related directly to regulations affecting British agriculture. The consensus was strong support, including from the British farming industry, for the single market for agricultural goods, and for the EU’s powerful role in negotiating global trade deals for those goods.
Still, it is important to note that the views on more specific issues varied considerably. We have heard about several areas of division already today, so perhaps noble Lords will allow me to address some of them directly. On the common agricultural policy, we advocate a fundamental review of the current system of support payments. We want to see more emphasis on measures targeted at improving competitiveness and protecting and enhancing the natural environment. We were firm in advocating these beliefs during the CAP reform negotiations in 2013, and continue to press for further reform to reduce burdens on farmers and improve value for money. More immediately, we are committed to simplifying our own implementation of the CAP now. We are actively engaging in the latest CAP simplification agenda initiated by the European Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, of whom my noble friend Lord Caithness spoke optimistically.
Although I would never suggest that we have arrived at an acceptable CAP, I would like to give some examples of how the UK has applied pressure to improve the original proposals from the Commission. First, the original proposal did not cut the CAP budget at all, which would have been a disgrace. The final agreement cut the CAP budget by 13% in real terms.
As a result of our efforts, greening has been made less burdensome by raising eligibility criteria and adding more flexibilities. The crop diversification procedure proposals, for example, were originally for everyone with more than three hectares of arable land. Then there is the issue of ecological focus areas, which were originally to have been 7% of arable land. They have been reduced to 5% and, furthermore, nitrogen-fixing crops will now count towards the farmer’s EFA.
The original proposal for the active farmer test involved farmers’ accounts being checked to see what percentage of their income was from agriculture, which would have been hugely bureaucratic. We now have a much simpler approach based on a negative list of businesses deemed not to be farming.
Several member states argued that production quotas for sugar should continue for the whole of this CAP programme. In the end, we successfully argued to end these quotas in 2017. I am not saying that the result is good. However, we have been able to move it from terrible to bad. That is why we are maintaining the pressure.
To the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, with whom I agree on a surprising amount in this whole area, I have to say that I do not recall such effectiveness from the previous Labour Government. He asked why we had not done a better job. The answer is that we have to negotiate with the Commission and 27 other member states, but I can give him some examples of what we have done in terms of lobbying. A great deal of pressure was brought to bear by my right honourable friend Owen Paterson when he was Secretary of State, and my right honourable friend Liz Truss has retained that level of pressure. She wrote to the new Commissioner in October stating our concerns about the greening measures, and met him at November’s Agricultural Council to discuss the issue. Senior officials met their counterparts at the Commission in November, and my honourable friend George Eustice met a number of MEPs in December, January and February to raise UK concerns on greening and to encourage them to feed into the Commissioner’s CAP simplification exercise. The Secretary of State hosted a visit from Commissioner Hogan on Monday ahead of the NFU conference. They met farmers directly affected by the three-crop rule, allowing them to put their views to the Commissioner face to face. The Secretary of State is replying in very clear terms to the Commissioner’s request for suggestions on simplification.
It is not only the Commission and the Parliament with which we have engaged; at the meeting last October of the Stockholm group—consisting of senior officials from the UK, Germany, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden—simplification was high on the agenda. The UK, Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Sweden signed a letter to the Commissioner in December calling for ambitious action on simplifying the CAP. And so it goes on.
As a result of all that work, Commissioner Hogan has committed to simplifying the CAP. He is currently, as my noble friend Lord Caithness said, undertaking an exercise to identify areas to reduce red tape and administrative burden. In answer to my noble friend, he has committed to producing a simplification strategy by the end of the year. He wrote to all member states last month asking for ideas on how to simplify the CAP without opening up regulations, focusing on the administrative burden for farmers. We consulted with the devolved Administrations and across the UK farming industry, and the Secretary of State will be responding tomorrow, calling for more ambitious action to simplify the CAP, including extending the review of the EFA requirements for greening to include the three-crop rule by 2016. Commissioner Hogan has also committed to reviewing direct payments, which include greening, ready for the 2017 payment year. The UK will be fully engaged in pushing for the most ambitious action to simplify the CAP in Commissioner Hogan’s mid-term review in 2017 to make UK farming more competitive. We believe that the only way to simplify the CAP properly is by making changes to the regulations, hence we are calling for more ambition and providing Commissioner Hogan with suggestions that require changes to legislation.
Various questions were asked by noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Byford talked about crop diversification, specifically in the area of dairy farming. She might like to know that farmers with fewer than 10 hectares of arable land are exempt from the crop diversification requirements, and those with 10 to 30 hectares must grow at least two different crops. It is therefore stepped so, to the extent that a dairy farmer is not growing arable crops, he will not bump into those rules.
The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, referred to current pressures on dairy farmers more generally, and he is quite right. We are doing all that we can to help dairy farmers overcome current pressures. The Rural Payments Agency has paid EU direct payments to 98% of farmers more than two months ahead of schedule, and almost every first-milk farmer has been paid. We are also working on longer-term resilience. He will know that the global market for dairy products is actually growing so, provided we can make ourselves as competitive as possible, we should be able to take advantage of that. The question is how we bridge the gap until we get there, and that is something we are acutely focused on.
On pesticides, the noble Lords, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Grantchester, and my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady Byford, among others, referred to neonics. The UK has consistently argued that decisions should be made on the basis of proportionate risk assessment, not an approach that rules out any conceivable risk, however improbable.
Noble Lords are right in what they say about the effects of a ban on yields. We raised these issues repeatedly with the Commission last year, and will continue to pursue the point with the new Health Commissioner. There is a review clause in the EU regulation and we will press for that to be carried out thoroughly, taking full account of costs as well as benefits. The European Commission has given an undertaking to commence a review of the science on neonicotinoids in 2015.
My noble friend Lady Byford asked about research on bees. I assure her that there is a great deal of research and monitoring on pollinators and this will continue, including under the national pollinators strategy.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Grantchester, talked about GM. I know that they would not disagree that we must ensure that all GM products for cultivation in the UK must have passed a rigorous safety assessment. As written, the EU regulatory regime could allow timely market access for safe GM products but, in practice, as we all know, most member states oppose GM and vote against the science. Over time, this has become increasingly problematic and restrictive. We have been pressing hard for positive changes in the operation of the regulations. We want a pragmatic and proportionate regime. The recently agreed cultivation proposal did not go as far as I would have liked, but it could help to unblock the EU-level approval mechanism as it will allow those member states that do not want to cultivate GM crops to restrict or ban them while allowing countries that are open to the technology to use it.
A large number of questions were raised in this debate and I do not have time to answer them all. I will respond to noble Lords in writing where I find that I have not been able to do so in the debate.
My noble friend Lord Caithness raised a really important point about gold-plating. We are committed to avoiding, where at all possible, going beyond the minimum requirements of any measures being transposed. Taking such an approach will ensure that the UK does not create unnecessary legislative burdens and place UK business at a competitive disadvantage. To ensure that we do not gold-plate, my department must satisfy the reducing regulation committee that it has identified the aims of the EU law and the relevant policies of the UK Government and how, save in absolutely exceptional circumstances, it does not go beyond the minimum requirements of the measure being transposed. The policy teams have clear guidance and, indeed, specific training on policy development and consultations to ensure that they take steps to check whether their intended policy goes beyond the minimum requirements and to provide stakeholders with maximum opportunity to engage with us on our proposals.
Several noble Lords referred to Professor Anne Glover. I regret that the Commission decided not to continue the post of EU scientific adviser. Anne Glover was, and I know will continue to be, an enormous force for good in science. She served extremely well in Brussels and we intend to work closely with the Commission to ensure that any new arrangement is well suited to the purpose, providing first-rate scientific evidence.
I fear that I am out of time. I know that a number of other important points were raised; I will do my best to summarise them in letters to noble Lords.
Jimmy Savile: NHS Investigations
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health in another place on the investigations into the activities of Jimmy Savile in the NHS. The Statement is as follows.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the NHS Jimmy Savile investigations.
This morning, a further 16 investigations into the activities of Savile in the NHS were published. These include the main report from Stoke Mandeville Hospital and reports from 15 other hospitals. One report relates to Johnny Savile, the older brother of Jimmy Savile. These reports have now been placed in the Library. While no system can ever be totally secure from a manipulative and deceitful predator such as Savile, we learned last year that there were clear failings in the security, culture and processes of many NHS organisations, allowing terrible abuse to continue unchecked over many years.
Some victims are, sadly, no longer with us and others continue to suffer greatly as a result of what happened. On behalf of the Government I apologised to them last June and today I repeat that apology: what happened was horrific, caused immeasurable and often permanent damage and betrayed vulnerable people who trusted us to keep them safe. We let them down. As one of the Stoke Mandeville victims said,
‘there are so many messed up lives—although people have built up lives, you have children, you make a life, it ruins everything, your relationships with another human being—the things you are supposed to have’.
Today we must show by our deeds as well as by our words that we have learned the necessary lessons.
The new reports, like those released last year, make extremely distressing reading. In total, 177 men and women have now come forward with allegations of abuse by Jimmy Savile, covering a period from 1954 to just before his death in 2011. At least 72 people who gave evidence were children at the time of the abuse, with the youngest being only five years old. The allegations included rape, assault, indecent assault and inappropriate comments or advances. Allegations were made not in one or two places but in more than 41 acute hospitals—that is almost a quarter of all NHS acute hospitals—as well as five mental health trusts and two children’s hospitals. Further investigations have happened at a children’s convalescent home, an ambulance service and a hospice. There are three new investigations under way at Humber NHS Foundation Trust, Mersey Care NHS Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Any further allegations will, of course, be investigated as serious incidents.
In addition, the Department for Education has today published 14 reports on investigations in children’s homes and education settings, and the review by Dame Janet Smith into Savile’s activities at the BBC is ongoing. These investigations have been deeply harrowing for victims but also for the investigators. I would like to put on record my thanks to everyone involved, particularly Kate Lampard and the NHS Savile legacy unit, which provided robust oversight and assurance in an incredibly difficult job.
I now turn to Stoke Mandeville, the hospital with which Savile was most closely associated. The report published today reveals shocking abuse of 60 victims that took place over more than 20 years between 1968 and 1992. From the brave victims who have come forward we know that Savile’s activities there included groping, molestation and rape of patients, staff and visitors. Victims were predominantly but not exclusively female, 20 were vulnerable patients disabled with severe spinal injuries, and one was a child as young as eight. Savile deliberately exploited these people because he understood that their reliance on specialist care they might be able to receive only at Stoke Mandeville made it even harder for them to speak up. This was calculating behaviour of the most abhorrent kind. Victims included 26 visitors and six staff. Six victims reported being raped, one as young as 11 or 12. Most victims were too frightened to come forward, but there were nine informal complaints and one made formally. None was taken seriously.
There is no suggestion that Ministers or officials knew about these activities, but accepted governance processes were not followed in the decision to allow Savile to acquire and maintain a position of authority at the hospital. In particular, Ministers made the expedient decision to use Savile not just to raise funds to redevelop Stoke Mandeville’s National Spinal Injuries Centre, but to oversee the building and running of the centre even though he had no relevant experience. Because of his celebrity and useful fundraising skills the right questions—the hard questions—simply were not asked, suspicions were not acted on and patients and staff were ignored. People were either too dazzled or too intimidated by the nation’s favourite celebrity to confront the evil predator we now know he was. Never again must the power of money or celebrity blind us to repeated, clear signals that some extremely vulnerable people were being abused.
I spoke last June about how changes to processes, policies and laws over the last 30 years have made it much less likely that a predator like Savile would be able to perpetrate these crimes today. Charity legislation is much tougher, setting out specific requirements for the auditing and examination of NHS charities’ accounts, and the safeguarding system now in place is significantly improved. The Children Act 1989, the first child sex offender register, Criminal Records Bureau checks and the Disclosure and Barring Service have all provided further protection. From 1 April, for the first time, the Care Act 2014 puts adult safeguarding on a legal footing and safeguarding adults boards will ensure that local safeguarding arrangements act to help and protect adults. We have also enshrined the right to speak up in staff contracts. We are amending the NHS constitution and have changed the law to make employers responsible if whistleblowers are harassed or bullied by fellow employees. We are also consulting on how best to implement the recommendations in Sir Robert Francis’s whistleblowing review.
However, proper policies and processes will not succeed if they do not go hand in hand with a change in culture, whereby patients and staff alike feel able to speak out with any concerns and can be confident that they will be listened to. It is particularly important that children and those with physical and mental illnesses are listened to, because they are the most vulnerable. While we are proud to live in a society in which people are innocent until proven guilty, we have a collective responsibility to investigate all serious allegations properly in a way that simply did not happen, time after time.
In the light of these disturbing reports, I also asked Kate Lampard to outline key themes across all the NHS investigations and to consider any further action that needs to be taken. She considered the extent to which Savile was a product of the culture of his time and concludes that, while he was a one-off, there are important improvements that need to be made to protect patients today. It is a thoughtful and comprehensive report, and I am today accepting in principle 13 recommendations she makes, including on access, volunteering, safeguarding, complaints and governance.
Trusts should develop policies on visits by celebrities and internet and social media access in hospitals. They should review voluntary service arrangements, safeguarding resources and the consistency of employment practices, ensuring clear executive responsibility. They should consider whether policies on the impact of volunteers on a trust’s reputation are adequate. The department, with its arm’s-length bodies, will examine: the possible development of a forum for NHS voluntary service managers; raising awareness of safeguarding referrals among NHS trust staff and volunteers; and to what extent NHS trust staff and volunteers should undergo refresher training in safeguarding.
I know some trusts which produced reports last summer have started to make improvements. One trust has already encouraged staff to raise concerns, updated the trust’s whistleblowing and complaints policy and published policy on the recruiting and management of volunteers. It is this kind of sensible, swift action that I want to see across the NHS. I have therefore asked the chief executives of Monitor and the TDA to ensure that all trusts review their current practice in three months against these recommendations and to write back to me with a summary of plans and progress at each one. These plans will be fed into the Government’s ongoing work to tackle child sexual exploitation.
One welcome practice that Kate Lampard’s report highlights is the growth in volunteering to support the work of the NHS. Overall, across the NHS we estimate that there are 78,000 volunteers, including 1,500 at just one trust, King’s in London. They do a magnificent job in improving patient care every single day throughout the NHS. We welcome this civic revolution and today need to make sure that any safeguards put in place support its further growth by helping to protect the reputation of volunteering as well as the safety of patients. Hard cases make bad law, and it would be the ultimate tragedy if Savile’s legacy was to hold back the work of the NHS’s true heroes, who give so much to their local hospital by volunteering their time. So while I agree that all volunteers working in regulated activity, typically having close or unsupervised contact with patients, should have an enhanced DBS check, I am not today accepting the recommendation that this should apply to all volunteers. As Kate Lampard acknowledges in her report, such a system may not in itself have stopped Savile. Rather, trusts should take a considered approach to checks on all volunteers, particularly using the enhanced DBS service if there is a possibility they will be asked at a future date to work closely with patients. They should also ensure that proper safeguarding procedures are in place locally as well as the DBS process, because it would be wrong to rely on the national database as a substitute for local common sense and vigilance.
The report also recommends that DBS checks are redone every three years. I believe the report is correct to say that trusts must make sure that their information on volunteers is up to date, but they can achieve this through asking volunteers to make use of the DBS update service, which enables trusts to check DBS information regularly and avoids volunteers having to go through the DBS process multiple times. We will be advising all trusts to do this.
Finally, I intend to take action in one area of great concern that the report highlights—namely, the responsibility and accountability of staff working with vulnerable people to take appropriate action when alerted to potential abuse. As the report recognises, the Government have substantially strengthened safeguarding arrangements since these dreadful events, but it is clear from these reports that there should have been a much stronger incentive on staff and managers to pass the information on so that a proper investigation happened. This is clearly unacceptable, and the Government have already said that we will consult on introducing a new requirement for mandatory reporting of abuse of children and vulnerable adults. The outcome of such a consultation must take full account of the need to avoid unintended consequences.
Let me conclude with a tribute to the victims who have had the courage to come forward. Without them, these investigations would not have been possible. It is our society’s shame that you were ignored for so long, but it is a tribute to your bravery that today we can take actions to prevent others going through the misery you have endured. As a result, our NHS will be made safer for thousands of children and vulnerable adults as we learn the uncomfortable lessons from this terrible tragedy. I commend this Statement to the House”.
That concludes the Statement, but since it was delivered in the other place, I have been advised that two passages require clarification. In repeating the Statement I said in relation to the victims at Stoke Mandeville that:
“20 were vulnerable patients disabled with severe spinal injuries”.
That should have read: “20 were vulnerable patients, some of whom were disabled with severe spinal injuries”. In addition, I said at the start that the reports that I mentioned had been placed in the Library. In fact, copies of the Stoke Mandeville and lessons-learnt reports have been placed in the Library. The remainder of the reports are available on the GOV.UK website.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for reading out the Statement, for early access to the two reports and for the briefing that he held this morning. The Statement rightfully acknowledges the clear failings in the security, culture and processes of many NHS organisations that meant that terrible abuse was allowed to continue unchecked over many years. As the Statement says, that abuse was horrific, caused immeasurable and often permanent damage, and betrayed the trust of vulnerable people who had reason to believe that they would be safe.
It is right for the Statement to repeat the Secretary of State’s apology made last June when the first 28 investigations into matters relating to Savile were published, and I know that I speak for the whole House when I emphasise our support for his decision to do so. I also add our gratitude and thanks to all those who have been involved in the preparation of the reports, in particular Kate Lampard and Ed Marsden for their key themes and lessons-learnt report. Through their diligence, the full scale and horror of Savile’s sickening behaviour across the NHS has been laid bare. It beggars belief that abuse on this scale, known to so many people, was allowed to go on for so long.
However, as the analysis of what happened becomes more complete, the key question and concern that will be growing in the minds of people hearing this news today is the matter of accountability and the disturbing evidence that people knew what Savile was doing but failed to act. Much of what is revealed in these reports today confirms what we already knew about a pattern of criminal behaviour in the hospitals concerned, where patients and victims were not listened to and staff felt unable or unwilling to challenge. But what changes today with the Stoke Mandeville report is that it is now no longer possible to say that although the abuse was widespread, it was not known to some of those in senior positions. Nine verbal reports and one formal complaint were made but none was acted upon.
The question why does not extend just to senior staff at the hospitals. As today’s Stoke Mandeville report says:
“From 1980 Savile’s relationship with Stoke Mandeville Hospital underwent a significant change when he was appointed by Government Ministers … to fundraise for … the new National Spinal Injuries Centre”.
As the lessons-learnt report observes:
“In appointing Savile to these roles and in allowing him the licence and free rein he had in exercising these roles ministers and/or senior civil servants either overrode or failed to observe accepted governance processes”.
That is an extremely serious finding and needs to be acted upon. While of course I do not expect the Government to respond to this today, does the Minister not accept that this finding points to the need for a more formal process of inquiry into senior people in the hospitals and at the Department of Health? This includes former Ministers who did not follow the due processes. Knowing what we do, we cannot leave this here. Victims must have accountability, and that must be our shared goal across this House.
Alongside accountability, the victims of Savile also need help now. Many people who were damaged by what happened have never recovered and continue to suffer; some victims have died. In the June Statement, the Government said they would continue to explore compensation for the victims, including the use of Savile’s estate to fund any claims. Can the Minister update the House on that work, and whether there is any value left in that estate? Will this be sufficient, or is there a need for public funding to help victims? Today’s news will again be traumatic and distressing for everyone directly affected. Can the Minister tell the House what steps are being taken to offer counselling and other support to the victims?
I turn to the lessons-learnt report. We need to stress that, while these appalling events come from a very different era, it would be a major mistake to think that they have no relevance today. As one of the report’s chilling conclusions sums up,
“the evidence we have gathered indicates that there are many elements of the Savile story that could be repeated in future”.
Even though the world was different in the 1970s and 1980s, it is impossible to read these reports without wondering how so many people could have known about what was happening but felt unable to act. It must never again be the case that a member of staff is made to feel they would be letting down the hospital if they act to report abuse.
We have welcomed and supported the action the Government are taking to support NHS whistleblowers—for example, the provisions in the Care Act which put adult safeguarding on a statutory footing—but we cannot think complacently that this will be enough in these situations. Action is needed across schools, hospitals and childcare settings. We need co-ordinated, joined-up government action in response. Does the Minister agree that introducing a mandatory requirement for people in positions of trust to report abuse should be an early legislative priority for the next Parliament, whichever party is in office?
It is also evident from the report that we need to look again at changes to the vetting and barring system. Recent changes mean that convicted sex offenders are only added to the list if they are working in professions with access to children. This means that there are thousands of sex offenders who are today not on the list but perhaps should be.
Finally, in the context that Kate Lampard identifies, of a coming era in which hospitals will be more reliant on volunteers and fundraising, and in the light of the comments in the Statement, do the Government still stand by the changes to vetting and barring, or is there a need to tighten this still further?
This report charts appalling, sickening events and places a dark cloud over the NHS. We applaud the Secretary of State and the Government for the commitment they have shown in response to these reports, and we pledge our full support to help bring about accountability and justice for the victims.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments and for the constructive way in which she has approached these distressing matters. She referred to the issue of accountability and, of course, that is one of the first issues that springs to mind when hearing about these dreadful events. The noble Baroness said that there were people who knew and failed to act. The tragedy was that there were so many victims who knew exactly what had happened but whose cries were left unheard. As she said, picking up on the Statement, there were nine informal complaints and one formal complaint, none of which was followed through. I understand that the investigators have not been able to trace the members of staff involved in those complaints, so that with the passage of time it is difficult to establish exactly what was said and when. However, the facts speak for themselves.
The noble Baroness also asked about the value left in the Jimmy Savile estate. My advice is that last March the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust had a capital balance of just short of £3.5 million. I understand that that balance may be a little less now, but that trust is being used to compensate the victims. If and when the money runs out, the Department of Health will step in. Although the compensation scheme has now officially closed, it is open to anyone else who has not yet come forward to make a claim, and they can also do so to the NHS Litigation Authority. Public funding is there to underpin the money from the Savile trust.
The noble Baroness also asked about the possibility of a further inquiry. Kate Lampard’s lessons-learnt report will feed into the findings of the national group on sexual violence as well as the work of the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. This inquiry, chaired by Justice Lowell Goddard, will consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.
Regarding support and counselling for victims, which the noble Baroness also mentioned, people who have experienced abuse and need advice or support can contact the free confidential support line from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood. They can also contact the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s free confidential support line. During the investigations, each part of the investigation was responsible for ensuring that victims and vulnerable witnesses had access to appropriate support as required. Kate Lampard and the Savile Legacy Unit assured that these processes were put in place. Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England, wrote to all CCGs in May 2013 to ensure that all GPs within each area were alerted to the possibility of victims and witnesses presenting for help and support. He also asked that arrangements should be put in place with mental health services in each area so that the victims and witnesses could have their support needs, of whatever degree, met in a timely and appropriate fashion.
As regards compensation, slightly more than £58,000 has been paid out so far by the NHS Litigation Authority on behalf of the Secretary of State, of which a third is damages. As I have said, the NHSLA will meet the balance of valid NHS claims on behalf of the Secretary of State.
The noble Baroness asked about the proposal for mandatory reporting of suspected abuse. We have said that we will consult on this issue, which is essentially one of whether people feel that there is a need for legislation. It will be a full 12-week public consultation on the advisability, the risk, the nature and the scope of any reporting duty, including questions on which forms of abuse it should apply to and to whom it should attach. Inevitably, the process of consultation on this issue is complex. It requires careful handling and we believe that it should not be rushed. It will be critical that we consult as widely as possible. The available evidence is inconclusive as to whether mandatory reporting regimes help or hinder or make no difference to child safeguarding outcomes. The Government have no preconceived view on this. However, we are clear that we should consult on the matter as soon as possible.
Reverting to the point made by the noble Baroness at the start of her remarks, the report concludes that it was reasonable for Ministers to pledge government support for the rebuilding of the National Spinal Injuries Centre. However, the processes did not work as they should. It is the job of civil servants to provide full and impartial advice, and it would appear from the surviving documentation that DHSS officials may not have presented the full spectrum of issues concerning the NSIC to Ministers at the outset of the project. That served to minimise the complexity of the situation. It did not specify any potential consequences. It set the scene for the project to be agreed with minimal strategic planning in place that took into account what we would expect to see today, which is both long-term service forecasts and revenue costs. That had the effect of placing a dependence on Jimmy Savile as a continuing fundraiser from that moment on.
I simply say again that the investigation concludes that there was no evidence that either Ministers or officials knew about Savile’s predatory behaviour. Clearly, a number of people within the NHS had strong suspicions about it, but the celebratory status of Savile and the fact that everyone knew that Stoke Mandeville in particular depended on his fundraising skills clearly acted as a brake on people’s ability to speak up when they should have done so.
My Lords, there is one fact about this excellent report on a very difficult subject which is so obvious that it is in danger of being overlooked. We are talking here about events within the NHS and specifically about events within NHS organisations which had among their staff people who, due to their professional expertise, should have been able to spot the signs of abuse, as they are experts to whom people turn for treatment when they have been abused. I am not talking about the BBC; I am talking about the NHS. Repeatedly they did not see it or did not speak about it. That makes me draw an uncomfortable conclusion which goes to the heart of a couple of the recommendations—that is, that it is possible, even in the best of organisations which exist for the best of reasons, for there to be a culture so powerful that people can ignore things which are bad almost to the point of disbelief.
Therefore, when the Government consider their response to all this, I ask them to look at recommendations R5 and R8 in the lessons-learnt section. Those recommendations talk about trusts having a review process of their own procedures. They also make reference to the local authority designated officer and the role that he or she might play. I put it to the Minister that, in order to break a culture of silence, it must be possible to bring in a reference to an external expert. If victims and staff had access to such a person as a backstop, it would be a very important means of ensuring that we never saw organisations operating in this way again.
My noble friend makes a series of extremely powerful and pertinent points and I am in agreement with the thrust of them. She is absolutely right that this is a matter of the culture of an organisation. While I think we can say hand on heart that the culture in the NHS has in many respects changed for the better in recent years, we must never be complacent about this. This matter was particularly identified by Sir Robert Francis in his recent report on whistleblowing, and we have accepted his recommendations. For example, we will ask every NHS organisation to identify one member of staff to whom other members of staff can speak if they have particular concerns and are not being listened to. We will also consult on establishing a new independent national whistleblowing guardian as a full-time post within the CQC to fulfil the kind of independent role that my noble friend refers to. In that context we are legislating to protect from discrimination whistleblowers who apply for NHS jobs. Therefore, I think that there are things that we can do with the mechanisms to ensure that the NHS is a more benign place for people who would otherwise feel too frightened to speak up.
Nevertheless, the further consultation on mandatory reporting which I have undertaken we will carry out will, I am sure, bring all this into the frame again. I have no doubt—at least, I hope—that my noble friend will feed into that consultation in the way that she has just indicated.
My Lords, I declare an interest as I have been a patient at the Stoke Mandeville spinal unit since 1958, when I broke my back. I knew Jimmy Savile to some extent over the years. He was very autocratic and very clever, but I never saw his dark side. Many of the people working at Stoke Mandeville did not see that side of him because he was so clever.
There is a problem with hospitals. They do not like bad publicity and there can be cover-ups. We need openness and honesty. I should like to ask the Minister about the present procedure for patients, who need an easy and quick way of raising their concerns. That is very important because many patients are at risk of having bad things done to them. Sometimes those bad things may be done by people on the ward, so patients need to bypass the ward but they cannot just be told that they have to go to the health ombudsman. That takes too long. Therefore, I hope that the procedure for patients will be given great consideration in the future.
The noble Baroness has our admiration for the way in which she has coped with her spinal injury over these many years. She is, of course, absolutely right about the way in which Jimmy Savile duped so many people. He was a forceful character as well as somebody with a superficial charm, and he got away with what he did. She is, of course, correct that the protection of patients lies at the centre of all this and we must ensure that we have proper systems in place to make them feel confident that they can come forward.
I take the noble Baroness’s point about patients perhaps not feeling able to complain to the ward staff. The answer to her question is that the patient, or someone on their behalf, can complain to the chairman of the organisation or trust or to a member of the board, and thus bypass the clinical staff. There should always be a member of the board at the hospital whose responsibility is the protection of patients above all. In the end, it is for that organisation to investigate its own supposed failings. If somebody is not satisfied with the result of that investigation, it is then open to them to go to the ombudsman. We believe that complaints should be investigated at a local level, either with the provider of the service or, if that is not thought appropriate for any reason, with the commissioner of the service.
My Lords, in relation to the protection of patients, I ask the Minister whether it would it be possible, each time a patient is seen by anyone—whether it is an external visitor or, indeed, a doctor—to ensure that there is another person present, such as a nurse. Just recently, a colleague went for a breast examination. She was seen by only one person, a male doctor; no safeguarding was available there. As part of that consultation, I would welcome this assurance.
I take my noble friend’s point. However, I would hesitate before committing to a situation where, in every instance that a doctor or nurse examined a patient, they had to have somebody with them. In the real world, I do not think that is going to be practical. What one should have, however, is an assurance that whoever examines the patient, or performs some intimate caring service with the patient, should have been checked for both a criminal record and a previous employment history. I will take my noble friend’s point away, but I think that what I have said would be accepted by those in the National Health Service as the only practical way forward.
My Lords, senior hospital administrators were criticised in these reports, but senior civil servants were also responsible for facilitating Savile’s influence and access to Broadmoor and Stoke Mandeville hospitals. Have the civil servants been identified? How have they been held accountable? Have the survivors received an individual apology for the governance failures that allowed this catalogue of abuse to take place? I understand the Secretary of State’s general apology, but I think an individual apology would be appropriate for each and every survivor.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness’s last point. My understanding is that each survivor and each victim has had an apology, but I will look into the possibility of my right honourable friend adding to that.
As regards the civil servants involved, only one has been identified: Mr James Collier, who was, at the time, deputy secretary of the DHSS. Dr Gerard Vaughan, who was the Minister most closely involved with the building of Stoke Mandeville’s spinal injuries centre, assigned Mr Collier to ensure that the project went ahead. The inquiry found that Collier’s role was essentially to remove obstacles to the project. In effect, he was both an enabler and an instrument of the whole project. However, the report says:
“If criticism is to be levelled at James Collier it is because he did not just sweep aside bureaucracy to enable the project, he was instrumental … in sweeping aside some legitimate concerns raised by statutory bodies such as the Oxford Regional Health Authority”,
once he had been placed in charge of the project. So the duty of a senior civil servant to “speak truth unto power” was not, I am afraid, one that he fulfilled. Mr Collier is still alive, and I do not think that it would be proper for me to criticise him other than in the terms that the inquiry has done, but essentially the investigation concludes that,
“it would appear that Savile’s authority was given at the behest of politicians and then made possible by senior civil servants”.
My Lords, in congratulating my noble friend and his department on the fullness of the information contained in these reports—their very fullness makes one wonder how so much of the evidence passed people by—perhaps I may make one suggestion of presentation. When you read the two reports side by side, the grey-blue report about Stoke Mandeville contains far more upper-case letters as the initial letters of words. The pale mauve report of Kate Lampard is not addicted to that. The consequence is that it is much more difficult with the Stoke Mandeville report to recognise the comparative importance of the information given because it is always in headline elements.
I understand the point made by my noble friend. At the same time, it is clear from the executive summary of Kate Lampard’s report that Stoke Mandeville is by far the most important and salient element of the report and I had hoped that that would have guided readers’ attention towards the section of the report that deals with Stoke Mandeville. Nevertheless, I am sorry that my noble friend has found it necessary to say that and I understand why he has.
My Lords, the Statement referred to inadequate systems and the need for a culture change. Does the Minister accept that many people are of the view that what we have is inadequate law and not only inadequate systems? I do not know whether my noble friend heard the “Today” programme this morning in which Mr John Humphrys, in interviewing a lawyer acting for one of the many Jimmy Savile victims, was astonished to discover that there is no offence of ignoring knowledge of child abuse that has been reported. Indeed, a majority of the British public think that it is already the law but the Minister knows that it is not.
I welcome the commitment to a public consultation that resulted from an amendment I tabled to the Serious Crime Bill, but several months have passed since that commitment was made by the Government and we still do not know which department will lead the consultation. Will it be the Home Office, the Department of Health or the Department for Education, or will it be a combination? I heard that in another place the Minister undertook that the consultation would be complete and the Government’s response given within 18 months of the Bill becoming an Act. Can the Minister confirm that that undertaking stands and say whether there has been any progress on which department will lead on this consultation?
My Lords, I cannot give a specific undertaking on the timescale that we envisage for the consultation or on any legislation that might ensue from it because that raises the question of whether any legislation is necessary. That is what we want to know from the consultation process. However, I can tell my noble friend that the Home Office will be leading the consultation in conjunction with all the other relevant government departments.
My Lords, the noble Earl repeated a phrase in the Statement referring to Jimmy Savile as a one-off. Although that is qualified in the sentence that follows, nevertheless the reference is made. Does he consider that describing these incidents as a one-off characteristic of an unusual individual is tremendously helpful? We know that he was not a one-off because a number of other people working in NHS settings engaged in similar behaviour and have already been convicted. Many other people who were not working in NHS settings but doing other kinds of job—for example, in the rock music business—were also engaging in this kind of behaviour. Perhaps we need to take more account of the fact that, hard as it is for us to recognise, there are circumstances in which people, given the opportunity, will engage in this kind of behaviour and will continue to do so. Thinking of them as, as it were, bad apples does not help us to grapple with that reality.