Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 5th Report from the Constitution Committee, 9th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: The referendum
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (2) must appoint a day at least 10 weeks from the day on which the regulations are made.
( ) A draft of regulations under subsection (2) must be laid before each House of Parliament at least 16 weeks before the day to be appointed thereby.”
My Lords, I regret that I was not in your Lordships’ House for the Second Reading; I had business abroad at the time. But I very much support the Bill and indeed feel that, 40 years after we were last given an opportunity to vote on whether we wanted to be in or out of the European Union, it is probably time that we had another chance to vote.
The problem is that we all want—and I know that my noble friend on the Front Bench is as keen as anybody—to see a level playing field when it comes to the whole business of how this referendum is held. The problem is that there can never be an entirely level playing field for the simple reason that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has the choice as to the date on which the referendum is held. That therefore means that—whatever happens otherwise—the playing field is always slanted slightly in the direction of those who feel we should stay. That is assuming my right honourable friend the Prime Minister actually leads the campaign to stay in the EU—I am not sure that is a complete given. He is clearly finding negotiations with the EU difficult. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, is leaving us because he referred to the wafer-thin concessions that we were likely to get from the EU with our negotiations. If the opinion polls indicate that a serious majority in the country want to pull out then the Prime Minister may conceivably change his mind as to which side he backs, but at the moment I think it is pretty safe to assume that he will be keen to campaign that we should stay in the EU, and he has the choice over which day it will all happen.
The amendments I have tabled are all to do with the timing of the regulations that are to be brought forth. On Second Reading my noble friend the Minister made the point that this whole question was covered by Clause 6(6) of the Bill. For the sake of clarification I will read it out:
“Any regulations under subsection (2) must be made not less than four months before the date of the referendum”.
Unfortunately that is not the whole story because Clause 6 deals with the whole question of Section 125 and the business of purdah, so under the Bill it would be incumbent on the Government to bring forth the regulations four months before, but it is not incumbent on the Government to ensure that the regulations asking the question happen immediately afterwards and that the whole thing is a continuum.
The Minister in the other place made it quite clear that it was the Government’s intention that things should start 16 weeks before with the regulations being drawn up, then statutory instruments going through both Houses and then the whole business of the referendum would go smoothly through to referendum day at the end of the 16 weeks. However, as the Bill is written that does not have to happen. It would be quite possible for the Government, at a given date, to draw up the regulations covering purdah and then leave it until a later date before holding the referendum with 28 days’ notice. The Government have given undertakings that that will not happen so in many ways they should completely approve of my amendment, which ensures that that is what is going to happen.
Fortunately the Electoral Commission had a look at these amendments before they came before your Lordships’ House today, and supports this amendment, saying:
“Our experience of administering and regulating referendums in the UK since 2004 has shown that campaigners and electoral administrators need time to prepare themselves properly to follow the detailed rules which Parliament has specified”.
The Electoral Commission recognises that people need time and do not want to be bounced into a referendum with 28 days’ notice. Therefore my amendment is very much in support of what the Government are already undertaking to do, and has been approved by the Electoral Commission. In those circumstances I cannot see why the Government would not accept these amendments and therefore I beg to move.
My Lords, may I briefly speak to Amendment 1? It seems to be extremely straightforward. For a fair referendum, we want an entirely clean situation where adequate notice is given and where there is no possible scope for the public sector, the Government, the EU or any public body to spend money influencing the course of the campaign. As has just been stated, the Electoral Commission supported this amendment. It is in line with what the Government have said they are seeking to do. I find it quite irritating that there is such complexity surrounding what is really a pretty straightforward point but I very much hope that the Government will accept the amendment in the spirit in which it is offered.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 2, which has been somewhat incongruously grouped with Amendment 1. However, I do not mind that because I am speaking to this amendment somewhat tongue in cheek, not in the expectation that the Government will accept it but to make a point about the fairness of this referendum and the need for the outcome to be accepted for a generation to come.
My amendment would change the date from 2017 to 2019. I have put this down to make a broader political point: that there is, in my view, a fundamental contradiction in the Government’s renegotiation strategy. They say that they want a fundamental change in the relationship with the European Union and, at the same time, they have chosen to impose a unilateral timetable for this renegotiation by saying that they need to have the referendum by the end of 2017. In practice it should be said—I think that the Government would sort of accept this—that the real deadline is the end of 2016. No one really thinks that you can muddle up a British referendum with the French presidential and German Bundestag elections, which will be dominating Europe in 2017. The Government have in practice set themselves a very tight deadline for their renegotiation. The truth is that they cannot achieve within that timescale some of the objectives which they have apparently set themselves.
First, there is no prospect of comprehensive treaty change by the time of the referendum. Secondly, even on matters such as benefits for Polish workers in Britain, while it may be possible to achieve some kind of political consensus among the member states about what changes are necessary, there is very little prospect that such changes in European legislation, even if agreed in principle by the Council of Ministers, could have gone through the complex legislative procedures of the European Union, given the role of the European Parliament and the Council in co-decision, by the time of our referendum. I am sure that the former Members of the European Parliament who are in this House will agree with that. We are dealing with a situation where the Government will have to be content with agreements in principle and, possibly, devices such as the protocols which were granted to Denmark and Ireland, which were basically promissory notes of future changes in EU treaties when such treaty changes come to be made.
I would like to see honesty from the Government about this situation because if we are to win this referendum we do not want to create a situation where lots of people who campaigned against British membership immediately turn round and say, “We was robbed”, which is what happened in 1975. I think there is some risk of this so the Government have to be franker than they have been so far about their renegotiation strategy and what they can achieve within the timescale they have imposed. Let us remember, this is a unilateral British timescale; the European Union is not causing the problems. It is a unilateral timescale that we have laid down.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was heartened by his aspiration that this would be settled for a generation but how can he be confident about that, bearing in mind that the agitation against our membership after a massive two-thirds majority in 1975 began only 10 or 11 years afterwards with the turbulence around Maastricht and all that? The evidence is that there is a minority in this country who are very strong xenophobes and chauvinists and dislike particularly European foreigners, so how can he have that kind of confidence in such a clear result, particularly when there is a the danger of quite a close result in the end?
The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is right, of course; after 1975 some people said within a year or two that they would not accept the result. This was true in my own party so I remember that. However, I think that the Government can act in order to mitigate the risk.
Are there not two other good precedents? In Quebec the Parti Québécois and the Separatists kept on going back in the hope that they would one day have a majority of one, if only that, which they almost did in 1994. In Scotland, were the Brexit to take place, the Scottish referendum would be immediately revived.
My noble friend is, of course, right. My point is this: assuming that the Government reject my amendment, which I am sure they will—as I say, I moved it tongue in cheek—and we stick with the deadline in the legislation, if we are going to win this referendum there has to be honesty on the Government’s part about what it can and cannot achieve.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. On the subject of honesty, I know that the Labour Party’s policy is a little fluid at the moment and there is a debate on these matters, but will he explain how his amendment, which says that we should delay the referendum until as late as 2019, is consistent with the Opposition’s attack on the Government that by holding this referendum they are creating a period of uncertainty which is doing damage to British business?
Of course the noble Lord is right about that. However, I think that at the same time, he and some of the supporters of Britain’s withdrawal from Europe who argue that they will stay only if they get fundamental treaty change, the right of the national Parliament to overturn EU laws and a fundamental alteration to free movement, are hypocrites because they are saying things that they know are not achievable. If we are to have a decent conversation with the electorate in this referendum, we have to be honest about what can and cannot be done.
I am saying that those who argue that they will support continued membership of the EU only if there is fundamental treaty change hold a hypocritical position because that is not possible to achieve within the timescale that the Government have set out.
The Government should follow Harold Wilson’s example—
Because there might be fundamental treaty change—for instance, within the eurozone—by that date. There is no possibility of that within the date of the renegotiation. This means that the Government have to be honest about what they can achieve and what they cannot; they have to adopt the position that Harold Wilson wisely adopted in 1975 and say, “We did want to achieve quite a lot of things in this renegotiation. We haven’t achieved them all, but we have achieved some useful reforms which in our view justify staying in”. I think that that is the best that the Government can do on their own policy. That is why I have tabled the amendment.
I am rather in sympathy with the noble Lord’s proposal. Does he not agree that, as the years progress, the whole of the eurozone in particular and the EU generally is becoming more and more accident-prone; that one drama follows another; and that by 2019 the whole thing will probably be falling apart?
No, I do not agree. Britain should not push unreasonable demands in the next 12 months on top of the very real issues the European Union has to deal with: resolving the long-term issues arising from the euro crisis—the short term has been resolved—and putting together the more Europe that we need effectively to tackle the migration crisis. Those are very serious problems, and Britain is getting in the way of solving them. That is an added reason for the Government to be honest with the people about the feasibility of the fundamental reforms that some noble Lords appear to think are possible—they are not.
I support my noble friend’s amendment because I do not believe that the British public should be bounced into a snap poll. There has been talk by some spin doctors—probably around the edges of the staying-in campaign—that a quick poll in 2016 would be advantageous. They seem to feel that the longer the electorate has to consider whatever deal the Prime Minister brings back from Brussels, the more likely it is that the electorate will vote against it. I suggest that some people may perceive that there is an incentive for the Government to try to rush the poll as soon the Prime Minister says that he has a deal that we can sell to the British people and we should stay in.
Everyone rightly says that this is the most important vote in 40 years—and maybe for the next 40 years. Therefore, the pros and cons must be given very careful consideration. The Government will have to set out their case. There are amendments on the Order Paper asking for a White Paper-type document which sets out not only the facts of the deal that the Prime Minister has achieved but the consequences of staying in and the consequences of leaving.
That document will not be like party-political manifestos, which set out the already well-known policies of the political parties. Manifestos may have a few nuggets of new information but no real surprises on the political direction of each party. Thus, one can get away with publishing a political manifesto two or three weeks before an election and the public are not really kept in the dark by that short timescale. The document that the Government will publish on the EU referendum will not be like a party-political manifesto. It crosses all party boundaries and there is no clear policy decision known in advance of the deal that the Prime Minister will get.
We have no idea what the deal will be. There may be big concessions or there may be small, trivial, cosmetic ones. The consequences of staying in or leaving will be immense, and both campaigns will have to issue their own views on the deal and conduct big public debates on it. That process cannot be rushed; we would be doing a huge disservice to the public. Nor does my noble friend’s amendment call for an indefinite delay. Announcing a date 10 weeks hence seems to be a reasonable period of time for all the relevant documents to be published and the debates to be held. It does not hold up any poll indefinitely.
We have all been discussing the possibility of a referendum on Europe for years. When this Bill becomes an Act, we might just be a minimum of six months away from a poll, and it may possibly be on a date two years from now; so in relation to that long timescale that we have been discussing and that we might face, a period of 10 weeks to give proper consideration to the deal and its consequences is nothing in comparison. I support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, Amendment 2, moved by my noble friend, has a certain merit: to give adequate time for the negotiations. He brings to our debate very much experience of the workings of the Brussels bureaucracy. It is clear that 2017 will be a year full of elections and pitfalls. There is the French election: I do not imagine that Mme Le Pen will win, but she could possibly do very well, which could have an effect on the French position. There is the German election—the Chancellor’s election—and at the moment, we know that, perhaps because of her position on migration, Chancellor Merkel appears to be under some real pressure for the first time. Of course, there is the EU presidency of our own country, so there is some merit in saying, “Let’s play it long”.
There are a lot of suggestions in our press that, thus far, negotiations have been very slow; it has been a technical matter. Perhaps it is only now clear, when the obvious point has been brought forward that the Norwegian precedent has some attractions. I am part Norwegian myself and, dare I say, my family were bitterly divided about the referendum. That precedent, as any Norwegian will tell you, and as the Prime Minister has said, means that Norway is adhering more to the rules than most actual, current members of the union, without any say at the table in framing those rules. It is said that we are making extremely slow progress; it will need a very big bang indeed for the broad lines of an outcome to be available within a reasonable period.
It is fair to say, as, perhaps, many noble colleagues on the other side would agree, that the Prime Minister has set out a perhaps realistic but rather minimalist agenda for what he hopes to achieve. The problem is this: the agenda of our partners in the European Union is very crowded indeed at the moment. We saw that at the last Council meeting. The focus is on migration; the effect is only to show the divisions within the European Union on this most sensitive of issues. Even if for us, our own position in regard to the Union is by far the number one issue, it might well be that for all our partners, it is not, in fact, the number one issue and they will have other issues on the agenda.
There will be changes, too: we should think of the different interpretations of the effect of the Polish agenda. Will it make the Poles even stronger, for example, in relation to welfare benefits for the Poles who are already in this country contributing massively to our own country? There will be other changes as a result. The real problem, however, is this: will there be adequate time, as my noble friend asked, for treaty amendment? The writings and speeches of Mr Liam Fox in the other place are honest and true; there will not be adequate time for treaty amendment in all the other countries. We have seen the precedents of this in terms of France, the Netherlands and Ireland: all of this takes time.
It is also very true from one’s own experience that, in these referenda, it is often not the main issue that is decided by the electorate, but rather the extraneous matters that come to the fore. There is a great problem: I think Mr Liam Fox mentioned a post-dated cheque, and my noble friend mentioned a promissory note. How much credence or weight can one put on a promissory note? The existing Governments may well say that they are happy to give us the protocols that we want, but is that bankable? Each of those countries may have elections between the time they make the promise and the time of the referendum, or afterwards—which, because of the change of Government, they will not be able to deliver.
For us, the overriding interest must be what is in our own national interest—an early decision or a time that gives adequate momentum for a decision. My own judgment is that it is in our national interest to have a decision as soon as possible, even if the broad parameters are not totally evident. There would be uncertainty in the mean time, until 2019, not only for our partners but most importantly for business, and there could be real problems in boardrooms to know how they will invest, not only in respect of foreign direct investment from inside and outside the community but also for those companies that are already established here. For example, the automotive industry depends very heavily on the market in the European Union, and will be afeared of the tariffs that may arise. The Japanese companies, as they have made clear, see our own country as a springboard to the European Union market; they see us as part of a wider market, and if we were by some ill action to take ourselves outside that market they would have a very different view about the stability of their investment in this country.
My noble friend has made some valuable points, but on balance I am against the suggestion of extending the period for another two years.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I have some reservations about the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. It takes us into risky territory in two ways. First, I have taken the liberty of checking the Conservative Party’s manifesto, and it is very clear that the referendum should take place by 31 December 2017. In your Lordships’ House this week, we have created some precedents in terms of voting against the Government, but I am not sure that trying to go against something that is in the Conservative Party manifesto is necessarily one of the things we should attempt to do in this Bill.
In another sense, I am concerned that extending the deadline for the referendum increases uncertainty, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said. The more we talk about it and think about possible renegotiations and the more we have public debates, the less helpful it is for the City of London, British business or for Britain’s engagement in the European Union. If, as I and my party believe, Britain is better off in the European Union, it is better to have made the decision and to play a full role in the European Union. If the decision is that we leave, it would still be better that we and our European partners know where we stand. Extending the deadline to 2019 would extend uncertainty, and I think that the slightly tongue-in-cheek amendment should be treated with the joviality that perhaps it deserves.
My Lords, I slightly worry about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and his use of words such as “hypocrite”. Earlier in the week, we had a noble Lord from the Opposition referring to the Prime Minister as a liar. We have rules in this House about asperity of speech. If the noble Lord cares to look at the Companion, he will find that it is a very difficult and unpleasant process if those rules are called into being.
I have dealt with the problem of the use of rather extreme language, so I shall deal with the problem that arises from the noble Lord’s assertion. To suggest that people who take the view that we should leave the European Union but are open-minded enough to think that if certain changes were made they would change their position are somehow hypocritical or acting improperly is ridiculous. It is plain common sense. If the Prime Minister comes back and says that we can control our borders and decide our own social legislation and that Parliament not Europe can, for example, decide the amount of money that people have protected in their bank accounts, I, for one, will raise three cheers and see a completely reformed European Union. The noble Lord is quite extraordinary. He seems to be advancing a case that whatever is decided, and whatever happens to the European Union, Britain must remain a member. I can see that from the European Union’s point of view, it might be in its interests, but he is supposed to be in this Parliament to look after Britain’s interests.
That is Labour Party policy. Whatever comes out of this renegotiation, we will campaign to stay in the European Union because that is our judgment of the national interest. I believe that it is possible that Mr Cameron can achieve a useful set of reforms through his renegotiation. I do not believe that the kind of fundamental changes that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was talking about are achievable in any sense whatever, and he knows it.
The noble Lord may be right about that, but the reason I am against his amendment is because he is not prepared to let the British people decide this by March 2017. He wants to delay because he wants Britain to remain in the European Union whatever the British people think, and if he had his way, we would not be having a referendum at all. As was pointed out, the Labour Party’s position is that we need to get this sorted and out of the way in order to end the period of uncertainty, so he is out of line with Labour Party policy as well.
I shall tell the Committee a story. I spent two, I think, years of my life going to European Social Affairs Council meetings in order to prevent the European Union and the Commission abusing the rules and defining the working time directive as a health and safety measure rather than an economic measure in order to get it through by qualified majority and undermine our veto. I sat through endless meetings where people read out prose. I knew that in the end we would have to go to the European Court and argue our case and that it would find against us because it is under an obligation to preserve the acquis. The result was that the working time directive was imposed upon us, even though we had joined on the basis that those matters would be decided by unanimity.
At a meeting of Ministers one night after one of those long and tedious sessions, we were having a few drinks, and I decided to take it upon myself to lecture them on the benefits of supply-side reforms. I pointed out that if they went on like this, adding to the costs of labour and to the disadvantage that European countries would have competing in the global economy, the results would be huge levels of youth unemployment and a slowing down of growth in the European Union. I think it was the Dutch Minister—maybe it was one of the others—who turned to me and said, “Ah, but you do not realise. We understand all of this but what you do not realise is that we have proportional representation and have already given people these rights. It is impossible for us to remove them. We want a level playing field, and we do not want you to have a competitive advantage over us”.
The noble Baroness asked whether I think we will get these changes. I hope and pray that the European Union makes these changes for the sake of the large numbers of unemployed young people—50% in the southern European states—and for the sake of what we see in Europe, which is a country that is failing to grow and meet the aspirations of its people. What I see at present—and the Prime Minister has to contend with this—is that we are not leaving the European Union; the European Union is leaving us. Monetary union means, as the noble Lord said—he talked about the inevitable process of moving closer together, except he used different language as he sees the way forward as further integration because of the consequences of the single currency, which the same people who are advocating—
I shall give way in a second. The same people who are telling us now that we need to remain members of the European Union regardless of the terms are the same people who told us that, if we did not join the euro, Frankfurt would become the main centre for financial services in Europe and we would fall behind and become irrelevant. Thank goodness we did not join the euro; otherwise, we would be in the same predicament as France, Spain and Italy and the others. I give way to my former colleague.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I am perfectly happy to say my noble friend because he is that outside the Chamber. If the Prime Minister—maybe likely, maybe not—got the concessions that the noble Lord has just set out, would he then vote for us to remain part of the European Union?
I might want to add to the list. Broadly speaking, if we get our country back, are in control of our borders and are able to decide on the regulations that govern business, not only would I vote in support of our continued membership of the European Union but I would say that the European Union has been saved and that the Prime Minister was a magician.
It is not what I think that matters. This is not what we are discussing; we are discussing giving the British people an opportunity to decide for themselves. It is a great disappointment to me that the noble Lord who used to be on our Benches, and who I know is a great democrat, really does not want the British people to have that opportunity and that is a great sadness. I give way to my other Scottish friend.
But never in the same party. For some time I was in the other House on the Front Bench as a spokesperson on foreign affairs and Europe. I remember the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty being pushed through that House, in spite of some of our questions about it, by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. There was a younger Member called Michael Forsyth who went through the Lobbies in favour of all those centralising Motions. I wonder if he is any relative to the noble Lord.
Yes, indeed, and it has only just dawned on me that, just before the Single European Act came before the House of Commons, I was made a Parliamentary Private Secretary to our late friend Geoffrey Howe, who was Foreign Secretary. Does the noble Lord think there might have been a coincidence perhaps? As a member of the payroll vote, I was expected to vote for it, and I did vote for it. Indeed, the late Lady Thatcher supported it, but I can tell noble Lords that if Lady Thatcher were here today she would be saying that we should leave the European Union. I have no doubt about that whatsoever.
I have been reflecting on the exchange between my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on the question of degrees of hypocrisy. I wonder whether it might be viewed as pretty hypocritical to push an amendment to delay the referendum for two years, hoping that it might go away in time for the general election.
My noble friend is absolutely right, but even the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, could not keep a straight face. He said that his tongue was in his check. I do not know where his tongue was, but certainly the arguments coming from it were not very persuasive.
I actually got up to speak in favour of the amendment in the names of my noble friends Lord Hamilton and Lord Flight. Perhaps we have taken up a lot of time unnecessarily, because I assume that my noble friend the Minister is going to accept the amendment. Clearly, there can be no arguments against accepting it. The Government have given undertakings that they will not bounce us into a referendum campaign, and what better opportunity is there than this to put them on the face of the Bill? Ministers have already given those undertakings, so they must be government policy. The amendment is in order, so I expect that my noble friend will say that she accepts it. Therefore, I will not delay the Committee by making the arguments for it.
However, I would like to mention our experience. When I referred to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, as my friend, I was referring to him as a fellow unionist—as unionists campaigning in the referendum in Scotland. Then, we started off with about 28% of the vote in favour of independence and ended with 45% in favour of it. We allowed the Scottish Government to decide the length and date of the campaign, as well as the question, and that was a huge mistake. As a result, following that referendum people like me are going around saying, “Well, it wasn’t actually a fair contest because the rules were set by one of the participants”. I do not know what the Government’s position will be after these negotiations, but it is very important that we have notice of the campaign; otherwise, we will have a sort of “neverendum” starting now, with the possibility of the Government jumping us into a short campaign, which would mean that it would not be possible to get across these arguments.
The Government have said that they will do nothing of the sort, which is why I expect they will accept this amendment. However, I want to make the point that it would also be entirely consistent with the policy of the Government—both as a coalition Government and as a Conservative Government—who gave us the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. I was against that Act, but the Government’s argument was that it was completely unfair to allow a Prime Minister to have the patronage of deciding the date of the election and that people should know what the position was. Therefore, if we accepted the amendment of my noble friends Lord Hamilton and Lord Flight, we would know that we had at least a 10-week period in which to campaign, and I think that that would be seen as fair.
Yesterday we did not accept the advice of the Electoral Commission on the grounds that its role was to advise, and I thought that the argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Bridges was absolutely persuasive. However, I cannot think of a single argument that one could deploy against taking the advice of the Electoral Commission to accept the Government’s undertaking. That leaves one argument. When I was a Minister and I was absolutely desperate to find an argument to support not agreeing to an amendment for which the arguments were overwhelming, I would say, “It’s not necessary to put it on the face of the Bill because the Government have already given this undertaking”. I have the utmost respect for my noble friend and I hope that she is not going to deploy that argument, for there is nothing to be lost by accepting my noble friends’ amendment.
I am going to disappoint the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Forsyth. The sad fact is that I find myself in agreement with them. I do not agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said this afternoon. Indeed, I had to wait until close to the end of this, his second Second Reading speech, to find the point at which I agreed. I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and I agree with his amendment. I, too, have a worry about timetables and I, too, know what the Government’s assurance has been. Since that assurance has been given, why should it not be in the Bill? My particular worries about purdah are not exactly the same as those of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, but we will discover that when we come to later amendments. However, it seems to me that Amendment 1 has to be correct, and I hope that the Government will buy it.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, provoked a lively debate on Amendment 2, and we should be grateful to him. However, it seems absolutely clear to me that the Bill should not be amended as he proposes. We are operating on the basis of the Conservative Party manifesto, which the country voted for. It is clear that the referendum must happen by the end of 2017. For us to play with the idea of an extension would be extraordinarily dangerous.
As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, took the opportunity of pointing out, it is the case that it is not possible on that timescale to secure treaty change. When the strategy was first unveiled, in the Bloomberg speech, there was time for the five stages that treaty change must go through; the final stage being national ratification, in some countries by referendum. It would have been possible then, but it is not possible now—we all know that. Therefore, the point about honesty was a little overdone, because the country is well aware that a treaty change is not securable on that timescale. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was only teasing, and we should move on now from this second Second Reading and get back to the detailed scrutiny of the Bill. I support Amendment 1 and oppose Amendment 2.
My Lords, there is a long tradition in this House that is always deplored: the debate on the first group of amendments to a Bill should not be another Second Reading—but we always do it.
I do not know whether it will please the Minister or not, but I want to ask a very genuine, simple, short, Committee stage question. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, with his tongue in his cheek, suggested that the referendum might be as late as 2019. I do not agree with that, for pretty well all the reasons that have been stated around the Committee. If we are to have this thing, we need to have it as quickly as possible, otherwise it will poison the whole process of British government and politics for another two years. We really do not want that.
Clause 1(3) says that the referendum must not be on 5 May 2016 or 4 May 2017. These, of course, are the ordinary days of local elections in those years. As I said at Second Reading, I very much approve of that. The Bill says that the referendum cannot take place on local election day. What it does not say is that local election day could not be moved to take place on the same day as referendum day. If the negotiations are quicker and more successful than perhaps people expect, it might be that the referendum could be in May or early June next year, but if they drag on and on for much longer than people hope, it could be in the spring of 2017. There would then be a real temptation, I suspect, in at least parts of the Government, to combine the polls. I am asking for a commitment from the Minister that that cannot happen. Will she explain to me why, in the absence of this prohibition in the Bill, it cannot happen?
My Lords, I take the liberty of correcting the noble Lord on what he said about the referendum being held in May or June next year. The fact is that this Bill is very unlikely to get Royal Assent before Christmas, and we need 16 weeks from then, which takes us to the end of June.
Further to the brief exchange between the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Liddle, about the use of the word “hypocrite”, may I, at the start of our Committee proceedings, suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, that he should no longer describe those of us who wish to leave the European Union as xenophobes—or, indeed, as Little Englanders, dangerous nationalists, swivel-eyed Europhobes, and so on? I wonder whether he and his noble and Europhile friends understand that those of us who wish to leave the European Union do so out of a very genuine love of Europe. But to us, Europe is the Europe of nations; it is not the failed project of European integration. We therefore think that we are actually better Europeans than those who wish to stay in that failed experiment. I trust he will accept that. If he does, I and my Eurosceptic friends will try not to use the word “quisling” about those who wish to continue with the project.
My second point is a question to the Minister. The noble Lords, Lord Liddle, Lord Anderson and Lord Kerr—who knows a thing or two about this—all seem to think it impossible that we will have adequate treaty change in our relationship with Europe in time for the end of 2017. Is it part of the Government’s thinking at the moment that they may go to the country on the promise of treaty change to come, on the grounds that all our dear colleagues in Europe have said in some Council meeting that they will eventually support treaty change? As we go forward with the Bill—and, indeed, with the negotiations in Brussels—we need to know that.
My Lords, we have heard that Amendment 2 is a tongue-in-cheek amendment. We have never had one of those before; it is, I think, without precedent. We have had wrecking amendments and probing amendments, but we have never had tongue-in-cheek amendments. Leaving that to one side, the amendment enables me to make one short but serious point.
The argument that has been made for getting on with things is clearly a strong one, because of the confidence factor and so on. We shall find out fairly quickly whether we can get the results we hope for in terms of change—certainly in terms of treaty change. For instance, on the question of repatriation of powers we shall fairly quickly come up against something called the acquis communautaire, which dominates, and is endemic to, the entire set of treaties. It requires all the movement to be one way; it does not allow any return of powers within the treaties. Given that unanimity would be required to change a treaty, we shall find out fairly quickly what the situation is. So any amendment, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise, that would cause further delays is a bad thing and should be voted against.
My Lords, Amendment 1 is perfectly acceptable, and I hope the Minister will accept it. However, I cannot understand why on earth Amendment 2 has been grouped with it. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, did not insist that it be listed separately. He will be surprised to hear that, to some degree, I agree with what he said. 2017 will be a very difficult year.
As the noble Lord mentioned, there will be presidential elections in France, but also, I believe, in the second half of the year this country—the United Kingdom—will have the presidency of the European Union. It would be very difficult, would it not, if the Prime Minister did not have his programme and had not achieved his objective and he wanted to recommend that we leave the European Union at the same time as we had the presidency of the Union and were presumably promoting it? I think the noble Lord has a very good point about 2017 and I am surprised that the Prime Minister and his advisers had not looked forward to that. Basically, we will have to have the referendum either before 2017 or after. I know that will be difficult for the Prime Minister and for the Conservative Party because the date of 2017 is in the manifesto. I see some difficulties and I think that those difficulties will have to be addressed by the Government. They should tell us exactly how they will address them.
I hope that we can have a reasonable and polite discussion about these matters. For myself, I was never in favour of joining the Common Market. I made my first speech against it in 1962. I have taken part in all the debates ever since and I have opposed every treaty change. I still believe that this country would be far better off outside the EU and would prosper.
My position is absolutely clear—it always has been clear. That does not make me a Europhobe. I do not hate Europe—I love Europe. I love the countries of Europe but I believe in the countries of Europe and not a corporatist, central government of Europe. We have to make that absolutely clear.
I agree entirely with the words the noble Lord is using and I have followed much the same pattern myself. Does he agree with me that those who tell us we can never come out of Europe would have to accept that we are in fact—I am going to use a fairly strong word—enslaved?
I think “enslaved” is perhaps going a little far but at the same time, of course, we have lost the ability to govern ourselves in many respects. The noble Lord is right that things change. I always remember the dictum of Harold Wilson:
“A week is a long time in politics”,
and a decade, of course, is an aeon.
I was about to say that I wish we would not call each other names. I respect those who think that Britain should be part of a large agglomerate but, on the other hand, many of us believe that this country has succeeded for 1,000 years by its self-government.
I do not want to offend the noble Lord but the country that has been successful for 1,000 years is England. It is England. With my name being of Scottish origin, I would want to join Scotland with the success that the United Kingdom has achieved, certainly since 1706.
When it was mentioned that Lady Thatcher changed her mind, I thought that there was some dissent. I can assure noble Lords that she did change her mind. The reason I know that is that in 1992, when we were discussing the Maastricht treaty, there was a committee consisting of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and many other people, and Margaret Thatcher—Lady Thatcher, if I might correct myself—led the opposition. I was chairman and she used to sit on my right hand side and make contributions that made it absolutely clear that her view then was that we should leave the EU. There was only one little problem. As the meeting went on I found that it was slipping away from me. It was slipping away from me on the right, but a little glance at her handed the meeting back to me. Margaret Thatcher became a convert to Britain leaving the EU.
I assure noble Lords that I never had an ambition to be Prime Minister. The fact is that Prime Ministers sometimes make mistakes. Sometimes they are badly advised. I think that she was very badly advised to agree to the Single European Act. On behalf of the Labour Party, Donald Bruce—Lord Bruce of Donington—and I sat on that Front Bench opposing the Single European Act. Unfortunately in my view, the Labour Party has changed its view, but it might come back to reality in due course and get on the right trail with this.
I agree entirely with Amendment 1 and, as I said earlier, the noble Lord has raised an important point.
My Lords, bearing in mind the contributions that we have had so far, for one moment I thought that I could be tempted to recount my 45 years’ membership of the Labour Party and my journey towards Europe. I will resist that for now, although I might come back to it.
It is important that we address some of the details of Amendment 1. It is fundamentally about a level playing field. I understand that noble Lords opposite are focusing on a level playing field over how the date will be set and the arrangements for purdah, but there is more to a level playing field than simply purdah. The Electoral Commission’s remarks or comments on this amendment are important. These show that in the commission’s experience since 2004, in referring to PPERA and its requirements, campaigners and electoral administrators need time to prepare themselves properly to follow the detailed rules that Parliament has specified. These rules relate to donations, campaign funds and, of course, how a campaign is properly designated.
I had hoped that noble Lords would refer to the ninth report of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which raises this point quite properly. It says that there is a bit of a problem here with the requirements in the schedules about establishing or designating an appropriate organisation that will come within the terms of PPERA, and with the campaign period of 10 weeks. The issue for me—the Electoral Commission makes this point—is that we will have a much longer campaign than 10 weeks. It has already started: organisations either have been or will be set up in the hope and expectation that they will be the designated organisation. At some point they have to get their act together and ensure that they meet fully the requirements of PPERA.
A level playing field is devoutly to be sought. We can do as much as we can in Parliament and in this House to ensure that the rules are fair, that the donations question is settled properly and so on. Does my noble friend agree that there will never be an even playing field in this country as long as the press—often the foreign-owned press—is overwhelmingly against Europe?
I agree with my noble friend. One of the problems of PPERA and trying to establish a level playing field in elections generally is our free press, which is very important and which we must defend. We have to consider that the concentration of ownership in our press has distorted its ability to express a range of opinions.
I very much recall it, because, as I said in my Second Reading speech, I was secretary of the Spelthorne Get Britain Out campaign, so I was fully aware of what we were up against. I will come on to this on Amendment 2.
I want to focus on specific questions relating to this. Everyone is familiar with the 10-week campaign period and everyone is talking about purdah. However, there is a period before that relating to the operation of PPERA and designated organisations. Your Lordships’ Delegated Powers Committee said,
“if as suggested in the memorandum the start date for applications for designation is likely to be earlier than the start date for the referendum period, this will have the knock-on effect of reducing the minimum length for the referendum period”.
In considering the issue raised in these amendments, the committee said:
“We consider that, if the Government intend there to be a minimum of 10 weeks for the referendum period, they cannot rely on the operation of the 2000 Act”—
“to deliver that minimum period. In our view, the 10 week minimum for the referendum period should be specified on the face of the Bill”.
I would like to hear from the Minister whether the Delegated Powers Committee is correct. If it is not, how can she give the guarantees that we all accept have been made? I accept that there is a need to ensure that, when we enter the process of the referendum, there is a proper level playing field which everyone accepts and understands. To do otherwise would undermine the whole process because, as noble Lords have said, whatever we have at the end, we want a settlement. That brings me to my noble friend’s Amendment 2.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was very helpful in his contributions. He reminded the House of the Labour Party’s policy and our stated opinion in this regard. Of course, there has been a general election and there was a clear manifesto commitment, which should be totally respected. There was not a clear manifesto commitment on the issues we discussed on Monday, which is why this House expressed its view, but we do have one for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. It is important that that referendum is conducted as speedily as possible because, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, uncertainty about Britain’s place in Europe is not good for the British economy. We need to ensure that there is a clear decision as speedily as possible. However, I accept my noble friend’s assertion that his amendment was a bit tongue in cheek. He provoked an interesting debate, which has been rather like Second Reading.
There is this issue of who is taking what position and where they are coming from. I accept that the Prime Minister is entering these negotiations in good faith. He wants to achieve change. Personally—and I think this is the view of the Labour Party—I think that we better achieve change by engaging with the institutions and ensuring that our voice is properly heard. We have achieved such change in the European Union over a considerable period of time. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made points about some of the elements of the Social Chapter. The elements he described were precisely those that helped change my mind about Europe. Health and safety is not red tape. Nor are drivers’ hours, which ensure safety. These are very important matters, especially because of how the world has changed; drivers must now, because of the markets they need to address, drive across boundaries.
I was not implying in any way that health and safety is not important. Indeed, I was a Health and Safety Minister in the Department of Employment for at least a year. The point I was making was that employment rights, when we signed up to them, were subject to unanimity and we had a veto. They were then presented as health and safety in order to get round that and make it possible to change them by qualified majority.
I hear what the noble Lord says but I think these issues will be part of the general debate and I do not want to use these amendments for a broader discussion. The only point I will make, in relation to the debate we had on Amendment 2, is that there is a point in the process of negotiations where people put forward demands that they know full well cannot be achieved. In the Labour movement, we used to call people who made those sorts of propositions Trotskyists. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would be offended, or would think that it was unparliamentary for me to use those terms, but sometimes, I have to confess, he does sound like a little bit of a Trot.
My Lords, I will speak first to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton before turning to that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. Both amendments deal with the date, which is why there was a rationale for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, to remain in this group. He certainly added extra pizzazz to the debate—I am not sure that is a parliamentary word but never mind.
There was a very serious thread in the arguments brought forward by noble Lords; that is, that in considering the date on which the referendum should take place, the Government should take into consideration very firmly fairness and, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, that the Government should not seek to bounce the country into a referendum. That is certainly not what the Government are seeking to do. They seek to find fairness and a level playing field. That has certainly underwritten the way in which the Government addressed the drafting of the Bill, particularly when one looks at some of the technical schedules, to try to achieve that fairness.
As one or two noble Lords have said, it is rather our tradition in this House that on the first group of amendments, whatever they may refer to, somehow we revisit Second Reading. After nine hours of Second Reading, that would be quite a long revisit. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, was not able to take part in that debate so I will try to comment on one or two of his points when we reach my responses to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. But listening to some of the interventions, I felt I was hearing the way that noble Lords were going to vote in the referendum even though we have not yet concluded the negotiations, let alone set the date.
Amendment 1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton would put in place two restrictions on how the referendum date is agreed by Parliament. First, it would require there to be at least 10 weeks between setting the date in regulations and the date of the referendum itself. Secondly, it would require at least 16 weeks between the draft regulation setting the date being laid in Parliament and the referendum. My noble friend quoted in support of his view the statement made by my honourable friend Mr Penrose, the Minister in another place, when he gave a commitment about timing. My honourable friend Mr Penrose said that it would be clear that there will be 16 weeks from regulations to the date of the referendum.
I appreciate that this is a technical Bill—it is straightforward but it is technical—and therefore it is very easy to read one set of regulations against another. In this case, on occasions noble Lords may have been referring to Clause 6(6), which refers of course to the Section 125 PPERA regulations—the so-called statutory purdah—when in fact Clause 1(2) deals with the setting of the date. I think we need to disaggregate that, and we will deal with Clause 6(6) next week when we consider amendments in the names of some of my noble friends, and others.
Some noble Lords put forward the point that it would be right immediately to accept an amendment which put on the face on the Bill a minimum referendum period of 10 weeks. Some indeed might see this amendment at first sight as writing into the Bill a minimum referendum period of 10 weeks, as recently recommended by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I note, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, that the committee says, in paragraph 33:
“We consider that, if the Government intend there to be a minimum of 10 weeks for the referendum period, they cannot rely on the operation of the 2000 Act to deliver that minimum period. In our view, the 10 week minimum for the referendum period should be specified on the face of the Bill”.
Since I am currently looking almost eye to eye with the chair of that committee, I suddenly realise that I can continue to say how highly I have respected its views throughout my time here. Since we are looking at its recommendation, I would not be able to say today exactly how we would respond, but the committee has certainly presented a detailed, thorough report, which we are looking at and discussing in detail with colleagues before we come back with any firm commitment and proposal in response. That is the normal process in Committee, because all noble Lords who have taken part in discussions with Ministers or have been Ministers will know that there is a process by which these matters go forward.
I would like to express appreciation, because I think that the other people who happen to be in the Chamber today are not in a position to respond on behalf of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I serve on that committee and I think the committee will appreciate that it is entirely appropriate that the Government should take some time to think about that, but we feel strongly about it so we will look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness says on Report.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. It is not the only point made in the committee’s report, and one of the factors which may not be appreciated by those outside this House is that, when the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee commits itself to these pieces of work, the work has to be done very swiftly but it is always done with great consideration and much detail.
My Lords, I know that my noble friend hoped that I might immediately accept the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. Perhaps I can skip forward a bit and disappoint my noble friend Lord Forsyth but he might welcome the rational answer that I wish to give him.
The trouble is that the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton does not actually achieve the change that he wants to achieve, because it does not refer to the right part of the Bill. It simply builds in a delay between the process of laying and agreeing regulations on the referendum, but not the regulations to which he was referring. It does not make any provision at all for the length of the referendum period itself, which is what I think he was trying to achieve. To try to be helpful and to achieve that sort of change, we would need to amend paragraph 1 of Schedule 1, which creates the power to set the length of the referendum period. I think I have perhaps set in train some further work for my noble friend Lord Hamilton and my noble friend Lord Forsyth, and we will certainly come on to that that later next week.
I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but I had forgotten that there is another argument that is put forward when you are a Minister and you do not want to accept the amendment and your arguments are a bit thin, and that is that the drafting is not correct. Would it not be possible at a later stage in the Bill for the Minister to bring forward an amendment which was drafted correctly and met my noble friend’s purpose?
My Lords, I was trying to be very reasonable by saying that we are looking at the proposal from the committee’s report, which appears to chime exactly with that of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. With the respect that I pay to the committee and to my noble friend, I want to be able to bring back a proposal which is appropriate and would achieve a result that the Government feel is workable and the House feels is right. That will be a matter for debate on another occasion.
In any event, the Government has always been clear that we do not intend to propose a referendum period shorter than 10 weeks. I know that some confusion has also arisen because of the issue of when the lead campaign should be designated. What we have tried to do is to provide more flexibility in this Bill by saying that that can happen before the 10-week period, and if it does it extends the whole period to which we are referring. I do not wish to confuse the matter even further. We had a good debate on those first two amendments. The Delegated Powers Committee has made a recommendation, and we are certainly looking at that very closely.
I turn to Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. As other noble Lords have said, he introduced it by saying that it was a little tongue in cheek. It is none the worse for all that because it certainly initiated a strong debate. Perhaps I can be a little tongue in cheek back. I noted that, when the Private Member’s Bill in the name of my honourable friend Mr Wharton was staggering through Parliament in 2013—a little while ago, in other words—the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made the point that he did not approve of setting out a date for a referendum at the end of 2017, which would have been four years on, because he felt that would have been an inappropriate delay. Since he has put down an amendment today for a four-year delay, I need say no more.
However, a serious point has been raised about when the referendum should take place. We heard quite a few remembrances from Second Reading. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, asked: will the Government go into a referendum with a promise of treaty change? The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, also made a point about whether there would be adequate time for treaty change. Others pointed out that it is possible for other procedures to go ahead. There have been reports that it is possible, as other countries have found, to lodge a protocol at the UN and achieve a promise that is legally binding. These matters are all germane to renegotiation.
The Prime Minister has clearly said that we will only come to the House to set a referendum date which the House then decides. It is a date proposed by the Prime Minister but decided by the House—because it will be in an affirmative statutory instrument. We would only do that after there had been a renegotiation and after the Prime Minister had been able to put that to the country for resolution. I can see that one or two noble Lords would like to intervene, so I will hesitate at the moment.
Does the Minister agree that the discussion we are having at this stage of the Bill would be vastly improved if we had the letter that the Prime Minister has committed to send to the President of the Council and make available to parliamentarians? At the moment, we have all sorts of hypotheses coming into the discussion about what might be there. Would it not be better if we knew the agenda for the discussions?
My Lords, it is right for this House to be apprised of the agenda for discussions further than it has already been—the agenda has, after all, been set out in several speeches by the Prime Minister—but that is separate from the process of having referendum legislation. As I said at Second Reading, this is merely the legislative vehicle for the referendum itself. The noble Lord is right that Parliament should have the opportunity properly to examine the proposals put forward by the Prime Minister and what has happened at the end of that. I am sure that we will discuss that further next week.
At this stage, I would like merely to give the straightforward answer to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. The Bill currently provides for the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU to take place no later than 31 December 2017. His amendment would move that deadline later, to 31 December 2019. As other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, pointed out, holding this referendum by the end of 2017 was a clear manifesto commitment. It has been repeated by the Government since the election, and as drafted, this Bill will fulfil that commitment and allow the British people to give their view by the end of 2017. That is why I can confidently say that we would not accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
However, I was asked one or two questions and perhaps I might try to address those. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, made the point that there will be other events around the rest of the European Union over the forthcoming couple of years. I would say that when we are holding the presidency of the Council, we will be perfectly competent to carry forward a referendum at that time, given the experience elsewhere in Europe. There are so many examples, but I will try to pick out one or two—I have gone on long enough already so I will not test the House’s patience too much. In 1993, the Danish Government held the presidency for the first six months. On 18 May during that period, they held a referendum on the Edinburgh agreement, setting out arrangements for Denmark. During the Polish presidency of July to December 2011, Poland held a parliamentary election. All seats in both Houses were up for re-election and that brought in Tusk for a second term.
Those are not adequate precedents because, for example, the Danish referendum was on some amendment to Denmark’s relationship with the European Union. What is proposed in this Bill is a possible total reversal. It would be wholly impossible, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has said, for the UK, in the middle of its presidency of the European Union, to find that it is no longer a member or will shortly not be a member. It would place the UK presidency in an impossible situation.
I know the noble Lord’s experience of these matters so he is probably well ahead of me on this, but perhaps I can remind him that in 2006 and 2007 Germany and Finland swapped presidency dates to avoid national elections in each, so it can be done.
I was also asked a pertinent question by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I honestly think these so-called precedents which she has brought to the House to show it can be done ignore one really rather important point. She is probably in a similar position to the Prime Minister—that nothing is excluded as far as his own position in the campaign is concerned—but what is surely totally excluded is that, in the middle of our presidency, the Prime Minister of this country should campaign to leave the European Union.
We have not reached that point yet, since this is merely the first clause of a Bill trying to deliver the ability to hold a referendum, but these are all serious points. Noble Lords are pointing out that any decision about setting a date must take into account all the circumstances under which a referendum would be expected to operate. The Government would have to take a decision about which date to recommend to Parliament; it would then be for Parliament to consider that and to set their view.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out that in the past there has been at least one occurrence of local election dates being moved. Amendments were agreed in another place to rule out those May dates in 2016 and 2017 specifically to ensure that the referendum does not clash with known local government dates. There is certainly no expectation that local government dates should be moved. That is not our plan and we do not see that happening. However, without wishing ill on any Member of any party in the other place, if there had to be a completely unforeseen parliamentary by-election or local government by-election and it was decided that a by-election might be held on the same day as the referendum, I think the House might consider that to be rather a different matter, but we have no plan to move other elections to combine them with the referendum.
My noble friend Lord Hamilton has moved his amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has spoken to his. At this stage, I say formally to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that I hope he may see fit not to move his amendment when it is called from the list, and I invite my noble friend Lord Hamilton to withdraw his Amendment 1.
My Lords, I may have misheard, but I thought my noble friend said in the context of the date of the referendum that the Prime Minister would make a recommendation to both Houses and both Houses would be able to decide. As that is by regulation, would that not get us into some difficulty in this House?
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that the grouping of the amendments is somewhat weird. I cannot quite understand why Amendment 1 was grouped with Amendment 2, other than that one followed the other. They do not seem to have an awful lot in common. I congratulate the noble Lord, because his amendment certainly created much more interest and lively debate than mine.
I am very grateful to the House, because there seems to be almost complete unanimity over my amendment. I take my noble friend’s point that the wording could perhaps have been better, but I was enormously encouraged—almost shocked—to get the support of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, to whom I am very grateful. The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the Delegated Powers Committee having a view on this as well was also very encouraging. We have the Electoral Commission and the whole of your Lordships’ House, I think, in support. Indeed, it is in the spirit of what the Government have already said. On that basis, I take my noble friend’s point that it was not very well worded, so work must be done. May I check with her where this leaves us today? Presumably, an amendment will be put forward which is better worded but applies itself to the spirit of my amendment and will be tabled at Report as a government amendment. Is that correct?
My Lords, as I explained, the normal procedure is that the Government, having seen the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform report, considers all its recommendations and consults in government and then considers next steps. That is when decisions are made, so I cannot give my noble friend any undertakings at this stage; clearly, that is not the normal procedure.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for that, but I am also mindful of the seemingly total support in your Lordships’ House, so I hope that we can get a better amendment tabled at Report. I am not quite sure who will be voting against it. I thank my noble friend very much and I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out “remain a member of the European Union or leave” and insert “leave the European Union or remain a member of”
My Lords, this is a rather more modest amendment, as you will see. Unfortunately, I cannot plead in aid the support of the Electoral Commission, which for some reason does not seem to want to support the amendment. The only point I would make about the question in the Bill is that in all previous incarnations, the Electoral Commission has always taken things in alphabetical order. When you have a voting paper, if your name is Brown, it comes higher than somebody called Smith. That is an arbitrary rule that has been imposed for all voting papers. On that basis, it is somewhat confusing that in this case the Electoral Commission recommends that we do not go in alphabetical order. I do not quite understand what the thinking of the Electoral Commission was on this. I think, having moved once already on whole issue of the question, it feels that it has done all it can, but it is rather odd that it has not followed the precedent that it has set in the past. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 5, 6 and 7, which are grouped—again, rather strangely—with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. I suppose it is to do with the wording, and that is the common thread.
Before going into detail, perhaps I may note that I did not speak at Second Reading, and I shall be very careful to take good note of the strictures of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on making Second Reading speeches—I will not do that. My noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas spoke on that occasion, and I was delighted to be on the same side as him, because back in the 1975 referendum, when I was certainly a “yes” voter for Wales and the UK to remain members of the European Community, he was on the other side, as was almost the rest of my party. I am glad to say that my party has come round. I am still totally committed to the European ideal and shall most certainly campaign, wherever I can, to ensure that the UK remains part of the European Union.
I have had some doubts about having a referendum, but by now, I have come round to realise that this issue cannot just continue as it has. It is causing so much uncertainty. It affects investment, particularly from parts of the world that might be looking at Europe as a bloc. I think of the United States, China and Japan. Inward investment undoubtedly is being undermined by uncertainty, and we need to put that uncertainty to bed. Therefore, everything that I shall do in the context of this Bill will be to facilitate, encourage, and maximise a vote to remain in the European Union.
Turning to my amendments, I remind noble Lords that the Welsh language is now, of course, a full and equal official language in Wales. It was “full and equal” but not “official” in the 1993 Act passed by this House, but now it is an official language as well. Therefore, there is a need for the wording on the ballot paper to be totally transparent, beyond reproach and, in particular, to be such that it does not lay itself open to any challenge in the courts. In the context of a very close result, I can just imagine some protagonists being tempted to go down that road. Let us therefore make sure that the wording in both languages is clear and beyond any dubiety. That is where Amendment 7 is relevant: there is now a legal requirement in Wales for the two languages to be treated on the basis of equality for official purposes. Failure to do so would put the Government in default of the requirement of the law in Wales.
On Amendments 5 and 6, the wording as it stands uses the Welsh word “aros”. That is best translated into English as “stay”, not as “remain”. The term “dim aros” appears on road signs: it means “no stopping” or “no parking”. I am not quite sure that the connotations of the wording that we have in this translation for the purposes of the ballot paper convey what the Government want it to. The word I propose, “Parhau”, is a much better equivalent of “remain”.
This is not just my opinion. I am not a Welsh scholar: I was a physics graduate, and my life was in industrial finance before coming to Parliament. I therefore spoke to a good colleague and friend who is a lawyer and an ex-chief executive of a local authority in Wales with a good degree in Welsh. He agrees with my interpretation on that, so I ask the noble Baroness, if she is responding to this debate, what consultation there has been in Wales and whether the Government are absolutely sure that the interpretation they have used is beyond question.
In the spirit of Committee, these are clearly probing amendments. I am asking the Government, if there is any possible doubt, to consult further in Wales between now and Report, and do anything necessary at that point. I will not trespass unduly on noble Lords’ patience, but I also press for a government assurance that all the official documents published by the Government in Wales in the context of this referendum will be in both languages, as has by now become the norm with regard to practice in these matters in Wales.
My Lords, I rise in support of Amendments 3 and 4, proposed by my noble friend Lord Hamilton. The unspoken point here is that some people believe that whatever proposition comes first on a referendum has a marginal advantage because people react to the first thing that they read. I personally rather doubt that that is the case. But there is an argument that, if you have a referendum, you do not have one to say that you want no change—you have a referendum to consider whether you want change or not. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that the change proposition should come first. But there will no doubt be an ongoing tug of war on this issue, due to the view that whichever proposition comes first has some advantage. I would like to see evidence as to whether that is the case.
My Lords, I defer to my noble friend Lord Wigley in his knowledge of the Welsh language and look forward to learning further from the Front Bench with respect to the validity of the Welsh question. I had the misfortune to attend a traditional Welsh grammar school, where I was able to give up Welsh for Greek at a tender age, but I look forward to the further debate on this—and I look forward to appearing on the same platform with the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, as we did in 1975. Indeed, the first time we met, when we got on famously, was when as a young industrialist he came to see me; I had been in the Foreign Office, working on a European desk, and he came to—wait for it—seek my advice on the European Union. We have not looked back since.
On the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, in the earlier part of this evening’s debate we decided that the rules should be set by the Electoral Commission. At this point, surely the presumption on a matter of this sort should be—this is the very purpose of the Electoral Commission—that we defer to it in respect of such rules and, if we do not follow those rules, we have a very good reason for so doing. With all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and the presumption that I made, I have not heard from him a weighty case against the change and for the reversal he now proposes.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. I was interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Flight. It is interesting that the Electoral Commission did not support the amendment; I thought that perhaps it was because the status quo should go first and a departure from the status quo should come second but, as my noble friend Lord Flight remarked, normally in a referendum the change that you seek comes first and the present position—the status quo—comes second. I am not clear which is right, so I think that probably my noble friend Lord Hamilton is right in saying that alphabetical order should prevail.
I am not going to enter into the debate on the intricacies of the Welsh language, as put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I am perfectly happy to accept that what he says is correct. But I was clearly struck by the fact that he is one of those noble Lords who will campaign to remain a member of the European Union—and, I would like to say, to remain a member on the present basis, whatever the Prime Minister is able or unable to negotiate.
He also remarked in quite strong terms that leaving the European Union would be extremely detrimental to investment. It is not possible to know that without knowing the basis on which the United Kingdom might cease to be a member of the European Union—I would rather say, might cease to be a “full member” of the European Union. Ideally, I think that the Prime Minister should work for a trading relationship with the European Union, which could well be as a trading member of the European Union. So I do not really like the referendum questions—“remain” or “leave” the European Union—because “leave” sounds like a tugboat will come and attach a tow rope to our little island and tow us off into the Indian Ocean or somewhere where we might enjoy better weather. The reality is that we cannot leave the European Union in a geographical sense because we are adjacent to core eurozone members.
I would like to see the Prime Minister achieve substantial and significant reforms to our basis of membership, which may well mean that we cease to be a member on the current basis. The relationship with the other members of the European Union might be some kind of associate status or a reformed EEA or a reformed EFTA. I therefore take issue with the noble Lord’s strong comment that it would be detrimental to investment if we were to leave the European Union.
I was startled to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, give as a reason the way in which names are produced. It is entirely true that it normal practice to use alphabetical order for names and for names of countries, but it is not so for verbs—and these are two verbs. So I do not think this has any validity. The Electoral Commission wants the wording in the Bill for the very simple reason that it put it forward. It would be a bit startling if it now found that it had put forward the wrong wording. It has not; it has put forward the right wording, and the Government, who did not start with this wording, moved to the Electoral Commission’s wording in the other place—and I honestly suggest that that is the best place to stand.
My Lords, I am rather new to the process of legislation. This is the first time that I have been involved in the passage of a Bill. Until the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke, I was thinking that perhaps I had slipped back to Second Reading, even though we are on the second group of amendments. I am slightly puzzled by hearing a whole set of reasons from people who are in favour of leaving or remaining. I hope that my intervention will be wholly objective. I do not claim that my Welsh is up to knowing whether “aros” is the right word, but will the Minister confirm that the Government have checked the translation, in addition to the work done by the Electoral Commission?
In response to Amendments 3 and 4, I find it bizarre that we are discussing whether “leave” or “remain” should be in alphabetical order. This is not an election between people; it is a referendum on a question. The Electoral Commission has undertaken a lot of consultation, we have been extensively briefed and the other place was extensively briefed. The Government have taken the Electoral Commission’s wording, and I suggest that these amendments are not helpful.
My Lords, the Labour Party has consistently argued that we should follow the advice of the Electoral Commission on the question. It changed its mind on the question. It said that the previous question that came before the House was not adequate. It has tested this question, and that is why we support the current wording. It is worth noting that the Electoral Commission’s briefing states that when it tested the reverse order, which is being recommended in this amendment, participants felt it was a more leading question than if the words were put the other way round. We do not believe there is a need to change the order in the question.
I turn briefly to the Welsh language question. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and I could turn this into a Welsh language festival. I must stress that I do not expect the Minister to have a detailed understanding of the nuances of the Welsh language, but I suggest that she takes note of the recommendation made by the noble Lord.
I am a fluent Welsh speaker, as is the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. There are about half a million Welsh speakers in Wales. Interestingly, there are no daily Welsh newspapers and the difference between oral and written Welsh is quite significant—one is very formal, one very informal. On this issue I have consulted one of the top translators at the National Assembly for Wales and I have also looked at the Welsh language dictionary and confirm what the noble Lord has suggested: “aros” is more like “to stay” and “parhau”, “to remain”. If noble Lords want a direct translation, I suggest the noble Lord’s is more correct. I note from the briefing given by the Electoral Commission that alternative questions were tested as well—
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I greatly admire her linguistic skills but I want to be quite sure where her loyalties lie. Will she please confirm that the translation she is recommending, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, does not change the question to be one about the independence of the Principality of Wales?
I assure the noble Lord that if that were the question the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, was suggesting, I would not be supporting him.
I think the Minister should look at this, go back to the Electoral Commission and make sure that it really has tested the wording with Welsh speakers in Wales.
My Lords, I will first address the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. As other noble Lords have commented and as my noble friend explained clearly, with his Amendments 3 and 4 he seeks to swap round part of the referendum question from:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”,
to, “Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union or remain a member of the European Union?”. The Government accepted the advice of the Electoral Commission about the text of the question after it carried out a consultation following the publication of the Government’s Bill. The Bill was amended in another place in accord with the Electoral Commission’s recommendations at that point. I understand my noble friend’s point. He wants to see whether there is a level playing field. Is it fairer to have the phrases in the Bill in the order he prefers? I note in passing that he has not tabled corresponding amendments to the Welsh version of the question, but we will come to Welsh in a moment.
The Electoral Commission carried out extensive analysis of the referendum question before recommending the formulation that currently appears in the Bill. Its briefing makes the point that it is concerned about my noble friend’s amendments and reminds the House that its research found that starting questions with “leave” was less intuitive and more leading than starting with “remain”. In other words, it argues that if we were to accept my noble friend’s amendments and change the order, we would be unsettling a level playing field and drawing more attention to saying that people should vote to leave. In that circumstance, I am not minded to accept my noble friend’s amendment but I appreciate the way in which he has brought it forward to give us the opportunity to consider the question itself.
Amendments 5 and 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, also refer to the question but look at the way in which it has been provided in Welsh. I am grateful to the noble Lord for making the point that Amendments 5 and 6 are probing amendments. They would change the wording of the Welsh language that would appear on the ballot papers in Wales. As with the English language question, the wording was recommended by the Electoral Commission following a period of research over the summer. I will say one or two words about that research and our response to it because the matters were also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan.
The research included consulting the Welsh Language Commissioner, as well as members of the public and other bodies, including local government bodies. As the Electoral Commission noted, its research explicitly considered the words that appear in the noble Lord’s amendment. The participants whom it contacted and researched deeply preferred the formulation in the Bill to that proposed by the noble Lord. I certainly do not have knowledge of Welsh, so I have to look at the research.
I have to say that I miss hearing Welsh spoken in the corridors here, as I did commonly when Lord Roberts of Conwy was in conversation with, I think, a former Leader of this House, Lord Cledwyn. It is a melodic and fascinating language. All I did was to teach for five years at a Welsh girls’ school but, regrettably, I did not learn Welsh during that time.
The Electoral Commission, in carrying out its research, tested Welsh versions of the questions during its fieldwork. It found that, overall, participants did not like the word “para”, which is not the word used in the noble Lord’s amendment but is close to it. It was felt that “para” sounded like other words, such as parachute or the mutated version “bara”, which is the Welsh word for bread. People said in particular that they did not like the alternatives that are specifically in the noble Lord’s amendment—that is, “barhau” or “parhau”.
Obviously I shall not chase this matter for any length of time, but has the noble Baroness considered the methodology that may have been used by the Electoral Commission? She is putting all her eggs in that basket and, if there were any question as to the methodology, the conclusions might also be suspect. I ask her only to look at this matter again between now and Report so as to be absolutely sure.
My Lords, I will certainly be happy to look at the methodology adopted by the Electoral Commission. In my early life I was a sociologist—although I hardly dare say that in front of my noble friend Lord Forsyth—and I can say that, looking through the report, the Electoral Commission has carried out research through citizens advice bureaux. The methodology it has used shows that it has taken advice not only from organisations but from individuals, and from individuals not only in one particular area but in sample areas around the country. Therefore, I respect its research, although I will of course consider the matter.
The noble Lord referred in particular to the word “aros”. I understand that most participants noted that either “aros” or—I apologise for the fact that I shall have to spell this—“ddal i fod” could be used in the referendum question. Both options were considered to work well, but in fact “aros” was felt to be more straightforward and clearer.
We would say that the Electoral Commission carried out proper research but, in the light of the noble Lord’s request, of course I will consider what he said. If I may, I will come back to him outside the Chamber so that we may talk about this before Report. I hope that that will be helpful.
The noble Lord’s Amendment 7 seeks to ensure that the English and Welsh language questions and answers are given equal prominence on the ballot paper in Wales. That has indeed been the practice on ballot papers in Wales. I have copies of a range of them, which show that the options have been arranged very carefully side by side. The noble Lord’s amendment gives me the opportunity to explain that, but the amendment itself does not perhaps give great clarity as to how a ballot paper would achieve that balance. I am very happy to share that textual information with the noble Lord if he so wishes.
Finally, I invite my noble friend Lord Hamilton to withdraw his amendment, if he is so minded. I hope that he will be, and I hope that when it comes to be called, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will choose not to move his amendment.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wigley—at least he has some commitment from my noble friend the Minister to come back to him. I did not get the impression that there was the overwhelming support from the Committee for Amendments 3 and 4 that there was for Amendment 1. Therefore, I am not looking to come back with an improved form of the amendment on Report and I am more than happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendments 4 to 7 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Entitlement to vote in the referendum
8: Clause 2, page 2, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) This section is to be read as if references to the age of 18 in sections 1(1)(d) and 2(1)(d) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 were references to the age of 16.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 8 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Wallace and myself, I make it clear that the other amendments in this group are all heading in the same direction; we have just taken slightly different routes to the same end, and I am sure that other noble Lords will speak to their amendments shortly. In that context, I know that your Lordships will be terribly disappointed that I am not going to repeat my Second Reading speech. Instead, I want to refer to some of the other contributions made in that debate.
I think that there is now a general view in your Lordships’ House that we should move to the inclusion of 16 and 17 year-olds in the question of the future of our country in the European Union. I think we can take it as read that my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches have supported this view consistently for many years in other contexts, and indeed in relation to the referendum, so I shall not repeat in detail the contributions to the Second Reading debate of my noble friends Lady Smith of Newnham and Lord Teverson, nor indeed that of my noble friend Lord Shipley. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, will forgive me if I do not repeat exactly what she said. Again, she was strongly in favour, but I think it is well known that the Labour Party has now also come round to the view that this would be an appropriate extension of the franchise.
However, I do want to refer to some very notable contributions during the Second Reading debate. The first was from the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who I think was in his place a few minutes ago but is not now. He said:
“Like others, I think that there is a strong case for extending the franchise, as in the Scottish referendum, to 16 and 17 year-olds. The purity of the general election franchise has already been breached to allow Peers and citizens of Gibraltar to vote. It would surely be right to allow the generation who will be so greatly affected by the outcome of the referendum to take part in it”.—[Official Report, 13/10/15; col. 102.]
Wise words, my Lords. However, I was even more struck by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, whom I am delighted to see in his place. He said:
“The other point that I want to make refers to the 16 and 17 year-olds. We have a very interesting example before us in Scotland. My impression is that it worked well. I do not agree with those who say that if there is to be a change in the voting age, it should be introduced for general elections rather than for referendums. General elections are about the next five years. This referendum is certainly for the next generation and perhaps for very much longer. It does, therefore, touch the 16 and 17 year-olds very precisely. I will listen to the arguments but I incline very much at the moment to support those who would extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds”.—[Official Report, 13/10/15; col. 113.]
That point was very eloquently argued just now—although perhaps he did not mean it to be—by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who said that the most important decision for the next 40 years is the decision on our future in Europe. If it is for the next 40 years, I dare to suggest to your Lordships that one or two of us will not be here. Therefore, one or two of us may not have quite the same interest in that long-term view as 16 and 17 year-olds.
However, the most persuasive arguments that I have heard are from the other end of the building. They come from a number of Conservative Members of Parliament who have been very eloquent in saying that they think that on this particular decision 16 and 17 year-olds should be included in the franchise. This is what Mr Neil Carmichael said. He may not be well known to everybody but he is very well known to me because he is my local Member of Parliament. He is a Conservative but he also happens to be the chairman of the Education Select Committee, so he is very much in touch with the extent to which young people these days are well informed and well and truly mature enough to take this decision. He said:
“The closer we get to the referendum, the more we are hearing about the issue of extending votes to 16 and 17-year-olds. The strongest argument for doing so is that it is this generation which will have to live with the decision, probably for the majority of their lifetimes—and it is their opportunities that would most be affected by the vote. I believe it is absolutely right that they must have a say”.
That is what he said in the Stroud News and Journal. He has obviously been taking account of the views of his constituents, such as me. He extended that view, rather more eloquently, in City AM.
This is a one-off event and it is particularly important—
My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes his summary of the contributions on the subject made in the other place, does he recall that the honourable Member for Totnes, also a Conservative, said something to the effect that one-quarter of those born today will live to be 100. They will be here, even if some of us will not be.
I am sure that the noble Lord will be here. He has already displayed the sort of longevity that we expect in this House. Indeed, it may not be known to Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House that we currently have 14 years’ greater longevity than the average citizen in the United Kingdom, which says something about the way in which we are looked after in this place—it may also say something about the intellectual stimulus that we occasionally have in this place. However, I agree with the noble Lord; I referred to that particular Member of the other House, who spoke very eloquently on this point.
The noble Lord seems to be advancing two propositions, both of which I find puzzling. The first is that those of us in this Chamber have no concern for the future of our country after we are dead. I do not believe that that is the case at all. The second proposition is that 17 year-olds are somehow of a different generation from 18 year-olds. I do not understand that either.
My Lords, I have not actually come to my own views on this subject. I have simply been reporting the views of the noble Lord’s colleagues in both this and the other House. If, for example, he has an objection to the views of my local Member of Parliament—a Conservative: Mr Neil Carmichael—I suggest that he take it up with him. All I am trying to suggest is that it is now the common experience and approach that young people are mature, well-informed and ready to take this particular step on this particular issue. This is widely accepted in all parts of your Lordships’ House—and, I suggest, in the other House.
When we discussed this in the context of giving the Scottish Parliament the power to decide this, I warned that the Scottish Parliament would give the vote to 16 year-olds and that this would then be used as an argument for doing the same here, which is what the noble Lord has been doing. Does this not relate to the issue of the age of majority? In Scotland, 16 year-olds are not allowed to buy a pint of beer or a packet of cigarettes. Should we not look at this in the context of the appropriate age of majority and not in the context of a Bill of this kind?
I want to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. Those who are 16 are not allowed to buy cigarettes or buy a drink, but they are not being told that they will never be allowed to buy cigarettes or buy a drink. After the referendum, if we decide to leave the European Union, that is it—we would leave. They would then never have the opportunity to decide whether or not they wish to be in the European Union. It seems to me that the analogy does not work; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.
I am grateful to have that additional support from the Cross Benches.
I was about to go back very briefly to the other, very comparable, situation that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, referred to. We have to take into account the practical example of the Scottish independence referendum.
I have to confess that, until now, many of us on this side of the House—certainly those of us on the Liberal Democrat benches—have theoretically had to argue this case. We do not have to do that any longer. We know now, from the Scottish independence referendum campaign, that young people in Scotland took this issue very seriously. They were very well-informed and registered in much greater numbers than opponents ever thought that they would: 109,593 young people in this age group registered and 75% of them voted. That is more than the next cohort up, where people tend to go away from home—off to new jobs or university— and lose touch with the electoral process. Only 54% of 18 to 24 year-olds voted, and 72% of 25 to 34 year-olds voted. Young people debated the issues with great intelligence and personal integrity, ignoring vested interests. Indeed, they were rather more balanced in the outcome, as far as we can detect, than middle-aged men, who were actually taken in by some of the myths of the separatists.
Here, then, is the practical example. What is so important about this is that it demonstrates that, when young people are asked what they think about a longer-term issue of such huge importance to the country and to them, they take it very seriously. Some Members of your Lordships’ House who go on behalf of the Lord Speaker to sixth forms very often find that that age group is rather better informed, and perhaps more mature in their views, than some 60 and 70 year-olds.
Has it ever occurred to the noble Lord that old people never get younger but young people, granted reasonable luck, get older? The older they get, the more they become like old people. It is a very curious thing. He is saying that their views as young people should be counted but that those of us who are in our advanced years are silly old fools who really should not be trusted with the future of the country at all.
I have not yet proposed an age limit for voting. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will have a vote in this referendum. He does not get one in a general election any more than I do, but he will be allowed a vote in this, which is one reason that some Members of your Lordships’ House feel that there is a clear case for extending the franchise. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will vote the right way, although I have more confidence in the judgment of some 16 and 17 year-olds than I do in his.
It was not, my Lords. This issue is one on which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and his colleagues—who may have doubtful views on these matters—are just as likely to persuade young people to vote their way as I am. I just think that the judgment should be in the hands of the people who are going to be affected.
There is no concrete evidence of that—the ballot is secret. I think that there was a slight margin among 16 and 17 year-olds to vote no to independence. In the next group up, there was a slight increase.
I dare anybody in your Lordships’ House to say to the 16 and 17 year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that they are not mature or well-enough informed, do not know what they are talking about and would be influenced by the wrong people—yet that the Scots are up to it. I just do not understand how we could do that. It is critical that this bedrock, this foundation stone of our representative democracy—the franchise—should in this respect be exactly the same throughout the country. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to say a few words about my experience in the Scottish referendum, which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned. I feel so strongly about this issue that I am here tonight despite the fact that in another place—I do not mean down the corridor, but in Tynecastle Park in Edinburgh—Heart of Midlothian are playing Celtic in the quarter-finals of the Scottish league cup. If any of my colleagues here know about my passion and enthusiasm for Heart of Midlothian football club, which I had the privilege of chairing for a couple of years, they will know that it is a great sacrifice for me to be here tonight. That indicates my strength of feeling on this issue.
If I was not convinced before the Scottish referendum that 16 and 17 year-olds should have a vote, the referendum campaign convinced me. I know that my noble friend Lady Adams, who was there as well, agrees with this. I was canvassing for people to vote against independence, and the enthusiasm for participating was absolutely fantastic. To give one example, I was going round Portobello, and some sixth-form pupils from Portobello High School came out and spoke to us on the corner of the street. They were arguing the case: they knew all the arguments on both sides. Some of them supported yes and some of them supported no; they were arguing with me and they were arguing with each other. We were doing that for about half an hour, and then one of them looked at me and said, “Hey, you’re that Foulkes fellow, aren’t you?”, and I said, “Oh, well done”. They really know what is going on.
No, it would not. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, in so far as we know how they voted, the votes of the 16 and 17 year- olds were very similar to the 55:45 result among the older age groups, especially those immediately above them. Clearly, the information they received and the passion that they had did not make them all independence supporters—quite the reverse.
Let us look at general elections as well. The turnout of 18 to 24 year-olds has risen sharply in the past decade, from 38% in 2005 to 58% in 2015. Those people are participating more, and that is something that we should encourage—as well as encouraging the younger people as well.
I do not want to go on at length about this—although, as I said, I feel passionately about it. But I must add that young people understand the situation in Europe and the advantages they gain from our membership of the European Union. The ones that I have met and spoken with have a passion to ensure that we never go to war again. They have read the history books and they know—particularly this year and last year, with the centenary—about the Great War. They also know about the Second World War. They know that those wars started in Europe, and they want to make sure that peace and prosperity are secure—and they know that the European Union helps to ensure that.
Young people also move around the European Union and meet people. They meet French, German and Polish young people in a way that never happened in our time. They go interrailing, they work and they holiday throughout the European Union—and the interrelations that take place are fantastic. That helps understanding; the fact that they know what life is like in other parts of Europe helps to make sure that we shall not have conflicts in the future. More and more young people also study. People from other countries in Europe study here in Britain, and people from the United Kingdom study in Europe. One of the great European Union programmes is Erasmus, which has provided £112 million for young Britons to study abroad, broaden their horizons and improve their skill sets in a fantastic way.
Finally, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who raised the idea that 16 and 17 year-olds cannot buy a pint of beer in the pub, and mentioned some other things for which people have to wait until they are 18. But at the age of 16 people can work, they can pay taxes, they can join the Armed Forces, and they can marry. Those are far more responsible things than just drinking a pint of beer. There is every reason why we should make this change—and I hope we shall do it enthusiastically on all sides of the House.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 9 and 20, in my name, which are linked to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and are aimed at achieving the same objective. We have all seen a number of different proposals for doing that, but there seems to be a broad-based feeling that, for this purpose, the vote should be extended to 16 and 17 year-olds throughout the United Kingdom.
Many of the arguments have been ably put by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on the basis of his experience of the Scottish referendum. I too campaigned in the Scottish referendum—although I am sorry to say that we were not on the same side, and that I probably campaigned less successfully than he did. One thing that we could all see, whichever side we supported, was the enthusiasm that was there and the willingness to engage. I am sure that a lot of young people will take what they got from that referendum campaign with them through the rest of their lives. I very much hope that the lessons from Scotland will be borne in mind, and that even if we do not come to a conclusion on this matter tonight at Committee stage, they will be borne in mind on Report.
Another factor that has not been mentioned is the way in which the interest and enthusiasm of 16 and 17 year-olds, and other young people, can affect older people. Older people find that they have to engage with arguments that perhaps they have not previously thought through themselves. Some may be led to follow the line taken by 16 and 17 year-olds and some may not. Certainly in Scotland many families were divided—and not necessarily on an age basis. I accept that we cannot say which way young people’s votes went, but my goodness, they made a difference to the process of holding a referendum, and the longer-term benefits were that people would be more active citizens as a result of their experience, whatever the outcome of the referendum might be.
I remind noble Lords that for a possible referendum in Wales on tax-varying powers—I believe that my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas could confirm this—powers have already been passed over to the National Assembly by Westminster, so that any such referendum that may take place could be open for 16 and 17 year- olds to participate in. So the principle is being extended for the purpose of referenda. If it is valid in the context of a referendum on tax-varying powers, how much more so is it when such far-reaching decisions are being taken in the context of the relationship with Europe?
There has been talk in Scotland among some people—I do not necessarily agree with them—that there should not be referenda too frequently. I certainly feel in the context of Europe that we should not be having referenda too frequently, and a decision taken now is likely to stay with those 16 and 17 year-olds for the rest of their lives. It is very far reaching, and whichever way it goes, it will be with them.
The other consideration is whether they are equipped to make a decision. I feel that 16 and 17 year-olds—indeed young people generally—are more likely to be equipped to take a decision on this than many older people, if we are trying to come to a conclusion on capacity to take a decision. We have heard of three factors and I want to underline and stress one of them. We have heard about tax-paying and the ability to enrol, if not directly to fight, in the Armed Forces. That is the question and it was the basic rationale behind the creation of the European Union two generations ago. There were people with a vision that never again would our continent tear itself to bits with two bloody civil wars. These young people’s future can be determined by that. More than any other argument that we will pursue from now until the referendum, there is the question of holding this continent of ours together and not fighting each other in future. That must be basic. For that purpose, if for no other, those young people should have the vote.
My Lords, earlier this year I tabled a Private Member’s Bill that came so low down the list that it is never likely to be debated. It sought to extend to European citizens the right to vote in British elections, on the basis of no taxation without representation. If people pay taxes to the British Exchequer, the fact that they hold a different passport should not preclude them from exercising a say in how their money is spent. Having tabled that Bill, I went into the electoral system that we have in great depth. I did not realise exactly how complex it is. That certainly led me to conclude that a debate on the European Union Referendum Bill is not the place to start extending the franchise.
All my life I have heard guff about young people. When I was 16 years old and I became an official in the local branch of my trade union, everybody was saying, “Isn’t it marvellous. We really need young people here”. There is a sort of idolisation of the young. Of course, we need young people but we also need mature people. I spoke in our group meeting not so long ago against the idea of throwing all noble Lords out of this House when they get to 80. I am some way short of 80 but I do not propose to support something that disfranchises people because they have reached a certain age. I know some people of 60 who are nowhere near as bright as our good and noble friend Lord Plumb. He is not here at the moment, but at the age of 90 he gave one of the best speeches I have heard in the European Parliament recently when he spoke at the Former Members’ Association.
To get back to the point, when this was proposed initially, I thought it was tabled because the “yes” side thought that more young people would vote yes than no. I am not sure that that is the case now, having looked at the evidence. I now ask, why are we extending or changing the franchise on the back of a Bill about the European Union? Why are we making these changes when we consider the difficulties that we could have in registering the said people? I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to respond to that. This is not like Scotland where there was a long lead-in to the referendum between the Act and the voting date. This referendum could take place within a very short time. For the moment, I am not convinced that the age and wisdom of a small group of people spanning just two years is worth making a fundamental change to the electoral system.
When the noble Lord is canvassing, I wonder whether he has had the experience, as I have, of knocking on a door and having a conversation with somebody who really does not know what you are talking about. They then sort of talk back at you, and when you say, “Where did you get that information?”, they say, “I read it in the Sun”. I am afraid to say that a lot of 16 and 17 year-olds who have citizenship lessons at school and who live in a world where there is information coming at them from every which way, are more able to take decisions than many people who currently have the vote.
It is not a matter of opinion when we are talking about the maturity and capacity of young people, as my noble friend said. If we look back over the span of 40 years since the last European referendum, we will see some astonishing changes. I have figures from the House of Commons Library showing that the number of young people going into further and higher education in the year I was born was just over 3% of the population. Today, all that time later beyond 1950, it is now coming up to 50%—it is 45% or around that figure. Young people today are more fit for purpose than they have ever been. They are fit for purpose on higher education, travel, literacy, computer literacy and cultural awareness, and are the best and most fit-for-purpose generation of young 16 and 17 year-olds that we have ever had.
I also thank the noble Baroness for her intervention but this is a Bill not about extending the franchise but about a European referendum. I intend to vote yes in this referendum unless some dreadful tragedy happens in the renegotiation. I am not persuaded that extending the vote is part of the purpose of this Bill. It is as simple as that. It will lead to a lot of problems. It may be within the noble Lord’s prerogative, as he appears to be responding to this amendment, so I ask him to raise with his colleagues the need for a fundamental look at the electoral system in this country.
I was recently monitoring an election in a place called Kyrgyzstan, on the border with China. It has introduced biometric testing for being on the electoral register. I learnt when I was there that Mr Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, believes that this is a way of having votes without fraud. There are all sorts of ideas out there and I believe that these amendments, which I might be prepared to support in a Bill extending the franchise, are none the less not right for this particular Bill. I ask the noble Lord to communicate to his colleagues the desirability of a look at the way in which the franchise works. It seems to me odd, and has done for a long time, that people can pay tax and not have a vote, and people can pay no tax at all, can be living in, for instance, Brussels with highly paid jobs for many years, and according to some noble Lords be completely out of touch with reality and the world, yet they can vote in a UK election.
I suggest that we need a fundamental look at the franchise. I have steered three children successfully through the gap from 16 to 18—they are now well beyond it—and they vote for a variety of parties. I look round and see that all three of the major parties represented in this House have had votes from our family in the recent past, so they are certainly capable of making up their minds. I end where I began: I do not think this Bill is the place to extend the franchise.
The noble Lord made it clear, and I would make it clear, that we are not moving a general change to the franchise. We are arguing the case for 16 and 17 year- olds to have the vote in this referendum and this referendum only. The more general case will no doubt come up at a later stage, because that seems to be the way in which public opinion is gradually moving, but that is not why these amendments have been tabled. They have been tabled for reasons that others mentioned: the outcome of this referendum will be of crucial importance to people of 16 and 17 next year and the year after.
Before I go any further, perhaps I should declare an interest. I have two grandchildren who will benefit if this were to take place, but I have not asked them how they would vote and I would not dream of doing so. The case, however, is a strong one. It has been argued here that the evidence of the Scottish example is enlightening. When the Scottish Parliament made its decision, it did so because, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said with deep regret, the Government, who are moving this Bill, held the door open for it, just as they have done in the Welsh case. We are asking the Government to hold the door open on the European referendum, and that alone, for the 16 and 17 year-olds. It would be odd if the Government, having facilitated these moves for 16 and 17 year-olds in other referendums, were to deny them the same in this one, which is likely to have more profound effects on their lives than anything that has been voted on in recent years.
I hope that we can move forward during this debate to establishing these amendments in my name, and in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and of a number of other noble Lords. This would be the right thing to do and we would not regret it. This has nothing to do with how this particular cohort would vote. The history of the 19th century is littered with governments who were interested in changing the franchise in the belief that it would help them win the next election and who were proved totally wrong. That is a mug’s game and is not what we should be talking about tonight. We should be talking about the equity of giving 16 and 17 year-olds the vote in something that will affect their lives over, in many cases, 70 or 80 years.
My Lords, I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on the Scottish experience in September last year. At a time when there are genuine concerns about voter apathy and lower voter turnout, the Scottish experience showed that you can engage and enthuse young people to believe that their vote really will make a difference. All the 16 and 17 year-olds to whom I have spoken were extremely positive about being able to vote in that referendum.
With this high turnout and higher levels of voter engagement achieved, it would be a backward step politically, not least in the Scottish context, not to include the same 16 and 17 year-olds in the referendum on the EU. If the referendum is held in the summer of next year, we could potentially face a situation in which a young Scot, who had just turned 16 in August 2014, for example, and so was able to vote in the Scottish referendum, would find themselves unable to vote on the future membership of the EU next summer. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government have given due consideration to the potential political impact, as well as the factual one, of this group of young Scots? Have they assessed the numbers involved in Scotland in this situation?
My Lords, there is no way, either empirically or by reference to theory, in which one can reach what might be an agreed doctrine on the right age at which people should begin to enter into a parliamentary franchise. We could debate the matter all night as to whether it should be 16, 17, 18 or some other age, or why it should be one particular and not another. We would never come to a definitive conclusion.
If we debated what have to be the essential qualities of a law, and especially the essential qualities of a constitutional law or rule, we would come to a definitive conclusion. By definition a constitutional law or rule must have a very wide degree of support. It must have legitimacy. That is the essence of an effective constitution. You cannot have legitimacy if you have a law that is contradictory and incoherent. At present we have a law or set of rules that are utterly incoherent.
It is not possible to find a respectable argument to say to a young Scot, in exactly the sort of case cited in the noble Baroness’s intervention a moment ago, that they had the right to vote in the Scottish referendum on independence and the break-up of the United Kingdom but no right to vote in the referendum on the future of our membership of the European Union. I have yet to hear a respectable argument that could be delivered to such a young person. If somebody on either side of the House has one I would be delighted to give way immediately so that we could hear what that respectable argument is. I simply do not think that it exists.
It is also not a respectable argument to say to a young English person, “The Scots were able to vote in an important referendum but you are not capable of exercising the same degree of choice as a Scottish person of the same age”. That would be a hideous thing to say to anybody. Of course this applies equally in Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, gave us a good example. Young people in Wales are now being told that they have a right to vote on whether the Welsh Government should have tax-raising powers, but not on whether Wales and the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union. On what possible basis can one make that distinction? What possible respectable argument could one use in saying that to such a young person, who would quite rightly be challenging that kind of judgment?
At the moment we have complete incoherence, which we should not have because it is deeply damaging to the legitimacy of our constitution. The logic of what I am saying means that we should also change the voting age for Westminster general elections. One thing that we absolutely should not do is keep the present franchise for the referendum on the European Union, cutting out 16 to 18 year-olds throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland, and then a year or two later change the voting age for Westminster elections. In other words, we should not deliberately close the door on a referendum that, as had rightly been said, affects people for the next 40 or 50 years—this will not affect us in the House in this time, but it will affect those young people—and then say that these people can vote now in Westminster elections after all: we have waited a couple of years but have cut you out of the referendum, which is even more strategically important for the country. That would be an indefensible thing to do.
I will have a go at a respectable argument. Is the answer to the noble Lord’s point about the mess that we are in that we should not proceed with constitutional or franchise reform on a piecemeal basis?
On the point about the difference between a 16 year-old north of the border and south of it, I am sure that the noble Lord has been to a place called Gretna Green. That exists because 16 year-olds south of the border are not allowed to marry without parental consent, whereas in Scotland that consent is not needed. There is a precedent. It is not a particularly good one, but it illustrates what happens when you do not look at the age of majority in a coherent, cross-border manner.
Not for the first time in these European debates, the noble Lord and I, although associated with very different camps, agree on something. We agree on the word “coherence”—a word that the noble Lord used and which I used myself. I totally agree with what he said. One should not legislate in a piecemeal fashion, particularly for constitutional legislation. One should look at the whole. That is precisely why my party proposes a constitutional convention to ensure that we do not go in for piecemeal legislation on the constitution. That is another debate for another day.
I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that it was his Government who let the genie out of the bottle precisely by enabling Scotland to give 16 and 17 year-olds the vote. I am delighted, but once the genie is out of the bottle I am afraid that you cannot put it back in.
I fear that that is the case. The noble Lord and I agree on coherence. The only way to restore coherence now is by the way I have just suggested. The pragmatics—the actual experience of this—are that 16 and 17 year-olds make very mature choices. That has been the lesson of the Scottish referendum. Giving them the vote has encouraged and increased participation rates, and increased intellectual interest in politics and in public life in general among young people. All those things are very desirable. The pragmatics support the theory.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. It was not our Government who let the genie out of the bottle, but the Scottish nationalists in Scotland. It was this House and the other House that gave the Scottish nationalist Government the power to make piecemeal changes to the franchise. I warned against it at the time. I warned that we would end up with people making piecemeal changes to the franchise, which should be looked at in the context of the overall age of majority.
I am not sure that I do agree with the noble Lord. We agree that it is a mess but the way to sort it out is to look at it across the board on the basis of the age of majority, not to add to the mess by making yet one more piecemeal change regarding voting in this particular referendum. I was responding to his point on what you say to a 16 year-old about how the law is different on different sides of the border. Gretna Green is a long-standing example.
I had not quite finished my remarks. I will do the noble Lord the courtesy of replying to his intervention. We both agree on the need for coherence. I totally agree that we do not want to make another piecemeal change, which is why I suggest that we make a universal change. In my view the Government should take the opportunity to say that they will legislate as soon as possible and bring forward legislation that will enable us to reduce the age of the franchise for Westminster elections—indeed, for all elections in this country.
My Lords, I oppose these amendments. I appreciate the Government’s position that they had to select an electoral register that would be appropriate for this referendum. No one register is perfect. Clearly the one used for the EU elections is not appropriate, nor is the one for local government elections. Therefore, I accept that the one used for the last general election is probably as good as any because it is based on the age of majority.
I believe that, whatever amendments we make, we should stick with the age of 18. We have to pick an age somewhere and there is nothing magical about reducing it to 16. One of the arguments advanced is that this referendum will affect that generation for 40 years. If it affects 16 and 17 year-olds for the next 40 or 50 years, then it affects 15 year-olds, 14 year-olds and 13 year-olds, many of whom are equally switched on and with it and know what is going on. Yet there is no suggestion that it should go down to that age. If the argument is based on the referendum affecting millions of young people, there is no logical reason to stick at the age of 16.
The other argument used is Scotland. The argument that we have heard tonight is that there are so many enthusiastic young Scots. Scotland is recommended because it made young people enthusiastic for voting and for change and that we should therefore follow the Scottish example. I profoundly disagree. Just because Scotland did it does not make it wise or right. When I was aged 16 in Scotland in 1969 I was heavily involved in politics. I was enthusiastic, keen and reasonably well informed. I had absolute certainty, not just on how this country should be run. I even had suggestions on how Chairman Mao should amend some of his little red book. I knew what Mr Brezhnev should do to make the Soviet Union better. I had a wide range of enthusiastic views, but thank goodness I was not in a position then for the Government to be inflicted with my vote or for my childish enthusiasms to be put into law or enacted.
There are very few areas where we treat 16 as the age of majority. That is quite telling. Indeed, we treat 16 and 17 year-olds as children with no real say of their own in a large number of areas. What are those areas? Sixteen year-olds can get married, but only with their parents’ consent, although Scotland is different. While 16 year-olds can marry, they cannot buy a kitchen knife until they are aged 18. I know that for a fact because I was the Minister who put that law through, for some reason or another. Sixteen year-olds can join the Army, but only with their parents’ consent. They cannot go into combat until they are aged 18.
So what can they not do until they aged 18? They cannot buy tobacco or alcohol. They cannot gamble. They are too young to be sentenced to a young offender institution because the law regards them as children. They cannot legally watch a film with an 18 classification. That is a telling point. If our law considers them too young to watch a violent or pornographic film, how can we say that they are capable of making a decision on major political issues? They cannot serve on a jury. If they are regarded as incapable of exercising judgment there, why are they able to exercise judgment on national political matters?
I did not make that speech. I was in no position to make it. I cannot recall what my views were. I was not a Member of Parliament then and I certainly was not in this place. My point of view now is based on what the law currently is for the age of majority and why Governments and both Houses of Parliament have accepted 18 and granted all these rights to people only when they reach the age of 18.
Let me briefly conclude on this point. Until you are aged 18 you cannot open a bank account in your own name. You cannot even get a tattoo, buy fireworks or make a will. You cannot even carry an organ donor card or use a sunbed for tanning. You cannot stand as a Member of Parliament until you are aged 18. If we lower the voting age to 16 are we then going to allow people to stand as a Member of Parliament when they are 16? There are a range of other examples but I will not bore the House with them.
I was born in Scotland and I was brought up in a Scottish Conservative household. When I was 16 I thought that the election result, when a Labour Government was returned after 13 years of what is now known as Tory misrule, was the end of the world. I had been taught to believe that. Two years later I was canvassing for Labour in the election.
What changed me was that at the age of 16 I could get pregnant. At that time I could not get birth control in this country at that age. During that period, when I was aged 16 or 17, the first Brook Advisory Centre opened in Edinburgh. I could then go on the pill. Quite frankly, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. The knowledge that I could not get proper support for being sexually active—I had had a good Scottish diet and was very precocious for my age—was what politicised me. I have no qualms about announcing that here tonight. It is a real insult to people aged 16 and 17 to believe that, when they are in a position where they make crucial decisions about their own future, they cannot make a crucial decision about the future of this country in Europe.
There is a lot of detail there and it is a route that I dare not step down. Whatever language or terminology I try carefully to choose, I will inevitably offend someone somewhere. That is not a risk I wish to take. I simply say that the fact that one can get the pill at the age of 16—rightly so—is no justification for saying one should therefore have the right to vote.
I concluded with a list of all the things that Parliament has decided that people can do only when they are aged 18. Some sound so trivial, but if that is what Parliament decides, it is perfectly legitimate to say that the age of majority is fixed at 18 and that we should not lower it for the purposes of this referendum.
Just because young Scottish people aged 16 and 17 were enthusiastic, it is irrelevant to deciding on this matter. Politically, we know why the SNP Government lowered the age. It is because their private polling suggested that 16 and 17 year-olds would be twice as likely to vote for independence as for staying in the union. You can bet your bottom dollar—or your pound Scots—that if their private polling had been the other way around, the Scottish Government would not have lowered the voting age to 16. They would have kept it.
If these amendments are passed, accepted by the other place and become law, we will have 16 and 17 year-old Commonwealth and Irish citizens also being granted the right to vote, because they are included on the register. If some noble Lords’ amendments to include European citizens were passed as well, we would have 16 and 17 year-old children from European countries also being allowed to vote. If we get a close result with that scenario, I think a lot of British people would be outraged that a majority of 200,000 to 300,000, either way, had swung the vote, because of the inclusion of 16 and 17 year-old European, Commonwealth and Irish citizens. That is a rather dangerous route to go down. However, we may be able to talk about that later.
I oppose these amendments because the age of majority is 18. It should stick at that but if we want to change it we should do it in a general Bill relating to the franchise. We should then take a close look at all the other things that these 16 and 17 year-old children cannot do, because, if we lower the age of majority to 16, we should change the law on a whole range of things from buying knives to buying a pint.
My Lords, I feel passionately about this issue. I have been wondering why that is the case, especially as so many people that I respect hold exactly the opposite position to myself. Principally, it is because I have often seen, over many years, young people in care being allowed to make decisions that are not age-appropriate. A local authority will, quite commonly, offer a 16 year-old in care a flat of their own and a sum of money or the choice to stay with their foster carer. Many choose to take the flat and the pot of money. We are told that in many cases, drug dealers befriend and move in with them, or they cannot manage to meet the rent and they lose the flat. I spoke to a foster carer who said that her foster daughter was doing so well in school before a local authority offered her a flat of her own; now she is doing very badly in school and the carer does not know how she is doing in her flat. One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this amendment is that I am concerned about whether this is an age-appropriate decision—although clearly children are not going to harm themselves, in the way that children in care apparently can often be harmed by being giving decisions too early, in this particular case.
I listened with great interest to my noble friend. I have sympathy for his concern that this is a very long-term decision that we are coming to as a nation, which will affect the young people in question particularly. But I am afraid I disagree with him; I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, differently. I respect the great depth of knowledge and the effort that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has put into this issue; I have heard him speak about it on many occasions. My sense, is that for him, at least, this is part of a project—not just an issue for this particular referendum Bill but more generally—to lower the franchise. I feel really concerned about that, although there are many people I respect who think it is the right thing to do. Some child development experts would agree with them, while others would be concerned.
There is concern about the impressibility of 16 and 17 year-olds. Some of your Lordships may remember the film “All Quiet on the Western Front”. It begins in a schoolroom, with a teacher talking to young people and enthusing them with notions of the greatness of their country and the importance of fighting for it. It then follows their careers in the Army. Your Lordships may remember that in the Chinese Great Leap Forward young people were targeted and used as the force for taking that forward. Your Lordships may also remember how effective, in the 1930s, some nations were at manipulating their youth to do things none of us would agree with.
There has been concern about growing nationalism across Europe and there are increasing pressures. Thankfully—and tribute should be paid to the Government and the coalition Government before them—we have avoided the serious unemployment which is a large contributory factor to this. But at some future date we may not be so fortunate. It concerns me that we are painting a target on the back of our young people by giving them the vote at the ages of 16 and 17. There are people who are very good at using the internet to manipulate people, and 16 and 17 year-olds, as we know, have been vulnerable to this in various ways.
I am also concerned about the wider ramifications for children around the country. Noble Lords have spoken from experience, which I cannot yet do, about their own children. Of course, many children will not have had the support that I hope your Lordships will have had—I hope I am not speaking out of turn. I am thinking particularly about the work the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, took forward recently during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. The noble Lord listened to the concerns of parents of 17 year-olds who had been held in custody in police cells. They were sometimes held over the weekend for two nights and, regrettably, a number of those young people had taken their own lives after that experience. The noble Lord listened to those concerns and acted promptly to change the law. I was pleased to learn, recently, that it had changed and that 17 year-olds in custody will be treated as children.
The last time that we debated this matter, Barnardo’s produced a briefing in which it sought to change the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. In that Act, the age of majority is 16 and Barnardo’s wanted to see it raised to 17. In aid of his approach, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, put forward the argument that if you are old enough to marry and join the Army at 16, you should be able to vote. Others may say that if you are old enough to vote at the age of 16, you do not need to be treated as a child and can be put in a police cell at the age of 17. If you are old enough to vote at 16, maybe it is not so outrageous to have an age of criminal responsibility of 10—the lowest in Europe: I think the average age is 14. I am concerned from that angle.
I conclude with my concern about child development issues. These children are in the middle of adolescence, which is a very interesting period. I do not want to be too technical and maybe this will be quite obvious to most of your Lordships. Young children are very attached to their parents and to their siblings. In adolescence, they make a move from that attachment to an attachment to their peers and eventually to a romantic partner of their own. That is a huge change, which will play out in many different ways. Partly, they will react against their parents. Quite often they will take polar opposite views and values to their parents—for some time, at least. I can think of that in my own family history. My father grew up in a landowning family; he was an aristocrat. When he went to private school, he became the school’s only socialist, reacting very strongly against the ideals of his parents. He moderated over time.
We are not talking about young people voting Labour or not, but I worry that if we set this precedent it will be used on other occasions. Young people may be more likely to vote for Labour or the Liberal Democrats—parents tend to be more conservative, so their children may be reacting.
Forgive me, my Lords, I did not understand the last point that the noble Earl made about Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour. The noble Earl makes a very powerful speech, with which I disagree. Will he accept that there are many older vulnerable people who are just as open to persuasion from external forces as young people? The noble Earl will, like many of us, go into schools—with whatever scheme—and find young people who are absolutely able to withstand pressure and who are not vulnerable in that way. I would be grateful if he would explain the point about Conservatives and Labour because this has absolutely nothing to do with party politics. This is about empowering young people however they wish to vote. It is not about being in or out but giving them the ability to vote and determine their future.
I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. I will make two responses, if I may. Yes, there are vulnerable elderly and middle-aged people—all kinds of vulnerability across different ages—but we recognise that childhood is a particularly vulnerable period and we have various protections for childhood to allow children to mature. Unfortunately, some do not mature. Some come from families with alcoholic or drug-taking backgrounds and it is difficult for them to move on and mature properly. But our starting point is that we should be protective of children.
To answer the noble Baroness’s question in another way, I was advised that prior to the last general election a caricature was sent out on the internet of the then leader of the Opposition. It was very powerful and it affected a lot of young people because it ridiculed the leader of the Opposition. I was told this by a mother. I can see how well that would work. That might have been sent to a load of 25 year-olds, but I suspect that a number of 25 year-olds might not be so impressed by a caricature of the leader of the Opposition as a 16 year-old might be.
I have probably spoken long enough. I see that there are very strong arguments on the other side. I have a lot of sympathy with hearing the voice of young people and involving them as much as possible, but I have concerns—
The noble Earl has made some very moving points about various aspects of the vulnerability of young people, but does he not accept that the matter we are debating now, which is whether or not they should have a vote in one referendum between now and the end of 2017, does not really link up with all those issues of contagion that he has referred to in other contexts? I understand perfectly well why it might be wrong to put 16 year-olds into flats of their own and give them a lot of money. Fortunately, it is a criminal offence to give somebody money to vote, so that will not happen. Perhaps he might consider whether the parallels apply across the whole board that he has sketched in with such passion.
I thank my noble friend for his intervention. I regret that I was not able to speak at Second Reading—what I have said is probably more of a Second Reading speech—but I have been involved in a lot of other business in the House.
My understanding is that the noble Lord is very clear in his mind that his intention with this amendment is to change the franchise specifically for this particular occasion. But I regret to say, and I have followed this debate about lowering the franchise several times, that my sense is that there is a large body of Members of your Lordships’ House who wish to expand the franchise much more widely and see this occasion as an important opportunity to proceed with that. One has heard many references this afternoon to the Scottish referendum as a justification for acting in this way. I think I have spoken long enough. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, a considerable amount of thunder has been generated by a debate which is actually quite subtle. There are no blacks and whites in this but a kaleidoscope of colours, and that is entirely appropriate when we are talking about young people who are just starting their adult lives.
My first political experience was as a 12 year-old when I was knocking up on election day and I had a bucket of water thrown over me. That was certainly an immersion in the political process, but I am not sure it gave me a right to vote at the age of 12. I have listened very carefully to this impassioned debate. I always listen very carefully to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I usually agree with him. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made a passionate speech about why we should not give 16 year-olds the vote. My noble friend—I am not sure if he is here—Lord Borwick, of Hawkshead, made a passionate speech at Second Reading against giving votes to 16 year-olds. I have just listened to a very powerful speech by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the matter, but I assure him that I do not believe that this is a matter of party politics. It is a matter of judgment which crosses all parties.
Like so many others, when I was campaigning up in Scotland, I was very impressed with the response and the seriousness of young Scottish voters. We older voters might actually learn a great deal from their example and their engagement. I am bothered by the fact that, although the coalition Government and the Prime Minister did not specifically approve votes for 16 year-olds, they did acquiesce in votes for 16 year- olds. So the question I am struggling with is: how can it be right to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in a referendum on Scotland but not in a referendum on Europe? There has to be some sort of consistency. Perish the thought, but I actually find myself agreeing with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, was saying earlier—I hope he will forgive me for that.
It is a matter of balance. When I think about it and when I see those who have been supporting votes for 16 and 17 year-olds, I may not lose only my balance but shall probably lose my sense of sanity as well—climbing into bed with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes; it will have to be a very stout bed-frame to take both of us. I have no idea which way 16 and 17 year-olds might vote. Will they look up to that European ideal that impressed so many of us when we were younger, or will they simply do what so many other young voters in Europe have done and stick two fingers up at the establishment? I suspect that the establishment will be piling in to say, “You must vote to remain”. I do not know, but it does not matter. It comes down to a question of balance and judgment.
Is it not an argument about maturity, not about how people will vote? When I was 16, I thought I was a socialist but I grew out of it. Just because the Scottish Government, for political reasons, decided to give 16 year-olds the vote, that does not mean that the argument about maturity is being addressed. Is that not the central argument?
It is certainly a central argument. I have a 20 year-old who is a devout Corbynista. I would love to take the vote from him, but I do not have the right to do so, even though I think that his judgment on politics—as well as choice of football club—may be rather flawed. If one takes a totally logical approach, as the noble Baroness was saying earlier, there are many elderly people who are perhaps not as capable and as competent as they might be in exercising their judgment. We have to look for a balance. I cannot see how we can face 16 and 17 year-old voters and say yes in Scotland and no as far as Europe is concerned. Although I shall end up with some very strange bedfellows on this one, I urge my noble friend to take a very close look at this issue again and see whether the Government cannot make progress on it.
My Lords, when the whole question about the voting age came up and the suggestion was made that it should be reduced to 16, I had considerable doubts about it, for the sorts of reasons that have been advanced by a number of people, in quite reasonable speeches, who are opposed to the change.
However, the fact is that there have been a number of inquiries into this and most also turned out to be very doubtful. First, there was the 2004 commission which qualified its recommendation that the voting age should remain at 18 by saying:
“We propose further research on the social and political awareness of those around age 18 with a view to undertaking a further review of the minimum age for electoral participation in the future”.
Then there was the Power report in 2006 which recommended that the voting age should be lowered to 16, explaining:
“Our own experience and evidence suggests that just as with the wider population, when young people are faced with a genuine opportunity to involve themselves in a meaningful process that offers them a real chance of influence, they do so with enthusiasm and with responsibility”.
It came to the opposite conclusion to what I had felt earlier, that someone of 16 might not be sufficiently informed or use their vote sufficiently responsibly at 16.
Then came the Youth Citizenship Commission of 2007 which did not recommend a reduction of the voting age. It found that there was in fact a majority in favour of lowering the age but it thought the sample was too small, saying:
“This is a relatively small and not necessarily representative sample of the population”.
So there was a diffidence about the commission’s recommendations because of a shortage of evidence. The commission went on to say:
“We have found that there is a real evidence gap”.
However, there is no longer an evidence gap. We have had experience from a very wide sample and everyone has found that people in the lower age group deserve praise for the way they approached their task. They found them very responsible and very keen to get the right information. The general feeling was that this lowering of the voting age had been an enormous success. I think that the Scottish referendum has completely altered the situation because this gap in the evidence which the previous commission spoke about has been filled.
There is one other consideration which we should take into account. One of the serious consequences of a vote for Brexit in the referendum is that it will almost automatically lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. If Scotland votes for staying and England votes for leaving, I cannot see that there will not be another referendum. One has to consider Scottish reactions very carefully. If I was a young person in Scotland—that would have been some time ago—I would be furious if I was allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum but not in the referendum which is of even greater importance if it involves the whole of one’s future. The same position may obtain in Wales because Wales may well decide as well to lower the voting age. If one really wants to keep the United Kingdom together I do not think one wants to confront young Scottish voters and others in Scotland who will be equally adverse to it. That only increases the chance of the break-up of the United Kingdom. The evidence is now plain that young people act responsibly and that they care about the information; the evidence should suggest that there must be a change in the law.
My Lords, I am not in favour of these amendments and I think it would be very naïve to suppose that if we accept them we will avoid a slippery slope as far as the age of consent is concerned, along with the many other issues that have been raised. If that kind of change is to be made, rather than being pushed into it by the precedent of what happened in Scotland it is very important we should have an overall view of the whole issue in a Bill which is publicised and which allows the public to express their view on all these issues. The Government are right to say they will use—with very minor exceptions—the same franchise as was used in the very recent local election.
Many noble Lords have been over this course before. I remember very well when I was in the House of the Commons that the issue of lowering the voting age came up. I said to my secretary that if I got a single letter—at that time I had an enormous mailbag—from someone in the lower age group saying they would like the vote, then I would vote for it, but if I did not get such a letter I would vote against it. I did not get such a letter. In this day and age we are not inundated to the same extent with mailbags. Instead we are inundated with emails. I wonder how many Members have had an email from someone in the age group which the proposal would enfranchise saying that they would really like the vote. I have not had one. I have had enormous numbers of emails but not one like that. That is because this issue has not been publicised. This has become an internal view of the House of Lords and we are not taking other arguments sufficiently into account.
One can run all the traditional arguments about slippery slopes, the thin end of the wedge and that the line must be drawn somewhere. I am not quite clear why these amendments draw the line where they do because it is not a change of one year but of two. No one has suggested why that should be so. On the argument about how long people will live after they vote in the referendum, you could make a very good argument for 11 year-olds. I happen to have an 11 year- old grandson who is highly sophisticated and has had his own website since the age of seven where he advertises the products of the farm on which he lives. It is a rather unusual website as it says at the end, “This website has been created with no harm to animals”.
In addition to that, because he takes an interest in political affairs, he has sent me long emails asking why the Government do not have an app which could be accessed by refugees—because many of them have phones and are on the web—offering immediate communication between the refugees and the Government. He is in favour of such a change. This is at the age of 11 so I am not sure why we are justifying it at 16. My own feeling is that however bright particular people may be, there are big differences between them. They are undergoing their education and in many cases they will not have completed it by the age of 16.
Overall, I do not think we should go along with the precedent created in Scotland. As far as I am aware, there was nothing in any manifesto which said we must change the age of consent generally—noble Lords will correct me if I am wrong—so if we are going to go along that route we must take into account all the points made from the Front Bench. We really ought not to go along with making a change of this kind in legislation which does not cover all the broader arguments.
My Lords, I echo the views of my noble friend Lord Higgins. I argue against these amendments on the grounds that this is not the proper place or time to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year- olds. Just because, in my view, a mistake was made in Scotland, that does not justify making a second mistake. Two wrongs do not make a right.
You could also argue that, if you think that 16 and 17 year-olds do not have the political maturity to make decisions for the next five years, how much less should we trust them to have a voice in decisions that are going to have an effect for a very much longer period than that? I do not think you should make a distinction on the grounds that someone is going to live much longer and this is going to affect them for much longer. If you have political maturity sufficient to elect your Member of Parliament, you probably have the same political maturity to vote in a referendum.
Another point that has not yet been made is this. I wonder what the result would be if you asked a cross-section of 18 to 25 year-olds whether they thought that 16 and 17 year-olds should be given the vote.
I wonder whether the noble Viscount is aware of or takes part in the admirable Peers in Schools scheme that the Lord Speaker has instituted, where Peers go out and talk to young people about the nature of your Lordships’ House. Those of us who are active in that scheme meet a wide cross-section of young people—and please let us call them young people, not children; it is very demeaning to call 16 and 17 year-olds children, even though legally they may be so. When you go into classrooms of 16 and 17 year-olds, the degree of maturity, thoughtfulness and balance evinced by those young people is fascinating. They frighten the living daylights out of me with their level of maturity. If the noble Viscount has not had that experience of meeting those very mature young people, I wonder whether he might sign up to the Lord Speaker’s scheme instantly.
I accept the noble Baroness’s point of view. I understand, and agree with her, that young people today show a much greater level of maturity than they did a decade or two ago. This is a gradual process, which I welcome, and it is right that from time to time we should consider what the age of majority should be. But we should consider it in the round, as it affects the age at which young people should be regarded as full citizens. I also agree with the noble Baroness that it is demeaning to refer to 16 and 17 year-olds as children, so I am with her on very much, but this is not the right time to make a piecemeal change.
I would add a footnote to the important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken. Perhaps the Scots are getting more than their fair crack of the whip in this debate, so I will be brief. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was right to say that it was the SNP which gave the Scottish 16 and 17 year-olds the vote in the independence referendum. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was also right, as was the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the door was opened for them by the previous Government. But the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is correct: the 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland all know that it was Edinburgh which gave them the vote. If the next thing they hear is that London will not give them the vote in the next referendum, it is an amazingly strong court-card to hand to the SNP.
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene at this stage, but I hear people saying that we should not make piecemeal changes. The Committee should read Clause 2, to which we are debating an amendment, because it makes piecemeal changes. There are several lines which refer to allowing Peers to vote in this referendum—800 of us. A number of further lines then spend a lot of time on Gibraltar— all 22,000 of them—and then the Irish and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar. I have been unable to discover how many there are of those, but I think there are probably around 100. These are piecemeal changes.
The problem was raised by a number of people at Second Reading that this referendum will be an exceptional vote. There is therefore a case for looking exceptionally at who should vote, whether it is in this set of amendments or in the following three groups, which we will be discussing later on tonight. The question is really: for this very important vote, which will affect the future of this country for the next 40 years, what are the appropriate changes that we wish to make in the electoral system? Clause 2 as it stands offers a number of changes. The question is what other changes we might wish to make for this vote.
My Lords, I hate to say this, but noble Lords opposite have challenged my thinking on the Bill, as a general issue, but I agree that piecemeal reform in this area is not desirable. I share the noble Earl’s anxieties. Noble Lords, particularly the Liberal Democrats, consistently argue that someone under 18 is a child, but when it comes to an issue of this magnitude, they suddenly then become an adult.
My Lords, I do not intend to delay the Committee for very long, but on many of the amendments that came before we have been led by the Electoral Commission. I remind my noble friend the Minister that the Electoral Commission has serious reservations about these amendments for logistical reasons. Perhaps I may read out its final paragraph:
“While the date of the referendum remains unknown, it will be difficult for EROs, the Electoral Commission and campaigners to plan activities required to target and encourage any newly enfranchised electors to register to vote”.
It has made quite a serious comment and I would very much welcome my noble friend’s views on it.
My Lords, I would like briefly to correct something I said earlier to the Committee. I think I implied that a party might see some political gain in these changes. That was quite incorrect and I am glad that the Committee pulled me up on it. I am sorry.
My Lords, perhaps I might respond to the point made about the position in Scotland. I am really very surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, advancing a naked party-political reason for operating in this way on a matter such as the franchise. He basically said that it would be in the interests of unionists to alter the franchise in a way which may or may not be desirable, and which has not been considered in the round, because otherwise the SNP would be able to make political capital. That is not a reason for doing so.
Whether this is about 18 year-olds or 16 year-olds voting, I do not think that they would vote on whether or not we should remain in the European Union because their younger brothers or sisters were not given the vote. They are probably mature enough to reach a different view. I would also point out that the SNP did not win 95% of the seats and 50% of the vote in Scotland because of the concern amongst youngsters that they did not get the vote in the general election but had it in the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is normally absolutely as sharp as a tack, but perhaps getting involved in this rough trade of politics is tainting him in a way which I would never have thought possible.
I am disappointed to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is shocked and disappointed. I merely made the point, which I will repeat in case it was not fully understood, that if this amendment is not accepted the perception in Scotland will be that, while Edinburgh gives the 16 and 17 year- olds the vote, London does not. It seems to me that that perception would be correct and could be damaging. When I say damaging, I confess that I am a unionist. I do not think that I am making a party-political point but I am a unionist, as is the noble Lord, and I hope that we can agree on something.
My Lords, this has been a long debate and a fascinating discussion. It has been interesting to see that people on all sides of the Chamber have taken such an interest in this subject.
Last week, I went to see the film “Suffragette”, which was a stark reminder of how those women had to take on some of the kind of arguments that we have heard tonight. It is worth noting that, along with the fact that many of us have been very disappointed that young people’s participation in the general election, which has been low in the past, is declining. There are two questions we need to ask: is it a good idea and is it a good idea to do it in this Bill?
The first issue is clear now. We have evidence not just from Scotland but also, according to the Electoral Reform Society, from Austria and Norway that indicates that 16 to 17 year-olds are more likely to vote than 18 to 24 year-olds and if you get them into the habit early they are more likely to continue to vote. Of course, there is not just one reason why young people decide to vote or decide not to vote but what we have here is the first generation of young people who have had citizenship classes, so we have been teaching them about this and suddenly we say, “No, not yet”. It is true that there are some in those citizenship classes who may be vulnerable and may not have been paying attention, but those are likely to be the minority. We need to look at the majority of the people who are going to be affected. About 1.5 million people could, if this went through, be eligible to vote and I am sure that they are watching very closely because they are the future voters in this country.
Researchers at LSE suggested that 16 and 17 year-olds are more likely to live with their family or be at school, which are major influences on the discovery of a person’s citizenship. That is one of the reasons why they think it is a good idea to start earlier. Once young people leave home, they are less likely to be registered in the place where they have found their new home. But the main reason the researchers give is that most people say that they stay away from electoral participation because they feel that political parties do not speak up for them. David Willetts drew attention at the weekend to the widening gap between relatively well-off pensioners and the young and the potentially devastating consequences that could have on the social contract that exists between the generations. Let us speak plainly; it makes more sense at the moment for political parties to address elderly voters rather than young voters as elderly voters are more likely to vote and make up a much larger share of the actual electorate. Those researchers at LSE are suggesting that we need to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in order to expand that pool and to address the issues of young people.
Sixteen year-olds today live in a technical and digital world and understand the impact of globalisation on their lives. They know that they are going to be competing for jobs with people from across the planet. They understand that the company they will work for is as likely to be headquartered on the other side of the world as in their own community, and they understand the immense benefits which come with globalisation. They are exposed to different cultures from around the world. They know they can buy goods at the click of a mouse from any other country in the world. They are also aware of climate change and the need for global rules for markets. Whether they think on balance that the UK’s relationship with the EU is a good thing or a bad thing is a valid point and it is important that they have an opinion on this and an opportunity to express it. As has been said countless times, they are the people who are going to have to deal longest with the consequences of this decision.
There is the question of whether this is the right place for us to be considering this. There is a huge degree of inconsistency, as we have heard, and a piecemeal approach to the franchise system. It was the Government who opened this door. They knew very well when they gave that power to the Scottish nationalists in that referendum how they were going to use it. They opened the door also for the Welsh Assembly to do the same in Wales. We are brilliant at this piecemeal approach in the UK on all kinds of levels. This is just another example but it is an exceptional situation. As we have heard countless times, this is a situation which comes round once in a generation and 16 and 17 year- olds are part of that generation. In terms of consistency, when should they be allowed to vote? Are they allowed to have a cigarette? Are they allowed to have sex? Are they allowed to watch a porn movie? The whole thing is a dog’s breakfast. We know that and we cannot address all those issues in this Bill. Of course we need to be looking at that in a much broader context. But this is an exception; we know that this is their one opportunity in a generation.
I apologise for interrupting but something is niggling me. The noble Baroness says that the door was opened by the Government. From this Dispatch Box there were several assurances by the Government that in allowing the Scottish Government to decide they were in no way setting a precedent, and they made that absolutely clear. The door for all of this was opened by the Labour Party when it set up the Scottish Parliament and created devolution.
It was right to give the Scottish people the autonomy to decide that 16 year-olds could vote, but the Government opened the door. They knew when they allowed the SNP to determine a lot of the rules of that referendum that that would be the consequence.
I want to turn now to the practicalities of implementation. There would undoubtedly be some issues with the practicalities of implementing this amendment. Obviously, the further away the referendum is, the easier it will be to enact. Of course, electoral registration officers would need to actively encourage and inform those newly eligible electors to vote and if a separate registration initiative for young people is required, then so be it. Let us make it happen. The current system already allows for 17 year-olds and many 16 year-olds to go on the register so we would not be starting from scratch. We could use social media to encourage this age group to inform themselves. They are experts at this and it is important that we understand that that would be an easy way to communicate with them.
It could be argued that it would be easier to implement this policy in England than it was in Scotland because, according to the Government’s own website, after 16 in England you have to stay in full-time education at college or school, start an apprenticeship or traineeship, work or be a volunteer. So we know where these people are. It is not quite as clear-cut in Scotland but in England, according to the Government’s website, we know where they are. So ultimately, whether this is able to occur or not is a question of political will. If the Government want this to happen they can overcome those technicalities in the way that Scotland did. The Government should also remember that when the Electoral Commission last consulted the public on whether 16 and 17 year-olds should be allowed to vote, 72% agreed that they should be given a voice. I urge the Minister to rethink on this issue and to be aware that the voters of the future are watching pretty closely.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, with strong feelings expressed on all sides. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not recite all the different amendments and what they purport to do because in effect they come down to one issue: whether or not we should allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in this referendum. The voting age for UK parliamentary elections is set at 18. This is the voting age which was used in the 1975 referendum on EEC membership and the 2011 alternative vote referendum and it is the voting age that is used in most democracies, including most member states in the EU. Only Austria in the EU allows voting at 16.
Let me deal with some of the issues that have been raised in the debate. Noble Lords have said that young people are or will be engaged and politically active. That may certainly be true of some 16 year-olds but equally it is true of some 14 year-olds and not true of some 50 year-olds, and political engagement or a lack of it cannot be enough justification for giving or denying the vote.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, was an early enthusiast for politics and elections and would have been capable of making a decision even before the age of 16. In his Second Reading speech, my noble friend Lord Ridley was far more modest about his capacity to make a decision at 17 or 18, as was my noble friend Lord Blencathra. Enthusiasm has been observed, particularly in the Scottish referendum, but I adhere to the point that it would be odd if enthusiasm of itself created the right to vote. The appetite for this change is in question, as it seems that young people are split on the issue. Recent YouGov polling indicates that although 56% of 16 year-olds want to be able to vote, only 42% of 17 year-olds and 36% of 18 year-olds want the voting age to be lowered.
Another point that has been raised is that people will live with the outcome longer and therefore it is important that younger voters are involved. Of course, 15 year-olds will have to live with the outcome even longer, even if the change proposed in the amendment were made. So will 14 year-olds and those even younger than that, but no one is proposing that we extend the vote to these age groups. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lawson that those who are older are concerned for their children and grandchildren and have an important desire to serve their interests.
The development of the adolescent brain is a complex area. It might be thought that to deny 16 year-olds is to be in some way a killjoy. I have noted the enthusiasm that several noble Lords have shown for the appetite of 16 year-olds to be engaged politically—many of those who have been involved in the Lord Speaker’s visits in particular; the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, spoke well about that, if I may say so. There is no one clear point at which we categorically say that a person becomes an adult. Research into brain development has yet to provide us with an obvious point at which we can distinguish between adolescents and adults. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about difficulties in decision-making. Although Professor Laurence Steinberg argues that 16 year-olds are as capable as adults of making measured decisions, Dr Jay Giedd argues that the human brain does not reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s. Clearly, this is an issue that requires careful consideration, and deserves to be considered as part of a stand-alone debate.
Noble Lords have pointed to a number of things that a person can do when they turn 16 and suggested that this means that they ought to be able to vote. These claims do not bear much scrutiny. It is true that a person can marry at 16, but this important and life-changing decision cannot be made in England without parental consent. Of course, it is inappropriate for parental consent to be required to cast a vote. Similarly, although 16 and 17 year-olds can join the Army, parental consent is required, and it is not until a person turns 18 that they can be deployed in a conflict zone. My noble friend Lord Blencathra listed a number of things that 16 year-olds cannot do and, in those circumstances, I do not propose to list them.
There is no clear point at which a young person becomes an adult, but the restrictions that I have listed and were referred to by several other noble Lords acknowledge the simple fact that it is generally at 18, not 16, that society draws the line. It is at this point that we deem a person to be fully capable of making important decisions. We must draw a line somewhere. Of course there is always an element of arbitrariness: what about the person who is 17 years, 11 months—or, as some noble Lords would have it, 15 years, 11 months?
I will indeed think carefully about that. As I conceded, a number of people, often through no fault of their own, may find it difficult to make decisions, but we are talking about those who, in old-fashioned parlance, used to be considered not to be capable of making a decision by reason of infancy. I entirely accept that to describe 16 year-olds as children may be inappropriate, but we should not assume simply because of the speed at which the world works, access to the internet or the capacity for travel, that this necessarily brings the wisdom to take decisions before the age of 18.
Does the noble Lord agree that given the proportion of young people who access further and higher education now—nearly 50%—those young people have over a number of years gained a great deal of maturity and capacity that might not have been the case for a similar cohort of young people in, say, the 1950s, when only 3.4% of them accessed higher and further education?
Of course, it was not until 1969, in the Representation of the People Act, that the age was reduced from 21 to 18. It is not the case that young people have changed that radically—notwithstanding the speed of communication, about which we have heard so much.
On that point, what conclusion would he draw? It was reduced from 21 to 18. What is the magic about 18? It used to be 21. What about driving licences? What about the age of consent? Surely there is a wide range of ages; there is no one particular age at which it can be said that everything has now moved from childhood to adulthood across the board. The question is: in this referendum, which is likely to be generational, why should we cut these young people out?
It is not a question of cutting people out, it is a question of deciding, on all the evidence, with careful consideration of what we know about what most young people of a certain age can or cannot do, and coming to a consistent view. The view has been taken that the age should be 18. Why should we change it simply to deal with this particular opportunity to vote?
Perhaps the noble Lord could help a little on this. He is advancing, as always, a highly sophisticated presentation of a totally negative point of view on giving the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds, but he is a member of a Government who held the door open to give Scots 16 and 17 year-olds the vote. Where were all those arguments then? Lying on the floor, I suppose.
Although it is tempting to go down that route and describe the cause or causes of the door being open—I was not in any position to argue that matter then—I think that we should return to the basic fact that, after careful consideration, 18 was considered the right age. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is quite right: there is an element of arbitrariness about whatever age you choose. The question is: is it an age which has, by and large, received approval and consent? Yes it is. Of course that does not mean that this is the last word on the subject; people will differ about these things. There will be people who think that 21 was the right age and it should never have been lowered to 18.
Noble Lords will know that the power to determine the voting age for Scottish Parliament and local elections in Scotland was devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Parliament decided to lower the voting age to 16 for those elections. The Government have responded to requests to increase the powers of the devolved Administrations and will soon devolve similar powers to the Welsh Assembly.
Devolution, by its very nature, gives rise to the possibility of different laws applying in different parts of the United Kingdom. It does not mean that we must harmonise our differences. The fact that people may do certain things in Scotland aged 16—get married without parental consent, formally change their name, access their birth records if adopted—does not mean that the same rules must or should apply across the United Kingdom. One of the advantages of devolution is the capacity of different parts of the United Kingdom to make these choices.
More specifically, what about the precedent set by the Scottish independence referendum? The decision was made by the Scottish Parliament that whoever opened the door would decide on the franchise. It is right that decisions about the franchise for elections and referendums that affect the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are made by this Parliament. As I said, decisions of the Scottish Parliament do not and should not prevent Parliament from taking a different decision.
The Government do not think that this is the right vehicle, as my noble friend Lord Higgins pointed out so cogently. Any change to the entitlement to vote must to be considered properly and fully in specific legislation. I gave some examples where the law places restrictions on 16 and 17 year-olds. Any proposal to lower the voting age must be carefully examined in that overall context.
My Lords, I hear what the Minister says; indeed, in another place, the Foreign Secretary himself said that this was an argument for another day. Could the Minister assist me by saying whether, over the course of this Parliament—in the next four or five years—the Government might consider a change to the franchise?
I am not privy to all the Government’s thinking, but, no, I do not understand that that is on the horizon. Any proposal must be examined carefully: we cannot change the voting age and simply assume that it will have no implications for other areas where our law and our society treat 16 and 17 year-olds differently from their 18 year-old counterparts.
Noble Lords will wish to reflect on how this change would look to the public. I have no idea how 16 and 17 year-olds—were they to be given the vote—would vote. A number of people might guess and they might well be wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, in an exchange with my noble friend Lord Tebbit, that he thought that 16 and 17 year-olds were more likely to use their vote better than my noble friend Lord Tebbit. I am not quite sure what that said. Nor do I know how 18 and 19 year-olds are likely to vote. It is possible that a change in the franchise of such a radical nature—this is a radical change—will be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as some sort of attempt to affect the result of the referendum. We are anxious as a Government that, whatever the result of the referendum, the legitimacy of the process cannot be questioned. The safest way of doing that is to stick to the Westminster franchise and leave the vote at 18.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is not currently in his place, made a valiant attempt to say that we have opened the door by allowing Peers to vote or by the minor adjustment in Gibraltar. We are talking about millions; we are talking about a radical change. It is a change that not only would be radical, but would have the potential to affect timing. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hamilton for referring to the report of the Electoral Commission. Quite rightly, the commission did not offer a view on 16 and 17 year-olds, but it did, in addition to the paragraph to which he referred, say:
“The Commission’s view is that any changes to the franchise for the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union should be clear in sufficient time to enable all those who are eligible, to register and participate in the referendum”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, “Well, we could accelerate the process having regard to the fact that so many young people are aware of social media and could be brought up to speed with the issues”. However, as I understood the debate yesterday about registration, it was so important that we did not rush the procedure because people might be left off. It was far too important a matter to in any way accelerate. Therefore, if it affects the timing, which I understand to be very important in a number of contexts, that is a relevant factor. However, the crucial argument is that this is not an appropriate moment to make that change. In all those circumstances, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Could I ask a hypothetical question? I preface it by saying that I understand that the “leave” campaign wants to support this amendment. That might surprise some people: it surprised me. How firm are the Government in opposing this amendment? Let us suppose, for example, that the amendment is carried on Report and is sent back to the House of Commons, which already rejected this proposal. If it comes back to the House of Lords, and we insist on the amendment—after all, Monday indicated that this House is not only roaring; it is using its teeth as well—the Parliament Act would apply. What then would happen to this Bill? How long would it be delayed and what effect would that have on the timetable?
I congratulate the Minister on an absolutely brilliant speech, of the kind that I used to try to write—a mandarin speech. All the phrases were there: “a dangerous precedent”; “not the right time”, and “unforeseen consequences”. When all failed at the Treasury, I used to resort to, “beyond the ambit of the vote”, which nobody understood, not even me. It was brilliant, but one thing that I thought was missing was the answer to the point made by my noble friend Lord Hannay, that we were not trying to alter the arrangements for elections. We were talking only of a one-off referendum. That seems to be quite a strong point. Will the Minister touch on that?
Of course, the noble Lord will recall that we had a referendum relatively recently, in 2011, about a change in the voting system—to introduce the alternative vote—which was on the Westminster model. The argument was very much, “Well, this is inevitable” or “This is a slippery slope”, to use the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and that, by accepting the validity of the argument on the European referendum, it must follow, as night follows day, that we would then proceed to change the Westminster franchise. By accepting that argument, we would be reversing into an inevitable change in the Westminster franchise. There might or might not be an argument for doing that, but that is an argument that ought to take place in the fullness of time, with all available evidence, once all the matters that we have gone into and wanted to consider were available.
My Lords, this has been a very good debate. I do not intend to detain the House for long because, frankly, there will be a further opportunity to debate these issues. I just want to deal with one or two factual points. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said that the franchise is not being extended in this Bill. It is being extended, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said, and, indeed, there will be further debates about extending the franchise. I understand that it is Conservative policy to extend the franchise to UK citizens resident in the EU beyond the 15-year limit, so it will be very interesting to hear what is said about that.
The other issue, which is an important one, is about practicalities, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, spoke. I talked to the Electoral Commission and it is clear that it wants to have the longest possible lead time, so the sooner the Government decide to accept this amendment the better from the point of view of the commission. I am sure that they will do it eventually. MPs keep telling me that they will, so it is just a question of not leaving it too long. It is also true that we have the hard evidence of what happened in Scotland. The extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds proceeded remarkably easily, so there is no technical difficulty there.
I am intrigued to hear constant references to the difficulties of piecemeal changes to our constitution. The Government are about to change the relationship between the two Houses, if they can get away with it. That is what they are doing today. If that is not a constitutional change, what is? Then, what about EVEL—English Votes for English Laws? That is piecemeal. I thought that the Conservatives were actually in favour of incremental changes to our constitution. My study of history was that that was what Disraeli was all about—and very clever he was at it. So it is not an appropriate argument in this case to say that we cannot do this because it is not the ripe time—the doctrine of ripe time. That is what our ancestors in this very House argued right through the 19th century. I shall come back to that in a moment.
I thought that the most important issue was the one referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. There is an issue—I accept it—about impressionable young people. But frankly, as many other noble Lords said, what about impressionable old people? Of course, we do not know whether everybody will want to be registered in this age group, or everybody want a vote, or that they will all be mature and sensible, but that is true of every cohort. But we know that the 16 to 17 year-old cohort has become more mature and better informed—and it has been tested, as my noble friend Lord Taverne pointed out. Yes, it was theoretical; even the excellent report of the British Council Youth Select Committee, which took hard evidence on this issue to which the noble Earl referred, and found no real reason to see a major risk in this case, was based on theoretical evidence. But the hard evidence in Scotland was that people in this age group did not in any way feel that they were being persuaded in a particular direction. They were given some responsibility and were more responsible. That is the experience of those of us who deal with people in this age group.
In the end, it comes back to the essential point that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, put to the House this evening. It is a matter of balance and judgment. The Minister says that it is all a question of how developed the human brain is, but I shall not follow him in that direction. With many older age groups, I have found the extent to which their human brain manages to deal with issues of great political complexity, and I do not think that we can start having a sort of highway code test for whether people can or cannot be mature, sensible or well-balanced enough to be able to take a decision.
I may be having a problem with my brain, because I do not understand where the noble Lord is coming from. He has spent the last year arguing that constitutional change should not be made in a piecemeal way and that we need to have a constitutional convention to look at these things in the round. We have spent this evening listening to people opening doors—saying that we opened the door to the Scottish changes in the franchise, when the Government said that it would not open the door. Surely, the noble Lord needs to work out whether he believes that these things should be looked at in the round. He has also argued that this is a one-off and will not have further implications. I am completely confused as to how he can maintain two opposing positions at the same time. One is tempted, is one not, when he made his slip, to conclude that the real reason he wants these changes is that it will help him to get the result that he wants?
My Lords, the Bill sets out a timetable, and we had some discussion on that earlier this evening. That is the timetable with which we are faced in your Lordships’ House; we have a Bill, and we are going to have a referendum. I agree with the noble Lord that it would have been preferable some years ago if we had had the opportunity to look at some of these issues in the round, but we did not, and we have not done so, and the present Government are still setting their face firmly against a constitutional convention. Unless he is prepared to delay a referendum for another three, four or five years, I am afraid that we must address what is on the Marshalled List today, which gives us an opportunity to decide what is to be the franchise for one very specific question. That is what it is all about.
I go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. It may well be that there are Members of your Lordships’ House who think that this is not the right moment to move, but I think that we have an excellent precedent on this sort of issue, when the decision that will be taken has such ramifications and implications for so long. In that context, we should make progress in that direction. However, I accept that this may not be technically the most robust amendment to achieve that change, and I certainly want to make sure that we get cross-House support from Cross-Benchers, Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats for the amendment, to demonstrate how wide the support now is. More support has been demonstrated today, and I hope that we can do that. In that context, it is obviously right that for this Bill and on this occasion we make sure that the amendment is absolutely technically perfect. So in that circumstance, to make sure that we can demonstrate that breadth of support, for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendment 9 not moved.
Sitting suspended until not before 8.36 pm.
10: Clause 2, page 2, line 7, after “at” insert—
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment, which is relatively incomprehensible if you look at it, and others in the same group is to provide that the electorate for the referendum should include EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom, the sort of electorate who vote in local elections in this country and in European parliamentary elections. It has an innovation on that, which is designed to meet the concerns of those who feel that it would be wrong for European Union citizens living in this country for a very short time to have the vote, as they would under the arrangements for local and European parliamentary elections. Therefore, it requires five years’ residence here before EU citizens could vote in the referendum.
This is not an attempt to change the franchise for a parliamentary election in this country. I am sure that the Minister will tell us about how this is unprecedented in any other member state and so on. One of the points about precedents which the noble Lord missed when he was telling us about how few countries have the vote for 16 and 17 year-olds is that no other member state of the European Union has ever held a referendum to leave the European Union. When they have held referendums or their parliamentary elections, they were about things infinitely less consequential for the future of the country than this vote will be for us, so I do not think that any of those analogies are particularly helpful but, in any case, I insist that there is not the slightest attempt here to create a precedent for our parliamentary elections. This is purely and simply for this referendum.
What is the basis for it? It is quite simple: if you are a European Union citizen and you have lived here for five years, you are almost certainly employed and you are paying taxes, so you are fulfilling all the “no taxation without representation” basic criteria. You are also someone whose status in this country will be radically affected by the outcome of the referendum because all sorts of rights that you enjoy now under the European treaties will be removed if we vote to leave and negotiate under Article 50 of the treaty to withdraw. These people would be critically affected by this decision and, to my mind, to not give them the vote on it would be a considerable inequity because it could affect them and their children, and if they have been here for five years many of them are probably going to be here for even longer. The case for giving them a vote is compelling and that is why I and other noble Lords have put down these amendments. Since the night is wearing on I will not weary anyone with a longer speech than that explanation and I hope very much that there will be—as there has been in the signatories to this amendment—cross-party and no-party support for an approach of this sort. I beg to move.
My Lords, I suggest that there are two rather key points that the noble Lord has not addressed. One is that no other country in the European Union grants a vote in a referendum to foreign citizens, even EU citizens. The fact that most other referenda are on rather smaller issues strengthens the case against giving a vote to EU citizens in Britain on an issue of major importance. Secondly, on a point of fact, the number of EU citizens of voting age in this country is of the order of 2.7 million. The noble Lord has taken out those who have been here less than five years, so you are talking about 1.9 million people. These estimates are based on the Labour Force Survey, so they are not precise but you are talking about the order of 2 million voters. The likelihood surely is—particularly on the arguments the noble Lord has made—that these people will vote for the UK to stay in the European Union. What is going to be the impact on the public of knowing that this change has been made for this purpose? It will be seen as an attempt to swing the vote in favour of staying in the Union with the use of foreign votes.
Okay, I think the noble Lord was intervening in my speech and, if he had listened carefully to what I said, he would have heard that I most particularly noted that the parallels with other members are not very apt because nobody has ever voted to leave the European Union—nobody has ever voted in a referendum whose outcome, if it went in favour of leaving, would deprive a large number of people in the country of their rights under EU law. I covered that. I know that earlier in this debate we forswore use of words such as xenophobia but I have to say that some of the arguments he advanced in his brief intervention were, let us say, rather close to the line.
My Lords, I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and, indeed, I put my name to one of the amendments. I will just add two points. I believe that it is right to enable these citizens of other member states to have a vote in this referendum precisely because their very being in this country is linked to membership of the European Union. If it were not for the freedom of movement within the European Union they would not be working here, contributing to our economy and helping build our society. Therefore, it is right that they have a vote. I also ask the Minister: in his view, what would happen to these citizens if we were to leave the European Union? Would they have to leave? One does not know. We have to have answers to these questions at some stage before we progress much further along the referendum line. If they did have to leave, this country would miss out a great deal by losing their contribution to our society and, most especially, their contribution to our economy. We are all familiar with the phrase “no taxation without representation”; they are paying taxes and therefore they should be enabled to vote.
I do not see the point of that intervention at all. I was going to say that, because there is no reciprocity, there is no reason for us to give European citizens the vote in what is a purely national matter, in spite of what the noble Baroness said. She said herself that we do not know what is going to happen with European citizens if and when we vote to leave. People live here because they like living here, not because we are a member of the EU, so that will not change at all.
One reason why so many EU citizens who have not become British nationals as a result of marrying British people live here is that we are a member of the EU and they feel that they are treated on the same basis as British citizens. You are dividing people who see themselves as British residents and have committed their lives to this country, and you are wrong.
Perhaps I may just finish my speech. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said that foreign citizens come here because we are in the EU. That is not the case at all. A lot of them, including the French, come here precisely because it is a different country. They do not come here because we are in the EU. Actually, in one sense they are leaving the EU. They are leaving their high-tax, lower-employment and failing economy. That is why they come here and that is not going to change. However, that does not alter the fact that it is completely wrong to enfranchise foreign nationals to vote in a British election. It has never happened before. I was in France for the 2005 constitutional election, which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, will remember. I would have loved to have voted with the French to vote down the constitution but I had to cheer from the side-lines when they did. I was not allowed to vote. I see no reason whatever for agreeing to this amendment. People can live here and, if they want to vote, they can take British nationality.
I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is correct on these points and therefore I shall follow his advice as best I can.
With regard to all these amendments, if we were talking about the situation in the 1970s when we were joining the European Union, I would have said unequivocally, “That is a decision for British citizens”. But we made the decision to join a Community—and it is a Community—in which many British citizens have gone to live in other countries and many European citizens have come to live here. People have moved because they have felt that they will be treated on a very fair and equal basis as members of the European Union.
Now, the structural change that our membership of the EU has brought about means that this is not like any other election. It is not a national election or a national referendum on a matter specific to our country; it is about our future in the European Union and it affects everyone—British citizens living in the European Union and European citizens living here.
I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has a point about a residency requirement. However, I know many people who have married people from EU member states who are not British citizens and the idea that their future is going to be decided without them having a say over it is a monstrous injustice.
I invite the noble Lord to step behind a Rawlsian veil of ignorance and imagine that there are 1.8 million people in this country who we are pretty sure are going to vote overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. Would he still express the same passionate enthusiasm for enfranchising them?
My Lords, we have been discussing virtually all day how we are going to try to make this referendum fair. We want to keep the playing field as level as we possibly can. Enfranchising 1.9 million people of European nationality is a blatant opportunity to try to swing the vote in favour of staying in the EU. Of course, so much is going wrong for all these people who want us to stay in the EU. Let us face it: the EU is imploding as we watch and one crisis follows another. It is going to be quite tricky for anybody who wants us to stay in the EU to win this referendum. Therefore, I agree that those people who do want to stay in have got to try every trick in the book to try to swing it in their direction. However, let us see this for what it is: this is a referendum for the British people to decide whether or not they want to stay in the EU. This is not a decision for foreigners who happen to be living in this country.