Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
Schedule 3: Further provision about the referendum
48A: Schedule 3, page 53, line 3, at end insert—
“(1A) The steps mentioned in subsection (1) must include taking action, as soon as the date of the referendum has been announced, to bring to the attention of eligible electors who are not registered what they must do in order to register in time to vote in the referendum.
(1B) In carrying out the action provided for by subsection (1A), the Electoral Commission must in particular take steps to promote the registration of—
(a) young voters, and(b) eligible United Kingdom electors who are resident in other member states of the European Union.”
My Lords, this amendment moves back one stage, from talking about how to get people to vote, and how to get them to vote in different ways, to the question of registration, which is how to make sure that people are actually on the electoral register so that they have the opportunity to make a decision whether or not to vote.
The House got terribly excited about registration last week when we were talking about the statutory instrument, and a decision was made. As a result of that decision, the new system of individual registration will come in from December this year and something like 1.8 million names will be removed from that register. What nobody really knows, as far as I can see, is how many of those names are genuine voters who should be there and how many are not. However, it is very clear—from talking to some of these people locally and helping them to get registered—that many of the 1.8 million are people who should be on the register and, indeed, many of them are people who voted in the elections in May this year. I do not think anybody knows exactly how many of the 1.8 million voted this year. There is a problem and a challenge there now for everybody to try to make sure that as many of them as possible who are real voters get back on the electoral register.
In addition, according to the Electoral Commission, throughout the UK there are something like 8 million voters who ought to be registered but are not. Although some of them may be people who have no interest, do not want to be registered and never will be, whatever the law may say, quite a few of them are people who ought to be registered and, if they were, might take the opportunity to vote.
The purpose behind the amendment is to probe the Government and the Electoral Commission about what they are going to do and what they think should be done specifically to get people on to the electoral register for the referendum, when it comes. Of course, we also have elections in May next year, but this is specifically about the referendum.
In the amendment, I have highlighted two groups of people who are underregistered: young voters and eligible voters who live in the rest of the European Union—although many eligible voters who live abroad live in other parts of the world and would have the right to vote in the referendum if they were registered. They are eligible if they are UK citizens living abroad and have not lived abroad for more than 15 years—or whatever period we end up with in the Bill; at the moment, 15 years.
I had a very useful letter about the amendment from the Electoral Commission, which rightly points out that there are other underrepresented groups that it will wish to target. It points out that the two groups that I have mentioned are two among several more groups that it targeted before the general election with some success—different levels of success, I think. They include people who have moved house recently, people in private rented accommodation—in areas where private rented accommodation is pretty well at the bottom of the housing market, they are often the same people who are moving around all the time—and some BME groups, not all, but some, which are underrepresented.
I want particularly to focus on the question of people living within the European Union, because these are clearly British citizens who have a particular personal, direct interest in the outcome of the referendum, whatever they may think about it. According to the Electoral Commission, something like 100,000 overseas voters were registered at the general election. Whatever the total number of British citizens abroad eligible to vote in UK elections, 100,000 is a small proportion of them. It was higher than it has ever been before—three times as high as it was at the previous election, I think —but still very low.
It is said that there are 2 million or more United Kingdom citizens resident in the EU. I do not know how many of those are entitled to vote under the 15-year rule, and I do not know how many of them are adults—not children, who cannot vote—but it is clear that there is a large number of British citizens living in the EU who have a direct interest in the referendum who are not registered at the moment. I have seen estimates from other people suggesting that the figure of 2 million is on the low side, because it is based on people who are registered as living in other European countries, and there are lots of British citizens who do not register with the local authorities. Many of these people have dual addresses; they have an address in this country, and they spend part of the time in the rest of Europe. They ought to be registered here, where one of their homes is. So perhaps 2 million is the figure to consider.
Anecdotal evidence from people I have talked to in other EU countries—including people I talked to in the south of France when I was there fairly recently—is that if you live outside this country, registering to vote as a UK elector is not as easy as it ought to be. I have spoken to people who tried to vote at the general election but failed the double obstacle that they have to go through. The first obstacle is registering to vote and the second is applying for and receiving a postal vote—getting on the postal voters register.
The electoral registration can now be done online, and that applies wherever you live in the world—so that is okay. But what if the national insurance number that you have to give now in order to be put on the electoral register is not validated by the DWP? That happens with lots of people. I do not know why that is the case; I have not got to the bottom of it. However, there is no doubt at all that the validation has not worked for lots of people, which is one reason why there are many among the 1.8 million coming off the register who are genuine voters and genuine people. They have not been able to match up their national insurance numbers and not provided other means of identification to replace the NI number. Providing those other means of identification is more difficult and messy if you live abroad The anecdotal evidence is that, before the general election this year, local authorities were not always quick enough in processing and dealing with these applications.
Secondly, the postal vote applications have to be in writing. There must be a piece of paper which is sent off, or it can be scanned and sent by email—and perhaps by fax as well. That is a more complicated process. I have talked to people who managed to get on the electoral register but did not manage to get through the hoops of getting a postal vote when they were up against the deadline shortly before the elections. There seem to be some bureaucratic obstacles in this situation which are causing more difficulties for people in Europe than for some of the people here.
Registration for people whose NI numbers do not match with the DWP and are not validated is sometimes a nightmare in terms of getting the appropriate documentation in. It is not easy—and I have been dealing with some specific cases back in Lancashire where I live. In addition to what the Electoral Commission tells me it will do—that is, conduct a similar campaign to the one it held to get people registered before the general election; it had something called a “boats and planes” campaign for people outside this country—it will have to make very special efforts indeed, together with the Government, starting as soon as possible, if people living in other European countries are not to be deprived of the vote in the referendum to which they are properly entitled. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 48A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would require the Electoral Commission to inform unregistered eligible voters of the steps they need to take in order to vote in the referendum. The amendment requires the commission to do this as soon as the date of the referendum is announced, and to take particular steps, as the noble Lord says, to approach two groups of people. He acknowledged in moving his amendment that other groups also need to be alerted to their right to vote in the referendum. Of course, the Committee will understand that I am sympathetic to the noble Lord’s underlying aim, which is to ensure that people understand that they can vote and know how to register to do so. It is important in any democratic society that it is a duty of us all to be engaged in that, whether we are a voluntary worker in a political party, a paid politician, a member of the Electoral Commission or working in the community. It is part of what we should do to enable people to take part in the democratic process.
I can assure the noble Lord that provisions are in place to set in motion what he hopes to achieve. His amendment is unnecessary because the duties it imposes are already encompassed in paragraph 11(1) of Schedule 3, which requires the Electoral Commission to take,
“whatever steps they think appropriate to promote public awareness about the referendum and how to vote in it”.
As the noble Lord said, he has heard from the Electoral Commission, and it is fully seized of its duty and the actions it should take.
I am sure we all agree that this is about all eligible voters, not just making specific groups aware of their right to vote—not just those British citizens living in the other 27 countries of the European Union, but those who live more widely abroad. The Electoral Commission has made it clear that it will take prompt action to alert people of their right to vote, and has made clear exactly what it plans to do. It plans to produce public information that explains the voting process, and to run a UK-wide campaign through TV, radio and digital advertising which highlights basic information about the referendum, such as the date and how to register to vote. This campaign will inform eligible voters in the United Kingdom of all ages of their right to vote, and additional steps will support this.
For example, the Cabinet Office continues to work closely with civil society organisations, including Bite The Ballot, to encourage underrepresented groups to register. The Electoral Commission is also working closely with officials in the Cabinet Office and my officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that eligible voters overseas are made aware of their voting rights and can vote with ease. This work includes ensuring that postal ballots sent overseas are correctly addressed and include the correct postage—details that have sometimes been overlooked. I appreciate the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Alongside this, online registration is making registering to vote far more convenient, accessible and simple for young and overseas voters—far better than ever before. A person can register to vote on their smartphone, tablet or PC in as little as three minutes, as long as the link is working. The systems are there.
As the Bill already requires the Electoral Commission to take the action set out in the noble Lord’s amendment, and as clear progress is already being made in achieving its aims, I invite him to withdraw it.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for setting that all out. It is all absolutely true. She talks about the duty set out in the Bill, which is absolutely right, but the problem is carrying out that duty with regard to overseas electors. If only just over 100,000 were able to be on the register for the general election, clearly, the system up to now has not worked. My point is that, because of the very nature of this referendum, particularly as it impacts on British citizens in Europe—the Minister referred several times to people in the UK, but these people are not in the UK—more needs to be done than was done last time, and in different ways.
The report that the Electoral Commission published in July, on the effect and success of its campaigns, is called Promoting Voter Registration At The May 2015 Elections. It clearly shows that it did a lot less for overseas electors than for some groups in this country and was a lot less successful—even though the figure was increased by three times. Three times not many is still not many.
I am grateful to the Minister, but would like to ask her whether she could make further inquiries between now and Report. I will have some more direct communication with the Electoral Commission, and if I can be persuaded that something a bit better is going to be done this time for overseas electors, I will not bring back the amendment on Report. However, if I am not so convinced I will bring it back, in the hope that that will encourage the Government to do more. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 48A withdrawn.
49: Schedule 3, page 53, line 36, at end insert—
“Supply and use of register of electors12A (1) The Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001/341) have effect for the purposes of the referendum with the following modifications.
(2) Regulation 106 (supply of full register etc to registered political parties etc and restrictions on use) has effect for those purposes as if—
(a) in paragraph (1)(c), for “, other than a registered political party” there were substituted “which either is not a registered political party or is a minor party within the meaning of section 160(1) of that Act”, andat the end of paragraph (4)(b)(ii) there were inserted “, and
(iii) the purposes of complying with the requirements of Schedule 15A to that Act (control of loans etc to certain permitted participants), and(iv) the purposes of complying with the requirements of paragraphs 32 and 33 of Schedule 1 and paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2 to the European Union Referendum Act 2015.”12B (1) The Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001/497) have effect for the purposes of the referendum with the following modifications.
(2) Regulation 105 (supply of full register etc to registered political parties etc and restrictions on use) has effect for those purposes as if—
(a) in paragraph (1)(c), for “, other than a registered political party” there were substituted “which either is not a registered political party or is a minor party within the meaning of section 160(1) of that Act”, andat the end of paragraph (4)(b)(ii) there were inserted “, and
(iii) the purposes of complying with the requirements of Schedule 15A to that Act (control of loans etc to certain permitted participants), and(iv) the purposes of complying with the requirements of paragraphs 32 and 33 of Schedule 1 and paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2 to the European Union Referendum Act 2015.”12C (1) The Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2008 (S.I. 2008/1741) have effect for the purposes of the referendum with the following modifications.
(2) Regulation 105 (supply of full register etc to registered political parties etc and restrictions on use) has effect for those purposes as if—
(a) in paragraph (1)(c), for “, other than a registered political party” there were substituted “which either is not a registered political party or is a minor party within the meaning of section 160(1) of that Act”, andat the end of paragraph (4)(b)(ii) there were inserted “; and
(iii) the purposes of complying with the requirements of Schedule 15A to that Act (control of loans etc to certain permitted participants); and(iv) the purposes of complying with the requirements of paragraphs 32 and 33 of Schedule 1 and paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2 to the European Union Referendum Act 2015.””
Amendment 49 agreed.
Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.
Clause 4: Conduct regulations, etc
Amendment 50 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 6: Power to modify section 125 of the 2000 Act
51: Clause 6, page 4, line 3, leave out “( )” and insert “31A”
Amendment 51 agreed.
Amendments 52 to 55 not moved.
Clause 6, as amended, agreed.
Amendments 56 to 59 not moved.
60: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Creation of EU Referendum Broadcasting Impartiality Authority
(1) The Electoral Commission shall establish, for the purposes of the referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union only, an authority to rule on the impartiality shown by the sound and vision broadcasting media based in the United Kingdom regarding all news and media stories relating to the referendum.
(2) The authority shall be created by the Electoral Commission and be operational within 3 months after the passing of this Act, and shall cease to operate when the polls close on the day of the referendum.
(3) The authority, for the duration of its existence, shall assume and exercise all the impartiality functions currently vested in OFCOM and the BBC to the extent necessary for the fulfilment of its functions.
(4) The decisions of the authority shall take precedence over any decision by OFCOM or the BBC.
(5) The authority shall adopt all the rules on neutrality and impartiality currently applied by the BBC and OFCOM during General Elections but shall be authorised to amend them as it sees fit in relation to the referendum.
(6) The authority shall publish its neutrality and impartiality guidelines as soon as practical after its creation.
(7) It shall be a criminal offence for any relevant broadcaster to breach the guidelines or fail to follow instructions from the authority.
(8) The cost of the authority shall be kept to under £50 million and the costs shall be met from public funds.”
My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and those of my noble friends. I think that the new clause tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is superior to my version, so I will not go into detail on mine.
I have found it a bit of a long and tiring day, so I ask permission to conclude my remarks from a sedentary position.
An Evening Standard report in April 2012 had extracts from a leaked report carried out by the BBC when my noble friend Lord Grade was in charge. It admitted bias on a range of topics. In that report Andrew Marr is quoted as saying:
“The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people ... It has a liberal bias, not so much a party political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias”.
As Mr Rod Liddle, a former “Today” editor, repeatedly says in his splendid column in the Sunday Times, BBC staff do not set out to be biased and believe utterly that they are neutral and represent middle England. They take their guidance from the Guardian, which they think is an absolutely centrist paper, with the Times a bit to the right and the Telegraph off the right-wing scale. I believe that recently some senior BBC insiders, such as Robin Aitken and Peter Sissons, have also confirmed that there are still institutional prejudices prevalent in the BBC. Of course, when accused of bias, the BBC denies it; but I can recall at least two occasions in the last 10 years when the BBC has said, “Well, yes, we looked at our coverage of immigration issues in the past and it was a bit biased but it’s all okay now”. I think it also said, “We looked at our coverage of the welfare debate and yes, it was biased in the past but we are getting it right now”. So that is the standard defence: we were biased in the past but we are perfect now.
When an organisation called Minotaur Media Tracking measured the level and content of the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme’s coverage of the European Union, it found that the BBC gave less coverage to EU issues than the newspapers, gave roughly twice as much coverage to pro-EU voices as anti-EU voices and consistently presented the Eurosceptic case as wanting to leave Europe instead of the European Union. I read somewhere recently, but I cannot find it now, that the BBC has concluded that its past coverage of EU issues was slightly biased, but it is going to be okay in the future. In that case, I look forward to interviewers referring to the BSE campaign as the “Britain Stronger in the European Union campaign”—but I do not hold my breath for that.
The EU’s transparency website shows that £20,152,000 was disbursed to the BBC from EU funds between 2007 and 2012. A lot of that went to so-called research and development projects and to creating programmes to bring about change in countries outside the EU. In 2009 alone, the BBC got almost £1 million to,
“provide support for media capacity in the area of EU integration”.
Noble Lords may say that I am biased on this, but surely there is an element of conflict of interest somewhere which calls into question the ability of the BBC to police itself on EU matters when it is receiving funding from the EU.
My new clause suggests that broadcast coverage of this referendum is too important to be left to a combination of Ofcom and internal BBC policing. Everybody trusts the Electoral Commission for its impartiality. I suggest that for the duration of the referendum only, all media monitoring of TV and radio currently carried out by Ofcom and the BBC should be transferred to a unit under the control of the Electoral Commission. Noble Lords can read the subsections for themselves, and I will not bore the Committee by reading and explaining them. Indeed, I will go further: I know that this new clause is going nowhere, so I do not expect, and the whole Committee would not want, my noble friend to spend a long time demolishing the eight subsections and pointing out their inconsistency, inappropriateness, illegality and everything else that is wrong with them.
My intention is to highlight to the Government that there is a track record in the BBC of bias on EU issues and it would be intolerable if it continued right up to referendum day. No one wants to interfere with the independence of the BBC, but I believe that we should interfere with the bias of the BBC, since I believe it exists. All I want to hear from the Minister—my noble friends may wish for other things—in her wind-up tonight is what the Government will do to ensure that the broadcast media are absolutely fair, impartial and unbiased in all their reports, news and programmes leading up to polling day. As soon as the exit poll is issued, I do not care what happens. I beg to move.
My Lords, my Amendment 61BA is similar to Amendment 60, to which I have also put my name and which has just been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I suppose the inspiration for both these amendments— I confirm that my amendment is also a probing amendment—is that we do not entirely trust the broadcasting media to be impartial throughout the referendum campaign, so we feel that they need a little extra assistance in this regard in the shape of the temporary broadcasting adjudicator suggested by this amendment. The noble Lord’s amendment suggests a temporary broadcasting authority.
My experience of the BBC’s EU coverage goes back to 1999, since when I and others have been sponsoring independent analysis of that coverage, to which the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, was good enough to refer. I had a debate in your Lordships’ House on 11 March 2002 which revealed the early results of our initiative, and another on 7 May 2014. Both debates are relevant to these amendments and suggest the need for them. Both amendments require the impartiality of broadcasters in dealing with the conflicting claims made by each side of the argument. However, my Amendment 61BA goes further and requires the new adjudicator to judge whether the BBC has covered a sufficiently broad scope of subjects about our EU membership to allow the electorate to reach an informed opinion about their future. Broadcasting bias is not only bias about the subject in question; there is of course also bias by omission.
I have singled out the BBC because only the BBC, under its charter and guidelines, has the duty to educate and inform. That duty would still apply to areas which may not have been raised by either side of the referendum debate. Your Lordships may feel that every conceivable argument under the sun will be raised by one side or the other during the campaign, but I am not so sure.
For instance, I suppose it is possible that neither side will deal with the founding big idea behind the project of European integration, which was that European nations had caused so much bloodshed that they had to be gradually emasculated and put under a new form of technocratic government—hence the EU’s claim to have brought peace to Europe since 1945. Hence also the almost unbelievable powers of the European Commission at the expense of national Governments. I am not sure that either side will go sufficiently into all this, and so I feel it should be the duty of the BBC to do so if they do not.
It can be difficult to know where you want to go if you do not know why and how you have got to where you are—the direction of travel. Even if the campaigns do touch on these areas, I fear they do not lend themselves to soundbites, and so they may be covered inadequately. If so, I suggest the BBC should examine them dispassionately and in some depth—and very interesting it would be, too.
In conclusion, I am happy to report that the BBC’s coverage of EU matters has improved recently. We have had John Gray delivering a learned critique of the euro on “A Point of View”. We have had an Icelandic politician assuring us that the UK would be welcome and better off in EFTA. We have had a Nissan executive explaining why his company would not necessarily relocate outside the UK if we left the EU. We have had Nigel Farage being interrupted only by rapid fire instead of his usual machine-gun treatment. Best of all, the wonderful Labour MP Kate Hoey has even been allowed to make some of the case, on the “Today” programme, for the UK to leave the EU.
These are all absolute firsts for the BBC. Nothing like them has ever happened before. I trust that they are the first signs that the BBC is at least going to try to be fair in the forthcoming campaign. But old habits die hard, and so I trust that it and the other broadcasters will welcome the additional encouragement proposed by these amendments.
My Lords, these amendments are totally without merit, but I just want to remark that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has suggested that we need controls on the broadcast media. I assume he means we should be as tough on Sky as on the BBC, or perhaps he wishes to take on only the BBC under that heading. Perhaps we should take on all the media. We had a great debate about how much we need tougher press regulation. I am sure noble Lords would want to consider the biases of the Daily Mail and occasionally the Daily Telegraph, whose Brussels correspondent for many years was a joker called Boris Johnson, who used to make up the most wonderful stories, most of them entirely without basis, about what was wrong with the European Union. Is it perhaps that we are having an attack on just the BBC?
I have read in the Spectator and various other publications that, because the BBC has received a certain amount of money over the years, amounting to a maximum of 0.3% of BBC income for any given year—largely to fund the development of broadcasting in Serbia, Moldova and other eastern neighbourhood countries—it is unavoidably biased in favour of the European Union or perhaps has almost become a vassal of the European Union, which is the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
The BBC does have a certain bias: it is a bias in favour of evidence—that may be the liberal bias, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I know that evidence is sometimes a little difficult for some. The part of the “Today” programme that I find to be biased is its tendency to take the headlines in the Daily Mail as the basis for some of its stories. That is a bias with which I am rather unhappy.
The BBC has had two reviews in the past 10 years on accusations of bias, the Wilson review in 2005 and the Prebble review in 2013, both of which were thorough and both of which said that the BBC did not display a deliberate bias. I have seen Nigel Farage on “Question Time” more times than I really wanted to in the last 18 months. They have given him a fair crack of the whip. I do not see that the BBC should be pushed further in one direction or another. We understand what is going on. While the right-wing press’s dominance in the print media, with the competitive broadcast media interest that the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press have—hence their constant attacks on the BBC—is acceptable, the BBC, because it is seen to be prepared to explain how globalised the world has become and how difficult it sometimes is to manage national economies without a degree of international co-operation, must necessarily be biased. As I have said, there have been BBC reports; they have both cleared the BBC of bias. The accusation that the BBC has been significantly funded by the European Commission and is thus dependent on it is not valid.
I was not suggesting that the BBC is so heavily funded that it is dependent on EU funding. The funding of £20 million over the past five years, running at around £3 million per annum, is not to be sneezed at. Floating voters, or the public, get 75% of their information from the broadcast media, not from the press. The press is largely irrelevant in influencing elections because it is read by people who are already committed. As far as press balance is concerned, the Mirror, the Guardian, the Independent and the Financial Times will be rabidly pro staying in Europe. That leaves the Times and the Sun sitting on the fence until Mr Murdoch does his opinion poll to decide who is going to win. The Telegraph will probably be against staying in and the Daily Mail probably will be as well. Finally, I respect the intellect of the noble Lord, but if he seriously thinks that the editors of the “Today” programme are spouting Daily Mail propaganda or taking that for their lead stories, he is living in another world.
My Lords, I merely observe as a frequent reader of the Daily Mail that the broadcast media, in particular the “Today” programme, take their cues from the stories that are in the morning press, particularly the Daily Mail, which, as we all know, is the most influential printed newspaper in this country and we all follow it.
I think I have said enough. I see no merit in this amendment. I know where it is coming from. I have read those who have suggested that the BBC is significantly dependent on the EU as a result of this—that is part of the paranoia of the Bruges Group right. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, used the expression “rabidly” for those who are pro-European and “moderate” for those who are not. Again, that is a perhaps a matter of unintentional bias on the part of the noble Lord, but I leave it there.
I applied “rabidly” to the Financial Times, which is more rabid than the Guardian in wanting to stay in Europe—and being wrong.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, whether he has actually read either of the two debates I referred to, from 11 March 2002 and 7 May last year? Is he also aware that the Wilson report of 2005, which was inspired by our analysis, found that the BBC was biased, both in its coverage and in what did not cover? It did not think it was deliberately biased but it was, nevertheless, biased at that time. Has the noble Lord also read the Civitas report on the Prebble whitewash of the BBC’s EU coverage, which was so incestuous as to be dishonest?
Finally, has the noble Lord read—and, if not, will he do so—the News-watch website, which goes into great detail and irrefutable fact on all these matters, and which comes to the conclusion that the BBC has been biased in favour of the project of European integration? I hope he will appreciate that I end my remarks with the hope that some small shoots are growing that give us the possibility that the BBC will be fair during the forthcoming campaign. However, I feel it needs some encouragement, at the very least from the noble Baroness when she responds to these amendments.
I deeply regret that I have not read the noble Lord’s debate from 2002 and I shall, of course, try to dig it out before I go to bed.
I am fascinated by these two amendments and by the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, being on both of them. They seem to call for completely different courses of action. I am reminded of the story of a crash between two Concordes in mid-Atlantic, with Henry Kissinger being found in both. The noble Lord should make up his mind. Is he in favour of an impartiality authority and a criminal offence, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra? I am particularly against that one: the creation of a new criminal offence requires a fair amount of thought. Or does he prefer, as I do, his own amendment? Actually, I am not really in favour of either of them. This is all a bit over the top.
My Lords, these amendments are not so much probing as having a go. Their purpose is clear: this is a warning shot. I was stunned by the telling possibility that, instead of the campaigns themselves determining the issues, we should leave it to the BBC to decide which campaigns were admitted. In moving the amendment, the noble Lord once again rated the Electoral Commission highly. However, the commission has looked at the amendments and said they are unnecessary. Ofcom believes they are overkill and the BBC has also set out how it will develop its own specific guidelines. I have no doubt that the issue of bias will draw attention from both sides during the campaign. Listening to the “Today” programme may annoy me on some occasions and make the noble Lord just as annoyed on others, but we may have heard completely different arguments. It is in the nature of things that we do not approach these issues without bias ourselves. Clearly, we are all committed. The important thing is that provisions to ensure fair reporting of the campaign do exist. The BBC will also set up specific guidelines for the referendum and will constantly run impartiality reviews during the campaign so that it can ensure delivery against its editorial standards. That all happened during the Scottish referendum. These amendments are having a go rather than probing. I hope the Minister will support that view.
My Lords, Amendments 60 and 61BA deal with the crucial question of bias. Both noble Lords have made it clear that that is the basis of the views they put forward. How should one and how can one ensure fair and impartial broadcast media coverage? Noble Lords have approached the matter in slightly different ways. However, it is absolutely right that the public will expect and demand of its broadcasters that news and current affairs coverage of the EU referendum and of all other issues should be balanced and impartial, and must enhance the democratic process through informing the public. This will of course be pivotal to the public debate ahead of the referendum. Therefore, it is the right thing to demand.
Given the unique reach and impact that the broadcast media have on our lives, members of the public can and do complain that broadcasters sometimes miss the mark in terms of the impartiality of their coverage and the balance of their output. Certainly, from time to time, there have been errors of judgment. Considering the importance of the media to forming opinions, it is right that we should consider modes of redress where mistakes are adjudged to have been made. These issues are too important to leave such errors to hang unchallenged or uncorrected. However, I do not believe that these amendments are the right way to address the issue.
It is the Government’s position that the existing regulatory framework is robust and well understood, and that the establishment of a new authority in this specific circumstance would not be workable or proportionate. But I do appreciate that noble Lords were trying to draw attention to bias rather than creating new bureaucratic structures.
My noble friend’s Amendment 60 puts a duty on the Electoral Commission to take on the role of establishing a new authority. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has alluded to, the Electoral Commission does not currently have the power to set up such an authority; nor does it have any expertise in policing the impartiality of broadcasting. That expertise is in the BBC Trust and Ofcom. The Electoral Commission has made it clear that it would not welcome such a role even if it were possible to legislate for it.
Even so, both amendments contain important points which demand serious attention on the matter of bias. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport wrote to Ofcom and the BBC Trust on 15 June asking them to explain how, as the responsible regulators, they will look to deliver prompt, proportionate redress where lapses in editorial judgment are adjudged to have been made. Ensuring that redress is made, and made promptly, is, I think, the overriding intent behind the new clauses.
Both the BBC Trust and Ofcom have responded, underlining the strict enforcement of the rules on impartiality and the additional steps that the BBC and Ofcom take to expedite the handling of serious complaints during an election or referendum period. Ofcom also confirmed that it will be reminding broadcasters of their responsibilities ahead of the referendum. If it would be helpful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, I would be happy to supply them with copies of those letters.
Issues, both recent and historic, have been raised over the impartiality of our broadcasters’ coverage of important issues and events. The review of the BBC’s coverage in 2005 by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, highlighted several issues; for example, that the BBC’s coverage needed to be more demonstrably impartial and that while there may have been no deliberate bias in BBC coverage of EU matters, there were perceptions that the BBC suffered from certain forms of cultural and unintentional bias.
Although the BBC implemented several changes following the noble Lord’s report, more recent complaints about the media’s coverage of the election and the Scottish independence referendum, and accusations of bias, have come to light. The speed at which today’s news media move and the potential for content that is not duly impartial to gain, by the very speed of it, an unwelcome, detrimental foothold in the minds of the public, means that we should all recognise the need for prompt, effective redress where mistakes are made.
It is vital to the high regard in which the UK’s broadcasters are held that their independence, impartiality and even-handedness are beyond question. In a world of increasing dominance of state broadcasters in other nations, where blatantly partial voices are gaining increased power and reach, it is critical that the integrity and impartiality of our broadcasters in the UK cannot be called into doubt or undermined. The quality and independence of our news coverage in the UK is a calling card for democracy, and carries huge weight in terms of our soft power abroad. We have debated that in relation to Foreign and Commonwealth Office policy issues over the past year.
As such, it is right that both the BBC and Ofcom put in place enhanced complaints-handling mechanisms for the referendum period that can provide swift and effective redress to serious concerns, as they have set out that they will do in writing to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. On the basis of that response, I request that my noble friend withdraw his amendment, and invite the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, not to move his Amendment 61BA when it is reached in the list.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that incredibly robust response: it is a tougher response than I anticipated when I tabled my amendment. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that I was not “having a go” or probing: it was more a shot across the bow, or rather flagging up a very important issue, because we cannot have biased reporting in this campaign from any broadcasting media outlet.
If this is to be brought back at Report, can we be assured that Sky and other broadcast media will be included in the coverage?
I do not intend to bring it back on Report, now that I have heard my noble friend’s response —but if I do bring it back on Report, it would be a very detailed clause that is much more accurate than the one we are discussing at the moment.
I was going to say that I had no idea that my right honourable friend John Whittingdale had actually written to the BBC, the other broadcast media and Ofcom, and I had no idea about the reply. That might explain why the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, says that he has identified—as I have as well—that the BBC has been more neutral on EU issues over the last few months. That is all that we wanted to achieve: we want that neutrality.
This very important little debate has taken only 30 minutes, and it is on the basis of two new clauses that were shot full of holes to begin with, but we have got some very important answers. As a little aside, I see my noble friend Lord Tebbit in his place; he has, in the past, as Conservative Party chairman, complained about BBC bias. Perhaps if he had bunged them £3 million a year from the Conservative Party, he might have got more favourable coverage. I am very grateful to my noble friend for her response tonight; I look forward to reading the letters and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 60 withdrawn.
61: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Count for votes cast
The count for votes cast in the referendum shall be carried out and declared separately for—(a) Scotland,(b) Wales,(c) Northern Ireland, and(d) England.”
My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, it falls on me to move Amendment 61, which, fortuitously, has my name attached to it. The amendment does what it says: it provides for the result of the referendum to be declared for each of the four constituent nations of these islands. It may well be that this amendment is not necessary to ensure that the people of each of the four nations know the referendum vote in each of their respective territories, but it puts the matter beyond doubt. It recognises the right of each nation to know how it has voted, and for the world to know that as well.
That brings me to the linked amendment in this group, as we come to the end of our Committee Stage debate. Amendment 61C, standing in my name, relates to one aspect on which we have only just touched, and perhaps have deliberately skirted around because of its far-reaching implications. That is the consequence if there were a split vote across the countries of Britain, with one or more of the constituent nations of the UK voting in a different direction from the UK as a whole.
The main focus of attention in this context has been Scotland voting to stay in the EU and the UK voting to leave. However, the arithmetic could equally apply to Wales or—perhaps in a different way—to Northern Ireland. I accept, for better or worse, the constitutional reality that the context of this referendum is the United Kingdom as a whole, for the simple reason that the UK is the member state of the EU which is contemplating leaving the Union. Therefore, it is a decision that has in the first place to be taken by the UK as a whole. If the UK as a whole votes to stay in the EU, even if one constituent nation voted to pull out, it would be extremely difficult for that nation to do so without erecting border controls between itself and the rest of the UK, and between itself and the rest of the European Union. I have not heard that option being seriously argued. If noble Lords feel to the contrary, they are clearly at liberty to put forward their own amendments to deal with that somewhat remote possibility.
However, we are all aware of the very real prospect that Scotland could vote to stay in the European Union and the UK could vote to leave, and that that could reopen the debate about rerunning the independence referendum in Scotland, with the real possibility that this time—for a variety of reasons, of which the EU dimension is just one—Scotland could vote for independence. If it did so, the Scottish Government might well aim, over the same period of time it might take for the UK to negotiate our departure from the EU—heaven forbid—to negotiate their own continuing membership. That road would clearly have its challenges. I do not intend to go down the highways and byways of that possibility at this late stage of the evening.
Incidentally, this is not a question that immediately arises in Wales because at present there is nothing like the same level of support for independence in Wales as there is in Scotland. At present in Wales, there is a widespread desire to secure greater autonomy, some of which is being addressed by the draft Wales Bill, which was recently published. There is certainly a feeling in Wales, and further afield, that the countries of the UK need a new relationship—a balanced partnership, if I can call it that, between the nations of these islands—but that does not manifest itself in the type of momentum towards independence we have seen in Scotland. However, the principle is equally valid in Wales, as it would be in Northern Ireland—or, indeed, in England. If England voted by a very small margin to stay in the EU, and the overall UK result was in favour of pulling out because of the votes of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, I believe that the same question would and should arise in an English context.
That brings us to the heart of the issue: what is to be the future relationship of the four nations of these islands? On 8 September, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave evidence to the panel chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, inquiring into better devolution for the whole of the UK. It was set up by the All-Party Group on Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution, co-chaired by the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Purvis of Tweed. Gordon Brown and I have not often seen eye to eye. I would never imagine myself turning to him for words relevant to my argument in the context that we are debating tonight. However, in his opening remarks before answering questions, he made a statement of immense significance. I quote directly from a transcript that has been cleared by his office:
“The UK is a voluntary association of nations and I would stress that if the UK is to exist in the future, then it has to do so for a clear and stated purpose”.
Those were his words in a Committee Room upstairs here.
I add that one such valid purpose is to work together within the EU. It is an immensely important vision and one on which the future relationships of our four nations should be built, for I believe that there is not a person in this House who does not realise that there must be an evolving relationship if the United Kingdom is to survive as a meaningful constitutional unit. If we are to consider ourselves a family of nations, that has implications for the responsibilities we have, one towards another. All happy, functional families intuitively realise that this is the case. There is give and take. It is not a matter of father laying down the law and everyone else doing what they are told.
There was a good example in our extended family a short while ago. The father wanted to move house. He had seen a property that appealed considerably to him some 15 miles away. His wife was willing to go along with the move, although undoubtedly it would cause her much additional work. However, the two children, who attended primary school in their home village, were horrified. They would have to move school, leave their friends and lose the out-of-school activities that were a key part of their lives. They were beside themselves with grief. The father realised the pain he would be inflicting on them if he imposed his will, as he had the authority to do. He wisely decided to forget his plans, in the interests of the happiness and cohesion of the family as a whole. That is the situation we potentially face in this referendum. If we are indeed a family of nations, we should behave as a family. This is the time to face such questions, not in the acrimonious aftermath of a knife-edge referendum result.
Amendment 61C provides for a quadruple lock that defines the basis on which the outcome of the referendum can be perceived as a vote to quit the EU. It would require a vote to do so not only by way of the aggregate outcome of all the votes cast in the United Kingdom, but also within each of the four nations which make up the United Kingdom. It provides that all four members of this family of nations should concur on such a far-reaching move. I am putting this forward to give the Government an opportunity to tell the House how they would handle the situation in which, for argument’s sake, Scotland had voted to stay within the EU while the total aggregate vote in the UK was in favour of leaving. With respect, it would not be good enough to say, “Well, we will cross that bridge when we come to it”, because by then it may be too late. Events will have gathered their own momentum. We would inevitably be facing another Scottish independence referendum. Is that what the Government, and this Chamber, really want?
There may be other formulations of words that would better achieve my objective in proposing this amendment. If so, let us have an improved wording from the Government at Report. All I say, in conclusion, is that if we are indeed living in a family of nations which is a voluntary association, this issue has to be addressed, and I hope the House can agree with that sentiment. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord is perfectly entitled to move his amendment, and although this late hour is probably not the moment to discuss some of these matters, I am just amazed that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle—I apologise as I am criticising him while he is not in his place—has put his name to at least part of this debate in support of having separate results announced in separate parts of the United Kingdom. We had a referendum in Scotland which we were assured by the nationalists would decide the matter for a generation. The Scottish people decided to remain part of the United Kingdom and within days the nationalists broke their word. Now we have the leader of the nationalists in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, talking about another referendum being inevitable.
The polls still show that a majority of people in Scotland wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. The issue is for the United Kingdom to decide. It is the United Kingdom that is a member of the European Union. I am appalled at the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and at the Opposition—I hope that the opposition Front Bench will distance themselves from this argument—for embarking on this nationalist language. It is what has destroyed the Labour Party in Scotland. They have talked about the Tories throughout the 1980s as not having a mandate in Scotland. They used the rhetoric of nationalism and they have been surprised to find that they themselves, as unionists, have been destroyed by it. Here we go again, arguing that this is somehow a decision that Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England should have representations on and that there should—as this amendment suggests—have to be a consensus between the four parts of the United Kingdom. It is a nationalist, or regionalist, argument, and should be no part of the consideration of these matters.
I understand why the nationalists in Scotland—and in Wales, it would seem—are scratching around for a reason to justify breaking their word. The Labour Party’s argument has been that we need to have a referendum quickly because of the uncertainty. The damage that is being done to jobs and investment in Scotland because of the uncertainty about the future of Scotland created by this irresponsible nationalist rhetoric, is immense. We took a decision in the referendum and I very much hope that when we have this referendum, whichever way it goes, that is the end of the matter and it is decided and we can get on with the business of creating wealth and jobs in our country. The exploitation of this referendum by the nationalists as a way of trying to create division and dissent in our country is reprehensible.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, is a decent and honourable man but he should go to Scotland and look at the division that has been created there by the intimidation that the nationalists were responsible for in the campaign, and the need for healing. The very last thing we need is a further attempt to create divisions between the peoples of this United Kingdom.
I just wonder what the reaction would have been if, prior to the referendum in Scotland, I had argued that because we are a family, the English ought to have their referendum and they ought to say what they think about Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, and that as a family we all have to agree upon this. The Scots would have been absolutely outraged. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. In this case it is absolutely a United Kingdom decision and it will be the votes in the United Kingdom as a whole that will decide whether or not we remain in the European Union. Anything less than that is striking at the heart of the United Kingdom and breaking up this family, which the people of Scotland voted—not narrowly but overwhelmingly—to reject. So I suggest, if I may, that the nationalists should get on with the job of persuading people in Scotland that they can deal with health, education, housing and all the other issues on which both Wales and Scotland are now falling way behind England in terms of performance, and stop trying to create division within our country, especially on an issue as important as this.
As so often, I wish that we had a Scottish nationalist in this Chamber to respond to the noble Lord’s points, with most of which I agree. I bow to no one in my respect for the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. His was a very moving speech and I agree with his description of the difficulties that could arise were different results to occur in the different parts of the kingdom. I think he is correct about that. I think his solution is absolutely wrong. I cannot support his amendment.
The amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Liddle, is probably unnecessary because I suspect that the votes will be counted separately in any case; I would hope so because there will certainly be rumours about what the result has been if it is close and it would be far better that there should be something on the record. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, it is a little harsh to accuse the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, of being a violent Scottish nationalist because he has put his name to that amendment.
There is a fundamental issue with Amendment 61C. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, proposes a quadruple lock in the situation in which, say, England has voted to leave the European Union and Northern Ireland has, by a very narrow majority, voted to stay in. If the noble Lord’s amendment was carried and became the law, we would stay in. That seems an unacceptable situation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth: it is a United Kingdom decision.
It is important to note that we have no threshold requirements in this referendum and we have had no amendment in Committee proposing that there should be a threshold. That is constitutionally quite surprising for a decision as big as this. The precedent would lead one to think about a threshold. I would not have wanted a threshold. I would not have wanted a supermajority, as in the precedent in Scotland in the 1970s. I do not like referenda but the essence of a referendum is that you win or lose. It is clean; it is 51% to 49%, for example. If 51% are in favour of our leaving the European Union, we will leave, and we should not create any fudge round that. This is a yes/no decision, and if you decide to go, you go. The double referenda theory attributed to Boris Johnson, which he appears to have come off—that if the decision was to go, there would be another negotiation in which the foreigners, astonished and timorous, would come creeping, offering us far better terms to stay in—is nonsense. If the country votes to leave the Government will be required to invoke Article 50 and start the process of coming out. It has to be clean. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that I think he is correct in his description of the difficulties that would arise, but the difficulties which would arise if his amendment were the law of the land would be much greater.
The noble Lord said that if the country voted to leave the Government would invoke Article 50, but surely that does not follow. It would be possible for us to remain in negotiations having voted to leave and then subsequently invoke Article 50, would it not? He is the expert.
I do not know what form these negotiations would take. I think that the position of a Government who said, “Okay, we have heard the nation speak, but now we are going to go and negotiate something else with Brussels. We are not acting on the decision the country has taken”—
My point is that if you invoke Article 50 you are then no longer a member and it does not necessarily follow that that would be the most appropriate way of dealing with it. You could remain as a member and negotiate our withdrawal and then use Article 50.
Actually, you are a member while the Article 50 negotiations are proceeding. You are a member of every council. Your MEPs do not leave the European Parliament, your judges do not leave the court and your Commissioners do not go home. The only difference is that in the Article 50 negotiations you do not have a vote on the position of the EU—the position that it has in its negotiation with you. That is all. You remain a member throughout the period of the Article 50 negotiations unless you decide unilaterally to go home. You do not have to do Article 50 at all. If you want you can just stop paying the bills, stop turning up at meeting and in due course it will be recognised that you have gone. It is not the case that once you invoke Article 50 you are no longer a member of the European Union.
Surely the key to the decision taken in the referendum is that it is advisory and not mandatory, so therefore it would not be necessary at once for the United Kingdom to apply for Article 50. We could merely carry on with the negotiations with absolutely nothing changing whatever.
Technically, that is correct. It is advisory. But it seems to me that anybody who thinks that the Government could do other than act fairly quickly on the advice they had received from the entire country is in cloud-cuckoo-land. The noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Hamilton, are right in a sense in that our influence in the councils of the European Union would go into very rapid decline. We would still be there but we would not be listened to a great deal if we were heading for the exit door. That is certainly true. However, we would be members, and the idea—with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton—that the Government might consider whether they were going to act on the advice of the country or going to try some form of new negotiation is nonsense. If the country votes to come out, we come out.
My Lords, it seems to me that this is a piece of nonsense. Wales is not a member of the European Union, nor is England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom is the member of the European Union. Therefore, it does not matter a damn whether some region or another—whether it is Wales, London, Ponders End or wherever—votes one way or another. The only thing that matters is which way the United Kingdom votes.
I do not intend to be provocative at this time of night—good lord, I never intend to be provocative—but it is worth remembering that there is considerable doubt over whether, if Scotland had voted to leave the United Kingdom, either it or the remainder of the United Kingdom would have continued to be a member of the European Union. The state which entered the European Union was the United Kingdom; if the United Kingdom had ceased to exist, then probably neither Scotland nor the remainder of the United Kingdom would have been a member of the European Union. It would have been up to the Scottish— and possibly the Welsh at some time or another—to negotiate entry into the European Union. We could all have a bit of a chuckle about how that would have gone, but essentially this is just a piece of nonsense which is not even worth discussing at this time of the evening.
My Lords, I do not want to detain the Committee for long. I am aware that the last two evenings I have said I would be brief but then was not; this evening, I really do want to be brief. As for Amendment 61, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has said, the assumption is that we will hear the results by region and possibly by constituency. Therefore, including in the Bill the idea of counting by nation, rather than state or region, is unnecessary—although we will all be delighted to know what the result is in Gibraltar, given that we have spent so much time talking about it. So many of the amendments and briefings seem to talk about Gibraltar.
Amendment 61C is the more substantive. Although it is clearly important that we listen to the views of all four nations—I suspect the Cornish, if they were standing here, would be saying that they wanted to be heard too—and that all parts of the United Kingdom are heard, in practice, as we have heard from most parts of the Chamber, if not from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, this is a vote by the United Kingdom. Amendment 61C seems, in that sense, inappropriate.
My Lords, I begin by saying just how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. The question is about the United Kingdom’s membership—there is no other question being asked and therefore the answer will be that we remain or that we leave. There is no doubt about that, but I will pick up just one point.
No matter how tempting it would be for me to enter into a long discussion about the history and politics of Scotland, I will resist that. However, I think the first amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lord Liddle, is unnecessary. I cannot be certain about the exact process, but what we all want is a very clear, transparent declaration of a result. I can assure all noble Lords that nobody would be satisfied with a computer output saying, “In the United Kingdom, X million voted this way”. We must have transparency: every voting area must declare and we must be able to see how that result is made up. That is how we have always done things and I cannot see any reason for changing that. I therefore think my noble friend Lord Liddle’s amendment is a bit unnecessary. However, this still does not avoid the point that whatever the result, it must be the result for the United Kingdom. One possible scenario is that England will vote, potentially by a small minority, to leave, while the rest of the United Kingdom will vote by large majorities to stay. That could happen, but it would not change the result. The result would be very clear: if we vote that way, even by a majority of one, we leave the European Union.
At this time of night, it is tempting simply to say, “I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury”, and thereby with my noble friends Lord Tebbit and Lord Forsyth, but I have a duty to put on record the reasons why the amendments are not welcome.
Amendment 61, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, seeks to ensure that votes cast in the referendum are counted and declared separately for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. I can give an assurance that, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and the Bill, that is already the case. Counting officers will declare separate results for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. Regional counting officers will declare separate results for Scotland and Wales. In addition, the chief counting officer will declare results for the combined UK and Gibraltar, which will then be the overall result of the referendum.
It may assist the Committee if I set out briefly how the 2000 Act already achieves this, just to put to bed—so to speak, at this time of night—any remaining questions. The Bill provides for the UK and Gibraltar to be divided into different voting areas and for groups of voting areas in Great Britain to be treated as different electoral regions. The referendum will be administered on the ground by counting officers, one for each voting area. In England, Scotland and Wales, these will be the returning officers who act at local elections and the voting areas will mirror local authority areas. Northern Ireland will form a separate voting area and its counting officer will be the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland. Gibraltar will also form a separate voting area and its counting officer will be the Clerk to the Gibraltar Parliament.
The chief counting officer may also appoint a regional counting officer for each electoral region in Great Britain. The electoral regions mirror those for the European parliamentary elections. Scotland and Wales will each form an electoral region; separately, clearly. England will be divided up—I prefer that to “broken up”—into nine regions. Regional counting officers will co-ordinate the actions of counting officers and deliver the referendum in their region. Under the 2000 Act and the Bill, each counting officer must count the votes cast and make a declaration as to the votes cast in his or her voting area. Each regional counting officer must do the same in his or her region and the chief counting officer must make a declaration of the votes cast across the whole of the UK and Gibraltar.
Does that mean that we will not have individual declarations in each district council area but that they will be aggregated and we will hear a declaration from a European region? I presume that we will still get access the next day to the figures for each district council.
The short answer is pretty much yes—there will be local reflection of that. The effect of the provisions is that there are separate results declared for the regions that are the subject of this amendment; Scotland and Wales separately, because they are electoral regions and that is their process; Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, each of which is called a voting area, separately; and further declarations will be made by the regional counting officers in each of the regions of England. It will be possible to add together all the published information to produce the result for England as a whole. So we get there in the end.
Amendment 61C, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, seeks to impose a so-called double majority lock. Under this amendment, the chief counting officer could declare that a majority had voted in favour of the UK leaving the EU only if there is a majority for that result in each of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have made it clear that I agree entirely with my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Tebbit and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that that is not at all appropriate. It is a decision for the whole country. The people of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar will have a vote, and each vote will and should count equally. That is the only fair way to take a decision of this magnitude. We are one United Kingdom. The referendum will be on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU and it is right, therefore, that there will be one referendum and one result. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, to withdraw Amendment 61.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the response and for the interest that this debate has generated among a number of noble Lords. I cannot say that I am entirely surprised at the tenor of the debate or the comments that have been made, but before withdrawing the amendment, I will say just two things. First, I passionately want all four nations of the United Kingdom to stay part of the European Union because I believe that both our local family of nations and the greater family of nations are apposite for such a relationship.
I also ask noble Lords to think, between now and Report and as this campaign goes on, what will be the consequences were that to happen. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said that he very much wanted to see the end of debating an independence referendum again. I am sure that he would accept that there is a greater danger of that referendum coming closer if those two results are different and the consequences of the referendum are taken for the UK as a whole.
If that is not the case, it flies in the face of what has been happening in Scottish politics—the fact that 56 out of 59 Members of Parliament are SNP. That surely has a message, and we should be thinking about how we respond to it. I am trying to put forward ideas and grasping at some ideas that Gordon Brown is putting forward about a new association of family members within these islands. We have a commonality of interests in many ways, and we have our distinctive differences as well. There is a need to build on that basis for the future, and the European referendum is one of those contexts.
The noble Lord is right: 56 out of 59 of the MPs were elected as Scottish nationalists. They stood in the general election on a platform that the referendum had decided the matter and that the election was not about the issue of independence. During the referendum campaign, their party gave an assurance that this was a once-in-a-generation decision. So it is quite wrong to suggest that that result in any way vindicates the idea that you can rerun the referendum if something else happens which you may or may not agree with.
I understand entirely what the noble Lord is saying; all I am saying is that if the outcome was as I postulated, and as he accepts is a possibility—not a probability, but a possibility—there are consequences which, unless we think our way through them ahead of the referendum, will come back to haunt us. I put the amendment forward in a constructive spirit, not to try to pull things to bits. I am sure that the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will be heard loud and clear in Scotland. I am not trying to pull things to bits; I am trying to feel a way forward so that we can work together. Even if this is not the formula, there needs to be some formula.
On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 61 withdrawn.
Amendment 61A not moved.
Amendment 61B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 61BA not moved.
Amendments 61C and 61D not moved.
Clauses 7 and 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Definitions
62: Clause 9, page 6, line 9, at end insert—
““the referendum period” has the meaning given by paragraph 1 of Schedule 1;”
Amendment 62 agreed.
Clause 9, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 10 to 12 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.
House adjourned at 10.40 pm.