House of Lords
Wednesday 23 March 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leeds.
Death of a Former Member: Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, my officials are in regular contact with the veterinary profession, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association, concerning veterinary capacity across the UK. We have been made aware that there has been a long shortage of UK-trained veterinary graduates, which began before the UK voted to leave the European Union. Defra has been working with stakeholders to understand the reasons for this shortage and develop potential solutions.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that since the ending of the free movement of people following Brexit, the number of EU-registered vets coming to work in the UK has fallen by 68%, down from over 1,100 in 2019 to just 364 last year? Is this not yet another example of the total disaster that Brexit has been for the UK? So, what additional funding will the Government make available next year to expand the number of UK university places for veterinary students, and how many years will it take to train adequate numbers?
We already have new vets coming into the profession from the University of Surrey scheme, which was brought in a few years ago. Since then, we have new schools appearing at Harper Adams and Keele, the University of Central Lancashire and the Scottish royal colleges, and a collaboration between Aberystwyth University and the Royal Veterinary College. This will bring on stream new vets, trained in this country, to work here, alongside other measures we are bringing in to resolve the shorter-term problems that the noble Lord identified.
My Lords, have the Government considered some of the allied professions, such as chiropractic, osteopathy and physio- therapy, for the treatment of musculoskeletal problems in animals, especially horses and dogs? All of these professions are well qualified, evidence-based and self-regulated, and this would enormously ease the pressure on veterinary practices.
Some of the practices that my noble friend raises certainly have an impact on animal welfare and dealing with animal illnesses. But the most important thing is that we get more trained professionals in the veterinary profession, which is what the Government are seeking to do, by a range of measures.
There are a lot of different veterinary roles besides general practice—we have to have official veterinarians as part of our products of animal origin process, and in abattoirs. Working with the royal college, we have changed the required language standard, which has resulted in more coming in. We have successfully negotiated with the Home Office to get this profession listed as a shortage profession, which has brought more in. We are also consulting and working in a whole range of ways to get more veterinarians working in this country.
My Lords, the reasons for the current shortage of vets are complex, but involve the three Rs—recruitment, retention and, particularly, encouraging returners back to work after career breaks. With reference to recruitment to veterinary schools, nearly one-quarter of veterinary graduates produced by UK vet schools are actually overseas students, mainly Americans, who are unlikely to devote their careers to strengthening the UK workforce but whose high overseas fees are essential to make up for the underfunding of the UK student core grant. Will the Minister press the Government to raise the core funding for band A veterinary students in the UK, which would displace the need to take overseas students and immediately increase very substantially the number of UK students undergoing veterinary training in our universities?
We should all be very grateful to the noble Lord for his involvement in creating the new courses across a number of different universities. I shall certainly take his suggestion away and make sure that, across government, there is an understanding of the very real need to get more veterinary surgeons in this country trained in our universities and functioning in our veterinary profession.
My Lords, numbers have fallen sharply, with the number of registered vets from the EU being less than one-third of the expected figure. A large proportion of public health veterinary work was done by vets from European countries. The real problem is not the number of UK students graduating, but the fact that they want to work not in public health but in private clinical practice. What are the Government going to do to rectify that?
Working in an abattoir or assessing the viability of products of animal origin is not necessarily why everyone goes into the veterinary profession, but they are important professions and part of it. We are working with the royal college to make sure that it is a career people want to go into. We are working with the Food Standards Agency, which is now going to recruit 25% of official veterinarians itself, rather than going through a third body, to make sure that we can career-manage them to stay in the profession and prosper in it.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the British Veterinary Association and congratulate my noble friend on the work his department has done. However, on the question of abattoirs, does not he accept that the shortage of veterinary workers is causing the scandal of the backlog? How does he intend to address that?
I think it very important to say that there is no threat to human health resulting from the shortage of official veterinarians working in abattoirs. There is adequate coverage. It is a problem, and we are seeking to address it in a number of ways that I have already stated, and others. I hope we can reassure the public that, while there is a shortage, there is no risk to public health.
My Lords, officials at the agriculture department in Northern Ireland have indicated that, if and when the so-called grace periods under the protocol end, the number of agri-food certificates needing processing will be close to the number currently processed by the European Union as a whole. It is 20% even as things stand. That would require an enormous number of vets, and the Chief Veterinary Officer has said that he simply does not have them. Apart from the principle that these checks are unacceptable, they simply are not workable in practice. What are the Government doing about it?
The Chief Veterinary Officer for Northern Ireland recently referred to
“available veterinary resource located in Northern Ireland points of entry, delivering efficient controls on sanitary and phytosanitary goods entering Northern Ireland through third countries and Great Britain”.
The veterinary resource remains at 12, and the DAERA Minister has put an embargo on further recruitment to operations in ports. In Northern Ireland, official meat inspection in approved slaughterhouses is delivered by a team of DAERA officials, and Northern Ireland meat-inspection services are currently fully resourced.
My Lords, there is a way of ameliorating the problem. Under the trade and co-operation agreement, there is a specialised committee on SPS measures. It has so far met only once, in September last year, but it could be very useful in dealing with this problem. What plans are there for the committee to meet again and discuss this problem?
My Lords, all this was exactly predicted by the EU scrutiny committees of this House before and after Brexit. We took evidence and knew what was going to happen. The noble Lord is quite right: the shortage did occur before Brexit; I do not deny that. The last Labour Government started scholarships; this Government started Keele and Harper Adams in particular. However, what we need is food-production animal vets, not companion animal vets. That is the problem and given the current situation of banning people coming here from Europe, I do not see how we are going to solve it. While there is no safety issue in the abattoirs at present, there will be if things carry on like this.
The noble Lord is quite right to point out that this has been a long-running problem. In fact, it is large-animal vets we want to see more of. We want to encourage people into the profession and to go not just for the smaller animal sector, but for farm animals as well. We were, however, successful in negotiating with the Home Office to have this profession listed as a shortage occupation, and that has resulted in more vets coming into this country. We want to see more of that.
My Lords, the launch of the loneliness strategy in 2018 marked a lasting shift in the Government’s approach to tackling loneliness. Since 2018, the Government and their partners have invested almost £50 million in tackling loneliness, including in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have reached millions of people through awareness-raising campaigns and have developed a network of more than 150 organisations to join us in this work. Our latest annual report provides further detail on its impact.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Loneliness remains endemic, with the Office for National Statistics reporting that the long-term disabled, widowed homeowners, unmarried middle-agers and young renters are those who are most likely to experience social isolation. While the strategy suggests that it is a government priority, I note that loneliness is no longer featured as a ministerial responsibility on the department’s website. Does the Minister agree that it is more important than ever to keep focused on tackling and preventing loneliness as we emerge from the pandemic? Will the strategy be reviewed, so that no one is left behind as the world continues to open?
As the noble Baroness said, the pandemic has thrown into relief the importance of tackling loneliness. We were aware of it before the pandemic, and the pandemic made it more urgent. My honourable friend Nigel Huddleston, the Minister responsible, sees himself very much as the lead Minister, but not the only Minister, for it, because this is a cross-government effort. That is the reason for the cross-government strategy, and work has been done in all departments. Of course, we continue to evaluate the work to see how we can do it better.
My Lords, the strategy highlights family well-being as crucial in preventing loneliness and the need to support families. The Children’s Commissioner has just been tasked with reviewing family life, following the finding of the commission on race and ethnic disparities that high rates of family breakdown are a major risk factor in loneliness and are key to outcome disparities. Some 63% of black Caribbean children grow up in a lone-parent household. Will measures to prevent family breakdown be included in her remit?
My noble friend is right to point to the importance of family in tackling loneliness. Of course, family events such as bereavement, becoming a parent and moving house can have an impact. Research also suggests that people of colour are more likely to experience certain barriers, which can cause loneliness for them, including access to community services, harassment, discrimination and feeling disconnected from the community. I will discuss the point about the Children’s Commissioner’s review with my noble friend Lady Barran, who is responsible, as the Minister in the Department for Education, and who of course, as a previous lead Minister for Loneliness, has done so much herself to tackle awareness of this important issue.
My Lords, will the Minister take into account the fact that sporting and artistic voluntary groups are almost by definition an answer to this problem? What are the Government doing to allow them to rebuild their capacity after Covid and how far across government does it go?
The noble Lord is right. Community and volunteer groups of all shapes and sizes play an important role. Since April 2020, we have continued to grow the membership of the Tackling Loneliness Network to over 150 members. Last year, we published our Tackling Loneliness Network action plan, setting out actions that members of the network committed to take to tackle loneliness during the pandemic. We will continue to review that and see how that work can be furthered.
There can be no more lonely experience than that of CFS/ME sufferers, for whom crushing fatigue is just one of a long list of symptoms that interfere with—and I would say prevent—normal social interactions. NICE recently issued guidelines for CFS/ME sufferers. Will the Minister agree to contact NICE to see if it would consider adding a section on loneliness for these particular sufferers—as I understand it, it did not include that issue within its guidelines?
I shall follow up that point with my honourable friend Nigel Huddleston and colleagues at the Department of Health. The noble Baroness is right: we know that people with long-term health conditions are significantly more likely to report feeling lonely. Through our loneliness funding, we have supported groups that work with people with disabilities and long-term health conditions to support them to feel more connected, including Mencap, the National Autistic Society, the British Deaf Association and the RNIB, to name just a few. I will follow up the point that she makes about NICE as well.
My Lords, this Question is a tribute to the late Jo Cox MP. It is shocking that 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative for over a month. I am old enough to remember when, in the north-east, most family members lived nearby, in close-knit communities. If I cut my head as a child, my mother would run three doors down the street and consult granny, who would tell her what to do. In a sense, this is the negative side of social mobility. Does the noble Lord agree that, by properly addressing the question of loneliness, we will reduce a burden on the National Health Service?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to remind us of the important contribution made by the late Jo Cox in driving forward cross-party work in this important area. Through our loneliness funding we have supported groups that work with older people to help them connect, including the Alzheimer’s Society and the English Football League Trust. Last year, members of our Tackling Loneliness Network formed a group focused on loneliness among older people to explore the issue further. The group’s recommendations were included as part of the action plan which I mentioned earlier, and an update on progress to deliver that was included in our most recent annual report.
My Lords, there can be no doubt that the subject of loneliness is very well worth discussion in this House, and we are all grateful that it should be raised. I would like to endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Farmer when he pointed out the relationship between loneliness and family. Surely the most important unit of all in social policy considerations should be the family. I would like to hear my noble friend endorse that and say that family considerations will be taken into account in all future consideration of social policy.
Family is vital, not just in this area but across so many areas of social policy and the Government’s work. We know that peoples’ family situations can have an impact on their experience of loneliness. We are looking to improve the evidence base to understand the challenges that people face through loneliness, including the impact of their family situation. We have brought together experts and academics in the tackling loneliness evidence group to identify what areas we need to look into further, and what research should be done, to see how we can address the remaining evidence gaps.
My Lords, the Government’s idea of a socially connected society is a good one, but do they recognise enough, or recognise at all, the key role that poverty plays in disconnecting society? Has the Minister seen the recent study by UCL and the University of Manchester which found that older people in the poorest sector of the population in England were more than twice as likely to feel isolated as those in the richest, and that this was true both during and before the first lockdown?
The noble Lord makes an important point which links to the Government’s wider work in levelling up to ensure that people of all backgrounds, across the country, have access to the services and the opportunities that they need. The levelling-up White Paper set out clear ambitions to improve peoples’ well-being, their pride in place and sense of community, and to create opportunities across the country. We know that connected communities provide people with opportunities to develop strong social relationships, and this is an important point. We will continue to explore opportunities to embed loneliness in the Government’s thinking on our important work on levelling up.
I am very mindful that my right honourable friend the Chancellor has, in another place, been setting out the Spring Statement, the details of which I have not yet had a chance to acquaint myself with. From what I have seen, I know he is addressing the pressures on public finances and household budgets, including the point made by the right reverend Prelate.
My Lords, I wish to follow up the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on people with ME, and to include other long-term conditions. Does the Minister think it possible to give guidance to the new integrated care systems in the health service to develop a local strategy to deal specifically with the issue of loneliness for people with long-term conditions?
Local councils, local health systems and voluntary and community sector organisations all have important roles to play in tackling loneliness. I will follow up the point made by the noble Lord, as I will the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in relation to health.
Covid-19: Vaccines and Further Variants
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the suppliers of COVID-19 vaccines about updating their effectiveness against further variants of the virus, prior to any delivery of a fourth vaccination to the wider population of the United Kingdom later this year.
My Lords, we are in regular discussions with vaccine developers about the efficaciousness of their existing vaccines and the variant vaccines that they are working on. Both Moderna and Pfizer are conducting clinical trials for omicron-specific variant vaccines. The contracts that we have signed with Pfizer and Moderna contain flexibilities to ensure that the UK can receive any updated vaccine produced, if production is switched. Having had a booster continues to provide a much-improved level of protection against omicron.
My Lords, I am looking forward to my fourth vaccine dose, and to the Government making a decision to have a full rollout in the autumn. It is undoubtedly true that the effectiveness of the vaccine has been to reduce the impact and the great danger, and therefore the knock-on effects on the health service. But it is also true—it is the elephant in the room—that it is not providing immunity. It is very welcome that the noble Baroness has been able to assure us that work is going on, but could this be accelerated on an international basis? This is not just about the UK; this is about a global pandemic which still has not gone away.
The noble Lord is right: the current vaccines are very effective at protecting against serious disease, hospitalisation and death, but not so much against the transmissibility of the disease. UK scientists are in touch with scientists around the world, and we pool information. The noble Lord will be pleased to know that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being trialled in the US, and tomorrow, trials start at St George’s in London as well.
My Lords, we know that Covid is capable of producing endless variants and that seems to be the problem at the moment. What are the Government doing to try to reduce the risk of these variants? Are they working with countries around the world to get some resolution to this?
As noble Lords will be aware, the best way of reducing the number of variants is to vaccinate as many people in the world as possible. The UK has donated £548 million to COVAX to provide vaccines for people in lower- income countries. We successfully met the PM’s target to donate 30 million vaccines internationally by the end of 2021. We are on track to meet the 100 million target set by the Prime Minister at the G7 last June and have set out a plan to donate 70 million of these. More than 43 million doses have now been delivered, with approximately 38 million having been received by COVAX and 7 million having been delivered directly by the UK to countries in need. These donations have benefited more than 30 countries. I know noble Lords will say that there is more that we can do, and indeed there probably is, but they should rest assured that the Government are working very hard to increase their ability to export these vaccines.
My Lords, despite the Minister’s comments at the beginning of this Question, Nature published a report on 18 March saying that while vaccines protect against the omicron subvariant, their effect really does not last long. Will the Government place an order for the recently approved Evusheld as a pre-exposure prophylaxis drug, which Ministers have promised the very vulnerable since July last year? What steps are the Government taking to protect the severely immunocompromised in the longer term, including in their decision on who will be eligible for free lateral flow tests?
I will do my best to answer the noble Baroness’s question, but it stretches into the health brief somewhat. On protection for the very vulnerable, on Monday we announced the rollout of the programme for the second booster for the vulnerable and the over-75s. It is not possible to predict what the long-term vaccine programme will look like, but undoubtedly there will be another vaccine in the autumn. We already have contracts in place for vaccines that we believe will be effective against any future variants and those trials have already started. Given the way the UK is approving these vaccines, with a rolling programme of research going to the regulatory authority, they can be approved very quickly and could even be introduced by September or October this year.
My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests. Is the Minister content that we are retaining sufficient capacity and infrastructure for testing and, in particular, genome sequencing of the virus in positive cases? This will inform a better understanding of the emergence of new variants, which will ultimately inform the development of new vaccines.
The noble Lord asks a very good question; unfortunately, I do not think I will be able to give him a proper answer. I suggest that I speak to my colleague in the Department of Health and get him a written answer, which we will make available to all noble Lords.
Again, the noble Lord asks a question which is specifically about the health benefits. This Question was geared more towards manufacturing and the resilience of the UK’s ability to produce vaccines. Again, I suggest that I ask my noble friend in the Department of Health to answer that question in writing.
My Lords, given my noble friend’s earlier commitment to international donation, is it not high time that we made a bilateral donation to Nepal in order to fulfil our duty of care to our 30,000 Gurkha veterans and ensure that they are finally vaccinated? I declare my interest as Deputy Colonel Commandant of the Brigade of Gurkhas.
My Lords, while multivariant vaccines would of course be a big step towards living with Covid, the WHO recently advised that the timeframe for their development is somewhat uncertain. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that emerging variants continue to be tackled individually while multi- variant vaccine development is ongoing?
That is precisely what Pfizer and Moderna are doing. They are looking at the different variants and our contracts with them will allow their vaccines to be tweaked in order to cope with those variants. Given the way that the regulatory authorities in this country work, they can now be manufactured very quickly and be available to the public within months.
My Lords, the Minister was so right to say that the best way to fight variants is to defeat the virus worldwide. I am grateful for what she said about donations but, in the scale of things, they are a drop in the ocean. Can she update the House on the Government’s position in the current negotiations at the WTO around the TRIPS waiver and can she say whether, in the negotiations with the drug companies that she referred to, we are using our leverage to ensure that they share their know-how with countries in the global South that could produce generic vaccines for their populations?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about the availability of Evusheld for those for whom a vaccine is wholly ineffective or contraindicated. I add that on Monday a study by the Washington University School of Medicine demonstrated that Evusheld was effective in providing protection against all variants of omicron. We as a Government are lagging behind 21 other countries which have entered into contracts for the availability of this for pre-exposure prophylaxis for the severely immunocompromised. Will the Government now act to put that contract in place?
My Lords, I understand that due to the lack of sustainability and diversification of supply of the vaccine, still only 10% of people living in lower-income countries are fully vaccinated. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to support the TRIPS waiver for lower-income countries to improve the accessibility of vaccines, tests and treatment?
I said to the noble Baroness’s noble friend that I would write about we are doing on the TRIPS waiver, with which I am not familiar. I will endeavour to include the answer to the noble Baroness’s question in the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.
My Lords, those Members of your Lordships’ House, including me, who have recently had this disease, despite being fully vaccinated and boosted, will know that it is not entirely to be treated lightly, even post vaccination. Does the Minister agree that, while we certainly depend on vaccinations for the future and are hoping that they will evolve and become more widely available both here and elsewhere in the world, high levels of public health messaging about other forms of simple protection against transmission of this disease really need to continue and currently they really are not?
My Lords, the Government have condemned the appalling way that P&O Ferries has treated its staff. These loyal employees have been working tirelessly to keep our country supplied with essential goods, particularly through the pandemic. We wrote to P&O Ferries seeking information on the decisions it took, to determine whether it had breached UK employment law. We are carefully considering its reply, which the Secretary of State and BEIS have just received. If the rules have been broken, we will not hesitate to take further action.
My Lords, let us look at the facts. P&O has abused the employment rights of its workers. It took public money while its parent company paid £270 million in dividends. Its UK operating profits are almost wiped out by unexplained administrative expenses. The company is engaged in profit shifting and pays little or no corporation tax. Its 2020 accounts show a pension deficit of £95 million. Any responsible Government would immediately investigate P&O’s abuses. Can the Minister explain why this Government have not begun an independent inquiry?
We are taking a number of steps. We are engaged with the Insolvency Service regarding the steps P&O Ferries took in this whole restructuring and redundancy exercise. The £15 million received by P&O was part of the furlough scheme and therefore to the benefit of the employees rather than the company. I know that P&O will still be accountable for the deficit in the pension contribution to the Merchant Navy Ratings Pension Fund. The Government are working very hard in a fast-moving situation to get answers to all those questions and to take the appropriate action.
My Lords, I apologise that I was not here yesterday: my wife had a very bad fall and fractured her head, so we spent two days in the hospital, but I wanted to be here today. I hope noble Lords will bear with me.
The most important thing for everybody in this House —or any house, individuals or otherwise—is your reputation. I am today wearing the tie of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which goes back nearly 200 years. My predecessor served at the Battle of Trafalgar and, as a matter of interest, my noble friend Lord Lamont is a direct descendant of the first chairman, who was in the Shetland Islands.
What I want to say is this—
I will issue a statement separately from this, but I wanted to ask this. People from all over the world are deeply upset and concerned about the reputation of a company that has been one of the greatest companies, and of which I have had the honour to be a part for nearly 40-odd years. I stood down in 2005—
No, I have to say this, because it is very important. Dubai has had the company for 16 years. Does the Minister agree that the way Dubai has handled this is totally unforgivable to its reputation but, most of all, for all those who serve this country?
I thank the noble Lord for reminding the House of his career in P&O, which was one of my first clients in the 1980s, when I joined the shipping department of Bank of America, and I remember him well. The Government are absolutely shocked by the actions of P&O Ferries, and we must make the point here that there is no relationship between P&O Ferries and P&O Cruises, which are entirely separate organisations. We are shocked by its actions over the past week. We have been angered by the lack of empathy and consideration that P&O Ferries has demonstrated towards its employees. The way that these workers were informed was completely unacceptable, especially as P&O Ferries received millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ support through furlough.
My Lords, as the Minister knows, multi-divisional companies such as DP World use a legal corporate veil so that they can hide behind the deeds of those subsidiaries. However, there is no moral corporate veil and DP World is morally implicated in the activities of P&O Ferries. How can the Government continue to do business with DP World, how can they continue to give it £50 million in tax breaks and why are they not suspending immediately the involvement of DP World in the two freeports that it has been granted?
The noble Lord is right and, as Ministers stated in the other place, we are reviewing existing arrangements and working with all government departments to consider what relationships we have with DP World. This includes my honourable friend in another place, Minister Scully, saying that the company should be on notice that it had fundamentally changed the relationship with government, including a £25 million subsidy the company received to help develop London Gateway as a freeport. It needs to realise that the relationship between the companies and the Government has changed as a result of its absolutely callous conduct.
My Lords, if P&O Ferries’ disgraceful action of sacking its workforce and bringing in agency workers to replace them on £2 an hour, with its ships being re-flagged outside the UK is not illegal, it certainly should be. What happened to taking back control? The Government could have prevented this, had they supported a Labour Private Member’s Bill that would have outlawed such fire and rehire practices. How will the Government stop this ever happening again? Will they now, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, review DP World’s suitability for the £50 million freeport contracts it has recently been awarded?
My Lords, I answered the last question with the words of my right honourable friend in the other place. The noble Lord is quite right that there is some truth in Barry Gardiner’s Private Member’s Bill, but I am not sure that it would have helped in this case, given that the fire and rehire may not apply to the replacement of British workers with lower-paid workers from overseas in a maritime context, as their contracts were with Jersey and therefore may not have been subject to UK law. However, we are looking at all these things and working out how we can take this matter forward and stop companies taking advantage of a loophole in the minimum wage legislation as it stands.
My Lords, can the Government take a very strong line on this? Many trade unionists will be looking very carefully to see how strong the government reaction is. Can the Minister take up with the DWP the fact that P&O was in the pension scheme of the Merchant Navy in a “last man standing” scheme, so if there is a deficit in this scheme, it could affect seafarers from all over the seafaring world, far beyond P&O?
I assure my noble friend that P&O is still accountable for its deficits in the pension scheme, particularly in the Merchant Navy ratings reserve fund. Regarding interaction with the trade unions on the situation, we are working closely with them to understand their concerns and act in support of their aims where possible, including to establish the legality—or lack thereof—of the actions of P&O. Minister Courts held a round table with maritime unions last week to discuss how Governments can best support maritime workers. We will continue to engage with unions as appropriate.
My Lords, I am glad that Her Majesty’s Government are considering changes to the law to prevent this sort of outrage happening in the future. However, one thing is clear. Simply tightening up the loopholes exploited by P&O, or increasing the financial compensation caps, will not be enough with an employer who has long pockets. I suggest three steps which would have real teeth. First, as the Minister has mentioned, Barry Gardiner’s fire and rehire Bill would allow an injunction to compel consultation. Secondly, we should amend the Equalities Act to allow an injunction to prevent what is clearly discrimination on grounds of nationality. Thirdly, trade unions should once again be allowed to take solidarity action.
My Lords, we are committed to reviewing and monitoring the impacts of minimum wage legislation—including for seafarers—very closely, to ensure that it meets modern employment practices. Two years ago, the Government pledged to conduct a review of all NMW law in relation to seafarers and a working group was formed to explore this. I am sure that we will be looking at its results in responding to this crisis.
The contracts that the seafarers were subject to were for international waters; land-based employers will still be subject to minimum wage legislation here, but there is a difference between many of the staff. The problem we have is that the 800 who were made redundant have received rather good packages, perhaps more than they would get through a tribunal, so it may be up to them to be supported by their trade unions.
Spring Statement Affordability Test
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps, if any, they took ahead of the Spring Statement to conduct an affordability test on the impact of the rise in cost of living, the reduction in Universal Credit payments of £20 per week and inflation rates for lower income families, and if so, what did it conclude.
The Government take seriously impacts on the cost of living for households, including when considering policies for the Spring Statement, and are providing support worth over £22 billion in 2022-23 to help. Her Majesty’s Treasury has published analysis alongside the Spring Statement, estimating the impact of policies announced, since the spending round 2019, on households. This shows that, in 2024-25, the tax, welfare and spending decisions will have benefited the poorest households the most as a percentage of their income.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, but this is not 2024-25. What people need now is cash in their pockets, not tax cuts later in the Parliament. Had the Treasury done an assessment—in fact, anyone can do the assessment—it would have concluded that the poorest people in this country simply will not be able to meet their bills, because of the impact of electricity and energy costs, because of food inflation and because CPI does not measure the real inflation rates that are felt by the poorest families in the country. Will my noble friend ask her colleague the Chancellor, whose measures I welcome today, to look again at the recommendation from the Economic Affairs Committee of this House to restore the £20 a week payment for people on universal credit?
My Lords, the Government absolutely understand that people need support with their household bills now. That is why, previously, we had announced £9 billion to support households with energy costs over the coming year. We consider all recommendations by the Economic Affairs Committee very carefully. Of course, we have provided further support to those on universal credit through cutting the taper rate and increasing the work allowance.
My Lords, I never thought I would find myself saying this, but I must commend this Question from the noble Lord. It seems to me that it goes to the essence of good government. The Government should try to understand the needs of all sections of our society, particularly those with the greatest needs and the least influence. This morning, we learned that inflation has hit 6.2%—a 30-year high —and is likely to continue climbing. Today’s Spring Statement contained modest changes aimed at working people, but nothing—I repeat: nothing—to ease the very genuine concerns of pensioners and benefit claimants. Those relying on social security face significant real-terms cuts in their payments in just two weeks’ time. Why have the Government chosen, yet again, not to ease the huge cost-of-living pressures faced by some of the most vulnerable in society? Is it because, as individuals, members of the Government cannot envisage the appalling pain of real poverty, and hence believe it does not exist?
I am afraid I disagree with the noble Lord. The measures announced today were not modest; they were significant measures in terms of putting money back into people’s pockets to help them with the cost of living. We have taken significant action before today in the energy support package, in the changes to universal credit, in increasing the national living wage, which is rising by 6.6% in April—worth £1,000 to people on the national living wage who are earning full-time. So I am afraid to say I disagree with the noble Lord. I also disagree with the policy that he advocates of cancelling the health and social care levy to pay for our NHS. I listened carefully to his honourable friend Rachel Reeves’s response to the Statement today, and I did not hear her advocate for any changes to benefit levels.
My Lords, this is the third voice, joining the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Tunnicliffe. Will the Minister understand that this House is ringing the crisis bell, because it is going to be a crisis for a very large number of people trying to live through this coming year? The OBR forecasts inflation at 9% by the end of the year, and if the Minister takes into account every argument that she has made and every measure produced by the Chancellor, the OBR still says that we will experience
“the largest fall in a single financial year”
in real household disposable incomes
“since ONS records began in 1956-57”.
Is it not extraordinary that, in order to finance a tax cut in 2024, the Chancellor is raising national insurance contributions today? Let us not have shilly-shallying over hypothecation. In fact, he could cancel today’s national insurance contribution rise, use windfall taxes to fill in for the two-year period and come out no worse in 2024. Why does he not do it?
My Lords, the Government make no apology for the health and social care levy. It is the number one priority of people in this country that their health service is back on track, and we need hypothecated funding to pay for it. The increase in national insurance thresholds means that, even when we take into account that levy, something like 60% of people will still be better off. That is money in their pockets to help them face the cost-of-living crisis that the Government recognise that people are facing this year.
My Lords, when the Government were looking forward in relation to food prices, did they take into account the role that food banks now play in our society? Are they budgeted in as something that is part of what we do, which is having to give away free food? We already have 59% of families saying that they are deciding between heating and eating—that horrible expression. Where do the Government stand in terms of helping people with food bills? Does the Minister think that, as chair of Feeding Britain, I should have a growth strategy?
My Lords, of course food prices are taken into account alongside fuel prices when we look at inflation and how it flows through to benefit rates. The noble Baroness will be aware that the Government are continuing their support for holiday clubs, including free meals, to ensure that children in families that get support during term time also have that support during the school holidays.
My Lords, nobody pretends that the Chancellor has an easy job, and I commend him for many of his policies. However, there has been a geopolitical shift in the past two months which should worry us all. This is the most dangerous period the Minister has ever lived in—indeed, that most of the population of Britain have ever lived in—yet she has completely ignored the fact that we are cutting the Army by 11% and reducing our ships and aircraft and at the same time Putin is running through Ukraine. Will she please go back to the Treasury and say that this is an emergency—an emergency much more important than the cost of living—and we need to spend some money on it?
My Lords, my noble friend is right that the situation in Ukraine reminds us about the United Kingdom’s security situation and place in the world, but I have to disagree with him. At the spending review, the defence settlement was not for one or two years but for four years and was the biggest increase in defence spending since the end of the Cold War, which rightly reflects the priority that my noble friend seems to give to the matter.
My Lords, for the poorest families who have already cut back to the bone, this is an emergency. Will the Minister explain exactly what additional money has been put into their pockets by this morning’s announcement? Will she explain how giving discretionary funds to local authorities, which will give one-off discretionary grants, will compensate for the cut in the real value of benefits to which the noble Lord referred?
My Lords, we have helped those families in a number of ways. In fact, with the universal credit changes at the Budget our first priority was giving, effectively, tax breaks to those in lowest income households. We have also extended the household support fund by £500 million a year. That allows local authorities, which are often best placed to identify those families, to give them the right support at this difficult time.
My Lords, in the light of the huge inflationary pressures that are on people across the board and with the Government’s plan to use universal credit as a way of recovering £6 billion-worth of historic tax credit debt, what assessment has been made of whether there is the slightest chance of recovering those debts? What assessment has been made of that level of debt?
My Lords, the Government have done a significant amount of work in helping households manage their debts, for example, through the breathing space programme and the statutory debt repayment programme. It is important that the Government manage public money well and, where possible, ensure that where money may have been overpaid or mispaid it is paid back.
My Lords, in light of the answers that my noble friend has given, I think we all agree that one of the best ways to help those with low incomes is to give them job security. Can she please explain why the Government are proceeding with this jobs tax—the national insurance rise—on employers, given that the Institute of Directors has said that it
“adds needless complexity to the tax system, encourages self-employment rather than employment, and”—
this is the key point—
“hits hardest the labour-intensive sectors that suffered most from Covid”?
Why are they ploughing ahead with this at the very time when people need job security, not a jobs tax?
My Lords, I think I have been clear about the health and social care levy, which is being used to fund people’s number one priority, our National Health Service. In good news for my noble friend, I am sure he will have noticed that today we are raising the employment allowance to £5,000. That is a £1,000 tax cut for small businesses, cutting employers’ national insurance bills.
My Lords, how does the Minister expect hard-pressed local authorities to divide £500 million between the 11 million families who are dependent on universal credit now? Does she really believe that giving that money to local authorities is preferable to giving people an extra uplift in universal credit?
My Lords, as many noble Lords will know, people on universal credit are often in work and earning. They will benefit from the increase in the national insurance threshold and from the increase in the national living wage by 6.6%. They will also benefit from the previously announced cut to the UC taper and work allowance. The Household Support Fund has been in operation for a period of time. As for the extra money going into it, the local authorities have already been managing that money and distributing it, and I am sure they are doing a very good job.
My Lords, the original care levy was promoted as solving the social care problem for this country, but it turns out that essentially it is a subsidy for the wealthy in order to prevent them having to sell their homes to pay their care costs. How can it possibly be right that the poorest workers are having to pay to subsidise the well off?
I believe the noble Lord is referring to the care cap that is coming into place. That is a result of previous work by the Dilnot commission, which it builds on. I understand that noble Lords on the other side think that the cap is set at too high a level rather than too low. I think that is not the right characterisation of the Government’s policy.
As I say, my Lords, we have provided analysis in the round of tax and spending decisions taken by the Government since the 2019 spending review. That analysis shows that the combined impact of those decisions is progressive, with the largest burden placed on higher-income households as a proportion of their income.
The announcement today will be worth hundreds of pounds to millions of people across this country and will help them with the cost of living. The Government have a long-term plan to help everyone into work and to progress in work. We are investing nearly £4 billion in skills over the course of this Parliament. We are increasing the national living wage, which will see the lowest paid in this country receive the biggest pay rise since the national living wage was introduced. That is a record that I am proud of.
Last month a High Court judge ruled that the failure to include ESA and other legacy benefits in the £20 uplift to universal credit was discriminatory against disabled people. Many disabled people face higher energy costs and other living costs, which multiply the effect of the cost-of-living crisis for them. How are the Government going to ensure that disabled people can afford to live in this country?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right about the increase in living costs that will be faced by disabled people. That is why, as part of our energy support package worth £9 billion, we have provided council tax rebates worth £150 to help people with the cost of energy as well as a discretionary fund to local authorities so that those who will not benefit from the council tax rebates will also share in that support.
Direct Payments to Farmers (Reductions) (England) Regulations 2022
Agriculture (Financial Assistance) (Amendment) Regulations 2022
Agriculture (Lump Sum Payment) (England) Regulations 2022
Motions to Approve
Electricity Supplier Payments (Amendment) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
Food and Feed Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
Commissioner for Patient Safety (Appointment and Operation) (England) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
Commons Urgent Question
The following answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 22 March.
“Over recent weeks, the House has repeatedly returned to the subject of the Post Office Horizon scandal. Members from all parts of the House are rightly united and outraged at what the sub-postmasters experienced and at the way that they have suffered as a consequence. Some people’s lives have been unjustly devastated, losing their roles as postmasters and often their other businesses as well. Some were imprisoned, and more faced the shadow of convictions over their working and personal lives. Saddest of all, some did not live to see justice, including some who took their own lives.
The Post Office has already apologised, but we know that that is not enough. The victims rightly want the truth to be known and those responsible to be held accountable. That is why we asked Sir Wyn Williams to hold his inquiry, which has lately heard so much tragic testimony from those affected.
As well as apologies and accountability, people want proper compensation to be paid. Those people who exposed the scandal in the first place—the postmasters who won the court case against the Post Office—have not been fairly compensated. But those who were not convicted were not entitled to receive historical shortfall scheme compensation themselves, which, paradoxically, could leave those postmasters eligible for receiving the HSS better compensated than those who won the court case.
The Government recognise that this is just not right, which is why the Chancellor announced today that we are making funds available to ensure that those in the group litigation order group are not financially disadvantaged by the decision to litigate against the Post Office. The GLO group will now be able to access the same levels of compensation as its non-GLO peers.
The postmasters’ legal case was funded by litigation funders Therium. Our worry in government has always been that any compensation that we bring forward for this group of postmasters would not be fully passed on as Therium has a right to claim a proportion of any compensation received. However, following extensive negotiations with the company, I am really pleased that Therium has agreed to waive its rights to any claim on this compensation, meaning that we can now proceed.
We envisage that the funding will support payments under a new scheme similar to the HSS to compensate those GLO members who were not convicted. Those who have convictions overturned already have access to compensation, and we want this compensation to be paid as promptly as possible. We will be writing to the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance to consult it about the scheme’s operations, and I am meeting representatives of the JFSA on 30 March to discuss these proposals. We will set target dates for compensation awards in the light of our discussions with them. It will not be a long and formal consultation. It will aid decisions on the approach, and I will then inform the House of our plans to deliver that just compensation, which these people so richly deserve.”
My Lords, yesterday in the other place the Minister committed to hold those responsible to account. Can the Government confirm that this will extend to the directors of the Post Office who wrongly sanctioned legal action? Last year’s historic shortfall scheme included interim payments specifically for those within that scheme. Can the Government confirm that interim payment will now be offered to the 555 trailblazers?
I thank the noble Lord for his Question. This is a historic injustice as we all know, going back many years. I know that my noble friend the Minister and my right honourable friend Minister Scully in the other place are grateful for the support given to the Government from all sides of both Houses in their efforts to resolve these issues. We must make public exactly what went wrong and ensure that something like this cannot happen again. We have established the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, chaired by Sir Wyn Williams. As of 11 March, 45% in the historic shortfall scheme have already received initial offers of payment, and we hope to make 95% of initial offers by the end of the year.
My Lords, on the face of it, this is belated but good news. We should remind ourselves that this all started when a large international corporation, a huge public service and Government ganged up together to steamroller the lives of ordinary postmasters who were struggling with the Horizon scheme. I get no sense of the same vigour of their campaign on postmasters from that now on Fujitsu, whose product was the root cause of this problem, which went on for decades. Can the Minister please reassure your Lordships’ House that Fujitsu will be pursued with the same energy with which the postmasters and postmistresses of Britain were pursued?
I am sure that view will be expressed by a number of people around the House. The investigation led by Sir Wyn Williams will investigate all aspects of this scandal, including the role of Fujitsu. In the light of his report, we will have the information we need to shape our future relationship with Fujitsu and any future action we take against it for compensation. The UK taxpayer should not pick up the tab for problems caused by others.
My Lords, will the Minister please pass on to my noble friend Lord Callanan my thanks for the work that he did, along with Minister Scully in the other House, to achieve this excellent result? I come back to the point raised by the Front Benches opposite: will any interim payments be made to the 555 as there were with those whose convictions were overturned?
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Callanan is not here to receive those plaudits, but he was suddenly taken ill last night. I hope he will be back tomorrow. The Minister, Paul Scully, is meeting the 555 group next week on 30 March. Interim payments and steps that will be taken to compensate the original 555, the GLO group, will all be discussed at that meeting. I am sure we will bring back more information as a result of those discussions as soon as we can.
My Lords, as well as commending the Government on this Statement, so far as it goes, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom, on his unbelievably consistent campaigning on this issue. The House, the country and the Government all owe him a great debt of honour in this respect. It has always been the case that this issue will not be resolved until all victims of this egregious miscarriage of justice are fully compensated and exonerated. We are well on our way to full compensation, but we are very far behind on exoneration. Fewer than 10% of the 736 people wrongly convicted on Fujitsu’s evidence have been exonerated. It is beyond doubt that a short, two-clause Bill in Parliament could exonerate the rest in a day. What other evidence do the Government need on these wrongful convictions before taking that step, which will be welcomed universally across Parliament?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. For this third group, 73 of their criminal convictions were overturned, including one yesterday—it could be hundreds, but it depends on individuals taking action to get their convictions overturned. The Post Office has contacted 640 of the 740 it prosecuted, offering help. They have had an interim payment of £100,000. We urgently want to resolve this issue and hope that all will be compensated in the current year.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lords, Lord Arbuthnot and Lord Callanan, on their work in chasing this. I am concerned about the Minister’s answer on the time it will take before anyone in the Post Office or Fujitsu who might be implicated can be brought to task. At the moment, it appears they will all have retired, or worse, before there is any penalty. Presumably in the meantime they will get promoted and do other jobs. Is there no way of speeding this up a bit?
I sense the frustration in the noble Lord’s voice, but the statutory inquiry is in the hands of Sir Wyn Williams. It is for him to decide when it will report. He has announced that he will take evidence until November this year, so we hope that we will at least have a report out within the next 12 months.
I thank my noble friend for the good news in this Statement, which was welcomed at the meeting of the APPG on Post Offices today, which I attended. What lessons for the future have the Government already learned from this long and deplorable scandal, which the noble Baroness rightly described as an historic injustice?
There are many lessons to be learned. Everybody is appalled at the ability of so many different factors—from different Governments, to Post Office officials and management —to see this particular demographic of individuals prosecuted in this way, when it was almost certainly obvious to the outside world from the beginning that it was a very odd process. I am sure there will be many lessons to learn. Most of them will probably be highlighted in the report by Sir Wyn Williams, but I do not think we should wait for that report to look at this in detail. I know that my noble friend Lord Callanan and my right honourable friend in the other place will be doing just this within the department.
My Lords, I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the public inquiry, but the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made a point about speed. Does my noble friend know if the Government already have in mind which sanctions are at their disposal to be taken against those who are likely to implicated at the end of this inquiry?
I think I had better write to the noble Baroness on the specifics of what action we can take. Fujitsu is no longer a preferred supplier to the Government; in common with any other company, it can bid for contracts. I envisage that there is much we can do, and I will write with the specifics.
My Lords, will my noble friend join me in commending the work of my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot and extend my gratitude to the Minister in this place—my noble friend Lord Callanan—and Paul Scully in the other place? Can I press my noble friend Lady Bloomfield a bit more on the position of Fujitsu? Can she give the House some idea of what actions the Government could take now for the historic injustices inflicted on these absolutely innocent people, not least to send a message to other corporates that such behaviour is utterly unacceptable and will have expensive consequences?
I do not believe I can go further than what I have already said in our action against Fujitsu. Obviously there will be repercussions for it, but I do not want to prejudge what the inquiry will set out. All I can say is that, while it is at liberty to bid for future government contracts, I am sure the history of this sorry saga will be taken into account in that process.
Health and Care Bill
Clause 189: Commencement
1: Clause 189, page 152, line 3, leave out subsection (8)
Member’s explanatory statement
This is a technical amendment necessary to remove a defective reference to a non-existent Clause (Cap on care costs for charging purposes), following its removal at Report stage.
On behalf of my noble friend Lady Wheeler, I will move Amendment 1 and speak to Amendment 2, which are grouped together. This should not take very long, as we speed the Bill on its way to the Commons.
I just want to say one thing: we entered lockdown two years ago today, and I stood here for the next two days, helping to put through the emergency legislation. Some 186,000 deaths later, we are not finished yet. Now is not the time to discuss this, but I just note that that is what happened. I can hear an alarm—I thank the noble Earl for turning it off. I thought that it was mine for a moment, but that is not the noise mine makes.
Amendment 1 is a technical amendment—I thank the Public Bill Office for sorting us all out on this—necessary to remove a defective reference to a non-existent clause, “Cap on care costs for charging purposes”, following its removal on Report.
Amendment 2 leaves out Schedule 6. This is also a technical amendment, necessary to remove Schedule 6, “Intervention powers over the reconfiguration of NHS services”. It was previously introduced by Clause 40 of the Bill as introduced, “Reconfiguration of services: intervention powers”; again, this was removed on Report. I beg to move Amendment 1.
My Lords, the Government will not oppose the minor and technical amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Thornton. We respect the fact that both amendments are necessary to reflect, and are consequential on, the removal of the care-cap metering clause and the reconfigurations clause, respectively, even though the Government are disappointed that noble Lords chose to remove these clauses from the Bill.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Schedule 6: Intervention powers over the reconfiguration of NHS services
2: Schedule 6, leave out Schedule 6
Member’s explanatory statement
This is a technical amendment necessary to remove Schedule 6 (Intervention powers over the reconfiguration of NHS services). It was previously introduced by Clause 40 (Reconfiguration of services: intervention powers), which was removed at Report stage.
Amendment 2 agreed.
As noble Lords know, I am still learning. I will take a moment to mark the end of the Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House. Its size reflects the Government’s ambitious agenda for change and the NHS’s requests to help to deliver this change. The Bill intends to strip out needless bureaucracy, improve accountability and enhance integration, and it will form the bedrock for the NHS to build on in years to come.
I will express some words of gratitude. In many ways, the many meetings, the debates and even the late nights during the passage of the Bill have, I believe, shown this House at its best—informed, collaborative and considered. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their intense scrutiny over the nine days of Committee and four days of Report.
I pay tribute to the willingness of noble Lords, right across the House, on all Benches, to engage with me and my officials to find ways to improve the Bill. As well as being grateful to the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches for at times challenging us and at other times agreeing and co-operating, I thank a number of Cross-Bench Peers, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, Lady Watkins of Tavistock and Lady Hollins, and the noble Lords, Lord Stevens of Birmingham and Lord Patel—who sends his apologies—for their always constructive contributions. I should perhaps also thank noble Lords on the Benches behind me and reflect that the challenge was sometimes from them.
As a relatively new Minister, thrown in at the deep end—your Lordships can see how new I still am from my asking, “Am I on yet?”—I also thank my colleagues on the Government Benches, who have assisted, advised and, I have to admit, consoled me at times throughout the passage of the Bill. I pay tribute to the kind support and advice of my noble friends Lord Howe, Lady Penn and Lady Chisholm of Owlpen.
I also put on record my thanks to the wide range of stakeholders which have engaged with me and many noble Lords, including the NHS Confederation, NHS Providers, the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust, the Health Foundation, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the Local Government Association, for their sustained and constructive engagement over several years. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the Bill is better for all their work.
It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the work of colleagues across the NHS, government and the devolved Administrations, who have worked so hard behind the scenes. In particular, I thank my fantastic Bill team and the departmental policy teams supporting them, all of whom have been assiduous, helpful and uncomplaining at all times, despite very long hours. Perhaps I should give a special shout-out to 10 month-old Teddy Povey, son of the Bill team manager. You say that you are getting old when the policemen look younger, but I must say that I felt very old on seeing that the policy officials are getting younger. I pay a special tribute there, on his early introduction to politics.
I thank officials across government, including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Education, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. That shows the sort of cross-government dimension to this Bill.
There is no doubt that your Lordships have improved the Bill. I hope that noble Lords across the Chamber will recognise that the Government have listened, considered and responded positively to suggestions where we were able to. However, I also recognise that there are some areas still to be resolved and where, to use my oft-used phrase one more time, we were unable to close the gap between our positions, including on social care, workforce planning and reconfigurations, on which the House of Commons will want to make its voice heard—and to which we may return in debate. But the areas of disagreement should not overshadow the improvement that all noble Lords have made to the Bill. Together, as a House, we have banned hymenoplasty; introduced a power to create a licensing regime for non-surgical cosmetic procedures; extended the gamete and embryo storage limits; made important commitments to safeguarding children; and strengthened the NHS’s commitment to net zero. On a subject close to my heart and that of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, we have included specific references to tackling inequalities.
We send to the other place a Health and Care Bill that is improved with its three underpinning principles reinforced: embedding integration, cutting bureaucracy and boosting accountability. I beg to move.
My Lords, I was rather hoping that we would do one of these. I agree with the Minister that we have improved the Bill; it is a much-improved Bill that we are sending back to the Commons, and I hope that they have the good sense to accept all the wise amendments that this House has made.
I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, that this is his first Bill, and it has been a baptism of fire for him. It is a very large Bill to cut your teeth on. I think that he has had a bit of a masterclass on legislation and legislative processes, but I compliment him on how he has risen to the occasion and thank the whole ministerial team, including the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Penn; I was about to call her Baroness Jo-Jo, sorry. I also observe that this is a three-baby Bill. The leader of the Bill team and the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, have had babies, and our adviser who started out on the Bill, Rhian, has also had a baby. That is probably quite unusual in your Lordships’ House.
I say thank you, of course, to my wonderful colleagues, my noble friends Lady Wheeler and Lady Merron, and also to the Labour team behind me, particularly my noble friend Lord Hunt, who has been especially active on the Bill—and very welcome that has been, too. We have worked very well across the House, and we have been very pleased to work with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, at a distance, and with many colleagues on the Cross Benches. If I start listing them, I know that I shall forget someone, but I need to mention the noble Lord, Lord Patel. He has not been with us for as much of the Bill as he would have liked, but of course his wisdom has been with us all the way through the Bill.
We are sending the Bill back to the other place, and I suspect that we are all going to be busy when it starts pinging and ponging back.
My Lords, this Bill is of great significance to the NHS, care services and, in particular, patients and residents in the care system. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the Minister have said, it has been improved by your Lordships’ usual scrutiny.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, and the other two Ministers working on the Bill. By my calculations, the Government have given us either changes or reassurances on 13 different areas in this Bill. It certainly shows that the ministerial team and the Bill team—to which I am also grateful—have been listening. They have devoted an enormous amount of time to hearing our concerns and responding to them. I thank them for that.
This Bill has been a model of how people can work across parties in this House. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and her team for the way that we have been able to collaborate on issues on which we agree, and indeed to the Cross-Benchers, many of whom have enormous expertise in health issues and have helped us all to understand the significance of the issues that we have been discussing. It has really been a model of how we can work together, and I am most grateful for that.
I am particularly grateful to the wonderful team behind me and my noble friend Lady Brinton, who unfortunately has to participate virtually. When the Chief Whip asked me to be the Front-Bench anchorwoman on this Bill, because my noble friend, our spokesperson, has to participate virtually, I said that I would do it as long as I could put a team together. Well, my colleagues have stepped up magnificently and I am most grateful to them; I could not have done it without them. In particular, my noble friend Lady Brinton, with her tremendous knowledge and conscientious scrutiny of this Bill, has been wonderful.
As we now unhook the hawsers, put the sails up and send this Bill sailing down the Corridor to the other end, I hope I will be forgiven for suggesting that I hope we do not see too much of it coming back.
My Lords, I hate myself for this, but I forgot two people. Half way through the Bill, we acquired a new advisor, Liz Cronin, who has done an excellent job, and there is Richard Bourne, who has been sat by my side, right through the Lansley Bill and this one. They have my thanks.
From these Benches, I very briefly thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the whole Bill team and all the officials who have worked with them for the way that they have listened—repeatedly listened—as we made our points over and again and as they sought sometimes to try to understand what we were trying to get across and why. I also thank everyone across the House, on all the Opposition Benches, the Cross Benches and the Government Benches, who have worked with us as Cross-Benchers in a very collaborative way and made their own offices available for background support to all of us.
I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton: this Bill leaves us better. It has been a genuine pleasure to work on it. Some of us have worked on previous Bills, and I have to say that this was a more enjoyable and rewarding experience because the dialogue involved a better interchange at many points.
We have made some points of great significance, one of which was over palliative care, which has been dear to my heart. Palliative care has come of age. I think the House will be pleased to know that, on Friday morning, the annual meeting of the Association for Palliative Medicine has a specific session dedicated to understanding the changes and what it now needs to do in the light of those. The word goes fast from here, and that is very welcome.
I hope that I have not forgotten anybody in my thanks, which are open and sincerely expressed.
My Lords, I rise very briefly, with the Green group having made quite a large contribution—certainly in hours—to this Bill.
This House has improved the Bill, but I feel I need to say that I have received in the last few days a significant number of emails. They are not part of a co-ordinated campaign; they are cries from the heart, many from long-term NHS campaigners who I have known for a long while. I quote just one of these, which says that:
“The Bill is still not in the interests of the public or indeed of the NHS itself as a comprehensive, universal public service”.
That is an expression of feeling that I am hearing very strongly. I hope that the Minister will listen to that and understand that there are very grave concerns out there among the public about the direction of the NHS.
The improvements that we have at least delivered, as other noble Lords have said, should stay, but the Government really need to safeguard this universal public service.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Constitution Committee, 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 21st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
121: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Addresses of candidates at parliamentary electionsHome address form: statement of local authority area
(1) Schedule 1 to RPA 1983 (Parliamentary elections rules) is amended as follows.(2) In rule 6 (nomination of candidates)—(a) in paragraph (5)(b), for the words from “state” to the end substitute “—(i) where the candidate’s home address is in the United Kingdom, state the constituency or the relevant area within which that address is situated;(ii) where the candidate’s home address is outside the United Kingdom, state the country within which that address is situated.”;(b) after paragraph (5) insert—“(6) In paragraph (5)(b)(i), “relevant area” means—(a) in relation to a home address in England— (i) if the address is within a district for which there is a district council, that district; (ii) if the address is within a county in which there are no districts with councils, that county;(iii) if the address is within a London borough, that London borough;(iv) if the address is within the City of London (including the Inner and Middle Temples), the City of London;(v) if the address is within the Isles of Scilly, the Isles of Scilly;(b) in relation to a home address in Wales—(i) if the address is within a county, that county;(ii) if the address is within a county borough, that county borough;(c) in relation to a home address in Scotland, the local government area in which the address is situated;(d) in relation to a home address in Northern Ireland, the local government district in which the address is situated.”(3) In the Appendix of forms, in the Form of Front of Ballot Paper, for the address after “Catherine Angelina Smith” substitute “(address in [relevant area])”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment amends Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 to give candidates at parliamentary elections the option of stating the name of the local authority area in which their home address is located on the home address form required by rule 6(4) of that Schedule.
My Lords, government Amendment 121 concerns the details about candidates that appear on ballot papers at parliamentary elections. We are bringing forward this amendment in response to concerns raised by Members in the other place.
Currently, candidates at parliamentary elections are required to disclose on the ballot paper either their home address in full or the name of the constituency in which the home address is located. The original purpose of requiring candidates to provide information about their address was so that electors could identify them as specific individuals. Given that MPs are elected on an individual basis, they need to be identifiable, even if many electors may make choices by party affiliation. The current requirements were introduced by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 and give candidates the option of having just the constituency they reside in recited on the ballot paper instead of their home address. This was intended to provide security and privacy for candidates, while still ensuring electors can see if a candidate has a local connection to where they are standing.
We have listened to concerns raised in the other House that there should be a further option for candidates who wish to indicate in a more commonly understood description where they live, without sharing their full address, so that their security can be better protected. The amendment intends to enable candidates to use the local authority area in which their home address is located as the address they give. We consider that the local authority will be a familiar and comprehensible indication of locality to most people. I beg to move.
Amendment 121A (to Amendment 121)
121A: After Clause 9, in subsection (2)(a)(i) leave out “or the relevant area”
My Lords, I am a little perplexed and confused. Many noble Lords will ask how that is different from my normal state, but the reason I am confused is this. I am looking at this from the perspective of a potential voter at a parliamentary election. Many noble Lords will probably argue later in Committee that the link between the MP and the constituency, particularly for voting, is strong and must be maintained. Most people, when they vote, look at the link of the candidates to the constituency they are standing in, not necessarily the local authority area, as those can be very big.
Let me give an example. In my home city of Sheffield, there are five and a half constituencies: the half is because one half of the constituency is in Barnsley and the other half is in Sheffield. Sheffield is quite large: it is 367.9 kilometres squared. If you live in the north of Sheffield, it is highly unlikely that you have a link with the south-west of Sheffield. You would not go shopping there; you probably do not work there; you probably do not go to the parks there. People living in south-west Sheffield probably do not have a link with the north of Sheffield. There are many constituencies across the country like that. Therefore, just having the name of a local authority does not necessarily mean that the candidate has a link with the constituency. I agree with the Minister on the importance of the security of candidates, but that has to be balanced with the need for information for the potential constituents and voters to be able to ascertain how local the candidate is and what link they have with a particular constituency.
There are 650 constituencies in the UK and 398 councils, as laid down in the Government’s amendment. That means that there are 252 more constituencies than councils. I am not going to become a geek and tell you what the square kilometres of those are, but the number is quite large. When the Minister responds, will he say whether there has been any evaluation done about the exact amount of extra security and safety that will be afforded to candidates if we move from constituency to council area? That is key. If not, we potentially lose the link between the candidates and the constituency in which they are standing. That is the main reason for my amendments, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply, particularly his answer to that question about what evaluation has been done and what level of extra safety and security will be afforded if the Government’s amendment is implemented. I beg to move.
My Lords, government Amendment 121 relates to election candidates and the location which they state on their ballot paper and elsewhere. We on these Benches fully agree with the Minister’s comments about concerns held by Members of the other place. At present, there are two options available to candidates: they may state either their full address or the name of their constituency. Police forces and other authorities have often advised candidates that the first option can be unwise. Elected politicians and candidates are often subject to extensive abuse, so making their full address publicly available can increase the risk that such abuse will lead to violence or intimidation. For this reason, it is often appropriate for candidates to select the second option and instead list their constituency.
At times, this can be problematic, because the names of constituencies often do not accurately describe or reflect their location. It therefore makes sense that a candidate may instead list their local authority, but I am concerned by a few unintended consequences. In particular, there is a possibility that candidates will use this option to mask the fact that they live far away from the constituency. Many rural local authorities such as Cornwall, Shropshire and Northumberland are well above 1,000 square miles, a point which the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, made in relation to Sheffield.
In these examples, a candidate may now list their local authority to obscure the fact that they live close to two hours away. Does the Minister accept that this amendment might have the unintended consequence of hindering transparency? In addition to this, I am concerned that some local authorities may not accurately describe their locations. Will the Minister consider expanding this to include local authority wards? I look forward to hearing his response and thoughts on these points.
I am grateful to those who have spoken, and I will think about the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Khan. This is a balanced proposal which has come from concerns from Members in another place; we all know of recent sad events. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, says about people seeking to pass off where they live. This is a democracy, and I have been in politics for quite a long time, and if someone does not live very close to their ward or constituency, a leaflet comes pretty fast through the door—usually from the Liberal Democrats—with lots of big arrows over it, claiming, not always correctly, that they live somewhere on Mars. I think that democratic challenge would offer a control. The Government hope that there would not be unintended consequences.
We are suggesting a further option and, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, said, sometimes the local authority’s name is closer to people’s understanding than the name of the constituency. While I understand what the noble Lords are saying, one would not want this to be abused in any way to deceive electors. I point out to your Lordships that it is an option already available to candidates at local and mayoral elections, so we consider it appropriate to extend the option to candidates at parliamentary elections. Although I listened carefully to what was said by both noble Lords, the Government believe on balance that this is an appropriate move to make in present circumstances, and in light of this I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, will withdraw his amendment and the House will be able to support this very small change, which brings parliamentary elections into line with local and mayoral elections.
I thank the Minister for that response. I am now perplexed but not confused, so at least he has helped with the confusion. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Khan, for reiterating the issue of unintended consequences. Having listened to the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 121A (to Amendment 121) withdrawn.
Amendment 121B (to Amendment 121) not moved.
Amendment 121 agreed.
Amendments 122 and 122A not moved.
Clause 10 agreed.
Schedule 6: Local elections in Northern Ireland and elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly
Amendments 123 to 133
123: Schedule 6, page 116, line 30, leave out from “to” to end of line 40 and insert “a relevant provision.
(1A) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(b), “relevant provision” means—(a) where the person is or will be registered in a register of local electors in Northern Ireland, section 10(4A)(b), 10A(1A)(b) or 13A(2A)(b) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as applied by Schedule 1 to the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989), and(b) where the person is or will be registered in a register of local government electors in Great Britain and does not also fall within sub-paragraph (a), paragraph 9(1) of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the requirement relating to preparation of date of birth lists for polling stations in Northern Ireland, so far as that requirement relates to date of birth lists for proxy voters.
124: Schedule 6, page 120, line 21, after “Britain” insert “and does not also fall within sub-paragraph (a)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 116, line 30.
125: Schedule 6, page 126, leave out lines 23 to 26
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment leaves out paragraph (c) from inserted paragraph 27(3A) of Schedule 9 to the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962.
126: Schedule 6, page 126, leave out lines 27 to 30 and insert—
“(d) obtains or attempts to obtain information, in the circumstances mentioned in sub-paragraph (3AA), as to the candidate for whom a person voting by post at a local election (“V”) is about to vote or has voted; or(e) communicates at any time to any other person information obtained in contravention of paragraph (d).(3AA) The circumstances referred to in sub-paragraph (3A)(d) are where V is about to mark, is in the process of marking, or has just marked, a ballot paper sent to V for voting by post at the election.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment inserts, in substitution for paragraph (d) of inserted paragraph 27(3A) of Schedule 9 to the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962, provision clarifying the scope of the prohibition on obtaining or communicating information about the candidate for whom a postal voter has voted in a local election in Northern Ireland.
127: Schedule 6, page 126, line 35, leave out “any of paragraphs (a), (c) or (d)” and insert “paragraph (a) or (d)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment updates cross-references in consequence of the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 126, lines 23 to 26.
128: Schedule 6, page 126, line 40, leave out “any of paragraphs (a), (c) or (d)” and insert “paragraph (a) or (d)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment updates cross-references in consequence of the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 126, lines 23 to 26.
129: Schedule 6, page 126, line 41, at end insert—
“(3BA) Sub-paragraph (3A)(d) and (e) does not apply where the purpose (or main purpose) for which the information is sought or communicated is its use for the purposes of—(a) a published statement relating to the way in which voters intend to vote or have voted at the election, or(b) a published forecast as to the result of that election which is based on information given by voters.(3BB) In sub-paragraph (3BA)—(a) “forecast” includes estimate;(b) “published” means made available to the public at large or to any section of the public, in whatever form and by whatever means;(c) the reference to the result of the election is a reference to the result of the election either as a whole or so far as any particular candidate or candidates at the election is or are concerned.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that no criminal liability arises where information is sought from, or given by, a postal voter at a local election in Northern Ireland for the purposes of an opinion poll or exit poll.
130: Schedule 6, page 131, line 11, at end insert—
“34A_ In the table, for the entry relating to section 115 of RPA 1983 substitute—
“Section 114A (undue influence)””
“Section 114A (undue influence)””
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that the undue influence provision inserted by clause 8 (which will have effect for the purposes of parliamentary elections) is applied in relation to elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
131: Schedule 6, page 131, line 13, leave out “(1)(b)(ii)” and insert “(1A)(b)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 116, line 30.
132: Schedule 6, page 131, line 31, after “Britain” insert “and does not also fall within sub-paragraph (a)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 116, line 30.
133: Schedule 6, page 131, line 36, after “1985” insert “or section 8(7) of the Representation of the People Act 1985”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment takes account of the possibility of a person being appointed as a proxy for an elector, at a particular election to the Northern Ireland Assembly, under section 8(7) of the Representation of the People Act (as applied to Assembly elections).
Amendments 123 to 133 agreed.
Schedule 6, as amended, agreed.
Clause 11: Simple majority system to be used in elections for certain offices
134: Clause 11, page 12, line 35, at end insert—
“(6A) Subsections (1) to (6) expire 10 days after the next elections for Mayor of London after this Act is passed.”Member’s explanatory statement
This probing amendment would mean that the simple majority system is only used for the next Mayor of London election.
My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group. The first two, Amendments 134 and 135, are designed to probe the fact that the Government have changed the voting system for the next Mayor of London election and other mayoral elections—my amendment specifically uses that example—and for police and crime commissioner elections. I want to probe the reasons why the Government have decided to make these changes and why they were included so late during the progress of the Bill. I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, when he speaks further on this although I will make my own comments on our concerns more broadly about Clause 11.
Clause 11 was inserted, as I am sure noble Lords are aware, during Committee stage in the House of Commons and proposes changing the voting system for all PCCs, combined authority and local authority mayoral, and London mayoral elections to a first past the post system. It was not included when the Bill Committee took evidence on the Bill. In fact, my honourable friend Cat Smith MP actually made a point of order to the chair during the committee’s evidence sessions to ask whether the committee could take evidence from witnesses on the issue of electoral systems. The chair was very clear in saying that that was out of the scope of the Bill and so committee members were not able to take evidence on electoral systems.
The Government’s intention to include this change, despite this, was announced in a Written Ministerial Statement after the then Minister, Chloe Smith MP, had given her oral evidence to PACAC; this was after evidence to PACAC and after evidence to the Bill Committee. PACAC then received correspondence from several combined authority mayors who made it crystal clear that the inclusion of this change to the electoral system in the Elections Bill came as a complete surprise to them and they felt that they and their local communities had not been consulted properly on the proposed changes.
For example, Dan Jarvis, mayor of South Yorkshire, said:
“The government has not consulted with local communities on this major change, even though the last time a government proposed a reform of the electoral system they put it to a referendum. Greater local consultation would have been carried out for a mid-sized infrastructure project than they have offered for a major constitutional change.”
Similarly, Jamie Driscoll, mayor of North of Tyne Combined Authority, expressed concern about the topdown way this change was being made. He said:
“As a matter of principle major constitutional changes should not be imposed on local areas without full consultation and without taking into account local preferences. To do otherwise runs directly counter to the principle of local control which devolution is meant to enshrine, and inevitably fuels cynicism and growing loss of trust in our democracy.”
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, disagreed with the Government’s assertion that voters are confused by the current supplementary system. He further stated:
“The Government has also argued that it wants to bring these elections in line with other English or UK-wide elections. However, the comparison between Mayoral elections and those of MPs or local councillors is a false one. As Mayor, I am elected as an individual executive decision-maker, not to be part of a wider legislature. That difference is important and drives the need for a different electoral system.”
The view that the supplementary vote system was a positive one for the role of mayor was also expressed by Dan Norris, mayor of the West of England Combined Authority. He believes it is important that the present supplementary voting method allows voters to express a second preference if no candidate receives 50% of the vote because
“this ensures that a candidate must have a larger base of support to win”
“more helpful to the democratic process”.
The London mayor is also concerned. He is particularly concerned because the moves in this Bill would overturn the 1998 Greater London Authority referendum result which specifically described the supplementary vote system that Londoners voted overwhelmingly in favour of. All previous London mayors won more votes than any other candidate in the first round, so the mayor is also not convinced that changing to first past the past would have given different results.
The conclusion in PACAC’s report said:
“Regardless of the benefits or disadvantages of the changes made by the Bill to the electoral system for those offices, the manner in which the proposed legislative change was brought about is unsatisfactory. Making changes such as this after the Bill has been introduced and debated at Second Reading is disrespectful to the House.”
It is disappointing that the Government’s response to PACAC’s report did not address this comment. I know that the Minister is a decent person. Does he agree that the way these changes were introduced was disrespectful to the House? Does he agree that this disrespectful attitude is compounded by the fact that this is an elections Bill—a Bill of constitutional importance that requires those in power to behave with the highest respect for due process in order to protect our democracy and trust in government.
The Minister may well say this is a manifesto commitment, as was said in the other place. Yet while the manifesto includes commitments to strengthen the accountability of elected police and crime commissioners and to continue to support first past the post, it does in fact reverse the 2017 manifesto pledge to impose first past the post in elections that currently use proportional systems. So that was a previous manifesto pledge, from 2017, overturned in 2019.
Amendment 144D in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, would enable returning officers to provide for early voting where they believe it would improve participation. I note that the Welsh Government have developed flexible voting pilot schemes that will take place at the local government elections, in four areas in Wales, this coming May. It will be interesting to read the Electoral Commission’s independent evaluation of the impact and effectiveness of these schemes, which I understand is due to be published in August 2022. I look forward to hearing further from the noble Lord, Lord Mann, on that amendment, and to the Minister’s response to my questions. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is taking part remotely, and I now invite him to speak.
My Lords, this is a particularly difficult issue for me. I strongly support the deletion of Clause 11; it is no more than an attempt to abolish an electoral system that has stood the test of time so as to secure an electoral advantage for the Conservatives. The Government are effectively seeking to corrupt a system that is fair and, in the absence of full proportional representation, more proportionally reflects the opinion of the wider electorate.
The Conservatives have always opposed the supplementary vote system since its birth as it challenges the Conservative bias built into the first past the post electoral system—nothing more and nothing less than that. They have opposed it for over 20 years. I know, because I designed it, researched it, named it, wrote the original paper advocating it, gave evidence to the Plant commission advising its introduction, and saw it through to its introduction by the Labour Government. I brought in Professor Patrick Dunleavy from the London School of Economics—a world-renowned academic known for his independence of mind—to approve it as it developed. At every stage, to validate it, we did thousands of runs under different scenarios on a computer in the House of Commons Library when I was an MP. We spent 12 months working on it; Patrick Dunleavy gave it the academic approval and credibility that I lacked.
The driver behind all the work was that any system that totally ignores the centre vote in British politics, essentially a Liberal Democrat vote, will inevitably favour the minority right. First past the post helps in the election of Conservative Governments. If the Conservatives thought for one moment that there was some electoral advantage in AV, SV, AMS, STV or any form of this system, I believe they would support reform of the electoral system.
There was a very interesting article in a recent issue of Prospect magazine on mayoral elections by Stephen Fisher, associate professor in political sociology at Trinity College, Oxford. He carried out research into the use of the supplementary vote. He noted first that 41% of the people in England now live in areas where SV is now in use for one election or another.
He also found that Conservatives suffer under systems where second preferences influence results: they rarely pick up more second-preference transfer votes than their rivals. As he put it in the article,
“Conservatives were typically trounced on transfers.”
The response to all that from Mr Rees-Mogg, the Member of Parliament, was characteristically disingenuous, when he stated that
“first-past-the-post is better for democracy because the most popular candidate wins.”
Tell that to the people of Inverness, who, in 1974, elected an MP on 32% of the vote. Even the Liberals, who were the winners, were discreetly embarrassed by that result, although to be fair, they went on to win substantial majorities in subsequent elections in other Scottish seats.
Stephen Fisher’s succinct response to all this is more honest, when he states:
“What is clear … is that unless a lot changes in the structure of party preferences, a switch from the supplementary vote to first-past-the-post would benefit Conservative candidates in England and Wales.”
Therein lies the truth. The whole supplementary vote reform agenda is being driven by political advantage to the Conservatives. I hope that the next Labour or coalition Government have the courage to reverse this act of gerrymander and corruption of the electoral system.
I see no merit in arguing the merits of the system in today’s debate. They are well documented, and many researchers have carried out a lot of work over the last 20-odd years on the system as it has developed. However, I will say a few words about the Government’s preliminary response at Second Reading, and I call in aid the work of two academics, Professor Alan Renwick of University College London, and researcher Alejandro Castillo-Powell, both of whom have considerable reputations in this area. In a paper published by the Constitution Unit, they challenged every assertion made by the Government on the efficacy of the system.
The Minister, who is in his place today and who will answer this debate, set out a very carefully drafted critique at Second Reading, which I will quote. I presume that it was written for him—he probably did not do a lot of work to establish to what extent it was a correct interpretation of what is happening. He said:
“The Electoral Commission added that the rejection rate in May 2021 was 0.8% for local council elections; for police and crime commissioners, it was 2.7%; and it was 4.3% for the Mayor of London. In the 2021 London mayoral elections, conducted by supplementary vote, almost 5% of the total votes in the first round were rejected—114,000 ballots. In the second preference, 265,000 votes were invalidated. That is more votes than were validly transferred to the leading two candidates”.—[Official Report, 23/2/22; col. 315.]
The response of the academics to all this has been very carefully laid out. How do they respond? Their view is this:
“The most detailed explanation for the change given so far appeared in a press release”—
“which gave five arguments for the switch: (1) SV increases the number of spoilt ballots; (2) it allows ‘loser’ candidates to win; (3) FPTP improves accountability by ‘making it easier for voters to express a clear choice’; (4) FPTP ‘is the world’s most widely used electoral system’; and (5) SV is ‘an anomaly’ and ‘out of step with other elections in England’.”
Let me take those one by one.
Does a supplementary vote lead to more spoilt ballots? We admit that elections using SV in the UK have typically high numbers of spoilt ballot papers, compared with those using first past the post. The response from the academics who have researched this in detail is that SV showing higher rates of rejected ballots does not mean that SV itself is necessarily the culprit.
The jump in such ballots in this year’s London mayoral elections points to another factor: ballot paper design—an issue I was always on about. The Electoral Commission notes the use in that contest of a new untested design, split over two columns because of the large number of candidates, which voters described as being confusing and complex. Poor design similarly led to more spoiled ballots in the 2007 Scottish local and parliamentary elections. Another factor may be the deliberate spoiling of ballot papers. The Electoral Commission noted anecdotal evidence of this in the 2012 PCC elections.
I have argued since day one, right back to the days of the Labour Government, that there were problems with the design of ballot papers. I put up an alternative model. The academics supported my view of the simpler model, but it was decided to proceed on the basis of the ballot paper that was subsequently approved. SV elections see more spoiled ballots than FPTP elections, but improved ballot paper design and clearer guidance for voters would ameliorate the problem.
Does the supplementary vote allow loser candidates to win? This is the other accusation that was made. The Government’s second argument is that under SV loser candidates can win on second preferences, but that argument is circular. Such candidates are losers only under the rules of first past the post. Take this year’s north Wales PCC election. On first preferences, the Conservative candidate won 32% of the votes, the Labour candidate won 29% and the Plaid Cymru candidate won 28%. With such numbers it is quite possible that most voters preferred either the Labour or Plaid Cymru candidate over the Conservative. The latter was not the self-evident winner. In fact, under SV many Plaid Cymru voters expressed a second preference and two-thirds of them chose the Labour candidate, giving them the victory. It is not obvious why that was wrong.
Would the Government be happy if a candidate with 32% won the election? I do not think so. I do not think it is credible and I do not think the electorate think it is credible when a candidate with 32% of the poll wins the election.
In reality, the choice between SV and FPTP does not actually affect the result very often. Alan Renwick’s analysis suggests that the allocation of second preferences has affected the result in 8% of SV elections since its introduction in 2000. In other words, it removes the results that lack credibility, which are on the margins, and replaces them with results that are credible.
Does the supplementary vote harm accountability? Ministers in their press release last month said that first past the post would improve “accountability” and
“make it easier for voters to express a clear”
preference. The academics respond that under first past the post electors have to work out who has the greater chance of success. It is not obvious how forcing voters into such difficult calculations empowers them to express a clear choice.
I will deal with the claim that
“First Past the Post is the world’s most widely used electoral system”.
That is just plain wrong; it is just not true. For national legislative elections, first past the post is the second most common system, used in only 28% of countries, behind list proportional representation, used in 39%. The great majority of countries with elections to executive offices eschew first past the post in favour of a system that allows second preferences to be counted.
Then there is the claim that the supplementary vote is an anomaly in the UK. The government press release described the use of SV for mayoral and PCC elections as an “anomaly.” That is true, in the sense that these are the only public elections in England to use this system. However, all the main political parties use preferential voting systems to choose their leaders: Labour and the Liberal Democrats use AV; the Conservatives use an exhaustive ballot, whittling the candidates down to two before a final run-off. Why such voting systems are right for these elections but not for public elections is unclear.
Finally, I turn to the discussion of the AV referendum result. The Government’s final argument is that the reform reflects that transferable voting systems were rejected by the British people in the 2011 nationwide referendum. Voters did indeed vote against the introduction of AV for elections to the House of Commons by an overwhelming 68% to 32%. But that was AV. AV is not SV. I have never supported AV. It works in a completely different way from SV. It gives weight to overdiluted preferences—one, two, three, four, five, whatever—which, in my view, the public will never accept. That was why SV was designed: to avoid that very problem.
I refer to the final comments of the authors to whom I have been referring:
“SV elections in the UK are associated with slightly higher rates of rejected ballots than are FPTP elections. But no other plausible argument for switching to FPTP has been given. Indeed, the case in terms of clear accountability runs the other way. In this circumstance, it would be better to seek improvements to the operation of SV, rather than abandon it.”
In other words, look again at the format and design of the ballot paper, which is what I have argued for 20-odd years.
Furthermore, unilateral adoption of electoral reform by one party is always problematic. The risk is that the party will fix the rules to suit its own interest—and that is exactly what is going on in this debate. Let the public out there be in no doubt: this is an electoral fix by the Government to have an electoral system which they know positively favours them. Some form of independent review, such as the citizens’ assembly posited by an amendment previously defeated in Committee, should always be held first. That should be followed by thorough parliamentary scrutiny, which has always been curtailed in this case by the late introduction of proposals through amendments, to which my noble friend Lady Hayman referred in her very interesting contribution.
The Government’s actions have been reckless—are reckless. They have produced no evidence whatever of the need for change. The only complaints I have ever heard in 20-odd years have come from Conservative councillors who have found it difficult to come to terms with losing their seats on minority votes, where, clearly, they simply did not have the votes to win.
The Government are destroying a system that is credible and which works. As I said, I hope that one day, a Labour or coalition Government will bring it back, because it is what the people want and like.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, with his passion and analysis, which was evident even through the screen.
I speak to support Clause 11 not standing part of the Bill. In doing so, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and an adviser to a number of metro mayors and mayors, as set out in my entry in the register of interests.
In support of my view that the clause should not stand part, I shall speak about three issues. First, this proposed change cannot be regarded as a manifesto commitment; secondly, there is the lack of any meaningful consultation on the change; and thirdly, a proportional voting system is right for these particular posts, regardless of whether you support proportional representation in general or for local elections. I apologise in advance that this will be a longer Committee speech than is perhaps normal. However, the issues at stake here are so fundamental to the way we do business in a properly functioning democracy that they need to be set out at length.
I shall start with the question of the manifesto commitment. The Government have asserted that this proposed change was a commitment in the 2019 general election manifesto. Having explored the issue in some depth, I am very clear that that is definitively not the case. To prove this point, I need to take the House for a guided tour of Conservative election manifestos over the last decade—I can hear the enthusiasm in the Committee.
The 2015 Conservative election manifesto, entitled Strong Leadership. A Clear Economic Plan. A Brighter, More Secure Future—not one of the snappier manifesto titles—said on this issue:
“We will respect the will of the British people, as expressed in the 2011 referendum, and keep First Past the Post for elections to the House of Commons.”
The intent is clear: to retain first past the post for general elections. There is no reference to local elections and certainly no reference to changing the supplementary voting system for mayors or police and crime commissioners.
We move on to the 2017 manifesto, entitled Forward, Together: Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future, which states:
“We will retain the first past the post system of voting for parliamentary elections and extend this system to police and crime commissioner and mayoral elections.”
The intent here is equally clear: both to retain first past the post for parliamentary elections and to extend it to mayors and police and crime commissioners. However, no action was taken in the period between that election and 2019; I suspect Brexit had something to do with that.
Had that been what was in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto, it would have settled the argument on manifesto commitments, but it was not. The 2019 manifesto, entitled Get Brexit Done: Unleash Britain’s Potential—they are getting snappier—said:
“We will continue to support the First Past the Post system of voting, as it allows voters to kick out politicians who don’t deliver, both locally and nationally.”
The key word here is “continue”. The commitment is to continue to support first past the post where it is currently used for national and local elections. There is absolutely no reference, as there was in the 2017 manifesto, to extending first past the post to mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections. Indeed, the final point in the sentence, about being able to kick out politicians who do not deliver, clearly does not apply to elections of mayors and police and crime commissioners under the supplementary vote, as they are perfectly capable of being kicked out and indeed have been.
I cannot tell the Committee why that was left out of the 2019 manifesto, but in a sense it does not matter. There was clearly no manifesto commitment to change the voting system for mayors and PCCs. The Minister might argue, “Let’s take the best of three from the manifestos”, but that clearly will not do. Political parties can and do change their policy positions substantially between elections so we have to take the most recent manifesto as our reference point. In this instance, the position could not be clearer. It would really help if the Minister acknowledged this point so that we can move on. Given the importance attached to commitments in manifestos, it is also important that Ministers do not assert that they are there when they are not.
Now I will move on to the question of consultation. It is instructive to see the care and attention that went into establishing the London mayor and Assembly and the electoral system to be used in electing them. In this, I am indebted to conversations with the former Minister, Nick Raynsford, who led on this for the Government at the time, and to the research undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who has kindly shared it with me. In the Green Paper published in July 1997, entitled New Leadership for London, the Government set out different possible electoral systems for the mayor and the Assembly. In the case of the mayor, the choices were first past the post, second ballot and alternative vote. For the Assembly, a range of options was put forward, including first past the post.
An extensive consultation process with stakeholders and voters was undertaken and the subsequent White Paper in March 1998 reported on the results of that consultation. For the mayor, it proposed the supplementary vote system, and for the assembly, the additional member system. The White Paper argued that the system used to elect the assembly should facilitate a more inclusive and less confrontational style of politics, and the system for the mayor should help to ensure a clear winner with strong support. That is a crucial point. The White Paper went on to argue that electing the mayor and the assembly should be done in ways that are compatible with each other.
The White Paper noted that the majority of the responses to the consultation were against the use of the first past the post system to elect the mayor. Instead, there was strong support for a system which could give a winning candidate a clear majority. This was much more likely to be delivered by the supplementary vote system, which I will come on to, than the first past the post system where, in a large field of candidates, it is perfectly possible for the winner to have one-third or less of the votes.
I have gone through this in some detail, because it formed the template for all the subsequent elections for mayors and police and crime commissioners, who were all elected under the supplementary vote system. We now have 15 elected local authority mayors, nine elected metro mayors and 40 directly elected police and crime commissioners, as well as the Mayor of London. Through either metro mayors or police and crime commissioners, the whole country is now served by postholders who were elected by the supplementary vote system. That amounts to over 43 million voters. In the 36 referenda on establishing mayors and the nine consultations on establishing metro mayors, the clear expectation and understanding was that the elections would be under the supplementary vote system. If London is included, some 41.5% of the population is now covered by a metro mayor. Similarly, with the police and crime commissioners, established under Theresa May, the supplementary vote system was used. The relevant legislation in 2011 and 2016 incorporated the supplementary vote system without controversy, so far as I can tell. There was no suggestion that it would be otherwise.
Contrast that very extensive process of consultation and engagement with what has occurred with the current proposals. When the Bill was introduced in the other place on 5 July last year, it made no reference to changing the voting system for mayors and commissioners. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, the Minister announced that it would form part of the Bill only in September, when the Bill was already in Committee. Given this, it is not surprising that the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee expressed strong concern about the late addition. It said that
“the manner in which this change was introduced after the Bill had been debated by the House at Second Reading was unsatisfactory and disrespectful towards the House of Commons.”
I would argue that it is also deeply disrespectful to the 43 million electors who will have their voting system changed without any meaningful notice or consultation. Put simply, this is not good enough. Such sweeping constitutional changes should not be made in this cavalier way.
The Government have argued that the result of the 2011 referendum on moving to AV for general elections makes the case that the public favours change. That was a different voting system for different elections. The use of the supplementary vote system for mayors and police and crime commissioners has been put forward by successive Labour and Conservative Governments when the clear policy of both parties was to support first past the post for general elections.
I happen to favour the wider use of PR as a fairer system, but I recognise that this is not a majority view. However, the arguments made against proportional representation—that it leads to coalition government and a decoupling of elected representatives from their electorate—simply do not apply to the elections of mayors and commissioners by the supplementary vote system. If the Government want to argue that the public support first past the post for these elections, they should test the point through a proper consultation process.
This brings me to my third and final argument. The supplementary vote system, while not perfect—as no system is—is a much better way of electing to these posts than first past the post. I say that because the candidate with the largest number of votes, following the elimination of candidates other than the first two, is clearly the winner. Whatever technical arguments are made about different voting systems, this brings a crucial benefit: a successful candidate is more likely to win on a majority of the votes cast on either first or second preferences. This is a powerful incentive for candidates aspiring to be elected to look beyond their immediate supporters to the wider electorate. It is a unifying process that produces, as was intended, mayors with a strong mandate.
This is essential to produce visible and effective leaders who can effectively represent the different and competing interests of their electorate. We invest directly elected mayors with substantial individual powers over our local public services. They make decisions over significant resources, balancing competing priorities and claims. As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, we elect individuals with these powers. It is therefore crucial that they have the support of as many electors as possible. There are real dangers in electing such powerful and important figures routinely on the basis of minority support. That is why, whatever voting system is used for national elections, the supplementary vote system makes sense for mayors. Indeed, it is worth noting that the brave mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, was elected on the basis of the supplementary vote system, as are all the mayors of the larger cities in Ukraine.
The Government have argued that the supplementary vote system is confusing and overcomplicated, but the evidence supporting this is far from compelling. We have now had five mayoral elections in London; as has been said, the system is tried and tested. In its post- poll report on the May 2021 elections, the Electoral Commission found that nine in 10 voters said that the system was easy to fill in on the ballot paper. For those who found it difficult, a range of reasons was given, of which the different electoral system was only one.
The number of rejected papers in May 2021 was indeed higher for those elections than for those using first past the post—0.8% for local government elections, 2.7% for PCC elections and 4.3% for the mayor. However, the number of rejected papers for the Mayor of London election was notably higher than the previous election; the figure in May 2016 was half this at 1.9%. The Electoral Commission says that the most significant difference for the May 2021 mayoral election was the new ballot paper design. Combine that with the large number of candidates—there were 20—and the need to split them over two papers and you can see where the problems emerged. These are perfectly solvable problems in the supplementary vote system. It does not require a change of voting system. It could be addressed simply by changing the design. As with London, I am sure that other parts of the country could follow suit.
The noble Lord had better ask the Minister; I do not have those figures, but I am happy to dig them out. The point I make still applies. As in London, I am sure there is scope for better systems to improve the design of the papers and reduce rejected numbers.
The last of the Government’s arguments is consistency. Those in favour of PR might argue that the way to achieve consistency would be to move all elections over to PR. You do not need to go that far; as I explained earlier, people are perfectly able to live with different electoral systems.
I think the real reason the Government have done this, as has already been alluded to, is the results of the elections themselves. Out of the 15 directly elected mayors, none represents the government party; out of the 10 metro mayors, including the Mayor of London, only two represent the government party. I can understand why the Government find that a disappointing result, but I do not think that is a good reason for taking forward a major constitutional change to an electoral system without meaningful consultation.
My Lords, I put my name to this stand part debate. When I was in journalism, people used to say of me, “He may be no good, but at least he is quick.” I will try to follow that precept this afternoon.
The first thing I wanted to say will cheer the Minister. Like him, I do not think much of single transferable votes—I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours on that. The immense defect of STV compared to its obvious alternative—the alternative vote, which is an exhaustive ballot—is that it does not produce a candidate who commands a majority of the electorate. AV infallibly does, which is why we so sensibly use it for the election of hereditary Peers. It seems very basic that, for mayors in particular, and perhaps police commissioners too, we want somebody who commands a majority of the electorate, and that STV does not do.
The second thing I want to say is about haste. More than 20 years ago, on the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform chaired by the late Lord Jenkins, we were as quick as we possibly could be. People who have served under Lord Jenkins as chair know he was not a man who permitted excess words or allowed discussions to meander. Even so, it took us about 12 months to come to a conclusion. It may or may not have been right, but it took us 12 months to get there. The complexities are enormous. At that time, I could have distinguished between three varieties of Sainte-Laguë system for the distribution of majorities, but now I can hardly remember the words, and I certainly cannot remember what those were. But these are immensely complicated matters of immense importance, and they can affect the results of elections, which are the expression of our democracy. To do this by introducing an unheralded amendment in Committee in the other place is, to use a word much used by my old boss Tony Crosland, frivolous.
The third thing is that different places need different electoral systems. It does not follow that because first past the post may be felt by some to be right for the House of Commons it is right for every election. It clearly is not. Parliament legislated for different systems in Scotland and Wales—the AMS system. A whole set of desiderata attached to electoral systems apply differently in different elections, and this is a very poor reason for having first past the post.
It is particularly poor because the winner can have a very tiny share of the vote, not much more than 20%; I can cheer the Government up for a moment by citing one such perverse result in an East Anglia PCC election in 2012. The winner on the first ballot was one John Prescott, known to many in this House. John Prescott’s lead—he had just over 20% of the first ballot votes—was soon got rid of, and his votes transferred, to elect Matthew Grove. Where is Matthew Grove now?
We cannot openly countenance a system where candidates with 20% of the vote rule over our big cities and order our police. I use the word again: this is a frivolous approach to constitutional reform in general and to electoral reform in particular. This House should have nothing to do with it.
My Lords, my name is on some amendments in this group. As Members of the Committee will know, I am extremely disturbed by this Bill as a whole and by the way it has been introduced. Of all its provisions, I think Clause 11 is the least justifiable, introduced as it was after a Written Statement by a middle-range Minister last September after the Bill had already begun its Committee stage in the House of Commons, and pushed through for clearly partisan reasons.
On Monday, the Minister was asking us to look at the practice on voter ID in other countries as a justification for what the Government propose. I am sure he recognises that in the Irish and Danish constitutions, any change in the voting system is a constitutional amendment and therefore has to go through exceptional procedures. That is also true in a number of other countries. In this respect, of course, he will probably say that we should pay no attention to other countries. I deeply respect that, privately, the Minister knows this clause is impossible to defend, and I recognise that he nevertheless has to stand up for it as best he can in the circumstances that this was a Conservative pledge in 2017 and someone up there has not forgotten that.
Yesterday, I read a very good article in the Political Quarterly of 2019 entitled “The UK Politics of Overseas Voting” by Susan Collard; I will return to it when we get on to overseas voting. One of the things that struck me about the introduction was that it talked about the package of measures that might have been agreed among the parties in 2016-17 about voting reform. It was discussed among the parties in the Commons that we could have moved towards automatic voter registration to reduce the number of people not on the register—by and large, the young and the marginal. We could have had a major effort at citizen engagement to encourage people to go to the polls. We could also have included votes at 16, which would almost definitely have helped the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and others. In that context, overseas voting and the extension of overseas voting would have been part of the same package. That could have been negotiated as part of a—
These were exchanges on and off the Floor of the House of Commons.
That would have been a major set of changes to voting rights that might even have included some form of examination of our voting system. I draw attention to Amendment 140, which suggests that we need a citizens’ assembly on methods of voting for different elections in this country. That would be highly desirable, encouraging an intelligent approach and taking out of the control of parties the question of whose advantage is most looked to in this respect.
This Government have mucked about with local government over an extended period. I am not a great fan of metro mayors—certainly not metro mayors without the scrutiny of elected assemblies—but the Government have them. The Government have reduced the number of local councillors, and now they want to muck about with the system, partly because what Michael Gove and other enthusiasts thought they wanted—independently minded people like we saw in New York and Chicago—has not yet emerged very strongly. But some of those who emerged are rather good, or not so good, Labour candidates, who do not please the Government. Be that as it may, we have a current system for elected mayors.
The only argument, in effect, that the Government can make in defence of this change is that the voters of London and other cities are not as intelligent as their counterparts in Ireland, Scotland and elsewhere and are not capable of understanding a complicated system such as the supplementary vote and therefore we have to go back to the first past the post. That is not a good argument, and I look forward to hearing what alternative argument the Minister may wish to produce.
One of the problems with the first past the post system is that it works really well only when there is a clear two-party system and the two-party system has broken down in almost all democratic countries in recent years, except for the United Kingdom and the United States. In the United Kingdom and the United States, factionalism within both major parties has almost wrecked our politics, partly because the extremists —or less moderate—in both major parties have done their best to take over their party rather than going off and forming their own.
I was very struck by an argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, during our previous day in Committee, which was that you need to be very careful about how the selection process for candidates works because in most constituencies in Britain the selection process decides who will be the MP. The attraction of any form of alternative voting, supplementary voting or proportional representation is that it gives the voter some choice among candidates.
The noble Lord and I will have conversations about list systems and non-list systems off the Floor of the House.
On Amendment 144C on proportional representation in local elections, I recall very clearly many years ago that the borough of Rochdale had all-out local elections and thus required three candidates for each ward rather than one. What was most striking was that that was the point at which Rochdale ceased to have overwhelmingly white male councillors because if the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives each had to choose three candidates, they tended to choose one white man, one woman and one Asian. That gave people a choice and in some wards people voted for the woman or the Asian in greater numbers than they did for the Labour or Conservative candidate, which you might think is not a bad thing as a matter of choice in elections.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who is deeply committed to the idea of the constituency, that until the first five years of my life the tried-and-tested constituency system in the United Kingdom included a large number of multi-Member constituencies. The last double-Member constituencies were abolished in 1945. I know I am older than him and that was not in his lifetime. We had a number of three and four-Member constituencies in counties and large boroughs, so if we are talking about things that are un-English, English history—the tried-and-tested systems referred to by the noble Lord, Lord True—includes multi-Member constituencies and different forms of voting in return.
Now is not the time to have a full debate on methods of voting, but I commend to the Committee the idea that we should move towards a citizens’ assembly. I hope that whoever makes up the next Government will indeed move forward on this, but I also say as strongly as I can that now is not the time to introduce into a Bill at a late stage, as Clause 11 does, a proposal that the Government have introduced solely because they think it will advance the Conservative Party and disadvantage others.
I know he will interrupt me anyway.
I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and one of the rare people who has been elected under a proportional system to the London Assembly and under first past the post to a council. It has always struck me that I was told by Conservative voters in both areas that they voted for me rather than a Labour or Liberal Democrat person. Under both systems, they realised that there were options other than voting for the person that they might first vote for.
I know the Tory party struggles with the future and does not like modernisation, except when it really suits it, and proportional representation is the future. It is obvious that other democracies—I am not even sure that this country is a democracy any more, but I will grant us that status—have been using proportional representation for years.
There is more grumbling on the Labour Benches about what I am saying and I really wish they would do it quietly so that I could not hear them.
Proportional representation is the future. First past the post is a relic of the past when small groups of landowning gentlemen would gather in a small room to cast their votes to put another landowning gentleman into a room to represent their interests to the monarch. That is really not a system that we want to continue. As the franchise has expanded to include women and non-landowning men and the population has grown, so the number of voters is many times what it once was and social diversity has increased massively. We are now at a point when first past the post simply is no longer an appropriate system. The idea that winner takes all leaves many millions of people unrepresented in Parliament and in councils.
It seems to benefit the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives. They are apparently content to take turns to run the country. Sometimes they do well and are handed a substantial majority in spite of the fact that they do not have a majority of voters behind them, and sometimes they suffer and end up in opposition. However, it does not suit Labour as well as it thinks it does. In the previous century the Conservatives won 20 elections and the Labour Party only nine. Labour does not benefit from first past the post. If Labour wants to form more Governments—we see this reported endlessly—it will have to appeal to more voters, which means to people like me, who might give them a vote if my preferred candidate is not able to carry a majority. We need PR, and that means real democratic reform, such as the amendments in this group, which I support; I will be happy to vote for any of them. If they throw in a new, real green new deal, that would improve the odds of Labour forming a new Government a lot.
First past the post feeds into the overly confrontational system we have at the moment. The nature of British politics is not very attractive. The parties are forced to fight viciously by the very nature of the electoral system. In the other place and here, we confront each other across the Chamber. It is very unhealthy in terms of being able to work together and find any sort of consensus. The first past the post voting system is designed to create conflict and opposition and it enables a small bunch of right-wing politicians to run a corrupt and uncaring Government on a mandate given by fewer than half the voters. Consensus building in politics is the future and will help us to claw our way out of the climate crisis.
You have to ask: do the general public like the way things are run? No, they do not—they will tell you that they do not like the constant fighting and braying that they see in Parliament, and they wonder why politicians cannot work better together. They wonder why campaigns are run with dirty tricks and character assassinations, and they wonder why politics and politicians—us—cannot be better. These are all reasons why we need to change the voting system, to transform our democracy into something really democratic and to allow people to be represented by the politicians who most closely align with their values, opinions and hopes for their future—to stop people being forced to choose the lesser evil.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, arguing for consensual politics in a characteristically aggressive speech—and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, as well. There must be a misprint on the Marshalled List, because the noble Lord told us that he did not want to discuss proportional representation. But there is an amendment tabled here, with his as the lead name, proposing a new clause with the heading, “Proportional representation for elections to the House of Commons”. I do not know whether he wants to discuss that—
I shall certainly follow the injunction not to speak at length, but I cannot resist responding to arguments about proportional representation. Oddly enough, I think I am the first the noble Lord so far to speak passionately in favour of first past the post, which shows once again how unrepresentative this House can be of British public opinion. On two specific occasions, it has been the subject that dare not speak its name. There are two issues that have not been mentioned, either by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—and I do not blame him—or by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. One is the small matter of an opinion poll, and I shall call it that to be a little contentious, held in 2011, which consisted of 19.2 million voters, who the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has told us probably represent something that is dying out and departing. That opinion poll was in a referendum which the Liberal party made a condition of its membership of the coalition—and at any stage, if the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, wants to interrupt, of course he can. He was a Minister in that Government.
I thank the noble Lord for the invitation. He will remember that this was the first occasion on which Dominic Cummings managed very successfully to make the argument that it would be much too costly to change the electoral system and that the money would be much better spent on the National Health Service instead—an argument that he also used in the Brexit referendum. In neither case was the money spent on the NHS.
Well, to bring Dominic Cummings into it sounds like a good argument to a point that I was not discussing and do not intend to discuss.
The referendum was a condition of the Liberal Democrats’ membership of the coalition Government; they said that there should be a referendum on the voting system in this country. Some 19.2 million votes were cast, 6 million in favour of the alternative vote system and 13 million for first past the post, as specifically referred to. There was a 2:1 majority for first past the post, and a widely held debate right across the country. I am pretty shocked that, having demanded that referendum and having rejected the result, which is not an unusual characteristic, the noble Lord wants, by means of an amendment to a Bill, to change the electoral system away from first past the post, not by another referendum—because referendums keep giving him the result that he does not want—but by an amendment to a Bill. I find that a very unsatisfactory way of proceeding, but I am afraid that it has become a behaviour pattern. I am sorry, because I agree with the Liberal Democrats on a lot of aspects of this Bill, but not on this. It is a very similar pattern to what was followed in relation to the European referendum, whereby they voted for the referendum, did not like the result but knew that it was too big a risk to put it back to the people—so, instead of having another referendum, they proposed to change it without one and back to the original situation.
I am afraid that this approach of no compromise with the electorate that seems to be being offered by one party to this discussion is really not a satisfactory way for democrats to proceed. Of course, people can change their mind; people might decide, at some future date, that they want to change the electoral system. But, again, I have noticed—and this is why I both enjoy but am frustrated by discussions about the voting system—that one thing that people who are in favour of changing from first past the post always manage to do, whenever you criticise them for anything that they are proposing, is to say, “Oh, that’s not the kind of proportional representation that I’m in favour of—it’s completely different.” In fact, of course, they will even argue, although it was more proportional, that the proposal in the 2011 referendum, which was for the alternative vote system, was not proper proportional representation. It is not, but it is much more proportional —and I am quite certain that they see the electoral systems for mayors, police commissioners and everything else just as a stepping-stone towards proportional representation.
I am the first noble Lord to mention the referendum. The other thing that proponents of proportional representation always avoid mentioning is the test bed that we had for quite a long time—thankfully, no longer —for elections to the European Parliament. They were done on the basis of proportional representation. I remind supporters of the system of the arguments that are tediously repeated about the great merits of proportional representation, the principal point of which is that it reaches parts of the electorate that are ignored at present. It is said that there are tens of thousands of Labour voters, say, in the south of England and tens of thousands of Conservative voters in the north of England who never have their voices represented, and that if you released all that potential by proportional representation, the public would be energised.
How does the noble Lord explain the fact that, when you have a PR system—it does not matter in which country—you get loads of Greens elected? Does not that sound as though there is an unexpressed need under first past the post for Greens? I do not know why noble Lords are all laughing: there are three out of 25 on the London Assembly.
I was listening carefully to the noble Baroness’s speech, and she seemed to be suggesting that quite a lot of votes were not votes for Greens at all but votes for her personally. I have never kidded myself about that, with regard to elections that I have fought, because I have lost too many—I cannot afford to say that.
I have said that the standard argument is that proportional representation energises people. But the turnout for European elections in 2009 was 35%, which is lower than in local government elections, generally. In 2014, it was 36% and in 2019 it went up to 37%, but that was because large numbers of people were voting for a party to scrap the European Union, as we know. So let us please hear from any proponents of PR who happen to emerge during this debate an explanation as to why they do not attach any significance whatever to a referendum held on the subject, and precisely why it is, when a PR system has been tried in this country, it has not involved large numbers of people turning out to the polls. In fact, although admittedly it is for general elections, good old first past the post is the one that continues to attract far and away the biggest turnout of any of the other fancy electoral systems on offer.
Finally, I will mention an important point: PR kills the link between an MP and a constituency. That is the heart of it. I speak as a former MP—there are many others in this House—in saying that, whenever MPs are accused of getting out of touch with the electorate, the answer is always the same, and it is true: if you hold surgeries every weekend and have meetings—
Could the noble Lord perhaps address the point I made in my contribution? Whatever your views about disconnection during a general election between the vote and the person holding the seat, that does not apply to metro mayors in the way it works. Similarly, the noble Lord talks of countering the referendum, but we are here changing the voting system—we are not adding PR but reducing the current use of the system—without consultation at all.
I am the wrong person to ask about directly elected mayors or police and crime commissioners because I have always been opposed to both. On the method whereby they are elected, I prefer a parliamentary system in local and national government —namely, a system whereby whoever holds executive power is subject to constant control, management or association with the people who decide who should be in the Executive. Some of my best friends are elected mayors or police and crime commissioners, but the system—certainly that for police and crime commissioners —is not worth having a great debate about. I repeat: the link between an MP and a constituency keeps the feet on the ground.
Finally, I think the proponents of PR call it “fair votes”—I tend to think of it as “unfair votes” because it certainly results in unfair power. It effectively means that the third most popular party of the three major national parties is the one pretty permanently in office. Nick Clegg would no doubt still be Deputy Prime Minister—there is a thought for you—almost for life, because it is always a question of which of the two main parties the third party will associate itself with. That leads to disproportionate power and influence for the smallest of the parties, which is not a system to be defended. Let us at least agree that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, can either be not moved—he does not seem keen to debate it—or, preferably, defeated.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, with whom I completely agree. I will speak mainly on the opposition to Clause 11 standing part, which is in this group, but I do not support any of the amendments in it. I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said—he was clearly much too modest to say that he actually invented the supplementary vote system, back in 1989, so what we heard was some rather over- protective parenthood trying to keep that system going.
Our electoral system has had first past the post at its heart for a very long time—and very successfully. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred to the referendum in 2011, when the British people were quite conclusive in their view: they did not want the alternative vote system. I accept that it is not the same as the supplementary vote system, but it showed that the British public had no appetite to change from the first past the post system.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who is unfortunately not in his place, described the supplementary vote system, in 2015, as “one of the worst” electoral systems, and I agree with that. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, described it in 2014 as the “oddest” electoral system—I thought I was going to find a second thing that I could agree with him on this week, but he may have been using that as a compliment. I do not think anyone has mentioned that, in 2016, the Home Affairs Committee in the other place recommended that it be abandoned for PCC elections.
The supplementary vote system is used hardly anywhere outside England, with very good reason. The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, helpfully gave the statistics for the 2021 London mayoral and PCC elections. He tried to blame that on the ballot paper, but I just do not buy that: there is a very significant difference between the number of spoilt ballot papers in the—
I hear what the noble Lord has said, but the difference between the spoilt ballot papers in the local elections at that time and the PCC and London mayoral elections is too great to be laid wholly at the door of the shape or design of the ballot paper.
The British people understand the first past the post system, which is why they supported it in 2011. It gives a clear result to the candidate with the most votes, and that is the heart of accountability. If that candidate does not perform to the electorate’s will or expectation, they can boot him out; they can vote him out at subsequent elections. That is the key advantage of the first past the post system: it gives a very clear result.
They can vote them out, but it is much more obscure—the link is much less direct. The supplementary vote system, which is what we are talking about replacing, clearly allows weaker candidates, with fewer first preference votes, to get through the system because of second preference votes, which have the same value as first preference ones—that does not seem right.
My only regret about the Bill is that it does not get rid of the even more confusing additional member system for the London Assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, we fortunately no longer have the proportional representation system for the EU elections, which resulted in MEPs being distant and certainly not accountable to electorates. I would personally look again at the systems used in Scotland and Wales, but I shall stick to my normal practice in your Lordships’ House of not getting involved in devolved matters. It is time for our electoral systems in England to return to their roots and for the first past the post system to be the default for national elections and all English elections.
My Lords, I have been affected by the debate this evening. I was intending to speak—if I was going to speak at all—in a rather different way, because I have anxieties about the way that the Government introduced this legislation, at the point when they brought in all the material about the form of election. But I have been stirred by the other side of the argument, because something that I feared has definitely now come about: the people arguing against the Bill are really trying to bring back proportional representation, as a much wider piece of argument, into the whole of our public life and our electoral system—