Elections Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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My Lords, I am sure we all hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, lasts for a long time in this House. She is a great asset to this place, particularly given the brevity and pointedness of her speeches. I have to say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack, because there is no doubt that he is constitutionally absolutely correct—and he has the better argument.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, hit firmly on one point in his speech: in the registration document which we all have to fill in to vote in local elections and so forth, often, there is no category for “Lord”, “Lady” or “Baroness”. I do not know what other Members’ experience has been, but I had some difficulty, living in Hammersmith and Fulham, filling this in. I rang up the registration office and said, “I can’t vote in national elections—are you aware of this?” They said, “There is no category on the computer that allows for this, so we will have to put you down and just rely on your native honesty that you do not actually vote”. Well, I can assure the House that I am an honest person, as are all its Members. None the less, there is a discrepancy and a difficulty here, and I hope the Minister can draw it to the attention of others.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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In the six general elections since I have been a Member of this House, I have always found people to be very surprised that I was unable to cast a vote in them, even though I campaigned in all of them. They find it ironic that I have been campaigning for my party, and its predecessor the Liberal Party, for some 49 years, but I now no longer have a say on who will be the Prime Minister of the country.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am not an opponent of piecemeal reform of this House; I am actually rather in favour of radical reform, and quickly. However, if we had objected to piecemeal reform, this place would be the same as it was in the 19th century. All the progress on reform of your Lordships’ House has been piecemeal, and this amendment would also be an example of piecemeal reform. The principle of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was debated extensively when it formed the basis of two recent Private Members’ Bills, and there was a clear logic to the proposition. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 ensured that Peers lost the power of an absolute veto on legislation, or to determine any financial measure. As Peers, we have no opportunity to vote at a general election to help decide who becomes Prime Minister. Therefore, in those debates on the Private Members’ Bills, I supported the principle of Peers being able to vote in general elections, but I also emphasised that it is not my party’s immediate priority. There are many measures in this Bill which may have considerable impact on future elections, but this is not one of them. As the noble Lord, Lord Horam, pointed out, if membership of the House were evenly distributed across 650 constituencies, there would, on average, be one extra voter on top of some 73,000 others. Therefore, it would be unlikely to make a great deal of difference to the election outcome—although it was of course Churchill who said that “one vote is enough”.

The issue we are debating is really one of principle. As an issue of principle, it is ironic, in my view and that of my party, for any Peer to argue for their right to vote in general elections without also arguing for the right of our country’s voters to have a say in who becomes a Member of this House. There are other priorities. Before we argue for our right to vote in general elections, we must address the problem of 9 million people being missing from or incorrectly recorded on the electoral registers. Our last debate showed that there is a real need to address major inconsistences in the right to be included in our electoral registers. For these reasons, we support this amendment but, while it is logical, it is not our priority.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, one of the things which today’s debate has proved is that logic has never been the basis of enfranchisement in this country or of its constitution. The constitution is what it is because of the way it has developed. As far as the logic is concerned, let me try this. The weight of my vote to elect someone to the House of Commons may, theoretically, be one in 73,000, but in rejecting government legislation it is one in 800—or, given how many noble Lords are present, one in 400. When I was asked to come here, I had a choice. I could have said, “No, I am not coming to this place because I would lose my right to vote”. I chose to come here and that is a very big sacrifice because, as noble Lords have said, we are here for life. Of the 193 upper Houses to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred, not one is unelected, although maybe a few people in them are unelected. However, we are unelected and, therefore, we are here.