Lord David Shutt (1942-2020)

It is with much sadness that Liberal Democrat Voice reports the death of David Shutt overnight. David was probably better known for his central role in the early years of the Coalition, as Chief Whip in the Lords, but he was a key figure in Yorkshire and beyond, a stalwart Quaker and a source of wisdom for those who needed it. Our condolences go to his wife, Margaret, and his family and friends.

Rather than running through a somewhat impersonal list of achievements, I thought that it would be more meaningful to publish his last contribution in the Lords, which perhaps is as good a way of marking his commitment to democracy and to liberalism. On 8 October, he moved an amendment to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill, seeking to improve the accuracy and completeness of electoral registers…

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 16 as an important enhancement of the Bill, which would improve the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers for future reviews.

The amendment has at its core the work of the Select Committee on the Electoral Registration and Administration Act, which I chaired and which reported in July. We learned, in our extensive deliberations, that though electoral registers are primarily prepared for use at elections for voting purposes, they have other uses, such as enabling juries to be enlisted and providing proof of residence by credit agencies. Importantly, they are also used as a series of building blocks for constituencies and their boundaries.

Sadly, registers are far from perfect, but it must be right to get them as accurate and complete as possible. The committee made a series of proposals for improvement. The most glaring omission from registers is that 75% of young people known as attainers—people aged 16 or 17 who may be added to the register so that they are able to vote when they attain the age of 18—are not registered. They are very relevant to this Bill—hence the reason for this amendment. I am delighted that four Members subscribing to the amendment are former members of the Select Committee and cover the four corners of the House of Lords.

There is, too, precedence for this action, in that it follows on from the work of the House three years ago in its consideration of the Higher Education and Research Bill in 2017. The House approved an amendment, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, ​to enable higher education students to be easily registered, through collaboration between the Office for Students and electoral registration officers. A Department for Education guidance leaflet on facilitating registration shows that in one university, De Montfort in Leicester, of those students qualified to register, 98.5% provided details for registration. The amendment seeks to put all young people in the position of the De Montfort students, so that the present 25% registration rate comes more into line with that of their elders. The Electoral Commission paper, Completeness in Great Britain, indicates that the highest rate for completeness is for the over 65s, at 94%, whereas the lowest level is that of attainers—the 16 to 17 year-olds—which has declined from 45% in 2015 to 25% in 2019.

The amendment seeks to prescribe the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament proposals for improving the completeness of electoral registers for the purpose of boundary reviews. It would bring with it the bonus that a substantial number of young people who are entitled to vote would have the right to vote. Further, it suggests that this requirement could be met by the Department for Work and Pensions providing registration officers the details of individuals in their district to whom it had issued a national insurance number ahead of those individuals’ 16th birthday so that they could be added to the register. Alternatively, the Department for Work and Pensions would notify individuals of the criteria for voting and the process for making an application when they were issued with a new national insurance number. The former would lead the way in lifting registration for young people; the latter would help but is less certain to be effective.

As we have heard, the Minister is desperate for near precision in prescribing all boundaries to be within 5% of the average size, but the baseline and building blocks are in danger of being wildly imprecise if the bulk of young people are omitted from the registers.

I thank the many noble Lords who supported the amendment in Grand Committee, but the attempt to embrace the totality of the Select Committee’s recommendations was too much to find favour with the responding Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook. However, I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, while having reservations about automatic registration in general, was clear that he supported assistance or automatic registration for attainers. This is the opportunity to make that change. This is important: young people should be part of the building blocks for constituency boundaries.

Earlier today, reference was made to unfairness to voters. The Bill, unamended, is unfair to young people, and I intend to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

And, in one of those moments whose significance is not necessarily felt at the time, the amendment was won by 293 votes to 215.

Readers are welcome to add their thoughts about David via comments…

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11 Comments

  • I am deeply sorry to hear of the death of my old friend David Shutt. Margaret and the family are very much in my thoughts.

    David was a good man, a straight talking Yorkshireman, who gave years and years of determined service to the Liberal Party. He was the very best sort of Liberal and always talked with honest common sense.

    It was a matter of huge regret that (as my successor as PPC in Sowerby and the Calder Valley) he never quite made it into the Commons. He put in years and years of effort using every sinew to do so and deserved to do so. It was the Calder Valley’s loss though…. though he served with distinction as a Councillor. Whatever view one takes of the House of Lords, I’m so glad he finally made it to Parliament when he was awarded a peerage….. and I do remember a few years ago having a chuckle with him about the outfit he had to wear as a Government Whip at the State Opening of Parliament.

    R.I.P. David. God bless.

  • John Marriott 31st Oct '20 - 2:31pm

    Lord Shutt was the first ‘famous’ Liberal politician I ever met. Having returned to the U.K. after four years abroad in 1974, I ended up teaching in the newly created Metropolitan Authority of Calderdale and living in Sowerby Bridge. Having observed the political machinations back home, first from the Canadian Prairies and then from the North German Plain, I decided that neither the Tories nor Labour were offering much as I determined that, when I got back, I was going to change the world, or at least the world of the British Isles (no point in aiming too low, hey?).

    So, when one of my new teacher colleagues announced that he was going to stand for the Liberal Party in a by election for the Council in Luddenden Foot, I offered my help. One Saturday afternoon there was a knock on our door and there stood a dapper, reddish haired young gentleman with a pile of leaflets for me to deliver. He introduced himself as David Shutt and was, I think, the candidate’s agent. We invited him in for a chat and a cuppa, which he accepted and after half an hour or so took his leave. We never saw him again; but that started me off. He then when on to better things. Not many months later, we moved to Lincolnshire and I finally took the plunge and joined the Liberal Party. The rest, as they say, is history.

    I can only echo the words of David Raw, who obviously knew Lord Shutt far better than I did. There have been many David Shutt’s up and down the country over the years. Without them and their efforts, it is unlikely that there would be a viable third party operating at all today.

  • Brian Stokes 31st Oct '20 - 5:41pm

    Really sad to hear this, when I interned in Mike German’s office back in 2013, David was in the opposite facing office with Phil Willis. Always a great person to chat to while I got on with my work.

    Thoughts and condolences to his family.

  • <3 Our Shutty <3

    Nothing else to be said, really.

  • Gordon lishman 1st Nov '20 - 11:09am

    To add to David Raw’s s comment on the dress of a Captain General, I invite you to imagine David Shutt ’s inimitable voice saying “I didn’t sign up for black tights”.

  • Michael Meadowcroft 1st Nov '20 - 12:36pm

    David’s death is a bitter blow. When I arrived back in Yorkshire in 1967 as the party’s regional organiser – “Federation Secretary” in those days – David was one of those solid-rock Liberals who are always sound and dependable. One of my key tasks was to twist the arms of candidates to stand for what was going to be a tough election and to persuade constituencies to adopt them. David was a stalwart enforcer and either or both of us went to reluctant associations across the county to get them into the fray.

    He himself went from his then base in Pudsey and fought Sowerby in 1970 in very curious circumstances. The local party executive had agreed to nominate him and an adoption meeting was duly arranged with the press invited and Richard Wainwright present as guest speaker. However, the association held a members’ meeting before the adoption meeting and voted not to fight the election! At this point I went to the front of the room and suggested that those who didn’t want to fight should leave – and they did! Richard was quietly briefed on this bizarre development and told the remainers that “No-one can stop the name of Liberal candidate appearing on the ballot paper”! Those still present then agreed to go ahead and the press were invited in for an adoption which went ahead as if nothing untoward had happened!

    David and the doyen of the local party, Trevor Wilson, persuaded a majority of the dissidents to come back and campaign and David savd his 12.5% deposit in what was a miserable general election for the party.

    Over the long years I spoke with David from time to time, often over a particularly odd political happening which would provoke David’s unique laugh, but also when there were problems in the party nationally, and we always agreed on the necessary course of action. Chronologically we were almost twins and we both joined the Liberal Party in the late 1950s. I will miss a good friend and loyal colleague.

  • I am so sad to hear about David’s death. He was such a lovely man and a great liberal. When I was first on the Federal Finance and Administration Committee, he was Lords Chief Whip and was so friendly, welcoming and funny.

    He will be very much missed and my thoughts are with Margaret and his family.

  • In addition to the Halifax Choral Society, David was a popularly elected President of the Elland Silver Band…… a mark of the respect he was held in in both Greetland and Elland.

  • David also made a huge contribution to liberal causes across the UK through his work for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

    I first met him when he helped fund the ‘Yes’ campaign in the Referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. In fighting my Assembly seat, I subsequently benefitted from both JRRT funding and the work of David and Margaret on the streets of South Antrim.

    It was a great pleasure to entertain them one evening when David, as Lords Spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office, spent a weekend in Hillsborough Castle. As representative of HMG, he had the use of a hatchback car. As a devolved Minister, I was transported in a police Landrover. He appreciated the irony.

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