Lord Roger Roberts writes: Peers must resolve crisis of democracy in Wales

This afternoon, with the full support of all the main parties in the Welsh Assembly, the House of Lords will debate cross-party amendments to the Wales Bill, designed to radically improve voter engagement in Wales. The UK Government will instruct Coalition Peers to vote against them. How can we arrive at such a situation?

There is a crisis of democracy in Wales which the UK Government and The Electoral Commission have stubbornly, and repeatedly, refused to acknowledge.

Despite the sterling efforts of some Electoral Registration Officers (EROs), only 51% of our youngest citizens are registered to vote. And, in 2011, only 35% of 18-24 year olds voted in Welsh Assembly elections. If this status quo persists much longer, than less than half of young people in Wales will have an opportunity to voice their opinions at the ballot box on 7 May 2015.

Something has to change.

Almost uniquely, amendments tabled to the Wales Bill – which aim to tackle this problem – are supported by every party, and every party leader, in the National Assembly for Wales. They’re also supported by the Presiding Officer. In addition, they are also endorsed by dozens of Welsh civil society groups, as well as leading academics (here and in the USA). Indeed, very similar legislation was spearheaded by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Twenty-one years later, we here in the UK are still playing ‘catch-up’.

The amendments are aimed at simplifying the process of voter registration, as well as redoubling efforts to engage with those least likely to be registered. The first amendment (no. 13) is inspired by the USA ‘Motor Voter’ Act 1993 and would allow people to register to vote when in filling a passport or a driver’s license, for example. The second amendment (no. 14 and the condensed no. 15) would introduce non-partisan, ERO-led voter engagement session in all schools and colleges. This is part of a wider responsibility to actively get young, disabled and minority voters on to the register, replicating the proven and successful Northern Ireland ‘schools initiative’.

However, the UK Government and The Electoral Commission have suggested that there is no youth democracy crisis in Wales and that these amendments aren’t necessary. I cannot agree. I refuse to abandon our young people to a life of democratic and so-called political ‘apathy’.

But a wider principle is at stake here as well. Rarely since the era of Lloyd George, do we found ourselves in situations where the House of Lords has thought, or assumed, it has the power to overrule the will of a democratic chamber. Is this a precedent we wish to re-establish? Is this a principle Liberal Democrats wish to let stand?

I do not think it can be right than the ‘Upper House’ can override the democratic will of the people of Wales, as demonstrated through their representatives in the Welsh Assembly.

The people of Wales have spoken. Liberal Democrats​ and Young Liberals in Wales have spoken. Their intent is clear and their voices must be listened to.

I therefore ask Peers – from all benches, of all colours and none – to respect this democratic mandate from Wales and support cross-party amendments 13, 14 and 15 today.

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

7 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '14 - 4:14pm

    I’m writing to Ipsa to cut benefits for all politicians. I’m sick of small businesses being attacked under the guise of consumer and employee protection.

    If politicians want a finance war they can have one.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '14 - 5:31pm

    By the way, good article Roger, but I am afraid the House of Lords is not squeaky clean either. The result of all this will be the rise in local parties.

    I don’t like local parties, but they seem a lesser evil than the national ones at the moment.

  • Gerald Francis 11th Nov '14 - 6:31pm

    powers to vary tax levels sounds like a logical development. But why do we need a referendum. Is this a Westminster ploy to delay or even hope that the forces of conservatism ( including socialist conservatism ) prevail and it does not happen.

  • “Rarely since the era of Lloyd George, do we found ourselves in situations where the House of Lords has thought, or assumed, it has the power to overrule the will of a democratic chamber. Is this a precedent we wish to re-establish? Is this a principle Liberal Democrats wish to let stand?

    I do not think it can be right than the ‘Upper House’ can override the democratic will of the people of Wales, as demonstrated through their representatives in the Welsh Assembly.”

    Reality check! The Wales Bill along with cross party amendments is being debated by the HoL not by a regional assembly. Like it or not, the government of the UK&NI based at Westminster is supreme, the powers exercised by the various recently established regional assemblies are those Westminster has delegated. We’ve been through this with Scotland where Scottish members of Westminster can vote totally differently on issues that effect Scotland to members of the Holyrood.

  • This is yet another example of how centralised our system of government is. We have begun to change it, but there is much further to go.
    Even worse is the way that George Osborne is using the desire for devolved power in our big city regions to bribe them into accepting directly elected Mayors.

  • SIMON BANKS 13th Nov '14 - 4:48pm

    Roland: you correctly state the constitutional position, but do you or do you not hold to the long-established Liberal belief in devolution, in bringing power nearer to the people? If you do, it’s difficult to see why you shouldn’t be angry about this as Roger Roberts is. To override the clear cross-party demand from Wales, the UK government needs compelling reasons. It’s hard to see what they might be, that have apparently been overlooked by all parties in Wales.

  • Simon: The issue, which has been debated on the various threads around devolution, is which powers and who decides on which powers? It seems that Roger Roberts would want for Wales the same powers as Scotland wanted, namely which ever powers it decides it should have to exercise.

    On this specific issue, Roger Roberts has failed to make the case to why setting the voting age should be decided by the Welsh assembly and not at Westminster.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Jack Nicholls
    I am not a grading expert - something I think some commentators here would do well to ask themselves - but I absolutely endorse Charley's argument about the gen...
  • Andy Boddington
    You are drawing the wrong conclusions Nick. There have been shortages and oversize classes, still are, but teachers and students have battled against that. And ...
  • Peter Watson
    @Roland "The reason for the “deflation” is the teacher-marked grade inflation(*) of the last two years and an entirely sensible approach to addressing it." ...
  • Peter Watson
    @Martin "I suppose a narrow focus on three subjects is cheaper, but I think it is culturally stultifying." I agree entirely. I'd like to see A-levels replaced ...
  • Peter Watson
    It's a shame that, despite an article with a positive message, this thread has a horribly sour taste. We should be celebrating our children's success. After al...