§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]352
§ Clause 1 [Number of MEPs, electoral regions and electoral system]:
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 15:
§ Page 2, line 1, leave out ("registered").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to remove the word "registered" from the Bill where it refers to registered political parties. This is a fairly small point and it is a probing amendment. It is a little odd that this Bill should depend on another Bill which we shall discuss later. I have mentioned that point on a number of occasions and I do not wish to labour it today. Can the noble Lord give us some indication when the Government think the Registration of Political Parties Bill will arrive in this Chamber, and when it will therefore receive Royal Assent? Is it the Government's intention that the Registration of Political Parties Bill will receive Royal Assent before the Welsh Bill? If it is done the other way round, that would seem to me—if I may say so in the context of a Welsh debate—a little Irish, because this Bill depends entirely on the Registration of Political Parties Bill. I hope that the noble Lord can enlighten me on that matter.
§ If something happened to the Registration of Political Parties Bill which is still in another place, would we be able to go ahead with the Welsh assembly, or are there powers within this Bill to bring forward a registration system by regulation? I am not certain about that. I should be grateful for the noble Lord's advice on these matters. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
The noble Lord has not spoken to his amendment at all, for which mercy I offer grateful thanks. Therefore, I shall not deal with what he might have said. As regards the timetable, that is a matter for the usual channels. I have no precise knowledge of the stages involved. However, I have the moral certainty that all will be in perfect order by the time the Welsh assembly elections take place.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
When the noble Lord replies in such a manner I am never sure whether he wants me to make a slightly longer speech. I do not intend to do so, but the next time I move a probing amendment and explain what it is probing rather than what the amendment may or may not seek to achieve, I might be tempted both to probe and to explain what the amendment seeks to achieve. With that warning I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 16 to 26 not moved.]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clauses 2 to 4 agreed to.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 26A:
§ After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—
§ REPORT ON ALTERNATIVE METHODS OF ELECTION OF MEPs
§ (".—(1) Within six months of the first election held under this Act, the Secretary of State shall appoint an independent 353 commission to consider and report within two years on the relative merits of—
- (a) the method of election of MEPs in force before this Act was passed, and
- (b) the method of election of MEPs provided for by this Act.
§ (2) The commission's report shall be laid before Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 26A I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 26B, 26C and 27A. These amendments ask the Government to appoint an independent commission to consider and report within two years on the method of election of Members of the European Parliament which has existed in this country up until now, and the new method of election which will be introduced as a result of this Bill. However, after the discussion last night in this Chamber I am in some doubt as to whether it will be the method of election favoured by the Government, given the considerable expressions of doubt as to the wisdom of the closed Member system.
§ These measures contain two variations of the same theme. The reason I think we ought to reconsider the position after the European elections is the following. As the Committee knows, we have had a long tradition of first-past-the-post single Member constituencies in this country. However, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, is present and I must concede that quite a long time ago—yet still in my lifetime, although at a young stage in that life—a few constituencies in this country had two Members. However, they were not elected by any fancy electoral system but simply through inviting electors to mark two crosses. Indeed one constituency, known as the Scottish university seat, was elected by single transferable vote, presumably on the assumption that graduates from Scottish universities could understand such complicated systems. The noble Lord, Lord Howie, and I would certainly agree with that.
§ Essentially, for half a century we have had single-member constituencies and first-past-the-post in parliamentary elections and local government elections. Although there are some places with multiple councillors, the system for election is the one I have described which was used for the double seats that we used to have. For the European Parliament we opted for the single-member constituency and first-past-the-post.
§ So the provision in this Bill is novel. We are introducing very large constituencies—in fact, I shall not call them constituencies at all; a constituency has a link to one Member. We are introducing large areas where there will be a number of Members: I suspect every number from four to 10 or 11 is represented in the scope of the number of Members per area. That is a major change from our normal method. In future, Members of the European Parliament will not have a one-to-one identity with a particular geographical area or with the people who live in it.
§ That means that we shall lose one of the great strengths of the system that we have employed in this country over many decades. It will certainly be an enormous change. I suspect that the governing party has not even understood the nature of that change. However much the individuals who succeed for one party decide to divide up the area, I suspect it will mean Members of 354 the European Parliament having to tramp about very large areas. Many of the ways in which we expect our Members of Parliament or MEPs to deal with constituencies will no longer be valid—or will be valid only in so far as the Members will be in competition with each other. Labour Members will compete with each other in the strong Labour areas, and the same will apply to Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members.
§ There will be a huge difficulty for individual Members. Where a party has only one person elected, I hope that that person will be prepared for what will happen. He or she will suddenly find themselves the Member for the whole constituency for members of their party. I rather fear that as a consequence the link between a Member and people who voted for other parties in the constituency will be broken. Human nature being what it is, if someone came to my surgery if I were the European MP for the whole of Scotland and told me that he or she was a strong Scottish Nationalist, I think I might invite them to take their complaint to the Scottish Nationalist Member of the European Parliament. I suspect I should find myself overwhelmed by the problems and complaints from Conservative voters for the European Parliament for the whole of Scotland.
§ Even if, as I believe, two or three Conservatives are elected, the net result will still be that we shall have to look after the whole of these huge areas, whether it be Scotland, the north-west, Wales or London. It will introduce a huge complication in the lives of Members and the relationship with voters. I believe constituents will be "switched off" from the whole idea by the break in the link with the constituency Member.
§ It always amazed me how the great majority of my constituents seemed to know very well the name of their MP when it came to writing me a letter or telephoning me. I am not vain enough, like some, to think that that was because everyone knew me intimately. It is something I discovered, as did my colleagues in the House of Commons. People who would never consider voting for us knew who we were when it came to writing us letters. Very few letters began, "Dear MP". Whether they liked us or not, most constituents named us. The relationship will be extraordinarily difficult once we make the change to the proposed large constituencies. That is the first big change that we are making.
§ The second is the change to a closed list—if that is indeed what the Government eventually drive through both Houses—and how that list works. Many noble Lords expressed considerable reservations in the debate yesterday as to how the closed list would work and the centralising power that it will give to the various parties. Interesting discussions arose as to the difference between the Belgian system, my suggestion of a fully open list, and the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of moving to a single transferable vote system. Undoubtedly, whatever we do, it will represent a dramatic change from anything that has been done in the past.355
§ Surely, therefore, if we are to try this experiment we ought to do something to see whether we can validate it after it has been completed. After the elections have taken place, we should look back and examine the decisions taken at this time to see whether they were wise: whether or not it was wise to move away from a constituency-based system, whether it was wise to move to a list system. We should be doing the people of our country a service, and indeed those who will be elected to the European Parliament, if we do something along the lines of these amendments. Within six months of the first election, the Secretary of State could appoint an independent commission to examine the method of election of MEPs that was previously in place and compare it with the method set out in this legislation. That report could be laid before Parliament, and then Parliament could have a good discussion, based on the report of an independent commission, on how the new method contrasted with what had happened previously.
§ It may well be that those who advocate this new system will be vindicated in their view and that the percentage poll will dramatically increase. However, it may well be the case that those of us who are less persuaded by the new systems will be vindicated and we shall see the percentage poll decline again. In the one case, that would be to the advantage of the Minister. It would indicate that his arguments had worked. In the other case, and if the percentage poll went down further, it would be perfectly valid to look seriously at whether we had made a correct decision.
§ I shall no doubt be told that at any time in the future Parliament can review the electoral system that it puts in place. I know the way of government. That is not only the long grass; that is the long grass on the other side of the river. The only way to make absolutely certain that a review and reconsideration of the new method of voting and a comparison with the previous method take place is to opt for some form of independent commission. I offer the Minister a number of ways to proceed.
§ I am a realist. I know that down the corridor there is an enormous government majority. We need to persuade people by argument. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, listens to argument. I am grateful for the way he has listened in relation to some of the Bills that we have dealt with and has taken on board some of the arguments from all sides of the House. However, in this case I rather fear that even if we persuade the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, we shall not be able to persuade his parliamentary colleagues, who take a more—I was about to say "masochistic" view; perhaps they do: perhaps they like being defeated by the House of Lords—a more "macho" view of riding roughshod and not changing their minds.
§ I am therefore being realistic in considering that next year's parliamentary elections will probably be done in the way the Government want. In that light, we ought to set in place now a mechanism for a review of what has happened. If it has gone swimmingly and excellently, the Government have nothing to fear at all. Indeed, it will reinforce the judgments that they have made about changing our system. If, however, it is 356 proved to be less than a total success, the Government and Parliament will have an opportunity to change matters before the following European elections. I beg to move.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
There is certainly a very strong case for having an election commission in this country to deal with the very large number of issues which arise in a democratic society with regard to the conduct of elections. That was the conclusion of the commission of the Hansard Society chaired by the right honourable Christopher Chataway on an all-party basis. Indeed, it was a manifesto commitment of this party and, I think, of the Government that there should be established an independent election commission to deal with a range of matters, including the efficacy of voting systems, the conduct of elections, broadcasting and other matters which are otherwise argued on a wholly partisan basis. We on these Benches very much support the idea of such a comprehensive election commission rather than having these matters reduced, as they so often are, to partisan sharp elbows. When the Minister replies, I shall be interested to know whether it is still the position of the Labour Government that there should be an election commission of that kind.
I find it more difficult to support the proposal in the amendment that there is something so idiosyncratic about this particular election that it needs a particular commission to look into it. When the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, replies, he might substantially affect my views by telling me whether the Conservative Party supports an election commission with a wider general role rather than a commission which is slipped in when there is a particular Bill that it does not like the look of.
§ Earl Russell
I am in entire agreement with my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham. If I were to think of a text to apply to this amendment, I fear I would choose:Use not vain repetitions, as the [Pharisees] do".The amendment addresses a task which can already be done three different ways. I do not think we need a fourth.
The noble Lord should be aware of an article written by Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of his own party in the European Parliament, in the House magazine of 25th May. The European Parliament is itself reviewing its methods of election with a view to reaching a common system. I notice that the noble Lord's party is proposing the outlawing of the closed list through that system. That would bring about change without any need of this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, so carefully explained to the House with regard to Gibraltar, a British Parliament cannot alter European law. If the matter were addressed as the noble Lord's party wishes, it would make the amendment entirely redundant.
Secondly, there is a case for making a greater degree of uniformity between the different electoral systems which we are setting up in the British Isles. Before the next European parliamentary election, the commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead will have reported. The electorate will have formed a 357 view upon it. That might give guidance to what type of electoral system would be most appropriate if there were a change.
Thirdly, the noble Lord's attachment to first-past-the-post appears to be totally immutable. He has been accused of having learned nothing and forgotten nothing. I am certain that if the noble Lord's party should by any chance be in office at that time, it would then, using the sovereign power that Parliament has until European law restricts it, achieve the distinction of being the first government ever to introduce first-past-the-post anywhere since the invention of political parties.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I fully appreciate and understand the intention behind the amendments and I am grateful for the way they were described. I shall speak first to Amendments Nos. 26A and 26B. We do not believe that these are necessary devices. We already have a working group which has been set up on the basis of past experience with other elections. It is chaired by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. It is now reviewing all aspects of electoral procedure in the light of last year's general election. In response to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, the discussions of that working group will include consideration of whether or not there is a case for establishing an electoral commission.
The European parliamentary election in June 1999 will be the first to be held under a new electoral system. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. Obviously, we shall want to review the conduct and operation of that election. I am happy to tell the Committee that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary gave an assurance when the Bill was in another place that such a review would take place and, importantly, that the results would be placed before Parliament. There will therefore be an opportunity for parliamentary review and scrutiny.
We do not believe that it is right to prescribe by statute that a particular kind of review should be established. We believe that it is best to leave the procedure as it has been in the past; namely, that the most appropriate review is decided by the government and then discussed by Parliament.
Amendments Nos. 26C and 27A would have the effect of preventing the new Act coming into force until an independent commission had, first, met; secondly, considered the relative merits of first-past-the-post and the system provided for in the Bill; and, thirdly, reported. That would mean that the new electoral system could not be in place for the next European parliamentary election on 10th June 1999. That would be quite impossible. I am sure that that is not the consequence desired by the noble Lords who put down these amendments. We have a clear manifesto commitment to have a proportional voting system for European parliamentary elections. That is what we seek to deliver in the Bill.
Amendment No. 27A is a little different. It requires both Houses to affirm that legislation, which both would have passed, should come into force. We do not believe 358 that that is necessary. There are limited precedents for this. The Easter Act 1928 springs immediately to mind. That introduced a fixed date for Easter, subject to an affirmative resolution, so that Parliament could consider whether religious objections to the fixed date had ever been overcome. As far as I have been able to detect, they have not been overcome and that provision has never been brought into force. There is also the Representation of the People Act 1985 which contained similar provisions relating to absent voting in Northern Ireland which could be commenced if the issue became a problem there. Those provisions were also subject to affirmative resolution and have never been used. The precedents depend on contingent events. There are no contingent events in this case.
We shall have the reviews, and they will be discussed by Parliament. I hope that I have been able to satisfy the Committee on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and on the point on the electoral commission raised by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am grateful to the Minister for the assurance that there will be reviews, although, if the reviews are to be chaired by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, I am not sure that they will be of quite the status that I asked for, nor that they will have the independence that I should like to see. I leave that aside because, of course, I accept that all Ministers of the Crown are entirely independent when they chair committees of this nature and that they do not bring any political baggage with them. At least, that is what happened in the previous government, and the opposition always believed it.
I am not sure that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is right about nobody starting first-past-the-post. As I understand it, the New Zealanders are trying desperately to get back to it as quickly as they possibly can, having gone down this road. Although I would have to check, I think that the Italians have gone at least part of the way back to first-past-the-post from the electoral system they used to have. The noble Earl dissents, and I accept his dissent. I know that it was the intention of the Berlusconi Government to try to get back to first-past-the-post and that they made some changes to the electoral system.
I am not one of those who thinks that in Britain we should ape what is done in other countries. If we did that, our history would be very different. Indeed, the history of the world might be quite different and a deal more unpleasant when it comes to most of this century. I do not think that it is necessarily a bad thing that we do things differently in this country; nor do I think that it is a bad thing that other countries do things differently from the way we do them. As someone said yesterday—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington—uniformity is a bit like silence; it is what you get in a graveyard. I am not too bothered about the fact that we do things differently from the way other countries do them. I am prepared to learn from them, but I am not prepared to work on the assumption that 359 they must always be right, and I must always be wrong. It is possible that our system suits us and their system suits them.
Turning to the commission, the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, may recollect that last summer, when we were dealing with the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill, I was keen that the Government should set up a commission and introduce a proper Bill dealing with referendums. That would involve a commission studying those referendums. To say therefore that I am a "Johnny-come-lately" to this matter omits many happy hours we spent last July on these issues.
However, whether it be this Bill, the Scottish Bill or the Welsh Bill, we will have three different systems—I know that the Scottish and Welsh systems are almost the same, but they are not quite because of the number of additional members in each constituency. I am still attracted to the idea of setting up an independent commission to look at all of those elections, not just this one. I accept that Amendment No. 26A concerns just this one, but one must ride one's hobby horses on the vehicle available and it is the European Parliamentary Elections Bill that is before us.
Perhaps at a later stage we can explore the possibility of the Government setting up an independent body to look at all the electoral systems that will be in being in this country by the end of next year, thus giving us a chance of an independent report. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, would like to intervene.
§ 4 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
I am sorry that I am unable to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, on behalf of the Opposition. In particular, the instrument of this Bill does not seem to me to be the correct place in which to put the idea that we should appoint a commission. We do not need to prevent the operation of the Bill by insisting on the insertion that we should now appoint a commission to do something after the Bill has come into operation. That will be a matter to consider after the Bill has come into operation and after the forthcoming elections have been held.
At the same time, I urge my noble friend to realise to the full the implications of what we are about to do, particularly in relation to the existing political divisions—both the Westminster constituencies for the election to our own British Parliament and also the existing constituencies for the European election that will be subsumed in the new arrangements.
The dislocations will be considerable. In that connection I tried to do some research as to the effects that will occur when redistribution of seats takes place. It has been a little difficult for me—I suspect for other members of the Committee also—to obtain copies of the precise boundaries involved in the various divisions. I found considerable difficulty in obtaining maps that show the three positions to which I refer—the Westminster constituencies, the European constituencies as they now exist and the European boundaries as they 360 will exist on the assumption that this Bill is passed. It would be nice if one could be furnished with copies of the maps that show the precise divisions.
In so far as one has been able to make an examination, there can be no doubt that the effects on constituency parties will be considerable. If one endeavours to superimpose one map upon another, the constituencies that will be affected and the members of the constituency parties that will be invited to work the new constituencies—very much larger ones than the European Parliament—are as follows: Hampshire North West will be split; Newbury will be split; Penrith and The Border will be split; in the London constituencies there will be cuts in Hertsmere, Broxbourne, Brentwood and Ongar, Enfield, Chingford and Woodford, Upminster, Orpington, Epsom and Ewell, Hayes and Harlington and Twickenham.
All those areas will be split in their membership allegiance across the final constituency boundaries with all the consequences that I ventured to suggest last night. They will be torn as to which lists they will vote for—those with which they formerly had some parliamentary matters in common or those about which they know nothing. Complications will arise. Similarly, when the present European parliamentary constituencies are spread around over the new series of 71 (or 81 in total), once again existing constituencies will be split and transfers will take place from one to another. That will produce further enormous complications.
What I am troubled about and venture to reiterate is that, in view of the fact that most of the active work in all the new European constituencies will be carried out by members of existing constituency parties returning candidates to Westminster, a degree of apathy and uninterest may be produced which will reflect badly upon the whole election. I ask the Government to consider the point very seriously. I express no hope in the matter; I am all for full participation in the democratic process. But if, in the event, the total amount of the electorate that participate is as low as 15 per cent. nationwide, then somebody's face would be extremely red and there would be no anxiety to continue the system.
I therefore urge that these matters be considered now before we commit ourselves irrevocably. I do not believe however that at this stage we can put anything in the Bill. Rather, the Government should themselves prepare for what is likely to occur after the election.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I was beginning to feel pleased to have given way to the noble Lord because it gave him a chance to support his noble friend on the Front Bench. But towards the end I believe he was coming round to my view that we should be prepared to look at these matters after the elections are over.
We have had an interesting debate. I listened to the assurances of the Minister. It would be helpful if we were to find some way—perhaps the Minister will think about this from the Government's point of view—to set up a review of all the different systems after the events are over in order for Parliament to have a reasonable 361 and well-balanced report on how they all operated. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 26B to 27A not moved.]
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 not moved.]
§ Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 30:
§ Page 5, line 20, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("Boundary Commission for England").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 30, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 33 to 36, 39 and 41. This is a simple group of amendments which I trust will receive a degree of support from the Government and other parts of the Chamber. It replaces the Home Secretary—the Secretary of State—as the person who makes adjustments to the various regions which might become necessary in the course of time with the Boundary Commission.
The Bill sets out what the regions will be. In fact, I shall have something to say about the shape of the regions in due course, particularly when I come to deal with other amendments standing in my name. It is important that we discuss the shape and size of the regions for which those MEPs will be sitting. The Bill also sets out how many Members of the European Parliament shall be elected for each of those regions. But the Bill then gives the Secretary of State the power by order to change those. That is set out in paragraph 4(1), and specifically in paragraph 4(1)(a), and (b). Paragraph 4(1) states that the,
Secretary of State shall … consider whether the ratio of registered electors to MEPs is as nearly as possible the same for every electoral region in England, and, … make by order such amendments of column (3) of the Table as he considers necessary to ensure that result".
That order—the order, as always, will not be amendable—will be subject to the negative procedure. I cannot remember whether the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee made any comment on this issue but it seems to me that this should be done not by the negative procedure but would be more appropriately dealt with by the affirmative procedure.
§ I maintain that the Secretary of State is not a proper person to make such adjustments; or if he is the one to make such adjustments, he should make such adjustments on the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, as happens in the case of parliamentary elections. The Boundary Commission acts in a totally independent and non-political way and brings forward its recommendations to Parliament. As far as we know, those recommendations are virtually always followed. My noble friend Lord Waddington, who very much regrets that he cannot be here today, made the point that there had been occasions, which some noble Lords might remember, when the recommendations of the Boundary Commission were not followed quite as faithfully as they might have been. Those noble Lords who can remember 1969—it is sad that the then Home 362 Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, is not present today—will recall that, on that occasion, though he laid the order before the House, the then government issued a whip to their members and ordered them to vote down the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, recommendations which, as we all know, were long overdue, the previous alterations to the boundaries having taken place as long before as 1951. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, remembers that case.
§ Our view is that it would be proper to allow the Boundary Commission to make the recommendations and trust that, as always, the Home Secretary would then lay the recommendations before the House and make the appropriate order. Both Houses could then, as our amendments do, make sure that those were dealt with by the affirmative procedure.
§ These matters are not purely about the ratio of electors to the Members of the European Parliament as set out in paragraph 4(1)(a). It is also important that we consider the size of the regions. As my noble friend Lord Mackay made clear at Second Reading, it is much harder to achieve true proportionality with very small regions. It is interesting to note that some of the very small regions—for example, the North-East—are very much Labour strongholds whereas the Conservative strongholds are not quite such small regions. That might merely be chance but it is certainly a matter we can come to in later amendments.
§ My principal point on this group of amendments is that we should involve the Boundary Commission in looking at these matters and not the Home Secretary and that they should be dealt with by the affirmative procedure rather than the negative procedure. I beg to move.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, with a little surprise because, as the Minister will also no doubt point out, the amendment is entirely misconceived. The power of the Secretary of State under paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 is not a power to alter the boundaries of the regions; it is a power to alter the number of MEPs returned by each region. The result is that what the Secretary of State is required to carry out by paragraph 4 is a simple mathematical calculation which could be carried out by a computer. Therefore, it seems wholly inappropriate to require that to be transferred to the Boundary Commission. In those circumstances, we are unable to support the amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is right. In fact, I sympathise with the motive behind the amendments, but they are not necessary. It is important that one should understand that the Bill does not give the Secretary of State power to change the boundaries of the regions. All the Secretary of State has to do is carry out a purely mechanical, arithmetical calculation.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I spent a moment on the background. The total number of English electors was divided by 71—that is the number of MEPs. 363 That produced an average figure of electors per MEP of just over 520,000. In fact it was 520,475. Then the MEPs were simply allocated to regions to ensure that the divergence was as low as possible. This is entirely arithmetical. There is no discretion available to the Secretary of State. The formula is provided in paragraph 4 of the schedule. It can produce only one result. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, the computer's calculation will be exactly the same as that of an official in the Home Office doing it with pencil and paper.
Therefore, there is no purpose in involving the Boundary Commission, which has a very delicate role in adjusting boundaries. This has nothing at all to do with boundaries. There is no good reason to invoke the affirmative resolution procedure. I specifically checked the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee did not see any reason for objecting to the negative resolution procedure, given the purely mechanistic nature of the procedure involved. It is entirely an arithmetical calculation. If the Secretary of State were to get his decimal point in the wrong place, there is one at least among us who would be able readily to correct him. I hope that I have been able to satisfy the Committee with my reply.
§ Lord Henley
I am not totally satisfied and it is a point to which I shall probably want to come back at a later stage. The noble Lord said that the Home Secretary has no discretion whatever in this matter, that it is entirely mathematical and that he must merely follow the answer which his pocket calculator gives him. However, paragraph 4(1)(b) states:make by order such amendments of column (3) of the Table as he considers necessary to ensure that result".It strikes me that the words "as he considers necessary" allow him a degree of discretion. The point I am making, if I may put it in the politest terms, is that the history of the noble Lord's party, particularly going back to 1969, is not entirely a clean one on these matters. I think it would be right to involve an independent outside body such as the Boundary Commission. It should be allowed its input into these matters so that Parliament can see that it has exercised the appropriate mechanistic discretion.
I appreciate that the changing of boundaries is another matter and is one that would have to be left to Parliament itself. Parliament is setting out the boundaries in the Bill and it is Parliament which on some later occasion will have to change them. Therefore, from that point of view, I accept that that limits what I consider to be the excessive powers of the Secretary of State to gerrymander these matters should he so wish. But, obviously, he would not be able to do so without the agreement of Parliament. I shall come back to that point on a later amendment. In the meantime, I wish to withdraw my amendment at this stage but assure the noble Lord that I will want to come back to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.364
§ [Amendments Nos. 31 to 41 not moved.]
§ Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 42:
§ Page 6, line 9, leave out from beginning to end of line 50 on page 7 and insert—
|("North East||Darlington Unitary Authority||4|
|Hartlepool Unitary Authority|
|Middlesbrough Unitary Authority|
|Redcar and Cleveland Unitary Authority|
|Stockton-on-Tees Unitary Authority|
|Tyne & Wear Metropolitan County|
|North West||Cumbria County||10|
|Halton Unitary Authority|
|Warrington Unitary Authority|
|Greater Manchester Metropolitan County|
|Blackburn with Darwen Unitary Authority|
|Blackpool Unitary Authority|
|Merseyside Metropolitan County|
|Yorkshire and the Humber||East Riding of Yorkshire Unitary Authority||7|
|Kingston-upon-Hull Unitary Authority|
|North East Lincolnshire Unitary Authority|
|North Lincolnshire Unitary Authority|
|North Yorkshire County|
|York Unitary Authority|
|South Yorkshire Metropolitan County|
|West Yorkshire Metropolitan County|
|East Midlands||Derby Unitary Authority||6|
|Nottingham Unitary Authority|
|Leicester Unitary Authority|
|Rutland Unitary Authority|
|West Midlands||Herefordshire Unitary Authority||8|
|Stoke-on-Trent Unitary Authority|
|Telford and the Wrekin Unitary Authority|
|West Midlands Metropolitan County|
|Luton Unitary Authority|
|Southend-on-Sea Unitary Authority|
|Thurrock Unitary Authority|
|Peterborough Unitary Authority|
|South East||Bracknell Forest Unitary Authority||11|
|Milton Keynes Unitary Authority|
|Reading Unitary Authority|
|Slough Unitary Authority|
|West Berkshire Unitary Authority|
|Windsor & Maidenhead Unitary Authority|
|Wokingham Unitary Authority|
|Isle of Wight Unitary Authority|
|Portsmouth Unitary Authority|
|Southampton Unitary Authority|
|Medway Towns Unitary Authority|
|Brighton & Hove Unitary Authority|
|East Sussex County|
|West Sussex County|
|South West||Bath & North East Somerset Unitary Authority||7|
|Bristol Unitary Authority|
|North Somerset Unitary Authority|
|South Gloucestershire Unitary Authority|
|Swindon Unitary Authority|
|Isles of Scilly Council|
|Plymouth Unitary Authority|
|Torbay Unitary Authority|
|Bournemouth Unitary Authority|
|Poole Unitary Authority|
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall touch on Amendments Nos. 43 and 44. I can give the noble Lord an assurance that I shall not be moving those two amendments. They are matters that I prefer to return to at a later stage. It may be that some Members of the Committee, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, might wish to follow me in some of my comments.
§ Amendment No. 42 is a brief drafting amendment. When the noble Lord's advisers drafted this Bill and Schedule 1 they used the old names for the local authority areas. I do not know why they did that. It struck us that it would be more appropriate if the new names were used for the different areas. That is all that Amendment No. 42 does. It does not change the size or the shape of the areas.
§ Speaking as a true reactionary of the finest sort, I would prefer to go back to the old county names in their entirety and, as regards the North West, to speak simply of Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire and Cheshire and none of the nonsense about Merseyside and so on. But if we are to be modern then we should be truly modern and use some of the new areas. That is why my amendment is filled with odd bodies such as the Warrington Unitary Authority and others as they should be, rather than the older form used by the noble Lord. I merely offer that to the Government by way of a drafting amendment.
§ Behind these amendments there is something more serious and that is the size of the regions. We believe that it is important for the regions to be of similar size as far as possible. Since it is the purpose of the Bill, they should be of a size which allows a degree of proportionality. As regards the smallest region, the North East, it is very difficult to get true proportionality. Obviously, I have to be careful about the criticisms I make of the Government's attempt here. For the North East they have produced the smallest figure of four Members. I shall not be moving the two amendments on 366 this occasion because we have produced regions with only three for East Anglia. We would like to come back to that in due course and try to find another way.
§ The Government's justification for the regions that they have chosen is that we set them up when we were in government, but that was for quite different purposes. In effect, they are the DTI regions. I do not believe that simply using the regions for this purpose is good enough. They were created for an entirely different purpose and not to be parliamentary regions for the European Parliament or to be developed later into regional entities of the kind that might gradually be allowed to become regional assemblies along the lines of those being constructed for Wales and Scotland. In other words, I do not believe that we should encourage their use to allow the gradual regionalisation of England.
§ As we all know, the regions are entirely artificial, as my noble friend Lord Waddington made perfectly clear yesterday. There is very little community of interest in some of the different parts. I believe he mentioned the South West; it stretches from Swindon to the Isles of Scilly. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, and myself know the north west well. It stretches from Cheshire to the Scottish border. There is very little community of interest, as it were, between Cumbria and Merseyside. The South East region extends from darkest Kent to Milton Keynes. The regions cover large areas and they have to if there are to have 10 or so Members of the European Parliament. I do not believe that they should necessarily be fixed in stone and remain in existence in perpetuity, particularly if that gives greater validity to them as regions and allows them to develop yet further into something which they are not. The noble Lord will say that they were first used by us for DTI purposes; then they were taken over for this electoral purpose; and later they will be developed in other ways.
§ It is important that we should try to find slightly different areas. They should be larger in some cases, particularly the North East with only four Members. I suspect that that will be very much to the advantage of the party opposite. In due course it should be possible to alter the size of the regions, should that be necessary. At that point one would want to involve the Boundary Commission if regions grew or shrunk according to changes in the population. I beg to move.
§ Lord Goodhart
I do not wish to say anything about Amendment No. 42 itself, but since the noble Lord has touched on Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 which involve some change to the proposed boundaries, I would like to speak to them briefly. It seems that in one or two instances there is a case for boundary changes; for example, it is arguable that the northern region, including Cumbria, would be a more satisfactory region on the grounds of greater equality of population between the regions. I accept that it is desirable that the regions should be broadly equal in size.
However, it is also arguable that the main communication links of Cumbria are with the North West via the M.6 and the west coast main line, rather than with the North East via the A.69 and the Carlisle-to-Newcastle railway line. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has not spoken in detail about the 367 proposals, but those for the South East are unsatisfactory. There is a problem with that area because it is already too big. It is the largest of the constituencies. To add large parts of the eastern counties to it would simply unbalance the figures still further, let alone adding Greater London as well, as proposed in Amendment No. 43 but not in Amendment No. 44.
One could argue for weeks about the desirable boundaries between the regions, but, broadly speaking, it seems to us that the regions, if not ideal, are acceptable. Therefore, we would not support any amendment for their further variation.
Lord Bruce of Donington
On the basis of such research as I have been able to undertake, it seems to me that it is going to make very little difference to the final membership whatever the size of the new constituencies and their total representation. The South West division has seven Members; the South East has 11 and the North East four Members, giving divisors of eight, 12 and five respectively. Taking the results of the proportion of votes cast at the last European elections and those cast in the constituency elections to Westminster, the result will not be very different.
In the South West constituency, based on the results of the 1994 European elections, Labour would have five seats, the Conservatives two and the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and others would have nil. On the basis of the Westminster election results, apportioning percentage-wise the votes gained by the respective parties, once again the divisor would be eight and there would be seven Members. That would yield the result of four Labour Members and three Conservative Members. There is not a very great difference between those two results.
I turn now to the South East and North East constituencies. It is surprising that once again the results do not differ. Labour would have seven Members and the Conservatives four in the first example and in the second, Labour would have three Members and the Conservatives one. The results do not differ materially.
However, it is a bit depressing—since the impact of the figures first struck me only when I had them calculated—that if any party gets below about 16 per cent. of the vote it has no representation at all. I did not realise that when the Bill was first published. Therefore, on the basis of the same electoral percentages, party-wise in both the last European elections and in the 1993 Westminster parliamentary elections, the result would be very little difference in the number of Members per party. As I have said, it is depressing that a party with less than 16 per cent. of the vote will not get a say, whatever the distribution. I sincerely hope that that was considered when the existing calculation proposals were first incorporated into the Bill. This certainly worries me; I do not know whether it worries my party.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Amendment No. 42 is in a different category from Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 368 which go together. Amendment No. 42 seeks to insert the word "county" instead of "unitary authority". If that were to be the position, the table would be wholly meaningless. The Bill specifies geographical areas. A unitary authority does not refer to a geographical area; it refers to the body which administers a particular area. It is right to refer to the "County of Derby" as that is a geographical area. It is administered by the Derby unitary authority, which is now separate from the county of Derbyshire. As drafted, the Bill is correct. The term "unitary authority" does not relate to a geographical area.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, did not quite strangle Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 at birth, but he abandoned them very shortly after birth. As the noble Lord rightly confessed, the result of his provisions would be a region comprising three Members, which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has assured us is much too small. There would have to be a minimum of four Members if it were to be at all proportional. There would be a vast region of 26 Members if we adopted Amendment No. 43 or of 16 Members if we accepted Amendment No. 44. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, did not dwell on those delights and I must therefore reciprocate and not pour any further scorn upon them. Amendment No. 42 is not necessary. I do not believe that the noble Lord intends to move Amendments Nos. 43 and 44.
§ Lord Henley
I am grateful for the noble Lord's explanation. I imagine that it will be news to the unitary authorities that they are not geographical areas. However, if they are not geographical areas, I do not know what they are, but that is for them to worry about. I shall take in good part the noble Lord's assurance that my amendment is unnecessary and, as I have said, I shall not press my simple, neat, little drafting amendment.
As regards the other two amendments, as I said, I shall want to return to this matter at a later stage with revised versions of the amendments—versions that do not include regions as small as those having only three Members. As I am sure that the noble Lord will be the first to appreciate, getting this right is a difficult art. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred to the possibility of placing Cumbria within the constituency of the North East and thus increasing the number of MEPs in that region from four to five which would obviously improve one's chances of getting some degree of proportionality. As I understand it, however, if the area of Cumbria were to be included in the North East constituency not enough people would be transferred into the North East constituency to increase its Members from four to five. At the moment, Cumbria is only six-ninths of a European parliamentary constituency—in other words, Cumbria plus three other parliamentary constituencies comprise the existing European parliamentary constituency. Therefore, one would have to start transferring other areas into that North East constituency.
If, at the same time, one was trying to create a community of interest within that area or region—or whatever one wants to call it—one would have even 369 greater problems. I can speak about Cumbria with authority. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that Cumbria's links are obviously with the North West and follow the west coast mainline and the M.6. That is true, but north of Shap, people look to Newcastle whereas south of Shap, people look to Manchester—or even to Warrington, if I may dare say that to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle. There is a division between the two. It would be difficult to find the right constituency into which to transfer the electors of Cumbria. I imagine that that could be true of all areas.
Therefore, I suggest that it is not necessary to look for a particular community of interest within any particular region, desirable though that may be, and that one should simply try to make the constituencies the right size, with the right number of electors and Members. We do not want to see these regions being used and being given greater validity and greater authority so that it can later be argued that it is appropriate that those are the areas that should be used for the regional parliaments, regional assemblies, or whatever.
As I said, I have no intention of moving Amendments Nos. 43 and 44, but this is a matter to which I intend to return later. Meanwhile, I thank the noble Lord for his assurances about the undesirability of including the words "unitary authority". I hope that the unitary authorities will be happy with the noble Lord's expressed view that they are not geographical entities. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 42.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 43 to 45 not moved.]
The Earl of Dartmouth moved Amendment No. 45A:
Page 7, line 41, column 3, leave out ("7") and insert ("8").
§ The noble Earl said: I am conscious that I shall probably be trespassing on the goodwill of the Committee in moving this amendment. However, the anomaly in the Bill which I am seeking to draw to the Government's attention is of significant concern to people living in the region of Yorkshire and Humberside. Earlier in our Committee proceedings, I disclosed my interest in that region in the European elections and in the system of election which appertains thereto.
§ The Yorkshire and Humberside region covers nearly 6,000 square miles. It contains large areas of social deprivation, especially in the former urban county of South Yorkshire, 85 per cent. of which has development area or enterprise zone status. Even taking the region as a whole, it has a per capita income of only about nine-tenths of the European Union average. However, under the schedules to the Bill, of all the regions in the United Kingdom, Yorkshire and Humberside has the largest number of electors per Member of the European Parliament. Perhaps I may make the same point in a more telling way: Yorkshire and Humberside has the smallest number of MEPs—namely; seven—allocated to it in relation to its electoral population of 3.8 million. The purpose of this amendment is to correct that 370 injustice. In so doing the noble Lord the Minister will earn the lasting gratitude of people resident in Yorkshire and Humberside. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
The noble Earl makes me an offer that I cannot refuse except with difficulty. This matter develops from the scheme I sought to set out earlier. The number of seats to which the United Kingdom is entitled is fixed. We are entitled to 87 Members—incidentally, the same as Italy and France—and no more. If we give the Yorkshire and Humberside region, which the noble Earl contends is presently a disfavoured region, one extra MEP, that MEP must be taken from another region. Someone more unkind than I may invite the noble Earl to specify which region should give up the prize of an MEP to be transferred to Yorkshire and Humberside. I am far too kind to ask that question.
England has 71 of the 87 MEPs. Schedule 1 sets out the arithmetical mechanistic calculation which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has accurately described. We have sought to get the ratio of electors to MEP as nearly as possible the same for each region. That calculation can only ever produce one result. Yorkshire and Humberside would be over-represented if I took the route that the noble Earl invites me to take. I hope that I have explained the position fairly. I shall not ask the noble Earl to specify the happy candidate that must give up one MEP.
§ Lord Henley
Before the Minister sits down and my noble friend decides what to do with his amendment, perhaps the noble Lord with his government-issue calculator and the authority of the Government can tell the Committee about the variations between all of the English regions. Can he say how many electors there are per MEP in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Obviously, there must be a degree of variation between all of the English regions and the other parts of the United Kingdom. I should be interested to know how large is that variation.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I do not have to hand a list of every variation in every constituency. Should the noble Lord wish it, a list can be provided without any great difficulty. I am aware that in the nature of things there are divergencies, although they are not large. As I see a number of noble Lords nodding it may assist if I send a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and place copies in the Library.
The Earl of Dartmouth
I was present for the earlier part of these gripping proceedings. I am well aware that the 87 Members of the European Parliament have been allocated by the European Union and that that figure is not readily susceptible to change. As a chartered accountant I have some familiarity with the figures. I have to hand the very list to which the Minister referred. However, the Committee will he glad to hear that I have no intention of going through it now.
The Minister referred earlier to this matter being a straightforward arithmetical calculation made by a computer without any particular judgment being made 371 upon it. I believe that, as in the drafting of the Bill, the calculation has been made in a totally direct and objective manner, just as Ernie picks out premium bond winners, or so one is told. It follows that there are certain anomalies thrown up, not least the disadvantaged area of Yorkshire and Humberside. Perhaps one should look at London where I was born. No one should accuse me of being anti-London. On the contrary, I regard London as being both a locomotive of the British economy and a jewel to the western world. London currently has an allocation of 10 MEPs, each representing 494,000 electors. If that number was reduced to nine the number of electors per Member would be 548,000. That is only 5,000 electors more than the current electorate of each MEP in Yorkshire and Humberside. I am not a Government Minister and it is not for me to make decisions. However, I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to this anomaly despite the objectivity of the computer.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
Perhaps the noble Earl will allow me to intervene. I am a little surprised to hear the noble Earl suggest that one MEP should be taken away from London. As someone who hopes to become a representative of the Yorkshire region, surely the region from which he suggests there should be a deduction is the region that includes Lancashire.
The Earl of Dartmouth
I am not sure that I entirely follow the noble Lord's point. I do not suggest that an MEP should be removed from London. I simply draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that despite the objectivity of the computer these anomalies arise.
§ Lord Henley
Perhaps I may assist my noble friend and possibly the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I have now found the answer to the question that I put to the Minister. That answer appears in a research paper prepared by the Library of another place. Page 36 makes clear that my noble friend has a point. The average electorate per MEP in Yorkshire and Humberside is 543,000. As my noble friend suggests, it would be unfair to take one away from the North West because that region has an electorate per MEP of 520,000. The United Kingdom average is approximately 508,000, whereas London is a mere 494,000. I understand that there must be some variation between the regions and that mathematically it is impossible to do it any other way, but there is a degree of disparity between Yorkshire and Humberside and, for example, London and others in terms of numbers.
The Earl of Dartmouth
I thank my noble friend for his telling and most helpful intervention. The boundaries under this system inevitably give rise to anomalies and unfairness, of which this is merely one example. I commend it to the Minister for consideration at his leisure. In view of what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.372
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 46:
Page 8, leave out lines 22 to 26.
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 46 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 47. In one way Amendment No. 46 is a broad brush probing amendment; in other words, it seeks to leave out a sub-paragraph and asks the Minister, "Please, what does your sub-paragraph mean?" However, the second amendment goes a little further. I believe that I may be able to help the Minister.
The Committee may be assisted if I explain my difficulty in regard to the sub-paragraph. It reads:
Regulations under this paragraph shall, in relation to an election in an electoral region in Great Britain, make provision for the nomination of registered parties, including provision requiring a nomination to be accompanied by a list of candidates numbering no more than the MEPs to be elected for that region".
What strikes me as odd is the wording "make provision for the nomination of registered parties". One wonders what that means. It is followed by the word "including". Does it mean "including the list"? If so, what else is included? Is this some kind of failsafe provision in case something happens to the Registration of Political Parties Bill? Can the Government in some way bring in a provision by this route?
§ I believe that my second amendment makes the point clear. However, I suspect that it contains a drafting problem which no doubt the Minister will point out in due course. The amendment is consistent with the previous amendment and deletes the word "registered".
My second amendment, Amendment No. 47, would make the sub-paragraph read:
Regulations under this paragraph shall, in relation to an election in an electoral region in Great Britain, make provision for the nomination from each party of a list of candidates".
I accept that that should probably be "from each registered party of a list of candidates", but that seems clearly what is going to happen. The party managers in an area or the candidates—currently, it is supposed to be the candidate and his agent, so I am not sure whether it is to be all the candidates in the list and their agents or their agent—will go along and launch their nomination papers. There is no provision currently for the nomination of a party; it is the nomination of a person with a party label.
§ I understand that even the changes proposed to be made to what goes on the ballot paper, such as symbols and so on, do not take away from that. It is the nomination of an individual who will stand for the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrat Party, or whatever. It is quite clear. I would have expected the wording to be, "for the nomination from each registered party of a list of candidates". In other words, one goes along and nominates a list of candidates. I wonder about the words, "nomination of registered parties". Is there some significance? That is what I am trying to glean from the Minister.373
§ I hope I have explained the position adequately. It is quite complicated, as I found when trying to work out what to say. I hope I have made myself clear because I am puzzled as to why there are these additional words about the registered parties, including provision requiring a nomination. I am interested to know why these words appear. They seem unnecessary. The Bill would not be any the poorer—in fact it might be clearer—if they were not there. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I am grateful for the way the noble Lord developed his questions. It partly relates to the question the noble Lord put to me yesterday, as did the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, as to whether or not it was anticipated that on the ballot there would be a list of names as well as the party name. This contemplates that situation. That is to say, paragraph (3B) of Schedule 2, on page 8 of the Bill, requires that a party be nominated. Also, hand in hand with the nomination of the registered party, there would have to be a list of candidates, the list being limited numerically to not more than the number of MEPs it is possible to elect. This deals with the point the noble Lord raised yesterday.
I deviate slightly. The reason we wish the phrase "registered parties" to appear is that it is dependent on the Registration of Political Parties Bill, which is making good progress in another place. Committee stage has already been completed, so there is no doubt that the Bill will receive Royal Assent. So this is in no way a fallback in case the Registration of Political Parties Bill does not get through. An extremely helpful consequence of the Registration of Political Parties Bill is that we shall then be able to avoid the mischief about which the party of the noble Lord has rightly complained in the past and about which the Liberal Democrats have rightly complained because, if we have registered political parties, we will not be able to have "Literal Democrats" or "Conversatives", which are intended to mislead and sometimes do produce some feeling of "We was robbed" among various parties. I hope that that explanation is clear and that it satisfies the noble Lord's complaints or questions.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I thank him too for changing "complaints" to "questions", because they were not complaints. They were questions. I believed that I had reasonably placed myself in the mindset of this new system but, clearly, I was not quite in it enough. I see the point about needing to nominate a registered party because the party name will be at the head of the column, so to speak, and people will be asked to vote for the party. I understand that and I am grateful for the explanation and for the information about the Registration of Political Parties Bill. I am pleased to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 47 to 50 not moved.]374
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 51:
Page 8, line 31, at end insert (": and
(b) provide that any candidate selected to fill a vacancy from a party's list shall be a member of that party at the time of his selection to till the vacancy.").
§ The noble Lord said: I believe that the gremlins must have got at this amendment because I rather suspect the Minister is going to tell me that it is wrongly placed. I suspect that it may relate to a previous draft of the Bill; I wonder if I have the right draft. In any event, I know what I mean and I suspect that the Minister knows what I mean because we discussed this issue in relation to the Welsh Bill.
§ The problem I am trying to overcome is this. In the event of someone who has been elected either dying or resigning, the way I understand the list to work here, as it will in Scotland and Wales, is that the next person on the list standing for that party who failed to be elected would, if that person was willing, be returned as the Member. There would be no need for a by-election. That is fine.
§ But what happens if, two years later, Joe Bloggs, let us call him, having been nominated to the list and having failed to be elected, there is a death. His is the next name but he has left the political party that nominated him. It seems to me rather daft—I believe that the Bill would inevitably lead to this—that he would then find himself as the Member of the European Parliament for the party he had just left, with no obligation to do the decent thing and fall on his sword, so to speak. He would happily go off to Brussels and join the other party despite the fact that he had been in the list of the party whose seat it was.
§ We discussed this matter on the Welsh Bill. The noble Lord brought forward an amendment at about the same time that I put down an amendment to get round the difficulty. As I see it, that has not happened here. I do not believe that the Minister can accept my amendment because it is wrongly placed, but I hope that he will acknowledge that this is a difficult problem and will come forward with an amendment at the next stage to deal with it. I am sure that we all agree that we are faced with an entirely unfair proposition.
§ There is the related issue of the person who is elected and then decides to abandon the party. Currently, we take the view that that person was elected as the individual for that constituency and that is that. However, if we move to party lists and party systems, that nice argument cannot apply. I wonder whether the Minister has given any thought to that. I know that in the Welsh Bill we decided, at least in Committee, that we would not address the matter although the Minister did address the problem I am attempting to deal with here. I would be grateful if he could give me his advice on where the Government stand with regard to the European Parliamentary Elections Bill and what might happen in the circumstances I have outlined.
§ Earl Russell
I can understand why the party of the noble Lord believes that it may be worth putting forward this amendment. His final remarks crystallised the 375 suspicion that had been forming in my mind as he was speaking that this should be known as the "Temple-Morris amendment".
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Not unless the noble Lord had the gift of prophecy, or at least serendipity. I take the points that the noble Lord made because I believe that they are soundly based. Perhaps I may offer this solution which the Government have in mind, at least in part. If there is a vacancy, as the noble Lord rightly says, arising from death or resignation of the candidate originally elected on a party list, that will be filled by the next eligible person on the relevant party list. Of course, he is quite right. One has to include the description "eligible and willing person on the party list". We are quite at one there.
If the person whose death or resignation caused the vacancy was originally elected as an independent, or if the relevant party list has been exhausted, then a by-election would be held. That is the general way that the system works in jurisdictions which have a similar regime to the one that we propose here.
It would of course be wrong if the person filling the vacancy, on the example given by the noble Lord, had left the original party and was in his own party or in a completely different party after the election. That is a potential problem. What we propose has been set out in an Answer to a Parliamentary Question in another place given by my honourable friend Mr. Howarth. We propose to make regulations under the Bill. That will require the regional returning officer to work down the party list to find the first eligible and willing candidate to fill the vacancy. I have dealt with that already.
There will, however, be an additional hurdle. The Registration of Political Parties Bill creates the position of a nominating officer in each party. The nominating officer or his representative, on behalf of each party, will have to signify that at the relevant date, which is triggered in the circumstances that the noble Lord posited, the candidate remains an approved candidate of the party concerned.
The question of an elected member who wishes to leave his party to join another party or his own party is different. That is a matter that should be dealt with in the usual way; if one is elected one cannot then be deselected or expelled merely because one has changed one's party allegiance. I take the point that the noble Lord put foremost in his question, and that is the way that we intend to deal with it. It means that the party can set up the additional hurdle so that one does not have absurd situations of the sort that the noble Lord feared. I hope that that is helpful.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I think we agreed about someone changing his party after he was elected. I think we agreed in the Welsh Bill that parties would just have to live with that. I think I have come to the view that on this Bill we probably have to do so as well.
376 I am pleased to hear that the matter will be put into regulations. My only concern about the rules which the Minister outlined is that it is the nominating person from the party who decides whether the party still wants the individual to be on its list. My concern about that is fairly obvious. There is a difference between someone who leaves say, the Conservative Party, and someone who remains inside the Conservative Party and who falls out of favour with the people running and controlling the party, and so being in a position to influence the nominating officer.
I am giving the Conservative Party as an example so as to be fair to everyone else. A similar situation could occur in the Labour Party, and—dare I say?—has occurred to a large degree in the selection of individuals who are allowed to present themselves as candidates for the Scottish parliament, where at least two Members of the other place have been judged to be unfit to be members of the Scottish parliament, although they have been reasonable Members of the other place for over 20 years. We will leave that aside. That is my reservation.
The Minister knows that I have that reservation. I would rather that it were simply membership of the party so that the parties would not be able to decide that someone had become too difficult a customer and could be ditched. I worry about that just as I worry about the closed list. That is a minor worry. I ask the Minister, whether it be in this Bill, the Welsh Bill or his colleagues on the Scottish Bill, to consider that worry and to ask themselves whether, in the interests of democracy and looking to the future, it might not be wiser just to make it membership of the party.
I would rather see the Minister's proposition on the face of the Bill. It is, after all, going to be on the face of the Welsh Bill. This Bill is not nearly as long as the Welsh Bill. Another two or three lines in this Bill would not come amiss. If they were there, we would all be clear as to how the system would work. Will the Minister perhaps reflect on that matter to see whether it would be possible to put it, as it will be in the Welsh Bill, and, I trust, in the Scottish Bill, on the face of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill? However, with the assurances that I have been given. I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 52 to 69 not moved.]
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 2 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I have three points. I think that the Minister answered one of my questions. I shall put the matter this way rather than put down a probing amendment. I am looking at the filling of vacancies and the question of by-elections. I was going to ask about the circumstances in which by-elections would occur, but I have had the answer that I thought I would get. I take it that when it comes to a by-election in one of these enormous seats, it will be run as—dare I say it?—a first-past-the-post election. I should be grateful for confirmation that I have worked out the system correctly.
377 Lines 15 and 16 of page 8 provide that regulations will be made about the limitation of election expenses, and then:(including expenses incurred in relation to a general election as a whole)".We have not, heretofore, in this country regulated the expenses incurred in relation to a general election as a whole. I know that these are issues currently under discussion by the Neill Committee. Do I take it that the Government are just being prepared in case Neill suggests that there should be limits, or have the Government already decided that there should be limits? I should be grateful for some advice on that.
My next question might be in the way of a "daft laddie" question. One of the problems—people complained when I did it to them—about a Bill which is devoted entirely to amending a previous piece of legislation is that one has to look backwards and forwards. What lawyers describe as a Keeling schedule might have been handy here.
When I go to line 6 on page 10 I see £200 substituted for £5,000. I presume that that is the deposit. I cannot for the life of me see the deposit-saving percentage anywhere. That leads me to another question. I presume the deposit is for the party's vote.
I appreciate that it is always difficult to be asked questions on clause stand part. So if the Minister cannot find the pieces of paper and follow my questions—I am giving him a little time to do that—I shall fully understand if he writes to me. It would be easier, especially for the non-lawyers among us, if we had Keeling schedules for Bills of this nature. I hope that the Government Chief Whip is taking note of that request.
I am shocked at the possibility of six Members, for example, in the East Midlands having to represent the whole of that large and well populated area when it could be divided into six constituencies with each of the Members elected responsible therefore for a particular part of that area.
I have been through the whole of the schedule. I shall not weary the Committee with my proposals for splitting up each of the areas, or regions as they are called. I shall just take the East Midlands. There the first constituency could consist of Derbyshire and Derby; the second, Leicester and Leicestershire; the third, Lincolnshire; the fourth, Northamptonshire; the fifth, Nottinghamshire and the County of Nottingham; and then Rutland could be a separate constituency. That makes six constituencies, each Member having responsibility for a particular part of the region. That is so much more sensible and democratic. I hope that the Government will keep an open mind about this, bearing in mind that the proposal is capable of improvement. I know that it means getting away with party lists for a region. I understand that that is what is intended. But having fought and won 10 general elections starting in 1945, I have to tell the Committee that generally 70 per cent. of the electorate voted, of whom no more than 10 per cent. were paid up members of the various parties; and no more than another 20 per cent. were by nature and habit party minded people, although not paid-up 378 members. That meant that less than half of the 70 per cent. who voted were party politically minded. However, under this system they would have to become so; and I think that it is absurd.
We have always had party members who were somewhat off-beat and independent—and jolly good luck to them. I see one or two in this House at present who served in that way in another place. We occasionally had independent Members elected for a constituency where a party was well organised and had produced a Member for some years.
If the Government wish to take any pride in democracy and the responsibility of elected Members of the European Parliament being answerable to the people in the county or town—or a combination of county and town—where they were elected, the Government should think again about the matter. We shall not finalise the Bill for several months. There is plenty of time for the Government to do so in the Long Recess. I implore them to think in more democratic terms.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
On past occasions, we have debated the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. I do not wish to be unduly repetitive. We have a fixed number of MEPs. In England a fixed number has been divided into the number of electors. The injunction in the Bill is that in each region the number of MEPs should be reasonably proportionate to the population.
The regions have been chosen because they are existing, established regions currently used by government offices for the regions, and to be used in the future for the regional development agencies. The only difference is that Merseyside has been added to the North West because it was too small to form an electoral region on its own.
We have debated these matters on earlier occasions—not least the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. If one goes for a proportional representation system—I accept that the noble Lord disagrees with that in principle—one has to have a minimum level of population in the region.
I deal now with the specific points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. First-past-the-post is retained for the by-election—really so that the noble Lord may part from this Bill somewhat happy. As regards expenses, we propose to wait for the Neill Committee to report. That is a sensible way of dealing with matters. In respect of percentage, the figure is 2.5 per cent.
§ Schedule 2 agreed to.
§ Schedule 3 [Minor and consequential amendments]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 70 and 71 not moved.]
§ Schedule 3 agreed to.
§ Remaining schedule agreed to.
§ In the Title:
§ [Amendment No. 72 not moved.]
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, before we take the Statement on the energy review, I should like to take 379 this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on the Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of others.