§ 3.38 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 resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [The Assembly]:
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
moved Amendment No. 1:Page 1, line 8, at beginning insert ("Subject to the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom,").The noble Lord said: It is worth noting that at the start of this Committee stage we are faced with 65 pages of amendments, new schedules and new clauses. The bulk of those pages—over half—are occupied by government changes to the Bill. Some of them are welcome, and one is sufficiently significant to require a change in the title of the Bill. I refer to the provision relating to the new office of welsh administration ombudsman.
However, I am not complaining at all about what is before us so much as what is not. We still have not seen the Bill relating to the registration of political parties which will shortly feature in our discussions on the Bill, as it has already done in debates on a number of other measures, where it is also relevant. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who has been cooling 830 his ire in Scottish waters this weekend, will, I feel sure, have more to say on the point when it arises in the course of our deliberations.
I am grateful to the Minister for his letter today very much regretting the fact that the second draft of the transfer order, which he promised would be with us before the Committee stage, is not yet available. He told us during his Second Reading speech that it is a bulky document, and that I can well believe. He also told us that it would be available well before we discuss Part II of the Bill. We look forward to its publication, although it is hardly likely to qualify as relaxing bed-time reading.
As regards the amendment which I am moving and the others grouped with it, the aim is to clarify beyond all possible doubt the relationship between the national assembly for Wales and this United Kingdom Parliament. Some may take the view that the contents of the Bill make the relationship clear enough and that the amendments are therefore otiose and unnecessary. But there are good precedents for their inclusion in legislation and we should not disregard those precedents lightly. I shall come to them in a moment.
One of the arguments in favour of devolution advanced by the Government during the referendum campaign was that devolution would strengthen rather than weaken the unity of the United Kingdom. That argument was based on the acknowledgement that the pressures for devolution were inherently centrifugal, but by devolving powers downwards from the centre, a formal statutory scheme of devolution would provide an appropriate opportunity to redefine the bonds that hold the United Kingdom together. Among the forces that make for that unity, the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament must surely be supreme.
Included in the precedents for a statement of this supremacy was the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 which followed Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It stated that:Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Northern Ireland and every part thereof".My colleagues in the other place tried to secure the inclusion of a Welsh version of that clause in the Bill at Committee stage, but the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Win Griffiths, argued against it, as did the Secretary of State, Mr. Ron Davies. Mr. Davies said in an intervention:There is no need to make it explicitly clear that sovereignty rests with the House, because it clearly does. Nothing that the assembly or any future Government do can undermine the sovereignty of Parliament".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/98; col. 866.]My right honourable friend Mr. Michael Ancram, never had an answer to his counter point at col. 869 that:If the sovereignty of this Parliament is complete, what is there to prevent the amendment from being accepted?The substance of the amendment was not otiose or unnecessary in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 or its predecessors. But we are not seeking the full replication of that clause in our first amendment today, merely the inclusion of a reference to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament in the opening clause 831 of the Bill. We are doing so because many people in Wales would feel reassured by the presence of such a reference on the face of the Bill. Such reassurance is necessary at present. I believe it would be helpful to the Government and to the implementation of the Bill. I should have thought that this Government who claim to be sensitive to public opinion would have ensured the inclusion of such a reference without a prompting amendment of this kind.
As I understand it, the Government propose to remove all references to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 from the new constitutional settlement for Ulster emerging from the Belfast Agreement. However, another section of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act is to be preserved in some form or another—that is, the Section which asserts that although measures classed by the Northern Ireland Assembly would have the same force and effect as an Act of Parliament,This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Northern Ireland".That latter section has been adapted and incorporated in the Scotland Bill where it is to be found in Clause 27(7). A Welsh form is reproduced in our second amendment, Amendment No. 2. Similar wording appears in the Belfast Agreement, paragraph 33.
Again it may be argued that such a re-statement is not necessary in the Government of Wales Bill principally because, unlike Scotland, no primary legislative powers are being devolved to the assembly in Wales. Primary legislative powers remain with this Parliament. The point was made by the Minister, Mr. Win Griffiths, when he replied to the Committee stage debate in the other place. He said:It is unnecessary and otiose for a similar statement to be included in the legislation for the Welsh assembly because the National Assembly for Wales will not have the same wide-ranging primary legislative powers as the Scottish Parliament".—[0fficial Report, Commons, 20/1/98; col. 875.]That, of course, is true, but the Welsh assembly will have very extensive secondary legislative powers and there are more to come. The truth is that we cannot anticipate all the circumstances that may arise or what use will be made of those powers. What we know is that there is a great deal of concern here in this Parliament about the growing use of such delegated powers, the adequacy of scrutiny and so on.
This Bill proposes a further enlargement of the whole field of delegated legislation and envisages some differences between the secondary legislation emerging in Wales and that stemming in England from the same primary legislation. Anyone who doubts that need only look at Clause 26 of the School Standards and Framework Bill which gives considerable latitude to education authorities in Wales in implementing government policy.
Shortly before this debate, we received the 18th Report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. The committee expressed its concern and drew the special attention of the House to its comments on the provisions transferring the exercise of existing legislative powers to the assembly and the new legislative powers conferred on the assembly. It also draws to the attention of the House the 832 exceptionally large number of Henry VIII powers in the Bill. So there we have the concern of the Select Committee. This is an area of considerable potential confusion and even conflict. Many people—including the people of Wales—would feel safer if it were made absolutely clear where the ultimate authority lies.
As the Secretary of State for Wales said on more than one occasion in the referendum campaign, devolution is an ongoing process, and that is clearly implied in the Bill. Future legislation will contain order-making powers, some of which will be exercised by the assembly. We have no idea at this stage what those powers may be in the future or how they will be exercised. But we know that there is no provision for the return of powers to Westminster, whatever happens—even if things go badly wrong; there is only provision for going forward. That is what one might call the ratchet effect.
There is provision for the Secretary of State to intervene if the assembly acts contrary to UK treaty obligations and there is a right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council if the assembly acts ultra vires and so forth. However, there is no encouragement to this Parliament or obligation upon it to give its protection or assert its supremacy should the need arise. The thrust of the Bill is to give the assembly as much independence as possible. I am not at all sure that that is the best approach that could be adopted. I would have preferred to see a more co-operative approach and more co-operative links between the assembly and this Parliament; that would have been helpful to both.
We value the unity of the United Kingdom and the supremacy of Parliament not only from an institutional standpoint but from the point of view of the affected citizen. One cannot forget—though the Government may wish to—that three-quarters of the electorate in Wales did not support the Government's devolution proposals. The inclusion of a reference to parliamentary sovereignty and primary legislative power may provide those people with the reassurance that they need.
To include the amendments purely on that account may be thought to be cosmetic. But at this point we do not know what circumstances could arise in future where the intervention of the UK Parliament may be called for. We know that circumstances arose in Northern Ireland where it was necessary to abolish the Stormont Parliament at a stroke, and I hope that the same thing never happens to the Welsh assembly. But such extreme circumstances are not inconceivable and should clearly be provided for in the event that this Parliament is called upon to intervene either by the people of Wales or by their representatives at Westminster. We should not be blind to the worst scenario. We could be held culpable if we were.
For all those reasons it would be a wise precaution to place a reference to parliamentary sovereignty on the face of the Bill, together with a clear and unambiguous statement regarding the power of Parliament to make laws for Wales. It may seem otiose now, but who can 833 guarantee that it will always be so? The addition of our amendments would reassure millions and help them to see the assembly in a proper perspective. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
With the greatest respect to the careful and lengthy argument of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, from these Benches we disagree with the amendments. The noble Lord said that some may feel that the amendments are otiose and unnecessary; I include myself among that number. A principle not to include otiose and unnecessary language in any form of statute should be followed in all legislation.
The noble Lord referred to the analogy of the Northern Ireland legislation, in which similar clauses are included. It is a false analogy. It may be necessary to make statements of this sort in a community where a significant number of people question the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, but that is not the case in Wales. Who are the people who worry, who need reassurance, who will not feel safe unless these words are included in the Bill? I do not meet them in the Wrexham Rugby Club or the pub in Gresford. I have never heard anybody express any worries of that nature.
The noble Lord also referred to anxieties about secondary legislation. He said that we show concern in this House because there is no adequacy of scrutiny. We on these Benches have always shown concern in relation to the lack of scrutiny of legislation that is brought before these Houses of Parliament. That is one of the reasons why over the past 30 or 40 years we have supported the need for devolution and for a domestic parliament where proper scrutiny can take place of legislation that affects the interests of the people of Wales. We oppose the amendment.
Viscount St. Davids
I have considerable sympathy, particularly for Amendment No. 1. I should like to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, when he said that we do not need redundant or superfluous wording on the face of the Bill.
This Bill is unlike any other that has come before your Lordships' Chamber pertaining to the government of Wales for 426 years. It sets up a completely new form of administration for Wales for many aspects that govern the lives of Welsh people. It is different from the majority of Bills that will come before this Chamber. We should recognise—a point made by my noble friend—that half the people of Wales did not, for one reason or another, take part in the referendum. A great number voted against these proposals. They would be reassured by the wording in Amendment No. 1. I take that further and say that there are those of extreme tendency who need to be reminded that that is as far as these proposals go, and therefore we need Amendment No. 1.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I spoke on the referendum Bill relating to Wales. I did not speak on the Second Reading of this Bill because many others whose connection with Wales was far closer could and did speak with great authority on the matter. But perhaps 834 the Committee will allow me to make a few general observations on the constitutional and parliamentary considerations which have relevance to the Bill generally, the amendments generally and Amendment No. 1 in particular.
The Government's manifesto was perfectly clear: they would hold a referendum and if that referendum, by a simple majority, answered yes, they would go ahead to legislate on the lines of the White Paper. That undoubtedly bound the Government to do what they said they would do, having obtained a majority, however exiguous. As has been pointed out, the majority was extremely narrow and that also gave cause for concern, even to those like myself who were in favour of devolution, partly on the ground of subsidiarity and partly because we found deeply moving the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and many others.
What did that tell me? In addition to the narrow majority and the high degree of abstentions, the geographical division was disclosed by the voting, both economic and social. That narrow majority was secured after massive intervention and propaganda—by no means improper—by the Government and by the Prime Minister's great personal popularity being thrown into the struggle.
The answer being yes, the Government were bound to go ahead; but Parliament was not bound in any way, and no one can pretend that it was. Moreover, the position was difficult for the Government's supporters in the House of Commons. Even if they were less docile than they apparently seem to be, they too had endorsed the manifesto and it was very difficult for them to go against what the Government were proposing. But that means that the parliamentary responsibility falls with particular weight on your Lordships' House, and your Lordships are bound to go ahead, bearing in mind that there was, on analysis, no majority at all for the White Paper.
It was a great pity that an amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas and myself on a referendum was rejected by the Government. It would have shown quite clearly what proportion of the yes vote came from those who supported the White Paper and what proportion came from those who regarded the White Paper as merely a step forward to independence. The same problem arises in the Scottish case. However, the Government having chosen, as I am afraid they so often do, to fudge the question, we can only guess what majority was really against the White Paper. It certainly was a majority.
What are your Lordships to do in those circumstances? A few years ago there used to be talk of a manifesto mandate. There have been occasionally claims of that on devolution Bills but not very often. I think it is now accepted that a vote for a party does not endorse in any way constitutionally the contents of the manifesto. Therefore, the responsibility of your Lordships, as was pointed out at Second Reading, is primarily scrutiny, but on this Bill it goes very much further. All too often it seems to be taken that 835 democracy and majority rule are interchangeable terms. That is not so. The wisest thing that was ever said by a statesman about the nature of democracy was said by Clement Attlee. He said that democracy does not merely mean government by the majority but government by the majority having regard to the interests of the minority. That is what I think the noble Lord who moved the amendment has in mind.
It seems to me that your Lordships should incline to the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, but, on the whole, even though it seems to fit in with the approach that one would have to have regard to the interests of the minority, it does not really go far enough. In the first place, as has been said, this is a completely unnecessary amendment constitutionally. Your Lordships would not be legislating at all unless the legislative superiority rested at Westminster. However, there is another reason, which was referred to obliquely at Second Reading. This is an Act of devolution and it should not be ungenerously carried out. I fear that if the amendment were carried it would seem to be a niggling reservation on what I think by now is a consensus that the Bill should go ahead—that appeared clearly throughout the Second Reading debate—with any necessary amendment in order to preserve the true interests of the minority. The true interests of the minority are not in any way served by the amendment before the Committee. It seems to be an ungenerous gesture for your Lordships to be making. I hope that the noble Lord will not press it to a Division.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My noble and learned friend Lord Simon should not seek to apologise for intervening in this debate. After all, I believe he has a distinguished record of military service with the RWF. One cannot know of a more Welsh institution than that.
I agree with his remarks and wish to emphasise that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee refers in paragraph 5 of its report to the obvious fact that the Westminster Parliament will remain the supreme legislative body for Wales. Therefore, there is no need to rehearse that point on the face of the Bill. As my noble and learned friend indicated, there are issues here of subsidiarity. It is important to understand that a national assembly will have a responsibility for the whole of Wales in terms of delegated legislation and the administration of transferred functions. It is important that the granting of that subsidiary power to the national assembly should be done generously and without the dark sense of foreboding of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who uncharacteristically lapsed into his worst Presbyterian past. He brings to the Committee dark hints of foreboding of a Welsh assembly in a state of collapse which might require rescue by Westminster.
The policy of subsidiarity, which I understand to be warmly endorsed by Christian Democrats throughout Europe, is one I warmly commend to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. Indeed, I thought he always believed in it. However, he is taking a particular line on the Bill and I suppose that we should be sympathetic to him because of that. What concerns me more than the words in the amendment that the Parliament of the United Kingdom 836 is to make laws for Wales is how the Parliament of the United Kingdom is effectively to make laws for Wales in the context of the Bill. The issue we face is how we turn the system of delegated legislation which was initially designed for the execution of policy by different Ministers in different departments into a scrutinised body of delegated legislation for a subsidiary, delegated legislature. But we shall return to that issue on another day.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I did not intend to take part in this debate but when I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I thought I was making an error in doing so. I was tempted, to begin with, to rise to my feet, as on a number of occasions before, by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. He spoke about the redundancy of the proposed wording. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, quite correctly said that it was not necessary constitutionally.
However, I could not help remembering that not so very long ago when we were debating the Welsh Language Bill, I and, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas—and, I suspect, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and his colleagues—argued that there was a case for inserting some words in the Bill although they were not strictly required. It was thought to be right on that occasion to say something which was firm and clear about the status of the Welsh language. There are occasions when it may be helpful to say something that is not strictly necessary in order to inspire confidence.
Let us make no mistake about it. I am absolutely clear that this Bill deserves support now, for the reasons that I set out at Second Reading. We have to gain the confidence of the Welsh people, and in some respects it may be necessary to strengthen rather than weaken the legislation. But there are issues of confidence to be overcome. Therefore, there may well be a case for wording of this sort.
That good Anglican, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, spoke about my noble friend's Presbyterian sense of foreboding. As I came into the Chamber today I opened an envelope which contained a journal which I do not frequently read. Indeed, I am not at all sure that I have ever read it before. It is entitled welsh democracy review. Apparently, this is the third issue. In the first article, which speaks about this Bill giving responsibility without power, it says,The National Assembly of Wales is being given responsibility without power. Unless there are radical changes early in its life ensuring that it has the resources to meet its aspirations, widespread political disillusion seems inevitable—with incalculable consequences for the future of Welsh democracy".So there are others in very different positions who have dark forebodings.
This is what really tempted me to my feet. The journal goes on to say,In short, the Government of Wales Bill is no more than a start. Wales will not become a full, modern democracy until it has secured all the items on the political shopping list above".837 The first item on that shopping list is primary law-making powers. The magazine contains invitations to join a "Parliament for Wales" campaign. It seems to me that when there are others already actively campaigning for a parliament for Wales with extended powers of this kind—I need not weary the Committee with the further detailed demands of the campaigning group—it may be no bad thing to start this Bill by pointing to the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament.
That is so, particularly as this is a rather unusual Bill, in this sense. We begin by saying that we are going to set up an assembly in the first lines of page 1 of the Bill, but it is not until we reach Part II many pages later that we actually begin to say what the assembly is supposed to do. We have a great chunk of the Bill devoted to who shall represent it and the electoral system, but it is only when we get to Part II that there is a statement about the functions that are to be transferred by order.
For those reasons I do not believe that the wording of this amendment is quite so unnecessary as has been suggested. If we can give reassurance to the many of people in Wales who have worries about this Bill we will be rendering a service to Wales and those who favour an effective assembly.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
There are others in Wales who need reassurance that this law will not be unmade. Many years ago we were taught that Parliament can make a law and that it can unmake it. This Bill is the creature of Parliament and in future Parliament could repeal it or a part of it. I must also mention to the Committee that there is also concern in parts of Wales that the Bill, or a part of it, could be repealed. Indeed, I have been asked to consider whether an amendment can be designed that will protect the national assembly in such a way as to inhibit the repeal of this Bill when it is enacted. I am forced to concede that that is not possible under our present constitutional arrangements. The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty allows no legal limitation on that sovereignty. I am aware that many years ago a Commonwealth judge said, "Freedom, once conferred, cannot be revoked". I hope that this Bill will never be undone. However, I am conscious that that is possible by even a simple majority in parliament.
I believe that the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is pressing is unnecessary, uncalled for and, in my opinion and that of others, it is provocative and lacks generosity, as has been mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I very much hope that the Government will not accede to this amendment.
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
I would like to support the amendment. It cannot be described as unnecessary; it is really necessary, for this reason. The Minister knows as well as anyone that the vast majority of the people in Wales believe in being part of a United Kingdom. The sovereignty of Parliament exists and is accepted by the 838 Government. Indeed, it has even been said that the unity of Wales in the United Kingdom will be strengthened by this Bill.
There is no doubt at all that there are people in Wales who are concerned about the process of this Bill. They can see that as time goes on demands will be made for changes and that the assembly will become nearer to a parliament for Wales. Indeed, people are already advocating that. There are many in Wales who are concerned about the unity of Wales and the United Kingdom. They would like to be reassured that, as this Bill is currently worded, there is no question of the sovereignty of Parliament not remaining. For that reason a simple amendment such as this can give that reassurance and I commend it to the Committee.
§ The Earl of Northesk
I support these two amendments. Members of the Committee will recall that at Second Reading I suggested that the Bill as it stands lacks constitutional glue. The amendments have the great virtue of providing some glue in stating the constitutional position in a clear, concise and unequivocal way. Many Members of the Committee have intimated that the amendments are otiose, and the Government agree with that position. At one level that may be true, but there is something more to it than that. The Committee will also recall my suggestion at Second Reading that it will be the interaction of this Bill with other measures of primary legislation in this Parliament which will determine the actual day-to-day legislative competence of the assembly.
This gives rise to two quite distinct concerns. Like my noble friend Lord Roberts, I cite the School Standards and Framework Bill as an example. As my noble friend has already said, this measure is loaded to the gills with order-making powers. Some are relatively mundane, falling well within the scope of what we would normally expect of subordinate legislation; others are more disturbing in terms of the way that they confer wide powers of detailed policy determination upon the Secretary of State; yet others are mechanisms by which manifesto commitments are intended to be delivered. It is reasonable to assume that legislative competence for these, in so far as they are currently intended to be exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales, will in due course be transferred to the assembly. That intention is writ large in Clause 127(6) of the School Standards and Framework Bill. Some may say that there is nothing wrong with that and that that is the whole point of devolution, but it is a little more complicated.
It is perhaps bad enough that the Welsh assembly will be empowered to fly in the face of the UK Government's manifesto commitments by virtue of its competence over subordinate legislation; for example, as the School Standards and Framework Bill currently stands, there is nothing to prevent the Welsh assembly, once established and once the relevant order-making powers are transferred, from adopting an entirely different class size limit—say, 35 or 36—from that which will apply in England. Whether or not it would do so is conjecture but, as matters stand, the reality is that it could.
839 While acknowledging that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, gave some indication of the possibility that the Government may be prepared to state this manifesto commitment clearly on the face of the School Standards and Framework Bill, this nonetheless demonstrates the inevitable tension that is being built into the system. Unlike this House, the assembly will not be constrained by the Salisbury-Addison convention. Not only does this confer a superior legislative competence upon the assembly than that enjoyed by this House, but it also empowers the assembly to contest the UK-wide mandate of this Parliament. I do not wish to over-play it because it is an inevitable—some would argue desirable—consequence of devolution, but this is the first concern, which is in essence a purely political one. At the same time, this demonstrates the fiction of the assembly being confined solely to competence over subordinate legislation. That is necessarily a function of how order-making powers are framed in Bills considered by this Parliament. In this context it is worth noting the Henry VIII clauses on the face of the School Standards and Framework Bill, of which I detect three. As currently drafted, they are unconstrained and apply equally to both Wales and England. It is reasonable to assume that these powers will in due course be transferred to the assembly. In effect, such a transfer would confer primary legislative power upon the assembly. More importantly, there is an implicit and attendant risk that that transfer could—I do not say would—inadvertently give the assembly legislative competence over England as well as Wales.
I am aware that Clause 22 constrains the assembly so that it is bound to exercise transferred powers "in relation to Wales", but that constraint is not as effective as it may at first appear. We should not draw too much comfort from it. The Bill before us today does not change one particular aspect of our existing constitutional arrangement: its evolutionary character. As, when, and if, competence for Henry VIII clauses is transferred in future, it will be a matter of interpretation as to the scope of the available power. As these matters evolve the question will inevitably be asked as to where the primary source of statutory authority lies. In the example I have cited, will it be with the Government of Wales Bill or the School Standards and Framework Bill? We can quite legitimately worry that the assembly may well be drawn down the road of interpreting that it lies with the latter. It will, after all, have its own democratic mandate. That being so, the assembly could grant itself legislative competence over England. This therefore is the second concern: the constitutional one.
The government line with respect to the issue of sovereignty has been consistently one of saying that these amendments are otiose. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will follow this line when he responds. If it were simply a matter of where sovereignty resides, I could be swayed to accept that argument. In all kinds of ways, as the Government argue, that is self-evident, but I suggest that the real issue before us is where the primary source of legislative authority is located. In stating the constitutional position 840 on this, the amendments, far from being otiose, and for avoidance of any doubt, are both important and necessary.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
If we proceed at this rate, the Committee will take a very long time. The point is a simple one. I do not accept it. I draw the attention of the Committee to the words of Clause 1(3) at the very beginning of the Bill:The exercise by the Assembly of its functions is to be regarded as done on behalf of the Crown".I would have thought that everyone should be satisfied by that.
§ Lord Hooson
I had not intended to speak to this amendment. I believe that it would be a political error to insert this phrase into the Bill. There has been devolution of powers to administrative boards and local government from Parliament for centuries, yet it has never been necessary to state in any Bill that Parliament is sovereign. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, is undoubtedly right that this is unnecessary. To include this phrase is to invite trouble. Every Member of this House, every Welsh Member of Parliament and every council in Wales knows that Parliament is sovereign. If there is anyone who requires reassurance about whether there are sovereign Welsh dragons in the garden, breathing fire and slaughter, it can only be because those fears have been created by politicians. I believe that it would be a political error to insert this phrase. It suggests trouble and a means of division. As it is totally unnecessary and otiose, why on earth should we consider it?
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
I hesitate to rise, particularly in view of what has just be said. However, I should like to make just one point. With the exception of my noble friend Lord Northesk, this issue has been discussed as if it is simply a Welsh matter. Perhaps the dog of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that did not bark at Second Reading may be permitted a small growl. It must be made clear that this is a United Kingdom Bill to devolve powers from the United Kingdom Parliament to a Welsh national assembly. For the life of me, I have the greatest difficulty in seeing what problem there can be in stating that on the face of the Bill. The fact of the matter is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said, today we do not have to consider solely the views of the members of Wrexham Rugby Club or the Gresford Rugby Club. We have to consider what those views may be in five or 10 years' time or—heaven help us-50 or 100 years' time.
We have heard that there are already some strange views being propagated in Wales. Whatever we may believe about the sovereignty of Parliament, increasingly in today's society there are those who call into question the sovereignty of Parliament in various parts of the United Kingdom, and not exclusively in Wales. As a mere Englishman—I believe that the English can claim some responsibility for the integrity of the totality of the United Kingdom, and certainly for a very large part of it—I am enormously concerned that this matter could ever be called into question. In view 841 of the fact that our constitution generally is not written but is understood, and also in view of the fact that lawyers have a great deal of fun with "understandings" as opposed to what is written, I must say that I would support having this written very clearly in this Bill now.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ellenborough
I, too, hesitate to intervene in this debate amid so many distinguished former Secretaries of State for Wales. I should have thought that the Government would be well advised to accept these amendment because they clarify the position and they confirm the supremacy of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. I would have thought there must be a danger of visibly increasing support for the SNP in Scotland, and future pressure there for independence must have some effect in Wales.
If I may say so, one feature of the various devolution debates in both Houses—and here I agree with my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith—has been the scant regard shown for the English, who are, after all, pretty generous towards the Scots and the Welsh both as regards finances and representation at Westminster. In his otherwise admirable winding-up speech on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, did not, so far as I can recollect, even mention the words "England" or "English", despite the intervention in that debate of several of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell's "English dogs", of which I was one, although I only barked very quietly. This amendment should go some considerable way to satisfying not only English doubts and susceptibilities but also, and most importantly, the majority of the Welsh people, who are, after all, pretty unenthusiastic about devolution at the present time. If this assembly is to work as a secure part of the United Kingdom constitution it must have the support of the majority of the Welsh people and the acceptance of the English.
I would say to the Government that they really should not be too ostrich-like in this matter. They will bitterly rue the day if, once this legislation is enacted and the Welsh assembly and the Scottish parliament are under way, they are faced with a war on two fronts, with growing Welsh and Scottish nationalism on the one hand and increasing resentment by the English on the other. There are, as has already been said this afternoon, a fair number of Welsh nationalists and other closet nationalists who make it all too clear that they would deny the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament and they regard devolution as a springboard leading to further separation. So, for my part, I strongly support this amendment. It helps to clarify the position and provide some reassurance.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Perhaps I could make one or two preliminary observations. First of all, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, reasonably asked what had happened to the political parties registration Bill, and the noble Lords, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and Lord Henley, have made similar inquiries. I did say—I do not think those two noble Lords were present then but the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, was—that on Maundy 842 Thursday I had undertaken that the Bill would be ready soon after Easter. I did explain to your Lordships that on Good Friday there was the agreement on Northern Ireland matters and of course the resources of the parliamentary draftsmen had, rightly in my opinion, to be directed to those urgent matters. I can say that it is the Government's intention that the Bill on the registration of political parties should be published imminently.
I would echo, if I may, what I said at Second Reading, that any amendment which we regard as, first, consistent with the scheme of the Bill and, secondly, a genuine improvement would be carefully looked at. Perhaps I may also say with great respect that I believe that what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, said has a good deal of virtue in it. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I attend to the point of the amendment rather than rehearsing Second Reading speeches at any great length.
Questions were raised at Second Reading and in another place about sovereignty. It was said that the Solicitor-General, in his winding-up speech, did not refer to wider questions. That, of course, is wrong. I refer your Lordships to col. 1128 of Hansard for 21st April, where he specifically said:The Government believe that this is a step which is in the interests of both the people of Wales and the good government of the whole of the United Kingdom".Indeed, I opened the debate by saying that this will strengthen the union, to which this Government remain adamantly and unshakeably committed. I do not think I need to repeat more than that.
We believe that these amendments are not necessary and we cannot accept them. We do not seek to undermine the sovereignty of this place, whether by means of this Bill or any other Bill. For instance, the Human Rights Bill was carefully constructed and crafted to meet the proper legitimate place of a sovereign Westminster Parliament, and everyone who dealt with it recognised what we had done. There is nothing in the Bill which is capable of calling into question the sovereignty of this Parliament. I entirely endorse what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir. The overwhelming mass of those who live in Wales wish to see their future continuing as part of the United Kingdom.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, this is simply a transfer of functions already exercised by Minsters to the assembly; no more than that. Noble Lords have referred to Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and to Clause 27(6) of the Scotland Bill, which is presently before another place. Both have statements similar to the spirit of the amendment contended for, but both convey powers to make primary legislation. That is a complete qualitative difference.
The Belfast agreement, to which I referred a moment ago, makes similar provision for an assembly with primary legislative powers. Therefore it is only right to make clear the relationship between primary legislation in Belfast or Edinburgh and that passed at Westminster.
843 This Bill, I respectfully repeat, conveys no such powers and there is therefore nothing to clarify. As Mr. Ancram said in another place, an identical amendment,would not affect the position either way".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/98; col. 870.]It is easy to think that it might be a good idea to have a cosmetic face-saver on this Bill, but that is not the purpose of a Bill. The statute book is not the proper place to seek to allay phantom concerns, and indeed sometimes, as an unintended consequence, to raise fears, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, rather than dealing with them properly.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, chided the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, very gently about gloom and foreboding. I must say that from my own experience I always thought that gloom and foreboding were the most attractive part of life in North Wales. It certainly seems to be infectious because it has travelled all the way from Conwy to Abergavenny. The fact is that there is not a constant agitated thought, whether in the rugby club at Gresford or in the Pontllotyn branch of the Flat Earth Society as to what is actually intended by this Bill. It is perfectly straightforward. It is a transfer of functions which are presently devolved to the Secretary of State to a Welsh assembly, the principle of which throughout every one of the 35 speeches—I think it was—on Second Reading was accepted by the overwhelming majority of speakers. This amendment is not required and, being not required, it is not necessary.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
I am grateful to the Minister and indeed to all noble Lords who have participated in what I have found to be a very interesting debate. Of course we know all the arguments about otiosity and these suggestions being unnecessary. Nevertheless, a number of us feel very strongly that advantage should be taken of this opportunity in this Government of Wales Bill to build upon the relationship between the assembly and this United Kingdom Parliament, rather than suggesting that somehow or other they should be kept as separate as possible. As we pursue our discussions on the Bill, we shall see more clearly the need for a closer relationship between the two bodies.
I was interested in many of the comments that were made. I was glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, called the late Lord Attlee in my support in part. But he also described the amendments as niggling reservations and I take his point very much to heart.
We are seeking to suggest—and it is not all "North Walesian" or Presbyterian doom and gloom—that things may not go as well as the great optimists of devolution hope. I firmly suggest that our action would be remiss and that we would be culpable if things did go wrong in the assembly and the assistance of the United Kingdom Parliament was required.
As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, assured us, nothing in the Bill calls into question the sovereignty of this Parliament. As no powers of primary legislation are transferred from this place to the Welsh assembly one can understand the difference between the Welsh 844 assembly, the Scottish parliament and the proposed Northern Ireland assembly and the need to differentiate between them by the inclusion of Clause 27(6) in the Scottish Bill.
Extensive secondary legislative powers are being transferred to the assembly and that is causing us a great deal of concern. Even the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, expressed his concern about the nature of delegated legislation and its extension. As my noble friend Lord Northesk suggested, there is little difference between primary and secondary legislation in, for example, the School Standards and Framework Bill.
A considerable number of Henry VIII clauses in the Bill cause great concern. Nevertheless, in view of the Minister's comments, we shall not press the amendment to a Division. We shall be watchful as we proceed with the Bill and on Report we may return to the broad thrust of the amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Membership]:
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
moved Amendment No. 3:Page 1, line 15, leave out from ("constituency") to end of line 16.The noble Lord said: The amendment brings us to a discussion on the voting system. Not only are the Government proposing to change the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom vis-à-vis England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but they are proposing to turn upside down a voting system which I and many other people believe has served this country and the rest of the English-speaking world extraordinarily well over the long march of history. The Government intend to replace that with a system of proportional representation or, as I would prefer to call it, one of the various methods of fiddle voting on which some people are so keen.
The amendment deals specifically with removing from the Bill those parts which would introduce proportional representation. If I were successful the Bill would have a first-past-the-post electoral system for the Welsh assembly. I would not like it to be thought that I have not realised that the Minister will say that I am looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I have to tell him that the weakest of all arguments for one or other electoral system is that your particular party gains advantage from it. That ought not to be the argument which convinces anyone to choose one electoral system as opposed to any other.
That is why, when the Labour and Conservative Parties stood as one in favour of a first-past-the-post system, the Liberal Democrat Party was alone in wanting to change it. And it wanted to change to one specific form of PR which it believed would fiddle the votes in the most advantageous way for that party. I believe that the true voting system is the one which we have had in this country for many years—
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
The noble Lord said that we were anxious to fiddle the vote. Will he explain 845 precisely what he means by that? Is he saying that the importance which the Liberal Democrats attach to proportional representation is a fiddle?
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
The point is that the argument in favour of one form of PR over another is usually put forward on the basis that the advantage may or may not be to the political party advocating it. In my view, and in the view of anyone who has studied the subject, I could put forward an electoral system which would present the Committee with any result it wished. Indeed, there are so many variations of proportional representation, which we shall debate later, that my argument would be adequately met by showing that the different types can lead to different results. That is why I used the word "fiddle" when I discussed proportional representation because it depends—
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
Has the noble Lord noticed that in Scotland where proportional representation would not suit our party we are still advocating it?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
That has more to do with the noble Lord's party's cosying up to the Government and the fact that before the election they reached a pre-electoral pact on these matters. Oh, I have got them all up!
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
Does the noble Lord agree that on his definition his government were complicit in fiddling the votes in Northern Ireland where they introduced proportional representation in local government some 10 or 12 years ago?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
As the noble Lord will know, the problem in Northern Ireland is that there are particular and difficult circumstances—
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
There are, and the ignorance of the Liberal Democrat Party about Northern Ireland is well shown by the fact that it does not seem to believe that there are particular circumstances. I see that the Minister is coming to its aid.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Does that mean that if there are particular circumstances one is properly entitled to devise a system which will produce the result that will deal with those circumstances, otherwise known as a "fiddle"?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
The point about Northern Ireland is that for better or worse a significant minority of the population there do not wish to be members of the United Kingdom. They find it difficult to operate within the United Kingdom system. As a result, the previous government introduced a form of proportional representation to give that particular minority—not a political party minority, but one which wished to belong to another country—some say in the 846 government of Northern Ireland. It must be said that our previous efforts to do so and to put in place a system which worked have not proved particularly successful. We all hope that the new system devised on Good Friday will prove to be more successful and that the two communities will live together. However, I do not believe that for most of the rest of the world there are such divisions inside the one society where a sizeable minority do not wish at all to belong to the nation state to which the majority belongs.
In any event, the situation in Northern Ireland is so special. If one looks around the rest of the English-speaking world, proportional representation is not used at all except in one country. I shall say a little about its rather unsuccessful and unhappy experiment over the past two years where the system which this Bill proposes has been tried.
The Bill proposes to create two classes of Members of Parliament or members of the assembly. Two-thirds will be elected in the conventional first-past-the-post system. The other one-third will be wholly unaccountable to the electorate as individuals. It will also transfer power from the individual voter to the political parties. It will add a complication to what I believe is a very simple, democratic system which has served us very well indeed.
The case for the first-past-the-post system is one which I fear is not being heard too clearly at present. Indeed, the commission set up by the Government has been told specifically not to consider the merits of the first-past-the-post system. It is there to consider only which variation, which different methods of fiddling, which different tune will be played on the proportional representation system. As I have said to the Chamber before, it seems to me odd that these people are entirely paid-up members of the proportional representation club and not one person will ask critical questions.
I have been told before that I should not worry about that because this commission is merely asked to suggest an alternative PR system. When the commission reports, I shall look forward with interest to hearing the Government's response. I am sure that they will say that that does not in any way negate the importance of first-past-the-post. Perhaps they will say that the commission has not studied the first-past-the-post system and is not arguing against it but is merely looking at the system of PR. The Government will say, "Here is our great commission of people who have concluded that PR is the way and this particular version of PR is the way". That is not what the commission has been asked to do. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, intervened during my remarks recently and I must say to him that his remarks on that occasion are being kept close to my heart for the day on which the commission reports in the autumn.
The first-past-the-post system clearly gives us accountability at constituency level and at national level. The accountability is clear: it allows the electorate to remove the governing party if it no longer retains its confidence. That is something which we experienced a year ago. Under the British system, the verdict is decisive. An unpopular government cannot be kept in 847 office by a minor party against the will of the electorate; nor can a minor party decide to change the government without going to the electorate. Therefore, there is accountability in the governing party.
It is interesting that during our consideration of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, underlined the important difference between European parliamentary elections and elections to the other place and—dare I say it?—elections to the Welsh assembly and Scottish parliament. As the noble Lord pointed out to me, the European Parliament does not have a government arising from it. But of course, the other place does, as will the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly.
The noble Lord pointed out to me when we were discussing the European Parliamentary Elections Bill that:Different elections require different systems and the key determining factor is the nature and functions of the body or legislature that is being elected".He added later that,the European Parliament, unlike our own, is not one from which a government is drawn".The Welsh assembly will be an assembly from which a government is drawn, so to that extent it is more akin to the House of Commons than it is to the European Parliament.
The noble Lord went on to say:We take the view that electoral systems should be appropriate for the particular bodies being elected. Our Parliament has a very different function from that performed by the European Parliament and we believe that different considerations obtain".—[Official Report, 9/4/98; cols. 857–859.]Again, when he summed up, the noble Lord said later in the debate:It is not, I repeat, a Parliament from which a government is chosen".—[Official Report, 9/4/98; col. 899.]I do not suppose for a moment that the Liberal Democrats would at all accept that argument as having any merit because they would like proportional representation regardless of whether or not the elected body creates a government. Therefore, it is important that we look at the Welsh assembly as being much more akin to the House of Commons in creating a government for Wales than to the European Parliament which does not create a government for Europe, although one never knows, the Liberal Democrats may be quite keen to do that one day.
The other matter is that accountability exists quite clearly. It is a direct accountability that the electorate can and does exercise at the ballot box. It can remove an unpopular party from power. That seems an important aspect of our system. Proportional representation systems can keep one party, usually a very small party, in power for ever and ever. It just shifts partners as in an elaborate dance and is never properly accountable to the electorate. It is interesting that in one or two countries where PR has developed, on occasions the larger parties have become so infuriated at the dictatorship of the minority that they have created coalitions between the larger parties to prevent the tail continually wagging the dog.
848 Therefore, there is accountability in government. There is also accountability of Members of Parliament who are representatives and not delegates. They are entitled, if not obliged, to use their own judgment once they are elected. If the electorate does not like them and the way they use their judgment, they can be thrown out at the next election. They are accountable to their constituents.
The important point is that they are accountable to all their constituents. Every Member of your Lordships' House who has been a Member of another place will know that is the case. If one is a Member of Parliament, one does not say, "No, you did not vote for me. Take your problem elsewhere". As a Member of Parliament, you are responsible to every one of your constituents. You must look after their problems and take up their cases. You must take up the issues which concern them. You are the sole representative of that constituency and that is an extremely important link.
The first-past-the-post system undoubtedly, over time, has given us stable and effective government in this country. The governing party has, by and large, had a working majority in the House of Commons and has been able to run its term safely through the course of a full Parliament. Our current system also enables governing parties to get their business through the other place. It tends to give the winning party a healthy majority. That is one of the aspects which advocates of PR do not like. They do not like the thought that the winning party has a healthy majority and is able therefore to give the country effective government with effective parliamentary scrutiny from the Opposition. Therefore, on that basis, it seems to me that first-past-the-post is hugely superior when it comes to selecting a government than any method of proportional representation.
As regards the representatives themselves, in the British system, although of course the political parties play a major part—and nobody would pretend otherwise—they must ensure the widest possible support for themselves if they are to win an election. A party cannot hope to win an election by promoting a narrow sectional viewpoint, as does happen in those countries with a PR system. Accordingly, each party represents a fair settlement between competing philosophical interests within the same large framework. In this country, we tend to call it a broad church and the two major parties—the Conservative Party and the Labour Party—have traditionally been that broad church.
As I said, each individual MP is exposed to that broad range of views because in his constituency, even within his own party—let alone outside—he must listen to the different views of the different parts of his own party. Therefore, it seems to me that the political parties, inside themselves, must reconcile what is sometimes a wide variety of interests. That is not a fault. I know that some people consider it to be so. I believe that our system, in which our political parties represent a wide spectrum, has served this country well.
Therefore, when it comes to choosing the governing party and selecting the constituency representative, I believe that our system is vastly superior to that in other 849 countries. I do not expect other countries to change to our system; indeed, I am not an evangelist in these matters. History and tradition dictate where you end up. We have ended up with first-past-the-post, and that is the sensible way for us to proceed.
As regards the various methods of proportional representation—fiddle systems, as I am going to call them, even though some people may not like me to do so—I must say that I find some of the systems—not necessarily the one proposed here—which give people second, third, or fourth votes while other people only have one vote, to be a negation of, "one person, one vote". I believe that one vote should count for each person and not that your second, third or fourth vote should count if you happened to vote first for a party which does not succeed in gaining many votes. It seems to me that that is something about which you have to make a decision, and live with.
Our system is clear. The amendments before the Committee today would in fact remove the AMS system from the Welsh Bill and would mean that the members of the Welsh assembly would be elected by the first-past-the-post system. If I am told that that would not be particularly beneficial to my party at present, my response to the Minister will be, "So be it". I do not believe that the narrow interests of my party in 1998 should necessarily determine how the electoral system of this country works. I give way to the noble Lord.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I am much obliged. The noble Lord is approaching the matter in a very high-minded way. Given that fact, can he say whether he intends to put himself forward as a Scottish Conservative for election where exactly the same electoral system will be proposed and where in fact, if we have the first-past-the-post system, the prospects of the noble Lord being elected are minuscule?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I do not think that I am under any obligation to tell the noble Lord, Lord Harris, what my intentions are with regard to the Scottish parliament. Suffice it to say that I am one of the three people who are actually vetting all the potential candidates for the Scottish parliament. I am sure that they would find it a little odd if I were to be one of the candidates. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question. Unlike, perhaps, one noble Lord in his party, I have no great ambitions at my stage in life to become a great player in the Scottish parliament. I was indeed a considerable player in your Lordships' House, but the noble Lord about whom I am thinking did not succeed in being a great ministerial player either in this or the other place.
I turn now to Amendment No. 14. It is linked here because it does in fact bundle properly with amendments regarding first-past-the-post. If you have a first-past-the-post electoral system, you do not need to register political parties. Amendment No. 14 would actually delete the mention of the registration of political parties. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for telling me, through his earlier reply to 850 my noble friend today, that the registration of political parties Bill is imminent. I suppose that that is better than saying, "shortly". Moreover, having been given such a generous piece of timing, I suppose that I really must not be too ungrateful.
However, this legislation has become known, at least in the Mackay household, as the "invisible Bill". It is in fact central to the method for the Welsh elections, to the Scottish elections and, indeed, to the European parliamentary elections. Members of the Committee will notice that both the Welsh Bill and the European Parliamentary Elections Bill have already passed through the other place without this fundamental Bill ever seeing the light of day. The other place complained, but the Government just brushed those complaints aside. So the European Parliament Bill and the Welsh Bill are through, and the Scottish Bill has completed its Committee stage without this important little brick, which is necessary to build the PR system, being shown to any of us.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, told me on Maundy Thursday that the Bill would be produced shortly after Easter. However, even the noble Lord must have realised that my definition of the word "shortly" was running out of days. Indeed, he told my noble friend Lord Henley, in another debate, that due to the difficulties being encountered by the draftsmen with the Irish business, the registration of political parties Bill would have to wait. What amazes me is the fact that a Bill, which I do not believe will have too many clauses, was not prepared some time ago. After all, it is central to the three systems of election. In my view, it should have been done some time ago.
However, I accept what the Minister said and understand that we will see the invisible Bill imminently. However, it is a Bill which I believe has dangers. It sends shivers up and down my spine, at least. If I wanted to start chipping away at democracy, I believe that my first step would be to register political parties and my second step would be to register only those of which I approved. I know that the Government will not want that, but I believe that it will require pretty careful drafting to ensure that that is not a possibility some time in the future. Perhaps that is why the Bill is proving so difficult.
All I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is that if this is yet another Bill to come this Session, the log jam that we are about to see, especially in this Chamber and in the other place to a lesser extent, will get even greater. However, on the basis that the noble Lord has given me that assurance—namely, that the Bill's production is imminent—I shall await such news daily. Whether there is another definition just about to come along after "shortly" and "imminently", is a matter that I leave to the noble Lord's fertile imagination.
The main point of the amendments is to advocate to noble Lords the continuation of the traditional British first-past-the-post system—a tradition which has served democracy in our country extraordinarily well over 851 many decades. That is more than I fear can be said for most of our continental friends who have indulged in various forms of PR from time to time. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
I listened with care to the even longer speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in introducing the amendments. Again, I regret to say that we do not support them. The noble Lord said that the Conservative government had made a fiddle in order to deal with the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland and that, therefore, proportional representation was acceptable if particular circumstances demanded it. But what are the particular circumstances in Wales as we look at it today? The particular circumstances are that the Conservative Party achieved 20 per cent. of the popular vote in Wales in the last election, but did not gain a single seat.
With most unusual and unexpected magnanimity, this Government have decided that the Welsh assembly should not be as adversarial as the Westminster system. They have decided that it should be inclusive and that all strands of political opinion in Wales should be represented in that assembly, with an electoral system being devised which would ensure that that happens. The result will be to give that assembly a far greater legitimacy than would otherwise be the case if only first-past-the-post were to be used in its elections.
Prior to the last election, there was an agreement between the Labour Party in Wales and the Welsh Liberal Democrats that the alternative member system would be employed in elections to the Welsh assembly if such a happening were to take place. On that basis, we agreed that we would support the Labour Government if that should happen; and it did happen. We stand by that arrangement. We will support the Government. Indeed, we campaigned with them in the referendum which took place on that basis, as did Plaid Cymru. I believe that it is fair to say that, if the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru had not added their weight to that of the Labour Party, the referendum might have gone a different way altogether.
As the alternative member system was clearly spelt out in the Labour Party manifesto, and as it has since received the assent of the Welsh people in a referendum, I wonder why these amendments have been tabled at all. Surely there is no intention that the Salisbury doctrine should be breached; that there should be a vote on this; or that there should be any attempt to amend the legislation in the way that the noble Lord has suggested. If this is never to be voted upon, I must regard the time that the noble Lord has taken in expounding the first-past-the-post system as "muscle flexing", "shadow boxing" and as a warm-up for the true fight that will take place in the autumn. No doubt at that time the parties will adopt all kinds of different attitudes as regards the proposals.
I do not propose to take on the noble Lord as regards the disadvantages of the first-past-the-post system, save to say that between 1989 and 1997 the Conservative government never achieved a majority of voters in their favour at the ballot box and yet continued as an "elective dictatorship", to use the term that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, has used about our constitutional 852 system. However, I shall not be drawn further into this argument. These amendments ought not to be put to the vote, in accordance with the Salisbury doctrine.
Viscount St. Davids
If you call into question the proportional representation elements in this Bill, you have to call into question the validity of the referendum. The referendum was held on a White Paper that promised a measure of proportionality in the voting system. If you call that into question, you would have to call into question the referendum. These can be regarded only as wrecking amendments.
The establishment of proportional representation is a serious issue. I recognise that the issue arises in this Bill and in the Scottish Bill and that it is being considered generally. This is an enormous change. I recognise entirely the point that was made about the referendum. Although I did not read about the matter as closely as no doubt I should, I recognise that under the terms of the referendum everyone in Wales knew that they would have proportional representation. But how many people in Wales understand what proportional representation will mean for them? I have no intention of repeating the arguments of my noble friend Lord Mackay, with which I largely agree, or indeed answering the counter arguments. However, I know that everyone in this country likes to have a link with an MP. It is one of my regrets in life that I have not been an MP, but I have fought a number of local government elections. To that extent I have had "constituents", as it were. At that time I had an enormous postbag, and people came to see me about their problems. Under proportional representation that direct link will disappear.
I am sure that Members of the Committee have contacts on the Continent. Only last week I talked with a friend who is the headmaster of the British School in Madrid. He wanted to consult someone in the Spanish Parliament about a matter that concerned Madrid. However, that was simply not possible. No Member of the Spanish Parliament could answer his questions. We are entering a new world here. I shall not argue that every aspect of it will be for the worst. However, this point needs to be explained to everyone. It would be interesting to know whether the same number of Members of Parliament will remain in London. That is how I understand the position. Will people in Wales take their problems to their MP representing them in Westminster and bypass the assembly as they will not know who to contact given that the direct link will be broken? What will happen? I believe that the ordinary person in North or South Wales ought to have this matter explained to them. It should be spelt out in some way in an official document.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I rise to make two brief points in response to points that have been made from the Liberal Benches and by my noble friend Lord St. Davids. The Committee will recall that we were presented with a pre-legislative referendum. Many of us voiced concerns that the issue was being put to the people of Wales 853 without their having had the advantage of hearing all the details of the legislation and discovering how significant it might be.
To be told now that if a matter was not mentioned in the Government's White Paper, or if it is amended subsequently, we can make no change in the Bill, is a pretty audacious statement and one that I find profoundly shocking. I am one who accepted the verdict of the referendum, narrow though the majority was. However, I accept it on the basis that we must make the assembly work and we must make it strong and effective. I do not believe that can mean that Parliament is not able to accept amendments either from the Opposition Benches or from the Government Benches because the matter has perhaps not been fully covered in a White Paper. I have not looked to see what references were made to the points covered in the great mass of amendments that have been tabled by the Government, but I do not believe that the Salisbury doctrine can be stretched to deprive us of the right to move amendments and perhaps to pass them in this Chamber.
Further, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, claimed that the assembly had been accepted by the people of Wales and the majority of 7,000 had been obtained because of the support that Liberal voters gave the Government. I wonder whether he has studied the post-referendum academic investigation which I believe was carried out by academics in the University of Aberystwyth on behalf of one of the bodies that studies the results of elections, which noted that although there was a marginally higher turnout of Liberals than of Labour supporters, 74 per cent. of those Liberals voted "No". I wonder therefore on what basis the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, presses his point with such considerable audacity.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I hope I may say a few words. I think it is about time we had a few words. As regards the point made by the noble Lord who has just sat down, what does he think the Salisbury doctrine meant? The Salisbury doctrine meant that the Conservative Party—which then, as now, had an overwhelming majority in this Chamber—would not use that majority to defeat the Government on issues which had been spelt out in the Labour Party's election manifesto. That is what the Salisbury doctrine means. Therefore to pass an amendment of this kind would be to undermine totally the undertaking given on behalf of the then Conservative opposition, which as I understand it remains the position of the Conservative Party. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was concerned—I understand this concern—that a large number of people in Wales would not understand the possible complexities of a proportional representation system. In that case, why did the people of Northern Ireland find it quite so easy?
I did not say that they would not understand the complexities. I said that I did not think they had understood that they would lose the direct link with an MP. That is quite a different issue.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I believe that in the Bill as drafted there will, of course, be Members for 854 constituencies. Therefore, the concern that the noble Baroness has expressed is entirely misdirected. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, spoke at rather substantial length. I thought once or twice that we were in the midst of a timeless Test match. I found it a little difficult to understand why he made that speech given that this matter had been spelt out in the Labour Party's election manifesto, as it was in my party's manifesto. He seemed a little modest when it came to a direct question of whether he would stand for election to the Scottish parliament which is to be elected on exactly the same basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, says that he is prepared to live with the argument that it is perfectly all right to allow a substantial minority of the people of Scotland and of Wales to be totally unrepresented in the House of Commons. I wonder whether good democrats necessarily all take quite such a dismissive view of the rights of the electorate. It seems to me highly likely, as another academic study has demonstrated, that if one was not to have some form of proportional representation in Wales, there would be no Conservative members in the Welsh Assembly at all. I would regret that because I do not believe it is right that a substantial block of the electorate has no elected representatives. I am appalled that noble Lords are prepared to get up in this House and say that they could live with that without the slightest trace of concern.
§ Lord Onslow of Woking
I have no particular wish to follow the tone of the noble Lord who has just sat down. I simply wish to ask two questions about the legislation on the registration of political parties which we have been promised and which is so essential with regard to this and other pieces of legislation now before Parliament. First, can we have an undertaking from Ministers this evening that we shall have an opportunity to see that Bill before the Report stage on this Bill? Secondly, can we have a guarantee that its provisions, whatever they may be in detail, will be the same for any elected body in any part of the United Kingdom, and that there will be no different rules of registration for political parties in Wales, in Scotland, in Northern Ireland, or in the rest of the United Kingdom?
The Earl of Balfour
Following on from what the noble Lord who has just sat down has said, and as Amendment No. 14 (seeking to leave out subsection (8) of Clause 4) is grouped with this amendment, may I ask the Minister whether he can tell me if there is any enactment providing for the registration of political parties or any directive through any statutory instrument? I think it would be helpful to find out how political parties are recorded. I hope we can have an answer.
§ The Solicitor-General (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, quoted my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn saying that you approach the question of what is the correct electoral system by what is appropriate for the particular body. The Government have said repeatedly in relation to a national assembly for Wales 855 that they want an assembly which is representative of all parts of, and all interests in, Wales. We are determined that the assembly will provide a focus for Welsh life and reflect the diversity of modern Wales. I understand that that diversity of modern Wales includes Conservatives. We want it to be an institution which commands the respect and support of people throughout Wales and which transcends differences between regions, cultures and political traditions. We want the assembly to encourage a new style of inclusive politics which will be more open, more accountable and more relevant to the people of Wales.
We believe that using the additional member system will help to achieve those objectives. We approached the question of the best system on the basis of what we hoped to achieve rather than simply by adherence to the existing system for the UK Parliament. The additional member system combines the traditional first-past-the-post system with an element of proportionality. The constituency element enables us to retain the close and effective link between the electorate and their representatives while the election of the 20 additional members will address any disproportionality that may occur in the constituency elections. May I deal with the point—
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
Will the noble Lord not accept that the additional member system is only one of the systems of proportional representation and it has particular disadvantage in that it yields power to the party managers, taking it away from those who are close to the electorate?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
I accept that there are other systems. We believe that this is the most appropriate system for the Welsh assembly.
Perhaps I may deal with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She expressed concern that there would be no direct link between a constituent and his or her representative in the Welsh assembly. The system proposed involves 40 members of the new assembly elected by the same means as are the UK parliamentary constituencies. There will be a direct link, identical to that between an MP and his constituency and, on top of that, there will be 20 additional members introduced by the additional member system.
There will be no question of individual constituents not knowing to whom to refer a problem and there will be that direct link about which the noble Baroness was so concerned. So, with the greatest of respect to the noble Baroness, I do not think that there is anything in her point about losing the direct link.
The level of representation enjoyed by a party in the assembly should reflect, more or less, the level of support it has won across the country. The result should be an assembly which is truly representative of the range of opinions in Wales. In addition, the proposed geographic distribution of seats under the system will ensure that all areas of Wales are properly represented in the assembly and that no one area is able to dominate the affairs of the assembly.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made much of the point that the amendments that he was proposing were detrimental to the interests of his own 856 party. He said, "Look how high-minded I am". His amendments would be very destructive of the Conservatives because he knows, as everyone else in the Chamber knows, that they did not return one seat in the election in May 1997. Having clothed himself in this high-mindedness, he then did not deal one way or another with whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps I may adopt the arguments put from the Liberal Democrat Benches to the effect that what is wanted is an assembly where all shades of opinion are reasonably represented, including that of the noble Lord's party. That is not an argument that he addressed one way or the other.
As the noble Lord also pointed out, the main beneficiary of the amendments would, of course, be my party. But in relation to the Welsh assembly we are concerned with a vision which genuinely has nothing to do with competing party political manoeuvres. We want to establish the assembly as an institution which will give voice to the needs and concerns of all people in Wales, and not only those who vote for my party. While accepting that there are other systems, we are nevertheless convinced the additional member system is the most appropriate method for electing an assembly which will achieve our goal of inclusiveness.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
May I ask the noble Lord again: would the additional members chosen by the party managers be chosen by the managers of the Welsh parties or the managers in London?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
It is a matter for each individual party to determine how they select those people who are on their list. We are not dealing here with how each individual party will handle the system. We are dealing with the system that is being set up. In the interests of establishing an assembly which is truly representative of the people of Wales, I strongly urge the Committee to reject the amendment proposed.
It was made clear that this system was to be adopted, both in the manifesto at the time of the election and before the referendum took place. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that perhaps the electorate did not understand the proposal. That point could be made in every case where a clear policy has been laid out, as this was, and accepted twice unequivocally by the electorate. I strongly urge the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Coity
I suggest that the Welsh people thoroughly understood what they were voting for in the referendum for the Welsh assembly. It is true that the poll could be considered low, and that the majority was somewhat low. Nevertheless, the result had nothing to do with the first-past-the-post system and proportional representation. It was based on whether or not Wales should have an assembly.
Many people did not believe that Wales should have an assembly. Some voted against it; and some abstained. However, the question we have to answer here is that of individual representation by Members of Parliament on the first-past-the-post system. That somewhat defies 857 reality. Frankly, elections in this country have been run for a long time on party lines. The vast majority of people vote for the party and not the individual.
When considering representation of constituents by Members of Parliament, let us recognise another reality. The vast majority of people do not see their MPs; they do not ask MPs as individuals to represent them. Some do so, but not the majority. The majority vote for a government to represent them on the big issues that affect their lives—employment, the National Health Service and education. The Welsh assembly will be concerned with affairs that affect the Welsh people. Nevertheless, with the system of proportional representation, the representatives will represent the people in the European Parliament constituencies. Therefore there will be representation if individuals require it.
I believe that it would be wrong for this Chamber to try to frustrate or defeat what was contained clearly in a manifesto commitment at the last general election. If such amendments are pushed to a vote, they will be mischievous.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
I am grateful to my noble friend for his intervention. I wish to make clear that I did not suggest for one moment that the Welsh people did not understand what they were voting for. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, expressed a view as to what the Welsh people might have thought. I do not adopt it.
While I am on my feet perhaps I may answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Onslow of Woking, to which I did not respond. I apologise. First, the noble Lord asked whether I could give an undertaking that we shall produce the document before the beginning of Report stage of the Bill. I cannot give a formal undertaking to that effect. But I can say that it is extremely likely that the Bill will be forthcoming before the start of Report stage. If not, either I or my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will give an explanation as to why. However, I very much hope that that will not be the position.
Secondly, the noble Lord asked whether the Bill would cover all elections. As I understand it, it will deal with those elections which relate to the putting forward of lists of candidates for the various party list elections. I do not know whether it will cover local government elections; I suspect that it will not. That is as far as I can take the matter at present.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am grateful for the assurances we have received again from the Solicitor-General about the registration of political parties Bill—or I was grateful until he returned to the subject. I had thought that "imminently" meant before we return to this Bill at Report stage. The noble and learned Lord will have to work hard to persuade me that we should have a Report stage of this Bill before we see the registration of political parties Bill. He would have to work hard, too, to persuade me that we should start the Committee stage of the European Parliamentary 858 Elections Bill before we see that Bill. However, I have little doubt that "imminent" means imminent. I accept the noble and learned Lord's assurances.
Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I am sure that the Welsh people knew what they were or were not voting for; about half of them decided that they did not wish to vote for the proposal. Half of those who voted were not particularly keen. So I believe that they knew what they were voting for. I am not sure that the noble Lord and I would agree on the conclusions that we would both draw from that.
As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell mentioned, we accept that however narrowly it was won the referendum was won. Perhaps I may say this to my noble friend Lord St. Davids. I do not consider this to be a wrecking amendment. The main proposition put before the people of Wales and Scotland was that they will have an assembly or a parliament. It is just possible that if the people of Wales had been asked to vote for an assembly elected by the first-past-the-post system, the yes campaign in which my noble friend played a part might have achieved a better result. My noble friend might contemplate that for a moment or two.
This is not a wrecking amendment. It is not justified to try to knock it down with reference to the Salisbury doctrine. There is a point to be debated. We have a longstanding first-past-the-post system in this country. I do not think that we should overturn it readily or quickly just because of some agreement the Labour Party rather foolishly made with the Liberal Democrats before the election. I much appreciate the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in my political career. I have indicated my position. I assure the noble Lord that if I change my mind I shall lose no time in making sure that he is among the first to know.
We shall return to the subject of proportionality, a subject about which the Solicitor-General spoke. I shall then show him that proportionality has as many definitions as there are fiddle tunes—and there are many of them! It is doubtful whether the method achieved in the Welsh Bill will deliver the same degree of proportionality that the method outlined in the Scotland Bill will achieve. However, we shall come to the amendment from the Liberal Democrats Benches and that of Plaid Cymru later. I shall not go into that.
I believe that our system has served us well. As I mentioned—I am not surprised that no one took up the point—only one country in the English-speaking world (if I may so call it) has gone over to PR. That is New Zealand. It is interesting that the National Party in New Zealand is considering whether or not to have another referendum and whether or not to abandon the system that it has had for a year or two. A report in the Daily Telegraph of 23rd April reported that business confidence has plunged; the economy has stalled; the currency has fallen sharply; and economic reforms, for which New Zealand was famous and for which it gained acclaim internationally, have all but ground to a halt. 859 The polls showed only 30 per cent. remained in support of the system. Mr. Geoff Thompson, the National Party president, said that the MMP system, which is close to the system we are discussing,has disappointed those who expected an environment of peace and goodwill to develop…That hasn't happened".We have heard a little about that today. I shall be happy to eat a raw leek if the Welsh assembly is peace loving with no arguments and no political divide—nothing of that nature. It will amaze me. It will be the only legislature anywhere in the world that works like that in a democracy. I think that it was George Thomas who defended noise in the House of Commons by saying that if you want a silent legislature go and listen to the Supreme Soviet—in the days before the wall came down. If noble Lords believe that there will be no controversy across the political divide in the Welsh assembly, they will believe anything.
I turn again to New Zealand. Another National Party MP, Mr. Gavin Herlihy, said that the system which is close to that being proposed for Wales is the worst possible. Although consensus politics was inherent in it,in reality this degenerates into compromise and mediocrity".I believe that we shall regret having moved down the proportional representation road. I do not think that it will do Wales any service.
I do not accept the argument that just because the Welsh electorate decided that they did not wish to have my party in any of their constituencies I should ask to change the system. They made a conscious decision to get rid of all my honourable and right honourable colleagues. In a democracy they had a right to do that. That is what the first-past-the-post system provides. However, I accept that the Government have argued for this proposal, both in their manifesto and in the White Paper. For the moment at least, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
Before the noble Lord sits down, is he speaking for the Welsh Conservative Party when he says that he is for the first-past-the-post system, and for the 10 candidates who have already been adopted by the Conservative Party to fight these elections? Is he speaking for them, or for himself?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I was about to say that that is a particularly silly question, but that might be unkind. I am speaking for my noble friends and myself on this amendment. I am speaking for the Conservative Party in Wales and in Britain; and indeed I shall address the same issue in relation to Scotland. The fact that we already have candidates in place for both the Welsh assembly and the Scottish parliament simply underlines the fact that we are a democratic party and that we shall fight elections on whatever basis they are arranged, even though we do not approve of that basis. That is what democracy is about. I appreciate that the Liberal Party perhaps does not understand that.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]860
§ On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
Perhaps I may ask one technical question in relation to subsection (7):The validity of proceedings of the Assembly is not affected by any vacancy in its membership".The assembly is a corporation, and is defined as such in Clause 1, and a corporation aggregate. I was not aware that a vacancy in a corporation aggregate could affect the validity of its proceedings. There must be many, many examples where there has been a vacancy, for example, in the establishment of a government department, a local authority or a statutory body, and where that body has still been able to act effectively. I merely ask Ministers whether, if they believe there is any question about this matter, they will look into it. If this draft subsection is unnecessary, it can only cause trouble. An unnecessary subsection of this nature lends itself to endless unnecessary and undesirable argument.
§ Lord Hylton
When the Minister replies, perhaps he will say whether there will be a quorum laid down for the assembly, and whether that will be in the standing orders or in some other place.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
The matter of a quorum would seem to be for standing orders. In respect of the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on subsection (7), I will certainly examine the matter that he raises, as I hope I always have done in the past, and respond to him as promptly and fully as possible.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Schedule 1 [Assembly constituencies and Assembly electoral regions]:
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
moved Amendment No. 5:Page 78, line 11, leave out ("four") and insert ("five").The noble Lord said: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, for giving a taster of this amendment—though I would recommend that, when the noble Lord comes to eat his leek in Cardiff, I should serve it to him, parboiled, cooled and with a little vinaigrette rather than completely raw.
This group of amendments in my name and those of my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches provides an opportunity for us to examine rather more closely the whole issue of proportionality. It also provides an opportunity to examine the role of the regional members, if I may so call them—the additional members elected from electoral regions. As we scrutinise that matter, it is important to ask the Government what are their future intentions in regard to the electorate from which those additional members are to come.
861 We know that the Euro-constituencies, which are the electoral regions for the purpose of this Bill, are due to come to an end before the next European elections. It is therefore important to have an indication as to whether it is the intention that these regions will continue to be electoral regions for the purposes of the national assembly, or whether some other electoral regions would be appropriate.
Personally, I commend the election of additional members on a regional basis. That will provide us with a further constituency basis in regard to the role of members. I fail to understand the question raised earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the relationship between a constituent and a member being dependent on the fact that there is only one member. I see it as a rather attractive idea that a constituent might have recourse either to a constituency elected member or to a regionally elected member on the party list should a constituent or member of the public wish to take up any issue. In regard to the noble Baroness's remarks on the Spanish Parliament, I have never found any difficulty in relation to any member of the Cortes or the Senate of that parliament being able to raise any issues. Indeed, it would be difficult to prevent my Catalan colleagues in both of those houses from raising any issue—on education or any other matter.
The question of the role of the additional regional members is an important one for this place. It is relevant to rehearse it briefly in this debate. I do not want to see us create a two-tier membership. That seems to be the hint emerging from the noble Baroness: that somehow the first-past-the-post members would have a more realistic mandate because they would be somehow closer to the electorate than those on the party list. But surely those of us who will vote, and use our second vote for the list, will be similarly electing a member and creating a mandate for that member, as would be the case under the first-past-the-post system. The fact that the constituency is to be the same as the Westminster constituency for a member of the national assembly elected on the first system, and that there will be another regional electoral district for the other member, is beneficial to democracy. It implies a multiplicity of experience brought to bear by members representing different areas, although those areas will overlap.
That brings us to the question of the role of regional, or additional, members in relation to regional committees. Regional members representing regions might well provide excellent members for regional committees, thus giving them a further representative role. That is the reasoning behind this set of amendments; namely, that we should have more additional members but within the general parameters of the White Paper and the referendum.
I know that the Government might say later that the number 60 is sacrosanct because that is the number in the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is still referring back to the question of the result and the figures. In relation to this whole debate, I would say this to the noble Lord. If we all accept the result, then we accept it. But we need to accept the political lessons from the result; namely, that there is a need to make the 862 assembly as inclusive—to quote "government speak" on the matter, with which I entirely agree—and as proportionate and representative as possible. For those reasons, I suggest that the numbers in our amendments, whether we take my five or my noble friends' six, provide for greater proportionality.
If we examine the Scottish system—to anticipate what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, may say on this matter—the greater numbers and the greater split between the first-past-the-post members and the regionally elected members provides for greater proportionality than in the Welsh model.
Perhaps we may consider the calculations made on the basis of the results in previous elections and apply them to a potential assembly election. We can see that the present proportionality, together with the present calculation of the AMS system—to which we will come in later amendments for debate tonight—provide an imbalance in favour of the larger parties. There is a "big party" bias in the d'Hondt allocation system which would be reflected in the projected results in Welsh constituencies with the present numbers of members.
That affects the party of Wales, Plaid Cymru, in that as a party we would not be as proportionally represented, certainly in South Wales, under the present additional member system. However, with the allocation of further members, it might be possible to allow for the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, and the Liberal Democrats to be more fairly represented.
I do not make those points for party reasons but because I wish to ensure that the assembly has as broad a spread of representation from as many political parties as possible. I hope that there will be Conservatives there. I shall not name which of the 10 selected members I might prefer to see there, it is a matter for the electorate. I am sure that Mr. Richards will be there, we hope Mr. Andrew and some others will also be there. Whoever it may be, it is important that they feel able to play a part and have a proportional share of power in the bodies. Similarly with the Liberal Democrats, and particularly the Green Party. I would not be at all averse to seeing the occasional independent member from certain regions of Wales represented in the assembly. If we are to have that facility, we need a stronger form of proportionality than is before us at present. Therefore, I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
It is fortunate for me that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I shall speak to Amendment No. 6, in my name.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has already pointed out that the provisions in the Welsh Bill for proportionality do not match those in the Scottish Bill. In that Bill there is a ratio of four constituency members to three list members. In the Welsh Bill it is two to one. Consequently, the proportional element in Wales will not be as strongly felt as it will be in Scotland.
I see no reason that that should be the case. That is why it is proposed that we should have 40 elected members for the 40 constituencies in Wales and 30 elected proportionally by the list system. That is the 863 purpose of my amendment. I endorse much of what the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said but I wish to make this point. In order to make the various committees effective and make them fulfil the function for which they are designed, there must be manpower, or womanpower, and a proper balance. The Bill provides in Clause 58(5) that in the subject committees,the balance of the parties in the Assembly is reflected in the membership".There are six subject committees. The subordinate legislation scrutiny committee is covered by a clause to the same effect, Clause 60(2), which states that the Committee shall be elected,so as to secure that, as far as is practicable, the balance of the parties in the Assembly is reflected in the membership of the committee".The same provision goes for the audit committee, and there are other committees on which members of the assembly will have to serve. In addition to having a balance of parties, it is to be hoped that on the six subject committees and on all the other committees, as well as the regional committees, there should be a balance of interests from all parts of Wales. That represents a huge amount of work for every member of the assembly. But if, for example, a smaller party were to return 10 members, as opposed to the larger party returning 35 to 40 members, Members of the Committee will appreciate that the workload on the individual members will be considerable. They will have to play their part in sitting on each of the committees in order to maintain the party balance.
It is for practical reasons and to make the committee system effective with committees that support the executive of the Welsh assembly, that we suggest that, as in Scotland, it would be sensible to increase the numbers of members to 70 rather than 60 and to include the same proportionality for Wales as there is in Scotland.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, mentioned, I gave a foretaste of this discussion. I had better not say it is part of the "fiddling around with the PR system"; perhaps I had better say "twiddling around with the PR system" or I may have the Liberal Democrats on their feet again. This is the kind of twiddling that inevitably PR invites. If we twiddle it a bit one way, we get a slightly different result and if we twiddle it the other way the result is different again. If we give it a great big twiddle, we can turn the results on their head.
The noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I are at one on this. Four additional members per European constituency is not enough to gain necessarily—although it may gain occasionally—any kind of vague proportionality. One of the problems is that there are conflicting philosophies, conflicting arguments, which have to be compromised. The purest form of proportionality is simply for everyone in Wales to vote for the party of their choice. It is then for the mathematicians to get out a simple calculator and work out what percentage of vote it is and what percentage of the size of the assembly it represents. Then the mathematicians can say to the 864 Labour Party in Wales: "There you are, you can have 30 seats". It would be the same for the Conservative Party, one hopes. I had better watch that I do not get more than the number of seats in the calculation, but I am being realistic. The Labour Party may have half, one would say to the Conservative Party: "You can have 15". Plaid Cymru could have 10 and then whatever is left is for the Liberal Democrats. That is the purest form of PR but it has no constituency link. So if we wish to try to marry the proposals, we must make compromises.
The one thing about the system chosen in the Welsh Bill is that it makes a considerable compromise in the direction of the first-past-the-post seats. The Scottish system of seven additional members in each European seat achieves in many cases quite close proportionality, although not in every case and not exact proportionality. The same is true here. I considered some of the Welsh constituencies on the basis of the last election, and some are quite wide of the mark with four extra members on the basis of proportionality. The Committee might think that I was coming to the conclusion that either the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, or the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was right.
My concern, however, is that the proposal adds members to the Welsh assembly and therefore costs to the Welsh budget and therefore less money for other services in Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, would have 10 additional members of the Welsh assembly. That would add up to quite an additional cost, year on year, which would have to come out of either the health budget or the education budget.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is mindful of that and seeks only five extra members. One could address the problem in a slightly different way if one were prepared to work inside the envelope of 60 members and move away from Westminster constituencies and even European constituencies. It seems pretty irrelevant to me that in both the Bills we are dealing with European constituencies when there is another Bill before us which will make the European constituencies obsolete and out of date. It seems odd that we are using European seats.
If we had four seats in Wales—and I can see the argument for that—it would match the regional committees, to which I shall come later. There is a strong argument, which perhaps the Government will consider, for matching the additional member seats to the regional committees. Then there would be a good link between the regional committees and the additional members. The additional members could ensure that they represented the regions. It would go some way towards increasing the top-up; it would be increased by one which would undoubtedly improve the proportionality.
My problem in relation to increasing the number of members of the Welsh assembly is that when I look at page 22 of this interesting document—The National Assembly for Wales—and see the timetable, it indicates that it will not be the most overworked organisation on earth. In fact, the assembly will meet in plenary session but once a week and committees twice a week. I do not believe that there is a huge amount of work to be done 865 and the more people, the less each of them will do. I am not persuaded therefore that we should increase the numbers.
The point of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in relation to more members helping the committee system sets aside the fact that the Government made a major change in the other place and agreed that the Welsh system should be on a Cabinet-government model and not on a local government committee system model. We welcome that, though I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, does. He seemed to wish for the committee system to be introduced.
The Government made changes in the other place, for which I doubt they received referendum mandates and I say to my noble friend Lord St., Davids that that was not part of the White Paper though I make no complaint about that; it is up to both Houses in discussion to see how matters can be improved and this is an improvement. Because of those changes, the argument that the committees may need more members begins to fade away when it is no longer a local government system. The Government have therefore dug themselves into a hole of their own making. I am interested to hear what defence will be put up.
My difficulty in supporting either of the amendments is that I cannot see any justification for increasing the number of Welsh additional members and therefore the total size of the Welsh assembly. As I indicated, there are other ways of tackling the problem, one of which would be to reduce the number of large constituencies and thereby have more additional members per constituency. That would help, though it would not entirely remove the lack of proportionality that this system brings about.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
These two groups of amendments put forward parallel proposals. The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, increases the number of members from 60 to 65 by increasing the element of regional members, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, increases the number from 60 to 70. Two separate arguments are advanced in support of both proposals. First, it is said that it improves proportionality; secondly, it is said to assist in relation to the discharge of the workload.
As the Government made clear, they believe that 60 members is an appropriate size for the assembly. We expressed that view in our White Paper and that view received the endorsement of the people of Wales in the referendum on 18th September last. Therefore, if we increase the number of assembly members at this stage, it would constitute a major departure from the proposals submitted to and supported by the electorate.
Perhaps I can deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in relation to workload. We do not accept the view that there will be insufficient members of the assembly to enable it to carry out its tasks efficiently and effectively. We want all assembly members to have a meaningful and responsible role. It 866 will be for the Standing Orders Commission to advise on the internal workings of the assembly, but I do not envisage there being numerous large, cumbersome committees involving most members in little more than a never-ending round of committee meetings. I am confident that a 60-member assembly will provide a challenging workload for members without overburdening them.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred to the problem of how the small party will deal with its commitments in relation to its committee membership responsibilities. That is always a problem in democracies. When there are small numbers of elected members, in so far as they must be represented on a specific committee their time will be more stretched than those parties which achieved more in the election and therefore have more people to spread around the committees. Therefore, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that is not a point with which any system could effectively deal.
We believe that our arrangements deliver proportionality. Although there is a substantial first-past-the-post element in the system, the balance we have struck is about right. It is premature to speculate on the result of the elections in 1999 and the extent to which the distribution of seats in the assembly may or may not depart from the proportion of votes cast for each party. The Secretary of State made clear that the Government may look again at the electoral arrangements if, in the light of experience after 1999, they fail to meet our expectations. However, this is not the time to move from the arrangements endorsed by the electorate in the referendum and not much will be achieved by speculation as to what the result and the proportionality of that result may be when the elections come.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, raised a final point: will the Euro-constituencies continue to serve as electoral regions for the assembly after they cease to exist for European election purposes? The answer is yes. Paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 1 specifies those areas as electoral regions and they will continue to serve as such, subject to any modifications in relation to boundaries recommended by the Boundary Commission for Wales.
In the light of those remarks I strongly urge noble Lords not to press the amendments.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I am grateful for the response to this short debate. It has been an opportunity to rehearse the issue of proportionality and, as indicated, there may already be concern among many of us looking to the future pattern of the assembly that the structure may not be adequate to the task in hand. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford made that point clearly as regards the effectiveness of the committee system.
I should like to pursue one aspect a little further; that is, the question of looking again. I noted the commitment from the Secretary of State that he would look again at the electoral system if it did not prove to be adequate. It is important that the Government explain the electoral system clearly to the Welsh public—not that we are thick and do not understand what is going 867 on, as some Members of the Committee seemed to imply earlier; but we have a new system and therefore the effective use of both votes to maximise preference is an important message which it is in the interests of all parties in a democracy to advertise. However, will the Minister kindly come back on the question of when the "look again" may be appropriate?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
The looking again will take place in the light of the experience of the 1999 elections. If and in so far as there will be a look, it will be after those elections. What will be considered is whether it delivers on the expectations described in the course of these debates. I hope that answers the noble Lord's query.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
In view of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 6 to 8 not moved.]
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 1 shall be agreed to.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
The Government should be aware that there is some anxiety in Wales in relation to the size of the assembly. That was accentuated by the plans for the Scottish parliament and for the Northern Ireland assembly.
Most of us who are of Wales pay tribute to the work done by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, which has been involved in devolution for a considerable time. I hold a letter from the director, John Osmond, who feels that the minimum number required for the assembly to function effectively is 80. He says:This case, we believe, has been enormously reinforced by the recent Irish Agreement which will create an Assembly in Northern Ireland with 108 members. This is to represent a population of 1.6 million people".The population of Wales is just under 3 million. The letter continues,There are, of course, special circumstances in the Irish case but, nonetheless, we believe there is an unreasonable disproportion in allowing Wales, with a population of just under three million people, an Assembly with only 60 members".I think that Mr. Osmond and the institute undermine their case to some extent by saying that this creates a problem for operating the complex committee structure that will be required, as the Government have changed their mind on this issue and have gone for a Cabinet-style of operation which should require fewer people on the assembly committee system. Therefore, I believe that the Government have got the numbers about right, but that they should give a little more justification for the figure of 60 by way of membership compared with the 108 for Northern Ireland and the 129 proposed for the Scottish parliament.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
The schedule defines the constituencies and the electoral regions. There is a vast amount in the schedule that goes beyond the ambit of the remarks that the noble Lord has just addressed to the Committee. The schedule is vital if elections to the assembly are to proceed. A vast amount of the detail in the schedule deals with what one could call 868 nuts-and-bolts questions about reviews of the electoral areas and so on. It seems to me that the noble Lord has concentrated alone, if I take his remarks correctly, on numbers. In many ways, we have already had that debate because a number of noble Lords contributed to the proposition that it should be larger by either 10 or 20.
The noble Lord said—I am grateful to him for his characteristic generosity—that the Government have it about right. It is a question of judgment. Circumstances are different in Scotland and they are different in Northern Ireland. If one were a believer in perfect symmetry, the consequence would be over-rigidity. If we all believed in symmetrical constitutional arrangements, none of us could be sitting in your Lordships' House as none of us has had the benefit of being elected by anyone. When we first discussed this matter, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell—I hope I do not misquote him—said that he had discussed the issue domestically and that he had had advice from a higher source in the Crickhowell household that 60 was far too many.
Bearing in mind the modern history of Wales, we believe that, because of the kind of arrangements that we have been accustomed to and because of the necessity for inclusiveness and proportionality, we do not want too large an assembly. Things have been infinitely different in Northern Ireland and at this delicate time I shall not trespass into that area to raise any difficulties, doubts or further dissentions. But Northern Ireland's history of internal democracy over the past 25 years has been that, apart from at local level, there has not been any. For the reasons that were generally alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, there are differences there and they do not focus entirely on the proposition that some people in Northern Ireland do not wish to live in the Union. There are other aspects: religious differences, differences of educational choice, differences of political view and differences of view over the recent history of the island of Ireland since 1922 or so.
In the Bill we have focused centrally on what will work in Wales and on how we deal with the possibility that some in Wales might think that this is too large a gravy train for the old—I put this carefully—county council writ large. We did not want the old county council writ large; we did not want the monoliths, which is why we put forward the AMS system; and we do not want too large a body. But we think that, particularly when one looks at the careful work that NAAG has done—a non-party body which has given excellent advice to the Secretary of State—we have it about right. I cannot say that I would go to the stake, even if invited to, on 59 as opposed to 61. Sixty seems about right in the context of our experience and our knowledge of recent Welsh history. I cannot put it more definitively than that because, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, it is essentially a matter of judgment. I think we are in agreement. We have got it about right.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Clause 3 [Time of ordinary elections]:
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
moved Amendment No. 9:Page 2, line 32, leave out from ("order") to end of line 36 and insert—("() An order under subsection (4) may include any provisions modifying the operation of—The noble and learned Lord said: This government amendment should be considered in conjunction with the power which will be given to the Secretary of State under subsection (4) of Clause 3 to postpone the date of the ordinary elections of community councils in Wales. What we are proposing is that in circumstances where the Secretary of State deems it necessary to exercise his power to postpone the date of the community council elections, it may also be appropriate for the proper and effective conduct of those elections for him to make consequential modifications to the statutory procedures relating to community council elections.
which the Secretary of State considers appropriate in connection with the postponement of polls for which it provides.").
- (a) the Representation of the People Act 1983 (or rules made under that Act), or
- (b) any other enactment relating to elections of community councillors,
It may help to clarify our intentions if I illustrate matters with an example. Next year there are due to be four sets of elections in Wales during the spring and early summer—elections to the assembly, the unitary authorities, the community councils and the European Parliament. The best solution would be to combine the assembly elections with those for the unitary councils on 6th May 1999 and to postpone the community council elections, which are also scheduled for that date, preferably to 10th June, the date of the European parliamentary elections. I should emphasise that the final decision on the new date for the community council elections has not yet been taken, but combining them with the European parliamentary elections remains our preferred option.
It has been pointed out to us, however, that despite the advantages in terms of cost and minimising the potential for voter fatigue, holding the community council elections on 10th June could present some administrative complications regarding the timing of the submission of nominations. If the community council elections are held on 10th June, the statutory date for the submission of the nomination papers would be 13th May, a mere week after the assembly and unitary elections. Elections administrators and their staff will then be heavily engaged in duties relating to the aftermath of the two elections held on 6th May. We are advised that it might be impossible for them fully to comply with their obligations in respect of the delivery of community council nominations.
A possible solution would be to make provision for the community council nomination papers to be submitted on a timescale implied by holding the community council elections at the same time as the unitary authority elections. The community council nominations would then be "frozen" for the elections to 870 be held in June. Candidates for the community councils would be submitting their nomination papers at the same time as unitary authority candidates, at a time when returning officers would be geared up to processing nominations. The European parliamentary nominations are much less of a problem as far fewer candidates are involved.
Such a step would require a change to the timetable applicable to the conduct of community council elections as set out in the Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) Rules 1986. It would be a departure from the procedure laid down in legislation and so requires special provision. This amendment would give the Secretary of State the power to make that provision.
I have given but one example of where it would be advantageous to change statutory procedures for the effective conduct of elections which had been postponed. Doubtless there will be other examples depending on the circumstances in which community council elections may have to be postponed. Accordingly, the amendment is not specific, but ensures that provision is available to enable the Secretary of State is able to take action as appropriate. I repeat: this provision could be used only in circumstances where the Secretary of State had decided to postpone the community council elections and any changes must be appropriate in connection with the postponement. He may not decide to change any provision simply because he may have a mind to. The changes may be modifications only. The order-making power will not enable him to rewrite the rules governing the conduct of the community council elections. Once the assembly has been established, he will be able to exercise that power only if he has first consulted the assembly; so it too would be party to any proposal to make consequential changes to any related statutory procedure. In the light of that rather long explanation, I beg to move.
The Earl of Balfour
I am very happy with the explanation that the Minister has given. Will he look at the bottom of page 13 of the Bill? In Clause 23(3) there is reference to Section 3(4). Does that still apply? I am perhaps straying a little far ahead. In the last two lines there appears this paragraph,(c) Part VII so far as relating to the provisions specified in paragraphs (a) and (b)".That covers several sections. I simply do not understand the words at all. It is a technical point, but will the Minister look at it now before we reach Clause 23?
§ Lord Crickhowell
I wish to probe a little. The Minister gave a very reasonable explanation. One can see perfectly well that there may be very good reasons for altering the dates of elections on practical grounds. However the more I listened to what he had to say the more worried I became, but not because I expect that anything the Minister intends to do will be in the least improper. He provided a series of combinations at which one might arrive. When I went to cast my vote in the London elections last week, I was struck by how significant it was that they coincided with the election as to whether we should have a London mayor.
871 If one has an election for one body in combination with another, that may have very considerable political significance. The point I am seeking to make is a very simple one. One can envisage a circumstance in which a Secretary of State, advised by the political party of which he is a member, might suggest that it would be helpful if an election for a particular body was held at exactly the same time as an election for another body.
I am not greatly comforted by the knowledge that he will have to consult with the assembly because it is quite possible that the Secretary of State might be of the same political party as those who presided over or dominated the affairs of the assembly. What worries me about what has been said is that there is at least some scope provided by this amendment for political manipulation.
I have no doubt that nothing was further from the mind of the Minister who introduced the amendment.
I can quite see that there are practical considerations.
I want to know how we can avoid the possibility that at some future date someone might decide that his or her party were more likely to win the election if it were held in combination with, say, a European election which would not actually fiddle the books.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
The Committee will be very grateful to the Minister for explaining the purpose of this amendment because we are always somewhat suspicious of orders, however well intentioned, that affect the workings of the Representation of the People Act and elections, albeit at the lowest level of local government. Community councils are very important. I am president of my local council's association in the Conwy Valley and I am well aware of the pride they take in their work and their role in local government.
I hope that the Solicitor-General can follow the detail of the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Balfour. As regards the point raised by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, there is tremendous scope here for political manipulation. Even as the Minister spoke about the combination of the assembly election with the unitary authority election on 6th May, which was part of his example, he raised the issue in one's mind of why that particular combination and why that of the community councils and Euro-elections on, possibly, 10th June.
We have a plethora of elections, but the combination gives scope for some political manipulation. One can well ask, for example, whether the assembly election is not more in tune with the European election, bearing in mind that although the Welsh European constituency is changing, nevertheless, we are making use of the old Euro constituencies for the assembly election. Therefore, I believe, that some further explanation is required.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
Perhaps I may first deal with the perfectly legitimate point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. Clause 23(3), to which he drew our attention, allows a power to make orders under Clause 3(4), which is the power to postpone community council elections. It allows them to be transferred to the assembly. If it is not transferred under the power in Clause 3(4), then the power remains to be exercised by the Secretary of State and 872 only after consultation with the assembly. That is how the two interact. I hope that that explains the noble Earl's point.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, raised the point of political manipulation. That came into his head as he heard the explanation that was being given. Perhaps I may explain how the system works. Clause 3(4) gives the Secretary of State the power to postpone community council elections, and only that power. The amendment I have just moved gives the power that, if one postpones, the Secretary of State has the power to make sensible administrative arrangements.
The fear that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has raised must relate not to the amendment that I have moved, but to the power in Clause 3(4). It must be beyond argument that if one is going to be allowed to postpone, one must have the power to make sensible administrative arrangements that go along with it, such as the example that I gave of having a sensible timetable for nominations with which the administration running the elections can cope.
The example given exemplifies the need for Clause 3(4) which provides quite a limited power and relates only to community councils. If one does not have that kind of power one can end up with a large number of elections taking place at about the same time without the manpower to deal with them. It is as simple as that. The power that has been given to deal with that situation is about as limited a power as one could possibly give. It is sensible. There is not that much scope for manipulation. I believe that the matter has been thought through and it is the right conclusion.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I would like to consider very carefully what the Minister has said. The point only came to mind as I listened to his explanation of the clause. It is a risk that we need to avoid. I would like to consider what the Minister said and whether anything further needs to be done.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 4 [Voting at ordinary elections]:
§ [Amendment No. 10 not moved.]
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
moved Amendment No. 11:Page 2, line 42, leave out from ("have") to end of line 9 on page 3 and insert ("one vote (referred to in this Act as a constituency vote).(2) The constituency vote is to be given for a candidate to be the Assembly member for the Assembly constituency.(3) Each registered political party which has submitted a list of candidates to be Assembly members for the Assembly electoral region in which the Assembly constituency is included shall also be assigned a number of votes to be known as "additional member votes".(3A) The number of additional member votes assigned to each party shall be the same as the number of constituency votes cast for the candidate of the party in that constituency.").The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 11 and the amendments with which it is grouped relate to the two-vote system which the Government introduce in this 873 Bill and the Scottish Bill. I believe that the amendments from Amendment No. 17 onwards should be grouped with Amendment No. 11 because the former deal with an individual candidate in the second ballot. Clearly, if my proposition in Amendment No. 11 succeeds, one would not have individual candidates in the second ballot. Therefore, unless something comes to my notice during the Minister's reply, I shall continue to believe that Amendment No. 17 and those grouped with it should be grouped with Amendment No. 11 also.
We are to have a two-vote system. In the first instance, one will enter the polling station and vote in the normal way for party candidates, perhaps even for an independent candidate, and the result will be decided by means of the traditional first-past-the-post method. There will be a second ballot paper on which one will be asked to vote for a party. I believe that that will also contain a box for independent candidates, but I am a little unclear about that because this system has so many variations. Once the party votes on the second ballot are added up, the proportionality system, which the Committee will consider later, will be used to check the total proportionality, including the first-past-the-post members. Up to four top-ups will be allowed to try to bring the totality within the European constituency up to proportionality.
Your Lordships may regard that as fairly straightforward and believe that there is no way that it can be fiddled. I am sorry to use the word "fiddled" again in case it brings the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to his feet. If he waits a little while, he may agree that I have some justification in this instance for suggesting that the system is very much open to considerable fiddling and fixing. In my view, it is open to huge abuse.
I believe that the easiest way to illustrate that is to take the Euro-constituency of Wales North as at 1992, for the very straightforward reason that my party managed to win two seats then. For the purposes of the argument, my party needs to have won a seat or two under the first-past-the-post system. In that Euro-constituency in 1992, the Labour Party would have gained four seats, the Conservatives two, the Liberal Democrats none—I assure the noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches that I did not pick this example deliberately—and Plaid Cymru two. Clearly, I wish to influence the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in the example that I have taken.
One must assume that the votes in the first and second ballots are the same. That may not be a justifiable assumption, but the matter must be approached in that way because that is all the information that is available. If one then calculates the four additional members, the Labour Party would get one additional member, the Conservatives two, the Liberal Democrats one and Plaid Cymru none. That seat would have a total of five Labour, four Conservative, one Liberal Democrat and two Plaid Cymru members.
Because I believe that this system is open to fiddling I have decided to play a tune. My tune is that in Wales the Conservative Party decides to divide itself. Some of my friends set up the Welsh conservative party; others 874 set up the Welsh unionist party. We succeed in being registered as separate political parties. That is an assumption; we have not yet seen the Bill about the registering of political parties and it may not be possible. However, I ask the Committee to assume for the moment that that is possible. The Conservative Party will not appear on the second ballot paper and the unionist party will not put up any candidates on the first ballot paper. When the AMS system is calculated, the Labour Party will achieve no additional members, while the unionists will achieve three and the Liberal Democrats will still manage one. The total will be: four Labour (as opposed to five), five Conservatives and unionists (as opposed to four), one Liberal Democrat and two Plaid Cymru members.
Perish the thought that the Labour Party decides to register two separate parties, one the Welsh labour party and the other the Welsh co-operative party, to take a name from history. When that calculation is made, three co-operative members, no conservatives, one Liberal Democrat and no Plaid Cymru members would be on the AMS list. The result of that particular piece of fiddling would be the election of seven Labour and co-operative members, with two Conservatives, one Liberal Democrat and two Plaid Cymru members. Noble Lords will see what I meant when I said in a previous debate that the proportional representational systems were open to endless fiddling.
In 1997 the position from a democratic point of view—dare I say it—would be even more dramatic. The Conservatives could not play this game because we did not win any first-past-the-post seats but, by jove, the Labour Party could play it on the assumption that it registered separate parties. The Labour Party would stand in the first-past-the-post ballot and the co-operative party would not. In the second vote, the Labour Party would not stand but the co-operative party would. In 1997 the position was that the Labour Party gained six seats, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats none and Plaid Cymru two. On the basis that the fiddle to which I referred did not occur and the Labour Party stood in both ballots, the Labour Party would have gained no additional members, the Conservatives three, the Liberal Democrats one and Plaid Cymru none. The end result would be six Labour, three Conservatives, one Liberal Democrat and two Plaid Cymru members. But if the Labour Party played the tune that I mentioned and set up a separate co-operative party, the additional member system would deliver three additional members to the co-operative party, one to the Conservative Party and—this is where the Liberal Democrats should be worried—none to the Liberal Democrats or to Plaid Cymru. Labour would gain nine seats, the Conservatives one, the Liberal Democrats none and Plaid Cymru two.
I believe that my arithmetic is pretty good. The premise on which I base it is: first, that the first and second votes fall the way that I have suggested; and, secondly, that the Conservative Party manages to split itself and register as the Conservative Party and as the unionist party and that the Labour Party registers as the Labour Party and as the co-operative party. I believe 875 that in that event even the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, would agree with me that fiddling could occur in a very big way.
I would not like the Committee to believe that my devious mind had thought this up on its own. It has not, although it may have done eventually. My attention was drawn to some remarks made by Mr. Ian Davidson, the Labour Member for Glasgow Pollok, in which he said that it would be an excellent idea if a separate co-operative party registered and stood in a separate ballot and the Labour Party did not stand in the second ballot but only in the first. That idea has been floated. It may be that perhaps it is just my fellow countrymen who are particularly devious, but I suspect that the contagion may spread to Wales when people see that they can take advantage of the system.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
The Presbyterians would not allow it but in neither Wales nor Scotland not everyone is as firmly Presbyterian as that. The game could still be played.
Mr. Win Griffiths, Under-Secretary of State at the Welsh Office, was gratifyingly clear in another place. I quote his words with approval:I concede that there may be scope for collusion between and within parties to exploit the two-ballot structure of the additional member system in the manner…described. Such cynical manipulation of the system would be an affront to the electorate and would undermine the democratic credibility of the elected body".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/98; col. 804.]I was gratified to read that.
He went on and made it quite clear on behalf of the Labour Party. He said on 25th March in the other place,On behalf of the Labour party I am prepared to say publicly and openly that my party will not try to deceive the electorate by entering into any such collusion. It would he easy for all the other parties in the House to make a similar commitment, which would kill the split ticket idea altogether".—(Official Report, Commons, 25/3/98; col. 629.]The problem with these assurances, which I absolutely accept are genuinely meant, is this. Being a Presbyterian, I understand the existence of sin and temptation; and at some stage in the future the temptation is there. It is also actually there on another method of fiddling and that is that a minority party—a party which perhaps cannot achieve any first-past-the-past gains—stands only on the second ballot paper. The voters of the party with the overwhelming vote—let us say the Labour Party, in the case of the Euro-constituency of North West Wales—advises its members as follows: "You will be wasting your vote if you vote for us in the second ballot because frankly we have got so many on the first-past-the-post ballot that we are not going to get any top-ups. We suggest you go and vote for that minority party and they will achieve something on the AM system, and of course they will be our partners if we need partners when it comes to forming the assembly government."
This is actually done, I understand, in the German system. In some cases the major party—currently it is the Christian Democrats although at some stage, 876 I imagine, it was the Social Democrats who did the telling—having won so many seats under the first-past-the-post system and knowing it will not get any top-ups, advises its electors to vote for the Free Democrats in the second ballot. This means that the Free Democrats, who did not win any seats under the first-past-the-post system, can actually achieve some seats in the Bundestag and therefore help the Christian Democrats to defeat the Social Democrats, who may well actually be the biggest party after the elections. So these are the two cases—
§ Lord Crickhowell
I thank my noble friend for giving way. Did he hear the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, boasting earlier about pre-election deals between his party and the Labour Party?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I did, but I feel that I have already annoyed the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, sufficiently for one day and should therefore resist any temptation to say that the Liberal Democrats would consider any such deals. Indeed, although I am not allowed to quote, one of their Welsh Members in, I think, the Committee stage in the other place, indicated that the Liberal Democratic Party would not wish to abuse the system either. Mr. Livsey indicated that the Liberal Democrats would not wish to abuse the system.
However, the problem is still there. The two-vote system is open to serious abuse. I cannot quote a Welsh example, but I know it is seriously being talked about in Scotland and I suspect that if it starts in Scotland the contagion may spread to Wales. I would hate to see that happen. I would be tempted to stop it in the Scottish Bill as well. There are a variety of ways in which one could stop it. Indeed, my honourable and right honourable friends in the other place mentioned some. One is to link the first ballot to the second ballot so that if you do not stand in the first ballot you cannot stand in the second. That is a possible way out of the dilemma. But the simplest solution is to have one vote only so you only vote once, which is first-past-the-post. If your man or woman wins, their votes are then added up and become the basis of the additional member system. Any sleight of hand or fiddle is not possible because people have only one vote, exercised on the first-past-the-post system.
This is a genuinely serious problem. I accept that most political parties would not use these tactics but the very fact that they have been thought about in one particular constituency means that, particularly in Scotland where Labour would win all the first-past-the-post seats but would not, if my recollection is correct, win any later—as in North-West Wales where the Labour Party would win six first-past-the-post votes but would not get any of the additional four—there is (dare I say?) too great a temptation put before politicians. I beg to move.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)
I have to inform your Lordships that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 12.
§ Lord Hylton
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, described his own mind as being devious. 877 I think I would prefer to call it fertile and ingenious. However, perhaps the "plain man's answer" to him is that these two votes should be cast on the same day and at the same time. Secondly, I suggest that the proposed registrar of political parties should have the strictest instructions not to register pseudo-parties.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
It seems to me that what the noble Lord overlooks is that voters are not stupid, and since the whole basic premise of our democratic arrangements is that one trusts voters to have at least a grain of common sense—though not as much as anyone in your Lordships' House, of course—one begins on rather an unhappy basis. The noble Lord earlier was quite lyrical in his support of the first-past-the-post system—how it was stable and accountable—and as I was listening to him with care the year of 1951 floated into my mind. If I remember rightly, Labour then had the majority of votes in the United Kingdom but ended up with a minority of seats.
There is no electoral system presently known or capable of being devised by the human mind which is going to be perfect. Of course there is the potential for collusion. Some call it collusion and some tactical voting. I believe the Conservative Party has had knowledge of that in recent times following the re-held election where an original deficit of two turned into a Labour majority of well over 20,000. People do vote tactically. I beg your Lordships' pardon; I meant Liberal Democrat. Before the noble Lord says that there is a significant difference, I must make that clear.
This is a solution worked out by the fertile mind of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I shall not speculate on the nature of the fertiliser which produced the fertility but his proposals, I am bound to say, would bring about something which is really a further distortion. What he suggests I understand, is that voters are allowed one vote only for the constituency candidate. Then the votes for that candidate in each electoral region are aggregated to constitute a party list vote for that region. So a vote for a party candidate in a constituency is automatically going to be a vote for the same party list in the electoral region. There would be no option to vote for the party list. The composition of the list would have to be taken into consideration when making the constituency selection.
I believe that to be wrong. If we go back to the point, which was well raised and well dealt with by my noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General, and also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that one wants a constituency connection, why should that constituency connection be distorted by the fact that you would only have the one vote, and if you vote for your constituency member your vote is aggregated in the way that I mentioned? It means that the four additional members are reduced to the status of being indirectly elected. Why, in the context of Wales, if voters wish to vote for the candidate of one party in the constituency and the list of another party in the region, should they not have that choice?
878 There are people, I am told—though I whisper it low—who might wish to vote Labour on the party list but who might want to vote either for a Liberal Democrat candidate in the single member constituency because they favoured that individual, or for a Plaid Cymru candidate because they favoured that individual—or because they wanted to show their belief in inclusiveness and diversity. Why should they not have that opportunity?
There is something much more important, I think. This proposal would have a serious, if not devastating, impact upon the ability of smaller parties to mount a realistic campaign. Not all small parties are by definition extremists. They have a democratic right to put themselves forward to the voters and the voters have the reciprocal right, I suggest, to the opportunity to consider whether to vote for them. For smaller parties, the main hope, life being such as we know it to be, of winning seats in the assembly may well be the party list vote in the electoral region.
Under the presently proposed scheme, in order to maximise its potential for party list seats a party would have to run candidates in every constituency in the electoral region. That is a daunting prospect for a small party, which would have to find suitable candidates and resources to contest between seven and nine constituencies per region. I offer this on a plate: it would have meant that the modern Labour Party could never have come into existence because in its infancy it would not have had the resources. The same would have been true of the nascent Liberal Party in the latter third of the 19th century and the same would undoubtedly have been true of Plaid Cymru because it would not have had the resource or candidates available to stand in every constituency.
Why should they be denied the opportunity to concentrate their resources to the best advantage? There might be constituencies in Wales where a single party—for instance, the Greens—had particular support and on which it wanted to concentrate. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, made a point a long time ago, as it presently seems and actually is, when we were first discussing the principle of referenda and Welsh assemblies. He stated that we ought to have a tender consideration for the interests of those who are genuinely independent. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, would mean that no independent candidate would be able to run in the electoral region, and we believe that to be wrong.
There is the possibility for collusion. My honourable friend Mr. Win Griffiths gave the undertaking on behalf of the Labour Party that we would not in any circumstance attempt to deceive the electorate by entering into any collusion. The Liberal Democrats have said the same and I take it as axiomatic that had the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, contributed to the debate he would have repeated his party's commitment. I do not believe that the voters are as stupid as people sometimes pretend. It would require a degree of sophisticated cynicism, and I accept that as a possible condition of the political scene, but it would require a good deal of organisation. Most people are 879 unwilling to be organised on the basis of cynicism; they prefer to be organised on the basis of either idealism or ideology.
What will happen if there is collusion? The other political parties would rightly expose it. Undoubtedly, the media would be on to it like a dog on to a rat. In the end, that would do no good at all to the party which was trying to manipulate. I did not have my pencil to hand and therefore was unable to follow the noble Lord's subtle mathematical calculations concerning what might or might not have happened in certain elections in the northern part of Wales. He may well be right. However, if one acts on the basis that one is trusting the Welsh people to run their own affairs in an assembly for Wales, one might as well trust them to recognise what they would plainly regard as deceit being practised upon them.
The serious consequences which would inure from what the noble Lord said are much too gross a distortion of the right to stand and the right to vote. Although there is a point to what he said, I believe that his solutions are infinitely worse than the problems he predicates.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that no electoral system is perfect. He carries approbation with that. Some are worse than others, and in my respectful opinion the party list is the worst of all. The party managers already have far too much power. We read of manoeuvres to stop X or Y becoming mayor of London. No one who has had anything to do with politics can fail to be aware of the omnipresent and far too powerful influence of party managers. The party list system gives them extra power. They can compile their own list of favourites and keep off those whom they do not favour.
That shows that we are rushing into the situation without any proper consideration of what is the best system of proportional representation, if we are to have one at all. The fault is not purely that of the Government, although our present situation is of their manufacture; it is also partly the fault of their predecessors. In Session after Session last Parliament, in debates on the Queen's Speech there were pleas for a Royal Commission on the constitution. It could then consider a number of interrelated questions which we are now trying to deal with separately; for instance, a referendum, an electoral system and second Chamber reform. There are many issues. The plea was made repeatedly, but one Government Minister after another came to the Dispatch Box and stated, in effect, that everything in the constitutional garden was lovely and that there was no need for an inquiry. Therefore, if the Opposition are now uncomfortable their leaders are not entirely blameless.
That does not by any means excuse the Government in rushing us into a system which is subject to grave disadvantages. A Royal Commission is one thing, but a two-party committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, is quite another. I have been a colleague of the noble Lord in one place or another for many years and I have high respect for him. I should 880 like to flatter myself with personal friendship. However, the proposal is not a satisfactory way of dealing with the matter.
Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was right when he spoke on the referendum Bill that if we had no Royal Commission behind us the first thing to consider was where a referendum was appropriate and what type of referendum there should be; should it be pre-legislative, post-legislative, ask a number of questions or a single question? What was not suggested was the fudge in which two questions should be put together, outrageously so in the elections for a London mayor, as the Liberal Democrats pointed out. If a mayor of London necessarily involved having a corporation of London and vice versa only one question was justified. But no one claimed that and so we had the familiar fudge. We are now faced with the question of what type of proportional representation we shall have. A system which surrenders yet more power to the party managers is unacceptable.
I make one general comment. In the debate on an earlier amendment, I ventured to point out that the Bill has no political legitimacy. Perhaps I should modify that. Its sole political legitimacy is that in general, all parties wish it well. But that really demands a very different attitude from the Government; namely, one in which they are prepared to take your Lordships as a council of state and to show some reasonable flexibility. We have had no flexibility at all today.
I remember many years ago being concerned with the late Lord Runcorn on a licensing Bill in another place. He genuinely treated the committee as a co-operative body. He retained sufficient authority and was trusted to prevent the Bill becoming out of shape. But otherwise, he was prepared to consider amendments on their merits. Today, all that we have had has been negative. As the Committee will know, every one of the Minister's briefs end either with "accept", "reject" or "consider". The noble Lord, Lord Williams, is in charge of this Bill. It is entirely up to him what should be the response. In the circumstances, it should be at the very least "consider". It should certainly not be what we have had so far—"reject, reject, reject".
As regards this amendment, it seems to me from the Cross-Benches that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made a formidable case and I really believe that the Minister should be prepared to consider it on its merits.
§ 7 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, very kindly referred to the question which I raised when we debated the White Paper for Wales as regards independents. Is there to be any mechanism whereby independents will be able to appear on the additional member list?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am not sure whether my noble friend's question was directed at the Minister or myself. As I mentioned right at the beginning of the debate, Amendment No. 17 and subsequent amendments should have been grouped 881 together because if my amendment were to succeed, there would not be a second list and therefore provision for independents on the second list would fall.
As presently constituted, there could be independents on the second list. However, I should be totally and utterly amazed if any independent ever gains enough votes in those large constituencies in order to achieve the breakthrough in an additional member system to reach the fourth position in Wales or the seventh position in Scotland.
I am grateful for the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, whose approval of devolution is well known—he has voiced it on a number of occasions. I hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, might show a slight glimmer that he understood the problem that I was posing. Certainly his honourable friend in the other place understood that. The problem is real. My solution may not be the best one and it may be open to more debits than credits, but the problem is real; it exists.
I did not suggest for one moment that voters are stupid. Indeed, the whole case I made was that the voters are intelligent and will see how to manipulate the system. If we take the North Wales Euro-constituency at the last election, every Labour voter would see the situation perfectly clearly. The Labour Party won six out of the eight seats on first-past-the-post. It was a waste of their time voting for the Labour Party in the second ballot. Therefore, they would see very clearly that the sensible and intelligent option for them was to vote for the Welsh Co-operative Party in order to make sure that their party, in combination with the Welsh Co-operative Party, would have the overwhelming majority of seats in the Welsh assembly. Far from thinking that the electorate could be duped by this, I believe that many voters would see that that was the only way to prevent their vote being totally and utterly wasted.
I deal now with squeezing out small parties. I know that I trotted out figures. I was conscious of the fact that it is not always easy to remember all the figures and the relationship between them. However, in north-west Wales at the last election, if a method were found to stop fiddling along the lines I suggested, then the Liberal Democrat Party—in that case, it could reasonably be described as a small party—and the Conservatives Party would gain one seat and three seats respectively. However, if the fiddle I fear were to happen did happen, the smaller of the two parties would be squeezed out entirely. The Liberal Democrats would not win any seats and the Conservatives would win only one because the co-operative party would win three of them. Therefore, far from my method squeezing out small parties, if that manipulation were carried out—and I concede that it is a big "if"—the small parties would be squeezed out. The whole point is that the big player would not only win seats on the first-past-the-post system, but would also, in his alter ego, gain seats through the additional member system.
The Minister did not convince me at all that my problem is not a real one. Indeed, it does happen in Germany. People do understand that entirely. If you are a Christian Democrat and you want your party to run 882 the country—after all, that is what the first-past-the-post system allows your party to do when it wins—you achieve that in certain circumstances where your party is a heavy beneficiary of first-past-the-post by using your second vote for the minority party which will form a coalition with you. In that way, you can make sure that your party, with a minor partner, wins even though the other party which is sitting on the opposition benches has gained more seats than anybody else. That is the reality of proportional representation.
I am sorry that the noble Lord has not given an indication that he appreciates the point I was making. I understand that my amendment would remove the cross-voting which people see as a merit in the additional member system. I do not see that, but I understand the argument in favour of cross-voting being available in the additional member system.
However, the Government should see whether they can arrive at a better answer than that which I have managed to achieve today. They must try to defeat that sort of fiddle happening in the future. I shall read with great care what the Minister said, although, in all honesty, it will not take me very long. I shall also turn my mind to other methods of achieving the same result; namely, to stop serious fiddling of which we have already been given notice by a Labour Member of the other place. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 12 to 14 not moved.]
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [Additional member system: party lists and individual candidates]:
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
moved Amendment No. 15:Page 3, line 25, at end insert ("who shall publish the list at the earliest available opportunity and ensure that it is clearly displayed at each polling station in the Assembly electoral region.").The noble Lord said: This is a fairly simple amendment to ensure that the returning officer publishes the list. Along with my noble friend Lady Young, I believe that the entire PR system as drafted by the Government will come as a considerable surprise, if not a shock, to the Welsh electorate. They are not accustomed to voting simply for a political party. They like to have the ability to choose between candidates. They like to know their representative personally. They are now to be confronted with a closed list system in the five electoral regions for the election of 20 assembly members. They will have to vote for a party and a list of candidates standing in its name. They will not know the party's order of preference for its candidate unless the party chooses to reveal it. Personally, I should have preferred an open list where the votes are cast for individual party representatives rather than the parties themselves. However, that is not the Government's proposal. As I understand it, they have decided against what I call the Belgian system or, indeed, any adaptation of it.
It seems to me that the least we can do on the face of the Bill is to insist that the regional returning officer "shall publish" the lists of party candidates when they are submitted to him. It is possible that the parties will 883 do so in any case, but they are under no statutory obligation. We certainly believe that Welsh electors are entitled to know, when they vote for a particular party, who may be elected to the assembly as a result of their vote.
There is, of course, a further reason for publication of the lists; namely, their continuing importance in the period between elections in the event of a vacancy occurring among the additional members in a particular region. The successor will be the next on the list from which the vacating member has withdrawn. Obviously, it is important that he should know just where he stands on the list in between elections. I commend the amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
In my response, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. I believe that the noble Lord's remarks have a good deal of validity. We are indeed considering a number of options, including the suggestions which are described and encompassed in Amendment No. 15. In the London referendum, the ballot paper question was shown on a notice in every polling station and on every polling station compartment. We are looking at the possibility of doing something similar as regards displaying party lists.
However, we have to be careful that we do not prejudice the chances of independent candidates who may also want to stand for the electoral regions. The answer to the question posed earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, which I was not in a position to deal with at the time, is yes. There will be the opportunity for independents to stand for election. We must ensure that we look after the independent candidates rather than just flooding them with information about the party lists.
Some polling stations are very small; indeed, they are only caravans. So we shall also need to consider that. Our officials are discussing the practicalities of the suggestions made by the noble Lord with representatives of the elections administrators in Wales. I hope that the noble Lord will find that a helpful response. My only lasting and continuing regret is the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale is, yet again, not present in the Chamber when I am being accommodating to suggested amendments.
As regards publishing the lists as soon as possible after their having been submitted, I am bound to say that, in principle, that seems a thoroughly sensible idea. After all, at parliamentary elections, the acting returning officer is required to publish a statement of the persons nominated once the period of making objections to nominations has expired. We shall need to make similar provision for the assembly elections, and we are considering the practicalities of putting into effect the general approach which has been indicated most helpfully by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts.
There are details involved, but not unimportant ones. We are in the process of drawing up an assembly elections procedure order which will lay down the rules and regulations for the conduct of the assembly elections. That is the appropriate vehicle, but it can only approach putting principle into effect if we consider 884 with care the ideas which have been put forward. I assure Members of Committee and the noble Lord that we shall do so. The elections order is intended to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in this Chamber and in the other place. We anticipate it being presented to Parliament before the end of this year. Therefore, I give my undertaking—I hope, co-operatively—that we shall look at the suggestions made, which I certainly regard as constructive. That being so, I shall ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment in due course.
Amendment No. 16 is essentially technical. It specifies that the list submitted to a regional returning officer by a political party has legal force for the purposes of the coming election to which it relates and remains in force for the term of the assembly elected at that election. So the lists submitted to the regional returning officer will be used for allocating any additional member seats to which the parties may be entitled. The appropriate party list will be used to determine the filling of vacancies in electoral region seats between ordinary elections. I hope that my amendment is regarded as a helpful one. I believe that it is entirely consistent with the observations put forward by the noble Lord when he proposed Amendment No. 15. Therefore, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply. We look forward to the further development of the idea of publishing the lists. I shall be only too happy to withdraw my amendment.
However, with regard to the Government's amendment, to which the noble Lord has just spoken and the validity of the list in between elections, my impression is that the party has to be notified in the first instance, rather than the returning officer, if the candidate chooses to withdraw. It seems to me that all the emphasis is on the party in that context and that not enough regard is being paid to the interests of the individuals on the list. Indeed, a great deal can happen to individuals on the list in the course of the best part of four years between elections. It seems to me that there should be some provision whereby a candidate can withdraw without necessarily going through the party. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
moved Amendment No. 16:Page 3, line 25, at end insert—("() The list has effect in relation to—On Question, amendment agreed to.
- (a) the ordinary election, and
- (b) any vacancies in seats of Assembly members returned for Assembly electoral regions which occur after that election and before the next ordinary election.").
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
moved Amendment No. 17:Page 3, leave out lines 32 and 33.885 The noble Lord said: I indicated earlier that the principal reason for this group of amendments was that they teamed up with the previous group, in respect of which I discussed the problem of manipulation of the double-ballot system. I said then that I probably would not move these amendments unless something occurred to me. I have to say that something has indeed occurred to me, which I should like to share with Members of the Committee. I ask the Minister not merely to comment upon it but, even more importantly, to think upon it.
Towards the tail end of my observations on the last amendment, I said that I doubted whether an independent candidate would ever be able to achieve enough votes on the four-member additional system by the d'Hondt method to succeed in being elected. I do indeed think so in the case of a genuine independent. However, having got myself into a devious frame of mind as a result of the last amendment, it occurs to me that a person posing as an independent candidate, who in fact is a member of a considerable party worthy of high repute, could decide to stand as an independent in the additional member system.
The advantage would occur only in seats like the one that I instanced for north-west Wales when the Labour Party—indeed, it could be any of our parties—won such a significant share of the first-past-the-post seats that it really was not achieving any additional member seats. For example, Mr. Ron Davies, who has achieved devolution for Wales, might decide that he could easily stand in north-west Wales as an independent candidate. In that second vote, the Labour votes would no longer be wasted; they could all vote for Ron of the assembly. I presume that is how these things happen in Wales, or at least it does in the films about Wales that I have watched. As I said, they could all vote for Ron of the assembly and he would get all those votes and would take one of the additional member seats. For the life of me I cannot see any way that could be avoided.
I accept that that example is slightly flippant, but it is not completely flippant. Someone could be elected because of his or her well-known prominence as a member of a political party and through taking the independent route on the additional member system, safe in the knowledge that he was so well known by the supporters of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, or Plaid Cymru, that he would achieve more than enough votes in the second ballot from his own party members to enable him to gain a seat via the d'Hondt system.
I accept that the fertile minds in the Welsh Office have probably not come up with this particular wrinkle. The Minister may perhaps wish to reflect on it. I would be grateful to hear his thoughts on what I think is a less likely way round the system than the one I mentioned a few minutes ago, but nevertheless I believe that it exists. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
These amendments would mean that independents would not be able to stand for election in electoral regions. Speaking for a Labour Government, I abominate the suggestion that 886 there should be any undue party control over who should stand in elections. I share the horror that was expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that that should be in anyone's contemplation. It is true that independents do not always win elections, but sometimes they do. At least four, five or six of us will remember what happened at Merthyr Tydfil when the late S.O. Davies refused to stand down. A party representative was put forward and S.O. Davies, who in effect stood as an independent—I do not think one could ever contemplate anyone more independent than the late S.O. Davies—roundly trounced the party candidate. As I said, on occasions, independents can win. If we want a pluralist democracy, which we do—we have demonstrated that in our entire approach to the assembly—there ought to be the opportunity for those who wish to represent no party to stand as independents.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. .I understand the point he is making. Much to the detriment of my party, an independent won a seat at the previous general election. He is not present today but I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, won a seat as an independent. I do not dispute that proposition. I have no problem with that. I do not think that my amendments were designed to deal with the first ballot which, of course, would have allowed all the people we have just discussed to stand for first-past-the-post seats. The problem I highlighted concerned the second, top-up ballot. I was not sure whether the noble Lord would discuss that. In case he did not, I thought I might try to prompt him.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I was just about to turn to that; in fact my tongue was already pronouncing the first syllable of it. One of the problems of the noble Lord's approach is that—as I ventured to suggest earlier—his solutions are worse than the problems which he claims to identify. Does one want representatives of small parties to have the opportunity to stand for election? The answer from the Government's point of view—and, I believe, from that of the Liberal Democrats—is yes. Do we want independents to have the opportunity to stand for election? The answer is yes. If amendments are proposed which negate the possibility of that occurring, they are not a sign of an inclusive, pluralist society or assembly.
The noble Lord said that in certain circumstances, given a certain fertility of mind—to use his term—one can produce scenarios which may not necessarily please him and may not please the rest of the Committee. It is, I suppose, the bogeyman approach to electoral reform. I take the point that in some circumstances—as no system is perfect—results will occur which would not be welcome either to the noble Lord or to me, but that is democracy. We cannot always have what we regard as a perfect solution if we trust the people. We believe that the system we have will be representative and will be constituency-member related for the reasons that the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General outlined earlier. It will allow those parties which have no success in present circumstances under the first-past-the post system the chance of obtaining reasonable representation.
887 I have now found my pencil and will do my own calculations. If the Conservative Party in Wales obtains 20 per cent. of the votes in the assembly elections, it will probably have about 12 members; in other words, a perfect fifth. That is a benefit. I do not particularly want Conservative members in the assembly as a matter of practice, but as a matter of principle alternative views should be adequately and reasonably represented, to use the phrase that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, mentioned earlier.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am grateful to the noble Lord for those comments. This is Committee stage and therefore I believe we can pursue this matter a little further. My concern is not that which the noble Lord appears to express. My concern is that a political party which is in a dominant position could easily persuade its voters—I could be easily persuaded in this circumstance—to use the second vote in the alter ego way I suggested in my earlier amendment, or to support an independent who was quite clearly a leading member of that party. It is that circumstance that I am concerned about. That process would block out the smaller parties, as I explained with regard to my previous example. I have not given a worked example on the problem that we are highlighting at the moment. I am sorry to keep on about the Labour Party but it holds all the seats we are discussing. However, this matter could equally arise if my party held all the seats in an area. If the Labour Party was to gain no seats under the additional member system—that is what would happen in north west Wales—one way round that would be the way that I suggested earlier, and another way—
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am replying to the point made by the Minister. We had better not have interventions on top of interventions. My worry is that an independent who was really a Labour Party man could stand, mop up these Labour votes which would otherwise be wasted, and find a way round the legitimate additional member system and—dare I say it?—probably knock out the Liberal Democrat's fourth representative in that constituency.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I rise to speak to enable the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to intervene.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
I am constantly irritated in the debate between "Lestyn" Mackay and "Taffy" Falconer by the reference to north west Wales. This is the north Wales constituency. That is my point.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
The Labour Party has given a categoric assurance that we shall not do such deals, as have the Liberal Democrats. I imagine that Plaid Cymru would have the same view.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
That leaves only the Conservative Party, as far as I am aware. If that party gives that assurance, we can all rest happy not in our beds but at our supper.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am certainly happy to give that assurance. However, if I may say so, that would be the same as asking us to give assurances about many other matters which concern electoral law; namely, that we would not do this, that or the other which is against the law. While that may be a good debating point for this Chamber, I do not think it is valid from the point of view of having a proper legislative framework. However, having made my purist point on that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 18 not moved.]
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
I beg to move that the House do now resume and that the Committee stage be adjourned until not before 8.30 p.m.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.