We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are probing amendments. This is a Bill that starts by declaring that there is "to be" an Assembly when there already is an Assembly. In due course, we will come to clauses that establish what happens to that existing Assembly. It is reasonable to ask, however, why the Bill is drafted in this way. As this is in part a consolidation measure and in part new legislation, it may be argued that it is tidier and simpler to proceed in this way. However, there is a danger: this is a big Bill. There are some easily identified clauses that we can all recognise as important. But there is a risk that we will miss or fail to detect other clauses that make changes which may be very important.
It is also a fact that as events have moved on since the Bill was drafted revision of some clauses may be required. We already have government Amendments Nos. 5 and 6, for example, which do just that. It is very desirable that the Minister should clearly identify, clause by clause, and as we proceed, where the drafting simply replicates existing legislation and where changes are being made and for what reason. My amendment provides an opportunity to make some general points that have not been addressed at Second Reading. I made my general position very clear during the Second Reading debate. I do not think that we should go back to the structures in place before the referendum. I think that our job is to attempt to make the post-referendum Assembly Government more effective, in so far as we can do that, by building on the experience of the existing Assembly, and so long as we do not go beyond the authority granted by the Welsh people in that referendum.
The previous legislation, in my judgment, went too far in seeking to impose procedures on the Assembly that would have been much better decided by the Assembly itself. If we are to have an Assembly with wide powers, surely it should be allowed to decide its own procedures in the light of its own experience. Parliament should limit itself to imposing procedures that are required to ensure constitutional propriety and to prevent it acting beyond the powers that have been granted to it by Parliament, but should not attempt to impose other matters on the Assembly. The Bill removes, or relaxes, some of the procedural restrictions, but we will need to consider whether the Government have got the balance right, and in particular whether the role given to the Secretary of State is appropriate. There are some Liberal Democrat amendments that raise that issue with which I have some sympathy.
The report of the Constitution Select Committee of this House comments on that subject in paragraph 18 on page 10, when it points out that Clause 29 requires the Standing Orders of the Assembly to make specific provision on the party political composition of committees. It tells us that there is no comparable provision in the Scotland Act 1998 in relation to committees of the Scottish Parliament. It concludes:
"It may be thought that clause 29 is an inappropriate incursion into matters that should be left for the Assembly to determine for itself".
That is exactly the kind of interference that I have sought to identify, and we should look to see whether there are other cases.
The performance of the existing Assembly has been mixed. Much of what it does is, I fear, barely recognised by the people of Wales. That may be the fault of the media, which is not exactly comprehensive in its coverage of the Assembly's activities. It is probably better known for what it has got wrong than for its achievements. One Assembly Member has told me that at least in part that is due to weaknesses in the present structure and the procedural limitations to which I have already referred. Clearly, the situation will be considerably helped by the separation of the Executive role from the legislative and scrutiny functions. That is a change that I warmly welcomed at Second Reading.
There is an important need for arrangements that make clear where responsibility lies, but that does not mean that it will always be wise to take within the responsibility of the Assembly all the functions for which it is responsible. Even if their nature may change, there will still be a useful role for quangos and for the contribution of individuals with wide experience who are prepared to offer their skills in public service. Time alone will tell whether it has been wise, for example, to absorb within the Assembly the work of the Welsh Development Agency and the Welsh Language Board. I have my doubts about that, particularly in the case of the Welsh Language Board.
There is a need for arrangements that enable Assembly Members to challenge, and if necessary bring to heel, Members of the Executive. That has been amply proved by the extraordinary conduct of Mr Pugh, whose treatment of Geraint Talfan Davies—whose contribution to and knowledge of Welsh culture and the arts far exceeds his own—has in my judgment been disgraceful. The manner in which he has dealt with the Arts Council of Wales and arts funding has caused well justified and widespread anger and concern. I cite that simply as an example of where there is a need for independent and separate judgment by Assembly Members of the actions of the Executive.
The changes that we make to the Bill may not prevent in the future ministerial folly or incompetence. But as we move from one form of assembly to another, we can ensure that the lines of responsibility are clear; and that the elected Members of the Assembly are in a position to prevent abuse and to keep the people of Wales fully informed about the way in which government is being conducted in Wales.
On Amendment No. 2, which will be moved shortly from the Liberal Democrat Benches, the proposition was debated in a committee of the Assembly, and rejected by seven votes to one with two abstentions. If we are to take the Assembly seriously, perhaps we should take its advice on this matter. I beg to move.
In proposing Amendment No. 2, it is necessary for us as a party to state where we are coming from as regards the kind of assembly we wish to see. Our amendment would insert that there should be,
"a Parliament for Wales to be known as the 'Senedd'".
For a long time we have stuck to important principles. We wish to see created a Welsh parliament with primary law-making powers; we want that parliament to have 80 members; and we want to see it elected by the single transferable vote. If that is the case, it is entirely logical for that body, which would have primary legislative powers, to be called a "senedd". Indeed, Her Majesty opened the senedd on
Amendments Nos. 1 and 3, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, are eminently sensible. They clarify the situation. There is a need to spell out the obvious: that there is indeed a National Assembly for Wales at present. That is a fact. That is clarified by those amendments.
Our proposal in Amendment No. 2 is simple. We wish to see the legislative body called the senedd.
The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said that his amendment related to what sort of parliament "we wish to see". That is an aspiration. As the Bill is drafted, even if there were 80 members, and STV, that would not alter its nature. Words have a baggage; they have a meaning. A parliament is very different from an assembly. A parliament may come in time but even with the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, the body could not amount to a parliament.
As regards the word "senedd", some of us who attended the opening of the new building at the beginning of March were a little concerned about the use throughout of the Welsh words rather than the English. I yield to no one in being in favour of bilingualism. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord who introduced the Welsh Language Act some 10 years ago and the way in which that has effectively defused what could have been a highly combustible debate within Wales in respect of the language. The Conservative Party did a great service to Wales as regards that Act, preventing, say, the language division of Belgium and several other countries. Yet the Assembly has chosen to use the Welsh word for "chamber", for example. If we believe in bilingualism, we should be consistent. The sad thing is that those who were responsible for the naming of the parts of the Assembly have chosen Welsh words, suggesting that their commitment is essentially to monolingualism. I raise that matter as a pointer and a danger, but I hope that it will be recognised that it is not in the spirit of the Welsh Language Act and not in the spirit of bilingualism. I suspect that the noble Lord on the Benches opposite will have a certain sympathy for it.
On the amendment dealing with whether we use the word "parliament" or "senedd" to describe the present Assembly, I consider this a matter of considerable principle. Members of the Committee may ask, "What is in a name?". As Shakespeare put it,
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".
But not when one is dealing with parliamentary draftsmanship and not when names are symbolic of the hopes and aspirations of a whole community. That is, essentially, what the amendment is about.
I shall make my submissions briefly. First, there is a very solid precedent for the use of the word "senedd", at least in its English form. In the legislation of 1978, which preceded the referendum of 1979—the Committee will remember that the Act of Parliament set up the structure of that institution but it was up to the Welsh people to accept it or not and in the event they did not—the term used for the body was not "assembly" or "parliament", but "senate". Therefore, one should always remember that there is that solid and respectable precedent to be built upon.
Secondly, I do not believe there is anything pejorative in the use of the word "senate". Some people in Wales have argued that it has indeed an unfortunate connotation, coming from the Latin senex, meaning an old man and, therefore, that it depicts a body of senile people. I am quite sure that the average age of Members in the Welsh Assembly at present is somewhat younger than that of both Houses at Westminster.
We also have the precedent of the Scotland Act 1998. The Scots achieved a parliament. As the jurisdiction, particularly the legislative jurisdiction, of the Welsh body was not exactly on a par with Scotland, it might be argued that that distinction should be drawn. But we are now dealing with a Bill that closes that gap considerably. Part 3 of the Bill will enable substantial legislative decisions to be made on a fairly regular basis. Part 4 will create a full-blown legislature. It will be up to the Welsh people whether or not they opt for it, but that option will be there. That enabling legislation will be a fact and a reality if this Bill passes.
Furthermore, there have been, as Members of this House are well aware, very many home rule Bills over the past century or so—I think they go back to about 1880. In each case, as far as I know, there was a reference, not to an assembly, but to a parliament. Therefore, bearing in mind that in 1978 a body that did not have half the authority held by the present body was called a senate, it would be retrograde and strange to adhere to the term "assembly".
I heard, with great respect, the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. However, the short point is that there is no such term of art in the nomenclature "assembly" as to tie this House to any particular form of constitution. It is a general term. Again, it seems that if we adopt this amendment—I doubt whether the Government will be so completely accommodating—it would not do more than show respect for the hopes and aspirations now generally held by a majority in Wales as to a form of government that would be worthy of the Welsh nation.
I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for opening in his usual poignant and effective style the first Committee debate of the Bill and for highlighting the simple fact that we already have a National Assembly for Wales, and have done so since the Government of Wales Act 1998. Section 1 of that Act states:
"There shall be an Assembly for Wales to be known as the National Assembly for Wales or Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru".
Those words of translation were carefully chosen and debated at that time. We should be careful before making an abrupt change. We must be sure that it would be acceptable to the Welsh people. Let us not forget that "Senedd" is the word normally used in Welsh to describe this Parliament of Westminster, which is somewhat different from "Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru". The next subsections of Section 1 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 state:
"The Assembly shall be a body corporate", and that the,
"exercise by the Assembly of its functions is to be regarded as done on behalf of the Crown".
When one compares the content of that section with the content of the first clause of this Bill—and, indeed, the remainder—one begins to realise the extent of the change envisaged in the new Bill. The new Assembly is not a later model; it is a new creation. It is not, as a whole, a body corporate—that status is confined to the Assembly Commission. As for its functions, the majority are to be transferred to Ministers in the Assembly government.
Some might say that the Ministers, rather than the Assembly, are the real gainers under this Bill. As the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has noted, in paragraph 11 of its seventeenth report:
"The principle of this bill is that powers to make delegated legislation should in future be conferred on Welsh Ministers, the First Minister or the Counsel General (who is not required to be a member of the NAW)".
The transfer of functions to Ministers, in the process of separating the executive and legislative arms of the Assembly under the 1998 Act, is extensive and goes beyond the provisions of Part 2 of this Bill, to Part 6 and the transitional provisions in Clause 161 and Schedule 11. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee states in paragraph 45 of its report that,
"it is Schedule 11, not an order under clause 58, that gives NAW's existing functions of making subordinate legislation to Welsh Ministers".
So there is a subtraction of power from the Assembly proper and an accretion of power to Ministers, as I read the Bill and, I think I am right in saying, as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reads it. The committee considered that,
"the transitional provisions are more significant than in most other bills and that the affirmative procedure should apply to orders which modify Schedule 11".
I hope that we will remember that point when we come to that part of the Bill.
The National Assembly of the 1998 Act, which was modelled on local authorities, has not been an outstanding success in all respects, as the strong wish to change it expressed by the Assembly itself in 2002 clearly indicates. The Government's endorsement of the present Bill, based on the White Paper Better Governance for Wales, points to the same conclusion. The inescapable fact is that the present system does not appear to command the support of the majority of the people it serves. Even the most optimistic interpretation of opinion polls does not assert that with any conviction.
The Bill represents a fresh start, which is conveyed in the first clause. The key question is whether it is the right start. The Secretary of State, Mr Peter Hain, said in the other place as recently as
"I have no doubt that if a referendum were held today, it would be lost".—[Hansard, Commons, 28/2/06; col. 209.]
That view hardly shows confidence in the rectitude of the old Bill or of the present one, but quite the reverse. However, at this stage, our task as an official Opposition is not to outline an alternative or to indicate a preference for one of those already presented, but to be constructively critical of the Government's proposals. That will, I hope, describe our conduct in Committee.
I welcomed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who quoted something that I was going to quote: Shakespeare's words "a rose by any other name". I suggest that a daffodil by any other name would look just as beautiful. Of course, this is not the same daffodil or the same rose. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, said, the Bill is a new start. It is a new opportunity. The Government often say that they fulfilled their pledges to Wales and Scotland and gave them the devolution of power that they asked for and voted for some years ago. This would be a great opportunity for the Government to take pride in a new title. They would be able to say in future elections that they gave Wales the "Senedd", the Senate. That would be a new step forward. I would like to say this in Welsh, but it is not the manner of this House for me to do so. But what a chance for the Government to say that they gave Wales a Senate that reflected the new role and the moving forward of devolution in Wales.
As has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Livsey, the building in Cardiff has the name "Senedd" on it. Surely it is appropriate that the body that meets within that building should also be the "Senedd". I suggest to the Government that this is an opportunity to say that this is another landmark for which they are responsible. I am sure that most Members of this House would welcome a change of title from Cynulliad—assembly. There are school assemblies, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and many other assemblies, but the new body in Wales will have legislative powers, which will develop as the years go on. The Government would find it so easy, this time, to mark this development by accepting this amendment and the term "Senedd" or Senate.
The past 27 minutes have shown what an interesting Committee stage we will have on the Bill. I hope I can say that we have not been addressing the three amendments, which noble Lords have used to introduce general views on the Bill. I say that because I hope I will be excused for responding very specifically to these three amendments and not to some of the arguments and points made on Second Reading.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 3, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, seek to modify the description of the Assembly in Clause 1 and to redefine it as an institution that already exists. This could be perceived as true, but the provisions in the Bill redefine the term "Assembly" by splitting the legislature from the Executive, as we have heard. Both sides of the House have welcomed that. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, welcomed it on Second Reading, and re-emphasised that point today. As a result of the clause, the Assembly will no longer be a corporate body consisting of a legislature and an executive arm as provided for in the Government of Wales Act 1998; it will be an unincorporated association of its elected Members, much as the House of Commons is. Technically, therefore, it is new. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that that the two amendments were probing, and I hope he will not press them after my explanation.
Amendment No. 2, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Roberts of Llandudno, is, as we know, identical to the one tabled in Committee in another place. It would rename the Assembly the "Senedd". Since 1999, the National Assembly for Wales has become an established feature of public life in Wales. As we saw from the recent ICM poll, public recognition of and support for the Assembly has increased as time has passed. In the Government's view, it does not make sense to change the name of an institution that has become established in the public consciousness, but I resist with some difficulty the extremely eloquent arguments of the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Llandudno and Lord Elystan-Morgan.
The term "National Assembly" is used for legislatures across the world. Four EU member states have parliaments or lower houses that bear the title "National Assembly" in their respective languages. In total, it is used by 62 countries around the world, so Wales is in good company. It is our firmly held view that to change these terms now would risk further confusion even as we try to make things clearer and more transparent. I have explained the Government's position. I do not expect noble Lords who have spoken to the amendments with such passion to accept what I have said, but I hope that they will not press them.
I am grateful to the Minister for explaining why there is no real explanation or reference in Clause 1 to the fact that there is an existing Assembly. As I said at the outset, I regarded these amendments as probing; I certainly do not intend to press them. But I am sorry that the Minister did not give me the assurance, for which I asked, that, as we go through this very large and complicated Bill, he would identify where real changes were being made and point out what we had before and what we have now. It is very important that we should understand at every stage exactly what we are doing.
I must apologise for not having picked up that point in my speech. We will attempt to do that. We will have discussions with officials and try to do precisely what the noble Lord has asked, because it would be very helpful and eminently sensible for us to follow that course.
I thank the Minister for that. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy identified an extremely important point—one that I had not fully recognised—that we are transferring power to Ministers. That makes it extremely important that we consider very carefully exactly how the Assembly, which we now have had defined to us by the Minister in explaining Clause 1, will be able to control those Ministers and effectively keep their actions under proper review. That is, step by step, what we will have to do as we proceed with the Bill.
On the question of the name, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, was a little rash to take as his precedent the Bill that, after all, was so decisively rejected by the people in Wales at the time—so decisively that the then Secretary of State, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, was clear that had an elephant appeared in his garden at the time it would have been impossible not to recognise it. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, pointed out that the Assembly had chosen to call the new building the "Senedd". Perhaps that was so that it could separate it from its existing building, which I am happy to say is still known by many as Crickhowell House.
Be that as it may, it seems to me that the overwhelming argument against the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and those who spoke, is the fact that this matter has been fully considered by the Assembly and rejected by seven votes to one. Surely, that is an example of where we should listen to the Assembly and its Members. So I go along with the Government's rejection of this point.
I make a rather obvious point. If the decision is to be that of the Assembly, and we regard it as having a sovereign morality in the matter, does the noble Lord accept that if the Assembly took a different view, it would be perfectly legitimate, presumably under Part 3, for that change of name to be brought about by the Assembly?
When we come to Part 3, we will discover that clause after clause was debated by the Assembly and that all the parties voted in one way and the Government voted in the opposite direction. There were tied votes and the Presiding Officer had to act as presiding officers do—as the Lord Chancellor does in this House and as the Speaker does in the other place—and vote for the status quo. So I am not sure that the noble Lord will be on entirely strong ground when we reach later parts of the Bill. All I want to say at the moment is that I entirely agree that the Government were right to reject Amendment No. 3. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 5, leave out from first "be" to end of line 7 and insert "a Parliament for Wales to be known as the "Senedd""
My name is attached to this amendment. Although it is grouped—
This amendment was grouped with Amendments Nos. 1 and 3. As it covers a different subject, I seek to move it for the purpose of replying to the Minister. Obviously, I do not expect him to respond. I think that this is in accordance with proper procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was on his feet very quickly to respond to Amendment No. 1 and he withdrew it before I had any opportunity of intervening.
Therefore, perhaps I may direct the Committee again to Amendment No. 2. The essential thing that this Bill does is entirely to change the structure of the National Assembly for Wales. It has already been pointed out that the Assembly was fashioned as a corporate body, taking corporate responsibility for its activities. The Bill now happily moves on to a structure where the powers are handed over to Ministers and there is an executive and a Parliament of the sort we know. As the Assembly will be of an entirely different status from the way in which it was set up, it seems to me very appropriate that we should take the opportunity to change the name. Further, if Part 4 comes into operation at some future time, it will be as much a legislature passing primary legislation as any other assembly or gathering of politicians anywhere in the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, objected to the fact that the word "Senedd" is used. Bilingualism is in the amendment because it states that there shall be,
"a Parliament for Wales to be known as the 'Senedd'".
That that word has some meaning and some significance is reflected, as noble Lords have said, by the fact that the building is now called the Senedd.
I invite your Lordships to consider that there will really be no difference between the devolved body in Wales and the devolved body in Scotland once this Bill comes into operation. Through use of the "Assembly Measures" that are set out in the Bill, Members of the Assembly will be able to exercise primary legislative powers. The Assembly will operate on the same basis as the Scottish Parliament. I see no reason why its proper designation should not be given. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said that the Bill must be forward-looking and that we must not look back to the past. We have seen devolution take place in Wales in three stages. We saw, first of all, the Welsh Office being set up as a purely administrative body. We then moved to the corporate model. We are now moving to what is known throughout the world as a parliament. If it is an established feature of Welsh life, as the Minister described it, let us call it by its proper name and give it its proper dignity.
The amendment proposes that election in multi-Member constituencies should take place by the single transferable vote and that the Senedd should consist of 80 Members to bring that about. It would replace Clause 1(2). As far as support for the amendment is concerned, I refer the Committee to the Richard report, whose conclusions on this issue are very straightforward and easily understood.
Paragraph 47 of chapter 14 of the report states:
"If AMS [additional member system] is to be replaced, the best option for electing an 80 Member Assembly is the STV [single transferable vote] system. This would not necessarily produce a more proportional outcome than AMS - it might not, depending on the size of the constituency (Chapter 12). The case for adopting the STV system would be to maintain the principle of proportionality while ensuring that all Members were elected in the same way, and enjoyed the same relationship with the electorate".
As regards this amendment, that is very straightforward.
I shall also refer to other amendments in this group which are put forward in our name. Amendment No. 7 refers specifically to multi-Member constituencies, which is a concomitant of creating the STV system, and Amendment No. 14 refers to single transferable vote constituencies. Constructing a system via these amendments would give each Member of the Assembly equal validity in terms of the voting system. It would create what we believe to be a fairer Assembly. Amendment No. 21 refers again to single transferable vote elections. Amendment No. 24 refers to the lowering of the voting age to 16. This is a comprehensive group of amendments put forward in our name, which we believe to be worthy of consideration by the Committee.
I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord has said in favour of this amendment and the substitution of the single transferable vote system, as described by the Richard commission report. However, the amendment generates a number of concerns. Changing the number of elected representatives and the voting system would be a huge adjustment for the Welsh Assembly. Furthermore, accepting this amendment would mean introducing the system without any serious consultation or debate. I am very antipathetic towards that.
It is essential that before any new system is considered there should be extensive consultation about whether the people of Wales see the single transferable vote as a suitable replacement to the current additional Member system, which we will come to shortly. STV is also damaging to important constituency links between Member and voter and impacts on the democratic accountability that those links enable. Much larger constituencies with more Members will fundamentally reduce the link between an MP and his or her constituency. Accepting this amendment would lead to a fundamental change to the voting system in Wales. We cannot support an amendment which calls for such a change without prior consultation with those that it affects. I am therefore of the opinion that we should maintain the current additional member system, as I shall argue shortly, which enables us to include the best features of the first-past-the-post system while including proportionality between parties through party list voting.
Since my report has been mentioned, perhaps I may explain why we came to our conclusions. Briefly, this was a severely practical argument that resulted in what I hope was a severely practical conclusion. We looked at the work the Assembly would be called upon to do and concluded that 60 Members would be insufficient. If one takes away from the total the number who would be Ministers, one is in a situation in which it is barely possible to man the committee system which the Assembly has operated for some time with the remaining Members.
If the Assembly is too small in terms of manpower, one has to ask this question: if you increase the number of Members, can the electoral system be left exactly as it is? Again, we came to the conclusion that 80 Members would be the right number. There is nothing magic about the figure; it is a sensible number to recommend for an assembly with the additional powers that we had recommended for it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that the Assembly is now going to have some legislative powers and therefore the burden being placed on it by this Bill is not all that different from the burden that would have been placed on it if the recommendations of my commission had been accepted in their entirety.
From there, we asked how to get 80 Members elected to the Assembly. During the commission we heard a fair amount of evidence to suggest that there were difficulties between the Assembly Members elected for the constituencies and those who were on the list. The Committee will forgive me if I do not go into the detail of what those difficulties might be, but there is no doubt that 40 directly elected Members and 20 from the list system has created certain inner tensions, which it was difficult to see how to resolve by increasing the number of list Members. If there are problems with a 40:20 division, the problems with a 40:40 split would be infinitely greater.
We then came to the following conclusion as the result of what I hope was a fairly logical sequence: if the Assembly is to be given more powers and 60 Members would make it too small and 80 is the right number; if you cannot have a system of 40 elected and 40 list Members, what should you have? I have to say that when the commission started out on this exercise, I was not an unquestioning adherent to the single transferable vote. But I am also bound to say that once we had looked at all the alternative systems of proportional representation—we accepted that there had to be an element of proportionality built into it, otherwise we would end up with one-party domination of the Assembly which even those on my side would agree might not be entirely appropriate—we had to ask which system should be adopted. We looked at all the different systems of proportional representation in order to achieve a system in which, first, every AM would have equal validity and, secondly, there would be broad proportionality across the Assembly in order to reflect in broad proportion the views of the people of Wales. However, with the best will in the world, we could not come up with a different or better system. A system with a number of constituencies grouped together so that the operation of the single transferable vote could take place would result in an Assembly that was broadly proportional and large enough to do the job the commission wanted to place upon it.
If the Bill goes through in its present form, we will be placing burdens on an Assembly of 60 Members which personally I doubt whether they will be able to fulfil. By all means let them try—I can see the argument which says, "Very well. We think we can do it with 60 Members". If that is the message sent by the Assembly, it is not for this House to stand in its way, saying: "If you think you can do it with 60 Members, try it with that number". However, I have no doubt whatever what the eventual result will be: the Assembly will not be able to function properly with a membership as low as 60, and there will then be pressure to increase the number. If that is so, we will have exactly the same electoral difficulties as the ones my commission tried to face.
I support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said. I am delighted to hear him—as the one who, in great depth, went into the method of electing Members to the Welsh Assembly—say it today.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, referred to the loss of connection between a Member and his or her constituency. Already we have STV for European elections in Wales. We used to have five regions; now we have one list for the whole of Wales. Wales has taken a step towards STV and people there understand the different forms of election. We do not have that direct connection as regards Europe but we now have four European Members. I do not think that anybody would say that they are less effective than the previous regional Members.
One of our big problems with the Bill is the validity of the role of the regional list Member and the constituency Member. If we continue with the top-up system of additional Members, it will be whether or not we have the same people on the list as in the constituencies. We have not tackled properly the role of the regional list Member compared to that of the constituency Member, and one day we will have to. STV would sort it out for us; the single transferable vote would give equal validity and the same role to every Member, as at European level.
I will refer to the Welsh institution as a Senedd, as I hope that one day it will become the Senedd. There are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament, one for every 39,000 people; in Northern Ireland there are 108 Members, one for every 15,700 people; and in Wales there are 60, one for every 48,000 people. Therefore, the burden on Welsh Assembly Members is greater than that on Members in Northern Ireland or Scotland. As we heard today, the Government's landmark legislation will create more responsibility; yet how many Members will there be to shoulder that extra responsibility? There will be just the same number. Of that number, 12 are in the Government and there is a Presiding Officer and a Deputy Presiding Officer. If you subtract those 14, you are down to 46 Members, of whom the Government have a minority share. I am sure that the Government will see the validity of our argument that it would be far more beneficial and effective in carrying out scrutiny and dealing with legislation to have 80 rather than 60 Members in the Welsh Assembly or Senedd.
It has been valuable to hear the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, why he, personally, and a number of the members of his commission began as sceptics about STV but were forced by practical rather than ideological considerations to a certain conclusion. The initial reasons for AMS were essentially practical: to have as little change as possible. The number 40 came from the existing constituencies in Wales at that time, and there were the five European constituencies. As they were existing, known constituencies, it made sense to have 20—five times four—additional Members. It is also fair to say that the additional Member system has not worked particularly well. There is certainly a feeling among some that the list Members are perhaps less legitimate than the others, although that is probably misplaced and there are also complaints about the way in which they operate. We rehearsed some of those arguments on Second Reading.
The arguments are finely balanced. Ultimately the question of increasing the number of Assembly Members from 60 to 80 will have to be faced because there are complaints from a number of Assembly Members that their workload is already high. This will increase substantially with what is already proposed in the Bill and as one moves further along the path there will be an even greater workload for those who are there. It may be that it is a step too far just at this stage. I remain—and I hope not for nostalgic reasons—committed to the close link between a Member and his constituency. STV by definition means multi-Member constituencies with all the problems that one sees accruing to that in other countries where people from the same parties fight each other. It may lead to increasing populism within that.
There is no ideal system. In its wisdom the Richard commission came to its own view and I am inclined just on balance to retain the existing system for the moment but with the caveat that ultimately, with an increasing workload and more to come, we will have to face something like STV and perhaps follow the same path as the Richard commission.
I have listened intently and with great respect to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and I, too, am a considerable admirer of what has been achieved in the report and its recommendations. It must be one of the most assiduously considered and imaginatively crafted reports on any constitutional issue for a very long time. One must start from the proposition that although as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, says, it would be a massive change and although it may well be that there is justification for taking the voices of various interests and peoples in Wales on as wide a plane as possible, I nevertheless apprehend that it is an issue that simply will not go away and will have to be considered.
Remember that of the 22 county councils in Wales all but five have a membership in excess of 60. In other words, if the vast majority of local authorities in Wales can only be properly served in a committee system by a number in excess—and in many cases far in excess—of 60 then clearly the case is made out for a greater number of Members in the Welsh Assembly. But there is also a deeper justification for the amendment and it is that it would remove an essential absurdity, which is that at the previous Assembly elections in 2003 the Labour Party won three times as many seats as all the other parties put together. I appreciate that it had long been determined before that, and that first-past-the-post crudity should be removed from the system and ameliorated by a system of regional Members in addition. Be that as it may, it means that a party that has enjoyed power in Wales for more than three-quarters of a century will from time to time find itself unable to exercise its powers as a government.
I will readily confess that when these matters were under consideration in the late 1990s with a view to setting up a Welsh Assembly, I was a judge at the time and was in no position to make any political comment whatever, but I very fondly adhered to the idea that there should be some form of additional Member system. I regarded that as being honourable and chivalrous and as avoiding the certainty of a long-term Labour hegemony that might ultimately have a stultifying effect on the Assembly, and thought that it might be the best way out. I was wrong—totally, absolutely and utterly wrong. I confess my guilt and penitence in that regard.
The ideas behind the additional Member system were good and proper, and there was every reason to believe that there would be an inclusive attitude by all the parties concerned. Without in any way suggesting that there is a monopoly of original sin for those minor parties that does not belong to the Labour Party, that was clearly not to be. I have no doubt that had the situation been totally in reverse, the same faults would have appeared. We have a system now whereby, dependent upon illness or some other quirk of fate, there is the possibility from week to week of a vital vote being lost purely on the numbers game, and little to do with merit. That situation cannot be allowed to prevail.
Likewise, looking back at the system, I think that even if it had not worked out exactly that way, it is a flawed concept of government for there to be two different types of Members in the same assembly. The role of the regional Members is so undefined—although I have no doubt that in most, if not in all, cases, they are people who work conscientiously and honourably—that it is very difficult for them to work side by side with the first-past-the-post elected Member.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, many years ago when I was a Member in another place I felt that there was a bond and almost a chastity between the elected Member and his electorate, save for a period of about four or five weeks leading up to an election. But I felt that that chastity was respected, generally; other Members did not come into your constituency, either from your own party or from other parties, save on the basis of notice and understanding and, indeed, of total courtesy. I find it very difficult to imagine how regional Members and an individual constituency Member can work in a way that is in any way parallel with that principle.
So the system must be changed—and if it must be changed, I should have thought that STV was as good an alternative as any. I do not think it perfect, because I believe that you break that link that should exist between the electorate and the single Member. If you double the membership, of course you do not have a single Member any more. My only plea would be that in clustering together the constituencies, one should make that cluster as small as reasonably possible. In other words, if it can be confined to three, four or five Members, all the better—but, even then, no single Member will be responsible for that constituency.
I sympathise with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I agree with the various points made about the extent to which the existing system is flawed, but there is a danger that we might rush into another system that might demonstrate not dissimilar flaws, and I am slightly worried that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, might be getting to his feet in a few years' time and saying that he was completely wrong about embracing STV.
We have discussed STV in this Chamber before, so I need not dwell on it but I shall briefly identify some of the problems. If what one wants is a system of proportional representation, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, pointed out in his report, STV is not the way in which to deliver the most proportional system. In fact, if you want proportionality, the system that comes closest is an additional Member system—though not necessarily the one embodied in the Bill, because you need a 50:50 split between constituency and list. However, if one favours proportionality that is the route to go, not the single transferable vote route.
We should also bear in mind that it is not a system that is widely used. In western Europe only Ireland employs it. There we see some of the problems, not least that to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, alluded. That is, if we do away with the present system we replace one form of conflict with another: conflict between list and constituency Member with conflict between Members within the same multi-constituency area. We see that in Ireland, because there the system has generated a form of localism where the Members devote far more time to the constituency than they devote to the Dáil. That is seen as one of the contributory reasons why the Dáil is one of the weakest legislative bodies in western Europe. We must be cautious. I recognise the flaws of the existing system, but there is a danger of saying that something must be done and rushing into STV. We need to be wary of going down that route. I admit that it is easier to say what one is against rather than what one is for, but I want to inject a note of caution before we go down this route.
I hope that noble Lords will not mind a Scot joining in the debate. The Minister seemed rather to resent Scottish interventions during Second Reading, which was a pity because in this aspect of the amendments on the additional members system there is a cross-over in experience and thinking, which some Welsh noble Lords have already mentioned. I have no personal experience of STV, but we have been discussing where I live in Scotland the effect of STV on the local government elections and how we are going to organise them.
It has become clear where I live that in the local government context the effect of having a large area with a number of Members will be that there will be Members from a town far away from where we live about which we know nothing—and in which we are not terribly interested in the context of its purely local affairs—competing with Members from round where I live. If they belong to different parties and come from places that are not closely identified there are going to be problems that will have to be overcome. That is what one has to overcome with an STV system.
But imagining the map of Wales—which, I admit, I do with some difficulty; I do not know it well—I remember from my experience in the Guide Association in Wales that some of the areas are very remote one from another. There will be Assembly Members under STV who do not know much about the local area where their constituents are living. Their constituents will have difficulty in identifying with them. I would have thought that the STV system would bring the Assembly further from the people than the present system, not closer. I base that purely on my understanding of the effect of STV in local government in Scotland. I would have thought that that alone is an argument against it.
In relation to this debate and to the one on the amendment that my noble friend is about to move, it is essential that noble Lords should consider the issue above all from the point of view of the voters and not of the Members of the Assembly. Democracy is about what the voters want; it is about giving satisfaction to the voters and trying to get more people to vote. Elected Members have to come to terms with the system that they have. That is extremely important. I am sure that they could come to terms with STVs and I am sure that they can come to terms with the system that they have, but we must look primarily at the interests not of elected Members but of voters. That is an important point.
I was rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, said that the proposals had had no serious consultation and debate. I prefer the encomium of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who said that the Richard report was one of the most assiduously considered and imaginative reports there had ever been.
This issue has been fully discussed and debated throughout Wales and the Richard commission came to a very clear decision. Just as we have looked at the structure of the Assembly and have seen that the proposals are to move on from the corporate structure to one more of ministerial responsibility and an executive, so we ought to consider that the electoral system which was first proposed was transitional. The Government ought not to be afraid of moving from it. The figure of 60 Members was chosen because there was a general fear that if you proposed more than 60, the people of Wales would reject the concept altogether because there would be too many paid politicians. Much was made by the opponents of devolution about the fact that we are having more paid politicians and all their staff thrust upon us. That probably restricted the number to 60. Practice has shown, as investigated by the Richard commission, that 60 is not enough, and is certainly not enough with the additional powers that are now being granted to the Assembly.
In the transitional electoral system that we have a tension has grown up between the constituency Members and the regional Members. It is a tension that derives from our concept of first past the post which introduces the idea of winners and losers—not of how well represented an area is but that some people have won and other people have lost. There was undoubted resentment—I found that when touring Wales as a member of the Sutherland commission concerned with local government electoral systems—and a great deal of unhappiness expressed by members of the Labour Party that people who had lost in constituency elections were being returned as Members for a region upon a regional list. I recognise that tension. There has been a suggestion that regional Members have less validity than constituency Members. Only STV can cure that. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, told us that the commission looked at all sorts of systems. The STV system maintains and retains the connection with a constituency. It means that a Member is elected by the electors of that constituency and not on a closed party list, as happens with regional Members. I think that everybody in this House, except possibly the Government, would recognise that closed party lists are not a very happy state of affairs. Essentially it would mean that there was no difference between one Member and another. There would be equal validity, no question of rank and of, "I represent you better than that regional Member over there".
The AMS system has been tried. It was an experiment. The numbers were an experiment and were transitional. Practice has shown that it is not satisfactory. I urge the Committee to consider that we should change it, and change it now.
We have had an interesting and inevitably wide-ranging debate on electoral systems, which was to be anticipated. First, I make it clear that there is a difference between the argument which my noble friend Lord Richard put forward in his commission, and which he articulated today, and the argument which has been presented by noble Lords from the Liberal Democrat Benches who are keen to advance the excitements of the single transferable vote. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for pointing out some of the difficulties of the single transferable vote, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, who indicated his reservations about the virtues of that method. The difference between my noble friend Lord Richard and the Liberal Democrat Party on this is that my noble friend Lord Richard reached the position that there should be 80 Assembly Members for Wales, and that the single transferable vote was a way of tackling the election of those increased numbers. The Liberals are going about this the other way round, with the emphasis on the virtues of changing the voting system, and latching on to the report of my noble friend Lord Richard on the 80 Assembly Members.
I will address the serious issue of the extra Members. We do not think that there is a great public appetite for additional professional politicians in Wales. I have not heard a single argument this afternoon that has testified to that. We have not had this afternoon any indication of whether in fact the National Assembly for Wales could adapt its working practices to encompass the additional load, which will certainly be consequent upon this Bill. But significant Members in the National Assembly for Wales are well aware of the fact that more work could be done more effectively. I quote no less a figure than the Presiding Officer, who is a Member of this House also, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who agreed that the timetable could be changed. He indicated, for instance, that the National Assembly for Wales was rising two weeks before the United Kingdom Parliament. At Christmas, he indicated that the Assembly could sit for at least 40 weeks, which is pretty close to the regular habits of the United Kingdom Parliament, with this House, I might add, from time to time, outdoing the other place in the number of sittings. He agreed that the Assembly could work longer. We all know that assemblies work a great deal longer than the National Assembly for Wales does at the present time.
I am an admirer of the work that has been achieved so far, but the National Assembly for Wales is in its early days, in terms of how it organises itself and the question of its reputation with the people of Wales. It will want to enhance that reputation and I cannot think of a better way to do this than to address itself to its practices, to how it works, and to be able to organise itself so that work is done more effectively. I think there is considerable agreement among many of the Members of the Welsh Assembly. I do not think that an elected Member is likely to go before the electorate and say that they were against the additional obligations being put on them by the development of this legislation because it would involve more work. We are not convinced that we need additional numbers. It is only the additional numbers, however, that bring in this argument for the single transferable vote and all its horrors. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, was his customary courteous and considered self in indicating that he was not totally convinced of the merits of that system. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, indicated just where it falls down in other legislatures.
Let us try to see what Wales would look like under the single transferable vote. Almost certainly, there would be one constituency for Cardiff, with probably eight members for Cardiff. Well, there is a recipe for effective representation as far as Cardiff is concerned. Of course we would see that all the elected Members from different parties, if they were from different parties, would work in amity and concord in the interests of Cardiff, with never a fractious moment between them as they competed for the public's support in Cardiff. Come on, my Lords! That is a recipe for division, not for effective government. It is not even an effective measure for representation, because the problem for the Cardiff electorate would be just who to hold accountable in their substantial constituency.
It is not as if we have not been down this road before. We know the problems with regard to the elections to the European Parliament and the problems that the British people have with the accountability of those Members. By accountability, I put no other argument forward than the straightforward fact that a very much greater number of the electorate knows who their Member of Parliament is than knows who their MEP is. That would certainly be true with regard to Assembly Members if we destroyed the constituency system. It destroys accountability, and the Government are against such a change. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, who also identified her anxieties about the implications for a rural area. Wales is pretty rural too, and a couple of these constituencies would be vast—for example, in northern Wales or central Wales, and that would present exactly the same problems.
I recognised that the amendments would be spoken to with passion from the Liberal Benches. They are after all at the heart of what the Liberal party largely exists for, which is electoral change. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, identified his reservations about any assembly which had Members who were elected in different forms. I do not know where the noble Lord stands on the question of reform of this House, but I have not heard anyone advocate such change in this House, unless they are in favour of a totally elected House. I have not heard too many representations on that part from Members of this House, and that is also true for representations from the other place. All other representations are for some form of mixed membership, so we may as well recognise that we may need to adjust to that. In a sense, Wales is blazing a trail on that, as is Scotland.
Therefore, it is not for me to go into a great deal of detail on the amendments. To give the movers of the amendment their proper due, they have put together a group of amendments that makes entire coherent sense if one accepts the propositions that underlie the virtues of the single transferable vote, of large constituencies and a larger assembly. I do not think that case has been made.
I have listened to the Minister and to the predictability of some of the things that he said. Before replying directly to what he said, I will say that we have had a useful, wide-ranging debate where a lot of issues have been examined in detail. I thank those Members who supported some of the principles of the single transferable vote. I recognise that devolution is a process, and we are attempting, by putting forward the amendments, to point in the direction of a more proportional system of representation in the Welsh Assembly. I well understand the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, about the breaking of the link with the constituency. That is a big question which needs a lot of consideration. There are arguments about proportionality versus the constituency link.
I was very pleased to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on the report of the Richard commission. After a detailed examination of the situation he said that the committee system could not work with 60; and that it required 80 Members to do the job. I do not come from where the Minister was coming from. I want to see an efficient and effective Assembly which has the competence and the time to do the job. He spoke about professional politicians. Would he be more satisfied with amateur ones? Perhaps part of the problem is that we do not have enough professional politicians to do the job required in Wales. I believe that the STV system would provide a fairer and more competent Assembly able to do the job in the time required.
I agree with the Minister in one respect. The time could be extended. I have no argument with him on that. None the less, with the increased responsibilities placed upon the Assembly, even as the Bill now stands, it is not a satisfactory state of affairs that in some cases there will be only six Members per committee. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and others for their comments on STV. We on these Benches are not "latching on" to the report of the Richard commission, as the Minister put it. We are considering it as objectively as we can. The Electoral Commission studied it in great depth and agreed with the report's conclusions that the single transferable vote was the best system for Wales. One could boil this down to the tabloid argument: that we have too many politicians already; we do not need any more. Having considered the views in detail, the Electoral Commission has come out in agreement with the report of the Richard commission in favour of STV. I believe that I can rest my case on those arguments with confidence and, as regards the future, with optimism. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The previous discussion was lengthy but I hope to keep the debate short although the list of amendments seems long. The amendments amount to a simple proposal: to have an all-Wales constituency Member for the additional member system. I wish to explain why I am proposing the amendment. I recognise that it is a probing amendment and I shall not seek a Division at this stage.
I refer Members of the Committee to the report on the Government of Wales Bill from the Select Committee on the Constitution which hopes that the Government will take care to explain to the House what other options are being considered; for example, replacing the regional list with a single national list across the whole of Wales. It is with that background that I put forward these amendments.
One of the problems of the Assembly Members has been that they do not have a clear job description. Those with a constituency, and those off the list, have been confused in their roles. I hope that an all-Wales constituency member would take into his brief a raft of issues quite different from the constituency issues. In Wales we have problems with division. We have geographical divisions which mean that north Wales and south Wales have often functioned somewhat separately and even in the south Wales strip there are differences between the east and the west. However, there are big problems that affect the whole of Wales, one of which is transport. Transport is notoriously bad in Wales and our roads have notoriously awful accident rates.
We also have environmental issues that affect the whole of Wales and we have a rural environment in the middle. We have phenomenal potential for tourism and I hope that the tourism industry expands because Wales is an extremely beautiful country for people to visit. The Welsh Development Agency has an all-Wales remit as well. We need inward investment. My concern is that by maintaining small constituencies we do not get away from the rather inward-looking, narrow, local view to take a view of where Wales sits on the world stage and for that to be discussed within the Assembly. I know that it is discussed by representatives of Wales outside Wales, in Europe and so on.
On a day-to-day basis, the Assembly deals with other issues with all-Wales implications, one of which relates to rationing. There has to be rationing in health and in education; the budget is not limitless. All those discussions have remained very much at the micro level. We have specialist commissioning on an all-Wales basis and yet within the Assembly we do not have a specific group of AMs with responsibility to take an all-Wales view.
That is the background to my amendment. My other reason is simply the representation of very small groups within Wales. Looking at the system, it seems to me that it would just about be impossible for a member of a very small party, such as the Green Party, or someone standing as an independent, ever to stand a chance of being elected. I hope that, if it were possible to have an all-Wales constituency Member, that may also be possible for small parties. I use the Green Party as an example. I am not advocating that party above any other small party but it happened to come to mind. It should also be possible for someone who wishes to stand on an independent ticket in Wales because I think that would bring a degree of diversity to the Assembly and might move it beyond the four main planks of political parties that there are at the moment.
There is the question of whether the list could be loaded—whether one would find that one political party would squeeze all its high-profile people at the top of the list into one area and somehow achieve a takeover bid. I think the Assembly itself would have to decide the role of an all-Wales constituency Member and how he or she would operate. With that background, I tabled these amendments. I hope that the Committee feels that they warrant at least a brief discussion and I welcome the response of the Minister. I beg to move.
I accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has put forward quite a good argument for why we should have all-Wales Members, but I do not agree with her. We have such an example with those who are elected as Wales MEPs. We have four in Wales and they are elected on the closed list system which I do not think has been a very good move. With the all-Wales elections, we have definitely lost links. I do not think it is good for the political parties, although I have no doubt that those Members who are elected do a good job for Wales. However, I think the individual link with a constituency has been lost. When any of the political parties campaigns now in the European elections, it is quite hard to get Members to come along because they no longer have an affinity with a candidate as they did with the regional constituencies that we used to have in Wales. I fear that would be the case if we had an all-Wales election of 20 Members.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that we need job descriptions for our list Members. I mentioned that at Second Reading, when I said that no political party had paid any attention to it when we were preparing for the first round of elections in 1999. I think I am right in saying that none of us thought of it; I do not remember any political party saying "This is a job description for the list members". We did not do it and, as a result, the list Members do not know what their particular role is, in the sense that a constituency Member knows what his or her role is in a constituency.
Independent Members can get elected to the Welsh Assembly. We already have two. John Marek got elected in Wrexham in two elections. The Member for Blaenau Gwent, although elected as a Labour Member, chose to become independent. There are examples where independent people can get elected in the constituencies. Perhaps they could get elected on this all-Wales list, but I cannot imagine having 20 Members roaming around Wales, going into any constituency they choose. I am filled with horror at the thought. They could claim representation in any area of Wales. Although it would be marvellous if we could have the great feeling that these 20 Members would represent the whole of Wales and speak up for any part of it, that is not the nature of the Welsh people. We are very parochial. If somebody in, say, the south Wales valleys wanted to speak up for their particular area, they would not have that knowledge for areas in north Wales. They would not have had the experience of representing rural areas.
All those things cannot lead me to support the idea of an all-Wales Member, thinking of the European Members and how parochial we are in Wales. I oppose this amendment.
I will be brief. There are three problems with the proposed system. The first, fundamental, one is that it will not deliver what is intended: somebody who will speak for Wales. If you are being elected for Wales, as a candidate you are going to appeal to where most electors are concentrated. That will therefore militate against the rural parts of Wales, so it is a worse system than the existing one.
The second, related, point—which has been touched upon—is that it will further distance the Members from electors. The danger there, experienced elsewhere where there are national list systems, is that Members will not have much constituency work, thereby increasing the tension between those carrying a constituency load and those who do not.
The third problem is the control it would give to the parties. There is a danger that it would further the stranglehold of the parties experienced elsewhere. There are a lot of problems with national list systems. Electors do not feel that they have their Members, or attached to those they elect to the legislature, so this is moving in the wrong direction. There was a balance of arguments in the earlier amendment, but not in this one. With all due respect, the arguments are overwhelmingly against it.
Briefly, we do not support this amendment, although I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, does a tremendous amount of good work, and I can see the virtues of the proposal for an all-Wales constituency. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said, there are a number of practical drawbacks. One of them, which the noble Lord pointed out, was the power of the political parties to nominate the lists. One could see a situation where Members were perhaps elected for the whole of Wales, but from just one part of Wales. They might predominate. That is perhaps the worst possible outcome, but it could happen. Although it is a good thing to have independents elected—it has been pointed out that there are some independents in the Assembly—there is a considerable downside to this proposal. We do not support this amendment.
One of the weaknesses of Wales—which is also its strength—is the excessive localism. Hiraeth is not for Wales as a whole, but for a valley or a little area. That gives a great element of democracy. The problem of having an all-Wales constituency is that by representing everyone, representatives would represent no one. The point has already been made that such people would not have a constituency and would therefore not have the feet-on-the-ground knowledge that comes—if they do their job properly—to people elected by some of the systems that have been mooted, whether the existing one or the STV.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is right that Wales has national problems. It is important that Members of the Assembly should grasp those problems on a national scale. At the same time, those problems will not be recognised in detail unless the Members have a local attachment to a constituency or, as 20 Members currently have, to a region. That is why the old European regional constituency was adopted by the Government as the basis for the current regional membership. I agree with all the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, which are extremely effective, because in an area such as Wales, which has a spread of population, it is clearly very difficult to devise a system that does not favour populous industrial areas at the expense of rural areas and that overcomes the problem of distance between the representative and his electors.
The justification for a Wales constituency suggests to me that one would then be representing a country, rather than the people who live in it. Nearly 40 years ago, when I was elected to a parish council in Wales, there were six members of that council. One picked the top six. The people all voted and one represented the parish. One could walk into every street, go into every house and know everybody in the parish. The moment I went beyond that and represented the parish on a rural district council, I represented that parish and the people who lived in it. I did not represent another parish. If we are not careful and if this amendment were accepted, as my noble friend Lord Anderson said, one would represent nobody. In fact, one would appear to be representing a country and would not be representing the people who lived in it because one would not have any commitment to any particular group of people anywhere in the country. That is where this proposal is flawed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, deployed some good arguments about what we all recognise is a problem; namely, regional lists. We all know where the criticisms come from. However, she will recognise that the Committee is not enamoured of the concept of national lists, and nor are the Government. That is not because we are being dismissive of the concept. In fact, we considered it very seriously. It was one of the significant representations put to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee by Dr Richard Wyn Jones of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth when there was consultation on these issues.
For the reasons that have been adumbrated on both sides of the Committee, I believe that the noble Baroness will recognise the problem with regional lists. Again, I am grateful for the precision of the analysis given by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, of the problems with the national list. I was almost going to use an analogy about shooting and animals, but I will depart from that lest it causes undue distress. It is sufficient to say that those arguments were presented adequately by him and I do not need to reiterate them. The problem with the regional lists is that individuals might seek to concentrate their resources, energies and desire to be effective representatives on a particular locale because of their affinity for their area or because they might consider that area to be a more fruitful and secure base in the future than their participation on the national list might be. That problem, which the national list might look as if it addresses, in fact merely compounds it. The great danger is that individuals elected on the national list would inevitably deploy themselves in areas where they thought they would be most effective, in the way in which they defined their own effectiveness. I am therefore not sure that it is a solution to the problems that we identify with the regional lists. I hope the noble Baroness will think she has had a good hearing and will be prepared to withdraw her amendment.
I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and who have, with the customary courtesy of this House, very gently but firmly knocked my proposal on the head. The concept of all-Wales list members roaming around Wales reminded me of my weekend on call last weekend when I was the roaming doctor for south-east Wales, so I know very well what it feels like to be visiting lots of places and not know where you belong. I am grateful to everyone, but I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, for having picked up on the point that we have discussed outside the Chamber—namely, the need for very clear job descriptions for different types of members to get rid of existing tensions. I believe that those tensions are inappropriate, because they are all working very hard. Having given evidence to a committee of the Assembly, I must say that I am impressed by the way in which the members are working, whatever the electoral system that put them in place. I hope that things will be better. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 5, 6, 30 and 47 are four minor and technical government amendments. Amendment No. 5 makes it clear that Assembly constituencies are parliamentary constituencies in Wales as specified in the Parliamentary Constituencies and Assembly Electoral Regions (Wales) Order 2006, which will have effect in relation to Assembly elections in 2007 and afterwards.
Amendment No. 6 replaces reference to the European Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) Order 1994 with reference to the Parliamentary Constituencies and Assembly Electoral Regions (Wales) Order 2006. This makes it clear that the five Assembly electoral regions are those specified in the Parliamentary Constituencies and Assembly Electoral Regions (Wales) Order 2006 and not those specified in the 1994 order. The 2006 order will have effect in relation to the 2007 Assembly elections and subsequent elections.
Amendment No. 30 ensures that paragraph 4(7) of Schedule 2 to the Bill properly mirrors Section 39 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 by inserting a power for the Secretary of State to make "appropriate modifications" when making an order applying the Local Government (Contracts) Act 1997 to contracts entered into by the National Assembly for Wales Commission. The Secretary of State, under Section 39 of the 1998 Act, currently has such a power in relation to the National Assembly for Wales.
Finally, Amendment No. 47 ensures that Clause 68 properly mirrors Section 39 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 by inserting a power for the Secretary of State to make "appropriate modifications" when making an order applying the Local Government (Contracts) Act 1997 to contracts entered into by the Welsh Ministers. I beg to move.
From these Benches, we recognise that these are tactical amendments. We agree with them. As they are the only government amendments listed, we would like to see them proceed.
moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 2, line 4, leave out from "are" to end of line 6 and insert "as specified in the Parliamentary Constituencies and Assembly Electoral Regions (Wales) Order 2006"
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 6A to 7 not moved.]
Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 2, line 33, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
"(1) The Presiding Officer shall have the power to propose a day for the holding of the poll for an ordinary general election on a day which is neither—
(a) more than one month earlier, nor
(b) more than one month later, than the first Thursday in May.
(a) make provision for the assembly to be dissolved on a day specified,
(b) require the poll at the election to be held on the day proposed,
(c) make provision for—
(i) any provision of, or made under, the Representation of the People Acts, or
(ii) any other enactment relating to the election of Assembly members, to have effect with such modifications or exceptions as are appropriate in connection with the alteration of the day of the poll, and
(d) require the Assembly to meet within the period of seven days beginning immediately after the day of the poll."
We move to the issue of general elections. Clause 4 is concerned with the power to vary the date of an ordinary general election and Clause 5 deals with extraordinary general elections. The point that I wish to raise with the Minister—and I shall be very interested in his response—is why the Secretary of State is the person who in Clause 4 can vary the date of the ordinary general election and why it is the Secretary of State who proposes the extraordinary general election under Clause 5.
That is not the case in Scotland. The Scotland Act 1998 places upon the Presiding Officer the duty of proposing a day for holding the poll which is not more than one month earlier nor more than one month later than the first Thursday in May. Again, for an extraordinary general election in Scotland it is the Presiding Officer who proposes the day for the holding of a poll if the Parliament resolves that it should be resolved by a resolution of two-thirds of its Members voting.
I think that it will be generally recognised as the Bill proceeds that one of the issues that we take with the Bill is the powers it gives to the Secretary of State. It is as though in Scotland the officers of the Parliament can be trusted but in Wales it is necessary to have a Westminster Minister take over some of the functions used by the Presiding Officer in Scotland. Accordingly, my Amendment No. 8 would replace "the Secretary of State" with "the Presiding Officer"; to give him the power to propose the day for the holding of a poll on a day which is not the first Thursday in May within the limits specified; and that he should have that power only if the Assembly has passed a resolution in favour with at least two-thirds of the Members voting to support it. Your Lordships will see that Clause 4(5) states:
"No order is to be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has consulted the Welsh Ministers about it".
There is nothing like that in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament controls this issue. Why should the Secretary of State consult not the Assembly itself but the Welsh Ministers about the important issue of varying the date of the election?
Similarly, Amendment No. 11 would replace "Secretary of State" in Clause 5(1) with "Presiding Officer". Amendment No. 12 makes it clear that the resolution of the Assembly is passed on a vote in which the number of Assembly Members voting in favour of it is not less than two thirds of the total number of Assembly "members voting", as opposed to "seats". Amendment No. 13 would replace "Secretary of State" with "Presiding Officer" in Clause 5(4). The Government ought to trust the Presiding Officer in Wales to fulfil precisely the same functions as the Presiding Officer in Scotland. I beg to move.
When I spoke to Amendment No. 1, I said that I had a certain amount of sympathy with the amendment that would be moved later on this very point. It seems extraordinary that the Secretary of State has to be involved in this process. Looking at the Explanatory Notes, I suppose that the Government will point out that if the Secretary of State is involved, an order must be laid before Parliament and is subject to being annulled by resolution of either House of Parliament. But that is not a compelling argument. If the Presiding Officer acts within the limited arrangements that are proposed for changing the date and the matter is approved by the Assembly, is it really necessary for Parliament to intervene and approve or for the Secretary of State to be involved? We are entitled at least to a pretty clear explanation of why we have to go down this route and why the Assembly cannot be trusted to deal with a matter of this kind.
The short answer is because we are considering an emergency situation. The date on which the elections take place is established. If a variation were to occur, it would do so only because of extreme circumstances. It might fall during some kind of national emergency; it might be a national day of mourning. There might be some necessity for variation. The Secretary of State would not normally vary the date of an Assembly general election. This provision would enable him to do so when the ordinary circumstances in which the election would be fulfilled according to law had to be varied because of some national difficulty. Some action would therefore need to be taken by the executive.
We are talking about a limited period of time and very limited variation. The problem is that it might not be practicable in those circumstances to proceed by Order in Council. Since the need would arise at short notice, it would have to be acted upon swiftly. It is not always possible for Orders in Council to be made at very short notice. Yet the very concept that we have here is an emergency change within a very limited number of weeks to the normal process of the election of the Assembly.
Of course, I recognise sensitivities. I recognise the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, which he put forward at Second Reading and already twice today. I have no doubt that he may present arguments in future about certain powers of the Secretary of State. On this issue, I hope that he will accept that we merely seek to cope with the short-term limited and emergency situation.
I indicated that it was precisely because we were dealing with a limited situation that it could be left. The Minister's explanation and excuse was that there might be a problem in timing of getting Orders in Council. But might there not be a difficulty in laying an order before Parliament which is subject to being annulled by a resolution of either House of Parliament? For example, what happens if Parliament is not sitting? Will it be more difficult to proceed under the arrangements proposed by the Liberal Democrat amendment than by the proposals in the Bill?
With regard to the fundamental issue of an extraordinary general election, the noble Lord will recognise that the powers are in the hands of the Assembly. The Secretary of State has no discretion on an extraordinary general election. If it is because of political breakdown and the government of Wales, under the National Assembly's provisions, are in difficulties, the Secretary of State has no discretion on the matter. If the Assembly either votes by a two-thirds majority of all Members to dissolve itself or if it fails to nominate a First Minister, which would be a definition of crisis and a failure of government, he must propose a date for a poll to take place. That relates to Amendments Nos. 11 and 13.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 relate to the emergency position when the ordinary election would take place, but there are difficulties in meeting the precise date because of emergency. Then the executive would need to act. I maintain that it is a power that is bound to be retained by the executive in those terms to vary the date of the election. I do not see how in other terms we could guarantee that effective action could be taken within a very limited time framework. We would be recognising that to postpone an election in emergency circumstances of this kind would inevitably be postponement on the basis of a very limited timescale.
I found that answer extraordinarily puzzling. First, Clause 5 has the procedure for Her Majesty to make an Order in Council for an extraordinary general election. Why is that said to be a slower way of proceeding than the laying of a statutory instrument, even though it is subject to the negative procedure, before Parliament? Nothing could happen during the period that a negative resolution could be laid against it. There would be bound to be a delay if you lay a statutory instrument before, presumably, both Houses of Parliament, which would lie on the Table for at least 14 days. It may be longer: I am not sure of the precise time limit involved. I do not understand that. The machinery of using the Order in Council is in Clause 5. Why is it not in Clause 4?
Before I decide what to do with this amendment, I invite the Minister to address why it is different in Scotland. That is the other thing which I do not understand. Why in Scotland is it the Presiding Officer who makes the proposal for Her Majesty to make a proclamation under the Scottish Seal in relation to the change of the day of an ordinary general election? Why is it the Presiding Officer who approaches Her Majesty for a proclamation under the Scottish Seal if he wants it, or if the Assembly or Parliament want an extraordinary general election? What is the difference? If it is possible in Scotland, all the arguments advanced by the Minister against my amendment fall. There are two glaring inconsistencies in what the Minister has said and I invite him to respond.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that invitation. Again, if an order has to be made in emergency circumstances, it is not the case that the negative procedure for the passing of such an order by both Houses of Parliament is necessary. Of course it is necessary to validate it, but the order would be acted upon. It would need to be because it would be defined as having taken place in exceptional circumstances where it was necessary for prompt action to be taken to change the date of the election. The noble Lord will recognise that we have to have such a provision. Of course it is unlikely that it will ever be used, but we need a provision whereby it could be, otherwise we could be in a situation where a designated election day is established but circumstances would inhibit a proper election being held. The noble Lord is merely indicating that there should be no way for such an issue to be resolved.
The Minister is getting into a worse tangle than ever. He has not attempted to answer my first intervention by saying that it would apply to extraordinary situations as set out in the next clause. But I keep reading out the Government's own notes on the Government of Wales Bill. He has now said that the Secretary of State may have to act quickly and that he would not have to put the order before Parliament; if necessary he could simply lay it. But paragraph 48 of the Explanatory Notes makes the position absolutely clear:
"Before making an Order under this clause, the Secretary of State must first consult the Welsh Ministers and an Order must be laid before Parliament and is subject to being annulled by resolution of either House of Parliament".
Either the Minister is wrong or the notes on the clauses are wrong. The Committee is entitled to know which.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, will recognise that of course it would be practicable to do both. First, it is possible to consult Welsh Ministers, and that obligation is made clear in the Bill. Secondly, it is possible to lay the order. What may not be possible, depending on the circumstances that obtain, is for it to follow full parliamentary process. But we are talking here about a variation within a very limited framework contingent on emergency circumstances of some kind. I therefore find it difficult to understand why it is not recognised that it is only under such circumstances that executive action would need to be taken.
I have not come to the Dispatch Box with full details on the position in Scotland. However, I want to emphasise the fact that the Scottish Parliament is different from the Welsh Assembly and in these emergency provisions we reflect differences in powers between the two assemblies. However, we are talking here about a power being taken forward from the existing Government of Wales Act and we see no reason why it needs to be changed. It refers to limited circumstances in which effective executive action would seem to the Government to be obviously necessary. In Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 we are not talking about the general provisions governing Welsh elections, either for the Assembly in the normal course of events or where an extraordinary general election has to take place. In that circumstance, the Welsh Assembly, by a two-thirds majority, would actually take the decision.
I remain in a state of confusion. I do not believe that the Minister, with the greatest respect, has given an adequate explanation of this anomaly. I do not think it is enough to say it is in the Government of Wales Act already and therefore has to be carried over to this Bill because that is what we are here to do. We are here to look at what is wrong with the Government of Wales Act and to update it; to advance it and look at its machinery once more. While I seek to withdraw the amendment at this stage I shall certainly return to it on Report and, no doubt, we can further consider it then. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 [Extraordinary general elections]:
[Amendments Nos. 11 to 13 not moved.]
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 [Voting at general elections]:
[Amendments Nos. 14 to 15E not moved.]
Clause 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 [Candidates at general elections]:
[Amendments Nos. 15F and 15G not moved.]
Amendment No. 16 has a very straightforward objective, to establish open lists for Assembly elections. The amendment states that the regional returning officer shall publish the list of candidates submitted by each political party for each electoral region. The implication is that the candidates will not be ranked in order, but will nevertheless be on a list of candidates from the party. The virtue of open lists is that the electorate actually decide who they wish to elect. This is a method of election used by a number of countries which function on the basis of additional member systems. The different members elected are absolutely clear. They have been the choice of the electorate. This is a very transparent method of conducting a list system. The electorate could, if they wish, for example, choose on the basis of gender. Maybe they would prefer a female candidate, or a member of a political party who has a viewpoint that may not comply with the strictest interpretation of the party. If they want to elect a younger or older person because they feel this would be the right choice in the circumstances, they can. The electorate hold the decisions in their hands and not the party. We believe that this very important principle would extend democracy for the electorate. Indeed it might actually encourage them to participate in elections more, which would be a very good thing. I beg to move.
I was singularly unhelpful on the previous group of amendments so I hope to be a little more positive on this one. With regard to Amendment No. 16, we already provide for such publication in paragraph 17 of Schedule 6 to the National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) Order 2003. This kind of detail is normally included in secondary legislation. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will look at this with the keenest of interest and, given that during discussion of the previous group of amendments I was upbraided for my limited perspective on the Scottish Parliament, he might just like to take on board that both Scottish and European elections are covered in exactly the same way—not in primary legislation but in subordinate legislation. The point is taken and accepted. We already have it in place.
On Amendment No. 20 we are convinced of that case too. The difference is that we do not think this is the Bill in which this problem should be tackled. This probably relates to the case at the last general election when one constituency's results were delayed for a considerable period because of the death of a candidate. We clearly need to address the issue and that is exactly what we are doing. Clause 28 of the Electoral Administration Bill deals with the death of a candidate at a parliamentary election. Where the election has to be countermanded or abandoned, it shortens the delay before a fresh election can be held. It also tackles that problem that we all recognise existed. That applies to Parliament, but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales plans to apply broadly similar changes in an order that he will bring forward for approval later this year under Section 11 of the Government of Wales Act. The order will update the rules for conduct of Assembly elections to tackle this problem which, although has mercifully not affected elections in Wales thus far, we had warning from the general election of the distress that it can cause all round. We therefore intend to remedy the problem, both in relation to parliamentary elections and elections for the Welsh Assembly.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said and I will have to read his response in some detail and evaluate it. There seemed to be some optimism in the way that he approached the issue. I will accept what he says and the spirit in which he said it, but I will need to look in some detail at his response which referred to a number of issues and clauses which I would clearly wish to interpret. The other amendments that are put forward are related to Amendment No. 17. I am sure that we will have a full debate on that. Without more ado I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 4, line 32, leave out subsections (5) and (6) and insert—
"(5) The list must not include a person—
(a) who is included on any other list submitted for the Assembly electoral region or any list submitted for another Assembly electoral region,
(b) who is an individual candidate to be an Assembly member for the Assembly electoral region or another Assembly electoral region,
(c) who is a candidate to be the Assembly member for an Assembly constituency which is not included in the Assembly electoral region, or
(d) who is a candidate to be the Assembly member for an Assembly constituency included in the Assembly electoral region but is not a candidate of the party.
(6) A person may not be an individual candidate to be an Assembly member for the Assembly electoral region if he is—
(a) included on a list submitted by a registered political party for the Assembly electoral region or another Assembly electoral region,
(b) an individual candidate to be an Assembly member for another Assembly electoral region,
(c) a candidate to be the Assembly member for an Assembly constituency which is not included in the Assembly electoral region, or
(d) a candidate of any registered political party to be the Assembly member for an Assembly constituency included in the Assembly electoral region."
As the Bill stands, constituency candidates will not be able to stand as regional list candidates and vice versa. The aim of Amendment No. 17 is to preserve the status quo. As far as I can make out, only the Government and the Labour Party wish to change the system in the way proposed—all the other political parties and a string of organisations, ranging from the Electoral Commission to the Electoral Reform Society and the Arbuthnott commission, are opposed to, or critical of, the change. The case for the change has not been proven. There has not been sufficient consultation on it.
The origins of the pressure for change are well described in the Richard commission report and lie in the rivalry between the constituency and the regional list Members of the Assembly. Of the 20 elected under AMS in 2003, 17 stood as first-past-the-post candidates—although I am not absolutely sure about the figure, because I have seen 18 quoted. Many electors would take the view that competition between the two kinds of members to serve electors is no bad thing and keeps both on their toes, but the sitting constituency members do not relish having rival regional list members breathing down their necks as well as the usual constituency candidates, of which the regional list member may have been one prior to the Bill. But that situation will continue, even if the Government's proposed change comes into effect. The only difference will be that the list member will not also be a failed constituency candidate. There will be nothing to stop the list member standing as a constituency candidate the next time round—it is only a matter of time.
What is the real motivation behind the change that the Government propose? The starting point is that Labour has no regional list members. Also relevant is the fact that its hold on the Assembly Government is precarious, as we have heard, and it is totally dependent on its constituency members, some of whom have slender majorities. They must therefore be protected at all costs. The prohibition of dual candidacy strengthens the position of Labour members in their constituencies by weakening the minority parties' attempts to undermine them from a position of strength on the regional list. To put that another way, Labour immunity in the constituencies that they occupy is improved if they are walled in against attack from regional members. Furthermore, the minority parties have to find more candidates, and more numbers usually means less quality.
Of course, the Labour Party will never admit that the purpose of the change is to strengthen its own side and to weaken its opponents, so we are presented with a variety of bogus populist arguments. People, it is said, do not understand how losers under the first-past-the-post vote can be elected under the additional member system with its separate vote. The White Paper states:
"In the Government's view, for losing candidates to be able to become Assembly Members regardless of their constituency election results both devalues the integrity of the electoral system in the eyes of the public and acts as a disincentive to vote in constituency elections".
Where is the evidence for those assertions, and how will the Government's amendment restore the integrity of the system and encourage people to vote?
The most damning indictment of the Government's case for the amendment is the fact that they have set their hearts and minds firmly against making a similar change in Scotland, where the AMS system also operates. They said so in this House, when replying to the Second Reading debate on the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, on
"Preventing dual candidacy would be undemocratic. It would place an unnecessary restriction on the democratic rights of individual candidates, parties and local electors to have as unrestricted a choice as possible in an election".
That is a very serious charge from a very serious quarter, which I hope the Government will answer.
There is also a human rights dimension to this. They cannot say yes to that statement in Scotland and no in Wales. Such blatant inconsistency is pretty well intolerable. The Government should not be allowed to get away with it.
Speaking of the Arbuthnott report reminds me that a quotation from the report is included in the Government's collection of statements supporting their opposition to dual candidacy. The thrust of the report as a whole is in quite the opposite direction. We were fortunate at Second Reading that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, who was also twice quoted in the same document, was present in the Chamber to assert that his statement had been taken out of context and should not have been used to buttress the Government's case. The noble Lord said:
"It is a bit of a sleight of hand that I should be quoted in aid of a provision which I do not agree with".—[Hansard, 22/3/06; col. 263.]
I am sure that his view would be reiterated by the authors of the Arbuthnott report.
Another much quoted document in this context is the Labour Party manifesto. But of course there are two references, one of which relates to the UK, referring briefly to Wales, and the other more expansively to Wales. The UK manifesto reference is to,
"a reformed structure and electoral system to make the exercise of Assembly responsibilities clearer and more accountable to the public".
The Welsh manifesto goes beyond talk of responsibility and accountability to say that alongside these changes,
"we will prevent candidates from standing on both the list and in a constituency in order to make all candidates genuinely accountable to the electorate and to end Assembly Members being elected via the backdoor even when they have already been rejected by the voters".
The wording echoes, of course, the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy, quoted by the Government in their compendium of quotations. It shows a total failure to understand the nature of the AMS system that the Government themselves set up under the 1998 Act.
The Government will argue that we should respect the inviolability of their manifesto and will probably accuse us of contravening the Salisbury convention if we do not respect it. However, I have made enough of a case for the Government to answer and know that many other noble Lords will want to lend their support to my case. I beg to move.
I very much support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. He has stated all the reasons why the AMS system is much preferable to the one proposed in the Bill, which denies dual candidacy. The origins of this would seem to be that in one constituency in Wales, Clwyd West, three out of four of the losers were elected under the regional list system. However, that is the only example in the whole of Wales where that actually occurred. This seems to be one of the reasons stated as to why dual candidacies should be prohibited, but the whole weight of informed opinion is in favour of, at the very least, retaining the existing system. The Electoral Commission has in fact slammed the proposals in a focused and logical way. The Electoral Reform Society, which is extremely well informed on these issues and practises them, also cannot accept them. We must realise that the additional-member system is going on in different countries in Europe; and British/UK constitutional lawyers designed the system in West Germany. No one can say that West Germany has not been a successful democracy since the Second World War. It has carried out a system similar to that which has been used in the Welsh Assembly. Reference has been made to the Arbuthnott report, which supports dual candidacy. My noble friend Lord Steel was undoubtedly quoted out of context, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, said. In fact, my noble friend Lord Steel stated that he advocates the single transferable vote and he said so in his intervention at Second Reading.
"The system as operated . . . has led to a confusing and expensive proliferation of 'parliamentary' offices throughout the country. In at least one town there are four. They have become a thinly disguised subsidy from the taxpayer for the local party machines . . . In my view they are a serious waste of public money".
That is clear: that is not out of context. It is very much in context and it is very true.
In response to that intervention, I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Steel said that. However, I believe that the noble Lord is quoting him out of context, because my noble friend Lord Steel said at Second Reading that he was a supporter of the single transferable vote system and he was then addressing the situation in relation to that.
I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I make a short intervention in a debate on Wales, albeit it as a Scotsman. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, said, I have a Bill before the House which we might have heard today if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie—I was going to say "my noble friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie"; he is my friend in other contexts—had not tabled some amendments. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, that there are two ways of obtaining consistency on the issue. I am proposing one way as well. That is bringing Scotland in line with what is proposed for Wales, which seems eminently sensible. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, from whom we have just heard—
I can tell the noble Lord that I am working hard on the Government. I keep on working on them; I have my ways and I will find a different way. I return to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, who said that the weight of informed opinion in Wales is in favour of the amendment and against dual candidacy. On
"I am sure that many in Wales will welcome . . . the removal of the absurd dual candidacy opportunity".—[Hansard, 15/6/06; col. 1217.]
I could not have put it better myself, but it was not me who said that; it was the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, the former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Obviously he is not informed opinion in Wales.
I must intervene: we are almost becoming like the House of Commons—I do not want that. I did not say "informed opinion in Wales"; that is the first point. I said informed opinion such as the Electoral Commission. I went on to quote the Electoral Reform Society as well. I know that in his critique my noble friend Lord Carlile was coming from the same direction as my noble friend Lord Steel.
They can speak only for themselves. I was going to come again to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. He made a considered lecture at the Edinburgh Book Festival on
"Quite the most distasteful and irritating part of my job as Presiding Officer was dealing with complaints against list Members' behaviour from constituency MSPs, Westminster MPs and local authorities . . . I could not understand at first why we had such problems"—
I know that some of my noble friends here who were MPs can understand why—
"until it dawned on me that what some were determined to do was misuse their position to run a permanent 4-year campaign as candidate for a particular constituency. In most parliaments you do not have Members sitting in the same chamber or in committees who are going to be election opponents, and it does not make for a good working atmosphere".
I hope that I am not quoting him out of context when he said that. Then an old friend of mine, Donald Gorrie, who was a list MSP himself—a Liberal Democrat list MSP, in case anyone is misunderstanding—said,
"The list system creates two different kinds of member—constituency and list. The constituency members feel that they carry the burden of the work involved in helping individual constituents and local groups"— and they do—
"They complain that the list members either swan around cherry-picking some local issues or camp in their constituency, posing as an alternative constituency member".
I say "hear, hear" to Donald Gorrie, whom I have known for many years. He is right that cherry-picking and posing as a constituency Member is what takes place.
I will quote one of the best revelations about the way in which the system is misused for party political purposes. It did not on this occasion come from the Conservatives or from the Liberal Democrats but from a leaked memo from Leanne Wood, a Plaid Cymru Member. They use this system—and the SNP in Scotland are exactly the same—to their party political advantage. Leanne Wood said,
"Each regional AM has an office budget and a staff budget of some considerable size. Consideration should be given to the location of their office—where would it be best for the region? Are there any target seats . . . within the region?".
Then she says,
"We need to be thinking much more creatively as to how we better use staff budgets for furthering the aims of the party"— in this case, Plaid Cymru.
"[Regional AMs] need not be constrained by constituency casework"— they do not have to worry about that; it is done by the constituency members—
"and events and can be more choosy about their engagements, only attending events which further the party's cause".
How can that be a good Member of the Assembly, when all they are doing is attending events that further the party cause? She goes on to say,
"On receipt of every invitation, ask 'How can my attendance at this event further the aims of Plaid Cymru?'. If the answer is 'very little' or 'not at all', then a pro forma letter of decline should be in order".
That is the way in which the system is misused. I do not understand with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and the phalanx of Conservatives who will follow him into the Chamber, why they are so keen to give that power and political advantage to Plaid Cymru. I say even more strongly to the Liberal Democrats that, given their position, I do not understand why they are so keen.
I agree that it would not stop them; the noble Lord, and, even more, the Secretary of State for Wales are right in that. However, it would constrain them substantially. It would really limit their ability to do what we are discussing. Even if you cannot stop them completely, it is right to limit them. But perhaps I have it wrong. Perhaps the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats want to do exactly the same as Leanne Wood. Perhaps that is why they have tabled the amendment and are pressing it.
I want to deal with Arbuthnott. I have made my next point before. When I said it previously there was a sharp intake of breath. I have noticed that happen once or twice when I make speeches in this House. Arbuthnott in his conclusions did not reflect the evidence that he received. This is one example of a case where he did not do so. Arbuthnott himself admits that,
"many interviewees had specific concerns about the list system when provided with background information on how the system worked . . . the main frustration lay with . . . individuals who lost in the constituency vote being elected on the list. Some interviewees described this as an 'escape route' for losers".
People's views were canvassed. A man from Glasgow said:
"If someone stands in a certain area you should get elected in that area. It's not fair that they lose and get forced on another area. They never voted for them. If they don't get in a certain place then tough".
Another man from Glasgow said:
"If someone wants to get put in as a person for the Glasgow area then they should hold a separate election instead of having an additional list".
Arbuthnott and his committee ignored a lot of evidence that was presented to them. I know why that is. I know most of the members of the committee. I know John Laurie, a Liberal Democrat, and a number of others who pushed very hard for the recommendations, even if the evidence did not support them, because they have particularly strong views.
Finally, I pray in aid the Electoral Commission. I have some worries about the power that we have given to it—my party's Government have done that—a non-elected body, some of the members of which have not even sought election and do not understand elections in the way that those of us who have fought and, occasionally, won elections understand them. We should not accept what the Electoral Commission says as gospel. We certainly should not accept what the Electoral Reform Society says as gospel. It is set up to argue a particular case in a particular way for proportional representation. It is almost a wholly owned subsidiary of the Liberal Democrats so far as its representation, issues and policy are concerned.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who I know is a sensible person, and some of his colleagues, will think again about the amendment and will consider withdrawing it. It is not in the interests of democracy and, ultimately, it is not in the interests of his party or our party, but more importantly it is not in the interests of either Wales or Scotland.
I am sure that we have all enjoyed the exchanges between the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and the Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru parties. However, I was a little surprised when he attacked Plaid Cymru for furthering its party's cause. I cannot believe that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, has ever sought to further his party's cause. Of course, he has; he has spent a whole lifetime doing it. He attacks the Electoral Reform Society and the Electoral Commission, but I am bound to say that if I wanted to hear a balanced view, I would want to hear the views of those two bodies quite as much as the views of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock.
Although it has been referred to on a number of occasions already in this debate, we need to be reminded again that almost all the independent organisations of weight have come down against the Government. I refer to the two organisations I have just mentioned and, most effectively of all, the Arbuthnott commission in relation to the Scottish Parliament.
The Select Committee on the Constitution of this House referred to all those bodies and pointed out that,
"the bar on dual candidacy has very few international precedents. On the contrary, dual candidacy is a common and accepted feature in proportional systems across the world".
Professor Hazell, director of the constitution unit within University College London, has described the Government's alteration to the electoral arrangements as,
"nasty, parochial and seemingly driven by partisan motives".
Mr Stoner, the parliamentary officer of the Electoral Reform Society wrote to thank me for my remarks on the subject at Second Reading. He wrote that the society has been,
"most concerned at how the Government have sought to justify their proposal by claiming a cross-party consensus on an issue that has proved controversial in the extreme".
The comments of Sir John Arbuthnott's commission on boundary differences and voting systems in Scotland are, to my mind, devastating. The commission took the trouble to look very closely at the Welsh arguments. It seems to me that its conclusions are devastating in the context of both the opinions of Mr Hain in Wales and of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, in Scotland. Having read the arguments of both and heard the noble Lord advance his case on an earlier occasion in this House, it seems to me that the Arbuthnott commission comes out on top. The commission states:
"However, the Commission is not convinced that there is any evidence to support the claims made regarding these perceived problems. There is no survey evidence to suggest that dual candidacy is an issue for voters, or a disincentive to their participation in the political process".
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, quoted a few individuals, but a few individuals who express views but do not understand the principles on which the electoral system is based are hardly evidence of a compelling weight.
The commission has serious concerns about the impact such a ban would have. It points out that, as the Richard commission had noted,
"it may encourage parties, particularly small ones, not to field strong candidates in constituency seats, where they have less chance of success, keeping them instead for the region where they would be more likely to be elected. This could have a negative impact on the quality of constituency contests and unduly favour incumbent candidates".
The commission advances other arguments. It points to examples elsewhere and suggests that,
"dual candidacy only seems problematic to some people here because of the legacy of constituency representation within British political culture and the hegemony which this has secured for some parties. Candidates coming in second or third place who are then elected through the regional list are only 'losers' in the context of a first past the post, 'winner takes all', electoral system. This logic does not sit well within a proportional system and introducing it devalues and undermines the concept of proportionality".
My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy has already quoted the commission's conclusion that,
"preventing dual candidacy would be undemocratic and . . . . that it would place 'an unnecessary restriction on the democratic rights of potential candidates, parties and local electors to have as unrestricted a choice as possible in an election'".
In the Welsh Assembly committee on the Bill, all the parties except Labour voted against the clause as it stands in the Bill at present. When this House finds that almost all independent opinion expressed by the Electoral Commission, the Electoral Reform Society, the Arbuthnott commission and the Richard commission is against a change in electoral arrangements, and that it is opposed by the other political parties, surely it is entitled to say, "No, we cannot allow that". Here I take up the issue that was touched on by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy. I go further and say that we have a clear duty to prevent abuse of this kind. Surely by far the most important function of this House is to act as the final guardian of constitutional integrity and electoral propriety.
The Government will argue that this was a manifesto commitment. But I reject the argument that that prevents us acting. It cannot, surely, be suggested that any party is free to fix the electoral system to its own advantage, just because it makes a reference to it somewhere in its manifesto. Mr Blair is always telling us that he has a great deal of unfinished business. If his party were to declare in its next manifesto that he had so much to do that he intended to extend the life of the next Parliament to enable him to complete his great work, it would surely be the duty of this House to say, "No, you will not. You will continue to have to face the electorate at the appropriate time". The argument is exactly the same. Here we are faced with a highly controversial change in electoral arrangements, when the kind of consensus that should always exist when changing electoral arrangements simply does not exist. I am sure that we should stand our ground and say that we cannot permit it to happen. The Minister, who has already said that change should not take place in Scotland, should acknowledge that his arguments apply equally and as strongly in Wales. I urge the House to support my noble friend's amendment.
I do not think I have ever heard a better argument for single transferable votes than the one we had from the Labour Benches and from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, this evening. If he is in favour of any sort of proportionality, if he then rejects the present system, surely he must walk in the direction of STV.
Let us look at the argument made that the list candidates should not also be constituency candidates, because you have offices, and so on, and organisations within the regions that might be campaigning within an opponent's constituency. What you will have on the list will be different names from those in the constituencies. If you take the quotation from the Plaid Cymru Member of the Assembly, however, the campaigning element is still there. The promotion of their party interests is still there, because all you have is a change in the names—the prohibition of the constituency candidate also being a list candidate. The Government's proposal today and the noble Lord's proposal for Scotland do not solve the problem. The problem, as we mentioned earlier this evening, is that we have not yet defined the role of the regional Members, compared to that of the constituency Members. It is our failing.
I will be brief and I will not go back to the arguments that we had at Second Reading. So I suggest that we do listen to the reports that we mentioned: Arbuthnott, Richard, the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Reform Society. Even public opinion polls see no problem at all in dual candidacy. Perhaps they do not have time to do anything else except tinker with an electoral system. This House would be doing a great service by voting to say, "Yes, of course". The rights of the individual demand it. Ordinary electoral consideration to get the best people into the Parliament in Scotland and the Assembly in Wales also should allow it.
I will conclude with this. Last week, there was a list of working Peers. Now, some of us did not win an ordinary election for the other House, but we landed here. Last week, the list of working Peers gave us four or five people who had lost their seats in the general election. I hope to embrace them because I was previously one of them. The argument you give is not an argument that I can accept.
We have had an interesting debate. Of course, the main principles of the debate revolve around Amendment No. 17. Therefore, with the leave of the Committee, I will address my preliminary remarks to the other amendments. On behalf of the Government, I will seek to resist those principles.
Noble Lords will recognise that Amendments Nos. 18 and 19, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, go further than reinstating the status quo with regards to dual candidacy. These amendments would remove the bars that already exist in the Government of Wales Act 1998. These amendments would allow a candidate to stand for election in a constituency that is not included in the region for which he or she appears on a list, and also to represent different parties for the constituency and for the region. This is not allowed under the 1998 Act, and for good reasons indeed. Allowing a candidate to stand in any region and constituency, and to represent more than one political party, would surely undermine our electoral system. I hope the House will recognise that we are strongly against Amendments Nos. 18 and 19.
Amendment No. 22, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy, Lord Henley and Lord Crickhowell, also goes back to the Government's commitment to banning dual candidacy and the integrity of our electoral system. Standing as a constituency candidate in a by-election, failing to get elected, and then returning to a party's list to fill a regional vacancy would, in our view, once again clearly be seen as an example of a candidate trying to get in through the back door. That is our principle objection to Amendment No. 17.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, is right. Of course I will quote the manifesto commitment, because we made it quite explicit. The Labour Party does not produce a Labour manifesto for the United Kingdom; it produces a manifesto for England, for Wales and for Scotland. Our Welsh manifesto said:
"We will prevent from standing on both the list and inner constituency, in order to make all candidates accountable to the electorate, and to end Assembly Members being elected via the backdoor even when they have already been rejected by the voters".
That is a manifesto commitment. The argument that I have had against it this evening is that this House, under the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is better equipped to defend the liberties and the rights of the British people with regard to elections. Which part of legislation conveys that position upon this House? Is it the Parliament Act 1911, which sought to restrain this House after the democratic other place had enacted legislation and which the people had endorsed by election manifesto in the election? Does the Parliament Act 1948 convey this position upon this House, when again it is was quite clear that both the people and a government with a large majority sought to restrain the powers of this House? Or does the noble Lord say that because, at last, in the 21st century, Labour has the same number of votes in this House as the Conservative Party—and that is all the Government have; an equality of votes with the Conservative Party, which has enjoyed a huge majority of votes ever since this House was created—this House, having the two main parties in equality, can take upon itself the right to be the arbiter or defender of the British people's rights with regard to election? I maintain that that argument is shot through with fallacy. Of course it is important that this House plays its proper role as a revising Chamber, which we seek to do as fully and as ably as we can. This is a forum for considerable debate on the issues before the nation, but there are limits on the powers of this House which are properly there, and they are cast both in convention—reference has been made to the Salisbury convention—and particularly in manifesto commitments. We made that commitment in the manifesto, and we did so because we are dealing with an issue of principle.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I remind him that the manifesto contained the provision that identity cards would be voluntary for five years, but the Government sought to change that to make them compulsory and disregarded their own manifesto. Will he kindly withdraw his statements that the Labour manifesto is always followed?
My contention from this Dispatch Box is not to say that this Government any more than any other government are able to fulfil every line of their manifesto commitments. My heavens, we would be living in a strange political climate if we thought that all we had to do was to write manifestos and they would easily become the law of the day within the time that a government are given. Manifesto commitments change according to all sorts of pressures and changes in society and change in relationship to debate both in the other place and here, and rightly so. But when legislation is produced that directly and accurately reflects a manifesto commitment, there is a proper constraint on opposition from this House, and it is legitimate that it should be so. We are seeking to deal with an abuse; a blot on the electoral arrangements. The Committee will be aware of the Clwyd West case in 2003, where three of the four defeated constituency candidates were nevertheless elected to the Assembly via their party's respective lists.
Does the noble Lord appreciate that every word he says is creating a difference between the list Member and the constituency Member and is putting the constituency Member first, with the list Member creeping in through the back door? Was it not his Government who decided to have a list system and his Government who have consistently opposed STV, which is a much fairer system?
We have already had a debate on STV, and we have already identified its manifest imperfections. Under the system that we brought into operation for the Welsh Assembly, a problem occurred in Clwyd West in the election to the Welsh Assembly, and it is right that we should address ourselves to that, having presented to the Welsh people a clear indication that we intended to tackle that problem. Clwyd West is not the only occurrence; of the 20 Assembly Members elected via the regional lists in the 2003 election, 16 stood unsuccessfully as constituency candidates in the same election.
It is not the only case. Does he agree that exactly the same situation exists in Scotland? Indeed, it has been well pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and the Arbuthnott committee. Some 83 per cent of those elected in Scotland were elected on the basis that he described. Is that why he is replying to the debate and not the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, who has had to deal with the Scottish issue on previous occasions?
The reason why I am replying to the debate is that it is a high privilege to be asked to do so. I am coming to the Scottish position, because my noble friend Lord Foulkes is scarcely going to allow me to escape it. The Government are considering the Arbuthnott report. We do not think that the issue is cut and dried in quite the way that it has been presented by noble Lords on that side of the Committee this afternoon. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Foulkes, who introduced some balance into the argument on Arbuthnott. That is why we are considering the issue in great detail at present. Before Arbuthnott, we had identified the issue in Wales, and we had indicated to the people of Wales how we intended to tackle it. We are fulfilling that commitment.
I make it absolutely clear that the abuse concerns more than three candidates in one area. The problem with regard to list candidates being successful after they had failed in the consistencies is a much wider issue than just those three candidates. It extends to 18 candidates in all, who were constituency candidates in the same election. For the electorate—the Clwyd case exemplified it in a dramatic and obvious way—it brings the electoral system into some disrepute.
As the noble Lord will know, in one or two counties the issue is being addressed. I have already heard this afternoon that the reference to New Brunswick is not regarded as being absolutely convincing, but it is one illustration of democrats who think similarly to this Government on this problem. The noble Lord will recognise that there is no such thing as a pristine electoral system that solves all anomalies and all difficulties. It is right that where a particular problem occurs that gives considerable offence to an electorate and an abuse appears to have occurred, a government should seek to set that right. We could not have gone about that in a more exemplary fashion. The proposed ban on dual candidacy will correct those anomalies in the electoral system in Wales. It will remove the safety net of dual candidacy, which will make it harder for regional Members to use their position to target particular constituencies, and it will restore the right of voters to reject a particular constituency candidate.
Does that mean that the Government will also be introducing similar prohibitions against London Assembly Members and against Scottish Members? Or is the position different in London and Scotland?
We will address those issues in good time. I have already indicated to the noble Lord that we have not replied to the Arbuthnott report, which is a serious document that deserves serious consideration. We have not responded to that as yet, but in this Bill we are legislating with regard to Wales, because that is where a clear issue arose.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that the Government were bent on partisan activity and that all others were ranged against the Government. I do not think that we are being partisan; the reform will affect all parties equally. No party will gain or lose a single vote or seat in the Assembly as a result of this change. Three Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government are currently in marginal seats. They will also lose the safety net that the list system would otherwise have provided. It will not do for noble Lords to suggest that the Government are taking through a narrow, partisan matter to look after their own in Wales. Some of the crucial people who serve the Labour Party in Wales will make the inevitable sacrifice and there will be no safety net for them.
It will remove unfairness in the current system. In doing so, it will improve the electoral system. We maintain that the proposals in Clause 7 to prevent candidates standing both in a constituency and on a regional list will strengthen the integrity of the system. It puts the voters in charge by enabling them to choose successful candidates and reject unsuccessful candidates who cannot then arrive in the Assembly through the back door.
On the basis of those arguments, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment. I recognise the genuineness of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and the strength with which he has presented them. However, I ask him to recognise that we are not putting forward a casual clause in a Bill. We are fulfilling a clear, specific promise to the people of Wales on how we would deal with a problem identified in the elections for the Welsh Assembly in 2003. We are fulfilling that commitment through this legislation. We have the right and the obligation to do so. This House should tread carefully when such explicit commitments are being made by a properly elected Government.
I am grateful to all who have participated in the debate. It is clear that there is a range of feelings in the Committee.
I was particularly touched by the quotation given by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell from a very independent academic, Professor Robert Hazell, of the Constitution Unit of the London School of Economics. He referred to these proposals as, "nasty, spiteful and seemingly driven by partisan motives".
When such a statement is made one looks to see what lies behind it. Jonathan Bradbury and Meg Russell gave evidence. They said:
"Any mechanism that seeks to overcome problems generally experienced only by Labour Assembly Members, will also be open to being seen as partisan. It may be worth reminding Labour Assembly Members that whilst they may feel individual resentments at 'unfair' competition from list Assembly Members, the current electoral arrangements were created with their party's overall aim to remain the largest party".
That is the crux of the issue. The system was set up by the Labour Government in the 1998 Act. They now have to change it in order to protect their own constituency members because they have no regional list members.
I think that even the Labour Party would have been ashamed of creating such a system; and that is why it never did. It insisted upon a degree of proportionality but, of course, it may be regretting that now.
We have heard a fair analysis of the arguments. We know what lies behind the Government's change in the Bill from the 1998 Act. It is their wish to protect their own sitting Members from attack, not only from regional list members and candidates but from anyone else, because they are in something of a fix and their long predominance in Wales is severely under threat. I shall test the opinion of the Committee.
[Amendments Nos. 17A to 20 not moved.]
Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 8 [Calculation of electoral region figures]:
[Amendments Nos. 20A to 20R not moved.]
Clause 8 agreed to.
Clause 9 [Allocation of seats to electoral region members]:
[Amendments Nos. 20S to 21 not moved.]
Clause 9 agreed to.
Clause 10 agreed to.
Clause 11 [Electoral region vacancies]:
[Amendments Nos. 21A to 22A not moved.]
Clause 11 agreed to.
Clause 12 [Entitlement to vote]:
moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 8, line 14, at end insert—
"(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1), section 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (c. 2) (local government electors) shall have effect as if for subsection (1)(d) there were substituted—
"(d) is of voting age (that is, 16 years or over)"."
We regard Amendment No. 23 as very important as it would mean a voting age of 16 years or over. That is the main point of the amendment. It is extremely important because we believe that the non-participation of young people in elections must be reversed. One reason for that is the increasing maturity of young people who, in their middle teens, very often are frustrated by not being able to participate in the political process. The amendment would give young people an increased interest in politics. I joined a political party at the age of 15. One reason was that the leader of the party was arguing for world government, which undoubtedly will not be achieved in my lifetime nor probably in my grandchildren's lifetime, but it is a worthy objective; the creation of a European Union—that was in 1950—and a parliament for Wales, which judging by the kind of debate that we have had today, possibly will now occur in my lifetime. We have been championing these causes for the past 50 years or so.
If young people, and 16 year-olds in particular, are given the right the vote, then they will participate in the political process and develop the habit of voting. Indeed, many of us have seen, particularly when visiting schools and looking at mock elections, especially at the time of general elections, that young people are extremely keen on participating in the political process. Sometimes, when they reach their later teens, they are not motivated because earlier in their lives they have not developed the habit of voting. This amendment is an extremely worthy one, to achieve that aim for the Welsh Assembly.
Amendment No. 25 is a tidying-up amendment and puts people involved in parliamentary service or in the employ of the Assembly Government on exactly the same footing as those in the Civil Service. It extends the list of those disqualified from being Assembly Members. I beg to move.
I speak against the amendment, since I spoke against votes at 16 on the Electoral Administration Bill. I intend to be perfectly consistent. I say that despite the fact that I joined my political party at the age of 13—they allowed me to join earlier. However, I have always been opposed to lowering the voting age.
There are two objections to this amendment. One is its inclusion in this Bill. Any amendment to do with the voting age should be in national legislation, not specific to a particular part of the United Kingdom. The second is more substantive on the arguments. I notice that, in moving it, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, did not even present any, which suggests that his party may have lost heart in the case for votes at 16. I shall immodestly assume that that is because of my persuasive arguments on the Electoral Administration Bill, but let me knock the noble Lord's arguments on the head anyway.
We are normally told that 16 year-olds can get married, join the Army and pay income tax. That in itself is misleading. You cannot marry at 16 unless you have parental consent; if you join the Armed Forces, you are not sent to the front line; and hardly any 16 year-olds pay income tax. In any event, there is a distinction to be drawn between where we allow 16 year-olds to do certain things and lowering the voting age to 16. In many areas where people are allowed to do things at 16, you are empowering not 16 year-olds but those who can select 16 year-olds to do particular tasks. These things cannot be exercised by all 16 year-olds; they are empowering other people. You can join the Army at 16, but you must be selected to do so, widening the pool available to the Army in making that choice. If 16 year-olds are going to be given the power to join boards of companies, again, the companies are being empowered, not so much the 16 year-olds. There is a filtering mechanism, rather than allowing 16 year-olds to exercise a power directly.
There is also a distinction to be drawn between lowering the voting age and lowering the age at which one can stand for election to public office. If you are going to lower an age, lower the age at which you can stand for election, for the reason I have just given: you are not empowering 16 year-olds, you are empowering the electors. It is then up to them to choose whoever they wish. There is a crucial distinction there.
I am not persuaded that a compelling case has been made for lowering the voting age. It is not standard practice elsewhere. I know the argument is that it would encourage 16 year-olds to get more involved. I go round and speak to sixth forms; they are very interested in politics. The problem is that we must address those who are not in the sixth forms, and this is not going to encourage them. We must get them interested in the first place, and just opening up the voting system will not do that in itself. We must look at other routes for achieving it. I am not persuaded that there is a case for lowering the voting age, and it is completely inappropriate in the context of this Bill.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that this is not the correct Bill to lower the voting age to 16. I cannot see how we could have different voting ages in different parts of the United Kingdom, and I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, means voting at 16 just for the Welsh Assembly elections, or for all elections in Wales: local government, parliamentary and European.
The noble Lord said that the provision would encourage 16 year-olds to get more involved in politics and be more interested in voting. I am not too sure about that. I am not sure how many 18 year-olds vote. If we had 16 year-olds voting in Wales, there could be an even lower percentage of the electorate voting if they did not take up the right to vote. If we suggest that 16 year-olds should get the vote, we should have a UK consultation—not just a Welsh one—for it. We need a much bigger discussion than simply slotting this amendment into the Bill. For that reason, I oppose the amendment.
I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that the Government do not regard this Bill as an appropriate vehicle for a reduction of the voting age. That has been said before, and will come as absolutely no surprise. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, made this point and we agree with him, although we do not necessarily agree with a number of other things he said.
The issue was recently debated in another place as a result of an amendment to the Electoral Administration Bill. More than 100 MPs from across the party divide have signed an Early-Day Motion calling for a lowering of the voting age. In addition, the Government welcome the recommendations of the Power inquiry, and its contribution to the debate on democracy in Britain. Careful consideration will be given to the report and its findings. We welcome the debate created by the report concerning the reduction of the voting age. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, says that this amendment is important, and we agree. The Government, in the context of our wish to boost voter registration and participation in the electoral process, are keeping the matter under active consideration.
Noble Lords are absolutely right that we should look at ways of increasing turnout and political engagement among young people. It is a myth to suggest that they are not interested in politics. Although levels of turnout may be low among young people, surveys consistently indicate that they are passionately interested in a wide range of issues, from the environment to animal welfare. It is vitally important that we look for ways to reconnect young people to the political process and tackle the shockingly low turnout among young people at elections. Votes at 16 are one possible way of achieving that, and it is absolutely right that we have a public debate about the subject.
Although arguments have sometimes been made in favour of a different minimum voting age for different elections, we have always approached matters such as this on a consistent basis across the UK. Nevertheless, we remain open-minded about the proposal for votes at 16, and will continue to listen to arguments such as those made today.
While I agree with the sentiments of Amendment No. 25—to ensure that both Assembly government and Assembly staff are disqualified from being Assembly Members—it is not necessary. Assembly government staff are civil servants, so are disqualified from being Assembly Members by virtue of Clause 16(1)(a). Assembly staff—those who serve the Assembly, and who are employed by the Assembly Commission—are disqualified by virtue of subsection (1)(e).
With the benefit of these explanations, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response and I thank noble Lords who participated in this short debate. I understand the view of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on this. He does not see the need for empowering 16 year-olds. However, that runs counter to, for example, the government policy of teaching citizenship in our schools. That assists young people to become more mature about the society in which they live and about the responsibilities of living in a democracy and exercising the freedom of choice through the ballot box. Very often between the ages of 16 and 18, other things take over and young people's interest in politics, particularly among those who leave school at 16, wanes.
I was interested in the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. I see no reason why Wales could not take the lead as far as the voting age is concerned. She was an ardent supporter of the creation of the Children's Commissioner and of the Commissioner for Older People in Wales. Those are two firsts for Wales and the position is different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. I see no reason why the lowering of the voting age to 16 should not occur. I am sure that some of us will remember that although we were entitled to vote at a certain age, there was not an election for four years so we did not exercise our vote and had to wait for it. Many of us could vote at 21 but some of us had to wait until we were 25 to vote. There is a delay that needs to be taken into account.
I thank the Minister for his response, in which he said that the Government are listening on this issue and trying to grapple with the issue of low turnout at elections. We see this amendment as one way of reversing that trend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
There is a situation in the Bill that we would like to clarify. We wish to ensure that within 28 days following a general election we should elect a presiding officer, referred to in the Bill as a presiding officer, and a deputy presiding officer, referred to in the Bill as a deputy presiding officer. Within those 28 days there may be an acting situation, but there is clearly business to be done immediately following a general election. This ensures that the elections of the presiding officer, the deputy presiding officer and the First Minister take place on the same day. Because of the relative size of the Assembly, decisions about who will be the presiding officer, the deputy presiding officer and the First Minister are inextricably linked. The dynamic they represent is important because the balance of power in the Assembly is so narrow. As a result, it makes sense to elect them simultaneously. That is an important point.
Amendment No. 27 is grouped with Amendment No. 26. It adds,
"different political groups both of which are political groups without an executive role".
In fact, the presiding officer should not have an executive role or stand for election in that situation. The addition ensures that the opposite will not happen. The presiding officer and the deputy are not exclusively from opposition parties so this amendment ensures that there is fair representation across the board. It is just that they are not part of the government. That means that they cannot perpetuate the position that we have at present where the minority party has both non-voting positions locked up by the opposition, helping them to have a majority. There are two important points in respect of choosing the presiding officer and the deputy in these amendments. I beg to move.
I shall first speak to Amendment No. 26, standing in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Clause 25 requires the Assembly to elect a presiding officer and deputy presiding officer at its first meeting following a Welsh general election. The amendment changes that provision into a requirement to elect an acting presiding officer. It then requires the Assembly to elect its presiding officer and deputy at a later meeting, within 28 days following the election.
The Government are sympathetic to the concern that, on occasion, it may not prove possible to reach broad agreement between the political groups in the Assembly on who should be nominated for these positions in time for the first meeting. However, the clause already allows the Assembly, in effect, to elect an acting presiding officer and deputy. Those officers could then either resign or be removed from office by the Assembly, if necessary, once agreement had been reached on the final nominations for those positions.
The amendment is therefore unnecessary and there is no need to place an obligation on the Assembly to hold two presiding officer elections within the space of four weeks following the general election, even if it is able to reach an early consensus on the appointments. It would also leave the Assembly without a deputy presiding officer until the second election was held.
I now turn to Amendment No. 27. In the Government's view, this amendment is also unnecessary. Clause 25 does not prevent either the presiding officer or the deputy presiding officer belonging to a party in government and the other to a party in opposition. That is also the position under the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the current Standing Orders. Clause 25 provides that the governing party or parties cannot also occupy the roles of both presiding officer and deputy presiding officer, as that could lead to charges that the office was not entirely independent.
However, at the current Assembly's request, the flexibility of changing this rule by a two-thirds vote was added. These provisions carry forward what is in the Government of Wales Act 1998, but in addition they recognise the possibility of an administration being formed from more than one party. Clause 25(7) contains provisions designed to ensure that the responsibilities of being presiding officer and deputy presiding officer do not all fall to one political group, or to political groups from which Ministers have been appointed, unless the Assembly resolves otherwise under Clause 25(9).
This amendment would also place an additional restriction on the political groups from which the presiding officer and deputy presiding officer could be elected. If the amendment were accepted, if the presiding officer belonged to a political group in opposition in the Assembly, the deputy would have to belong to a political group in government, or vice versa, unless the Assembly resolved otherwise. Of course, another consequence of a member being elected to the role of presiding officer or deputy presiding officer is that they may not be able to vote in proceedings. I understand the concern that the governing party or parties should not be able to deprive the opposition of two votes in this way while not losing any on their side. However, I hope I have explained clearly that it is already possible to avoid this situation under the clause. I hope that noble Lords will be satisfied with my explanation and assurances that the provision provides the flexibility that I think we all believe is necessary.