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Lord Monson: Although I would not have put as many commas in the provision as did the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, I agree with the general thrust of his amendment. It seems to me that the words to which he objects and are superfluous and that the subsection would be more easily understood without them.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: The noble Lord's amendment bears on Clause 2(4) of the Bill. That subsection provides that, after the initial entry to negotiations, a nominating representative may change the members of his party's team in the negotiations. In the words of the Bill, a nominating representative of a party may,

The amendment would omit the words, "nominated for that party".

Having considered the amendment, we take the view that it would make the subsection less clear and possibly ambiguous. It would no longer be clear which team the nominating representative would be entitled to change, and it would therefore accelerate the confusion that concerns the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. Logically, there is only one, which is that of his own party, but at best the subsection, as the noble Lord would amend it, would become less easy to understand; and at worst there may be scope for needless dispute. I believe that there will be a large amount of dispute during the negotiations and we would not like to encourage more. We believe that the purpose of the Bill is best accomplished by the drafting as it stands. Having heard our reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Monkswell: I thank the Minister for that response. I recognise that it is a matter of interpretation. As I said, it is not a life and death matter. I eventually understood the sense of the subsection. On the basis of the Minister's remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1308

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Referendums]:

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 2:

Clause 4
2Page 2, leave out line 22, and insert--

("( ) that the persons entitled to vote shall be those who would be entitled to vote as electors at a local election in a district electoral area in Northern Ireland.")

The noble Lord said: This is a rather more substantive amendment. Clause 4 provides the procedures for referendums. In the Bill as drafted, the Secretary of State would effectively have the power to determine who would be entitled to vote in that referendum. A number of noble Lords have drawn attention to the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee which identified this section of the Bill as needing to be drawn to the attention of this Chamber on the basis that in other electoral law the definition of those enfranchised for the election was included in primary legislation.

The amendment seeks to define the franchise for the referendum in exactly the same way as for the election of delegates for parties to the forum, on the basis that we are having an election to determine the forum. From that basis the negotiating teams will be drawn. It seems logical to me, and I hope to the Government, that the persons who were involved in the initial election on 30th May should be those who would vote in a referendum.

With that explanation, I hope that the Government will regard the amendment as a useful improvement to the Bill and one which satisfies the concerns of Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: I may have misunderstood. However, if the amendment were to be accepted, might it not give the right to vote to citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are temporarily resident in the North, and to citizens of other European Union countries because they are allowed to vote in local elections throughout the EU? I do not know whether that is one of the purposes of the amendment. It seems a possibility. I may have got it wrong. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister, and from the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, on that point.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, rightly points out, there are dangers in this matter. The noble Lord's amendment raises a point which was discussed fully in another place, following which a similar amendment was withdrawn. Apart from the general desire for consistency with the 1973 Act, it is possible that referendums held under Clause 4 arising from negotiations could affect different groups of people in Northern Ireland or different parts of the Province in different ways. In those circumstances, it is conceivable that it might be thought desirable to seek the views of

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1309

those groups of people resident in those areas rather than the views of all the people of Northern Ireland. If the amendment were accepted, the measure would lose that element of potential flexibility.

We are working for much of the time in uncharted waters. In all the circumstances, I stress that the Committee can be confident that the delegated power will not be abused. I trust that the noble Lord will feel able to accept that assurance.

Lord Monkswell: I am a little concerned. From what the Minister says, it appears that there could be referendums in parts of Northern Ireland rather than a referendum for the whole of Northern Ireland. I believe that this is the first time that that has been suggested. I may not be familiar with all the ins and outs of the negotiating stances that have taken place as regards Northern Ireland. However, I gather from the debates in another place that there has been no such reference. I understand, too, that a similar amendment to my amendment was not tabled there, but I may be mistaken.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, one of the problems is that we have a number of different franchises for different circumstances. There are local elections, parliamentary elections and European elections. It is not always easy to determine who is enfranchised for which. In parliamentary elections Members of your Lordships' House, Anglican clergy, and a range of other individuals are disenfranchised. One of the difficulties is that there is no consolidation of all the various electoral Acts and Representation of the People Acts so we cannot easily examine all the various and different options that are extant and the different disqualifications.

Apart from the sense of having a continuity of electorate--that is, the same electorate for the referendum as for the forum delegates--it is my understanding that the electorate for local elections is the most widely drawn of all the electorates that could be constructed under the various electoral laws, and that therefore lends it an enhanced legitimacy.

I am placed in a rather difficult position. The Minister effectively introduced a new angle to the whole situation by suggesting that there might be discrete referendums encompassing only a part of Northern Ireland. I think the only way--

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may be able to help him. It was not my intention to confuse the matter. I confirm that there was fairly extensive discussion on the issue in another place, although that is not the answer in regard to any examination that might be undertaken in this Chamber. I stress that the clause was drafted to ensure the maximum amount of flexibility. If there are to be negotiations and people are to be elected by those in Northern Ireland, it is important that their views should be taken into account and, where at all possible, acted upon. Flexibility was built in to allow for that. There was no intention of any abuse of power.

I hope that my earlier remarks assured the noble Lord that not only do we have a very high registration of voters in Northern Ireland, but we also make every

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possible effort to ensure that those involved and who have a right to vote know about an election and are encouraged to vote in it. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to accept those assurances.

Lord Monkswell: I accept the Minister's assurance that there is no attempt to frustrate the will of the people of Northern Ireland, if I may put it like that.

As I said, I find myself in some difficulty. I hesitated to think in these terms when I was asked earlier whether I should bring forward any amendments on Report. I said that I would not since I did not think it would be necessary. I shall have to consider the Minister's remarks. However, on the basis of the assurances that she has given, in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 3:

3Page 2, leave out lines 23 to 25

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment perhaps I may also consider Amendment No. 6, which is virtually identical and merely relates to a different part of the Bill.

The amendment seeks to delete sub-paragraph (c) of Clause 4(3) relating to the conduct of the referendum; namely, that the Secretary of State, if it appears to him to be expedient, should apply,

    "with or without modifications, any enactment (and in particular any enactment relating to elections) or any provision made under an enactment".

That power, which the Secretary of State may use in determining an election, is fairly widely drawn. It is another curious situation. As I said, the same power is tied to the conduct of elections for the Forum.

I recognise that the power would be used subject to an order coming before both Houses of Parliament and therefore be subject to affirmative procedure. However, given that we do not normally have the ability to amend such orders, I seek reassurance from the Minister that in the event it will be used circumspectly by the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

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