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Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 78, line 11, leave out ("four") and insert ("five").

The noble Lord said: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, for giving a taster of this amendment--though I would recommend that, when the noble Lord comes to eat his leek in Cardiff, I should serve it to him, parboiled, cooled and with a little vinaigrette rather than completely raw.

This group of amendments in my name and those of my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches provides an opportunity for us to examine rather more closely the whole issue of proportionality. It also provides an opportunity to examine the role of the regional members, if I may so call them--the additional members elected from electoral regions. As we scrutinise that matter, it is important to ask the Government what are their future intentions in regard to the electorate from which those additional members are to come.

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We know that the Euro-constituencies, which are the electoral regions for the purpose of this Bill, are due to come to an end before the next European elections. It is therefore important to have an indication as to whether it is the intention that these regions will continue to be electoral regions for the purposes of the national assembly, or whether some other electoral regions would be appropriate.

Personally, I commend the election of additional members on a regional basis. That will provide us with a further constituency basis in regard to the role of members. I fail to understand the question raised earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the relationship between a constituent and a member being dependent on the fact that there is only one member. I see it as a rather attractive idea that a constituent might have recourse either to a constituency elected member or to a regionally elected member on the party list should a constituent or member of the public wish to take up any issue. In regard to the noble Baroness's remarks on the Spanish Parliament, I have never found any difficulty in relation to any member of the Cortes or the Senate of that parliament being able to raise any issues. Indeed, it would be difficult to prevent my Catalan colleagues in both of those houses from raising any issue--on education or any other matter.

The question of the role of the additional regional members is an important one for this place. It is relevant to rehearse it briefly in this debate. I do not want to see us create a two-tier membership. That seems to be the hint emerging from the noble Baroness: that somehow the first-past-the-post members would have a more realistic mandate because they would be somehow closer to the electorate than those on the party list. But surely those of us who will vote, and use our second vote for the list, will be similarly electing a member and creating a mandate for that member, as would be the case under the first-past-the-post system. The fact that the constituency is to be the same as the Westminster constituency for a member of the national assembly elected on the first system, and that there will be another regional electoral district for the other member, is beneficial to democracy. It implies a multiplicity of experience brought to bear by members representing different areas, although those areas will overlap.

That brings us to the question of the role of regional, or additional, members in relation to regional committees. Regional members representing regions might well provide excellent members for regional committees, thus giving them a further representative role. That is the reasoning behind this set of amendments; namely, that we should have more additional members but within the general parameters of the White Paper and the referendum.

I know that the Government might say later that the number 60 is sacrosanct because that is the number in the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is still referring back to the question of the result and the figures. In relation to this whole debate, I would say this to the noble Lord. If we all accept the result, then we accept it. But we need to accept the political lessons from the result; namely, that there is a need to make the

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assembly as inclusive--to quote "government speak" on the matter, with which I entirely agree--and as proportionate and representative as possible. For those reasons, I suggest that the numbers in our amendments, whether we take my five or my noble friends' six, provide for greater proportionality.

If we examine the Scottish system--to anticipate what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, may say on this matter--the greater numbers and the greater split between the first-past-the-post members and the regionally elected members provides for greater proportionality than in the Welsh model.

Perhaps we may consider the calculations made on the basis of the results in previous elections and apply them to a potential assembly election. We can see that the present proportionality, together with the present calculation of the AMS system--to which we will come in later amendments for debate tonight--provide an imbalance in favour of the larger parties. There is a "big party" bias in the d'Hondt allocation system which would be reflected in the projected results in Welsh constituencies with the present numbers of members.

That affects the party of Wales, Plaid Cymru, in that as a party we would not be as proportionally represented, certainly in South Wales, under the present additional member system. However, with the allocation of further members, it might be possible to allow for the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, and the Liberal Democrats to be more fairly represented.

I do not make those points for party reasons but because I wish to ensure that the assembly has as broad a spread of representation from as many political parties as possible. I hope that there will be Conservatives there. I shall not name which of the 10 selected members I might prefer to see there, it is a matter for the electorate. I am sure that Mr. Richards will be there, we hope Mr. Andrew and some others will also be there. Whoever it may be, it is important that they feel able to play a part and have a proportional share of power in the bodies. Similarly with the Liberal Democrats, and particularly the Green Party. I would not be at all averse to seeing the occasional independent member from certain regions of Wales represented in the assembly. If we are to have that facility, we need a stronger form of proportionality than is before us at present. Therefore, I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: It is fortunate for me that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I shall speak to Amendment No. 6, in my name.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has already pointed out that the provisions in the Welsh Bill for proportionality do not match those in the Scottish Bill. In that Bill there is a ratio of four constituency members to three list members. In the Welsh Bill it is two to one. Consequently, the proportional element in Wales will not be as strongly felt as it will be in Scotland.

I see no reason that that should be the case. That is why it is proposed that we should have 40 elected members for the 40 constituencies in Wales and 30 elected proportionally by the list system. That is the

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purpose of my amendment. I endorse much of what the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said but I wish to make this point. In order to make the various committees effective and make them fulfil the function for which they are designed, there must be manpower, or womanpower, and a proper balance. The Bill provides in Clause 58(5) that in the subject committees,

    "the balance of the parties in the Assembly is reflected in the membership".

There are six subject committees. The subordinate legislation scrutiny committee is covered by a clause to the same effect, Clause 60(2), which states that the Committee shall be elected,

    "so as to secure that, as far as is practicable, the balance of the parties in the Assembly is reflected in the membership of the committee".

The same provision goes for the audit committee, and there are other committees on which members of the assembly will have to serve. In addition to having a balance of parties, it is to be hoped that on the six subject committees and on all the other committees, as well as the regional committees, there should be a balance of interests from all parts of Wales. That represents a huge amount of work for every member of the assembly. But if, for example, a smaller party were to return 10 members, as opposed to the larger party returning 35 to 40 members, Members of the Committee will appreciate that the workload on the individual members will be considerable. They will have to play their part in sitting on each of the committees in order to maintain the party balance.

It is for practical reasons and to make the committee system effective with committees that support the executive of the Welsh assembly, that we suggest that, as in Scotland, it would be sensible to increase the numbers of members to 70 rather than 60 and to include the same proportionality for Wales as there is in Scotland.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, mentioned, I gave a foretaste of this discussion. I had better not say it is part of the "fiddling around with the PR system"; perhaps I had better say "twiddling around with the PR system" or I may have the Liberal Democrats on their feet again. This is the kind of twiddling that inevitably PR invites. If we twiddle it a bit one way, we get a slightly different result and if we twiddle it the other way the result is different again. If we give it a great big twiddle, we can turn the results on their head.

The noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I are at one on this. Four additional members per European constituency is not enough to gain necessarily--although it may gain occasionally--any kind of vague proportionality. One of the problems is that there are conflicting philosophies, conflicting arguments, which have to be compromised. The purest form of proportionality is simply for everyone in Wales to vote for the party of their choice. It is then for the mathematicians to get out a simple calculator and work out what percentage of vote it is and what percentage of the size of the assembly it represents. Then the mathematicians can say to the

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Labour Party in Wales: "There you are, you can have 30 seats". It would be the same for the Conservative Party, one hopes. I had better watch that I do not get more than the number of seats in the calculation, but I am being realistic. The Labour Party may have half, one would say to the Conservative Party: "You can have 15". Plaid Cymru could have 10 and then whatever is left is for the Liberal Democrats. That is the purest form of PR but it has no constituency link. So if we wish to try to marry the proposals, we must make compromises.

The one thing about the system chosen in the Welsh Bill is that it makes a considerable compromise in the direction of the first-past-the-post seats. The Scottish system of seven additional members in each European seat achieves in many cases quite close proportionality, although not in every case and not exact proportionality. The same is true here. I considered some of the Welsh constituencies on the basis of the last election, and some are quite wide of the mark with four extra members on the basis of proportionality. The Committee might think that I was coming to the conclusion that either the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, or the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was right.

My concern, however, is that the proposal adds members to the Welsh assembly and therefore costs to the Welsh budget and therefore less money for other services in Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, would have 10 additional members of the Welsh assembly. That would add up to quite an additional cost, year on year, which would have to come out of either the health budget or the education budget.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is mindful of that and seeks only five extra members. One could address the problem in a slightly different way if one were prepared to work inside the envelope of 60 members and move away from Westminster constituencies and even European constituencies. It seems pretty irrelevant to me that in both the Bills we are dealing with European constituencies when there is another Bill before us which will make the European constituencies obsolete and out of date. It seems odd that we are using European seats.

If we had four seats in Wales--and I can see the argument for that--it would match the regional committees, to which I shall come later. There is a strong argument, which perhaps the Government will consider, for matching the additional member seats to the regional committees. Then there would be a good link between the regional committees and the additional members. The additional members could ensure that they represented the regions. It would go some way towards increasing the top-up; it would be increased by one which would undoubtedly improve the proportionality.

My problem in relation to increasing the number of members of the Welsh assembly is that when I look at page 22 of this interesting document--The National Assembly for Wales--and see the timetable, it indicates that it will not be the most overworked organisation on earth. In fact, the assembly will meet in plenary session but once a week and committees twice a week. I do not believe that there is a huge amount of work to be done

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and the more people, the less each of them will do. I am not persuaded therefore that we should increase the numbers.

The point of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in relation to more members helping the committee system sets aside the fact that the Government made a major change in the other place and agreed that the Welsh system should be on a Cabinet-government model and not on a local government committee system model. We welcome that, though I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, does. He seemed to wish for the committee system to be introduced.

The Government made changes in the other place, for which I doubt they received referendum mandates and I say to my noble friend Lord St. Davids that that was not part of the White Paper though I make no complaint about that; it is up to both Houses in discussion to see how matters can be improved and this is an improvement. Because of those changes, the argument that the committees may need more members begins to fade away when it is no longer a local government system. The Government have therefore dug themselves into a hole of their own making. I am interested to hear what defence will be put up.

My difficulty in supporting either of the amendments is that I cannot see any justification for increasing the number of Welsh additional members and therefore the total size of the Welsh assembly. As I indicated, there are other ways of tackling the problem, one of which would be to reduce the number of large constituencies and thereby have more additional members per constituency. That would help, though it would not entirely remove the lack of proportionality that this system brings about.

6 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: These two groups of amendments put forward parallel proposals. The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, increases the number of members from 60 to 65 by increasing the element of regional members, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, increases the number from 60 to 70. Two separate arguments are advanced in support of both proposals. First, it is said that it improves proportionality; secondly, it is said to assist in relation to the discharge of the workload.

As the Government made clear, they believe that 60 members is an appropriate size for the assembly. We expressed that view in our White Paper and that view received the endorsement of the people of Wales in the referendum on 18th September last. Therefore, if we increase the number of assembly members at this stage, it would constitute a major departure from the proposals submitted to and supported by the electorate.

Perhaps I can deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in relation to workload. We do not accept the view that there will be insufficient members of the assembly to enable it to carry out its tasks efficiently and effectively. We want all assembly members to have a meaningful and responsible role. It

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will be for the Standing Orders Commission to advise on the internal workings of the assembly, but I do not envisage there being numerous large, cumbersome committees involving most members in little more than a never-ending round of committee meetings. I am confident that a 60-member assembly will provide a challenging workload for members without overburdening them.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred to the problem of how the small party will deal with its commitments in relation to its committee membership responsibilities. That is always a problem in democracies. When there are small numbers of elected members, in so far as they must be represented on a specific committee their time will be more stretched than those parties which achieved more in the election and therefore have more people to spread around the committees. Therefore, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that is not a point with which any system could effectively deal.

We believe that our arrangements deliver proportionality. Although there is a substantial first-past-the-post element in the system, the balance we have struck is about right. It is premature to speculate on the result of the elections in 1999 and the extent to which the distribution of seats in the assembly may or may not depart from the proportion of votes cast for each party. The Secretary of State made clear that the Government may look again at the electoral arrangements if, in the light of experience after 1999, they fail to meet our expectations. However, this is not the time to move from the arrangements endorsed by the electorate in the referendum and not much will be achieved by speculation as to what the result and the proportionality of that result may be when the elections come.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, raised a final point: will the Euro-constituencies continue to serve as electoral regions for the assembly after they cease to exist for European election purposes? The answer is yes. Paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 1 specifies those areas as electoral regions and they will continue to serve as such, subject to any modifications in relation to boundaries recommended by the Boundary Commission for Wales.

In the light of those remarks I strongly urge noble Lords not to press the amendments.

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