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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, when I introduced these amendments, I indicated that three noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on behalf of their parties gave assurances that it would not happen; and I gave assurances on behalf of mine. However, as I pointed out, those assurances do not bind our parties for all time. I regret to say that the example given by my noble friend Lord Onslow of Woking is a reminder to us that we should make legislation as tight as we can achieve against any eventualities. Therefore while I fully accept that nobody suggests that it would be done in Wales at the moment, the fact of the matter is that at some future time some party could decide to do that. The electorate would quite understand, especially the electorate which supported the party in question. The electorate would be perfectly capable, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, of having the good sense to work out who is who, and to see the advantage that it would bring to their own party. I do not think that many of the supporters of that party would disapprove if in extreme circumstances it stood between them and losing the election.

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Some of the arguments of the noble and learned Lord about how unfair and undemocratic it was for smaller parties could equally be applied to deposits and to the need to get above certain thresholds in order to get the deposit back. It seems to me that one could argue in exactly the same way that having deposits before one stands for election is anti-democratic and unfair on small parties which may not be able to achieve the 2.5 per cent. threshold now laid down.

I do not think that it is a terribly good argument for the Government to say that any of my proposals are unfair. As I said originally, I accept that my hardest proposal, which demands that every seat be contested, would be unfair. However, my softest proposal--if I may call it that--would simply stipulate that a party would have to contest one seat. If it contested one or more, then it would have to submit a list. I do not think that that is a huge obligation for even a very small party if it is serious about standing and if it is likely actually to gain support.

I fully accept that my amendments may not be the best way forward, but I should have liked to hear some sort of commitment from the Government as regards finding a way, by using all the skills at their disposal--for example, draftsmen and so on--to prevent this eventuality happening. However, it seems that I am not going to get that. The five amendments that we are discussing are mutually exclusive. I should like to have the opportunity to read what the noble and learned Lord said to see whether I can come forward with another suggestion which might help to alleviate what I believe could be a serious problem. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 to 9 not moved.]

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 3, line 25, at end insert (", who shall publish the list at the earliest opportunity").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12. The Minister will recall an amendment I moved in Committee which proposed that the regional returning officer should publish the party list of candidates as soon as he received it, or as soon as possible thereafter. We suggested that for the simple reason that we believe electors are entitled to know who is on the party list. I went further and asked for a display of the lists at polling stations. However, that is a slightly separate issue.

On the first point, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, thought my idea a very sensible one, and said:

    "As regards publishing the lists as soon as possible after their having been submitted, I am bound to say that, in principle, that seems a thoroughly sensible idea".--[Official Report, 11/5/98; col. 883.]
The noble Lord went on to talk about an elections procedure order which will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Do we have to wait for that order before the principle of publication is accepted? Should the principle of publication not be written into the Bill as we suggested?

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Coupled with this amendment are Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 which propose that the order of names on the list shall be determined by the party and that the list shall appear on the ballot paper. That is consistent with our amendments in favour of the open list system. I thought that I heard the noble and learned Lord refer to the fact that those points have already been conceded; namely, publication of the lists, plus the order of the lists, and their use on ballot papers. We also suggest in our amendment that the list should be rotated, as it were, in order to try to ensure that candidates receive equal exposure to the electors. I am told that that system is in use abroad.

The thrust of our amendments is that electors must know--surely they have a right to know--who they are voting for as well as the party; in other words, who is to represent the party. Again, although I should like some clarification, I understand that the principles of what we are talking about have been agreed for the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12. Amendment No. 10 raises an issue which we touched upon in Committee. It was stated then by the Government that we fully supported the principle of making available to voters information about the composition of party lists and that we would look at the means of achieving that intention.

At parliamentary elections, the acting returning officer is required to publish a statement of the persons nominated once the time for making objections to nominations has expired. We shall need to make similar provision for the publication of a statement of persons nominated for the assembly elections. In the case of party lists, we will propose that that statement should include the names of all candidates on the list. However, that is a detail about electoral procedure.

As already mentioned, we are currently in the process of drawing up an assembly elections procedure order which will lay down the rules and regulations for the conduct of the assembly elections. The order is the appropriate vehicle for making provision of this type. Further, the order will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and your Lordships will have the opportunity to examine the detail when the order is presented to Parliament--which, on current plans, will be before the end of this year.

We cannot support Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 which call for the inclusion of the names of list candidates on ballot papers. Party lists submitted for assembly electoral regions may include up to 12 names. A ballot paper which included the names of every party list candidate would be unmanageably large and have a mass of confusing detail. With that amount of information on the ballot paper, many electors could well be deceived into thinking that they could in fact vote for an individual candidate on the list. Indeed, I mentioned that aspect during the course of our debate regarding the choice between the open and the closed list.

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Mention was made in Committee that we are considering the means by which the composition of party lists can be publicised and made widely available. I explained then that one of our favoured options would be to make it a requirement to have notices placed in all polling stations displaying the names of party list candidates in that region. We are still considering with elections administrators the practicalities of the various options. Some of the possible complications were alluded to in Committee--notably, the need to make provision to give equal treatment to all other candidates and the need to ensure that there was sufficient wall space in polling stations to accommodate all those notices. I am confident that any difficulties can be overcome. I fully anticipate that the elections procedure order will include adequate provision for publicising the names of all party list candidates.

Finally, I do not believe that the second element of Amendment No. 12 would be at all helpful--not to voters, and certainly not to the regional returning officers. The proposal is that there should be, as it were, a revolving list; in other words, you put the list of regional candidates on each ballot paper but you change the order for various chunks of the ballot papers. Noble Lords need only imagine the administrative exercise and expense of ensuring that a certain proportion of ballot papers had a party list arranged in different ways. How would you cope with several party lists with different numbers of candidates? The prospect of arranging every ballot paper to meet the full requirements of this amendment in respect of every party list would be a nightmare. Indeed, for what purpose? Many of the ballot papers will never be used by voters. Turnouts do not reach 100 per cent. even in the best of years.

I hope that the assurances about provision being made in the elections procedure order for publicising party lists will persuade the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General for his remarks. I am glad to hear that all the candidates' names on the list will be published and that further progress will be made when we have the electoral procedure order which we can discuss in the course of the affirmative procedure. At the same time I was disappointed to hear that the names will not appear on the ballot paper and that individual electors will not be able to vote for their chosen candidate. It seems to me a great pity that that will not be allowed because there is a tradition in this country among the electorate that they like to know for whom they are voting. I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General thinks there would be a difficulty with what we are suggesting. The system that we recommend is certainly practised on the Continent and people do not seem to have undue difficulties with the system there. Therefore it is with some regret, and yet with some relief at the anticipated contents of the electoral procedure order, that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Calculation of electoral region figures]:

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Return of electoral region members]:

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

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