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Business of the House: Standing Order 70

3.13 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

In moving the Motion I take the opportunity to thank the usual channels for agreeing that this important order should be discussed even though the Joint Committee has not yet reported on it. That is necessary for the timetable of the primary legislation under which it is laid, and because of the need for the order to be approved by both Houses before the Summer Recess. Business Motions such as this are unusual, but I hope in these circumstances that the House will approve the Motion today.

Moved, That Standing Order 70 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with to enable the Motion to

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approve the draft Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 1998 to be taken tomorrow notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the draft order has been laid before the House.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Liaison: Select Committee Report

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 133) be agreed to.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I wish to express my regret that the Liaison Committee in its recent consideration of possible subjects for ad hoc Select Committees has decided for administrative reasons that the inquiry which I had proposed into our overseas trade should not be undertaken now, but reconsidered at some later date. If ever there was an issue which I feel should be considered for parliamentary scrutiny at the present time, it is this one. The latest trade figures showing a major adverse balance, the difficulties of the Rover company, the recently published CBI trends survey, the trends survey of the Engineering Employers' Federation, and the views expressed by the TUC and many other organisations suggest that there is deep unease about the situation affecting our overseas trade. I regret therefore that we shall not use the clear knowledge and experience in this House to look at this urgent issue. If we are not to do so, I very much hope that will be done in another place because I feel that this is a matter which deserves urgent parliamentary scrutiny.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I quite understand the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that at this stage your Lordships' Liaison Committee did not find it possible to recommend that an ad hoc committee should be set up straightaway on this matter. However, I ought to tell your Lordships that the committee regarded this proposal as a powerful one, as indeed it did the proposal which it is recommending to your Lordships for an ad hoc committee on monetary policy. The Liaison Committee was torn between those two powerfully advocated proposals. It was not divided, but it was torn between those two proposals. However, it was unanimous in its decision.

Perhaps I may bring a certain amount of comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. As your Lordships will have appreciated from the report before the House, the matter is to be returned to in the autumn. I received a substantial number of recommendations for the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, not only from within your Lordships' House but also from organisations outside. Those who wrote to me were in the main leading people from those organisations. Therefore it has not escaped the attention of the committee that this was a powerful proposal.

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The only other point I wish to add is the following. While I am sure your Lordships and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will appreciate that I am not in the circumstances able to give any guarantee, I have no doubt whatever that when the Liaison Committee reviews these matters in the autumn, although it will have to do so in the light of any other proposals which have emerged in that time, it will return to this proposal with some sympathy. I shall also ensure--Members of the committee will have already appreciated this--that the additional comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, are borne firmly in mind.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pensions (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Read a third time.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

The ex-service community is most grateful to noble Lords in all parts of the House for their support for the Bill and for their help in facilitating its passage.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Morris of Manchester.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Government of Wales Bill

3.20 p.m.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons and amendment be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons reasons and amendment be now considered.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line refer to HL Bill 98 as first printed for the Lords]


Clause 4, page 2, line 42, leave out from ("have") to end of line 9 on page 3 and insert ("one vote (referred to in this Act as a constituency vote).

(2) The constituency vote is to be given for a candidate to be the Assembly member for the Assembly constituency.
(3) There shall also be calculated the number of additional member votes for each registered political party which has submitted a list of candidates to be Assembly members for the Assembly electoral region in which the Assembly constituency is included.
(3A) The number of additional member votes for each party shall be the same as the number of constituency votes for the candidate of the party in that constituency.").
The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason--

Because it would unjustifiably restrict the right of voters to

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choose the persons who are to be members of the National Assembly for Wales for the electoral regions.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 3A. With the permission of the House, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 5 to 12, 14 to 16, 18 and 20 to 22.

These amendments are concerned with the electoral system. They would have the effect of allowing electors only one vote rather than two, as the Government proposed both in our White Paper and in this Bill. Another place has taken the view that your Lordships' amendments would unjustifiably restrict voters' ability to exercise a meaningful choice of their regional representatives--as was pointed out in this House, the effect of the amendments would be to create a method of indirect election of regional members via a constituency vote rather than allow electors to vote directly for the party or independent candidate of their choice.

We have debated this matter on several occasions. We are into the realms of hypothesis when considering the possible manipulation of the electoral system. We on this side of the House are, however, clear that whatever the validity of that hypothesis, the solutions proposed in this and other amendments would be worse than the hypothetical problem--and that view has been accepted by another place.

Moved, That this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 3A.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, first, perhaps I may congratulate the noble and learned Lord who was until yesterday Solicitor-General on his translation to the Cabinet Office. We are grateful to him for his explanation of the Commons' rejection of our amendments relating to the PR system proposed by the Government. I am sure that the House will be relieved to hear that I certainly do not intend to argue the case for these amendments yet again. That has been done superbly and refreshingly on several occasions already by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

One of the highlights of our debates was the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, on the first day of Report on 1st July (col. 685 of Hansard) that he had been confirmed in his position that first past the post is "easily the best system". As I understand it, it is the noble Lord's diamond wedding anniversary this week. I am sure that there are many noble Lords in the House who would like to congratulate him and Lady Callaghan on that celebration.

Our belief on this side coincided with that of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. It was our starting-point in the debate about the PR system. Nevertheless, we acknowledged that the Government held a different view on proportional representation and were intent on the additional member system now proposed.

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We were also aware that there were defects in that system. We were particularly concerned about the "split ticket" or "alter ego" party problem highlighted by Dr. Michael Dyer of Aberdeen University, whereby political parties could manipulate the two-vote system to their own advantage by using different descriptions of themselves for constituency and electoral region elections.

We were anxious to assist the Government to avoid that pitfall in the legislation. I can vouch for the fact that some of my noble friends and other colleagues devoted much time, thought and argument to meeting the challenge posed by the potential abuse arising from that defect. The noble and learned Lord the former Solicitor-General, the Secretary of State for Wales, and the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Welsh Office, Mr. Win Griffiths, all accepted that there could be a problem. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish also candidly acknowledged that there were shortcomings in his single vote solution, although, resourceful as ever, he had ideas for meeting those imperfections.

I say all that in order to impress upon Members of both Houses the sincerity and genuineness of our debates on this issue. Our amendments have nothing whatsoever to do with Conservative Party prospects under the PR system as alleged in Monday's Western Mail. That article was very wide of the mark. If any party should fear the two-vote system, I believe it is the Labour Party. If the latest BBC poll is to be believed, it stands high in the voters' favour, but of course the Labour Party must wonder just where its supporters' second preference will lie.

My major point is that throughout we have been concerned to ensure the integrity of the PR system proposed in the Bill. In the words of my noble friend Lord Mackay at Third Reading,

    "Here is a problem that we all see; nobody denies that it is possible for it to happen. We should do something about it now".--[Official Report, 15/7/98; col. 263.]

The Government have failed to offer a legislative remedy as yet and have contented themselves with the assurances given by all parties that they would not abuse the system. But such assurances, alas, may not endure in the face of obvious party advantage should that occur. We suspect that the assurances given both here and in the other place will barely outlive those who have given them. But we have received assurances, too, from the noble and learned Lord that the Government have given considerable thought to this matter and do not have a closed mind on the issue. We may therefore return to it when we discuss the Registration of Political Parties Bill. Meanwhile, we have no intention of pursuing our current amendments.

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