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The Earl of Onslow: We have accepted that by accepting the Weatherill amendment, which is all about hereditary Peers. I am delighted that the noble Baroness has done so. It shows great flexibility of mind and great intellect worthy of her Oxbridge education, but the noble Baroness cannot have it both ways.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am always delighted to be flattered by the noble Earl. But he may not have noticed that we have not yet reached the Weatherill amendment, although the Government were anxious that we should perhaps consider that amendment first in order to obviate some of the discussions that we have had in the last two days in Committee and no doubt will have again subsequently. That agreement was not achieved. We are now on an earlier amendment. I am seeking to discuss with the Committee why it is that the
The Government believe that reform can succeed only on the basis of approaching this simple, unique, historic Bill on a one-stage, first-stage method of reform. That is why we have consistently proposed and argued for it. That is why we ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
Lord Eden of Winton: Before my noble friend rises, I have listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness has said. As I indicated, I somewhat leant towards the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Boardman because I thought that the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Blatch would go for a longer period of time. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde asked a number of questions about the Joint Committee of both Houses. In order that I may make the sort of judgment I may be called upon to make in a moment or two it is extremely important that I should have more information about the Joint Committee of both Houses. Surely the Government are not waiting for some other committee to report to them on what the Joint Committee of both Houses will be, how it will be comprised, when it will be put into place, how long it is likely to take and what its remit will be. Can the noble Baroness give some answers to the points made by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I can give the noble Lord the response that will always be given in your Lordships' House to matters of procedure of this kind, particularly to those which affect both Houses of Parliament. When the time comes, I am quite sure that those matters will be appropriately discussed by the usual channels. As to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, concerning the draft standing orders on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, which we shall come to--I did not mention it before because the noble Lord was not in his place--the noble Lord may be aware that the Clerk of the House put a draft to the Procedure Committee on 30th March, and that is now in the Library.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: Am I right in thinking that the manifesto, as well as making this decision, stated then that there would be a joint committee? If that decision was made so long ago, it is surprising that it is not possible to give any details of the thinking behind it.
Lord Strathclyde: I was going to make exactly the same point. The issue of the joint committee is not one just for the usual channels; it is a matter not only of government policy, but of manifesto policy. When I asked about when the Government intended to set up that committee, that was nothing to do with the usual channels; that was to do with the Government. I asked whether it would be in a matter of weeks or a matter of months; how long the Government envisage it lasting; and what they believe the balance between the two Houses will be.
Those are fairly specific questions. They are not the Second Reading points which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, thinks I make all the time. We have not had answers. If we cannot have answers, it is more difficult for my noble friend Lady Blatch to take a view as to whether this question should be divided on now. These are important issues. If the noble Baroness does not know the answers, it would be much easier for her to say that she does not know the answers.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Of course I do not know the precise mechanics. I do not in any way feel ashamed of making that point. I am sure that there are many procedural questions of that kind which the usual channels will debate--questions about the form, the nature of the membership and the timing. We have always said that this would be set up once the Royal Commission had reported. That is not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, pointed out, in the manifesto because the manifesto referred exclusively to the Joint Committee of both Houses and not to the Royal Commission. But there has never been any question that once the Royal Commission had reported the Joint Committee of both Houses would be set up.
I am sure the noble Lord is aware that the White Paper said, in regard to the further procedures on this matter, that we would hope that both Houses of Parliament would be able to consider the findings both of the Royal Commission and of the Joint Committee of both Houses at some stage before the date of the next general election. If the noble Lord is now going to ask me to give him the date of the next general election, I fear I must disappoint him.
Lord Boardman: The noble Baroness accused me of putting down my amendment purely for the purpose of delay. That is not so. The purpose of the amendment is to persuade the Government to tell us what they have in store--to delay the application of the Act, if the Bill becomes an Act, until we have a Royal Commission report pointing out what is in store for us. They should not pull down this ancient structure of the House of Lords without having some plan on paper to show what we might expect and without having something of which we can be proud. So the noble Baroness is quite wrong in accusing me of delay. The sooner it could happen the better. It would have been much better if the Government had thought of a Royal Commission before introducing the Bill instead of having to be persuaded to do it.
A question arises as to whether my amendment or that of my noble friend Lady Blatch is to be preferred. By the time we vote on the amendments we will have agreed which would be the better line. There is a considerable degree of support for both amendments. I certainly very much support what my noble friend Lady Blatch said. I shall not go into what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. His remarks came strangely
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I think that this might be a convenient moment for us to break. In moving that the House do now resume, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage should begin again not before 8.53 p.m.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 13th April be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the regulations apply to Northern Ireland only and cover a limited number of aspects of electoral procedure for the forthcoming European parliamentary elections. This is in contrast to the Great Britain regulations which were far more wide-ranging, covering the conduct of all aspects of the new regional list voting system for Great Britain. The regulations before us today introduce much more minor and technical amendments to existing statute. They are tailored to fit the particular local circumstances of Northern Ireland, where the single transferable vote system of proportional representation will continue to be the electoral system used.
Despite being modest in content, this draft instrument is nevertheless essential to bring European parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland into line with recently passed United Kingdom-wide legislation. As many in your Lordships' House will know, the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, which received Royal Assent on 14th January, introduced the new electoral system for European elections. This new list system applies to Great Britain only. The STV system of proportional representation which has been employed in Northern Ireland for European parliamentary elections since 1979 remains unaltered.
However, the 1999 Act changed some of the terminology applicable to all European Parliamentary elections in the UK, and this draft legislation reflects these technical changes for Northern Ireland. Consequently, references to the European "parliamentary constituencies" and "representatives", referred to under the 1978 Act, will be amended to read "Electoral Regions" and "Members of the European Parliament".
In a similarly technical amendment, this piece of legislation also makes provision, in Regulation 5, in respect of by-elections for European parliamentary seats. Again this is an amendment consequential to the 1999 European Parliamentary Elections Act, which replaced the provisions in the 1978 Act by delegating them to subordinate legislation. I must stress that both the existing mechanism for triggering a by-election and the electoral procedures involved are unaltered by these amendments.
In accordance with the practice which was adopted in Northern Ireland for the Forum election of 1996 and the Northern Ireland Assembly elections last year, we have decided not to apply Section 93 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. Under the Act broadcast media are prevented from covering a "constituency" campaign issue without the consent of all the candidates standing within that constituency. Such consent is not required to cover issues considered "national".
The distinction between "national" and "constituency" issues is often somewhat artificial, particularly for European parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland where the whole of Northern Ireland is treated as one constituency. In addition, it is clearly difficult to seek the permission of each one of the large number of candidates who may choose to stand in the electoral region. Disapplying this provision will make practical sense and will for these elections bring Northern Ireland into line with the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations for the rest of the UK.
The draft regulations before your Lordships' House make provision for the application of the provisions of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 to European parliamentary elections held in Northern Ireland. This Act enables political parties to register their names and, if they so choose, their party emblem. Once registered a party benefits from protection against the unauthorised use of its registered name, and its candidates may request the inclusion of their party emblem on the ballot paper.
Regulations 6(12) and (15) of this draft are necessary to amend existing regulations to allow parties registered under the Act to place their registered name and emblem on the ballot for European parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland should they so choose. The provisions of the Act do not automatically apply to European parliamentary elections held in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords will see that the schedule to this draft instrument provides a new specimen ballot paper illustrating these changes.
A further important amendment which this legislation brings forward is an amendment to Section 75 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. The expenditure which can be incurred by a third party without the approval of an election agent is determined by Section 75 of this Act in the amount of just £5. However this provision as applied to parliamentary elections was found to be in breach of Article 10 of the European Court of Human Rights. It was the judgment of the Court in the Bowman case that setting the limit on such expenditure at such a low threshold placed an unjustified restriction on freedom of expression. Accordingly, we have increased the £5 limit for these European parliamentary elections to £5,000.
I hope your Lordships will agree that this increased figure accords with the spirit of the recommendations contained within the report of the Neill Committee. The report advocated a limit of £500 for each parliamentary constituency. However, for European parliamentary elections Northern Ireland is not divided into constituencies but the whole of Northern Ireland is treated as one much larger electoral region. Consequently, we have therefore opted for the higher amount of £5,000 to cover the entire electoral region. This amount is identical to that which will apply for each of the electoral regions in Great Britain.
In conclusion, this draft instrument makes provision for a number of relatively technical amendments to the existing statutory framework for European elections in Northern Ireland which, while relatively minor, are nevertheless essential if the June elections are to run smoothly. I beg to move.