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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish : It may well have been, but I do not agree with that decision any more than I agree with the recent decision at Greenock sheriff court which said that three women who had vandalised property of the British Government at Faslane nuclear base were guilty of no offence at all. That was an amazing decision. I presume that the Government whom the noble Baroness supports have also decided that it is an amazing decision because they have decided to appeal against that decision. Sheriffs are not infallible and can make wrong decisions as, indeed, I think the Government would agree the sheriff at Greenock has done.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Does the noble Lord accept that if we were to deprive people of the right to vote in the way in which his amendment suggests, we might also begin to fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights? Does he not believe that that is an important consideration in these matters?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The Government should not tempt me down the road of the European Convention on Human Rights because, for the third time in just about as many months, the Government are about to be found wanting in Scotland for having legislation which infringes that convention. Frankly, we shall have severe difficulty with those decisions if they stand up in the appeal courts.
That was not a good point to make on a day when I gather that the whole system of children's panels in Scotland, which we have heard being lauded on many occasions, may be found, to my mind in a quite crazy way, to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. It will be amazing if that convention becomes the tool by which that excellent method of dealing with young juveniles who have committed crimes must be changed adversely because of that decision.
I digress principally because the noble Lord invited me to be careful of the convention on human rights. I suggest that he should take that warning back to his friends in government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My amendment seeks to leave out the words "for example". Much as I have searched, I do not believe that I have ever found before in legislation the words "for example". I have asked a fair number of my noble friends and they too are fairly puzzled. I suggest that it is an extremely bad example
It is a long-standing principle that electoral registration officers determine who is resident in their area and, therefore, who may be entered on their electoral register. In the overwhelming majority of cases, that is a straightforward exercise. It is quite a simple matter of fact whether or not a person is living at a particular address.
But there is also a grey area. There are cases, perhaps involving people who are only temporarily in residence, which are less clear cut. In such cases, registration officers must reach a judgment. They must decide whether they are satisfied that a name should appear on the register. To make that decision, they must take account of knowledge of the circumstances, common sense and, indeed, the considerable volume of case law which now exists on this question.
Registration officers must also take account of whatever guidance the relevant legislation gives and the words of new Section 5(2) of the 1983 Act are to be inserted by Clause 3 and appear at line 10 on page 5. They are there to help them. But--this is the crucial point--the words in the Bill are not the only factor which must be taken into account. If local knowledge leads the registration officer to believe strongly that there should be a different decision, he should clearly do what he thinks right. Equally, if a court decision were to suggest that a different decision should be reached, we should expect that to be followed.
The words in the Bill are simply one of the factors which must be taken into account. That is why they are qualified by "for example". I trust that with that explanation, the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I am puzzled by this. What do the words "for example" do? With respect, I do not believe that the Minister has explained that. It really had not crossed my mind, until my noble friend was speaking, that "for example" is rather unusual in statute law. If my noble friend is quite wrong about that, I am sure that the Minister will correct him immediately and say that "for example" appears frequently in many Bills and Acts of Parliament.
I have the impression that that is not the case. I do not quite know what a court of law would make of those words when it came to interpreting the will of Parliament. It would be a very odd idea if, in legislating, the government of the day were to illustrate what is meant by examples in the wording of the Bill. The Minister would be well advised to take this back to his legal advisers and ask them what they mean by it and what is its value.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that it is an unusual situation. But being unusual is one thing; being unhelpful is another. As I say, most people thought that that example was extremely helpful.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has tabled further amendments which I have not yet noticed, but if the words "for example" are omitted, it does not make sense because the words following the words "for example" are simply an example of the words which precede them. I should have thought that that was helpful rather than otherwise, even if unusual.
Lord Naseby: In his answer, the Minister did not differentiate between primary and secondary legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, is right that it is not unusual to find "for example" in a schedule. But as one who in another place was responsible for five years for secondary legislation, I am mystified as to why the Law Officers have recommended that there should be a "for example" in this primary legislation.
Lord Naseby: It may be, but this is not in a schedule. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that we have seen it in a clause of a Bill. My noble friend on the Front Bench is asking why this has appeared in primary legislation in a clause. Is it on advice from the Law Officers that that is to be the way forward now in the new age, or is it that it has just appeared as an example? It will be incredibly difficult for the courts to interpret those matters. I suggest that the Minister should either tell the Committee that the Law Officers are recommending that it should be done in primary rather than secondary legislation for reasons given; or that they are not. Perhaps if we had an answer to that, we should accept it.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I am very glad to have provoked the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, to his feet because I am always interested to hear his contributions. But on this occasion he did rather invalidate the point he was making by quoting a schedule. I was asking whether there is a section of an Act of Parliament which uses those words "for example". If that is the case, I shall be very interested and I shall have had an educative day, which I do not always have. I am sure that my noble friend is correct to say that it is highly unusual to use these words in a clause. If I am wrong, perhaps the noble Lord will say so and I shall then be happy to withdraw my argument. However, if my noble friend is right, I believe that the Minister ought to look again at the advisability of using such a form of words here.
The Earl of Onslow: I regret that the reply given by the Minister rather missed the point made by my noble friend. Either this is a new departure in legislation--and if it is a new departure, then why has it been done?--or the words have been put in only because someone thought they ought to put them in just for fun. We all know that such mistakes can happen. All we are asking for here is clarity and precedent. If precedent is to be broken, it should be broken for a reason. The Minister's response did not even attempt to respond to that point.
Will the Minister please answer the following two questions? First, is my noble friend right when he says that this form of words is unprecedented? Secondly, if he is right, why has it been put into the Bill? If the Minister does not know the answers to those questions, could he take them away and find out?
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