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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the Committee for giving me the opportunity to amplify some of the points that I made earlier in responding to the questions raised.

Perhaps I may start with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. I believe that the electoral commission can be well served by having a broad base of professional expertise and support. Therefore, it follows that the argument which I believe started to be developed this afternoon--that somehow that can be guaranteed or ensured only by having a commission full of retired judges, lawyers and so on--does not necessarily follow. I believe that there are many other areas of expertise from which we can draw; for example, the business world, the world of accountancy, the academic community, the regulatory

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sector generally, the voluntary sector, the Civil Service and, of course, local government. I am sure that all those areas of interest will bring forward expertise from which the commission will benefit greatly.

However, none of that is to say--I believe it was a view developed by Members on the opposition Benches--that we have something against the judiciary, and retired judges in particular. Of course that is not the case. They have our greatest and highest respect, as we heard from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor earlier this afternoon. I am certainly not ruling out their presence on the commission. They may well be among those from whom the commission chairmen are drawn in the future. I believe that that is an important consideration.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, is very keen to see a retired judge chair the commission. Of course, that is an important consideration. However, I do not believe that at this stage it would be right to rule out expertise and independence from wherever it comes; whether it be from the legal profession, accountants, civil servants, former chief executives or whatever. I believe that we must draw widely, and that is the point that we are trying to make.

Perhaps I may address the issue raised latterly by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. Of course, he is absolutely right to say that, from his interpretation of Clause 13, the boundary committee chairmen may not be lawyers or judges. I believe that that follows from the way in which we have set out the legislation. At the moment that is the case, but it need not necessarily be so in the future. After all, this is a new commission. It has a new range of responsibilities. We are bringing together and seeking to merge commissions. However, the electoral commission is an entirely new notion. Of course, a very important part of its work will be to examine local government boundaries in terms of local elections and the boundaries of constituencies so far as concerns other elections.

However, we want to see something that is holistic. That is the general approach that we are attempting to adopt in this matter and it is for that reason that I have made the case that I have this afternoon. Therefore, we want a broadly-based commission--

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am now doing something that one should never do: I am asking a question to which I do not know the answer. I believe that the current position is that judges chair the Boundary Commission. Is that by Act of Parliament? If so, is this Bill repealing that portion of the Act of Parliament? It would be very useful to know the answer. I believe that I am correct in understanding that in future the chairmen of boundary committees will not be judges. However, if that has been the statutory position in the past, are the Government now repealing that statutory position?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The answer to the noble Lord's question is that, yes, in effect, that is what we

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are doing. I am grateful to him for taking the question further. It may well be that I need to go through the schedules and make clearer exactly where we are effecting a repeal, because that would appear to be the effect of what we are doing with that particular clause.

I was about to conclude my comments. Before I do so, perhaps I may advise the noble Lord that page 181, line 29, of the Bill lists a repeal to Schedule 1 to the 1986 Act. It may help the noble Lord to know where that can be found.

I hope that I have answered noble Lords' points in this discussion. I trust that Members of the Committee will be content with what I have said. I trust also that they will be convinced of the need for this entirely new creature within the body politic. We are trying to create something which is new and different, which has independence and impartiality, and which draws widely in its composition. If we achieve that, I believe that we shall be the better for it. We shall have a useful and valuable regulatory body that takes in a whole range of professional expertise, experience and background to advise us better on how we may regulate our political parties and conduct an important element of our political life. In saying that, I trust that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendments this afternoon.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: Will the noble Lord forgive me and allow me to ask him to consider one point between now and Report? The noble Lord keeps saying that it is a question of expertise. I concede that that is, of course, an element. However, it is not a question of expertise when one talks about judges. Here, we are concerned with a political question: the Boundary Commission. It has political connotations and judges are seen as the embodiment of impartiality. I am not putting forward a case that judges have greater expertise than, for example, an accountant or anyone else. Not a bit of it. However, they are perceived by the public to be men of total impartiality and of the uttermost integrity. In a political situation such as this, it seems to me to be utter madness not to accept that point. I ask the noble Lord to seek advice on this issue between now and Report.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Again, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point. Is there behind the noble Lord's comments the belief that civil servants, senior local government officers and people drawn from the business world cannot effect the same quality of impartiality and judgment? Is that what he is saying?

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am saying that this is a political question; it is the public perception. The judges are accepted as possessing that quality of total impartiality and utter integrity. That is all I am saying.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Of course, I accept that. Clearly, we must reflect on the balance of the commission, its composition and membership. We shall have to think very carefully about the appointments. Having said that, I believe that I have

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made the case that other professions and other sectors of life can provide people of the utmost integrity and impartiality. That is what we should be seeking in this exercise.

Baroness Fookes: I wish I could say that I am satisfied with the Minister's answers. Sadly, I am not. Like others, I hope that the Government will reflect before Report stage on the points that have been made.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Like my noble friend, I am rather disappointed, especially as regards her amendment which is a good deal narrower than mine. Certainly, when we discover that the boundary committees are no longer to be chaired by judges, it is reasonable to ask that the Boundary Commission should be chaired by a judge.

I listened to the question which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, put to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. The answer is that judges are probably better at being neutral and unbiased because that is what they are trained to be. I cannot say that most of the rest of us are trained in that way. We may sometimes think we are but that is not necessarily the case.

In many other respects in this country, we use judges because we think they have a training which allows them to listen in a balanced and neutral way to a case, weigh up the evidence, and so on. If the Government take the view that I can be balanced and weigh up the evidence and so on, perhaps they will decide to send me to the Bench. I should not complain too much about that, given the salary which is a good deal better than the expenses for attending your Lordships' House. I do not believe that they will go that far with the argument that judges are just like lots of other people.

I have one further point to leave with the Minister. He did not really answer my question. If I read this correctly, at some stage, when boundary committees sit in the future, four out of the five commissioners could be chairmen of boundary committees. That seems to me to mean that four out of the five will be fairly heavily involved in what they are doing there. That will leave the commission itself rather thin.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: When the commission is expanded, as I understand it--and I thought this was a common understanding--the number of commissioners will increase. So it will not be four from five; it will be four from nine. I hope that that is a common understanding.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord. As I was asking the question, I realised why there is a reference to "not more than nine" in the Bill.

This has been an extremely useful discussion. I see much more clearly what the position will be in the future in relation to the boundary committees. I am not certain that I am satisfied with the answer and the argument that we should move away from what we

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have traditionally done. We shall have to consider that before the next stage. However, we have had a good debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The Electoral Commission]:

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