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("( ) A person may not be appointed as chief executive or other member of the staff of the Commission if he is a person who (by virtue of section 3(3A)(b) to (d)) may not be appointed as an Electoral Commissioner.").



    Page 101, line 8, at end insert--


    ("(2A) The appointment of any member of the staff of the Commission shall terminate on the occurrence of such an event as is mentioned in any of paragraphs (a) to (c) of paragraph 3(3).").

The noble Lord said: These amendments have already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 17:


    Page 101, leave out line 17 and insert ("end of the list of "Royal Commissions and other Commissions"--").

The noble Lord said: Government Amendment No. 17 is a minor technical amendment. Paragraph 4(4) of Schedule 1 would presently add the electoral commission to the list of other bodies contained in Schedule 1 to the Superannuation Act 1972. It would be more appropriate for the commission to be included in the list of Royal Commissions and other commissions included in that schedule. Amendment No. 17 makes this minor change. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I was going to nod the amendment through, but I should like to ask a simple question. I presume that this matter involves the superannuation of the staff and not the commissioners or the deputy commissioners. I assume that I am right about that. I am getting more confirmation than the Government Front Bench is getting, but I should be grateful for a yes or a no.

Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Lord for telling me the answer. The answer is yes.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

11 May 2000 : Column 1776

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 19:


    Page 102, line 29, after ("is") insert--


    ("(a) reimbursed by the Scottish Ministers in pursuance of section 12(9), (Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland)(8) or 135(6); or
    (b)")

The noble Lord said: The government amendments in this group fulfil commitments given during the Report stage of the Bill in another place by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in response to similar amendments tabled by the Opposition Front Bench. The amendments relate to the electoral commission's functions in respect of local government boundaries and local government elections in Scotland. These are of course devolved matters under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998. As such, it is properly a matter for the Scottish Executive and Parliament to decide whether these functions should be conferred on the electoral commission.

Amendment No. 54 inserts a new clause after Clause 17. Noble Lords will have spotted that this new clause is in similar terms to Clauses 17 and 18. Those clauses empower the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Welsh Assembly respectively to transfer, by order, the functions of the Local Government Boundary Commissions in England and Wales to the electoral commission. The new clause confers on Scottish Ministers parallel powers to transfer to the commission the functions of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland.

We see considerable benefits in one body being responsible for the review of all electoral boundaries. The merger of the functions of the Parliamentary and Local Government Boundary Commissions, under the aegis of the electoral commission, will lead to improved efficiency and greater effectiveness and coherence in the review of all boundaries, from ward level up to Westminster constituencies. It is right and proper that the decision to transfer these functions should rest with the responsible body in each case.

The amendments to Clauses 9, 12 and 135 similarly empower Scottish Ministers to confer on the electoral commission the functions specified in each of those clauses as they relate to local government elections in Scotland. I should add that all the order-making powers conferred on Scottish Ministers by these amendments are subject to the equivalent to the negative resolution procedure, thereby allowing the Scottish Parliament to have the final say.

Finally, government Amendment No. 19 makes a consequential change to Schedule 1. The amendment provides that any expenditure incurred by the commission in discharging any functions conferred on it by Scottish Ministers shall be reimbursed by the Scottish Executive.

Perhaps I may turn to the amendments standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. They have much the same theme as the government amendments, but despite that they are not ones that I can invite the Committee to support. As I have explained in the context of the government amendments, under the

11 May 2000 : Column 1777

terms of the devolution settlement it is properly a matter for the devolved legislatures to determine the extent to which, if at all, functions in respect of devolved matters should be conferred on the electoral commission.

The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly may wish to invite the commission to review the conduct of referendums held on devolved matters. Similarly, Scottish Ministers may wish to consult the commission before making rules in respect of local government elections in Scotland. But in each case the decision must rest with the devolved administrations or legislatures, as appropriate. Clause 9 provides the mechanism by which the advice and assistance of the commission may be sought on such matters. But the important point here is that the initiative should come not from the commission but from the devolved administrations. Given the provisions of Clause 9, I would urge the noble Lord not to pursue his amendments and to support the government amendments.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the government amendments. He will appreciate that my amendments were tabled before his. My intention in tabling them was to hold a space so that I could raise the issue of Scotland and why Scotland appeared to be excluded when there were clauses in the Bill for Wales and a clause in the Bill for Northern Ireland.

As the Minister said, the amendments concern the Local Government Boundary Commission. Thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, we have already had a brief discussion about the merits of these matters all being brought under the same umbrella. I came to the Committee armed with the report of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. It states that,


    "the Election Commission should have UK-wide authority especially since all aspects of election law (save for local government elections) are to be reserved for the UK Parliament and under devolution legislation".

The report goes on to recognise the importance of the commission being involved in electoral matters in all parts of the United Kingdom. We have already discussed that point, although the Committee has not agreed with me.

One point slightly puzzles me. It might have been tidier if the Scottish Parliament had been asked to decide this issue a few weeks ago. The Bill could then have been constructed on the basis that the electoral commission would deal with the matter. The Bill proposes instead that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly can make the decision at some time in the future. It might have been tidier and more sensible to ask them to debate the matter before the Bill started its progress through Parliament or even before it reached your Lordships' House. We could then have had a substantive clause making the issue clear. However, I am content with the way the provision is put. I cannot believe that the Scottish Parliament will do anything other than ask the electoral commission to take over this responsibility. I cannot believe that the

11 May 2000 : Column 1778

Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly will do other than ask the electoral commission to do the same.

I think it is a pity that we did not clear the ground so that we could have incorporated the matter properly in the Bill rather than in the way the Minister has proposed. However, I am content with the amendments. I hope, and rather assume, that the Scottish Parliament will do what is suggested and take advantage of the electoral commission to deal with local government issues as well. I am content with the Minister's amendments. I shall not move mine, which were tabled to allow me to probe, "Why not Scotland?"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Speaker's Committee]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 20:


    Page 2, leave out lines 9 to 34 and insert--


    ("(a) the member of the House of Commons who is Leader of the House;
    (b) a member of the House proposed by the Leader of the Opposition;
    (c) six Members of the House of Commons who are not Ministers of the Crown;
    (2) The members of the Committee mentioned in subsection (2)(c) shall be appointed to membership of the Committee by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
    (3) Schedule 2, which makes further provision in relation to the Speaker's Committee, shall have effect.").

The noble Lord said: I am not sure whether I can move the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lamont. Unfortunately, he is not able to be present and asked me whether I would move it in his stead. It is grouped with my amendment and the amendments all address the same issue. Therefore, I am sure that my speech will cover what my noble friend was going to say.

We now come to the question of the Speaker's Committee. Perhaps the Minister will explain when he comes to reply the role envisaged for the Speaker's Committee. I initially put down an amendment to oppose Clause 2 standing part of the Bill. I did that largely to have a discussion about the Speaker's Committee and what role it will play and what will be its relationship with the electoral commission. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on that.

My amendment and the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lamont deal with the question of the composition of the committee. As the Bill stands, one member is to be the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. I am not sure whether that position is currently held by a member of the governing party or whether that committee is one which is always chaired by a member of the governing party. Another member is to be the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who would clearly be a member of the governing party. Another member is to be,


    "a Member of the House of Commons who is a Minister of the Crown with responsibilities in relation to local government".

11 May 2000 : Column 1779

He would be a member of the governing party. So we are possibly at three. Another five members are to be Members of the House of Commons who are not Ministers of the Crown. All five, or four, or three could be members of the governing party, this giving the governing party an overall majority on the Speaker's Committee.

No doubt the Minister will tell me that nothing is further from the Government's mind. I, of course, would believe him. But we are not legislating just for this Government. We are legislating for something that will be here for a while. I have suggested that when we come to the five Members of the House of Commons who are not Ministers of the Crown, we should add the words,


    "at least four of whom must not be members of the governing party or parties".

The reason I have added "parties" is that at some time in the future--one never knows--we may follow the example of the Scottish Parliament (although perhaps after seeing it work no one will follow its example) and have a coalition down the corridor. So two of the political parties may form the government. In that case, I should certainly want the four members to be drawn from the other parties, those that do not form the governing party or parties.

My noble friend's amendment is more specific. He prefers to specify a different set of people: the Leader of the House of Commons, someone who is proposed by the Opposition, and six Members who are not Ministers, to be appointed by the speaker. My noble friend is obviously less suspicious than I am because he does not include the qualification that I propose. Dare I say in his absence that I believe that my amendment is superior?

I believe that I have explained the amendment perfectly well and my remarks are made to some extent for the record. I understand that the Speaker of the House of Commons has made her position clear. Much as I can appreciate that, my problem is that, redoubtable as she undoubtedly is, she will not be Speaker for ever. Therefore, I believe that this provision would be better in statute rather than depending on the ruling of the current order of the Speaker's office. Hence I believe that my amendment is preferable to that of my noble friend and I look forward to hearing the Minister accept it. I beg to move.


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