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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): Amendment No. 8. I have to inform your Lordships that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 9.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 8:



("( ) In section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (statutory committees) after subsection (5) insert--
"(5A) A member of the Assembly who is--
(a) a Minister of the Government of Ireland, or
(b)")

The noble Lord said: My Lords this is a redrafting amendment and it achieves the same result as the current draft, but in a rather more straightforward manner. As currently drafted, the Bill defines who may not be the chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee of the Assembly. It precludes a Minister of the Government of Ireland or the chairman or deputy chairman of certain committees of the Irish legislature from holding such offices. It does so at present by requiring Standing Orders to be made by the Assembly to make such provision. On reflection, we consider it better to make this provision directly on the face of the Bill rather than by the more cumbersome method of including provision in the Bill to require such provision to be made by standing order. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment Nos. 10 and 11 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 12:


    Page 2, line 23, at end insert--


("( ) In section 40 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (which makes provision as to the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission), after subsection (3) insert--
"(3A) A member of the Assembly who is--
(a) a Minister of the Government of Ireland, or

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(b) chairman or deputy chairman of--
(i) a committee of the Dail Eireann (House of Representatives of Ireland),
(ii) a committee of the Seanad Eireann (Senate of Ireland), or
(iii) a joint committee of the Oireachtas (National Parliament of Ireland),
may not be appointed as a member of the Commission." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble and learned friend, Lord Falconer gave an undertaking to consider further the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, in Committee to add membership of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission to the list of disqualified offices at Clause 2.

This we have done, and on the basis that the present membership of the Commission is unelected and the commissioners hold positions of responsibility in the Assembly. Such membership is not open to Assembly Ministers, or indeed the chairman and deputy chairman of Assembly statutory committees. The Government agree that the bar should apply to certain office holders in the Irish Parliament who, if elected to the Assembly, might otherwise have been qualified. Consequently, this amendment ensures that no Assembly member who is also a Minister, a committee chairman or deputy chairman of the Irish Parliament would qualify for membership of the Assembly Commission.

Amendment No. 16 is simply a consequential amendment to the Title. We ask your Lordships' House to reject Amendment No. 17 on the basis that the amendments I have outlined will have exactly the desired effect as those moved by the noble Lords, Lord Laird and Lord Molyneaux. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Laird, I express thanks to the Minister for taking on board some of the points we made. We understand that it is not always easy to concede entirely what we want. However, we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the way in which he has endeavoured to meet us on this point.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

In the Title:

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 14:


    Line 4, leave out ("Ministerial office in Northern Ireland") and insert ("certain offices which may be held by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment to the Title is consequential to the government amendments including membership of the Police Board and the Assembly Commission in the list of disqualified offices at Clause 2. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I rise only to say that there will be other amendments to the Title, consequential on the earlier decision of the House, which we shall pursue at Third Reading.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 556

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 16:


    Line 10, at end insert ("or a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill

4.52 p.m.

Report received.

Schedule 1 [The Electoral Commission]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 1:


    Page 122, line 25, leave out sub-paragraph (1) and insert--


("(1) There shall be paid to an Electoral Commissioner such remuneration, and any such allowances or expenses, as may be specified in a resolution of the House of Commons.
(1A) If a resolution of the House of Commons so provides in the case of any person who is an Electoral Commissioner or former Electoral Commissioner--
(a) such amounts shall be paid towards the provision of superannuation benefits for or in respect of him as may be specified in the resolution;
(b) (in the case of a former Electoral Commissioner) such pension shall be paid to or in respect of him as may be so specified.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment and those grouped with it make a number of essentially technical adjustments to the provisions of Schedule 1. The amendments are concerned with the remuneration of electoral commissioners, deputy electoral commissioners and assistant electoral commissioners. They provide, first, that pension benefits do not have to be paid in every case. Indeed, we envisage that only the full-time chairman of the commission will receive a pension. The second purpose of these amendments is to provide for the payment of expenses in addition, or as an alternative, to the payment of allowances. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 2 to 5:


    Page 122, line 45, after ("paragraph") insert ("(other than by way of expenses)").


    Page 122, line 46, at end insert--


("( ) Any amount payable under this paragraph by way of expenses shall be paid by the Commission.").


    Page 123, line 19, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert--


("(3A) The Commission shall pay to a Deputy Electoral Commissioner such remuneration, and any such allowances or expenses, as may be provided for by or under the terms of his appointment.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 557


(4) If the terms of his appointment as Deputy Electoral Commissioner so provide, the Commission shall--
(a) pay towards the provision of superannuation benefits for or in respect of a Deputy Electoral Commissioner or former Deputy Electoral Commissioner such amounts as may be provided for by or under those terms;
(b) pay such pension to or in respect of a former Deputy Electoral Commissioner as may be so provided.").


    Page 123, line 44, after ("allowances") insert ("or expenses").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 6:


    Page 124, line 13, leave out from ("Commission") to end of line 14 and insert ("by virtue of section 15(1) or by an order under section 17(1), 18(1) or 19(1).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this second group of amendments starts with government Amendment No. 6. I shall speak also to 20 other government amendments; namely, Amendments Nos. 8, 16, 31 to 34, 36, 37, 39 to 46, 268, 270, 273 and 275. I shall speak also to two opposition amendments: Amendment No. 35 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and Amendment No. 38 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard.

The House will recall that in Committee a number of amendments were made to the Bill to clarify the relationship between the electoral commission and its four boundary committees. These further government amendments address the equally important relationship between the electoral commission and the Secretary of State, or his Scottish or Welsh counterparts.

Clauses 17, 18 and 19 provide for the transfer to the electoral commission of the functions of the Local Government Commission for England, and the Boundary Commissions for Scotland and Wales. If these functions were transferred without further ado, the electoral commission would be required to undertake reviews in accordance with directions made by the Secretary of State, or the equivalent, as is the current position.

We have made clear on a number of occasions that the electoral commission should be as independent of the government of the day as our constitutional arrangements will allow. The purpose of these amendments is therefore to set the parameters for the review of local government electoral and administrative boundaries and structural issues and then to leave it to the commission to get on with the job with minimum interference from Ministers.

Amendment No. 37 is the key provision. New subsection 1A of Clause 17 provides that an order made under subsection (1) may make provision for transferring to the commission any relevant function of the Secretary of State or for terminating or modifying any relevant function of the Secretary of State. We propose to exercise the order-making power in such a way as to confer full responsibility on the electoral commission for keeping under review electoral boundaries and, as appropriate, for giving effect to any changes to such boundaries. That will entail not only terminating the Secretary of State's powers of directions in respect of electoral reviews, but

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also transferring to the commission the Secretary of State's function of making statutory instruments to give effect to the conclusions of such reviews.

In the case of the review of local authority administrative boundaries or structure, we envisage that under the new arrangement the electoral commission would provide advice or undertake such reviews at the request of the Secretary of State. There will be no power to direct the commission to carry out these reviews. We would expect the Secretary of State and the commission to come to a proper understanding on the timing of any such advice or reviews. But, ultimately, it would be open to the commission to turn down a request if, for example, it had been given insufficient notice to build a particular review into its forthcoming work programme.

Once the commission had completed an administrative boundary or structural review of a particular local government area, it would submit its recommendations to the Secretary of State and it would continue to fall to him or her to give effect to recommendations. We believe that these matters are central to ensuring that there is effective local government with councils which are well placed to discharge their twin roles of community leadership on the one hand and delivery of local services on the other. As such, traditionally, and in our view properly, they have been matters in which the government of the day, whether the party opposite or ourselves, have a proper and legitimate interest. Orders changing the structure of local authorities should, as is now, be matters on which Parliament itself has the final say. It is for those reasons that we are not making provision in these amendments to change the current arrangements for the making of these orders.

That is not to say that the electoral commission, with its expertise in boundary matters, and with the force that its independent scrutiny can bring, should not have a role. Our intention is that no order relating to structure or boundaries should be able to be made by the Secretary of State, or indeed a draft of such an order laid before the House by the Secretary of State, unless he has sought and obtained the electoral commission's advice on the changes concerned.

Moreover, it is our intention to use our order-making powers provided for by these amendments to so modify the existing legislation that it would not be possible for the Secretary of State to propose to Parliament a structural change, or to make a boundary change, which was contrary to the advice he or she had received from the electoral commission.

In that way we seek to maintain the right balance: on the one hand, providing for an appropriate input into decision making on these matters by the Secretary of State and, on the other, ensuring equally that, as appropriate, the independent electoral commission, and indeed this House and another place, can make their input. Our intention therefore is that nothing can be done which runs counter to the advice of the commission or the will of Parliament.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 559

We recognise that as a result of these changes the scope of the order-making power in Clause 17 is such as to warrant the affirmative resolution procedure. Amendment No. 268 makes the appropriate adjustment to Clause 153.

The amendments to Clauses 18 and 19 make broadly equivalent provision in respect of Scotland and Wales. I should emphasise that whether or not the functions of the Local Government Boundary Commissions for Scotland and for Wales are transferred to the electoral commission will be a matter for the Scottish Executive and the Welsh National Assembly respectively.

The amendments to Schedule 3 are in a similar vein. As Section 3 of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 stands, the Secretary of State may modify the recommendations of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions before laying a draft order before Parliament giving effect to those recommendations. Again, it would not be in keeping with the independent status of the electoral commission if this power to modify its recommendations in respect of parliamentary constituencies were retained. Accordingly, the amendments to Schedule 3 have the effect of requiring the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a draft order which gives effect to the committee's recommendations without modifications.

The other government amendments in this group are essentially consequential upon the ones I described. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, will accept that our amendments achieve much the same end as his Amendment No. 38, although perhaps not going as far as he would like. Similarly, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, may be prepared not to move his amendment in favour of our Amendment No. 34, which addresses the same drafting point left over from Committee. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for that explanation, and perhaps for slowing down the tempo of the beginning of this Report stage which was just beginning to run away with at least government Ministers as to exactly where we were.

Perhaps I may dispose of my amendment first. It was tabled because we noticed that the Government had omitted to table an amendment in similar terms. That has now been corrected with the tabling of Amendment No. 34, and I am content. I hope that I receive a letter of thanks for reminding the Government of the need to table this amendment.

I want to make just one point, which is not really one for the noble Lord, Lord Bach, but for others to read. It is that I hope that the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly will transfer the same powers to the electoral commission. I fully understand why it is up to them to make those decisions for themselves, but I hope that the powers will be transferred. That would be a sensible way to have a more uniform position on looking at electoral boundaries throughout the United Kingdom.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 560

It is also important because so often decisions about local government boundaries--I am not talking about the boundaries of local authorities, but about the electoral boundaries within local authorities--are followed by the Parliamentary Boundary Commission, sometimes mistakenly. That can lead to considerable numerical imbalances between one constituency and another, which I feel is wrong.

It is important therefore for the electoral commission to have overall responsibility for parliamentary boundaries. It is important also for it to have responsibility for local government boundaries. It will have that in England. I hope that my friends in Scotland and Wales will read what I say and follow suit.


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