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As there are to be two types of members of regional assemblieselected and appointedpresumably each shall perform a slightly different role. It makes sense to provide the Electoral Commission with a breakdown of how the Secretary of State intends those roles to develop. The Electoral Commission could then consider that information when making its recommendations. We know that the issue is causing huge tension in Scotland. A member with a constituency has a fixed point of reference, whereas a top-up member floats around on the edge looking for a role. It would be helpful to have the matter sorted out before the Electoral Commission has to make its recommendations. I beg to move.
Lord Rooker: The noble Baroness refers to the issue of top-up members in Scotland. I accept that the system is new to this country. I hope that, over time, it can be moulded. We can make an electoral system do what we want it to do, and it is all right to do that. For example, we could write it into the rules that top-up members could not stand for election in a direct constituency within, say, 10 years. That would stop them undermining the constituency members, as is alleged in Scotland, where top-up Members with no constituency are free to try to undermine constituency
The objective of the exercise is to make representation broadly comparable to the votes cast by the electorate. "First-past-the-post" does not do that, which is why there are no Conservative Members of Parliament in Scotland. However, the Conservatives are well represented in the Scottish Parliament because of the additional member system. It is the same in Wales. It is important that a major area of political opinion is not snuffed out, as it would be under "first past the post". That is what has happened in Scotland and Wales in the national Parliament but not in the devolved parliaments. There are several ways of overcoming such difficulties. I shall not refer to any more details of the electoral system, but we are in that part of the Bill, and it is important.
Amendment No. 130 would mean that a direction to the Electoral Commission would have to specify how many members of the assembly not elected by electoral area were to be appointed. The amendment would unhelpfully constrain the Electoral Commission's flexibility to offer advice on electoral matters. In our White Paper, we indicated that there would be 25 to 35 elected members for each assembly and that the proportion of regional list members would be around a third of the total number of seats. The Government might want to specify only a range for the total number of members and the number of electoral areas and give the commission the necessary scope to tweak the balance between the list members and the constituency members to reflect the electoral geography of the areas that make sense for the region concerned. The composition would be tailor-made for the region.
The amendment would tie the commission's hands and prevent it from advising the Secretary of State as to the best detailed balance between constituency and top-up members. We should not second-guess the commission's work, so I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment. The issue can be revisited not only in the context of other parts of this Bill but when the orders are being made and the main legislation is being considered. If it were important to specify to the commission how many list members there would be, it could be done indirectly under Clause 19(4). That subsection would enable the direction to specify the total number of members and the total number of electoral areas, with the number of list members being the difference between the two.
Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation, but I am not sure that it satisfies in every sense. I referred to the Scottish example, and I believe that there are real tensions up there. A Member of another place said that there were local councillors, MEPs, national MPs, directly elected MSPs and top-up MSPs and that they were all running around looking for a role. They include some of the people who thought that, if we added to that list elected Members of this House, people would wonder what they were doing.
In England, we are doing something similar: it will produce people with a constituency of between 250,000 and 500,000 electors. One person will represent over 250,000 people. There is no way that one person can relate to all the problems and concerns that a constituency of that magnitude may have. Then we would have the top-up members. In a region with 8 million people, there will be a few top-up members for all those people. We do not even know what the balance between the two will be. It would be helpful to know, ahead of the game, what the split will be. How many constituencies will there be? How many electors per constituency will there be? How many top-up members will there be?
Amendment No. 136 refers to the making of grants, following the discharge of regional assembly functions relating to spatial planning. The amendment seeks a guarantee that whenever a grant is made to a regional assembly, it is done by order, so that there is at least a chance for parliamentary scrutiny. It is only proper
Baroness Hamwee: We have Amendment No. 135A in this group. I want to know if there is any significance in the term "activities", rather than what might more normally be referred to as the "carrying out of functions", or, in the amendment to which the noble Baroness has spoken, the "discharge of functions". "Activities" is a good, straightforward term. I do not object to it, and one must assume that the activities would be intra vires. However, it is not the language to which we are accustomed. It could be that there is nothing sinister in this at all. I hope the Minister can assure me of that.
Lord Rooker: I do not want a play on words about "activities". I do not know what other words in the thesaurus would do. Parliamentary counsel has chosen that word. I do not know if it could have been "functions", but there is obviously a reason for choosing "activities". If there is a special reason, I have no doubt that I will be told. I do not think it should unduly worry the noble Baroness.
Earlier on, I had a good note that was passed to me after I had made some point, and I tucked it away in one of the folders, which I disposed of about half an hour ago. That was on the principle of funding"no new money, no new powers", and was to remind me to point out that regional assemblies, while having no new powers and no new money, would take over aspects of the Government Offices. When I talked about new money, I meant new function money. There is a great deal of money already going out into the regions via the Government Offices and so forth, and the regional assemblies would take over part of that activity. I wanted to say that, so that I am not accused later on of misleading the House. I meant "no new money, no new powers", but there is existing money and there are existing powers. However, as I said, I disposed of the note because I had tucked it in another folder.
Amendment No. 135 seeks to limit the new grant-making power just to the funding of the chambers' regional planning activities. We do not believe that that is necessary. There is no sensible reason for us to have to pay grant to the chambers under two separate Acts of Parliament. It is much better to have a clear and specific power to pay the grant to the chambers.
Amendment No. 135A seems intended to limit the grant payment to the statutory functions of the regional chambers. However, not all the activities for which we may wish to pay grant are statutory functions; for example, the scrutiny of the regional development agency, which is funded by the chambers' fund, is not arguably a statutory function. It is an activity which the Government have funded under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, but that does not make it statutory. The Regional Development Agencies Act 1988 does not
I understand the motivation behind the amendment, but I do not believe that it works; nor is it necessary or sensible. Clause 23 as it stands sets the right basis for the Government to be able to work to support the chambers financially in their valuable work.
Amendment No. 136 would mean that a grant to the regional chambers in connection with their role as regional planning bodies could be made only by means of an order. But because of Clause 27(1) and (2), that would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses. That would mean both Houses of Parliament annually debating £6 million of expenditure. That is not a sensible use of Parliament's time. Nor is it an approach followed, for example, in relation to the grant-making powers we are already using under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act.
I do not deny that this is an important clauseany funding of regional chambers will set bells ringing and lights flashing at whatever hour we are sitting and it is important that I am able to satisfy the movers of the amendments that they are not necessary.
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