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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I remind noble Lords that we are on Report. We have been through Second Reading and Committee, in which we went into this sort of detail. I would be very grateful if the noble Lord could be not quite so discursive about the whole system but focus on the amendment, as we must on Report. Otherwise we will be here all night and all tomorrow night as well.
Lord Trimble: My Lords, I appreciate the criticism, and I shall try to conclude my comments. I ask the House to forgive me because I did not have the opportunity to contribute earlier, and this is a subject on which I have some views.
I shall not go into the issue of parochialism, but I understand why they abolished the system in the Republic of Ireland. It produced a system where TDs stayed in the constituency and did not attend the Dail. It was recognised in the Irish Republic that it was having a very negative effect on accountability. Unfortunately, the promised legislation in the United Kingdom to end the dual mandate never surfaced, which is a great shame.
I shall just make a last couple of points about another consequence of PR. Those who are starting off in politics in the STV system should try to ensure that their surnames begin with the letters A, B or C. There is a very strong alphabetical bias in this system. Again, I feel personally about that for obvious reasons. This is a very noted bias. I have also made the point that there is a very strong bias towards people being independent and continuing a career as an independent. It might be all right at local government, and it may not be too bad at regional level, but beyond that the effects of this system are really pernicious.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, given the final remarks of the noble Lord and his useful experience of Ireland, perhaps I should declare an interest in that, as my surname begins with an A, I have benefited from this throughout my life. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, that in principle the architecture of a debating chamber should have an effect on consensus, or on the lack of it, but alas I have not noticed an effect on consensus in the Welsh Assembly arising from its particular architecture.
There are a number of elements to the amendment; that is, the "80 Members", the "multi-Member constituencies" and the STV. On the 80 Members, let us bear in mind that the amendment suggests that this should be the system immediately after the Bill is implemented. However, the view of the Speaker of the Assembly is that the present workloadand, presumably, with the extension under this Billdoes not warrant additional membership. Naturally there are complaints from Members of the Assembly that they are overburdened. But the person who sits in the Chair and watches what goes on is convinced that the
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workload is such that, with changes in the way in which the Assembly operates, it can manage under the current responsibilities with the existing numbers. Perhaps, ultimately, we should move to 80 Members, but the case has certainly not been made out for it at present.
I can be brief about the STV and multi-Member constituencies because the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has made much of that case. In my political experience, there has been a certain magnificent obsession of Liberals, then Liberal Democrats, with electoral systems. I recall years ago, John Pardoe, the economics spokesman, who would give a sea, a litany of ills of our economy and end by saying, "All these ills would be ended if only we had proportional representation". I am not sure that Liberal Democrat Peers opposite would go quite that far. But one thing is certain: in multi-Member constituencies the valuable link between the Member and the constituency would be lost. For example, we used to have five Members on a regional basis in Wales. However, after a change in the electoral system for Members of the European Parliament, which was understandable because it was necessary as a result of European electoral law, we moved to having Wales as just one constituency. However hardworking those Members of the European Parliament are, I fear that some local attachment has gone. Fewer people now know who is their MEP. With the best will in the world, given the remoteness of Strasbourg and Brussels, it is difficult enough for MEPs to make a real impact. The new electoral system makes it more difficult.
The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has mentioned localism and the way in which it has an adverse effect on parties. We rehearsed some of those arguments in Committee. I will certainly not go through them now. We need to look very carefully at moving further along that road. To conclude, 80 Members may come; STV may come; but if it comes, let us at least be aware of some of the negative consequences which will certainly flow from it.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the fact that the coalition in the Scots Parliament has opted to have STV for local government elections has been mentioned. In preparing for those elections, certainly in the constituency where I live, the very problems which the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, mentioned, are being discovered even before those elections take place. I wonder very much how the electorate will react to this system. I do not think that at the moment it looks very happy.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, with great humility and respect, I suggest that we may be discussing the wrong question. The question is not whether STV is perfect: it clearly is not. The question is not whether it is laden with complexities and difficulties: it is. The question is whether the situation that obtains at the moment, and has obtained since the Government of Wales Act 1998, can possibly be regarded as tolerable. The Labour Government are to
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be congratulated on their chivalry and sense of justice in seeing to it that what otherwise probably would be a Labour hegemony in Cardiff could somehow be avoided. They created a system in good faith and I do not doubt that that was the approach of all parties at the time. But the result is that a party which gained in a first-past-the-post vote some three-quarters of the seats in Wales and three times as many as all the other parties put together finds that, from time to time, it is impossible to carry out its functions as a government. In addition to that, on the second ballot, a tonnage of votes cast for the Labour Party is not reflected in the membership of any additional candidate. That, I respectfully submit, is a wholly intolerable situation. It may well be that the Labour Party will say, "We will tolerate it for the moment", but it may well be too that the next few months and years will force it to a different conclusion.
Parallel with those arguments is the question of membership. I believe wholeheartedly that a membership of 60 is much too small; 80 Members is the minimum number needed to do the job required of them. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, has reminded us, the maximum number of Members available to staff a host of committees and to carry out other functions is 46. With great respect to the Presiding Officer, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who is one of the most fascinating political commentators Wales has produced for a long time, I do not of necessity equate his words with holy writ in this or any other matter. Let us consider the position of local government in Wales. All but six of the 22 county councils in Wales have well over 60 Members. No lengthening of hours or further sitting days can make up for that difficulty.
As I have said, the Labour Party is to be congratulated on its chivalry in creating this system and on its integrity, but it would score very low marks in its anticipation of realpolitik. Although this Bill is a vehicle which can be used for that purpose, I have no doubt that it will not do so. But I prophesy that the time will come when the Labour Party will have to return to this matter again and again.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I shall be the soul of brevity, if not of wit. As the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, has said, I am well aware that this scheme was put forward in the Richard commission report. The noble Lord recommended an increase in membership of the Assembly from 60 to 80 and the establishment of the STV system of voting in elections. But the Government have not accepted that proposal either as a whole or in partperhaps for some of the reasons advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble.
Regarding the numbers of Assembly Members, we have to bear in mind that their role will be very different under this Bill. No longer will they be members of the corporate body with executive as well as legislative responsibilities; they will be Members of the legislature holding, it is hoped, Ministers to account. I do not imagine that their workload will increase appreciably in the early stages and that the proposed increase in numbers can be justified on that
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account. In any case, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has pointed out, the Presiding Officer has stated that Assembly working hours and days can be extended to cope with an increased workload. So I humbly suggest that the proposals in these amendments are somewhat premature. They have already been considered by the Government and rejected, and indeed we debated them earlier in Committee.
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