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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not think that I am under any obligation to tell the noble Lord, Lord Harris, what my intentions are with regard to the Scottish parliament. Suffice it to say that I am one of the three people who are actually vetting all the potential candidates for the Scottish parliament. I am sure that they would find it a little odd if I were to be one of the candidates. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question. Unlike, perhaps, one noble Lord in his party, I have no great ambitions at my stage in life to become a great player in the Scottish parliament. I was indeed a considerable player in your Lordships' House, but the noble Lord about whom I am thinking did not succeed in being a great ministerial player either in this or the other place.
I turn now to Amendment No. 14. It is linked here because it does in fact bundle properly with amendments regarding first-past-the-post. If you have a first-past-the-post electoral system, you do not need to register political parties. Amendment No. 14 would actually delete the mention of the registration of political parties. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for telling me, through his earlier reply to
However, this legislation has become known, at least in the Mackay household, as the "invisible Bill". It is in fact central to the method for the Welsh elections, to the Scottish elections and, indeed, to the European parliamentary elections. Members of the Committee will notice that both the Welsh Bill and the European Parliamentary Elections Bill have already passed through the other place without this fundamental Bill ever seeing the light of day. The other place complained, but the Government just brushed those complaints aside. So the European Parliament Bill and the Welsh Bill are through, and the Scottish Bill has completed its Committee stage without this important little brick, which is necessary to build the PR system, being shown to any of us.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, told me on Maundy Thursday that the Bill would be produced shortly after Easter. However, even the noble Lord must have realised that my definition of the word "shortly" was running out of days. Indeed, he told my noble friend Lord Henley, in another debate, that due to the difficulties being encountered by the draftsmen with the Irish business, the registration of political parties Bill would have to wait. What amazes me is the fact that a Bill, which I do not believe will have too many clauses, was not prepared some time ago. After all, it is central to the three systems of election. In my view, it should have been done some time ago.
However, I accept what the Minister said and understand that we will see the invisible Bill imminently. However, it is a Bill which I believe has dangers. It sends shivers up and down my spine, at least. If I wanted to start chipping away at democracy, I believe that my first step would be to register political parties and my second step would be to register only those of which I approved. I know that the Government will not want that, but I believe that it will require pretty careful drafting to ensure that that is not a possibility some time in the future. Perhaps that is why the Bill is proving so difficult.
All I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is that if this is yet another Bill to come this Session, the log jam that we are about to see, especially in this Chamber and in the other place to a lesser extent, will get even greater. However, on the basis that the noble Lord has given me that assurance--namely, that the Bill's production is imminent--I shall await such news daily. Whether there is another definition just about to come along after "shortly" and "imminently", is a matter that I leave to the noble Lord's fertile imagination.
The main point of the amendments is to advocate to noble Lords the continuation of the traditional British first-past-the-post system--a tradition which has served democracy in our country extraordinarily well over
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I listened with care to the even longer speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in introducing the amendments. Again, I regret to say that we do not support them. The noble Lord said that the Conservative government had made a fiddle in order to deal with the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland and that, therefore, proportional representation was acceptable if particular circumstances demanded it. But what are the particular circumstances in Wales as we look at it today? The particular circumstances are that the Conservative Party achieved 20 per cent. of the popular vote in Wales in the last election, but did not gain a single seat.
With most unusual and unexpected magnanimity, this Government have decided that the Welsh assembly should not be as adversarial as the Westminster system. They have decided that it should be inclusive and that all strands of political opinion in Wales should be represented in that assembly, with an electoral system being devised which would ensure that that happens. The result will be to give that assembly a far greater legitimacy than would otherwise be the case if only first-past-the-post were to be used in its elections.
Prior to the last election, there was an agreement between the Labour Party in Wales and the Welsh Liberal Democrats that the alternative member system would be employed in elections to the Welsh assembly if such a happening were to take place. On that basis, we agreed that we would support the Labour Government if that should happen; and it did happen. We stand by that arrangement. We will support the Government. Indeed, we campaigned with them in the referendum which took place on that basis, as did Plaid Cymru. I believe that it is fair to say that, if the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru had not added their weight to that of the Labour Party, the referendum might have gone a different way altogether.
As the alternative member system was clearly spelt out in the Labour Party manifesto, and as it has since received the assent of the Welsh people in a referendum, I wonder why these amendments have been tabled at all. Surely there is no intention that the Salisbury doctrine should be breached; that there should be a vote on this; or that there should be any attempt to amend the legislation in the way that the noble Lord has suggested. If this is never to be voted upon, I must regard the time that the noble Lord has taken in expounding the first-past-the-post system as "muscle flexing", "shadow boxing" and as a warm-up for the true fight that will take place in the autumn. No doubt at that time the parties will adopt all kinds of different attitudes as regards the proposals.
I do not propose to take on the noble Lord as regards the disadvantages of the first-past-the-post system, save to say that between 1989 and 1997 the Conservative government never achieved a majority of voters in their favour at the ballot box and yet continued as an "elective dictatorship", to use the term that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, has used about our constitutional
Viscount St. Davids: If you call into question the proportional representation elements in this Bill, you have to call into question the validity of the referendum. The referendum was held on a White Paper that promised a measure of proportionality in the voting system. If you call that into question, you would have to call into question the referendum. These can be regarded only as wrecking amendments.
Baroness Young: The establishment of proportional representation is a serious issue. I recognise that the issue arises in this Bill and in the Scottish Bill and that it is being considered generally. This is an enormous change. I recognise entirely the point that was made about the referendum. Although I did not read about the matter as closely as no doubt I should, I recognise that under the terms of the referendum everyone in Wales knew that they would have proportional representation. But how many people in Wales understand what proportional representation will mean for them? I have no intention of repeating the arguments of my noble friend Lord Mackay, with which I largely agree, or indeed answering the counter arguments. However, I know that everyone in this country likes to have a link with an MP. It is one of my regrets in life that I have not been an MP, but I have fought a number of local government elections. To that extent I have had "constituents", as it were. At that time I had an enormous postbag, and people came to see me about their problems. Under proportional representation that direct link will disappear.
I am sure that Members of the Committee have contacts on the Continent. Only last week I talked with a friend who is the headmaster of the British School in Madrid. He wanted to consult someone in the Spanish Parliament about a matter that concerned Madrid. However, that was simply not possible. No Member of the Spanish Parliament could answer his questions. We are entering a new world here. I shall not argue that every aspect of it will be for the worst. However, this point needs to be explained to everyone. It would be interesting to know whether the same number of Members of Parliament will remain in London. That is how I understand the position. Will people in Wales take their problems to their MP representing them in Westminster and bypass the assembly as they will not know who to contact given that the direct link will be broken? What will happen? I believe that the ordinary person in North or South Wales ought to have this matter explained to them. It should be spelt out in some way in an official document.
Lord Crickhowell: I rise to make two brief points in response to points that have been made from the Liberal Benches and by my noble friend Lord St. Davids. The Committee will recall that we were presented with a pre-legislative referendum. Many of us voiced concerns that the issue was being put to the people of Wales
To be told now that if a matter was not mentioned in the Government's White Paper, or if it is amended subsequently, we can make no change in the Bill, is a pretty audacious statement and one that I find profoundly shocking. I am one who accepted the verdict of the referendum, narrow though the majority was. However, I accept it on the basis that we must make the assembly work and we must make it strong and effective. I do not believe that can mean that Parliament is not able to accept amendments either from the Opposition Benches or from the Government Benches because the matter has perhaps not been fully covered in a White Paper. I have not looked to see what references were made to the points covered in the great mass of amendments that have been tabled by the Government, but I do not believe that the Salisbury doctrine can be stretched to deprive us of the right to move amendments and perhaps to pass them in this Chamber.
Further, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, claimed that the assembly had been accepted by the people of Wales and the majority of 7,000 had been obtained because of the support that Liberal voters gave the Government. I wonder whether he has studied the post-referendum academic investigation which I believe was carried out by academics in the University of Aberystwyth on behalf of one of the bodies that studies the results of elections, which noted that although there was a marginally higher turnout of Liberals than of Labour supporters, 74 per cent. of those Liberals voted "No". I wonder therefore on what basis the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, presses his point with such considerable audacity.
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