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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Sewel.)
The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I intend to discuss these three orders together. If the House is content, I intend to begin with the second and third of the orders and turn finally to the disqualification order.
I am pleased to present to the House these three orders which mark a significant stage in preparing for the first meeting of the Parliament and elections to the Scottish Parliament. I threatened Members of your Lordships' House at the end of our discussions on the Scotland Act that we would shortly return to devolution matters through discussion on the orders. I have lived up to that promise and I now present the orders to this House. The orders have already been debated and agreed in another place.
The first of the orders to which I wish to refer is made under Section 2(1) of the Scotland Act and is called the Scottish Parliament (First Ordinary General Election and First Meeting) Order 1999. The purpose of this order is quite simple but extremely important. It sets the date of the first election to the Scottish Parliament. This will be 6th May of this year. The order also provides that the first meeting of the Parliament will take place on 12th May at 9.30 in the morning in the Church of Scotland General Assembly Hall on The Mound in Edinburgh. Provision already exists in the Scotland Act concerning the dates of future elections and meetings. In the case of ordinary general elections, Section 2(2) provides that they are held on the first Thursday in May every four years. Under Section 2(3) of the Act, the first meeting of the Parliament following election will be within seven days of the day after the day of the poll.
The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 1999 makes detailed provisions for the conduct of the elections to the Scottish Parliament and covers a wide range of provisions, including, for example, absent voting, nomination procedures, ballot papers and the count procedures. The order also makes provision for those occasions when the Scottish Parliament elections are combined with local government elections. This will be the case this year on 6th May. This order is made under Section 12(1) of the Scotland Act.
Members of your Lordships' House will no doubt recall with a degree of affection and pleasure the late nights which we spent debating the election provisions during the passage of the Scotland Act. Thanks have already been offered in the other place to the representatives of the political parties and electoral administrators with whom we have consulted over the past few months on this order. I add my own gratitude for the input by all concerned which has resulted in this order which I am confident will provide comprehensive rules and procedures for the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections.
Election law as it stands is sometimes, perhaps inevitably, criticised for being arcane. However, it is also a well tested basis on which elections have been held successfully over the years. That is not to say that we can stand still. Your Lordships may be aware that the Home Office is currently looking in general terms at the way elections in the United Kingdom are run. I am sure this review will make comprehensive recommendations which may be applied at some future point to the elections to the Scottish Parliament. I make no excuses therefore that the order before us reflects to a great extent existing UK electoral law covered by the representation of the people legislation.
The order has, however, also had to take account of some recent changes to electoral law and of course recognises the use for the first time of the additional member system. Account has also had to be taken of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998. This controls the descriptions political parties and candidates may use at elections in order to reduce the scope for confusion. Following that Act the order also provides for the use of official party emblems on ballot papers. I shall return to the question of ballot papers in a moment.
While the Government are still considering the full implications of the report prepared by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill, and his committee, we have taken the opportunity in this order to include provision dealing with the expenses which may be incurred by political parties during an election campaign. I shall come to that later.
I shall now explain briefly how this order makes provision for this May's elections, and some of the changes which are being made to existing practice. The order mirrors to a considerable extent the provisions of the Representation of the People Acts 1983 and 1985. It covers such general issues as the provision of staff for returning officers, the people who are on the ground and who have to put these provisions into practice and the loan of equipment for use at the Scottish Parliament elections. Importantly, from the point of view of the returning officers, it also applies Section 29 of the 1983 Act, which covers payments by and to returning officers.
The main part of the order also covers the election campaign and expenses. This covers the appointment of election agents and as at present each constituency candidate and each individual candidate at regional level will be entitled to an election agent. Each party which puts forward a list will also be entitled to an election agent in respect of that list. As I mentioned earlier, we
The order therefore imposes expenses limits and penalties for constituency candidates which are on the same basis as apply for elections to the other place. It also imposes expenses limits for those individuals who are standing as independent candidates in a regional ballot. These limits will be structured in a similar way to those for constituency candidates. The limits for such an individual candidate will be the aggregate of the constituency limits in a region for which he or she is standing. The order also sets a limit of £1.5 million on political party expenditure. This limit on party expenditure is intended to cover all a party's campaign expenditure which is not normally incurred in respect of a particular constituency candidate. I should say that it has been extremely helpful to have had the voluntary agreement reached by the main political parties in Scotland on the national limit on party expenditure and on some other matters covered by the noble and learned Lord's committee which are not provided for in the order.
In the expectation that I shall be asked further about these limits, in particular, I suspect, about the absence of limits at a regional level, I should say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill, did not recommend attempting to subdivide party expenditure between national and regional elements. However, as regards the form of return for these expenses, the expenses incurred by each regional election agent will require to be shown separately. We think that transparency is as effective a safeguard as we need against parties targeting expenditure on a particular region.
On broadcasting, we have decided not to apply the existing Section 93 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. Section 93 required broadcasters to seek the agreement of all candidates to certain types of broadcast reports. This of course does not absolve the broadcasters of the requirement to be impartial. This mirrors the provision for the elections to the Welsh Assembly.
The order also has eight schedules and an appendix containing prescribed forms. Schedule 1 deals with the election lists and registers and the sale of such registers. Schedule 2 contains the rules for the conduct of the elections. These rules, in effect, set out the practical arrangements that must be in place at any election. I shall say a little more about these rules in a moment.
Schedule 3 of the order deals with absent voting. Your Lordships will, I hope, agree that by allowing for those who already hold an indefinite absent vote automatically to qualify for an absent vote at the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary election, we have gone a great way towards ensuring that those people are not disenfranchised. Other electors will be able to apply for an absent vote either by post or by proxy in the normal manner.
Schedule 4 of the order is technical and deals with how a returning officer issues postal ballot papers to electors and how the papers are then dealt with when they are completed and returned. It also covers, among other issues, who is eligible to be in attendance at such proceedings.
The combination of polls is dealt with in Schedule 5. We have concentrated in the order on the combination of the Scottish parliamentary and local government elections. A number of the provisions in this schedule are, again, of a technical nature, and alter as necessary the rules contained in Schedule 2 and the local government rules where the functions can be combined for both elections. For example, each elector will receive only one poll card for both elections. In addition, no elector will have to visit more than one polling station to vote at both the Scottish parliamentary election and local government elections in May. Voters will visit the one polling station and automatically receive three ballot papers. Other issues include the detailed arrangements for counting the ballot papers at both elections and making provision for the local government ballot papers to be counted at any time after 10 a.m. on the day after the poll. By this time we hope that the ballot papers for the Scottish parliamentary elections will have been counted and the results known.
Schedule 6 deals with various legal proceedings which can arise from an election. Schedule 7 of the order deals with the use for election meetings of rooms in school premises, and mirrors as far as practical the existing arrangements. Finally, Schedule 8 of the order deals with modification of enactments arising as a consequence of this order.
Turning back to the rules contained in Schedule 2, these introduce, among a vast array of other issues, the timetable to be used. We have decided that the timetable should be, as far as possible, the same as that for local government elections, with some slight necessary adaptations. This will allow a longer period than the timetable for Westminster general elections allows for some of the processes. We consider that using such a timetable will, in particular, have its advantage when the elections are combined with local government elections and should make the administering of the main processes, such as nominations, that much easier. Based on this timetable, all candidates and parties must submit their nominations before the final deadline of the 13th April, an auspicious date.
The nomination process for prospective candidates has been somewhat changed. At present a candidate must have his nomination proposed, seconded and attested. We consider that this is not appropriate for the Scottish parliamentary elections, particularly with the introduction of regional lists. All registered political parties will have to be registered, which will involve a separate process under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998. It seems illogical, having gone through that registration process, for a party also to have to seek subscribers for its list. To ensure that there is a level playing field between prospective regional candidates and political parties, we decided further to remove the need for attestation of nominations for individual candidates. For further consistency, candidates standing as constituency members will also be released from this requirement. This means that at Scottish parliamentary elections the nomination form will simply be signed by the candidate and witnessed by one other signature.
We believe that the real safeguard against frivolous candidacies will continue to be deposits. During the debate on the Scotland Act your Lordships' House was informed that the deposit level for constituency candidates had been set at £500. For regional seats it will also be £500 for each individual candidate who wants to stand as an independent, and £500 for each political party that puts forward a list for a particular region. These levels are now confirmed in rule 10. The deposit will of course, as at present, be returnable if a party or a candidate receives more than 5 per cent. of the vote in the respective constituency or region.
Noble Lords will be more than aware of the lengthy discussions we had during the Committee stages of the Scotland Bill about the design of ballot papers. There are a variety of views on how the ballot papers should look. To assist us in this difficult area we commissioned research involving a cross-section of the public to offer their views on the papers. The constituency ballot paper will be similar in design to those already in use at general elections. In respect of the regional ballot paper, we have had to give particular care to produce a form of ballot paper which will be clear and straightforward for the voter to understand. In the appendix, the forms at the back of the order constitute the form of paper which, having undertaken research and consulted with returning officers and political parties, we consider to be the most appropriate. This ballot paper will list each registered political party followed by the names of any independent candidates in alphabetical order.
During the debate on the election provisions in the Scotland Act, it was apparent that your Lordships wished to see the names of candidates for each list on the face of the ballot paper. These names now appear under the names of each registered political party. The names will be printed in the order in which the party wishes them to be elected. This should provide the public with sufficient information about each party which is standing for election. I should add that 80 per cent. of those who took part in the research found a paper in this form to be very or fairly easy to understand. A poster will also be on display in each polling station. This will provide guidance for electors on the procedure for voting, the rules set and the text at form AD. We are preparing a layout for this text which will be recommended to returning officers.
Turning to the ballot paper colours, rule 28 specifies that the colour of each type of ballot paper must be different. For the elections on the 6th May, we have guided returning officers that the ballot paper for the constituency candidates will be purple and that the regional ballot paper will be peach. There was considerable difficulty deciding which particular colour should be associated with any particular voting slip. The ballot paper for local government elections will be white as normal.
Some noble Lords will be aware that a detailed publicity campaign--which has been agreed by political parties from all sides--has started in Scotland. This includes television and press advertisements, as well as a leaflet which will be sent to each household in Scotland over the next few weeks. We consider that this
The voting procedure at the elections will be similar to that as present. On each ballot paper the elector will be asked to place an "X" against the preferred choice of candidate or party. There will be three ballot boxes at each station: one for the constituency election, one for the regional member papers and one for the local government elections. Each ballot paper will then be placed in the respective ballot box. We have suggested to returning officers that the ballot boxes should be colour coded as an additional aid to voters. Returning officers have the capacity to have additional staff on hand at polling stations to assist voters, if needed.
Counting of the Scottish Parliament elections will begin as soon as practicable after the polls have shut at 10 p.m. We therefore have every reason to hope that an overnight count will enable the results to be known during the course of the night. That will be the expectation of the public. As I mentioned earlier, the count for the local government elections will be delayed until the following day and the legislation provides that the counting should not start before 10 a.m. the following morning. This will give some discretion to the local returning officer to set the exact time in the light of local circumstances.
Schedule 2 to the order also covers the issue of recounts. The counts for both the constituency and regional parts of this election will, of course, be a matter for each constituency returning officer. For the constituency element, the rules governing recounts will follow those existing for general elections. Where a recount is required for a regional poll, then the legislation similarly makes provision for a recount to be asked for at a constituency level. But a further recount cannot be demanded across an entire region once all the constituency level results of the regional poll have been passed to the regional returning officer. This is the same approach as will be taken in Wales and also for the European elections. It is the only practical option in our view, given the size of the regions and the impossibility of being absolutely sure that the count will be able to proceed at the same speed, or at approximately the same speed, in every place.
I acknowledge, however, that the question of regional recounts is a difficult one. We face it for the first time. We face a situation where the winners of the election will not be immediately apparent from the result of the count at each individual counting centre. In reaching a view, we have looked at how a similar situation is already handled in the proportional system used for the Northern Ireland Assembly where the same issues also arise. In elections to that assembly there is, as there will be in Scotland, provision for a recount to be requested at each count centre but no provision for a recount for the whole vote once the results from each centre have been collated nationally. It has been accepted in that context that recounts can work on such a basis.
I appreciate that some noble Lords would prefer the further option of a region-wide recount. I understand that. However, the order leaves ample scope for any concerns about the count process to be pursued at the point of the original count. We think that that is the preferable way forward. Given what I recognise is a difficult problem--I say in all fairness that it is a problem we have not faced before and we are all, to an extent, learning--I am happy to ask officials to explore further with returning officers ways in which the detail of the count process might be arranged to minimise the scope after the event for any questioning of the outcome, which I am sure returning officers themselves will be only too pleased and too keen to avoid.
This is a very bulky document, and rightly so, as it covers a huge number of important issues. I have covered some of these issues only briefly. I would be happy to comment on other points as necessary. We have consulted widely with returning officers who are the experts on the ground in the conduct of elections. We believe that the order is a sound basis for future elections to come.
I should now like to turn to the order that is made under Section 15 of the Scotland Act which disqualifies a number of office holders from membership of the Scottish Parliament. We intend that the Scottish Parliament should represent the widest possible range of interests. We have made no secret of that. However, we also recognise that it would not be appropriate for certain office holders, because of their position, to sit in the Parliament. Put quite simply, those who are eligible to be Members of the other place will also be able to be MSPs. In addition, ordained members or ministers of any religious denomination, and Commonwealth and Irish Republic citizens, as well as EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom, will be able to stand. I do not need to labour the point that Members of your Lordships' House will also be able to stand as MSPs.
As your Lordships know, it is felt to be inappropriate for certain officer holders to be Members of the other place. Similar considerations evidently apply to the Scottish Parliament. Section 15 of the Scotland Act therefore makes provision about who should be disqualified from membership of the parliament. The provisions of Section 15 cover civil servants, members of the Armed Forces, members of police forces and judges. Section 15 also gives Her Majesty power, by Order in Council, to specify office holders who should be disqualified from being members of the parliament. That is the order before us today.
In considering which office holders should be disqualified from the Scottish Parliament, we have paid particular heed to the established and well-understood precedent set by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Quite rightly, in my view, we have decided that it would not be appropriate to depart radically from that approach at this stage. This order makes provision for the first elections on 6th May and will remain in force until such time as the Scottish Parliament makes its own provision. I am quite sure your Lordships would agree that it is right for the Scottish Parliament to be able to decide the scope of the disqualification provisions for its own membership. But we have to start with something, and this is the order we are starting with.
We think that the list of disqualified office holders before us today strikes the right balance between ensuring that the Parliament is open to a wide range of talented people but is properly independent and able to hold the Executive to account. In deciding who should be disqualified under the order, we applied the criteria used to determine whether an office holder should be disqualified from the other place. Our aim has been to maintain the independence of the Scottish Parliament and safeguard the MSPs from undue influence by the Executive through the existence of patronage. We have also recognised that certain office holders must be seen to be politically impartial.
The disqualification order therefore disqualifies those office holders who would be disqualified from being an MP wherever we thought that the same arguments applied in relation to the Scottish Parliament. For example, if office holders are operating in devolved matters or in areas where Scottish Ministers have an interest, such office holders will be accountable to the Parliament and it would be clearly wrong if they could also be MSPs. Office holders who fall into that category include members of Scottish water authorities or members of Scottish Enterprise.
However, it would not be right to limit this order to office holders in Scottish bodies. There are various bodies based outwith Scotland or operating in reserved areas which are properly within the scope of this order. For example, there are certain office holders outwith Scotland who must be politically impartial in order to carry out their role. For example, those in certain broadcasting organisations are disqualified. In a similar vein, we concluded that members of tribunals should also be disqualified from membership of the Scottish Parliament to ensure judicial impartiality.
However, the order does not disqualify everyone holding public office. Noble Lords may be interested to know how many people are disqualified from being members of the Scottish Parliament. We estimated the figure at under a million across the United Kingdom. Of those, the vast majority are civil servants: just over half a million; members of the Armed Forces, a quarter of a million; and members of the police force, about 140,000. The order adds under a further 100,000 across the United Kingdom. However, that figure alone gives a misleading impression.
Of the 100,000 disqualified by the order the vast majority are politically restricted local government employees. There are about 52,000 in England and Wales and about 5,900 in Scotland, which represents about 2 per cent. of the total number employed in local government. If we remove those, members of the Metropolitan Police Force and Northern Ireland prison staff, the order disqualifies about 10,000 office holders across the United Kingdom. Of those, 3000 are members of various social security tribunals and 2,500 are members of employment tribunals, leaving in the region of only 4,800 specified office holders across the United Kingdom.
It is difficult to break this down further into those bodies which could be described as Scottish. But rough calculations suggest that between 700 and 800 office holders would fall into this category, of whom around a quarter will be staff at the Scottish parliament, who themselves will be quite properly disqualified. Indeed, there are in all under 330 entries in the order which range to cover all members of certain bodies as various as Scottish Homes and the Crofters Commission to specified office holders such as the chairmen of other bodies, for example, the Gas Consumers Council.
Those who are disqualified under the order would be required to resign that office before making their formal consent to nomination. That provision is contained in the Conduct of Elections Order, which I have already mentioned. The consent to nomination must be given by the last day for the delivery of nomination papers and may be submitted up to one month before that. For the Scottish Parliament elections, consent to nomination must be submitted by 13th April. That would mean that people holding disqualifying offices would be required to resign by that date at the latest, as is the case for Westminster elections.
I realise that I have spent some considerable time explaining these matters in detail to the House. When it comes to disqualifying anybody from standing in a parliamentary election, it is necessary to make absolutely clear the basis upon which we have acted. I therefore ask the House's indulgence for having taken so much time. However, I hope that I have been able to deal with the issues as fully as possible. I beg to move.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we are doubly grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation. We are grateful, first, for the detail that he has gone into on a number of issues; we are also grateful for the fact that he did not go into detail on all the issues on these very large orders.
I shall approach matters as quickly as I can, in a slightly different order, but beginning with the noble Lord's announcement that election day is to be 6th May. That fact will come as a huge surprise to the Scottish population--it is interesting to note that everyone has assumed it but it is not quite legal yet. It would have
My only point in relation to the first page of the order arises from the reference to 12th May. I begin to wonder what kind of ceremony will surround what is a very important day. I hope that it will not merely be a case of people sidling up and down the high street and popping in, almost unbeknown. I hope that there will be at least some of the pomp and circumstance that surround the opening of Parliament and that some of the historic Scottish traditions can be observed at that time.
Perhaps I may briefly examine the Scottish Parliament (Disqualification) Order. I wish to make a number of points, without going through the whole order. Taking an example from the first page, officials ought to have, as it were, cleaned the copy before they decided to copy the House of Commons. Looking at the first page, I am not entirely sure whether the aircraft and shipbuilding industries arbitration tribunal still exists. There is a question mark over that. I certainly do not think that British Shipbuilders still exists. And, having checked, I do not think that the British Coal Corporation still exists. I am told by no less an expert than Dod that it ceased to exist on 1st January 1998 and that its functions were transferred to various departments of the Department of Trade and Industry. Dod may be wrong; I may be wrong. However, I do think that a little cleaning might have been done to remove those bodies that have ceased to exist.
My second point is one that the Minister attempted to answer. There are many bodies--the social security tribunals mentioned by the Minister are a case in point--where the Scottish Parliament has absolutely no locus. They are entirely reserved to Westminster. They are rightly on the "banned" list for the House of Commons. I am not entirely convinced that one should argue that they should also be on the banned list for the Scottish Parliament, when that Parliament will have absolutely no say.
If the principle is one of ministerial accountability and of non-involvement in politics, I can understand that. However, I do not think that it is always that. Perhaps the first time round is not the occasion to question that principle. However, for the future, we ought to look carefully at the banned list, especially when it covers reserved matters. Perhaps the Scottish Parliament will do that.
The third point is that, although we have the banned list, members of those bodies listed are not banned from Westminster in total, only from the House of Commons. There are Members of this House who sit on some of these bodies. When I arrived in this House I was a member of the Seafish Industry Authority. It is perfectly right that that body should be on the banned list for the Scottish Parliament because it will be answerable to the Scottish Parliament. However, there are other bodies that are answerable to the United Kingdom Parliament. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, is the chairman of the British Council. I do not think that the British Council will have anything to do with the Scottish Parliament. So I wonder why the
There are other Members who might be mentioned. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, is a member of the Council on Tribunals; the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is chairman of NESTA; the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, is chairman of the New Opportunities Fund; the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, is a BBC Governor--that would probably not knock her out from the list for the Scottish Parliament. I really cannot see the point of English Nature being a proscribed organisation. I am wondering about my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. I may have missed it, but I cannot find a reference to the Scottish Tourist Board on the banned list. I suspect that it should be there. That may be worth examination. It probably ought to be on the list on the same principle as the other bodies.
I now turn to the bulk of the business. I wish to put a number of minor points. I am happy to say that the Minister dealt with one or two of them in his speech and that will save time. I shall put two major points at the end of my remarks. My first point regarding those of us who have absent vote rights constantly was dealt with by the Minister. Those absent vote rights will carry on into the Scottish Parliament.
I turn to the next point, on paragraph 42 of the main document, concerning the 1.5 million which I understand has been agreed between the parties. If I understood the Minister correctly, the amount of money spent by each party on its regional list is not included in the £1.5 million. The £1.5 million is the over-arching general expenditure of the political parties and does not include the eight separate regional expenditures. I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify that. I have not done a calculation. I imagine that if it were to be included then the parties centrally would have a pretty tight budget for the normal mega-advertising that goes on. If it is not included, that is fine. I also heard what the noble Lord said about the importance of the regional expenditure being properly accounted for and being returned in some way so that the public can inspect it. That is absolutely right and proper.
The next point is the modification of Section 10 of the 1998 Act which is, if one likes to look at it this way, Henry VIII in operation. The Minister and I had quite a lot of discussion about the question of what happens at what I may call by-elections on the regional list, although these are not actually going to be by-elections; in other words, what one does if a member retires or dies and it is necessary to find somebody to fill the vacancy.
I notice that the Minister has made some changes to what we agreed after some quite detailed discussion in your Lordships' House. It would be fair to say that it was your Lordships' House that brought in the improvements in the Bill. The Minister was very reasonable in his approach to this and accepted some of the points made in the debate.
On the next point, may I say out of appreciation that I am glad to see the point about the parties' emblems. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for changing the Registration of Political Parties Bill when it was pointed out to him the problems this would cause in Scotland and Wales if there were to be only one party symbol for the whole of the United Kingdom.
My next point concerns the ballot paper. I had not actually picked it up, which shows the complexity of this document. I was interested in the Minister's statement that there would be three ballot boxes and that we would separate them. I imagine that that would help to speed the count on the evening. It is something I am deeply interested in because I have been volunteered--I think that is the right word--to do the radio and television commentary during the night. Frankly, if it were necessary first to sort out all the ballot papers from one ballot box, it would be a pretty long night. I am therefore quite relieved to see that.
It may not have been in this Bill but the Minister may recall that I raised the question of the official mark. I continue to be fairly obsessed by the official mark. I do think it is something from yesteryear. In the case of these elections the people sitting at the table are going to have to make three official marks for every person who comes up. I prophesy that the number of papers without official marks will increase simply because of that, especially if there is a queue of people and perhaps some explanations having to be made about the new system. I am sorry to see that we are still sticking with the official marks because I am not in the least convinced that they do any good.
The next thing I noticed was the existence of a presiding officer. That was a different presiding officer from the presiding officer who was going to preside over the parliament. Your Lordships will remember that I tried to call him the speaker. I have only put this in because I was interested to show that perhaps I was right after all. On Monday the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, was being interviewed on the radio about a tourist conference. He was talking about whether or not there should be a tourist Minister and he described the tourist Minister as being "in the Scottish Cabinet". I thought to myself, "Oh dear, you will get
I next have a general election point. I see that we are continuing to suggest that if the person who is presiding at the poll is doubtful about somebody, he asks him or her a question: "Are you the person registered in the register of government electors for this election as follows?" It has always seemed to me that if one is intent on voting on behalf of somebody else, one is not going to own up to that question. It is a totally pointless question in order to stop people impersonating others. If we want to do that we have to go down to saying, "Have you any evidence to show me that you are who you say you are?" When I raised that I did not make much progress, but I still see that pretty pointless question in the papers.
My last minor point, if I may call it that, is once again to welcome the fact that the names are on the regional list ballot paper. Your Lordships will remember that the Government were intransigent on the Welsh Bill. They would not entertain it. Happily, the Minister was much more forthcoming and understood the point that was being made, as did his noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn when we came to the European Elections Bill. I am certainly very pleased and I thank the Minister for putting the names on the ballot paper. I think it would have been ludicrous if they had not been on the paper. Perhaps I may say on behalf of Wales that I gather a bit of back-filling has been going on, despite the fact that it is not in the Act, and the names are going to be on the Welsh ballot paper as well, but we are going to come to that later.
My two major points are these. The first one has not been covered by the Minister, the second one has. The first is about the whole question of registered political parties, the nomination of the candidates on the regional list and the registered political parties. Those of your Lordships who heard me on the Registration of Political Parties Bill will know that I considered it profoundly undemocratic and absolutely wrong that somebody had to adjudicate over whether or not the political party could stand at an election. My worst fears have already been confirmed. Last weekend in the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman there were reports that the registrar had refused to accept the registration of the Green Party in Scotland. The Green Party in Scotland is totally different from the Green Parties in the rest of the country, but he had already got a registration from the Green Party which covered England and, I presume, Wales, and he declined the registration from the Scottish Green Party. I do not believe that is right.
In today's Herald there is a report that the Scottish Socialist Party led by Mr. Tommy Sheridan--and I find it odd that I am standing as a flag-bearer for its right to stand, although it is not odd because it is a fundamental democratic right--which is a minor irritant to the governing party but a considerable force in the City of Glasgow, has also been refused on the basis of the fact that the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which put up far fewer candidates than the Scottish Socialist Party at the last election, has registered. Therefore, he is not allowing the Scottish Socialist Party to register.
I understand why the Government needed registration for regional lists, although I should have preferred not to have the registration Act. I understand the argument on regional lists. But there is absolutely no argument when it comes to local government seats, especially when these people are already elected under the flag of the Scottish Socialist Party. There is no political advantage to my party in my advocating either the Green Party or the Scottish Socialist Party being allowed to stand, but I believe that it would be iniquitous if neither of those parties could fly under the name by which everyone in Scotland knows them. I hope that the Minister can indicate that the Government are looking seriously at that matter.
My last point concerns recounts on the regional list. I listened with care to the Minister's explanation, but I still believe there is a major problem. I accept that when the counts are finished someone could ask for a recount on the regional list at that point. But at that point there may not be any obvious reason why a recount should be called. The Minister might confirm a point for me in order to help me with my night on television explaining the great triumphs of the Scottish Conservative Party.
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