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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of this order. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy is unable to be here tonight and we shall not have the benefit of his knowledge and experience in these matters. However, we have the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I am sure that he will be extremely helpful to the House.
Bearing in mind the important matters to which these orders relate, the attendance in the Chamber tonight is disappointing to say the least. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish spoke earlier to the Scottish orders. He identified that many of the organisations listed in the Scottish schedule did not exist or that there were inappropriate exclusions. It is also interesting to note that with the bicameral system that will still apply in England, this House will still have the benefit of Members who are involved in many of the organisations mentioned in both of the schedules. It is of course a two-way process as the
The list in the Welsh order before us tonight is much shorter for the reasons given by the Minister. With my limited knowledge I can see no difficulties here but no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, will have some interesting observations to make. I look forward to hearing them.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I cannot wait to hear myself after that introduction! I have only the same point to make that I made in relation to the Scottish legislation. I see no reason why people should be required to resign their positions until they are elected. In the past it has been difficult to find candidates who are members of public bodies or who are employed in certain occupations because they cannot be assured that they can return to their jobs if they are unsuccessful in their candidatures. It is a huge burden to place on anyone, particularly the kind of people we want to serve in the Welsh Assembly--that is young, active people--to ask them to abandon a job or a career at the beginning and to take a step into the unknown on becoming a candidate for the Assembly.
As regards Westminster elections, there may be some good reason for this--although I do not know what it is--that is hallowed by tradition. But one would have hoped that in coming afresh to this particular subject in the context of the Welsh Assembly a different approach could have been taken. I have no objection to the various offices that are described in Parts I and II and I have listened to the explanation that has been given by the Minister. I conclude by congratulating the Welsh Office on producing such a succinct document.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his comments. I hope that he will pass on to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, our best wishes for his speedy recovery.
On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, he raised it on the Scottish Order and I was here to hear him. I am afraid the answer is the same: this mirrors the rules which apply to parliamentary elections. Section 14(1) of the Government of Wales Act provides that a person who is disqualified from being a member of the assembly by virtue of Section 12, which includes the draft Order in Council, would be unable to take up the seat if elected, as the effect of disqualification would mean that the election was null and void. That is the technical difficulty.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, he would be unable to take up the seat. That is what we were discussing under the Bill. That does not say that he would be unable to be a candidate. There is power for the Government to change their mind on this issue and permit people to stand without having to resign their positions.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can see the rationale behind that point, but because of the way that the Act has been drafted--and this is not in the order--the election would be null and void and there
The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will be interested to note that the version of the order we are considering today is that which was laid on the 22nd February, not the version laid on the 15th February, which has been withdrawn. In the original version, a clerical error deleted almost half of paragraph 53 of Schedule 5, making it defective. We have re-laid the order to correct the error and have also taken the opportunity to amend the drafting slightly to make clear the rules under which an assembly regional ballot paper may be accepted. I apologise to your Lordships for any inconvenience that this may have caused.
The first elections to the Assembly will be on 6th May 1999. Section 11(1) of the Government of Wales Act 1998 allows the Secretary of State by order to make provision for the conduct of the assembly elections. That dispensation includes provision for setting limits to election expenses of candidates and registered political parties, and procedures for election petitions. The draft order draws heavily on provisions from the Representation of the People Acts 1983 and 1985 and includes material from statutory instruments made up under those Acts and other legislation on the same basis.
We have also had to take account of two other developments which affect elections in the United Kingdom--the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 and the recommendations of the Neill Committee on the funding of political parties. I shall spell out in more detail what we have done and why in respect of those issues.
The order has been the subject of detailed discussion and consultation from the very start. In December 1997 we set up an elections working group of senior returning officers and elections administrators to advise officials on the content of the order. Group members have reported regularly to their colleagues in Wales and have fed back their views. We issued a draft of the order to the political parties and returning officers, to other
Most of the order does no more than apply provision equivalent to the rules for parliamentary or, occasionally, local government election orders, with modifications for the two-vote system. Articles 1 to 13 deal mainly with voting, registration, polling places and absent voting. Polling places for assembly elections will be the same as those for the parliamentary elections and the absent vote criteria are the same as those for local government elections. This is because the assembly electorate is that for local government elections.
Article 14 provides for the combination of polls when assembly elections take place on the same day as local government elections, as will be the case on 6th May this year. Articles 15 to 22 deal with the administration of elections, including the appointment of a returning officer for each assembly constituency and for each assembly electoral region. Articles 23 to 31 provide for the local government franchise to apply for the assembly elections, defines various voting offences, such as personation, and imposes the requirement of secrecy on specified officials and at specified stages of the election process.
Articles 32 to 36 define the arrangements for the appointment of election agents and sub-agents. There will be one election agent only for each party list. Articles 37 to 65 deal with election expenses. These articles lay down election expenses limits for constituency candidates, independent candidates at regional elections and registered political parties at assembly general elections. Our proposals draw on two sources: the existing provisions in the 1983 Act for candidates at parliamentary elections and the recommendations submitted last autumn by the Neill Committee in its report on the funding of political parties. In case the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, wants to raise the issue of national limits, I should remind him that the Neill Committee specifically, both for Wales and for Scotland, set national limits rather than regional limits. There would have had to be some very good reason for us to go against the recommendations of the Neill Committee. The committee was clear that there should be national limits, including for the assembly elections. The proposed limits are in Articles 46 to 48.
We followed without exception the Neill recommendations for constituency candidates. The same limits apply as for elections to the House of Commons except that the figures have been uprated in line with inflation. Independent candidates at regional elections will have limits equivalent to the sum of the limits in all the constituencies in the electoral region. There will be no regional limit for registered political parties but there will be a national limit for such parties of £600,000 at a general election. Expenses incurred on the election campaign of a constituency candidate of a registered political party will be ring-fenced and will not count towards the national total. The national expenses limit for a party will be made up of all expenses incurred by that party which are not specific to an individual
Article 66 makes provision for free mail-shots. We will provide for one free mail-shot per constituency candidate, one for each independent candidate and one for each party list at a regional election. Parties standing at the constituency and regional elections will be allowed to send a single leaflet to electors presenting their list candidates and their constituency candidates in that region. The Royal Mail is amending its regulations accordingly. Articles 67 to 158 deal with broadcasting at assembly elections, election meetings, disturbances, bribery, treating, election performances, forms and notices, and election advertisements.
I shall deal only with the most important of the schedules. Schedule 5 lays down the main body of rules for the conduct of an assembly election. The provisions are based largely on the parliamentary election rules of 1983. Paragraphs 1 to 23 set out the election timetable and deal with nominations, deposits, withdrawals, disqualification and so on. The nomination procedure takes account of the provisions of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998. Deposits will be £500 for a constituency candidate, an independent candidate in a regional election and a regional list.
Paragraphs 23 and 24 and associated parts of the appendix set down the rules for the lay-out of ballot papers. The constituency ballot paper is very similar to that used for parliamentary elections but will include emblems. The regional ballot paper is the result of detailed research. Voters had a very strong preference for the names of the list candidates to appear on the ballot papers in this lay-out. They wanted to know precisely for whom they were voting and they did not like ballot papers which bore only the names of the parties. Specimen ballot papers have been made available and placed in the Library of the House. For the first elections, the constituency ballot paper will be coloured pale lilac--what I called mauve in an earlier intervention--and the regional ballot paper will be peach. White is being used for the ballot papers for the local government election.
Paragraphs 26 to 36 deal with matters such as the official mark, appointment of election staff, and poll cards. It is based on the standard procedure, adapted as necessary for a two-vote system. Paragraphs 37 to 48 apply the standard parliamentary rules for procedures in the polling station, adapted as necessary for the two-vote system.
Paragraphs 49 to 64 deal with the count declarations and procedures after the count. Counting will take place on the Friday. These paragraphs provide for the constituency returning officer to count the ballot papers for his constituency election and those cast for the regional election in his constituency. On completion of the regional count, the constituency returning officer will relay the totals to the regional returning officer. Once he or she has agreed the totals, the constituency returning officer may give a local announcement of those figures. The constituency returning officer will declare the constituency result and relay it also to the
The provisions for the rejected ballot papers will make clear to returning officers that they can accept regional ballot papers where the voter has placed a mark or marks in the voting box for a party and against the name of a candidate on the party's list. He would also be able to accept a ballot paper where the voter had not marked the voting box but placed marks against the name of one or more candidates in the same list. A ballot paper where marks have been placed for one party and beside the names of candidates for another party would not be accepted since the voter's intention would not be clear.
Paragraphs 66 to 68 provide for vacancies in the constituency to be filled by by-election unless the vacancy occurred three months or less from the next ordinary election. There is no provision for regional by-elections. In the case of a list member dying or vacating his seat, the next candidate on the list would normally fill the seat. If the regional member was an independent, the seat would have to remain vacant until the next election. I beg to move.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the order. His briefing from the Welsh Office appears to have made for a more comprehensible explanation of the expenses limit. Even I understood the provisions.
I am convinced that there is a major difficulty regarding the recount. I believe that Ministers recognise that. My noble friend Lord Mackay and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised this point during debate on the Scottish order but it bears repetition.
At the constituency count both the candidate and, if applicable, the party list candidates or their agents may instigate a recount. The problem is that it would not be until the regional result was known, after the d'Hondt calculation is announced, that the desirability of a recount may become apparent. Therefore, the candidates or their agents may routinely demand a recount at the constituency count even if there is a clear majority.
In the previous debate the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, suggested recourse to the courts. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, pointed out the cost of that. It is not desirable routinely to have recourse to the courts.
The noble Lords, Lord Sewel and Lord McIntosh, seemed to imply that there would be no problem if a recount was requested even if a large majority was declared by the returning officer. Will the Minister confirm that that applies to the Welsh elections as well as the Scottish elections?
But I digress. The regional count could clearly be very contentious. The Minister said that he thought that a recount at regional level would not be practical, or words to that effect. I merely point out that we on these Benches promoted the advantages of a first-past-the-post system.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, suggested a centralised count. I have come very late to these matters, but his suggestion seems to have merit. His party, as we know, is very pro-PR. The problem is that his solution may be effective for Wales, but what about a national general election? The noble Lord may want to correct me on that point when he replies.
The order is, of necessity, voluminous and detailed. As the Government enjoy the support of only 25 per cent. of the electorate, the people of Wales will be very disappointed if the election process is flawed. I should therefore like to ask the Minister whether the process defined in the order has been tested by means of an exercise. I am thinking of an exercise that would test the robustness of the rules against those who would like to explore the limits of them. Such an exercise would test for what could go wrong. I appreciate that we have had elections by PR in Northern Ireland, but these are new and different rules. Have they been tested in the manner which I have described?
I have looked to see what would happen if an elected member were to die after being elected. Paragraph 65 of Schedule 5 makes provision in the event of the death of a candidate during the election process, as explained by the Minister. I am sure I have missed the provisions in the order, or perhaps it is provided for elsewhere, but can the Minister help me on this point?
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, replied to questions from my noble friend, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. The only problem is that I cannot remember what he asked for. Perhaps we will leave that point. My noble friend also raised many points of detail in a far more lucid manner than I could. In view of the sparse attendance in the House, I can see very little point in worrying your Lordships by repeating these questions as they apply to Wales, but again I look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and of course the Minister's reply to the debate.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, may I first of all congratulate the Welsh Office once again for producing a very much more readable document than their Scottish counterparts, and in particular the clarity that has been achieved by placing much of the detail of the election in Schedule 5. That has really helped to follow and to understand the way in which this document is put together.
I come immediately to the recount problem. I remember being at the count in North Wales for the Euro elections. That is a substantial area. It covers six or seven parliamentary constituencies. Nevertheless, it was possible to bring all the votes to a centre in Mold
If the proposals that are set out in this document are to be followed, I can envisage that on election night the constituency count will take place, the constituency members will be declared and there are bound to be disparities in time. Each constituency is separate. The Wrexham constituency is very close, five or six miles across. The constituencies in the far west, in Anglesey and in Caernarvon, are very much larger. If there is to be a recount of the regional vote the same night the counting staff in every constituency will have to remain in position until all the regional results are finally in and a declaration is made, presumably at some central point. Just as in the Euro elections, I would imagine that there would be a returning officer who would declare at a central point--it could be Cardiff or, if we are dealing with the North Wales Region, it could be somewhere like Mold in North Wales--where the election result is known for the first time. It is at that point that the agent may wish to ask (reasonably) for a recount in every constituency. Hours may have passed. Staff may have been kept hanging around at various centres from Wrexham through to Caernarvon. Wrexham strives in general elections to be first in the whole of the United Kingdom to produce a result and usually is about second, third, or possibly fourth. I know this to my chagrin on many occasions. The practical point I seek to make is that the counting staff will be hanging around to see whether there is a possibility that when the last result is in from the most remote constituency a recount of the regional vote will be required. To my mind, that is nonsense. If a recount is required, there is no reason why it should not take place by the collection of all the boxes together on the following day in a central point within the region and for the matter to be dealt with by a counting staff for that regional centre rather than take place across the whole of the district. I speak for north Wales, but the same could apply to any region. There is an improvement in the machinery, as I said when debating the Scottish order, but it is by no means a successful solution for the problem which arises.
At the risk of wearying your Lordships, perhaps I may return to other points that I made in relation to the Scottish order. It may well be that the Neill Committee recommended that there be a national maximum limit on election expenses. We welcome the concept of a maximum limit. The Liberal Democrats have always suffered at the hands of the other two parties, which spend astronomic sums which seem to come, in some instances, from all over the world and from all kinds of pockets. We do not have access to such funds, so we welcome the principle of a maximum. Whether the Neill Committee took into account the tactical uses to which that maximum can be put I venture to doubt. In the case of Wales, it is perhaps even more obvious that the Labour Party, which will not expect to win regional list seats, for example, in the valleys of south-east Wales and possibly in north-east Wales, will be much more concerned to ensure the return of a regional list candidate in mid-Wales. It is no coincidence that at the
In discussing the Scottish situation, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said that surely much of this expenditure would go on a national campaign to every part of the country. What I believe he overlooked was the posters and increased leafleting which could take place in a particular area and even the targeting of local radio stations and the use of other forms of advertising. I appreciate that with local radio stations no advertising is possible, so I withdraw that suggestion. The possibility of targeting an area arises as a result of this position.
Finally, I repeat the point that nominations under Article 4 can be made without anyone backing the particular candidate. That system is open to abuse. Any individual can put his name forward for a regional seat. He can, by lodging a deposit of £500, have free post under Article 66 and he can send out whatever form of advertising he wishes. It is a very simple form of advertising. There is nothing in the order that would stop him from doing that. I respectfully suggest that that provision should be looked at again and that there should be indications of public support from people entitled to vote before the nomination of a particular candidate is accepted.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their observations on this order. I acknowledge that the most important and difficult point that has been raised is the lack of provision for recounts on a regional basis. As my noble friend Lord Sewel said in response to the debate on the Scottish order, the costs of such a recount would be enormous. For that reason, on balance we felt that it was desirable to adopt the procedure set out in the order.
Despite the invitation of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I shall not be tempted to debate issues concerned with national general elections or the position of the present Secretary of State for Wales. While I have nothing positive to add to what my noble friend Lord Sewel said, it is important to point out that even at constituency level recounts are not a right; rather, they take place at the discretion of the returning officer. This is not a procedure that parties can use as a tactic in fighting an election. In any case the primary purpose of a recount is not to check a close result but to ensure that there is no discrepancy in the counting procedures. That would arise, as provided for here, when the ballot papers were counted at local constituency level, hence the provision that the facility for a recount of regional ballot papers should take place at that level. I acknowledge that the noble Lord has a point about the convenience of counting staff at constituency level and that they should not be kept waiting for a long time. However, there are conflicting interests here and we must come down on one side or the other. We have come down on the side of a system that is consistent with the discretionary nature of recounts in elections generally in this country. We recognise that we are dealing with a new situation.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made a suggestion about the testing of procedures which involved a dry run with no voters. I thought that that was an excellent suggestion. I shall draw that to the attention of the returning officers who will be responsible for organising these matters at local level. Perhaps the Attlee command post exercise may become a feature of Welsh Assembly elections. The noble Earl also referred to the possibility of the death of or the vacation of office by a representative after the election. I thought that I had referred to that in my introductory speech. In case I have not, perhaps I may set out the position. For a constituency representative, if there is a death or a vacation of office there will be a by-election. For a regional representative the presumption is that the next person down on the same party's list will take the place of the regional representative. If for some reason that person does not want to do it, one goes further down the list. If the next person on the list has left the party there is provision whereby the party organisation can say that it does not want that person because he or she is no longer "one of us". The replacement of regional party members will take place without great political significance. The only exception to that is that an independent member elected on a regional list will not be able to be replaced and the seat will remain vacant until the next election.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, made reference to the national maximum limit of expenditure. He made some quite machiavellian suggestions about the way in which (I noted) the Labour Party, not the Liberal Democrat Party, might behave in the allocation of posters, leafleting and so on. The noble Lord may be right. It may be that the Liberal Democrat Party would behave in that way. It may be that all sorts of sinister things would go on. But I think he would recognise that if we had departed from the Neill recommendations a howl of protest would have gone up from the press and media and the risk of obloquy would be very much greater than the rather remote risk to which the noble Lord referred.