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Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the aims of the regulations. My first comment concerns these regulations and in addition those that apply to Scotland and Wales, which have been debated. Surely, this indicates a need for primary legislation in a new representation of the people Act. This would give the House the opportunity to debate and amend proposals in a Bill--a luxury that we do not have with secondary legislation.
I understand that these regulations are technical and mirror much of the Great Britain regulations which were debated in your Lordships' House on 22nd April. These regulations are specifically tailored to fit the local circumstances in Northern Ireland. I wish to ask three
Secondly, in Regulation 6(4) I am mystified by the hefty hike from £5 to £5,000. I thought that this item was concerned with the required deposit, but surely the previous figure was £1,000, not £5. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could assist me with my comprehension.
I come last to by-elections. I refer the Minister to the example of the ballot paper on page 4 of the regulations. For ease, suppose that the first three are elected, with number four coming next. Then for some reason one of the three Members leaves the European Parliament. At that stage number four will be deemed to be elected. However, a difficulty will arise as he comes from another party. Proportionality would be lost and it would be a return to first-past-the-post. Can the Minister explain how what appears to be completely illogical and against government thinking is acceptable in this instance?
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, we on these Benches support the regulations in their entirety. It is pleasing to note that now in Scotland, England and Wales we also have the benefit of proportional representation in the European parliamentary elections for the first time. I have little to ask about the measure because most of it is self-explanatory. I thought that the part on by-elections would have answered the question posed by the noble Baroness.
My question is concerned with the increase from £5 to £5,000. I went back through the legislation and looked at the 1978 Act. I found that in that year the figure that could be spent by an individual was 50p and in 1983 it went up to £5. In 1999 it has gone up to £5,000. That shows quite a jump in inflation. My colleagues in the Alliance Party thought that perhaps they should not make it common knowledge among all their supporters in case they went out and spent vast amounts of money on the election.
I have one question on the form of the ballot paper. Will independent candidates be able to choose their own emblem? At the moment it appears that a blank space by a name may be seen in some cases as a disadvantage. I do not believe that it will cause the electorate any particular difficulty. I have monitored many elections around the world. I remember monitoring elections in South Africa where sometimes help had to be given to the electorate in finding their candidates. This was helped by members of the Inkatha party. Inkatha joined the election at the last minute and a sticker had to be added at the bottom. When assistance was asked for in
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am sure that half an hour ago the noble Lord, like others participating in this debate, looked forward to addressing a full House. For some reason or other that I cannot understand, most noble Lords have disappeared. The Minister explained how the regulations had been tailored to meet the needs of the slightly different system in Northern Ireland and various other conditions there. I believe that I have a duty to acquaint your Lordships with how that different system came about. In the late 1970s when the then government of the United Kingdom was preparing for the very first European elections they identified the one party that should be guaranteed a Euro-seat. They did better than that and went on to identify by name the one candidate who must be guaranteed that seat.
To achieve that result the then government decided to impose proportional representation on Northern Ireland alone. That was why we had it 20 years ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom. But to make that scheme work in 1979 Her Majesty's then government had to upset the nice round figure that had been decreed for the European Parliament and create an odd figure by adding one to ensure that Northern Ireland did not have the two seats to which it was just about entitled but three to make the system of proportional representation work and ensure the election of the candidate who was named by the government. I shall not embarrass that individual by naming him, but he is not present here.
The two seats would not have secured the election of what I may call their man. Therefore, the rigged election, having worked in 1979, continued to keep in place the chosen one of Irish politics for 20 years, which is something of a record. In fairness to noble Lords I felt that I should explain why this curious situation--which is not quite the same as in the rest of the United Kingdom--has applied to Northern Ireland for an unbroken record of 20 years.
The modern extraordinary variation lies in the increase from £5 to £5,000. I hope that I have got the terminology right. There may be some confusion about the amount that a person not authorised by an election agent may spend to influence the election of a candidate. It is not, as I understand it, anything to do with that amount which is permitted to be spent by the candidate and/or his agent.
This time this startling change was made not by the government of the day but at the behest of the European Court of Human Rights. I have to say, with very great respect, that however learned in law the Commission members may be, their ridiculous ruling shows clearly that they have never fought elections and still less could they have served as an election agent.
I shall restrain myself from comment on the proposed form of the ballot paper, beyond suggesting that maybe the designers of the graffiti tailplanes for British Airways might have done a slightly better job.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, is aware of why we do not normally have primary legislation for issues relating to Northern Ireland. After devolution, the Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to deal with these matters as primary legislation; for the moment we are stuck with a system which has some faults but which is the one we have been using for some time now.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has said that the Stormont Assembly, when it begins to work, will deal with such matters. Will it have jurisdiction over electoral law, particularly in regard to European elections?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, no, it will not have jurisdiction over electoral law. The noble Lord is quite right and I thank him for that. As a general proposition, however, under this particular procedure a great deal of the Northern Ireland legislation which we deal with in this House will be passed in future to the Assembly; but not matters that stay within the responsibility of this Parliament.
Turning to the specific points which have been raised, the first question the noble Baroness asked related to recounts and whether someone lower down the list could call for a recount. Normally, it may be appropriate in relation to a person lower down the list and where a change would influence the outcome in the vote, but I would prefer to write to the noble Baroness and give her more information. I suspect that the answer will be that the returning officer will exercise his or her discretion in each particular instance.
I deal now with the £5,000 and the question of deposits. The £1,000 deposit is what a candidate has to put up. If the candidate fails to achieve a certain proportion or quota of the vote, the candidate will forfeit the deposit, as is the case in parliamentary elections here.
The £5,000 figure--an increase from £5, which mirrors Great Britain legislation--is the sum of money which can be spent by a third party without the approval of the election agent. A third party, not a candidate, is therefore allowed to spend up to £5,000 in this election in Northern Ireland: presumably expenditure intended to make some political point as regards the elections. That is quite different from the deposit that a candidate has to put down, which the candidate may lose if his or her vote is rather small.