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Lord Harris of Greenwich: I hope I may say a few words. I think it is about time we had a few words. As regards the point made by the noble Lord who has just sat down, what does he think the Salisbury doctrine meant? The Salisbury doctrine meant that the Conservative Party--which then, as now, had an overwhelming majority in this Chamber--would not use that majority to defeat the Government on issues which had been spelt out in the Labour Party's election manifesto. That is what the Salisbury doctrine means. Therefore to pass an amendment of this kind would be to undermine totally the undertaking given on behalf of the then Conservative opposition, which as I understand it remains the position of the Conservative Party. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was concerned--I understand this concern--that a large number of people in Wales would not understand the possible complexities of a proportional representation system. In that case, why did the people of Northern Ireland find it quite so easy?
Baroness Young: I did not say that they would not understand the complexities. I said that I did not think they had understood that they would lose the direct link with an MP. That is quite a different issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, says that he is prepared to live with the argument that it is perfectly all right to allow a substantial minority of the people of Scotland and of Wales to be totally unrepresented in the House of Commons. I wonder whether good democrats necessarily all take quite such a dismissive view of the rights of the electorate. It seems to me highly likely, as another academic study has demonstrated, that if one was not to have some form of proportional representation in Wales, there would be no Conservative members in the Welsh Assembly at all. I would regret that because I do not believe it is right that a substantial block of the electorate has no elected representatives. I am appalled that noble Lords are prepared to get up in this House and say that they could live with that without the slightest trace of concern.
Lord Onslow of Woking: I have no particular wish to follow the tone of the noble Lord who has just sat down. I simply wish to ask two questions about the legislation on the registration of political parties which we have been promised and which is so essential with regard to this and other pieces of legislation now before Parliament. First, can we have an undertaking from Ministers this evening that we shall have an opportunity to see that Bill before the Report stage on this Bill? Secondly, can we have a guarantee that its provisions, whatever they may be in detail, will be the same for any elected body in any part of the United Kingdom, and that there will be no different rules of registration for political parties in Wales, in Scotland, in Northern Ireland, or in the rest of the United Kingdom?
The Earl of Balfour: Following on from what the noble Lord who has just sat down has said, and as Amendment No. 14 (seeking to leave out subsection (8) of Clause 4) is grouped with this amendment, may I ask the Minister whether he can tell me if there is any enactment providing for the registration of political parties or any directive through any statutory instrument? I think it would be helpful to find out how political parties are recorded. I hope we can have an answer.
The Solicitor-General (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, quoted my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn saying that you approach the question of what is the correct electoral system by what is appropriate for the particular body. The Government have said repeatedly in relation to a national assembly for Wales
We believe that using the additional member system will help to achieve those objectives. We approached the question of the best system on the basis of what we hoped to achieve rather than simply by adherence to the existing system for the UK Parliament. The additional member system combines the traditional first-past-the-post system with an element of proportionality. The constituency element enables us to retain the close and effective link between the electorate and their representatives while the election of the 20 additional members will address any disproportionality that may occur in the constituency elections. May I deal with the point--
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Will the noble Lord not accept that the additional member system is only one of the systems of proportional representation and it has particular disadvantage in that it yields power to the party managers, taking it away from those who are close to the electorate?
Perhaps I may deal with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She expressed concern that there would be no direct link between a constituent and his or her representative in the Welsh assembly. The system proposed involves 40 members of the new assembly elected by the same means as are the UK parliamentary constituencies. There will be a direct link, identical to that between an MP and his constituency and, on top of that, there will be 20 additional members introduced by the additional member system.
There will be no question of individual constituents not knowing to whom to refer a problem and there will be that direct link about which the noble Baroness was so concerned. So, with the greatest of respect to the noble Baroness, I do not think that there is anything in her point about losing the direct link.
The level of representation enjoyed by a party in the assembly should reflect, more or less, the level of support it has won across the country. The result should be an assembly which is truly representative of the range of opinions in Wales. In addition, the proposed geographic distribution of seats under the system will ensure that all areas of Wales are properly represented in the assembly and that no one area is able to dominate the affairs of the assembly.
As the noble Lord also pointed out, the main beneficiary of the amendments would, of course, be my party. But in relation to the Welsh assembly we are concerned with a vision which genuinely has nothing to do with competing party political manoeuvres. We want to establish the assembly as an institution which will give voice to the needs and concerns of all people in Wales, and not only those who vote for my party. While accepting that there are other systems, we are nevertheless convinced the additional member system is the most appropriate method for electing an assembly which will achieve our goal of inclusiveness.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It is a matter for each individual party to determine how they select those people who are on their list. We are not dealing here with how each individual party will handle the system. We are dealing with the system that is being set up. In the interests of establishing an assembly which is truly representative of the people of Wales, I strongly urge the Committee to reject the amendment proposed.
It was made clear that this system was to be adopted, both in the manifesto at the time of the election and before the referendum took place. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that perhaps the electorate did not understand the proposal. That point could be made in every case where a clear policy has been laid out, as this was, and accepted twice unequivocally by the electorate. I strongly urge the Committee to reject the amendment.
Lord Davies of Coity: I suggest that the Welsh people thoroughly understood what they were voting for in the referendum for the Welsh assembly. It is true that the poll could be considered low, and that the majority was somewhat low. Nevertheless, the result had nothing to do with the first-past-the-post system and proportional representation. It was based on whether or not Wales should have an assembly.
Many people did not believe that Wales should have an assembly. Some voted against it; and some abstained. However, the question we have to answer here is that of individual representation by Members of Parliament on the first-past-the-post system. That somewhat defies
When considering representation of constituents by Members of Parliament, let us recognise another reality. The vast majority of people do not see their MPs; they do not ask MPs as individuals to represent them. Some do so, but not the majority. The majority vote for a government to represent them on the big issues that affect their lives--employment, the National Health Service and education. The Welsh assembly will be concerned with affairs that affect the Welsh people. Nevertheless, with the system of proportional representation, the representatives will represent the people in the European Parliament constituencies. Therefore there will be representation if individuals require it.
I believe that it would be wrong for this Chamber to try to frustrate or defeat what was contained clearly in a manifesto commitment at the last general election. If such amendments are pushed to a vote, they will be mischievous.
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