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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am grateful to my noble friend for his intervention. I wish to make clear that I did not suggest for one moment that the Welsh people did not understand what they were voting for. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, expressed a view as to what the Welsh people might have thought. I do not adopt it.
While I am on my feet perhaps I may answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Onslow of Woking, to which I did not respond. I apologise. First, the noble Lord asked whether I could give an undertaking that we shall produce the document before the beginning of Report stage of the Bill. I cannot give a formal undertaking to that effect. But I can say that it is extremely likely that the Bill will be forthcoming before the start of Report stage. If not, either I or my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will give an explanation as to why. However, I very much hope that that will not be the position.
Secondly, the noble Lord asked whether the Bill would cover all elections. As I understand it, it will deal with those elections which relate to the putting forward of lists of candidates for the various party list elections. I do not know whether it will cover local government elections; I suspect that it will not. That is as far as I can take the matter at present.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful for the assurances we have received again from the Solicitor-General about the registration of political parties Bill--or I was grateful until he returned to the subject. I had thought that "imminently" meant before we return to this Bill at Report stage. The noble and learned Lord will have to work hard to persuade me that we should have a Report stage of this Bill before we see the registration of political parties Bill. He would have to work hard, too, to persuade me that we should start the Committee stage of the European Parliamentary
Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I am sure that the Welsh people knew what they were or were not voting for; about half of them decided that they did not wish to vote for the proposal. Half of those who voted were not particularly keen. So I believe that they knew what they were voting for. I am not sure that the noble Lord and I would agree on the conclusions that we would both draw from that.
As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell mentioned, we accept that however narrowly it was won the referendum was won. Perhaps I may say this to my noble friend Lord St. Davids. I do not consider this to be a wrecking amendment. The main proposition put before the people of Wales and Scotland was that they will have an assembly or a parliament. It is just possible that if the people of Wales had been asked to vote for an assembly elected by the first-past-the-post system, the yes campaign in which my noble friend played a part might have achieved a better result. My noble friend might contemplate that for a moment or two.
This is not a wrecking amendment. It is not justified to try to knock it down with reference to the Salisbury doctrine. There is a point to be debated. We have a longstanding first-past-the-post system in this country. I do not think that we should overturn it readily or quickly just because of some agreement the Labour Party rather foolishly made with the Liberal Democrats before the election. I much appreciate the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in my political career. I have indicated my position. I assure the noble Lord that if I change my mind I shall lose no time in making sure that he is among the first to know.
We shall return to the subject of proportionality, a subject about which the Solicitor-General spoke. I shall then show him that proportionality has as many definitions as there are fiddle tunes--and there are many of them! It is doubtful whether the method achieved in the Welsh Bill will deliver the same degree of proportionality that the method outlined in the Scotland Bill will achieve. However, we shall come to the amendment from the Liberal Democrats Benches and that of Plaid Cymru later. I shall not go into that.
I believe that our system has served us well. As I mentioned--I am not surprised that no one took up the point--only one country in the English-speaking world (if I may so call it) has gone over to PR. That is New Zealand. It is interesting that the National Party in New Zealand is considering whether or not to have another referendum and whether or not to abandon the system that it has had for a year or two. A report in the Daily Telegraph of 23rd April reported that business confidence has plunged; the economy has stalled; the currency has fallen sharply; and economic reforms, for which New Zealand was famous and for which it gained acclaim internationally, have all but ground to a halt.
We have heard a little about that today. I shall be happy to eat a raw leek if the Welsh assembly is peace loving with no arguments and no political divide--nothing of that nature. It will amaze me. It will be the only legislature anywhere in the world that works like that in a democracy. I think that it was George Thomas who defended noise in the House of Commons by saying that if you want a silent legislature go and listen to the Supreme Soviet--in the days before the wall came down. If noble Lords believe that there will be no controversy across the political divide in the Welsh assembly, they will believe anything.
I turn again to New Zealand. Another National Party MP, Mr. Gavin Herlihy, said that the system which is close to that being proposed for Wales is the worst possible. Although consensus politics was inherent in it,
I do not accept the argument that just because the Welsh electorate decided that they did not wish to have my party in any of their constituencies I should ask to change the system. They made a conscious decision to get rid of all my honourable and right honourable colleagues. In a democracy they had a right to do that. That is what the first-past-the-post system provides. However, I accept that the Government have argued for this proposal, both in their manifesto and in the White Paper. For the moment at least, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Before the noble Lord sits down, is he speaking for the Welsh Conservative Party when he says that he is for the first-past-the-post system, and for the 10 candidates who have already been adopted by the Conservative Party to fight these elections? Is he speaking for them, or for himself?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I was about to say that that is a particularly silly question, but that might be unkind. I am speaking for my noble friends and myself on this amendment. I am speaking for the Conservative Party in Wales and in Britain; and indeed I shall address the same issue in relation to Scotland. The fact that we already have candidates in place for both the Welsh assembly and the Scottish parliament simply underlines the fact that we are a democratic party and that we shall fight elections on whatever basis they are arranged, even though we do not approve of that basis. That is what democracy is about. I appreciate that the Liberal Party perhaps does not understand that.
The assembly is a corporation, and is defined as such in Clause 1, and a corporation aggregate. I was not aware that a vacancy in a corporation aggregate could affect the validity of its proceedings. There must be many, many examples where there has been a vacancy, for example, in the establishment of a government department, a local authority or a statutory body, and where that body has still been able to act effectively. I merely ask Ministers whether, if they believe there is any question about this matter, they will look into it. If this draft subsection is unnecessary, it can only cause trouble. An unnecessary subsection of this nature lends itself to endless unnecessary and undesirable argument.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The matter of a quorum would seem to be for standing orders. In respect of the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on subsection (7), I will certainly examine the matter that he raises, as I hope I always have done in the past, and respond to him as promptly and fully as possible.