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Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful for the response to this short debate. It has been an opportunity to rehearse the issue of proportionality and, as indicated, there may already be concern among many of us looking to the future pattern of the assembly that the structure may not be adequate to the task in hand. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford made that point clearly as regards the effectiveness of the committee system.

I should like to pursue one aspect a little further; that is, the question of looking again. I noted the commitment from the Secretary of State that he would look again at the electoral system if it did not prove to be adequate. It is important that the Government explain the electoral system clearly to the Welsh public--not that we are thick and do not understand what is going

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on, as some Members of the Committee seemed to imply earlier; but we have a new system and therefore the effective use of both votes to maximise preference is an important message which it is in the interests of all parties in a democracy to advertise. However, will the Minister kindly come back on the question of when the "look again" may be appropriate?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The looking again will take place in the light of the experience of the 1999 elections. If and in so far as there will be a look, it will be after those elections. What will be considered is whether it delivers on the expectations described in the course of these debates. I hope that answers the noble Lord's query.

Lord Elis-Thomas: In view of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 to 8 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Schedule 1 shall be agreed to.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: The Government should be aware that there is some anxiety in Wales in relation to the size of the assembly. That was accentuated by the plans for the Scottish parliament and for the Northern Ireland assembly.

Most of us who are of Wales pay tribute to the work done by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, which has been involved in devolution for a considerable time. I hold a letter from the director, John Osmond, who feels that the minimum number required for the assembly to function effectively is 80. He says:

    "This case, we believe, has been enormously reinforced by the recent Irish Agreement which will create an Assembly in Northern Ireland with 108 members. This is to represent a population of 1.6 million people".

The population of Wales is just under 3 million. The letter continues,

    "There are, of course, special circumstances in the Irish case but, nonetheless, we believe there is an unreasonable disproportion in allowing Wales, with a population of just under three million people, an Assembly with only 60 members".

I think that Mr. Osmond and the institute undermine their case to some extent by saying that this creates a problem for operating the complex committee structure that will be required, as the Government have changed their mind on this issue and have gone for a Cabinet-style of operation which should require fewer people on the assembly committee system. Therefore, I believe that the Government have got the numbers about right, but that they should give a little more justification for the figure of 60 by way of membership compared with the 108 for Northern Ireland and the 129 proposed for the Scottish parliament.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The schedule defines the constituencies and the electoral regions. There is a vast amount in the schedule that goes beyond the ambit of the remarks that the noble Lord has just addressed to the Committee. The schedule is vital if elections to the assembly are to proceed. A vast amount of the detail in the schedule deals with what one could call

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nuts-and-bolts questions about reviews of the electoral areas and so on. It seems to me that the noble Lord has concentrated alone, if I take his remarks correctly, on numbers. In many ways, we have already had that debate because a number of noble Lords contributed to the proposition that it should be larger by either 10 or 20.

The noble Lord said--I am grateful to him for his characteristic generosity--that the Government have it about right. It is a question of judgment. Circumstances are different in Scotland and they are different in Northern Ireland. If one were a believer in perfect symmetry, the consequence would be over-rigidity. If we all believed in symmetrical constitutional arrangements, none of us could be sitting in your Lordships' House as none of us has had the benefit of being elected by anyone. When we first discussed this matter, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell--I hope I do not misquote him--said that he had discussed the issue domestically and that he had had advice from a higher source in the Crickhowell household that 60 was far too many.

Bearing in mind the modern history of Wales, we believe that, because of the kind of arrangements that we have been accustomed to and because of the necessity for inclusiveness and proportionality, we do not want too large an assembly. Things have been infinitely different in Northern Ireland and at this delicate time I shall not trespass into that area to raise any difficulties, doubts or further dissentions. But Northern Ireland's history of internal democracy over the past 25 years has been that, apart from at local level, there has not been any. For the reasons that were generally alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, there are differences there and they do not focus entirely on the proposition that some people in Northern Ireland do not wish to live in the Union. There are other aspects: religious differences, differences of educational choice, differences of political view and differences of view over the recent history of the island of Ireland since 1922 or so.

In the Bill we have focused centrally on what will work in Wales and on how we deal with the possibility that some in Wales might think that this is too large a gravy train for the old--I put this carefully--county council writ large. We did not want the old county council writ large; we did not want the monoliths, which is why we put forward the AMS system; and we do not want too large a body. But we think that, particularly when one looks at the careful work that NAAG has done--a non-party body which has given excellent advice to the Secretary of State--we have it about right. I cannot say that I would go to the stake, even if invited to, on 59 as opposed to 61. Sixty seems about right in the context of our experience and our knowledge of recent Welsh history. I cannot put it more definitively than that because, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, it is essentially a matter of judgment. I think we are in agreement. We have got it about right.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

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6.15 p.m.

Clause 3 [Time of ordinary elections]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 2, line 32, leave out from ("order") to end of line 36 and insert--
("( ) An order under subsection (4) may include any provisions modifying the operation of--
(a) the Representation of the People Act 1983 (or rules made under that Act), or
(b) any other enactment relating to elections of community councillors,
which the Secretary of State considers appropriate in connection with the postponement of polls for which it provides.").

The noble and learned Lord said: This government amendment should be considered in conjunction with the power which will be given to the Secretary of State under subsection (4) of Clause 3 to postpone the date of the ordinary elections of community councils in Wales. What we are proposing is that in circumstances where the Secretary of State deems it necessary to exercise his power to postpone the date of the community council elections, it may also be appropriate for the proper and effective conduct of those elections for him to make consequential modifications to the statutory procedures relating to community council elections.

It may help to clarify our intentions if I illustrate matters with an example. Next year there are due to be four sets of elections in Wales during the spring and early summer--elections to the assembly, the unitary authorities, the community councils and the European Parliament. The best solution would be to combine the assembly elections with those for the unitary councils on 6th May 1999 and to postpone the community council elections, which are also scheduled for that date, preferably to 10th June, the date of the European parliamentary elections. I should emphasise that the final decision on the new date for the community council elections has not yet been taken, but combining them with the European parliamentary elections remains our preferred option.

It has been pointed out to us, however, that despite the advantages in terms of cost and minimising the potential for voter fatigue, holding the community council elections on 10th June could present some administrative complications regarding the timing of the submission of nominations. If the community council elections are held on 10th June, the statutory date for the submission of the nomination papers would be 13th May, a mere week after the assembly and unitary elections. Elections administrators and their staff will then be heavily engaged in duties relating to the aftermath of the two elections held on 6th May. We are advised that it might be impossible for them fully to comply with their obligations in respect of the delivery of community council nominations.

A possible solution would be to make provision for the community council nomination papers to be submitted on a timescale implied by holding the community council elections at the same time as the unitary authority elections. The community council nominations would then be "frozen" for the elections to

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be held in June. Candidates for the community councils would be submitting their nomination papers at the same time as unitary authority candidates, at a time when returning officers would be geared up to processing nominations. The European parliamentary nominations are much less of a problem as far fewer candidates are involved.

Such a step would require a change to the timetable applicable to the conduct of community council elections as set out in the Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) Rules 1986. It would be a departure from the procedure laid down in legislation and so requires special provision. This amendment would give the Secretary of State the power to make that provision.

I have given but one example of where it would be advantageous to change statutory procedures for the effective conduct of elections which had been postponed. Doubtless there will be other examples depending on the circumstances in which community council elections may have to be postponed. Accordingly, the amendment is not specific, but ensures that provision is available to enable the Secretary of State is able to take action as appropriate. I repeat: this provision could be used only in circumstances where the Secretary of State had decided to postpone the community council elections and any changes must be appropriate in connection with the postponement. He may not decide to change any provision simply because he may have a mind to. The changes may be modifications only. The order-making power will not enable him to rewrite the rules governing the conduct of the community council elections. Once the assembly has been established, he will be able to exercise that power only if he has first consulted the assembly; so it too would be party to any proposal to make consequential changes to any related statutory procedure. In the light of that rather long explanation, I beg to move.

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