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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I was beginning to feel pleased to have given way to the noble Lord because it gave him a chance to support his noble friend on the Front Bench. But towards the end I believe he was coming round to my view that we should be prepared to look at these matters after the elections are over.

We have had an interesting debate. I listened to the assurances of the Minister. It would be helpful if we were to find some way--perhaps the Minister will think about this from the Government's point of view--to set up a review of all the different systems after the events are over in order for Parliament to have a reasonable

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and well-balanced report on how they all operated. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 26B to 27A not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [New Schedule 2 to the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978]:

[Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 5, line 20, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("Boundary Commission for England").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 30, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 33 to 36, 39 and 41. This is a simple group of amendments which I trust will receive a degree of support from the Government and other parts of the Chamber. It replaces the Home Secretary--the Secretary of State--as the person who makes adjustments to the various regions which might become necessary in the course of time with the Boundary Commission.

The Bill sets out what the regions will be. In fact, I shall have something to say about the shape of the regions in due course, particularly when I come to deal with other amendments standing in my name. It is important that we discuss the shape and size of the regions for which those MEPs will be sitting. The Bill also sets out how many Members of the European Parliament shall be elected for each of those regions. But the Bill then gives the Secretary of State the power by order to change those. That is set out in paragraph 4(1), and specifically in paragraph 4(1)(a), and (b). Paragraph 4(1) states that the,

    "Secretary of State shall ... consider whether the ratio of registered electors to MEPs is as nearly as possible the same for every electoral region in England, and, ... make by order such amendments of column (3) of the Table as he considers necessary to ensure that result".
That order--the order, as always, will not be amendable--will be subject to the negative procedure. I cannot remember whether the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee made any comment on this issue but it seems to me that this should be done not by the negative procedure but would be more appropriately dealt with by the affirmative procedure.

I maintain that the Secretary of State is not a proper person to make such adjustments; or if he is the one to make such adjustments, he should make such adjustments on the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, as happens in the case of parliamentary elections. The Boundary Commission acts in a totally independent and non-political way and brings forward its recommendations to Parliament. As far as we know, those recommendations are virtually always followed. My noble friend Lord Waddington, who very much regrets that he cannot be here today, made the point that there had been occasions, which some noble Lords might remember, when the recommendations of the Boundary Commission were not followed quite as faithfully as they might have been. Those noble Lords who can remember 1969--it is sad that the then Home

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Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, is not present today--will recall that, on that occasion, though he laid the order before the House, the then government issued a whip to their members and ordered them to vote down the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, recommendations which, as we all know, were long overdue, the previous alterations to the boundaries having taken place as long before as 1951. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, remembers that case.

Our view is that it would be proper to allow the Boundary Commission to make the recommendations and trust that, as always, the Home Secretary would then lay the recommendations before the House and make the appropriate order. Both Houses could then, as our amendments do, make sure that those were dealt with by the affirmative procedure.

These matters are not purely about the ratio of electors to the Members of the European Parliament as set out in paragraph 4(1)(a). It is also important that we consider the size of the regions. As my noble friend Lord Mackay made clear at Second Reading, it is much harder to achieve true proportionality with very small regions. It is interesting to note that some of the very small regions--for example, the North-East--are very much Labour strongholds whereas the Conservative strongholds are not quite such small regions. That might merely be chance but it is certainly a matter we can come to in later amendments.

My principal point on this group of amendments is that we should involve the Boundary Commission in looking at these matters and not the Home Secretary and that they should be dealt with by the affirmative procedure rather than the negative procedure. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, with a little surprise because, as the Minister will also no doubt point out, the amendment is entirely misconceived. The power of the Secretary of State under paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 is not a power to alter the boundaries of the regions; it is a power to alter the number of MEPs returned by each region. The result is that what the Secretary of State is required to carry out by paragraph 4 is a simple mathematical calculation which could be carried out by a computer. Therefore, it seems wholly inappropriate to require that to be transferred to the Boundary Commission. In those circumstances, we are unable to support the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is right. In fact, I sympathise with the motive behind the amendments, but they are not necessary. It is important that one should understand that the Bill does not give the Secretary of State power to change the boundaries of the regions. All the Secretary of State has to do is carry out a purely mechanical, arithmetical calculation.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I spent a moment on the background. The total number of English electors was divided by 71--that is the number of MEPs.

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That produced an average figure of electors per MEP of just over 520,000. In fact it was 520,475. Then the MEPs were simply allocated to regions to ensure that the divergence was as low as possible. This is entirely arithmetical. There is no discretion available to the Secretary of State. The formula is provided in paragraph 4 of the schedule. It can produce only one result. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, the computer's calculation will be exactly the same as that of an official in the Home Office doing it with pencil and paper.

Therefore, there is no purpose in involving the Boundary Commission, which has a very delicate role in adjusting boundaries. This has nothing at all to do with boundaries. There is no good reason to invoke the affirmative resolution procedure. I specifically checked the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee did not see any reason for objecting to the negative resolution procedure, given the purely mechanistic nature of the procedure involved. It is entirely an arithmetical calculation. If the Secretary of State were to get his decimal point in the wrong place, there is one at least among us who would be able readily to correct him. I hope that I have been able to satisfy the Committee with my reply.

Lord Henley: I am not totally satisfied and it is a point to which I shall probably want to come back at a later stage. The noble Lord said that the Home Secretary has no discretion whatever in this matter, that it is entirely mathematical and that he must merely follow the answer which his pocket calculator gives him. However, paragraph 4(1)(b) states:

    "make by order such amendments of column (3) of the Table as he considers necessary to ensure that result".
It strikes me that the words "as he considers necessary" allow him a degree of discretion. The point I am making, if I may put it in the politest terms, is that the history of the noble Lord's party, particularly going back to 1969, is not entirely a clean one on these matters. I think it would be right to involve an independent outside body such as the Boundary Commission. It should be allowed its input into these matters so that Parliament can see that it has exercised the appropriate mechanistic discretion.

I appreciate that the changing of boundaries is another matter and is one that would have to be left to Parliament itself. Parliament is setting out the boundaries in the Bill and it is Parliament which on some later occasion will have to change them. Therefore, from that point of view, I accept that that limits what I consider to be the excessive powers of the Secretary of State to gerrymander these matters should he so wish. But, obviously, he would not be able to do so without the agreement of Parliament. I shall come back to that point on a later amendment. In the meantime, I wish to withdraw my amendment at this stage but assure the noble Lord that I will want to come back to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendments Nos. 31 to 41 not moved.]

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