Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: I rise to support the amendment moved by my noble friend. Not for the first time he has spotted a small but potentially useful amendment to the Bill. I understand that my noble friend had the honour of being the first opposition Peer to have an amendment accepted to the Government of Wales Bill. I look forward to his receiving a similar honour in this Bill.

Lord Hardie: As the noble Earl has explained, this amendment would require the Boundary Commission for Scotland to lay any report recommending changes to the Scottish parliamentary constituencies before the United Kingdom Parliament as well as the Scottish parliament. I assure the noble Earl and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, that this amendment is not necessary. The Secretary of State is already required to lay reports of the Boundary

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1341

Commission for Scotland before the United Kingdom Parliament in any case where the report recommends changes together with the Secretary of State's proposals for giving effect to those changes.

However, given the potential significance of such a report for the constituencies and the electoral regions of the Scottish parliament, we thought it was appropriate that the Boundary Commission for Scotland should lay before the Scottish parliament any report it makes recommending alterations in the parliamentary constituencies, and any consequent alteration in the electoral regions. We have therefore made specific provision for that in paragraph 3 to Schedule 1. The short answer is that the Secretary of State will still be obliged to lay the report before the United Kingdom Parliament. But to ensure that the Scottish parliament, which has a clear interest in those matters, also has a copy of the report, it was necessary to have paragraph 3 to Schedule 1. With that explanation I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Perhaps I might ask the noble and learned Lord about this matter. It strikes me that the report is to be sent to the Scottish parliament merely for its information. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, told the Committee, parliamentary constituencies will be decided by the Westminster Parliament, what is the point of letting the Scottish parliament know about the matter in advance? How is it to deal with this information when it is a reserved matter?

Lord Hardie: The position is that the Scottish parliament will be able to take into account the recommendations in the report and will be able to consider what representations it should make to the United Kingdom Parliament. There would be consultation between the Scottish parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament, although the ultimate decision as to the alteration of any boundaries in terms of the report and the recommendations of the Secretary of State would be taken by the United Kingdom Parliament in the light of representations made by the Scottish parliament.

The Earl of Balfour: I think I understand this matter now. In other words, the noble and learned Lord is saying that both the Scottish parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament will always be informed. The only matter that concerned me briefly was this. If the commission does not make any recommendation, it appears only to have to report to the Secretary of State, not the Scottish parliament. Am I correct?

Lord Hardie: That is correct--the reason being that, if there is no recommendation for any change, one would not envisage the United Kingdom Parliament taking it upon itself to change the boundaries.

The Earl of Balfour: With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1342

[Amendments Nos. 19 to 22 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Ordinary general elections]:

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 2, line 5, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State shall not appoint a day for the first ordinary general election if it is a day on which a parliamentary election, European Parliamentary election or local government election is scheduled to take place.").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment is grouped with a number of others which address the same issue; namely, whether it should be competent for elections to the Scottish parliament to take place on the same day as a general election, elections to the European Parliament and local government elections. With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 24, 25, 27, 28, 33 and 78.

The Bill proposes that the date on which the first ordinary general election for the membership of the parliament shall be held shall be appointed by order of the Secretary of State. But subsection (2) of Clause 2 provides that,

    "subsequent ordinary general elections shall be held on the first Thursday in May in the fourth calendar year following that in which the previous ordinary general election was held".

Noble Lords will be aware that in Scotland local government elections take place on the first Thursday in May. It is obviously competent for a general election to take place on that date; and although, as I understand it, the next European parliamentary elections are scheduled to be in June of next year, it might also be competent for them to take place on the first Thursday in May. The amendments seek, shortly but importantly, to raise the question of whether it would be sensible for elections to the new parliamentary body, namely the Scottish parliament, to take place on the same day as one of the other elections to which I have referred.

In Scotland the proposal to hold more than one election on the same day has given rise to considerable concern, particularly among the representatives of CoSLA. As the Minister will be well aware, on 18th June this year the president of CoSLA, Councillor Keith Geddes, wrote on behalf of CoSLA and on behalf of various group leaders of CoSLA--the Labour group leader, the Liberal Democrat group leader, the SNP group leader, the Conservative group leader and the non-aligned group leader--to the Secretary of State raising CoSLA's concern. In that letter he said, referring to the issue of having the next round of local government elections on the same day as the first elections for the Scottish Parliament:

    "As you know, the issue is of substantial concern within the local government community".
He sends this letter on a cross-party basis,

    "underlining the extent to which there is a local government consensus about this matter which transcends the normal political divides".
He went on to say:

    "We believe that the elections should not take place on the same day, for the following reasons".

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1343

First, he says that:

    "There is a likelihood of considerable voter confusion. There was evidence of this at the devolution referendum in terms of the requirements to complete two ballot papers; the requirement this time to record three votes simultaneously will be without precedent in Scotland".
One could add to that that, if a Scottish parliamentary election were combined with another election--for example, a local government election--which involved some form of proportional representation, which is not impossible, in the long term confusion might arise not only from the number of votes to be cast but also if some votes were to be cast in accordance with one form of proportional representation and others were to be cast in accordance with another form.

Secondly, he makes an important point which relates primarily to the effect on local government elections. He says:

    "Whilst it is highly likely that the combination of the two polls on the one day will result in a higher turnout for the local government election which we would naturally welcome, the cost of this is the likelihood that voters will be voting on national issues and not on local issues. The election of the new Parliament will inevitably take precedence in the public mind. Local government elections need to stand in their own right and have their own justification".
I suggest that that is a sentiment which would find support in all quarters of the Chamber. The third point he makes is as follows:

    "There are bound to be enormous pressures on political parties in resourcing two simultaneous elections".

Fourthly, he deals with the position of independent candidates. This is a point which is relevant not only to local government elections but also to the Scottish parliamentary elections. He says:

    "We also believe that the combined elections may potentially disadvantage independent candidates, who traditionally stand in rural parts of Scotland. This is because voters will be making party political choices at the Parliamentary election and there is the obvious danger of voting patterns being transferred into local government elections".

It seems to me that there is a great deal of sense in what the president of CoSLA said in his letter to the Secretary of State of 18th June. I understand from press reports that the Government are considering the matter. On that basis, I hope that we shall receive a positive response from the Minister.

I should make it clear that I am in no sense committed to the precise details of moving the elections from the first Thursday to the second Thursday of May. I am open to suggestions for alternative dates. The purpose of the amendment is to seek to establish the principle that the election to the Scottish parliament should be the only election which takes place on a particular day. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: There is no question but that the noble and learned Lord has a point. Extremely complicated voting papers will be involved and it may well be that there is a degree of confusion. But we find that in countries which have adopted complex voting

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1344

systems and PR, the electorates--who are no more intelligent than our electorate--become used to it and make a good job of it.

I do not believe that we should rule out, by inserting it in the Bill, the fact that we could have two elections on one day. That needs to be left to the Scottish parliament. It will save a great deal of money, which is always useful. The Scottish electorate is sophisticated enough to cope with that and the design of the voting papers--to which a great deal more attention needs to be paid--can play a big part.

The point should be left open and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response. The noble and learned Lord has a point, but there is a point also in being able to hold two elections on one day in certain circumstances.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page