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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 3, line 12, at end insert ("and any list of such candidates, submitted to the regional returning officer, shall appear on the ballot paper for regional members in that region").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 35. This time it is a simple matter. Amendment No. 35 takes us back to an issue discussed earlier; namely, whether or not in the second ballot the names will be on the paper. As the matter stood last time, other than independents the names would not be on it. Therefore, the second ballot paper would make reference to the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrat Party, the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, perhaps the Green Party for the sake of completeness--who knows?--and whatever number of independents come up. The only people whose names will be on the list are the independents. The names of the candidates of the parties will not appear on the ballot paper.

We did not make any progress on this matter last time. I do not want to quote all the expressions used then by the noble Baroness but among them were that the ballot paper would be too complicated and that people would not understand it--all the usual arguments that the advocates of proportional representation tell us are bogus when we say that it is better to stay with the first-past-the-post system. That was what the noble Baroness said last time.

The fact of the matter--it is unfortunate for the Government that I lead on all the constitutional Bills--is that on 12th October when debating the European Parliamentary Elections Bill I tabled an amendment that sought to do the same for these elections, which are to be based on a large regional list. On that occasion the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said:

I knew that, but I just thought I would put it down again because the Scottish Office did not seem to know it.

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The noble Lord went on to say:

    "A prototype ballot paper has been placed in the Library of both Houses."
I have the prototype ballot paper. It has on it the list of names for the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party, and it has the names of the independent candidates as well. I notice that the independent candidates are for legalised cannabis, stop the by-pass and the Monster Raving Loony Party. I thought the Monster Raving Loony Party might just qualify under the Registration of Political Parties Bill.

It is perfectly clear that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said. That is what this document in the Library said. I think I am right in saying that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was present on the Bench and he therefore heard me say-- I do not normally read my speeches of course:

    "My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I did not actually expect anything less than that assurance. I thought this would be a useful exercise because we are dealing with an important issue, ... However, I should just warn the Minister that he had better brief his colleagues who are dealing with the Scotland Bill that the words he has just used will be prayed in aid against them when we come to those deliberations."--[Official Report, 12/10/98; col. 738.]
I pray in aid the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, my Amendment No. 36 has much the same affect as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish's Amendment No. 35. I do not have the Hansard in front of me, but, if I remember rightly, I was present on the occasion to which he has referred and I tried to entice the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to extend his description on to this Bill but he for some reason resisted my blandishments. However, I also recall that at the Committee stage the Government did undertake to give further consideration to this matter, particularly in the committee meeting in Edinburgh dealing with electoral arrangements. There has been some dialogue between us and the Government over the Summer Recess, so I am hopeful that the Government will accept the sensible proposal that the names of the candidates should appear on the ballot paper.

My amendment has one further minor addition and it is the suggestion that the names be limited to nine in number. I really propose that as a probing matter because I do not understand why we need to have as many as 12. I do not yet know of any party which is putting forward a list of 12, so maybe my amendment is not necessary. It seems to me exceptionally generous and an unnecessary cluttering of the ballot paper, which is a point made by the noble Baroness in a previous debate, to have as many as 12 names. I think it would be tidier to limit the number to nine, but I do not feel strongly on that. I am looking forward to the Government accepting the principle of what we are now proposing.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, as has been said before, there are very strong and persuasive arguments against putting

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the names of candidates on the ballot paper. However, I have to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and his colleagues on the power of the arguments that they have used. We have listened and we have very largely been persuaded. The concern we had from the start was the manageability of the ballot paper and there are still some issues to deal with there. Fortunately, over the summer research has been carried out by the School of Public Policy at University College London on whether people prefer a straight party signal or whether they prefer the names on the list. The research at the moment is not absolutely clear. Some like it nice and simple to know that they are going for the party. Others like to know who the candidates are. I do accept the point that if we can get on to the ballot paper the lists of the names of the candidates and it does not become something like a kitchen roll then that has considerable advantages. It does of course mean that we preserve a worthwhile principle, that people actually know the identities of the candidates for whom they are voting. We have sought hard to preserve that in the way we have approached the issue.

There are some difficulties. It might seem a minor problem, but for older people the ballot paper must be of adequate type size so that it is not a confusing blur. But that is not an insuperable problem. Unless we come up against some major practical difficulties, I give the assurance that we shall move towards putting the names on the ballot paper. Some additional work has been done on the example of a ballot paper that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has before him. I hope that we shall be able to make a variety of those available before the end of Report stage.

There is some advantage in making use of the order-making powers in Clause 11 to ensure that it is achieved rather than putting the provision on the face of the Bill. But that is a difference of approach. Clause 11 covers everything to do with the conduct of elections. We expect to lay that order around Christmas and for it to be debated in both Houses during January. I believe that that could be an appropriate way forward.

I believe that we have widespread agreement on the issue. I and the Government are glad that there is not an insuperable problem in putting the names down. I think that we can go to 12 without making a difficulty. The reason for the figure 12 is to seek to overcome the difficulty that over a period of time, with possibilities of deaths, people moving away or perhaps losing an interest in politics, one runs out of candidates on the regional list where a vacancy occurs. I realise that it is a somewhat belt-and-braces solution, but it is better to err in that direction than to keep the number too small. It will be for the judgment of the political parties to decide the number. I hope that on the basis of what I have said, noble Lords will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have made serious progress. I did not have to go to the trouble of persuading the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to come to the Dispatch Box to give assurances on the European legislation. I think that I can speak for the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in saying that we are pleased about this. I am content that the provision is not on the

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face of the Bill. Having been a Minister, I trust the Minister's words without question.

I look forward to seeing the ballot papers. It will be good to see them before the end of Report stage. I look forward to the regulations in January. With grateful thanks to the Minister, perhaps I may say that this is an important step forward in the cause of democracy and open government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 42 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 3, line 37, leave out from ("a") to end of line 39 and insert ("party registered under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple amendment. Clause 4(9) states:

    "In this Act, 'registered political party' means a political party registered under any enactment providing for the registration of political parties".
What will happen is that the "registered political party" will mean a political party registered under the Registration of Political Parties Bill which is before your Lordships' House. It seems a little daft that we cannot say what we mean. That will be the legislation used in subsection (9). I beg to move.

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