|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I presume that, when the first-past-the-post count is completed, there will be an announcement in the normal way about who has been elected. After that, the regional list count having been completed for that constituency, the result will be transmitted to the regional returning officer. Once he has the results in from all the seats in his patch, he will add them together, everyone will agree the totals and he will then perform d'Hondt on them. It is not even at that point that it becomes obvious that
Perhaps I may give an example using the results in central Scotland at the last general election. The last seat was between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. The Conservatives had already gained one seat, so they were left on the last line with 20,791.5 votes. The Liberal Democrats, who had by that time gained no seats, were left with 20,624. The Conservatives won that seat by 137 votes. On any normal first-past-the-post count, that is recount territory. I believe that, if I were a Liberal Democrat in those circumstances, I would feel peeved that I had not the right to ask for a recount. A hundred and thirty-seven votes of a total of over 40,000 is pretty minuscule. One bundle placed on the wrong pile could make all the difference between the Liberal Democrats gaining that seat and the Conservatives gaining it.
I am extremely glad that it is against my party that I can make this mathematical argument because it shows that I am trying to look at it from a fairness point of view; but, of course, it could happen any way round. That is what would happen in central Scotland. I believe that at that stage a recount ought to be called if, in that case, the Liberal Democrats wanted it. I hear what the Minister says about the difficulty, but I do not think that the difficulty is sufficient answer. In my view, they would have to abandon getting a result there, call in all the boxes and do a full recount of all the constituencies. I understand the logistics, the difficulties and the delay that would be caused, but we are talking about a delay of a few hours in order to ensure that a political party is not deprived of its right to call a recount in a very close call.
It is that seventh seat in all cases that would make the close call. None of the other seats were as close as that one, but one could devise arithmetic by which they could be even closer and one or two votes could make all the difference. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who is to follow me, would make the same point. I appreciate the Minister's difficulty but it is a difficulty which we ought to have overcome so that, in the unlikely event that we get into this situation, the count would be extended into the next day and one seat would be left to be decided the next day after all the votes had been recounted.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to wear my "McThomas of Glenshee" hat for the purposes of these regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said that the date of the election was unlikely to be a huge surprise in Scotland. I think that it will be a huge surprise in England to find that on that day a new legislative body, the Scottish Parliament, is elected in Scotland. We are all looking forward to the reaction.
The noble Lord also referred to his hope that the beginning of the Scottish Parliament would be greeted with pomp and circumstance. According to the Welsh press today, the Welsh have already taken that on board. For the opening of the Welsh Assembly we are relying upon our cultural icons, the Manic Street Preachers, Tom Jones and, it is hoped, the whole of the Welsh rugby team--but only provided they beat England on 11th April. Remembering Harold Wilson in 1966, I respectfully suggest to the Government that it might be in their interests to have a word with the England team to make sure that the Welsh team are victorious at that time.
I note with interest that the disqualification order is 32 pages long compared to four pages for the Welsh disqualification order. I also note, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, references to certain bodies that I know no longer to exist. A certain degree of pruning and rethinking of that order may be required. I am also very interested that no member of Sianel Pedwar Cymru is entitled to be a member of the Scottish Parliament. It is interesting to consider who might have that desire. Perhaps it indicates that Scottish television has taken over Welsh television. For some reason I pay my electricity to Renfrew in Ayrshire. Things appears to have come to a pretty pass.
The serious point that I raise on this particular order is whether it is necessary to follow the Westminster model and require a candidate to stand down from office on consent to nomination. I believe that difficulties arise in employment if the holders of the offices set out in the order must resign those offices just to become candidates. I can understand that if they are elected they should immediately resign the posts that they hold, but there is no certainty that if they resign to be candidates they will ever recover those positions at a later time. I have always regarded that as a bit of a difficulty with Westminster elections. I respectfully urge the Government to consider whether in the context of Scotland, where there is an attempt to make the opportunity for a person to become a member as wide as possible, it is necessary to have a provision of that kind.
I turn to the meat of the matter: the elections order. I make three points, all of which have been referred to by those who have already spoken. First, I welcome the list of names that appears on the ballot paper. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out, we had such trouble with these issues on the debates on the Welsh Bill. We were told that it was impossible and nothing could be designed to put before electors. Here we have in the schedule to the order an example of just such a scheme that the focus groups, who today advise the Government, describe as fairly easy to understand. That was the kind of comment that we made throughout.
I am a little perturbed by the fact that the colours of the ballot papers are blue and peach which, certainly in my part of the world, have been Conservative colours for as long as I can remember. That may not be so in Scotland. The noble Lord indicates that the colour is mauve.
I turn to the question of regional expenses. Reading this document, I do not understand how the political parties can divide their expenses between regional elections and a national campaign. As it reads at the moment, it suggests to me that the constituency candidate has an expenses limit that is similar to the Westminster limit; that the individual candidate who stands in the region has a limit which is the sum total of the constituency limit in that particular region, and that the £1.5 million limit applies to all expenditure--indeed, the noble Lord said so in his speech--not usually covered in a constituency. That means that it should cover the whole of the regional elections and not, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, indicated. I see that the noble Lord is nodding.
To have regional limits for those who are party candidates as opposed to individual candidates cannot cause a difficulty. If an individual candidate has a regional limit that is limited to the sum total of the constituency limits, why cannot the same be applied to the party so that the national expenditure of that party is the sum total of the eight regions in Scotland? That would appear to be the proper way to go about it.
Obviously, the noble Lord together with those who advise him, has considered this. He tells us that he believes that the publication of expenses on a regional basis afterwards will ensure transparency. Transparency is all very well if it occurs before an election but it is not much use after the members have been elected to the Parliament. It leaves open the possibility of abuse to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred whereby a party--for example the Labour Party--decides to abandon any regional expenses in central Scotland, where it expects to win constituency seats, and dumps one third of that expenditure in the Highlands and Islands, one third in the Borders and another third perhaps in the North East in areas where they are a little more likely to end up relying upon the regional list to provide that party with representation. That abuse is open to the political parties. I am not so naive as to believe that a political party such as the Labour Party in Scotland will not take advantage of it. That is a matter that the Government should reconsider before the order is finally passed.
I turn to the issue of nominations, at Schedule 2, Rule 4. The Liberal Democrat Party has always been concerned to ensure that candidates can stand as freely as possible and are not limited by excessive deposits. For example, if a deposit for a parliamentary election had been placed as high as £5,000, in some elections 20 years ago my party would have been completely bankrupted. The financial limits are therefore one way of controlling candidates, but not a very fair way. The alternative is to ensure that a candidate who stands can say, "I have the backing and support of a significant number of people from the constituency". We have
The position now outlined in the schedule is that any individual can nominate himself. For the sum of £5,000 that he deposits, and will undoubtedly lose, he then has access to the free post; if he is a regional candidate he can have it over a huge area, and he can have easy advertising at a cheap price for whatever cause he chooses. That is the kind of abuse that I am sure the Government would wish to avoid. It is an issue to which they should give further consideration. Making it easy for a candidate to stand is one thing; but to open it up for anyone to gain £500 worth of massive publicity is somewhat different.
I turn finally to the question of recounts. Although the Minister fairly acknowledges the problem, I do not think that he has yet found the solution. It is interesting that there is a significant difference between the Scottish and the Welsh provisions. The Welsh provisions were originally drafted like the Scottish provisions. Rule 55 provides that an objection can be taken at constituency level by a regional candidate or by his election agent provided that he is present when the counting or the recounting of votes takes place. If there are 10 constituencies a regional candidate and his agent cannot cover the lot. The provision cannot work.
For that reason, there has been an amendment in the Welsh provisions. It provides for a party to nominate counting agents for an individual candidate or a group of party list candidates so that objection can be taken at a constituency count by a regional candidate, his agent, a party list candidate or the counting agent--this refers to Wales--who has been specifically appointed for that purpose. The Scottish machinery cannot work. The Welsh machinery could but--perhaps I anticipate what I may say later--it should not. It is not satisfactory that a recount should be requested in each individual constituency.
Let us consider the position. There are 10 constituencies. The constituency count is held in the first small constituency, and everyone goes home. The second constituency count is held an hour later. The third count, a rural constituency, is four hours later. But it is only when all the 10 constituency regional votes come in that the need for a recount can be ascertained. It is only at that point that the agent for the party for the regional list can phone up the people in each individual constituency and say, "The vote is so close on the seventh candidate that we must have a recount". Everyone has gone home. If that is so, from a practical point of view the boxes have to be brought out the next day in each individual constituency and counted. There will be a delay anyway. So why not do as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, suggested? Why not bring all the boxes sealed from the various constituencies to a central point on the following day or the day after? After all, there are only 10 constituencies on average to each region. What is a day or two compared with an election petition which may last months? The recount could then be done in one centre for a final figure to emerge. I say that against my own
Having said that, I believe that the recount provisions require to be looked at again. The Welsh have provided a solution. I do not believe that that is satisfactory but, although it is inconvenient, it is workable.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page