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Lord Campbell of Alloway: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps the Minister should refer to Recommendation 28 of the working party's report, which makes no suggestion in support of the case for extending this beyond local government elections. The Minister has referred to one part of the working party's report, but perhaps he should refer to paragraph 18 or 28--I regret that I cannot quite remember which; at Second Reading my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish referred to paragraph 18.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Whether it is paragraph 17 or 18, the Government have framed their view around paragraph 3.1.14. When I referred to it during the debate on Second Reading, I thought that the reference was quite unambiguous.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway has just said, I referred to this at Second Reading. I am referring to the final report of the Working Party on Electoral Procedures. Reading the paragraph concerning the rolling out of pilot schemes, there is nothing that leads one to believe that such rolling out of pilot schemes should be applied to all elections. On reading the paragraph again, no forms of election are mentioned other than local elections. It refers to,
While I accept that the noble Lord might be able to argue that that means that such schemes should be rolled out to all kinds of elections, it is equally arguable that it means rolling out more widely across local government elections in England and Wales. I regret that, as regards the final report of the working party, there is not much comfort for the Minister.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am happy to rely on the paragraph from which I have quoted. I, too, have been studying the paragraphs; I think that our position is unambiguous and I believe that the position of the working party was unambiguous. As I have already said, no member of the working party dissented from the conclusion, which represented views from across the political spectrum. Indeed, the working party recognised the difficulty--I believe that this is an important point--of finding parliamentary time for
Viscount Cranborne: I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. I have listened with great care to his arguments for not following the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I believe that the noble Lord was not a Member of this House before the last general election when, as Leader, sometimes against the strong inclination of my government colleagues, I always tried to ensure that the recommendations of that committee were followed by government. Indeed, I am sure that noble Lords opposite who were Members of this House at that time will remember that the then opposition were absolutely adamant that that was the right thing to do.
Does the noble Lord agree that, so long as the convention remains in place, this House does not vote against secondary legislation? So long as the government of the day retain a substantial working majority in another place, it is very difficult to argue that an order-making power, whether by negative or affirmative procedure, can be anything except a transfer of power to the government provided that it is not possible for what is being approved to be approved through primary rather than secondary legislation. Therefore, the noble Lord's argument that it is adequate to give this House and another place the opportunity to look at these important matters, which are the absolute grist to our method of government, and that they should not be given the opportunity for primary legislation in fact constitutes a great transfer of power to the government of the day over our basic electoral procedures.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I believe that the noble Viscount makes a clever point. Of course, I would hope that the convention about secondary legislation and order-making powers would hold. However, no doubt that is something for the future. I believe that it is fair to say that, of course, it would be preferable if matters such as this--ideas for improving and modernising the electoral procedures--were to be approved by primary legislation. However, I believe that the argument which we are putting forward in this case is about flexibility. I would argue that this is an exceptional case. I believe that the process of scrutiny--rigorous as it is in both Houses but particularly rigorous here--is very important.
I apologise for speaking at such length on this matter. However, I recognise, as, clearly, do all Members of the Committee, that this is a most important matter. As I have already said, the scheme in this Bill will provide both Houses of Parliament with a full opportunity to debate the merits of any proposal to roll out an innovative electoral procedure. A recommendation from the electoral commission will be required. I believe that those are strong and important safeguards which we should develop and on which we should rely. Therefore, I hope--
Lord Bassam of Brighton: There is a matter of tradition and history here. I am sure that the noble Viscount will be the first to agree that throughout 18 years of government by his own party it was proven to be a very effective safeguard. I have no doubt that he would argue that case. I believe that we must rely on the process of scrutiny to see us through such issues. Therefore, I hope that Members of the Committee will agree to the inclusion of Clause 11 because of the beneficial impact that the pilot procedures will have on extending and modernising our democracy. Because of those very important reasons, I believe that the Committee should support the inclusion of Clause 11 in its present form in the Bill.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Before the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, winds up and decides what he should do with his amendments, perhaps I may intervene briefly in response to what I believe was an extremely disappointing speech from the Minister. He seemed to believe that we should be satisfied by his promises about the commission. In fact, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee asked for that as well as primary legislation. I hope that the Minister will consider very carefully what he has done. I believe that he will go into the record books as the first Minister who refused resolutely to take on board the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. Equally, if the pilots were a great success and if all the political parties agreed, there would be no great trouble in getting a piece of primary legislation through both Houses of Parliament. The Government have plenty--
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I did make the point that we had already accepted one of the proposals from the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. That was in relation to an important consideration: the position of the electoral commission. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that point.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Yes, I have accepted it and I believed that I had made that clear. I welcome that part but, frankly, it was not an either/or issue. It did not say that either one has primary legislation or one asks the electoral commission to deal with it. I am profoundly disappointed in the Minister's reply. I am profoundly disappointed in the attitude of the Government. If they will not listen to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, perhaps they should simply come forward with an amendment to wind it up. It is there to advise this House--and that means advising the Government. In this case, the Government seem to ignore that advice. I am not sure that the House will ignore that advice.
We should also ensure that, before any change is made, there is an opportunity to seek the advice of the electoral commission. I certainly welcome the noble Lord's statement that the political parties Bill will be amended to provide that a roll-out can take place only on the recommendation of the electoral commission. Of course, that can happen only after the electoral commission has been set up. My understanding was--the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong--that the Government were not proposing any kind of self-denying ordinance to say that they would not introduce roll-outs of any sort before the electoral commission has been set up. If they are not willing to give that undertaking, the position is that, within the next year or so before the electoral commission is up and running, the Government could, by secondary legislation, change the electoral system, not only for local government but for the next general election, which many people believe is now quite likely to take place on the same day as the local elections in 2001.
Finally and above all, the Minister will have heard the very strong support that he has been given, both from this party and from the Conservatives, with regard to the essential importance of reserving primary legislation for changes to any form of election other than local government elections. That being the case, I do not believe that this is the appropriate occasion on which to seek to divide the Committee. However, the Minister must be quite sure that we shall return to this matter on Report and that this is a very serious and important amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.