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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for putting the point in those terms. A morsel and a crumb! Let us see. It probably would be something that we would want to address. We would want to encourage and stimulate good practice. Good practice would probably involve using a local academic institution, perhaps in partnership with the authority's own resources. I am loath to commit us to imposing anything on local authorities because we have been inordinately grateful to the individual pilot authorities and to the Local Government Association for their co-operation. We should like to discuss the matter first with them. But I am very warm to the noble Lord's proposition.
It would help local authorities better to understand the impact of the pilots if they were to make use of local academic support and research. If the noble Lord is happy with that formulation, I shall take away his final proposition, give it further thought, ensure that we have discussions with the Local Government Association and give consideration to encouraging local authorities on best practice in regard to putting together their reports and researches following the impact of the pilots. We have already debated how we might discuss them in your Lordships' House. No doubt all of those pilot sites will find their way into a
Lord Jopling: My Lords, leaving aside crumbs and morsels, I feel as though I have brought the Minister to the end of the diving board, with his arms outstretched ready to plunge into the pool, but I cannot persuade him in the final stage to jump. I would ask him to remember the words a few moments ago of my noble friend Lord Onslow, who said "Courage". If between now and Third Reading we are to produce another similar amendment, I hope he will be able to tell us that in future government circulars on this point will recommend an independent involvement as good practice. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to Clause 11 which raises important constitutional issues that were discussed at some length both at Second Reading and at the Committee stage. Clause 10 provides for pilot schemes for changing the mechanics of the voting system for local government elections in England and Wales. Clause 11 then enables the Home Secretary, by statutory instrument, to apply the pilot schemes on a permanent basis not only to local government elections in England and Wales but to parliamentary, European, Scottish and Welsh elections and indeed to local government elections in Northern Ireland.
It is true that the mechanism of elections is not as important in the scale of things as is the franchise, but it is still a matter of considerable importance. Until now all issues, such as the question of the days on which elections are to be held and the time that polling stations are open on those days, have always been dealt with by primary legislation. What we will now have is power to roll out a pilot scheme across the country for all elections on the basis possibly of one trial in one local government area. We believe that to be quite inappropriate. That was certainly the view taken by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, of which I am a member. In paragraph 26 of our fourth report of the current Session we said:
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is not customary for a Minister to intervene at such an early stage in a debate but it may help the House if I do so. I shall try to keep my remarks reasonably brief.
We had a full discussion of the merits of Clause 11 of the Bill in Committee. On that occasion I set out the Government's view. We remain of the view that the power to roll out innovations that have been the subject of successful pilot schemes to all elections is an important one. It was a power that was recommended by the Working Party on Electoral Procedures--and I can assure your Lordships, having made inquiries, that the working party meant the power to apply to all elections and not simply to local elections.
We also believe that the electorate may find it slightly puzzling and not understand why, if an innovation has been tried and shown to be a success, it should not be applied to all elections as soon as is practically possible.
Nevertheless, we take the views that have been expressed by your Lordships seriously. We pay particular attention to the reports of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. As your Lordships have pointed out, it is an important committee and its suggestions should be disregarded only in the most exceptional of circumstances. On reflection, we do not believe that this is the most exceptional of circumstances.
Accordingly, I can advise your Lordships that we shall be bringing forward government amendments to Clause 11 at Third Reading. The effect of the amendments will be to limit the power to roll out successful innovations only to local government elections. That is in line with the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. That power will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
I can also repeat a commitment that I made in Committee. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee suggested that the electoral commission should have a role in determining whether pilot schemes should be rolled out, and I reiterate that that is the Government's intention. As your Lordships are aware, we do not believe that we can refer to the electoral commission in this Bill since that body does not yet exist and this is the earlier of the two Bills currently before Parliament which deal with electoral matters.
However, I can assure your Lordships that we shall be bringing forward an amendment to the other electoral Bill, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, to provide that the Secretary of State will be able to make an order under Clause 11(1) of this Bill rolling out a pilot scheme only on the recommendation of the electoral commission.
That is, I hope, unambiguous. In the future, a roll out will be able to happen only if the electoral commission has recommended it and, as I have said, such a roll out will only encompass local elections. Should we want to extend the innovation to parliamentary or European parliamentary elections, primary legislation would be required. As I pointed out last time we debated this issue, parliamentary time is a scarce resource. I hope that, if we reach the position of bringing forward primary legislation to give wider effect to an innovation that has been successfully piloted and endorsed by the electoral commission, the Opposition parties, who have understandably been critical of Clause 11 in its present form, will do everything to ensure that popular legislation has a smooth passage. The noble Lords, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and Lord Goodhart, may want to address this point, perhaps helpfully, in any further remarks that they make on the subject.
As I have made clear, it is not without a certain regret that we are proposing these changes, but it demonstrates, I trust, that the Government do take notice of the debates that take place in this House, that we listen to the arguments and are prepared to be flexible, and that we pay full regard to the reports of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. We may have sacrificed some of the flexibility that we had hoped to achieve in an area of policy development and delivery where I believe there is broad support for innovation; however, we have done so for all the right reasons. We are happy to give the commitment that we will table the government amendments as soon as we are able to do so. In the meantime, I trust that noble Lords in whose names the various amendments stand will feel able to withdraw them.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, again the Government are listening. They could have listened earlier. We still come up against something that is extremely difficult. If we are to alter the electoral process for local elections--either for parish councils in Cleethorpes or the Greater London or Surrey county councils--to do so solely by Order in Council is a dangerous approach. If the system is not right and the order cannot be amended, one is liable to be in a pickle--and one that will be extremely difficult to unpickle.
I hope that we shall take careful account of the fact that electoral processes should be developed in Parliament, amended in Parliament and finally passed by Parliament. They should not be done simply on the whim of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, be he baleful or not baleful. I should say that to any Minister, be it on our side, be it Gladstone, be it the baleful noble Lord, Lord Bassam. It is bad, and we should be very, very careful.
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