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That concerned my right honourable friend Sir George Young in another place. He pointed out that under the Bill Clause 8 allows certain things at the request of Clause 3, which allows other things with the agreement of Clause 5 which, however, bans certain other things and Clause 11 which adds other parameters.
The Government then come along with a provision which causes alarm because of its wording. The Minister claimed that this was a mundane little amendment designed entirely so that the commission could obtain secretarial services, perhaps dispose of property and perhaps buy office space. He said that the provision did not extend any of the commission's functions and emphasised the point by saying, "I really mean that". We can agree with him except that the Bill sets out what the Secretary of State can do and what may be done in terms of financing the commission. It seems to me that the overriding power in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 goes too far and that the Government should find a way of including in paragraph 1 of Schedule 14 a definition of what is intended because at present the alarm bells are ringing.
When the Minister in the other place says that the schedule does not extend the commission's functions, I am sure that he believes that to be the case. But the fact that the commission may do "anything" is what causes us concern. At least the Treasury managed to have some input because the words "except borrow money" are included.
The second amendment--Amendment No. 18--concerns the financing of the commission. I have a number of questions. The first is a simple one to which I am sure there is a simple answer, but I cannot find it. The Bill says that expenditure shall be met out of money provided by Parliament,
It is important that we understand what income is proposed for the commission and how likely it is to over-run. What is the likely scale of income? The Government have not said anything on that issue. It is important that we know and understand, at this stage of the Bill, the sums involved. This is a new entity, but the Government must have some estimates. It would be useful to know what they are.
Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Viscount for stressing the probing nature of these amendments, which means that my answer can be brief, although it may not be as complete as he would like. Amendment No. 4 would delete paragraph 2 of Schedule 1, which is a standard incidental powers provision, as found in many Acts of Parliament. As a body corporate, the electoral commission will be able to do anything that is incidental to the carrying out of its functions, and that is important. If it tries to do anything that is outside its functions, it will be acting outside its powers.
Those incidental powers include the power to acquire property and to enter into contracts. That principle has been established by case law dating from 1880. Although the matter is not in serious doubt, we believe that it would be sensible to have a clear statement of the position on the face of the Bill.
Paragraph 2 of Schedule 1, which would be deleted by the amendment, has numerous precedents in other legislation establishing bodies corporate. I can offer two examples from legislation passed by the previous administration: first, paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990; and, secondly, paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the Pensions Act 1995, which I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, could have told him about. I believe that that Act came into being when the noble Lord was in a senior position in the relevant department. The noble Viscount may be comforted to know that that Act has precisely the same provision as this, as do countless other Acts of Parliament with which I could bore the House for a long time.
I should emphasise that the commission could not exercise its incidental powers in such a way as to extend its functions, which are limited to those set out in the Bill. On that basis I hope that the noble Viscount is satisfied.
At first we were at a loss to understand the purpose of Amendment No. 18, but by saying that it is a probing amendment, the noble Viscount has taken away all our heat and anger--not that there was much in the first place! If this amendment were carried, the
Paragraph 14(1) of Schedule 1 is an entirely standard provision in a Bill setting up a public body. The commission will receive some income direct from fees and charges, but, in large measure, it will be funded by voted moneys. The arrangements for setting the commission's budget, set out in Schedule 1, will ensure that the commission is not beholden to the Government, while at the same time retaining a degree of accountability to Parliament for the proper expenditure of public funds. It is believed that the annual running costs will be £2.6 million. I hope that that answers one of the questions posed by the noble Viscount.
The National Assembly for Wales is referred to specifically because local government boundaries in Wales are a devolved matter. Amendment No. 19 will introduce equivalent provisions for Scotland, consequential on a new clause about local government boundaries there.
Without a functioning electoral commission, the control set out in the Bill would be meaningless. I hope that I have given the noble Viscount at least a taste, for example, of the amount of annual money that the commission will have for running costs and that I have answered his question about why there is a reference to Wales but not to Scotland.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I am afraid I did not understand the Minister's reply. On page 102 of the Bill, in Schedule 1, paragraph 14, there is a reference to the National Assembly for Wales to which the Minister referred. He then mentioned why Scotland is not included in that paragraph. Perhaps he can clarify that as I did not understand his explanation.
Lord Bach: I shall do my best. The National Assembly for Wales is referred to because local government boundaries in Wales are a devolved matter. Amendment No. 19 introduces the equivalent position for Scotland, consequential on the new clause about local government boundaries there.
Viscount Astor: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I accept what he says about Amendment No. 4. He cites the Pensions Act of 1995, which I remember extremely well from the number of hours spent in the Chamber when my noble friend dealt with it. I have two points. First, as it is such a standard clause, why was it not already in the Bill? It causes us to question, as we did when we first saw this lengthy Bill, the confidence that we can have in the drafting of the Bill.
I am delighted that the Minister understands the serious purpose behind the second amendment in this group. He has realised that it is a probing amendment, designed to aid the Government to educate your Lordships' House on their intentions in the Bill. I am grateful for his explanation of Amendment No. 19. When we tabled our amendment, Amendment No. 19 was not on the Marshalled List, or if it was I did not see it. He has helpfully mentioned the budget. When we start to discuss the functions of the commission we shall have further questions about the budget, but I am grateful for the Minister's answer. In an entirely conciliatory manner, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 4.
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