Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked about the costs attached to the transitional provisions contained in the order. I can assure him that the order in itself will not incur any additional cost for the Assembly. As I have explained, the main effect of the order is to ensure that references to the Assembly in existing legislation are corrected to refer to the Welsh Ministers or Assembly commission where that is appropriate, and that appropriate legislative procedures are prescribed for existing functions of making subordinate legislation. Although subordinate legislation procedure in future will be different, it is expected that there will be an increase in the cost of those procedures to the Assembly.

The noble Lord’s final request was for an assurance that the order does not contain any hidden or obscure transfer of powers from Westminster to Cardiff. I can confirm absolutely that there is no such hidden or obscure transfer of powers. I am grateful for the positive reaction to the order.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, asked who has decided which functions in the National Assembly for Wales (Diversion of Functions) Order 2007 should be reserved to the Assembly. It was the Secretary of State’s initial consideration, as advised by officials

25 Apr 2007 : Column 734

and legal advisers, but it was the Assembly that approved the order. The noble Lord also asked why this order is being laid so long after the Government of Wales Act received Royal Assent. As noble Lords will appreciate from the length of the order, a vast amount of painstaking work in identifying all the references to the current Assembly in legislation has been required. It is vital that this order is comprehensive to ensure that the new devolution settlement in Wales is properly implemented, so it could not have been brought before the House any sooner.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, asked whether the framework powers will be subject to Assembly scrutiny and amendment. Yes, they have been converted into powers to pass Assembly measures. These will be subject to Assembly scrutiny and amendment before being passed by the Assembly. The noble Lord also asked what the level of scrutiny would be in the new Assembly subordinate legislation procedures, especially of powers to amend orders. The Assembly will not have the power to amend subordinate legislation. It will approve or annul, depending on which procedure applies. This principle is a fundamental part of the Government of Wales Act. The Assembly will consider measures, and it is not feasible for it also to amend subordinate legislation. As I said, if I fail to answer any question asked by noble Lords, I will write to them. In the mean time, I thank noble Lords for their positive contribution to the debate.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Representation of the People (National Assembly for Wales) (Access to Election Documents) Regulations 2007

8.22 pm

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin rose to move, that the draft regulations laid before the House on 7 March be approved.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, since the National Assembly for Wales was established in 1999, it has been the practice for all election documents, after the completion of the count and the declaration of results, to be forwarded to the Assembly. This was in line with the practice at parliamentary elections, where documents were forwarded to the Clerk of the Crown. In future, documents relating both to parliamentary and Assembly elections will be stored by the local electoral registration officer, which will be more convenient for those who have a valid interest in inspecting them. However, because they contain personal information, it is important that access is limited to cases that can be justified on the grounds of democratic accountability and openness.

Last December, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs made regulations that insert a new Part 7 into the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001, setting out rules for the inspection, supply and sale of the marked electoral register, the marked postal voters

25 Apr 2007 : Column 735

list, and other election documents that are open to public inspection after a parliamentary election. As a matter of principle, we intend similar rules to apply to Assembly election documents, so the purpose of the regulations before us is to apply those rules, with appropriate modifications, to Assembly documents. The main objective is to allow registered parties and candidates to request marked copies of the electoral register, the postal voters list, and the lists of proxies and proxy postal voters used at elections in which they have taken part. Those and other election documents will be open to public inspection. This will not extend to ballot papers or completed corresponding number lists, which could be used to establish how an individual has voted, or to certificates of employment of police officers or election staff.

Inspection will be subject to strict conditions. Requests must be made in writing, specifying the documents to be inspected and the reasons for doing so. Inspection can be made only under supervision, and the information obtained can be used only for purposes specified in the regulations, which can be broadly summarised as law enforcement, research, and electoral purposes. Presenting the regulations in this way is the best way of applying similar rules to parliamentary and Assembly elections in a clear and open manner. I commend the draft regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 7 March be approved. 12th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Morgan of Drefelin.)

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, we are very grateful to the Minister for her exposition of the regulations. I believe that they have their roots in the Electoral Administration Act 2006, and appear to be uncontroversial and generally welcome. As we have heard already, the regulations bring the arrangements for the availability of documents following elections to the National Assembly for Wales into line with Westminster parliamentary elections. Local electoral administration officers will be required to hold and make available a range of documents relating to the Assembly elections, rather than sending them to be held by the Assembly itself. This is a sensible measure that makes local documents available locally, provided of course that one or two important points are clarified.

First, given that some of the documents will, by their very nature, be somewhat sensitive, is the Minister satisfied that security arrangements will be sufficiently robust in each of the locations where the documents will be stored? I am not suggesting that Fort Knox-like protection will be necessary, but it would be comforting to know that important electoral documents and information will be securely stored across Wales and will not go missing. Secondly, I would like to press the Minister a little on the conditions in which the documents can be supplied and inspected. What do the Government have in mind for such conditions? Will the conditions be uniform and apply similarly and equally to all holding authorities? Why are there no provisions in the

25 Apr 2007 : Column 736

regulations for the supply and inspection of the documents? Are further regulations anticipated?

Finally, will the Minister expand a little on the charging regime that local authorities will put in place for access to the documents? As David Jones, my honourable friend the Member for Clwyd West, made clear when the regulations were considered in another place, it must be clarified whether the charges that authorities can make will be set centrally, capped, or left to local discretion. Given the importance of these documents both to political parties and other organisations, there should be some limitation on charges that may be levied. Will the Minister set out her views on this issue? Other than these minor clarifications, we on these Benches are content to see the regulations passed.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for her exposition of the regulations, which was very clear and to the point. We regard the regulations very much as good housekeeping, inasmuch as they lay down the same standards for Assembly elections as there are for parliamentary elections, and quite right too. The fact that they will be made available under certain conditions is also welcome, and I mirror what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, said about security. It is particularly important that these documents can now be located at a local level where registration officers will have responsibility.

8.30 pm

Perhaps I may lighten this debate slightly: I have a particular interest in some of these documents because, if I had been a football team, I would have had seven contests, lost two deposits, gained a third and a second place, and would have had three wins. Possibly more importantly, I have had eight recounts, which includes almost every possible type; namely, recounts as to whether I should lose my deposit, whether I was third or second, and whether or not I had won the election. They add up to eight recounts, which can be checked on the record.

I note that the Explanatory Memorandum refers to:

some of which of course are spoilt. When I was working in Scotland for a brief period, I contested my first election for Perth and East Perthshire when 62 ballot papers were spoilt because people wrote on them that they wanted to vote for Enoch Powell. When the returning officer asked Ian MacArthur, the elected Conservative Member, what should be done with the rejected ballot papers, he said, “Send them down to Wolverhampton” where Enoch Powell was the MP. It is right that they should be kept in secure places and be available because their historical content is very interesting.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for their support for this set of good-housekeeping regulations. It is more than fair to say that they are not contentious. None the less, they are necessary to ensure the proper management of access to election documents, especially now that they are to be stored locally, which I am glad is to be

25 Apr 2007 : Column 737

welcomed. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked about the security arrangements under which documents will be stored, which are extremely important. He rightly pointed out that these documents are sensitive and that voters have a right to expect reassurance that they will not go astray. I hope I can reassure the noble Lord that local electoral administrators already store documents from local authority and European parliamentary elections, so this will not be a new function for them. They are using tried and tested administrative procedures, and will have appropriate and secure facilities which can be used for documents from the Assembly and parliamentary elections. Unless a court orders otherwise, registration officers are required to store documents in this way for one year, after which they are to be destroyed. So systems are in place.

The noble Lord asked whether the same conditions will apply to supply an inspection of documents held by all relevant registration officers. The answer is yes. Following amendments made towards the end of last year, the conditions for access to parliamentary election documents are set out in Part 7 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001. These regulations insert a new part into the 2001 regulations, which applies those rules with relatively small modifications to reflect differences in the way in which Assembly elections are conducted. We felt that that was the best way to avoid confusion and to ensure a consistent approach to all elections.

The final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, related to charges for access to documents. There is no provision for any charge to be made where a person is granted access to inspect documents, but the fee to be paid for a copy of the marked register or list is prescribed in Regulation 120 of the amended 2001 regulations. It is the same as the fee charged for the full register. In data form, the current rate is £20 plus £1.50 per 1,000 entries, or part thereof and, in printed form, £10 plus £5 per 1,000 entries, or part thereof.

I am afraid that I cannot match the election stories of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, but I am pleased that at least one of the eight recounts resulted in a win for him. The noble Lord referred to these as good-housekeeping amendments and, on that basis, I am sure that with the support of noble Lords here today I can commend these regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Serious Crime Bill [HL]

8.36 pm

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 44 [Supplemental provisions]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 51:

25 Apr 2007 : Column 738

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of amendments relates to Schedule 3, which, as noble Lords will remember from our discussion in Committee, contains a list of offences which are statutory forms of incitement or other inchoate offences. The effect of Clause 44(4) of the Bill and inclusion in Schedule 3 is that the offences are disregarded for the purposes of Clauses 40 and 41. It will not be an offence to encourage or assist the offences in Schedule 3 unless a person intends his action to assist or encourage the commission of those offences. This is to ensure that liability for inchoate offences does not extend too far. It follows the scheme of the Law Commission’s draft.

We predicted that Amendments Nos. 52 to 58 would be necessary in Committee. They add offences to Schedule 3 in addition to the original list composed by the Law Commission. The approach we have taken in adding these offences is consistent with the approach taken by the commission in that they are statutory forms of incitement or statutory forms of assistance or encouragement. These offences include, for example, Sections 19 and 20 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Section 19 is an offence of inciting any other offence under the Act. Section 20 is assisting or inducing commission outside the United Kingdom of an offence punishable under corresponding law. These are statutory forms of incitement and assistance, and we believe that encouraging or assisting other persons to commit these offences should only be an offence itself where a person intended the other to commit that offence. Therefore we believe they should be added to Schedule 3.

The final two amendments, Amendments Nos. 51 and 126, would add an order-making power subject to the affirmative resolution procedure to enable changes to be made to Schedule 3. We have already identified some offences which we believe should be added to the schedule, but it is possible that there will be more. For example, as a result of our trawl we have found some statutory offences of incitement in local government legislation that we think ought to be added to Schedule 3. We are endeavouring to complete this exercise during the passage of the Bill, but are not yet confident that we have a complete list. It is therefore a wise precaution to take a power to amend Schedule 3 subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The basic purpose of the schedule is to limit rather than to extend liability, and I hope noble Lords will agree that it is sensible to have a power to keep the list under review.

As this is an order-making power, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has considered the effects of Amendments Nos. 51 and 126. It reported this morning and has drawn the attention of the House to the fact that the power could be used to remove a provision from Schedule 3 as well as add to it. That is correct. At this stage we do not have in mind any offences that we want to remove from the schedule, but it is conceivable that in the future there might be concerns about restricting liability for offences in the schedule. In that case, we would want to avoid the need to pass further primary legislation to extend liability to those who believe that

25 Apr 2007 : Column 739

that offence would be committed. The order-making power is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, so any attempt by the Government to remove an offence from Schedule 3 would need to be agreed by Parliament, and that in our view is sufficient.

In view of my explanation, which I hope has been clear for noble Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for introducing these amendments and explaining them to a packed House at twenty to nine on 25 April. I emphasise the date because as the noble Lord made clear, the Government only put down these amendments to the Bill on Monday, 23 April, and it was only yesterday, on 24 April, that a letter from the Minister was sent to my noble friend explaining what the amendments are about. At the same time, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has managed to have a look at these powers, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for referring to that. I should like to quote from the committee’s 8th report, and in doing so to extend my thanks to the members for their extraordinary assiduity in managing to look at these amendments within such a short timescale. I hope that in future the Government, and particularly the Home Office, can manage to give us slightly longer.

Before I quote from the report, I ought to say that while we will not oppose these amendments now, in the light of what I am about to read from the 8th report, we think it would be more appropriate if the Government withdrew them now and possibly brought them back at Third Reading. If they are not prepared to do that, we certainly wish to reserve our right to come back to them at that stage. Quite frankly, amendments of this sort put down on a Monday, seen by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on a Tuesday and sent with a covering letter to us, which are then debated on a Wednesday evening are not quite satisfactory. However, if the Government wish to go ahead at this stage, we will not oppose them. But they might think seriously about withdrawing the amendments at this stage in the light of what the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has had to say. Paragraph 4 of the 8th report states that:

the power the Government grant themselves in Amendment No. 51—

In paragraph 5, the committee goes on to draw the attention of the House to the implications of the power conferred by the proposed new subsection (5A) in so far as it enables the Secretary of State to remove

25 Apr 2007 : Column 740

an offence from Schedule 3. It ends by saying—and I think this should always be emphasised—

We will want to look at this in greater detail, and with a slightly longer timescale. I hope the Government might consider that as well. As I made quite clear, if they wish to press ahead with this, we reserve our right to come back to it at Third Reading.

8.45 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I support what has just been said about the report of the Delegated Powers Committee. My concern is that when the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, gave us the information from this report, he must have missed out a vital sentence. At the end of the conclusion, the committee says that,

There is something very serious in relation to Clause 51, and there are implications with regard to Clause 44. My advice is precisely the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Henley: the Government should take this back, look at it and come back at Third Reading or before so that we know what they have in mind, on the basis of which we can decide whether we want to take any further action. For now, it would not be right to discuss further the contents of this report or the Government’s response. I see that, although the Government produced a supplementary memorandum, which was considered by the committee, there is no further development other than the recommendations contained in paragraph 5.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I support everything that my noble friend has said. I take this first opportunity to defend my family name, which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to in the previous debate. I suspect that he was thinking of the case of Stephen William George Collins, reported in 1972, when a young man, who had stripped naked, was at a bedroom window and was beckoned in by a young lady who believed him to be her boyfriend. Over what happened then I draw a veil. I note from the judgment of the much lamented Lord Edmund-Davies—this because the noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to socks—that he said about the young man that, having seen the girl in bed,

The judgment went on:

Clearly the memory of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, of his legal training is very good, but, like me, he cannot remember the name of any case.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page