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Reform Bill 2014
The following amendments have been made to the Bill:
- "that in part 3, section 7) subsection 1) is amended to read "The powers of the Cornish Assembly shall be equal to those devolved to the National Assembly for Wales after the 1997 referendum."
- "that in part 2, section 5) is amended to create subsection (5), which shall read "No candidate or party in any Senate region shall receive any Senators unless they win a minimum of 3.5% of the regional vote."
- "Part 1; Section 1; Clause 4 is amended to read: Constituencies and local authority wards shall elect Members of Parliament and councillors in general/local elections and by-elections by means of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system if approved by a public referendum to be set out in regulations laid before the House"
Robert Emmett, Baron Emmett of Aldenham (Conservative)
My Lords, I beg to move the amendments in my name on the Order Paper.
There are a number of Bills we receive from the Other Place that demonstrate just why your Lordships' House is so critical as a revising chamber. Why it is so vital to be removed from the political considerations of electioneering and so important to contain members with expertise. It is ironic that this Bill itself is one such Bill. My Lords, this Bill is bloated, riven with bad law and worse policy. I have, for the Government's benefit, tabled a modest number of amendments, which I hope will correct these flaws.
Amendment 1 deals with the size of the Other Place. The Government have no mandate for a reduction in the number of members, nor any such manifesto commitment. Furthermore, the Electoral Commissions are already receiving a substantial burden under this Bill. I therefore propose maintaining the current size of the Other Place, whilst still providing to the Electoral Commissions the flexibility to decide otherwise if necessary.
Amendment 2 considers the constituency size under the Single Transferable Vote. While I disagree with that system, about which I could speak at great length, I believe the Government are implementing the change in an injudicious manner, and that this is something we can improve upon here. In restricting the 'district magnitude' to three or four, the Government are unnecessarily compressing the system. Three other countries use STV for national elections, and all use larger constituencies. The Irish Dáil uses constituencies of between three and five, Malta uses five seat constituencies and the Australian Senate has six seats per state. Furthermore, the academic literature is clear that larger districts provide more proportional results. That being the Government's purported desire, I'm sure they will have no concerns with increasing the maximum number of seats for a constituency to a figure better in line with international experience.
This brings me to the last of my amendments in relation to the electoral system. With my Amendment 3, I hope to help the Government fulfil a manifesto commitment and election promise. The Labour Manifesto reads: “Any constitutional change beyond that to which we have committed in our manifesto”, and indeed my Lords, there was no such manifesto commitment to changing the electoral system, “would be approved by a public referendum , in which a plurality of voters in each of the United Kingdom’s four constituent countries would need to signal approval.” The Government have already signalled that they would support a referendum to determine whether to proceed. This amendment would allow them to keep the remainder of that promise: a nation lock to ensure such constitutional change is warranted.
Similarly, Amendment 4 provides for a referendum with a nation lock on another constitutional matter: the franchise. This is again a constitutional matter, with no supporting manifesto commitment from the Labour Party, no reference in the coalition agreement and no mandate. In order that the electorate have a say on this matter, in line with Labour's pledge regarding constitutional matters, I seek the help the Government fulfil that promise of a referendum.
We now proceed the the amendments I have tabled as regards Part 2, on the subject of your Lordship's House. First, Amendment 5 provides for a proportion of appointed members in a new Senate. This would enable such a body to continue to benefit from the expertise of the likes of the Noble Lord, Lord Winston and the Noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and of course of many, many other Noble Lords. The amendment would task the Appointments Commission with the task of filling any vacancies that arise in such an appointed cohort, taking into consideration expertise and party representation. Your Lordship's House has never voted for a wholly-elected replacement chamber, and has rightly always demanded a substantial appointed membership to ensure its continued benefits from some of the nations greatest minds.
Amendment 6 is a straight-forward one. I believe that First Past the Post is a far superior electoral system to the Party List. I believe that is particularly so when used in conjunction with my Amendments 8 and 9, which I shall speak to shortly. I would therefore wish to test the opinion of your Lordship's House on that matter.
With Amendment 7 I seek a modicum of equitable treatment. At present, the Bill places a level of burden upon a prospective independent candidates which it does not seek to place on candidates representing political parties. I believe that such a position is neither fair nor reasonable, and so I propose to apply that same rule to all candidates. If the Government wish to remove this provision instead, then I would not seek to press this amendment.
Amendment 8 alters the pattern of Senate elections. Rather that a region participating in a Senate election only once every nine years, instead every part of the country would be involved in every Senate election, every three years. This prevents a number of undesirable scenarios. Consider the scenario where a Senate election falls on the day of an election to the Other Place, with the result of affecting turnout in such a way as to alter the outcome, affecting the make-up of your Lordships' House for close to a decade. Consider the scenario where a youngster is denied a Senate vote until the age of 27, simply because of the area in which he lives. These, my Lords, are aberrations that we need not create.
Amendment 9 creates a transitional arrangement, so that the rotating system of senatorial Classes can be entered into smoothly. My amendment would remove one third of us existing members after each election, rather than in a big bang. Evolution, not revolution, as the order of the day. The selection of those members to remain at each stage and those to leave would be made by the Appointments Commission, who would decide on the basis of attendance and on retaining a reasonable party balance.
I shall now take a few of my amendments together, news which will no doubt cheer some Noble Lords. Amendments 10 and 11 take matters that have, wrongly, been written into primary legislation and instead return them to their proper place, in the Standing Orders of your Lordship's House. The election of our Speaker is a matter for us, my Lords. We should decide the manner in which we want to approach that. The appearance of representatives of Her Majesty's Government similarly. We should choose how and when and why they appear, not have a timetable written into legislation by the Other Place. My amendments correct this.
Amendments 12 and 13 concern the nature of the balance between your Lordship's House and the Other Place. One of many criticisms of an elected Senate is that it will be emboldened to challenge the Other Place, being similarly able to claim a popular mandate, resulting in the sort of blockage, delay and gridlock we often see in the United States. The United Kingdom is isolated from such a threat by the Parliament Acts. To repeal them now would be to interfere in the balance of power at the most inopportune time.
Amendment 14 makes the abolition and replacement of your Lordship's House contingent on the plans receiving the support of the electorate. Similarly Amendment 15 requests the same for the people of Cornwall in respect of their proposed Assembly. Scotland and Wales were consulted before devolution; I see no reason not to follow the same procedure. Indeed, nor do the Government. The Labour manifesto called for “consultations of both in-favour and opposed local groups”, of which we have seen no evidence, prior to “a referendum on further Cornish powers”.
With Amendment 16, I seek to correct the anomaly that this Bill will result in two Cornwall-wide levels of governance. Cornwall Council, as I'm sure you are aware, my Lords, is a unitary authority covering the whole of Cornwall. As such this will be the first devolved body representing a single local authority area. I therefore propose the abolition of the unitary authority and the transfer of its powers to the Assembly.
Amendment 17 is again to ascertain the view of the public on a matter in neither governing party's manifesto, nor in the coalition agreement. The Government have no mandate to seek the replacement of county and district councils with unitary authorities, neither from the electorate nor from councils or councillors. This amendment would allow local people to decide the structure of their local authorities.
Finally, my Lords, Amendment 18. The current wording would allow portions of the Bill to come into force before they are ready to be implemented. This is patently absurd, and is precisely the type of shoddy drafting from the Other Place that we are increasing required to tidy up as constitutional bills come through without the opportunity for proper scrutiny. My amendment resolves this by allowing each Part to only enter into force when they are ready.
My Lords, this is a bad Bill. It implements policies that are wrong-headed, and clearly thrown together in a rush. It omits safeguards that had previously been promised, and makes a number of poor implementation decisions. I have made my own modest contribution to the effort to provide scrutiny of the legislation, and attempt to clear up the more egregious issues. I hope the Government and you, my Lords, find my efforts beneficial, and as such a commend my amendments to the House.
In Part 1, Section 1(2), replace the figures with 650, 675 and 625 respectively
In Part 1, Section 1(3), strike “four” and insert “six”
Insert new clause Part 1, Section 2: “Sections 1(1) to 1(5) of this Part shall only come into force if approved by a referendum. The referendum only provides approval if there are more votes in favour than against in all four nations of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State shall lay Regulations regarding the date, question and conduct of such a referendum.”
Insert new clause Part 1, Section 3: “Sections 1(6) and 1(7) of this Part shall only come into force if approved by a referendum. The referendum only provides approval if there are more votes in favour than against in all four nations of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State shall lay Regulations regarding the date, question and conduct of such a referendum.”
In Part 2, Section 4(1), insert “(f) 200 Senators appointed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission”.
In Part 2, Section 4(2), strike “or appointed”.
Insert new clause Part 2, Section 4(2B): “When appointing members under Section 4(1)(f), the House of Lords Appointments Commission shall have particular regard towards candidates providing knowledge and expertise in specialised subjects, and towards the balance of party affiliations with consideration to recent Senate elections.”
Strike Part 2, Section 5(1), and insert “Elections to the Senate shall use First Past The Post.”
In Part 2, Section 10, strike from “resign” to end, and insert “, a by-election shall be held.”
In Part 2, Section 6, strike from start to “meet”, and insert “Any person seeking to be a candidate for Senate election must”.
In Part 2, Section 7, strike from “classes” to end, and insert “one of which is to be elected at each election, without regard to nation or region.”
In Part 2, Section 8(3), strike from “cover” to end and insert “Class Three Senators.”
Insert new clause Part 2, Section 8(3A): “Members of the House of Lords at the date of Royal Assent of this Act shall exceptionally retain membership of the Senate until the end of the transitional phase. The transitional phase shall last the period of three Senate elections. One third of the members so exempted shall cede their seats after each Senate election. The House of Lords Appointments Commission shall determine which exempted members shall cede at each stage, and must have regard to party affiliation balance and attendance in so determining.”
In Part 2, Section 9, strike (2) and (3) and insert “(2) The Speaker of the Senate shall be elected in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Senate.”
In Part 2, Section 11, strike from “questions” to end, and insert “at such time and in such manner as is in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Senate.”
Strike Part 2, Section 12
Strike Part 2, Section 13
Insert new clause Part 2, Section 15: “This Part shall only come into force if approved by a referendum. The referendum only provides approval if there are more votes in favour than against in all four nations of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State shall lay Regulations regarding the date, question and conduct of such a referendum.”
Insert new clause Part 3, Section 8: “This Part shall only come into force if approved by a referendum. The referendum only provides approval if there are more votes in favour than against in the county of Cornwall. The Secretary of State shall lay Regulations regarding the date, question and conduct of such a referendum.”
Insert new clause Part 3, Section 9: “The unitary authority of Cornwall Council is hereby abolished. All powers, rights and responsibilities of Cornwall Council shall be transferred to the Cornish Assembly.”
Insert new clause Part 4, Section 2: “This Part shall only apply to a local authority if approved by a referendum in that local authority area. The referendum only provides approval if there are more votes in favour than against in that local authority area. The Secretary of State shall lay Regulations regarding the date, question and conduct of any such referendums.”
In Part 5, Section 1, strike from “implementation” to end.