Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 2: Convention about Parliament legislating on devolved matters
6: Clause 2, page 2, line 12, leave out “normally”
My Lords, the amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. As your Lordships can well imagine, it is a probing amendment which, depending on the response that we receive in this short debate, may escalate into something more substantial. The Bill reads:
“But it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Assembly”.
So what does “normally” really mean?
I have searched through the Bill and have failed to find any definition. I am not aware that the term is so commonly used in other legislation that there is a generally accepted meaning as far as use in legislation is concerned. In an attempt to seek clarification, my colleagues in the other place contacted the House of Commons Library, which confirmed that there is no legal status for “normally”. In this instance, it is inherently vague and asking for trouble, because it leaves every interpretation open to the courts—at least potentially so.
I am aware that questions on this matter arose also in the Commons and that the only response which Ministers were able to give was:
“The ‘not normally’ element of both the convention and clause”—
in relation to legislative consent—
“is essential as it acknowledges parliamentary sovereignty”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/7/16; col. 784.]
Following a further check with the Library, it confirmed that every Act which requires the assent of the Assembly already contains a clause that confirms parliamentary sovereignty. Including “normally” here achieves nothing but confusion. That is simply unsatisfactory. We cannot make a law on such a basis. “Normal” is an immensely subjective term. What is deemed normal by one person may be regarded as highly abnormal by another.
Noble Lords may be aware of my work in the field of learning disabilities. At one time, people with such disabilities were referred to as “mentally abnormal” or “educationally abnormal”. That carried a huge stigma and was rightly consigned to the dustbin of history. The concept of normality is loaded with preconceptions and it should never be enshrined in law, certainly not without a very tight definition.
The word “normally” is a Trojan horse at the heart of this legislation. It is totally at the whim of Ministers at Westminster as to what it means. It enables them to use this loophole exactly as they might wish. It would have been more honest to write into the Bill that a Westminster Minister may intervene just when and how he or she wishes on matters falling into this category of Assembly powers.
This is just not good enough. I ask for the support of the House in removing the term if the Government cannot bring forward an acceptable term or some believable explanation for its existence in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 7 and 8. These amendments are designed to clarify the circumstances in which the National Assembly’s legislative consent is required for parliamentary Bills. As drafted—as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has suggested—the Bill provides that Parliament will not “normally” legislate with regard to devolved matters without the Assembly’s consent. He has just pointed out the difficulties in the definition of “normally”, but neither is there any definition of “devolved matters”. Indeed, elsewhere, the Bill speaks of “reserved matters” or matters that are “not reserved”. It does not use the language of “devolved matters” at all.
This provision closely follows an equivalent in the Scotland Act 2016. Your Lordships might recall that the equivalent provision in the Bill leading to that Act was the subject of rather anxious debate. The concern was that the provision was incomplete in specifying when the Scottish Parliament’s consent was required for UK parliamentary legislation. The provision had been included, following a recommendation from the Smith commission that the Sewel convention be given statutory underpinning. Unfortunately, the Government, in implementing that recommendation, gave the narrowest possible interpretation of the convention in writing it into the Bill.
While it is true that, as originally formulated, the convention proposed that a devolved legislature’s consent was required only in respect of a provision within its devolved legislative competence, it soon came to be accepted that consent should also be required if a parliamentary Bill proposed a modification of that very competence. I will simplify this: if the UK Government wanted to bring in a law on an issue where the Assembly already had the power to legislate—so on agriculture or education—the understanding is that that would not be possible without the Assembly’s agreement. However, if the UK Government proposed to change the Assembly’s powers to legislate, it is not clear that that Assembly agreement would be necessary.
Demonstrating that this was not a matter of controversy, the Government have repeatedly said—and the Minister himself has said on this Bill—that a Bill that radically modified the National Assembly’s legislative competence could not be passed without the Assembly’s formal consent, even though that might not appear obvious from the language of devolved matters. This issue is highlighted in the report on this Bill by the Constitution Committee of this House:
“There were important differences between the Sewel Convention as referred to in the Bill and the Sewel Convention as understood in practice. The Bill framed the Convention in terms narrower than those in which it is usually understood, by failing to refer to that limb of the Convention that is concerned with UK legislation that adjusts the scope of devolved competence”.
It should not be a matter of dispute between the UK and Welsh Governments. The difficulty is that, although the two Governments agree on the circumstances in which the Assembly’s consent is required for parliamentary Bills, the Bill does not reflect that common understanding. The purpose of the amendment, therefore, is simply to define what is meant by “devolved matters”. In so doing, it sets out the agreed circumstances in which the Assembly’s legislative consent is required for parliamentary Bills. Those circumstances importantly include the situation of the present Bill, which modifies the Assembly’s legislative competence.
This is quite a useful clarification that could be achieved without raising any new issues of principle that might be of concern to the Government. I hope at least that the Minister will be able to reaffirm that when a parliamentary Bill comes forward with proposals for modifying a devolved legislative competence, such a Bill—as he has promised with this Bill—can proceed only with the relevant legislature’s formal consent.
My Lords, I support both the noble Lord and my noble friend in their remarks. My noble friend Lady Morgan has outlined very well what “devolved matters” means in the Bill, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, quite rightly spoke about the sloppiness of the term “normally”. I think that it opens up huge possibilities for rift between Cardiff and Westminster unless there is a proper definition, if the Government want this, as to when the Assembly is not allowed to pass its comments upon legislation going through this Parliament which affects so-called devolved matters. Is it for the Secretary of State for Wales or a Cabinet committee to decide what is “normal”? No, this is an absolute recipe for conflict between the Assembly and Parliament, and between the two Governments. I hope that the Minister will take this back and either strike it completely from the legislation or, if they insist that there should be qualifications as to when the Assembly cannot utilise its powers, these should be defined very precisely indeed.
My Lords, I spoke at Second Reading and earlier today about the need for clarity in the Bill, and I must say that I share the concerns about the word “normally”. Those concerns were reinforced earlier today by the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who produced what seemed to me a pretty devastating analysis and related it to a subsequent clause—I think it was Clause 53. It seems to me that the Government would do very well to ponder what has been said today very carefully. I also have some sympathy with the noble Baroness on the Opposition Front Bench about the use of the word “devolved” when we are dealing with reserved powers. It seems to me that that, too, is likely to be a cause of some confusion. I am not sure that I followed all her arguments, but I am not speaking about those; I am simply seeking clarity. I hope that my noble friend will not dig his heels in tonight, but will take these comments away and give them much careful thought before coming back at a later stage.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and I am confident that the Minister, whom I have known in another place—if I can call the Welsh Assembly that—at the other end of the line, is not someone who digs his heels in. He successfully danced a fine tune to move his party, the Welsh Conservatives, into a stance on devolution which brings us to where we are today.
I come to the amendments in my name, which I am pleased to share with my noble friend, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, my sister in the Assembly. Amendment 9 attempts to define “devolved matters”. This is another issue that was addressed by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in the National Assembly. The Minister will no doubt say that “normally” occurs in the Scotland Act and that the Welsh devolution settlement does not require any definition of “devolved matters”. I am not very enamoured of the argument that empowering the National Assembly to be able to legislate for devolved matters is somehow an overruling of parliamentary sovereignty, as if the traditional constitution of the United Kingdom, of Parliament assembled in these two Houses, could somehow be undermined or be in any sense overruled by legislative activity in Cardiff.
The issue is the complexity of Welsh devolution, which remains unclear and undefined. The issue of what it is within the Assembly’s competence to do is made even more complex than it was before by the Bill. I speak as someone who was involved—for too long, I suspect—in trying to determine what was within the competence of the Assembly and what was not, but I was well advised by excellent lawyers in the National Assembly and assisted more recently by the Supreme Court. It is not for me to comment on the activities of the Supreme Court, but clearly what we are doing here by not specifying more clearly what “devolved matters” are is not providing the required clarity, not just for politicians, lawyers or interest groups, but for the public in Wales. This is my greatest concern about what we are legislating in the Bill: we are continuing the cawl—Hansard will know how that is spelt—of Welsh devolution. There is no clarity in this soup, Minister.
My Lords, I was in this Chamber when this issue first arose in 1998 in the then Scotland Bill. I heard Lord Sewel produce his sentence, which was hastily cobbled together. There was no thought behind it. It was not part of the government programme at that time, but he was under great pressure from Scottish Peers to define when the Westminster Parliament would act where Scotland had competence. He came out with his phrase, using the word “normally”, in that context. It has found itself into the Scottish legislation and has been adopted for the purposes of this legislation.
It is an unsatisfactory solution. There are no doubt exceptional circumstances, such as a declaration of war or something of a really serious consequence, when the Westminster Parliament may wish to overrule the Welsh Assembly or act in its place, but the word “normally” does not cover that. It is open to huge misinterpretation and the sort of litigation to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred in his contribution before the adjournment. The Government ought to excise the word altogether. I seem to recall it was still in contention as to whether it was a satisfactory phrase in consideration on the recent Scotland Bill.
I also support Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely. I prefer it to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, because it is disjunctive whereas his is not. An “or” at the end of his proposed new paragraph (c) might have made it a bit clearer.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who participated in the debate on this amendment. I turn first to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. Clause 2 places the existing convention on legislative consent on a statutory footing. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, just indicated, this is not something that the Government have suddenly dreamed up. It is an existing convention and something we committed to do in the St David’s Day agreement. As has been noted by various noble Lords, it is also in line with Section 2 of the Scotland Act 2016. The convention states that Parliament will not normally legislate on matters devolved to the National Assembly for Wales without the consent of the Assembly, or in the case of Scotland the Scottish Parliament. These amendments seek to broaden the convention in two ways. They seek to remove the “not normally” requirement and also seek to expand the circumstances in which Parliament would not legislate without the consent of the National Assembly for Wales.
That said—the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is right that I am going to refer to the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament—I can, nevertheless, understand the points that have been made. I am grateful for comments about this from other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, and earlier from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who is not in his place at the moment. I will go back and have a look to see whether we are able to do something by guidance, but the whole nature of the “not normally” is that that there will be circumstances that are difficult to foresee.
The nature of this signals that they are not justiciable, because it is left to Parliament. However, in line with comments from noble Lords and in the interests of ensuring that we look at this from all angles, I will go back and see whether there is something that we can do in relation to guidance on the two issues in relation to devolved matters as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, and the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Wigley. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
I understand the Minister is saying that it is not justiciable as to whether the word “normally” is applicable in a particular case. However, it could be subject to judicial review if a Minister brought forward a Bill that was the subject of contention as to whether the circumstances were normal or abnormal. To say that it is not justiciable is not, I think, correct.
My Lords, I do not think that I said that. I said that it signals that it is not justiciable. I am making the point that noble Lords have been making about the generality of the phrase and that it is difficult to define, and it means that if Parliament decides something it can decide that this is not normal. That is the point about it. As I say, I will take it back and see whether we can accomplish what noble Lords are seeking in guidance.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that there are two problems here? First, the bar is set at a very low level—a level of “normality”. Secondly, as far as the word “normal” is concerned, although of course it appears in the two Scotland Acts, it does not seem ever to have been judicially interpreted in the courts. That is a considerable weakness. I take the Minister’s point that in a way it is a matter for Parliament to define itself—to define its own metes and bounds—which bearing in mind its absolute sovereignty are untrammelled, but nevertheless it is a crucial word in an Act of Parliament and as such it must be interpretable by the courts. I am afraid that, if the matter were raised before the higher courts now, they would say that “normal” means something that is not abnormal and they would leave us in the mists of uncertitude in that way.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments and for clarifying what I was intending to say, and I apologise if I had not made that absolutely clear. I have taken on board the points that are being made. I said that we will look at this in guidance, but as I have indicated there is a need for room for manoeuvre here, so I will take the points back and look at them.
My Lords, we are making progress. This is a good omen perhaps for a future amendment that is coming forward. I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to take it back and look at it. It is always better to have something spelled out in the Bill quite clearly than to depend on guidance notes. Of course the objective of this Bill is to clarify and simplify the problems that have arisen over the past few years, not to dig more holes for ourselves. But in the spirit in which the Minister has offered to look at this again, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendments 7 to 9 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
The instruction of 26 October suggests that Clause 3 will be dealt with later.
Clause 4 agreed.
Amendment 10 not moved.
Schedule 3: New Schedule 9A to the Government of Wales Act 2006
11: Schedule 3, page 89, line 38, at end insert—
“ The advisory committee for Wales established under section 5 of the Food Standards Act 1999.”
My Lords, I will begin with government Amendments 19, 79 and 80, which relate to four cross-border health authorities. These are: NHS Blood and Transplant; the NHS Business Services Authority; the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation; and the Human Tissue Authority. The purpose of these amendments is to allow the Assembly to legislate to confer functions on these authorities in devolved areas without requiring the consent of a United Kingdom Minister. In recognition of their status as bodies serving both England and Wales, ministerial consent will apply in relation to any changes to these authorities’ constitutions.
Government amendments 11, 12, 15 and 16 add four authorities to the list of “Wales public authorities” in Schedule 3. Because they are now listed as Wales public authorities, the restrictions placed on the legislative competence of the Assembly in relation to “reserved authorities” will not apply to these bodies. The authorities being added are: the Welsh Food Advisory Committee to the Food Standards Agency; the Flood and Coastal Erosion Committee; the Independent Groundwater Complaints Administrator appointed under the Cardiff Bay Barrage Act; and the person appointed by Welsh Ministers under Section 3 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. My office has been working with the Welsh Government to produce a complete list of Wales public authorities when the Bill is passed. The inclusion of these four authorities in the list is one outcome of this work. Amendment 18 replaces the reference in the list to the Residential Property Tribunal Wales with a fuller legal description of the bodies covered by this umbrella term. Again, my office has worked with the Welsh Government on this change.
In Amendments 13, 14 and 17, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, are seeking to remove the governing bodies of further and higher education institutions, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and regulated higher education institutions from the schedule of Wales public authorities. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord seem to be seeking to address concerns that have been raised with the Wales Office that the categorisation of these authorities as Wales public authorities will undermine the private sector status or the charitable status of higher and further education institutions in Wales.
I reassure your Lordships that the definition of Wales public authorities in the Bill does not affect the legal status of these institutions as both private sector corporations and charitable institutions. The purpose of new Schedule 9A is to set out an illustrative list of public authorities that fit the definition of Wales public authorities in Clause 4 of the Bill. It delivers a key part of the clarity we are seeking to deliver through the Bill by setting out clearly the public authorities that the Assembly and Welsh Ministers can legislate on without consent.
By removing these educational institutions from that list, the amendments would make their status within the Welsh devolution settlement unclear. This would cast doubt on the status of these institutions when the Government’s position is perfectly clear: education is a devolved matter and so the Assembly should be able to legislate in respect of educational institutions in Wales in an entirely unfettered way. However, I am happy to look in more detail at the precise concerns that are being raised. Welsh universities and further education institutions, as authorities exercising functions of a public nature in Wales, have been appropriately categorised in the Bill, but I will look to see how we can reflect their special position in the title of the schedule in order to stress the fact that they are different from other public authorities. On that basis, I beg to move government Amendment 11 and look forward to hearing from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord about their amendments, which I hope they will not move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 13, 14 and 17. I must declare an interest as a governor of Cardiff Metropolitan University and an honorary fellow of Cardiff University.
As the Minister has outlined, these amendments reflect concern expressed by Universities Wales, which represents the Welsh higher education sector, about inclusion in the list. It gave evidence of that concern to the Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, whose report has been circulated to noble Lords. The basis of the concern is that this may lead to inclusion as a public sector body by the ONS. Noble Lords may recall that a reclassification of this kind occurred for Network Rail. That reclassification was undertaken with the full agreement of the Treasury but its impact on Network Rail has been to have a huge effect on its ability to borrow.
Higher education institutions are clearly concerned about their ability to borrow. They are currently classified by the ONS as non-profit institutions serving households; they are therefore part of the private sector and, along with most other charities, enjoy that status. This reflects the extent of public sector control, as set out in EU accounting requirements. I must stress that universities regard themselves as independent organisations. They value their academic and institutional autonomy and are treated as public bodies for only a small number of very specific purposes—for example, for freedom of information purposes. It is true that higher education provision and fees are highly regulated but in Wales, less than 10% of university income comes from direct public funding. The ONS is already reviewing the classification of Welsh universities in the light of the Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015.
In England, the proposed higher education and research Bill will address complexities for those higher education institutions established as corporations, but that Bill will not affect Wales. So the potential reclassification by the ONS will badly affect higher education in Wales because all Welsh HEIs are charities. The Charity Commission is clear in its guidance, which says that a charity,
“must exist in order to carry out its charitable purposes, and not for the purposes of implementing the policies of a governmental authority”.
A breach of this rule could of course impact on governors as well, who could be held personally liable. It would obviously have a massive impact on Welsh higher education’s ability to raise funding for research and to assist poorer students, and on those institutions’ tax status.
Understandably, Welsh universities do not welcome their inclusion as public authorities, but neither should the Welsh Government nor the UK Government. If they are reclassified by the ONS, their debts and spending will go on the Government’s balance sheet. They will go first on the Welsh Government’s balance sheet and affect their ability to borrow because universities in Wales have a significant borrowing requirement of their own, which would of course detract from the ability of the Welsh Government to borrow in addition to that. In turn, it would go on the Treasury’s balance sheet.
I am surprised that the Welsh Government have indicated that they do not feel this is a problem and are not concerned about the inclusion of universities in this list. When I think of it, it is perhaps not entirely surprising because there has been a tendency over many years for the Welsh Government to seek greater control over the public sector, which the Minister will be aware of as an ex-Assembly Member. However it is important to remind noble Lords that the international reputation of our universities rests on their independence from government. Many were established as charitable foundations, and all continue to rely on charitable funding and on funds that rely on their charitable status. Universities in Wales are part of the devolved settlement, as the Minister said, and are hence subject to rules that are slightly different from those in the rest of the UK, but they are very definitely part of a UK-wide sector and of an international market, so they must not be undermined by incorrect classification in the Bill. This is a probing amendment, and I am glad to hear from the Minister that he will consider this matter further. I will be grateful for his further comments when he has time.
Finally, and briefly, the further education sector was also established autonomously in the 1990s. The FE sector has higher levels of direct government funding, but it values its independence, its ability to respond to the market and its flexibility. I will be grateful if the Minister looks at both sectors in detail before we discuss this issue again.
My Lords, I understand what the noble Baroness said about the charitable status of Welsh universities, and it is important that the Minister goes back and examines whether it is put at risk by this part of the Bill.
I cannot for the life of me understand Amendment 14, which excludes the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales from the Welsh public authorities list. It is not a university; it is a body that administers funding to the universities. It gets all its money from the Welsh Government, so I cannot quite understand the amendment, particularly because a recent review of non-compulsory post-16 education in Wales indicated that this body will be replaced by a new body dealing with funding for higher education and further education, which is a good thing. The amendment is an incongruous insertion when the argument is about universities and, to a certain extent, further education colleges somehow losing their charitable status, independence, right to borrow and so on. I would value the Minister’s comments on why the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales is part of this scene.
My Lords, Schedule 3 will provide some welcome clarity about competence in relation to Welsh public authorities. So long as Assembly Bills meet the competence tests in the Wales Bill, the Assembly will be able to legislate in relation to Welsh public authorities without needing to seek the consent of the UK Government.
Most of the UK Government’s amendments add to or clarify the list, and we support them. We are also very content with the removal of special health authorities. I understand that they will be treated differently and need not be in Schedule 3. I beg to differ with Liberal Democrat Peers who suggested removing from the list of institutions in Wales a reference to the further or higher education sectors, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the regulated institutions under the Higher Education (Wales) Act, to which my noble friend referred.
We do not think it appropriate to support any amendments which might act in such a way as to restrict the legislative competence of the National Assembly in respect of these further and higher education bodies. Having said that, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for outlining the real concerns of the institutions, which need to be addressed. I thank the Minister for agreeing to clarify this issue and for looking at attempting to reflect that special position and ensure that they can continue with their current status.
However, I am afraid that removing these institutions could create uncertainty in the future over the need for ministerial consent where a provision of an Assembly Act confers functions on such a body or removes them from it. No such uncertainty exists in relation to the current legislative competence of the Assembly, and the uncertainty would not arise in the future if these bodies remained on the list.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for participating in the debate on this group of amendments. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I will just perhaps restate some of the points I made earlier. Very much on the basis that we will still cover these institutions, if there is a way of looking at the nomenclature, such that we can seek to ensure that they have the continued strength and independence that they enjoy at the moment, we will do that, as that is very much in the best interests of Wales. We have first-class educational institutions at university and further education level, and we want to maintain that but at the same time ensure that they are brought within this part of the legislation.
I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, made about the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and agree it does not seem to be in the same category as the universities. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, agrees with that. That is different in nature, but if there is a way of protecting the universities and the further education bodies and their charitable status, at the same time as covering them within the Welsh public authorities, universities and so on, I am keen to do that, and will ensure that we look at the Bill in that regard. I thank noble Lords who brought forward these amendments but urge them not to press them at this stage.
Amendment 11 agreed.
12: Schedule 3, page 90, line 30, at end insert—
“The Flood and Coastal Erosion Committee or Pwyllgor Llifogydd ac Erydu Arfordirol.”
Amendment 12 agreed.
Amendments 13 and 14 not moved.
Amendments 15 and 16
15: Schedule 3, page 91, line 6, at end insert—
“The Independent Groundwater Complaints Administrator.”
16: Schedule 3, page 91, line 34, at end insert—
“ The person appointed by the Welsh Ministers under section 3 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.”
Amendments 15 and 16 agreed.
Amendment 17 not moved.
Amendments 18 and 19
18: Schedule 3, page 92, leave out lines 1 and 2 and insert—
“A rent assessment committee constituted in accordance with Schedule 10 to the Rent Act 1977 (including a leasehold valuation tribunal and a residential property tribunal).”
19: Schedule 3, page 92, leave out lines 8 and 9
Amendments 18 and 19 agreed.
Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 5 to 8 agreed.
20: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—
“Candidates at general elections
In section 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (candidates at general elections), before subsection (1) insert—“(A1) At a general election a person may not be a candidate to be an Assembly member unless the person is recorded on the electoral register as living in Wales.””
My Lords, in moving Amendment 20, I will speak also to Amendment 21. Both stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Murphy of Torfaen, and assert the fundamental principle that to represent Wales in its legislature, an elected Assembly Member should actually live in Wales—the same principle asserted by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which I also support. In doing so, I find myself in the ironic position of seeking to amend my own Act, the Government of Wales Act 2006, which I took through Parliament as a Bill as Secretary of State for Wales. It never occurred to me until the last few weeks that any Welsh Assembly Member would, or indeed could, live outside Wales.
Amendment 20 makes the acceptance of formal nomination as an Assembly candidate contingent on living within Wales. However, if it is felt that is too prohibitive a requirement, since no candidate can be certain of election in advance, Amendment 21 instead makes the membership of the Assembly—that is, for an elected candidate—contingent on living within Wales. That is to say, disqualification would follow without residence within Wales and registration to vote within Wales. Either way, the principle is put in statute, as it would be by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, Amendment 22.
At the most recent Assembly election, 21 candidates stood who did not live in Wales. Fourteen were from the Monster Raving Loony Party, four were Conservatives, one was a Liberal Democrat and one an English Democrat. There was one UKIP candidate, Neil Hamilton, who was elected as a regional Assembly Member and who, I understand, still does not live in Wales but has nevertheless claimed and been granted appropriate expenses, in the same way as those Assembly Members who actually live in Wales. I am not suggesting that there is anything improper here, just that it is an anomaly.
To deal with another question that has been raised, I am informed that to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, there is similarly no requirement to be resident in Scotland or Northern Ireland, but that is no reason for Wales not taking the view which I advocate. Since devolution, Wales has been the first to adopt policies subsequently followed by other parts of the UK in a number of areas; for example, establishing an Older People’s Commissioner and free bus transport for pensioners. There is no reason why Wales cannot be innovative in this matter either. Indeed, I have been notified that there is widespread cross-party support in the Assembly for the amendment, including from Welsh government Ministers.
On the substance of the amendment, it is an insult to voters in Wales not to live in Wales, within the nation you are seeking to represent and may find yourself representing in the Assembly. Personally, I have always believed that a constituency Assembly Member, like a Member of Parliament, should live in or, at the very least, very close to their constituency, as I did as Member of Parliament for Neath.
Of course, regional Assembly Members have different duties and no constituents in the same way, but surely they should at least live in Wales as well. How can any Assembly Member living outside Wales possibly keep in touch with public opinion in Wales? How can they keep in touch with issues that arise day to day in the political culture, public life or civic life of Wales? How can they spot new problems or opportunities as they arise in the course of their daily experience living as normal citizens of Wales do? How can they reflect Welsh culture without living within it, as I have been privileged to do? How can they really understand the evolution of Wales’s young democracy as it very quickly develops?
It is fundamental, to me at least, that in a democracy, representatives are of the people and for the people, whatever your political party. I hope that the Government will agree with this principle and accept at least one of these three amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I preface my remarks with a story I was told long ago by Sir John Rodgers, who lived in Kent and was elected for a Kent constituency just a little way from his home. He decided to consult a neighbour, Winston Churchill. Winston replied: “Never live in your constituency”. That is not my position, but I have real practical objections to what is proposed, particularly for candidates.
I have two objections. Let us consider candidates first. Someone may have been born and brought up in Wales and his family live in Wales, but he is at present working in, say, London, perhaps as a civil servant or in business. He decides that he wishes to fight an election. If the amendment were passed, he would be forced to move back to Wales and give up his employment before standing.
I know of at least one very distinguished individual who in the war was in a reserved occupation in the Foreign Office and was determined to serve in the Armed Forces. He promptly got himself chosen as a candidate and immediately had to leave the Foreign Office. He became a founding member of the SAS, served with immense distinction in the Baltic states and later became a very distinguished Member of Parliament. One can also think of someone serving in the Armed Forces—perhaps in the royal regiment of Wales—encamped outside the Principality. He is about to leave the Army or decides that standing as a candidate forces his removal from the Army list. He is perfectly happy, after the election, to move to his constituency and live in it but, as this amendment is drafted, that would not be possible.
I have a second objection. In recent years, I have moved to Monmouth. Take an individual who has been born and brought up in Monmouth. He lives and works there; he worships there; his children go to school there; he goes to a doctor there. However, it chances that he lives just across the Wye bridge and is therefore living in England. He is disqualified from standing. My present Welsh home is on a road that leads up out of Monmouth and virtually every house in it is in the town, but if you go three-quarters of a mile up the road from me to my next-door neighbour, that house is in England. Its occupant may live, work and do everything he has to do in Monmouth but he would be disqualified. This situation is not unique to Monmouth. It happens that a considerable number of Welsh towns straddle the border, starting in the north with Bangor-on-Dee. On Saturday afternoon I passed through Knighton on my way to a memorial service in Presteigne. Someone might live and spend their whole life in Presteigne but it just happens that the house they live in, which is still part of the town, is 100 yards across the border and in England. They are therefore disqualified from standing for election in the county of Powys. Going south, there is Hay-on-Wye, and I could name a whole string of other little towns and hamlets up the border which would be disqualified for entirely the same reason.
Broadly, I have slightly more sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which at least allows them to stand as candidates but says that they then have to be living in Wales before they take their seats. However, that worries me too. Going back to my example of Presteigne, can it really be right that the person who lives, works and carries out all their business in that Welsh town is forced to sell their house 200 yards, say, across the border, in order to qualify for membership of the Assembly? It does not seem to me that this is a reasonable proposition.
I wonder too whether there may not be difficulties when boundary changes take place that force people suddenly to move their homes. However, I will not dwell on that. I have voiced my objections. I do not think this is a reasonable set of amendments and hope that it will not be passed.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has certainly given us cause to consider this issue further. As I speak to my amendment, I will deal with some of the points that he raised. Amendment 22 standing in my name is grouped with Amendment 20 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. As he said, my amendment has a similar purpose to his—namely, to ensure that those who legislate for the future of Wales and those who decide the priorities of public expenditure in our country should do so on the basis that they actually live in Wales, know the needs of our communities and genuinely represent the people among whom they reside. I would have thought that was a fairly fundamental principle. I go further and say that ideally each representative, both constituency Members and regional list AMs, should live within the area they represent. In that way, they know the feelings and priorities of their constituents, friends and neighbours and appreciate the tensions which sometimes arise. During the 27 years I represented Caernarfon, a fundamental element in the way in which I undertook the job was that I could feel I was part of the community. I realise that cannot always be achieved and that some people living a couple of miles outside the constituency may be fully integrated into the community they represent. I also realise that there will be times when boundary changes may work in a way that takes the home of a sitting AM or MP marginally outside the constituency in which they were previously living. These amendments do not address those circumstances. They arise from the incredible fact that there is an AM, as has been mentioned, elected to the Assembly by way of the regional lists, who not only did not live in the region when he stood for election, but did not even live in Wales. What is more, he has indicated that he has no intention of moving his main home to Wales. Frankly, that is appalling and should not be tolerated. If our country is good enough to give him a job and pay his salary and expenses, it is good enough for him to accept that he should live there in order to undertake the work. Nobody is forcing him to come to the Assembly. If he chooses to do so, conditions go with the job, and I believe this is one of them.
I have tabled a slightly different amendment from that of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, as I can see circumstances where his wording could cause difficulties. There has to be a date at which a residency requirement applies. It could be the date a candidate is selected to fight a constituency, the date of the election or the date on which the AM in question takes up his or her responsibilities. I personally believe that the date should be that on which the Member takes up the seat, and should be geared to the point at which he or she takes the oath of office, although the qualification date will need to be geared to some existing verifiable location and date—my amendment suggests the electoral register in force at that time—but I realise that that, too, has shortcomings. If the date is that on which the election is declared, in the circumstances of a by-election, candidates from outside the area would effectively be debarred. Applying the rolling electoral register could possibly overcome that. I am not sure how this might have worked in the Neath by-election in 1991, for example, in which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was first elected.
It was a very good by-election.
Yes, it was a very good by-election. I enjoyed it very much but then I was not standing. I should declare a past interest in that when I fought the Meirionnydd seat in 1970, which was then taken over by my noble friend in the subsequent election, I was working for Mars in Slough and living in the Thames Valley. There are many similar cases where people who have had to leave Wales to seek work might want to return, whether to a non-political job or to stand for election. The danger is that by having a rule as suggested in the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, there could be widespread avoidance, with prospective candidates renting an address for the period of the election, with everyone knowing that the address is merely a scam to give the impression that they are highly integrated local people. The address on the nomination paper for election should be the one at which they are registered to vote and to pay tax. If that is outside Wales, so be it; the electors can take that into account. However, once they are elected, they would be in danger of not being paid their salary or expenses if they had submitted a fraudulent address. Remember, these days there is a need to note for council tax purposes whether one’s address is permanent or a second home.
Implicit in all this is also the issue of the difference in treatment or in perception between constituency and list AMs. The issue of not living in Wales highlights a fundamental fault with the present system: the voter has no influence over the person elected on the regional list, only over the number of seats that go to the party. This anomaly should be sorted out by introducing an STV system of election; if that were done, every party would be under pressure to select candidates who live in the area which they aspire to represent. If the Bill becomes law, the Assembly will have the power to change the electoral system in this way, and I very much hope that it will do so.
Single cases make bad law, and I am hesitant to change our systems just to deal with one UKIP joker who has, like a bad penny, popped up in the Assembly with no intention whatever of integrating himself into the body politic of Wales. However, if the Assembly cannot sort this out for itself—that is by far the preferable course— amendments along the lines of my amendment or that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, or enabling powers to that end, are needed. I appeal to the Government to give serious consideration in responding to this short debate.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has raised practical objections to the amendment. I do not wish to raise practical objections but I have an objection of principle. Amendments like this immediately concern me in so far as they restrict the choice of electors. Any amendment that places a restriction on candidates is in effect a restriction on the choice of those who have to do the election. It may be that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, candidates may not know the problems of the local area or may not know the culture. That is for the electors to decide and not elect them as their representatives. It is not for us to say to the electors, “Sorry, you can’t elect them because we think they aren’t suitable to represent you”. That is fundamentally an issue for the electors. I am for widening choice for electors; if they want to elect whoever, that is entirely a matter for them. It is not for us to impose a statutory requirement.
I accept the point that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made about the problems that derive from the particular electoral system in respect of some candidates, but the problem there is the electoral system. My point is one of principle; therefore, one would need to look at the structure and the process of the electoral system to enable the electors to have a better choice, so that they are choosing those whom they wish to represent them. If one wishes the candidates to live within the area, that is a political issue. It is for them to promise electors, rather like Members here can say to their constituents, “If elected, I will live in the constituency”. However, this is fundamentally a relationship between electors and those they choose to represent them. I am therefore wary of any amendment that restricts choice; various amendments have come up in different contexts that do that, and in the Bill I am particularly wary of moving in this direction. I hope the Minister will resist it.
My Lords, I have great sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. Although I understand the principle of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I fear that it takes rather too hard-line an approach to an important issue of principle. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. The principle here is not the individual convenience of candidates who stand for the Assembly or those who are elected to the Assembly, but the fundamental principle that you should not be a member of a legislature to which you are not subject yourself. You should not pass laws that you yourself do not have to obey and take heed of. That supersedes anything that can be said about the practical problems, which undoubtedly exist, for people who live on the border. I think the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, deals with that issue in that you do not have to go through the upheaval of moving to Wales if you live a couple of hundred yards over the border. Indeed, if you live in the middle of Surrey, you do not have to go through that upheaval until you are elected.
Until this Assembly term, it has always been taken for granted that you would live in Wales. I recall that when the current Assembly Member for Cardiff Central was first selected as the Labour candidate, she lived in Islington, but she felt obliged to obtain a small flat in Cardiff when she became the Labour candidate—and rightly so. It is important that people feel obliged to live in Wales, that they feel part of the Welsh culture and that they understand Welsh media and Welsh issues. Without living in Wales, that cannot be so. Therefore, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley.
My Lords, I agreed to put my name to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Hain because it is both timely and relevant as the Wales Bill passes through this House. It is not all about Neil Hamilton but it is a bit about him in the sense that he is, as far as I am aware, the very first Member of the National Assembly for Wales who has not lived in Wales. Not only has he not lived in Wales but he lives a long way from Wales, and it highlights why we, as a Parliament, should address this issue—it is different from the franchise that we have known in our country for generations. We are talking about a country; we are not talking about a constituency. I think it is important that you live in your constituency but that is another issue; sometimes it is not practicable or reasonable to do so. However, we are talking about a country that now has a legislative Assembly which passes primary and secondary legislation for that country and which runs the country in many different ways.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked, very relevantly, what happens if you live in a town or village bang on the border. Of course, the border between England and Wales is very different from, for example, the Northern Ireland and Ireland border and it is different from the Scottish/English border, which has lots of built-up areas on it. However, there is a big difference between being a few hundred yards away in Monmouth and being in Wiltshire, and that in a way—
I say straight away that I entirely agree with that. I am not arguing for someone who lives in Wiltshire; I am merely pleading the case for those who have worked all their life in a Welsh town but, because of the geography, perhaps live a couple of hundred yards outside the town.
I think that can be addressed if, in dealing with this amendment, the Government look at what happens in local government. You can be a member of a local authority and live within, I think, three or four miles of the boundary of the local council, and I suppose that could happen with the Welsh situation. Thus, if you lived within a mile or two of the border but felt very much part of a town or village in Wales and you felt Welsh, the accident of the border could be overcome by applying local government laws to the Welsh Assembly.
I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, about the ability of electors to elect an individual to represent them in the Welsh Assembly. There is an awful lot of merit in that. People should be given that choice but, again, there is a difference. The only example of someone living in England and not in Wales is the UKIP leader in Wales. He was elected as a top-up Member. He does not represent an individual first past the post constituency; he is part of a top-up regional list.
The difference is that on that regional list, one generally elects the party and not the individual. When people voted as they did in that region in Wales, they voted for Mr Hamilton not as Mr Hamilton but for UKIP. Therefore, they did not really have a choice of saying, “I don’t want this person because he doesn’t live in Wales”. They did not get a choice in that. In one form or another, I represented people in Wales for 43 years. People then had the option of saying, “I don’t want him on the local authority or in Parliament”, because, perhaps, the candidate did not live in the constituency, ward or whatever. They had that chance, but they do not have that chance with regard to the top-up seats.
Surely, the argument, therefore, is that they should be given that chance—that one changes the system so that they have that degree of choice.
If I had my way I would change the whole system—probably not to what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, wants, but to the alternative vote system, for example. The point I am making is that the people in that part of Wales did not get the opportunity to say, “I don’t want that person because they do not live in Wales”. They were voting for a party instead of an individual. I cannot see any reason why, when we set up a Parliament or an Assembly in one of our devolved parts of the United Kingdom, a person should represent it without living in it. All the arguments that have been addressed are valid and I hope that the Minister will look favourably on these amendments.
My Lords, this debate takes me back to 1981, when I applied to be a candidate in a constituency not very far from my home. It was impressed on me that I should buy a cottage in this constituency, to which my reply was that I lived half an hour away and had a fast car. That was one factor that meant I was not chosen as the candidate. The other was that I was competing against my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew. That was much more important.
I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. We had problems in my party in the Assembly election before last where two candidates could have been disqualified by being members of public bodies at the time they filed their nomination papers as candidates. One was in a paid office and one was not paid. But they could have been disqualified. One of them succeeded, as noble Lords will recall, in gaining entrance. The other did not.
My recollection is that in the last Wales Bill we adopted a similar provision to that of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley; namely, that they should have ceased to hold those public offices by the time they were sworn in as Members of the National Assembly for Wales. I think that is fair. A candidate does not know, particularly in my party, whether he is ever going to be elected. Accordingly, to ask him to move his house and family, even if it is only half an hour away and he has a fast car, is not a sufficient reason for disqualifying that person from being a candidate. Therefore, I support Amendment 22.
My Lords, there has been an unusual noise of breaking bottles outside your Lordships’ House this evening. It rather reflects what I personally would like to do with the Welsh Assembly electoral system. In my view, it has two quite incompatible electoral systems to it. The constituency Members are elected in the normal way to which we are accustomed. The top-up list of 20 is not really elected by the public at all. The truth of the matter is that the candidates who come top of the list of those of the political parties involved are selected by the members of those political parties. Those political parties can have their own selection process, which might well have absolutely nothing to do with residence in Wales or the interests of Wales. We have a fine example in one person who has been mentioned, who actually represents the riff-raff and detritus of our political system. It is very unfortunate for the Welsh Assembly that we have such a person within it.
I listened with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, as I always do. I understand absolutely the point he is seeking to make. In my old constituency of Montgomeryshire there is a main trunk road that goes through the village of Llanymynech. One side of that road is in Wales and the other side is in England, and indeed there is a public house that is well known to the local residents which has a bar in England and the rest of the pub in Wales, which was of great importance at the time of Sunday closing of pubs in Wales. However, that said, there is no God-given right to be a candidate in an election in Wales. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford just mentioned the two Liberal Democrats who were affected by their membership of public bodies in a way that was reasonably clear if you had gone to a lawyer to analyse the point before the election took place but was not totally clear otherwise.
No one needs to stand for election in Wales. There are nearly 3 million people so there is plenty of choice of candidates for election, and it seems to be a sound principle that those who are elected to the Welsh Assembly should at the time of their election genuinely be residents of Wales. They always have the option to move to Wales and to stand in a future election, and indeed—if my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford will allow me to refer for a moment to the event which meant a selection between the two of us to be the Liberal candidate for Montgomeryshire—I moved to Montgomeryshire to become the prospective Liberal candidate for that constituency. That, in my view, is what people should do if they want to be elected to office in Wales.
Both the amendments before us on this subject probably do not quite do the trick, but I hope that the Minister, who understands the Welsh Assembly as well as anyone in your Lordships’ House, will agree to take this issue away and return at a future point, having thought further about it. I hope that he will also recognise that there needs to be a solution to the problem which is particularly caused by the top-up system.
My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Murphy and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for bringing these amendments before us tonight. I am sure that we all agree that we have had a very good debate on them. I think that this is the first time we have ever debated the qualifications of candidates for the Welsh Assembly. It is something that we should all be looking at. The current qualifications for candidates are wide. A candidate has to be at least 18 years of age, be a British citizen, an eligible British Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of any member state of the European Union—but I suppose that that could change in the near future. There is also no requirement in law for a candidate to be registered as an elector in Wales. I believe that the qualifications for those who stand for the House of Commons are very similar.
That is very different from the qualifications required to be a local government candidate in Wales and England. Some of them are similar to those for standing for the Commons and the Welsh Assembly, but with one big difference. Candidates have to meet at least one of four criteria. They must be registered as a local government elector for the local authority area in which they wish to stand from the day of nomination onwards, or occupying as the owner or tenant of any land or premises in the area during the whole of the 12 months prior to the day of nomination and on the day of the election. The local government area must be the main or only place of their work during the 12 months prior to the day of nomination and on the day of the election, or they must have lived in the area during the whole of the 12 months before the day of nomination and on the day of the election.
It is clear that local government candidates must have some links with the area which they represent. That makes sense and is in line with the amendments before us. What is good enough for local government candidates must surely be good enough for Welsh Assembly candidates. However, it is important that there should be more than one qualification. It should not be just a case of whether you are an elector and live in Wales; you should have wider qualifications. Of the four or five qualifications, or however many there are, a person should meet at least one of them.
This has been a very good debate and it is important that we should have had it. As other noble Lords have said, it has been brought about because of this year’s elections to the Welsh Assembly, which made us all think about the issue—I do not think that any of us had thought about it previously, because nobody believed that someone elected to the Welsh Assembly would not be Welsh or not be living in Wales. It has never happened before.
The matter requires further discussion, but I ask the Minister whether it could be included in the devolution of election matters to the Welsh Assembly as laid out in the Bill or whether it is a matter for the UK Government to determine. We believe that it should be for the Welsh Assembly to decide on qualifications of candidates. Let it decide what it believes are the right qualifications for candidates. It would probably agree that there should be more than one qualification to stand for election to it.
We need clarity, which I am sure the Minister will give us. If the matter is to be devolved, it is right that we should have had this debate. I am sure that Welsh Assembly Members and the Welsh Government will look what at what we have said. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on these amendments. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for bringing the matter forward and, indeed, for admitting to a degree of “mea culpa” on earlier provisions.
The amendments would prevent individuals not resident in Wales, and not recorded as such on the electoral register, being Members of the National Assembly for Wales. As the Government committed to in the St David’s Day agreement, the Bill devolves powers over its own elections to the National Assembly for Wales. This includes the eligibility to stand as a candidate at such an election and the criteria under which a candidate may be disqualified from being an Assembly Member. These would be matters for Wales and the National Assembly for Wales. There is a slight irony in the fact that earlier we debated what “not normally” covers, yet here are seeking to legislate in areas that will now be presented to the National Assembly for discussion and decision. It is absolutely right that this area relating to electoral practice should be a matter for the National Assembly for Wales. I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Hain—and I have had lawyers look at this—that these matters will be transferred to the National Assembly for Wales and it is right that it considers them.
Very good points have been made by noble Lords in relation to the arguments. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, spoke about the residency requirement for those who may live just over the border at Knighton—close to the station perhaps, which is in England—rather than in the town of Knighton, and so on. They are issues that the Assembly will want to look at, just as it will no doubt want to look at the point made by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth on the choice for electors. I speak as somebody who as an Assembly Member was determined to live in the area I represented; certainly, it was true then that everybody who was in the National Assembly for Wales lived in Wales. These are valid points for the Assembly to look at; they are not matters that we should pontificate on. With respect, I therefore ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I will briefly respond to his points at the end of my remarks.
When I moved this rather innocent, inconspicuous amendment, I had no idea that it would provoke such a rich debate about political principles, political theory and the nature of democracy; it has been very instructive and valuable indeed. My noble friend Lord Murphy really came to the nub of the matter when he said that this was about a country’s parliamentary legislature. This is something very precious to Wales and which needs to be given proper respect. That, in a way, links to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, which she expressed very eloquently indeed. She said that Assembly Members should—by living in Wales, in this case—be subject themselves to the laws that they are passing and subject themselves to the policies that they are instrumental in enacting.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made a number of interesting points, but at one point he was almost saying that there should be no restrictions at all on candidature, or at least on Assembly Members. The main gist of his argument was about candidates, and I anticipated that, with my noble friend Lord Murphy, with our Amendment 21, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, with his amendment. I do not think that this is the same issue as that about Members of Parliament, because the constituency boundaries are not being changed by the change in the parliamentary constituencies at all. Of course, the parliamentary constituencies do not cross the border of Wales. The new legislation, if eventually enacted, does not do that either.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about his amendment. Frankly, I could not have done as effective a job as MP for Neath as I hope that I did without living in the constituency. That means living and breathing the life of the local rugby clubs, the local businesses and the local schools and hospitals, as I did for nearly a quarter of a century. He made a series of fair points in relation to pressing his amendment, by which I am rather persuaded. We can happily concede that. He asked about the Neath by-election. I had actually bought a house in the constituency five months before that by-election, although I must admit that I had a crazy mortgage, in retrospect. That was an important principle that I, like the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, felt was right.
The noble Lord, Lord Norton, raised some very interesting points, but he seemed to offer no restrictions on where one must live in order to stand for, or be a Member of, the Assembly. You could be living anywhere—hundreds of miles away from Wales. I simply do not think that that is acceptable. My noble friend Lord Murphy made the point that, in practice, Welsh voters do not have a real choice about the particular Assembly Members they get through the regional lists, and I do not think that he addressed that point. It is, as my noble friend Lord Murphy said, a question of voting for the party.
My point was that one should change the system so that the electors actually have a choice. The noble Lord is quite right about the point I was making. I would make it as open as possible for electors to choose whoever they want. I am all for eroding the restrictions on candidature. It is fundamentally a matter for the electors, so if a candidate does live hundreds of miles away, that is a matter for the electors. I remind him that, many years ago, it was actually a Labour Member who listed his address as Greece.
I did discover all sorts of anomalies when I was Leader of the House of Commons about what was actually going on in terms of people’s residence, and I will not embarrass the noble Lord by mentioning where some of the Conservative MPs lived—that is another matter entirely. I am, as I say, more persuaded by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, than by my two, if I have not dropped my noble friend Lord Murphy in it, so I am happy to withdraw our amendment in his favour.
I also think that my noble friend Lady Gale made an important point about the Assembly having the right to do this and I would like the Minister to look at actually inserting into the Bill a power explicitly conferred to the Assembly to make provision for the eligibility of candidates. On that basis, and agreeing with the point of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that the principle at stake here has to be addressed one way or another—if not by this Parliament, then I hope by the Assembly, though it is a matter for that body—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendments 21 and 22 not moved.
Clauses 9 to 13 agreed.
House adjourned at 10 pm.