HC Deb 06 December 1976 vol 922 cc28-30
32. Mr. Wigley

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will ensure that the legislation for devolution includes provision for elections to the Assemblies by a proportional representation method.

Mr. John Smith

No, Sir.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister of State aware that proportional representation was not only the unanimous recommendation of the Kilbrandon Committee but is also the subject of Early-Day Motion No. 26, which has drawn signatories from all parties in the House? Will he say whether the Government have an equally open mind to the possibility of proportional representation in the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies as they have to a referendum?

Mr. Smith

The Government's view is that our present electoral system as it is used for the House of Commons and for local government is simple to operate and easily understood, and that it provides for clear and direct accountability of the Member to his constituents. Any change in our electoral arrangement would have to take account of the consequences for the House of Commons and local government, as well as for the proposed Scottish Assembly.

Mr. Rifkind

Is the Minister aware that the Government are proposing a Scottish Assembly with 150 Members, which would be almost double the membership of the New Zealand Parliament which covers all the functions of government in New Zealand? Will the Government reconsider the size of the Scottish Assembly, so that we may have one that will not create unnecessary extra membership and unnecessary extra cost for the electorate?

Mr. Smith

The Government gave very careful thought to the size of the Assembly. However, the Government's proposals involve a real transfer of power to the Assembly and it is therefore important that there is an adequate number of Members from which an Administration and an effective Opposition can be drawn. International comparisons are often misleading. The hon. Member should think much more carefully about strengthening the Conservative Party's proposals, which everybody realises are quite insufficient.

Mr. Heffer

Does my hon. Friend agree that if we had a system of proportional representation it could lead to a position in which the leaders of parties would have too much say in the selection of candidates, and it would not be left to local committees? In this way people such as myself and many Opposition Members would never get into the House of Commons.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend raises a very important matter. This indicates how careful we must be before making any changes.

Mr. David Price

Is the Minister of State aware that any proposals for legislative Assemblies under the Government's Bill is not devolution in a meaningful sense, because they do not deal with Supply or taxation? Any proposals for devolution which do not deal with these key crunch issues are a charade.

Mr. Smith

If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he says that the Bill does not go far enough. I hope that he will reflect on that in the Division Lobbies on the Second Reading of the Bill.

We are prepared to look at proposals for extra revenue-raising powers if they can pass the test of practicability and fairness. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to put them forward at the Committee stage we shall certainly give them careful consideration.

Mrs. Bain

Is the Minister aware that, unless we have proportional representation in the Scottish Assembly, his own party is unlikely to have very much representation in it?

Mr. Smith

What seems to be the flirting of the Scottish National Party with proportional representation portrays a lack of confidence in its ability to win elections under the present system.

Forward to