HC Deb 02 December 1998 vol 321 cc952-84

Order for Second Reading read.

7.39 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When I moved the guillotine motion earlier, I said that there was little new to be said about the Bill. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) more eloquently put it, the time for debate is over and the time has come to make a decision. That is the truth of the matter. I have here copies of the Official Report of the debates in the other place and this House on this short—albeit important—Bill. The debates fill many columns. Indeed, we have debated the matter on six or more occasions. We had not only a full day on Second Reading, as we should have done, but three days in Committee on the Floor of the House and a further day on Report and Third Reading.

We were committed at the general election to introducing a proportional system for elections to the European Parliament. So, too, as I said in the debate on the guillotine motion, were the Liberal Democrats. Like everything else in our manifesto and in those parts of the Liberal Democrat manifesto that were coincidental, that proposal received a substantial vote of approval by the British people.

No electoral system is perfect. That was all that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said when, as Leader of the Opposition, he commented on the introduction by the Conservative party of closed lists to the Northern Ireland forum in 1996—I have to remind Conservative Members of their two-faced position on closed lists. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) may sigh, as though I should not mention it—

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

It is tedious.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman, unable to think of anything else to say, claims that it is tedious. The moment the Conservatives admit that it was they who first introduced closed lists for an electoral system in the United Kingdom, we can have consensus on the issue and they can recognise the extraordinary position into which they have manoeuvred themselves.

One can understand why the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was slightly twitchy during the debate on the guillotine motion. As he was speaking, he was no doubt wishing that he had been present at the emergency meeting of the shadow Cabinet that was called to consider a further consequence of the Opposition's extraordinary tactics in seeking to abuse the Salisbury principles and to override the will of the House of Commons. Talk about pushing one's luck too far. The Conservatives have completely overreached themselves—the whole tactic has blown up in their faces.

As I said, no electoral system is perfect, so one has to balance advantages. For reasons that I shall explain, we believe that the closed-list system best balances the advantages for the European Parliament.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Does the Home Secretary recall that, in debating the measure in the previous Session, the leader of the Conservative party and his Front-Bench colleagues regaled us with a great deal of information about the supreme wisdom and judgment of Conservative hereditary peers and, indeed, all Conservative members of the other House? Will he comment on the judgment that they have shown today?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The Home Secretary may want to do that, but not here. Perhaps he will do so outside the Chamber.

Mr. Straw

I shall certainly not abuse your authority, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I have known you too long even to try. Before you pull me up, however, I shall say that lawyers know of the doctrine of estoppel. Given what has happened, the argument that those in the other place have shown great wisdom does not entirely lie in the mouths of Conservative Front Benchers.

The European Parliament is different from the Westminster Parliament. The Westminster Parliament exists primarily to sustain a Government and—an honourable function for most of the time—Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. The European Parliament is not an executive body—the Executive is not drawn from it—but primarily a representative body. We believe that it is entirely reasonable that the representatives in the European Parliament—who are, in any case, only one of 15 groups of representatives drawn from all the European Union member states—should be broadly representative of the people of Great Britain. That is better achieved by a system of proportional representation.

As I said on Second Reading on 25 November, and despite the reasonably well-known fact that I see some advantage in first past the post for Westminster, the small number of Members of the European Parliament to which we are entitled—less than 100—and the huge constituencies that we have had to create have meant that that system has failed to achieve a representative result.

I do not think that anyone can seriously argue that the huge constituencies have operated in such a way as to create the connection between the electorate and the elected Member that genuinely is a feature of the system for elections to Westminster. I pay tribute to the work of Members of the European Parliament of all parties, but they themselves say that, given the size of their constituencies and the fact that they have to spend so much time in Brussels and Strasbourg, their ability to make that connection is limited.

The issue that has caused the greatest argument across the Chamber—it is why we are debating the Bill this evening—is the form of the list system. I am glad that, in the dialectical process, we at least achieved unanimity on using in the counting system the divisors invented by our old and now famous friend Victor d'Hondt rather than those invented by Sainte-Lague or even those in the modified version of Sainte-Lague.

For those who, like me, take a real interest in these issues, I add that in America—where there have been great debates about proportional representation systems, even though such systems are not often used there—the d'Hondt and the Sainte-Lague systems have different names. One is called Webster, although I cannot remember which one, and I forget the other name. For those who are interested—

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

One second. I always try to ensure in these debates that more information is imparted. Cambridge, Massachusetts, has a system of proportional representation, whereas Louisiana, reflecting its French heritage, has a majoritarian system similar to the one that operates in France.

Mr. Linton

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Before he is given the golden anorak award for being the greatest expert on counting systems, will he accept that the correct name for the d'Hondt system is the highest-average system and the correct name for the Sainte-Lague system is the rounding-up system? The habit of naming such systems after their inventors rather obscures their simplicity.

Mr. Straw

I am afraid that I shall give my hon. Friend only a bronze award for trying, as I do not think that he is correct. The principal difference that has concerned hon. Members lies in the numbers in the divisors. The d'Hondt system divisors go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, the unmodified Sainte-Lague system divisors go 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and—as everyone will recall—the modified Sainte-Lague system divisors go 1.4, 3, 5, 7, 9. Hon. Members should know by now—I am happy to give an anorak to anyone who can tell me—why the modified Sainte-Lague system starts with 1.4.

Mr. Linton

I shall be receiving the silver anorak award. Those mathematical formulae only obscure the point that a divisor of 1, 3, 5, 7 is another way in which to describe the simple process of taking an average, as hon. Members will discover if they try it on the back of an envelope—it is the process by which one rounds up. The point of starting with 1.4 is to avoid what was discovered to happen when the system was first used—that a party with only 5 per cent. of the vote could have its vote rounded up to 10 per cent. and so win a seat. Starting with 1.4 provides an effective threshold.

Mr. Straw

I award my hon. Friend a second-hand anorak for that. As we all know, 1.4 is the square root of two.

At Second Reading, I sought to be open-minded on the exact list system—as I have tried to be on many Bills, as I hope my record makes clear. That has been held against me. The closed-list system was in the Bill. I said that that was our preference, but that we were open to argument. I made no undertaking that we would change our mind, but I said that we would listen to the argument. Indeed, we did—we examined it in great detail. In the event, we came down against the so-called Belgian system, and against the open-list system.

It adds no strength to the argument of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield to criticise us for not being willing to listen to the argument. We took part in considerable debate about the matter. Had the argument been slightly more weighted on one side, we might have gone for the Belgian system. In the event—and for the reasons that I explained in February or March—we decided not to do so.

We felt that the open-list system, proposed by the Opposition, would produce the worst consequences of all. It would not provide people with voter choice. It is called an open-list system, but a proper open-list system ensures that there are as many votes as there are vacancies on the ballot paper. Under the Conservatives' back-of-the-envelope proposals, even if there are 11 vacancies—as there will be in one region—there can be only one vote. Therefore, how does one express a preference for the other 10 candidates who are to be elected? The Opposition cannot explain how that will be sorted out.

The Opposition must face the fact that one consequence of their proposal is that somebody in one party who gets 500,000 votes may not be elected, while someone in another party who gets 300,000 votes is elected. The British public will not regard that as fair or explicable.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

What is the point of having regions at all? If the people will not play a part in deciding who is elected, why do we not have a national list and a national voting system?

Mr. Straw

We could have a national list, and it is perfectly fair to say that some European countries have such a system. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that there has not been a great deal of argument about this point. However, we judged that it was better and fairer to operate the system in regions, but to have national lists in Scotland and Wales. It is a balanced argument—it is not a huge issue of principle one way or the other. A national list would increase the chances of a small extremist party gaining not only support, but Members. That would be an argument against it, but this is not an issue on which people have been engaged.

In my region, people have a strong sense of place for Knowsley, Liverpool, Manchester or Blackburn, but they also have a sense that they are part of the north-west region. Interestingly, that is partly due to the development since the 1950s of commercial television. People's sense of regional identity—even in England—is strong, and it is reasonable to reflect that in the system.

We are told that the closed-list system is a complete abberation and is undemocratic. However, it is used by the majority of voters within the EU—it is used in France, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Spain. We know that, generally, the Conservatives are European-haters. However, the implication of what they are saying is that, in all those countries, the people are not interested in democracy. I do not accept that argument, and their experience has, on the whole, been satisfactory.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

By-elections are a subject close to my heart. I cannot see how it can be democratic that, three or four years into a term, the electors of a region do not have the opportunity to choose—if they want to—someone from a different party. I also wonder what would happen in the case of someone crossing the Floor, as it were—I do not know what one does in the European Parliament. Would that person have to resign his seat?

Mr. Straw

That matter will come up in discussion on the amendments later. The hon. Gentleman's point would be entirely fair if what we were sustaining in the European Parliament was a Government. I readily accept that by-elections play an important part in regulating the conduct of the Government, and in giving the electorate an opportunity—on the random, but reasonably frequent, occasions that they arise—to send a message to the Government and to Opposition parties. However, those arguments do not apply in terms of a representative Assembly. It is not the case that by-elections in the countries concerned have caused difficulty, and I do not think that they will here.

No system is perfect, and this is about the balance of advantage. Given the nature and function of the European Parliament, it is more important to ensure that it is broadly representative than to accommodate the prospect of by-elections. On the occasions when by-elections have taken place, the earth has not moved—[Interruption.] Not even in Scotland, where there was a 20 per cent. turnout and 80 per cent. stayed away. In Merseyside, we had the lowest-ever turnout in any by-election-11 per cent.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

There was one that was lower.

Mr. Straw

I bow to the hon. Gentleman's superior wisdom.

The Opposition should have some humility about the system before they try to elevate it into some great moral principle. The Conservative Government introduced closed lists for the Northern Ireland forum.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No, with great respect; I am just about to finish.

The Conservatives can wriggle as much as they like, but they proposed the closed-list system for Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. It may have been for a particular purpose—this system also is for a particular purpose. At the time, the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), said that the closed-list system was fair and reasonable. If it was fair and reasonable then, it is fair and reasonable now.

7.58 pm
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I can see why the Home Secretary is so keen on a guillotine. Even by his own standards, that was not a persuasive speech. Calling in aid the constitution when he is bludgeoning the Bill through in a few hours will not persuade even his most uncritical supporters. Nor do I think that any of us finds his argument on Northern Ireland at all convincing, given the situation when my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the then Prime Minister, made it clear that the system was for the special circumstances of Northern Ireland.

Let there be no question about it—the debate on the Bill has gone overwhelmingly against the Government. Labour Member of Parliament after Labour Member of Parliament has spoken against it. However, let me tell the House who has done the best destructive hatchet job on the proposals in the Bill.

The other day, the Home Secretary chided me for a book that I had written. The Home Secretary has not written a book, as far as I know. If he has, it was remaindered before I got to it. However, he has written articles. His House of Commons file is stuffed full of them, including one for The Times, entitled "What's So Fair About PR?", dated 4 August 1985. What is significant about the article is not so much the general view as the particular views that he put forward, which go to the heart of the Bill.

In the article, the Home Secretary said: Where PR is based on a list system, with votes effectively cast for a party, and the winning candidates taken, pro rata, from each party's list, power passes from the individual constituency party to those who draw up the list. That, of course, is precisely the case that we have put throughout the debate.

Under a list system, power is transferred from the people to the party organisation. I have made that point, as have the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), and now we know that the Home Secretary agrees with it.

When the Home Secretary wrote the article, he was observing the position in France. He noted that the system had caused a major battle between national and regional parties, with the latter objecting to the "parachuting in" of national candidates without roots in their area.

Again, that is precisely the point that we have been making. That is precisely the case in the west midlands, where an EastEnders actor who appeared at the Birmingham rep is preferred over the local candidate, who may be politically incorrect but possibly knows something about the west midlands.

The Home Secretary then turned to the Liberal Democrats and our old friend Roy Jenkins, if I may be so familiar. He said, correctly, as the Social Democratic party—of happy memory—and the Liberals were about to hold their conferences, that we would be in for two weeks of high-flown phrases about the superior morality and fairness of proportional representation and the way in which it can lead, as Roy Jenkins said, to greater stability of national direction of policy.

The Home Secretary then said: It is not an argument which I have ever found convincing. It is giving legitimacy to the semi fascist and overtly racialist French National Front I am not sure that I go all the way with that argument, but as it is directed at Liberal Democrats I will not quibble over the details.

Then the Home Secretary produced an entirely new argument. He said: There is the inconvenient little fact of Hitler. I have debated the Bill four or five times—it seems more—and even I have not adduced Hitler in argument, but according to the Home Secretary, the "inconvenient little fact" is that Hitler rose to power in the Weimar republic which used a very respectable system of PR. I do not suggest that any other system would have prevented his rise. I do assert that PR did not prevent it—yet moderation and stability is the large and wild claim made for this system by our own centre parties. I do not believe that any Minister could have more effectively demolished the case for a Bill that he has introduced. The Bill does all the things that he previously condemned. That is why it has been so condemned by his colleagues. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) took courage this afternoon and made a speech that I believe was intended to be in favour of the Government, but she must be joking if she thinks that the Bill has been overwhelmingly supported by her colleagues.

On October 27, the Bill was attacked by the hon. Members for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). On another occasion, the hon. Member for Wrexham said: At the end of the day, if I have the choice, I am an open-list person. In case we were in any doubt, the hon. Member for Walsall, North reiterated his position. He said: I am not in favour of the closed-list system, I have never voted for it and I do not intend to do so tonight."—[Official Report, 10 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 222–28.] On 16 November, the closed-list system was effectively demolished bit by bit by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. He was supported by the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) intervened to support the Government—I think—but his support was qualified by his later confession. When challenged, he said: I would prefer an open-list system, but I gave the rationale for a closed-list system."—[Official Report, 16 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 701.] Not perhaps the most overwhelming support in principle that we have heard.

On 18 November, the Bill was attacked by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie), and the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) said: I shall support the Government tonight even though I am 150 per cent. committed to the first-past-the-post system. The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) sought to make a helpful intervention. He proclaimed: The closed-list system ensures that women and people from ethnic minorities can have their rightful place in the list. Unfortunately for him, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was sitting directly in front of him at the time. She said: As a woman from an ethnic minority who succeeded under first past the post, I ask my hon. Friend whether he thinks that the closed-list system proposed tonight would be passed in the House on a free vote. The hon. Member for Swansea, East rather weakly replied: I am not a Whip … and my arithmetic is very bad, so I would not like to answer that question."—[Official Report, 18 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 979–81.] So it goes on. The prize for the most fatuous comment and stance goes, I regret to say, to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan). Attempting to define the Liberal Democrats' position, he said: My party's position remains consistent. Our preferred option is neither a Belgian nor a Finnish model, but one closer to home—the Northern Irish model of the single transferable vote."— [Official Report, 27 October 1998; Vol. 318, c. 183.] The hon. Gentleman spent the whole debate voting for the closed-list system.

The Government are putting power into the hands of the party, not the public. Outside candidates, with no local roots, are being "parachuted in", to use the Home Secretary's phrase. The public are being given no choice. The Bill does away with the public's right to choose a candidate and abolishes by-elections if a candidate resigns or defects.

The Home Secretary justifies all that with a series of arguments that, frankly, convince almost no one but his Front-Bench colleagues; and they probably do not convince even them. He reveals an obsession with candidates being parachuted into constituencies—he was at it again on Monday when he accused Conservative central office of doing it at the general election—but who, may I ask, is the biggest political parachutist of them all? How did he get his seat? He inherited it. He was special adviser to Lady Castle, and when she moved on to Europe, she bequeathed it to him in her living will.

It is becoming a quaint old custom for Labour Ministers to look after their special advisers. Lady Castle gave the Home Secretary her seat. He cannot do the same for his special adviser, Norman Warner, so he puts him in the House of Lords: new Labour, new hereditary principle.

Mr. Straw

I am enjoying the right hon. Gentleman's speech—which makes a change. Leaving aside the fact that, as it happens, I was selected in Blackburn fair and square without Lady Castle being present, he has just accepted that the party, not the people of Blackburn, chose me. There we have it: an admission that a closed list of one operated. What is his argument?

Sir Norman Fowler

The right hon. Gentleman has not in any way dented my case. My admission is that he was parachuted into Blackburn from outside; I believe that he stood at Tonbridge and Mailing in the preceding election.

The Bill is bad by any standards. It is detested both by Conservative Members and, frankly, by many Labour Members. The Government complain about the Lords, but the Lords have challenged only the worst feature of the Bill: the closed-list system. In that, I believe, they are supported by the majority of the public.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not.

The Bill goes to the heart of our constitution: it determines how an important election is to be fought. It is wrong in principle and contrary to what the majority of people in this country want. That is why it should be rejected.

8.9 pm

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

Far from feeling concern that the Labour party has not accepted all aspects of the Bill with open arms, we are comforted by that fact. We are also comforted by the fact that the Home Secretary has changed his position. A simple dogmatic statement of principle at one point in one's life, followed by resistance to any further change, does not contribute much to the body politic.

We welcome the Bill, as we welcomed it during the previous Session, as an important part of the implementation of an agreement that was reached before the election by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) and the Foreign Secretary on a programme of constitutional change. That was a ground-breaking agreement and we have been impressed with the way in which it has worked since to deliver significant benefits for the people of this country, by demonstrating that politicians can work together for the common good rather than simply throw brickbats at each other on every possible occasion.

Fair votes for Europe are vital. The Home Secretary mentioned representation and the fact that we have caused an imbalance throughout Europe. He said that treaties have stated that we should have proportional representation because it is unfair on the European Union if we send an unbalanced delegation to the European Parliament. This Bill offers a chance to reverse the low turn-outs in European elections. Far from decrying the system, we believe that the Opposition parties, in particular the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, have an enormous incentive to get people to vote. In many parts of the country, including the Yorkshire and Humberside area, those votes will count as they have never counted before, so the fair vote issue is important and will bring considerable benefits, as well as meeting those treaty obligations.

We want to be more positive. The Conservative approach has been somewhat schizophrenic. The Conservatives say that the system is appalling and that no one will vote, but they also think that they may pick up a seat or two. There seems to be a conflict between the two objectives.

We have enjoyed the contributions to the debate by the Home Secretary, in particular his lessons on history and geography, which have frequently taken us to Belgium. I fully accept the argument of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) that we could have had a clearer explanation, but nothing brings a smile to the face in these lengthy debates as much as the mention of the word, "d'Hondt". I do not know why, but every time that anyone says that word, little grins and chuckles break out throughout the House. We have also enjoyed watching the Conservative party come, somewhat belatedly and not entirely willingly, to the constitutional agenda. They have got involved with some of the issues and debated them seriously, perhaps for the first time, as many Conservatives have studiously avoided such issues during their internal debates and they rarely brought them to the House when they were in government.

For the Liberal Democrats there are two key issues in choosing a voting system. The first is proportionality: there should be a close relationship between the votes cast and the people elected. The second is voter choice, which has characterised many of the debates. The present Bill clearly takes us a huge way forward as regards proportionality. It is vastly superior to the first-past-the-post system that we have had. We regret the fact that the Bill misses the opportunity to take us further forward with voter choice. We have expressed our preference and, whenever I have spoken, I have been asked our position by hon. Members intervening from both sides of the House. I have been able to say, every time, that our first preference is for a single transferable vote, which would avoid the problems of a single vote in the open system that the Conservatives have chosen. Failing that, we want more open systems.

However, unlike the Conservatives, we can accept that we did not win the last general election and that, having argued our point through the proper democratic procedures in this House and another place, if we then lose the debate or the vote, the Government have a right and a mandate to proceed with their business. It is not our duty to obstruct the Government on an issue on which we have had a fair hearing. We were pleased that the Home Secretary showed he had an open mind about open lists. He gave the argument a hearing, we discussed it and we voted in another place.

Unlike Conservative Members we work with our peers in another place. We are happy to share our decision-making processes, to use similar arguments in both places and to accept the result of the vote in another place. We are also mindful of the fact that we are more likely to win a vote there than here, given the arithmetic that prevails in this House. We were extremely disappointed that when we tabled an amendment on open lists in the other place at the appropriate time, Conservative peers—surprise, surprise—failed to turn out to support it and yet were later converted to the cause.

All the key issues in the Bill were discussed at length in the previous Session. For example, on regional constituencies, we successfully argued the case that a regional team would bring benefits for the structure of the European Union, gaining regional funds and so forth. We discussed the principles of proportional representation and by-elections—all the issues that have been raised again tonight were discussed.

While the Bill is not perfect, we were convinced of our position at the end of that previous process, which is that the system is workable. It is not perfect in every respect and it is not the system that the Liberal Democrats would choose if they were offered a blank sheet of paper, but it is workable and it is a significant improvement on the alternative, which is the present system.

Internal party procedures have been raised in relation to the Bill and selection has been a major issue. Many notable contributions from Labour Back Benchers have concerned that matter and Conservative Members have been happy to draw attention to the fact that unhappiness has been caused by selection in certain cases. There are major issues to be faced as regards the primaries, but they are not sufficient to block the passage of the Bill. One cannot say that a Bill that allows the United Kingdom electorate a fair vote should be blocked simply because one party has more problems with its internal selection processes than the other parties. That is an issue for that party to solve.

Mr. Beith

A number of Conservatives who took part in those vast hustings meetings have told me that they are wondering why the decisions that they took then might now be overturned by a return to the first-past-the-post system and a re-opening of constituency selections within their party, probably on a less democratic basis.

Mr. Allan

An ironic feature of the present situation is that it is fair to say that the candidates and those who have been selected for both the main Opposition parties have been selected by far more people than selected any of us in our single constituency contests. Many thousands of people took part and it was a reasonable test of opinion within those parties.

The Conservatives have trotted out their issue of high principle and, on many occasions, have tried to save us from doing the pragmatic thing. They have suggested that we should continue to stand to one side and bleat in the wilderness about high principle while not achieving any significant goals. We believe that it is better to support a Bill that would achieve some of our objectives than simply to stand by or positively to obstruct something that we want. The Conservatives have been negative throughout. Clearly, they want to fight any fair voting system at every stage of the way. Their position has been explicit. First past the post has favoured them for many years and they see it as their key to success. They want to fight any alternative.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

I should have thought that it was obvious from the lack of numbers on the Conservative Benches that the first-past-the-post system has not been fair to our party. The hon. Gentleman mentioned working together on a cross-party basis. Has he had a chance to read the report published today by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? That all-party Committee states in paragraph 91 of its report: We feel that an open list would be more in keeping with the principle of trusting the people and giving them the maximum choice.

Mr. Allan

I do not disagree and the hon. Lady has moved me to my fourth point, which is the high principle on which the Conservatives have been working. That report probably reflects what happened with the Scottish and Welsh decisions. Conservative peers went to the limit and died in the ditch because closed lists are of such fundamental democratic importance and the principle cannot be breached, but they allowed the Scottish devolution Bill through, although I do not believe that the Labour party manifesto mentioned closed lists in connection with that measure. They also allowed the Welsh devolution system a passage and closed lists were not mentioned then. As the Home Secretary pointed out, they supported the system for Northern Ireland. for which closed lists were put forward.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)


Mr. Allan

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I am sure that I will enjoy his contribution.

The Conservative spokesman in the other place, Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish, seemed to recognise and accept in Committee that closed lists were not an insurmountable constitutional principle that they could not cross. He said that the Conservatives accepted that the Bill would be enacted as it was and that the most important thing was to have a review thereafter. However, amendments tabled in a spirit of compromise and co-operation in this House, were rejected because that acceptance seemed to disappear when the Conservatives felt that they could kill the Bill.

Mr. Swayne

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the debate about closed lists came alive only after the Scotland Bill had gone through? We began, then, to see the Labour party making its selections, and it was that example that brought the issue alive. Has the hon. Gentleman read the report of the Scottish Affairs Committee?

Mr. Allan

I know that the Conservative party can be rather slow on the uptake. The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that the Conservatives had no knowledge of these issues before, and that the light has slowly dawned as we have gone through months of constitutional reform. If that is how the Conservative party works, I suggest that its members do their homework before Bills start rather than waiting until the very end to understand the issues that they have debated.

The opportunism of the—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I must be able to hear the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Allan

The opportunism of the Conservative party has been breathtaking. I have heard it described as casuistry. I am not exactly sure of the definition of that word, but in Sheffield, we call it twisted. The Conservatives' twisting seems to have taken them to breaking point, and the stand that was taken—so nobly, so bravely—in the other place appears to have caused a rupture within the parliamentary party in the Lords. I hope that that signals that the Bill will, after tonight, receive an easy and sensible passage, despite irresponsible statements by Conservative Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, that they would seek to obstruct the will of more than 60 per cent. of the British people who voted for parties that supported a proportional system for the European elections. I hope that the Bill will proceed, and I urge the House to give it a fair wind.

8.21 pm
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

I apologise to the spokesmen on both Front Benches for the fact that I probably shall not be here to listen to their responses, but I shall read them with great interest. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) previously devoted three paragraphs of Hansard to requesting a speech from me. I am not accustomed to being in such demand, so I have hastened to oblige him. In the right hon. Gentleman's speech tonight, I heard more Labour speeches quoted than appear in a typical Millbank press release. We are grateful that he takes such interest in what Labour Back Benchers say. Long may it continue.

Unlike many hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill, I have lived and campaigned in countries that have had both open and closed lists. A point not much discussed is the effect that the open-list system can have on candidates. A candidate in an open-list system must not only assist the party, but ensure that he or she, personally, does better than other candidates on the party's own list. In practice, each candidate is forced to fight an expensive personal campaign in the media to persuade people to vote for him or her rather than the other candidates.

That has produced perverse results across the continent in areas in which the open-list system is practised. In effect, the system introduces the free market to democracy. We all favour openness and freedom, and, as new Labour, we all favour the free market, too. However, I do not think that many people favour a system that introduces a bias towards wealthy candidates who are able to attract support from wealthy backers.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Putative Members of the European Parliament have limits on their election expenses, and those will not change. Wealthy backers cannot fund candidates to fight each other in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Palmer

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point. It is possible to impose limits on both individual spending and party spending, and that is envisaged in the Bill. However, that gives a bonus to well known and wealthy candidates who are able to make themselves known before the election. That system naturally appeals to, say, Lord Archer, or to Conservative Members who have the resources and the contacts to make it possible that their individual campaigns can become known even before the election starts.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

It is absurd to say that only money buys votes. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge the many other ways of becoming well known? One can work hard in one's constituency, deliver leaflets, run campaigns and get into the newspapers. None of that requires vast sums of money.

Dr. Palmer

I agree that those are relevant factors, and few Members of Parliament are unfamiliar with the type of activities that the hon. Gentleman mentions. However, he must agree that money has talked ever louder for political parties in British politics in recent years. With an open-list system, we would extend that so that money would also talk for individual candidates.

It is unsurprising if that idea sounds familiar, as it is a concept that used to apply in British politics. If you were a candidate in the 17th or 18th century, you could hope to succeed only if you were funded or had the ability to make yourself known more widely than poor candidates or people of limited income who had no friends. It may be natural that that system should appeal to hereditary peers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should avoid using the word "you", as that brings the Chair into his argument.

Dr. Palmer

I am grateful for that correction.

It is perhaps natural that a hereditary peer would appreciate such a system on the grounds that what was good enough for his ancestor is good enough for him. However, in Britain today, we seek advancement for individuals according to their talents, and through the activities mentioned by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton). It would be a great shame if we gave an incentive to individual self promotion among candidates.

Political parties initially evolved for two reasons. One was so that people might coalesce around certain ideas and promote them when in Government. The other was that parties enabled individuals to seek and gain office purely through the power of ideas, with the political and financial support of the party. That has enriched British politics to an extent that would have been unimaginable if individual candidates had been forced—as they would be forced under an open-list system—to promote their own cause against the causes of other candidates from the same party.

We should recognise that some peers have genuinely been led to believe that the open-list system is more democratic. The phrase itself appeals to the fairness of individuals.

Mr. Lansley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Palmer

I shall carry on for the moment.

Everyone likes the idea of being open, and everyone likes the idea of choice. However, the Conservative party has grossly misled the majority of peers into rejecting the Bill five times, knowing that the open-list system would give an overwhelming advantage to the type of candidates that the Conservatives seek to promote—those who have the finance and connections to promote themselves. I urge the House to support the Bill.

8.30 pm
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

It is liberating, in a sense, to escape the narrow terms of the amendments that detained us over the past few weeks and return to the principles that are contained within the Bill. I am very much against the basic principle of the Bill. I am not sure why we should be presented with such a Bill. As I said when we debated the Bill in the previous Session, at the risk of repetition, the fact is—[Interruption.] I understand that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) has disappeared from the Chamber and that that is the occasion of some mirth.

The principle that there should be elections to a European parliament is one with which I do not agree. The European Assembly cannot be a parliament because a parliament represents a people and there are no European people—there is no European people. Therefore, there should not be elections to the European Assembly.

We arranged our affairs much more satisfactorily when we nominated Members of this place to the European Assembly. Having moved on from that situation, and having adopted a system of elections, I cannot understand why we now seek to adopt an even less eligible system of election. Constituencies have been replaced by regions that bear no correlation to any understanding that anyone would have in my constituency, for example, of the region in which he lives. There seems to be no logic that our regions should stretch from the Isle of Wight to Milton Keynes. Equally, why should this region be represented by 11 Members of the European Parliament, treading on one another's toes, interfering with one another's responsibilities and creating nothing but confusion?

We move on to the particular form of election that the Government have brought before us, which is based on the closed list. It is instructive to refer to the Scottish experience. Labour Members are right to draw attention to the fact that we have not suddenly found that our electoral system has been polluted by the closed list. They are right to say that under the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1997 elections will take place on a closed list.

It is unfortunate that the debate has been guillotined. Time is a huge factor in bringing reasonableness to bear on these issues. Although Labour Members traipsed through the Lobby on the Scotland Bill, as it then was, in favour of a closed list, we now find what the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs reports on its study into multi-led democracy. Paragraph 91 reads: The regional MSPs are to be elected on a closed list system. We feel that an open list would be much more in keeping with the principle of trusting the people and giving them the maximum choice. The Select Committee then refers to the fact that in Bavaria such a system is used and that up to 30 per cent. of the voters interfere with the party-list precedent and change it.

Nevertheless, the Select Committee, with seven Labour Members, produced such a report. Paragraph 91 was the subject of a Division. Of the seven Labour Members, only two voted against the inclusion of the words to which I have referred, given that they had a preference for a closed list.

As for whether the Bill would have been enacted if there had been a free vote, the arithmetic is clear. We do not need to be experts to discern what would have happened. The Bill would have been thrown out. The passage of the Scotland Bill in Committee is instructive when we consider the voting method that has been chosen in European elections. We must return to our old friend Mr. d'Hondt. It is all very well to be told that the answer to the electoral system is 1.4, because that happens to be the square root of two, but that leads one to wonder what was the question that gave rise to such an answer.

I said to the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office that one of the advantages of our existing electoral arrangements is that, by and large, people understand them. They understand that a cross put in a box, when added to other crosses, can give rise to a result that most people accept and understand. When I said to the Minister that no one would understand the system that was being imposed, he said: "The voters do not have to understand the system so long as the returning officer does." What will that do for voter turnout and confidence in our electoral system? That is the essence of the argument against changing to a proportional voting system. I regard it as a monstrous system.

It all very well for Members to say that the House accepted the proposed form of voting when it discussed, as it then was, the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill. It is true that it takes time for the ramifications and implications for such a voting system to become obvious. It was not until the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill had passed through the House and the Government were under way with their business of selecting candidates that the weaknesses of the system became apparent. As soon as we saw the cronyism and the way in which long-standing members of the Labour party were shabbily treated, it became clear that the proposed voting system would be a gift to arbitrary power. It is a gift to party managers and party machines, and a gift that we seek to remove. This is our second opportunity to do so and I think that we should take it.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)


Mr. Swayne

Well, our second opportunity on a Second Reading.

The Prime Minister's argument again and again was that the Bill is acceptable because all that it does, in effect, is bring us into line with our European partners, most of whom use the closed-list system. It is entirely appropriate that the Prime Minister should draw attention to the fact that our electoral arrangements differ from those that obtain on the continent. However, that is for an historical reason. Elections took place in this country before political parties were formed. We adopted a system of electing candidates rather than parties. It is only recently in our electoral history that we allowed the candidate's party to be printed on the ballot paper.

On the continent, political parties were well established long before there were elections that enabled them to be elected. Once those elections came along the political parties were in a position effectively to take over the electoral process. Hence the tradition that prevails on the continent, much more than it does here, of electing a political party. Before we fall meekly into line and accept that somehow we are anachronistic, we should remember that our electoral system is our most successful export. It should be understood that 50 per cent. of the voters in the world use the British electoral system, as do 60 per cent. of the world's countries. Our system has served us well and we do not need to take lessons from the continent of Europe. I suspect that we would do much better to retain our existing arrangements by rejecting the Bill.

8.38 pm
Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I spoke on Second Reading and in Committee last time the Bill went round this course, so I am entitled to give myself at least a bronze anorak award. We feel that we have heard every debate and every technicality under the sun, although I am sure that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) speaks, he will come up with new and wonderful technicalities. I shall keep to the matter at hand.

I should say mea culpa because, in Committee, I spoke in favour, in principle, of the open-list system. We had an interesting debate, but no Conservative Member spoke in support of that system. I am pleased that Conservative Members are back on message tonight and returning to their true position of supporting first past the post, although, from time to time, they give the illusion of supporting open lists. I am confused about how they are trying to match proportionality and first past the post.

Our debate considered the implications of open list systems. It is fair to say that both the d'Hondt and Sainte-Lague systems have difficulties, but they are certainly preferable to the open-list system proposed by the Conservatives. It is disingenuous of them to try to persuade us that they are in favour of an open-list system that no one else seems to favour but, until tonight, they have spoken fiercely in its favour. There is opportunism in their support for that system not only in this place but in the House of Lords, where, month after month, they have tried to manipulate arguments on a system in which they do not believe in order to change the position of this House. That is undemocratic, unfair and unacceptable.

I speak whole-heartedly in favour of the opportunity that we have to introduce a proportional system for the European elections. Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), I think that the key principle is that, for the first time in a national election, we have established that votes will be counted proportionally. As someone who has long believed in electoral reform, I welcome that development, which is more important than the issue of open or closed list systems. 'That is why I voted for the Government and will do so again. We must pass the Bill now. We have had a long debate that has gone over every possible ground and will come to a conclusion—hopefully, sooner rather than later. We know that we must put the system in place.

I recognise the benefits of a regional list system because we are moving towards regional identities with the setting up of regional development agencies and, as some of us would like, regional chambers. There is no reason why we should not elect European Members on a regional list system. By introducing proportionality, we will ensure fairness and justice, which we all desire.

I am rehearsing arguments that we had a year ago almost to the day. Conservative Members referred to the need for suitable checks and balances in the system. Why not have different electoral systems for different representative bodies? Why should first past the post be all-embracing and omnipotent? Many of us seek alternatives because we have seen the damage that the system can do when there is an arrogant belief—as I called it many months ago—that it is the only system that can elect people. That is evidently not true.

We have heard all the arguments. It is important that we put in place a proportional system. Some hon. Members want there to be an opportunity for a review. We have had something of a hokey-cokey with the Bill. The Conservative party may still want to table an amendment in Committee. I do not necessarily agree with that, but it is a delaying tactic and we need to get on with the Bill. The candidates are important and need to know that the process for which they have been selected will take place, but returning officers, who have already been mentioned, and the electorate will have to come to terms with the system. That is not unimportant. There is a belief that the way to increase turnout is through fair votes and proportionality. That belief has to be tested, but that can be done only if people know under which system it is to be tested, so the sooner we get on with it, the better.

We have had all the arguments and constitutional conflict; we now need to move on. The Conservative party has used the issue to delay and to wreck, but their efforts have cost them dear in many respects. We know what we are moving toward and we can see the merits of a closed-list system, which were set out in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The sooner we can go out and persuade people of our case, the better.

8.45 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, because I have had the pleasure of speaking in all the European debates of the past 25 years and, by and large, warning the House that disaster lay ahead. I find it difficult to do that tonight, because, to be quite honest, I do not understand why on earth the Government are bothering with this legislation.

Implementing the legislation will cost us a lot of money: the Bill reveals that it will cost £4 million to explain to people how the system works. I am the Member of Parliament for Rochford as well as for Southend, East. I am not making a political point, but every one of the councillors in the lovely old borough of Rochford, which was in the Domesday book, is a Labour councillor. They were told today that their spending increase over the next 12 months has to be 1.1 per cent., which is less than the rate of inflation. That will mean that they will have to cut services. How the blazes am I to explain to them that we are going to pass a silly Bill and spend £4 million on a totally pointless exercise?

We must ask ourselves: does the European Parliament matter at all? If we are to be honest, we must all admit that, if the European Parliament were to close its doors tomorrow, nobody apart from the taxi drivers of Strasbourg would notice. We keep giving the European Parliament pretend powers, trying to create the impression that it has power, but in fact there is no power and no authority in that place, because the whole underlying principle of the European Community is not democratic and there is no way that it can change, even though people continue to believe that it can change. All the power is concentrated in the Court and the Commission and in horse trading in the Council of Ministers, so we can only give the European Parliament pretend powers. If we were being honest, we would ask whether it really matters what system we use to elect Members of the European Parliament, when that Parliament is basically irrelevant.

My second question is for my hon. Friends. Although I appreciate that some of them feel passionately about the issue of closed or open lists, they must ask themselves what the blazes people are meant to do when they go along to vote. If in an area called the eastern region there are 11 candidates for each party, how on earth am I, the average voter, expected to know who those candidates are and what their opinions are?

There is a passionate minority in Britain—a few people, probably 5 per cent. of the population on either side—who are either strongly for or strongly against the European Economic Community, and such people will make it their business to discover candidates' views, so as to have the opportunity to express their opinions. However, the vast majority of people in Britain have gone to sleep on the European issue; they do not want to know anything about it. In addition, the political parties do not want to discuss the issue, because it can cause strong disagreements.

The only real principle at stake is that of answerability. It is important that we should preserve that, but we must ask whether European matters are the area in which we most want to preserve it. How can a Member of the European Parliament be answerable? If he cannot do anything and people do not know who he is, it is difficult to keep up the pretence of democracy here.

I am genuinely curious as to why the Government are bothering. The Government have advanced only two specific arguments, one of which is that other European countries do it. That should make us suspicious, because we can then see the European principle of regional government being imposed on Britain—on England—even though people do not want it. Huge offices are being built in Cambridge, which is in my local region, and large organisations invite me to lunches, dinners and seminars and send me lots of coloured paper, but I am left wondering what it is all about. Unfortunately, what we find is that regional government is being promoted by the EU, even though the people of England do not want it. I wonder whether the whole business of regional assemblies, regional government and regional papers is all to do with something being pushed by the EEC.

The second argument advanced by the Government is that, if we adopt the new system, more Conservatives will be returned to the European Parliament. Is that the principle for which one should support the Bill? I should like to think that we were doing something more significant, not simply expressing a view on that silly matter.

When I came to the House of Commons, the principle of democracy was important to me. When I arrived here many years ago—certainly before many of the hon. Members present were born—I remember that my parents were very proud. They felt that I was joining a worthwhile institution, one that was uplifting and to which Churchill had belonged.

My second son is cleverer than I am, and earns more money than I do because he works for a merchant bank. Last year he was asked, along with everyone else who works at the bank, what his parents did. It upset me when he said, "I did not mind saying that my dad was Teddy Taylor, because people know that you have some unusual views, but I did not like to say that you are a Member of Parliament." That gives us some idea how substantially the standing of this place has gone down.

We should recognise that, over the past 25 years, we have been destroying our democracy. We have taken power away from the people. I hope that hon. Members will think seriously about how we have been abolishing democracy and making people's views almost totally irrelevant. When democracy has been abolished in other parts of the world, the same things always happen: the power goes to individuals who are outwith control, and they always want to help their friends, not necessarily because they are corrupt, but because they are simply not answerable.

It upsets me that the Bill will make Members of the useless European Parliament, which is of no relevance to the people, a tiny 1 per cent. less answerable to the people, even though there is not much for which MEPs can be responsible. I hope that the Government will answer the important question why they are bothering with the Bill. Who has complained about the present system? Who has said that it does not work?

We have had a by-election in Scotland in which only 20 per cent. of the people bothered to vote. They felt that it was irrelevant. The vast majority of the people in Britain think that the European Parliament is irrelevant.

It would be helpful if the Government told us why they are bothering to introduce the Bill. Has there been pressure from the EU to adopt the same kind of electoral system throughout the EU? I have watched all the changes being introduced, step by step, over the past 25 years. Ministers say that changes are taking place not because they are being forced to implement them, but because they want to do so. Later, we find that they have been pressurised to do so.

What has happened to democracy is sad. We are being asked to agree tonight to £4 million being spent wholly unnecessarily to achieve nothing in respect of an assembly that has no power, no real responsibility and no answerability. It is a sad night for Parliament. I hope that the Government will tell us the truth or let us throw out this silly, irrelevant measure.

8.53 pm
Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I look forward to the enactment of the Bill, which I believe will enfranchise millions of voters in this country who, until now, have never had a chance for their vote to make a difference in an election. There are millions of Labour voters in the south—indeed, in the constituency of the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), for one—and millions of Conservative voters in Scotland who at present are excluded by the electoral system from any feeling that their vote matters in elections.

The proposed electoral system will, for the first time in this country—I exclude Scotland and Wales—create a situation where people's votes will count. As well as enfranchising millions of voters, it may well energise our democracy.

In the last European election we had, along with the Netherlands, the lowest turnout of any of the 15 countries in the European Parliament. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) may think that that is a good thing, but low turnout is a problem that is peculiarly strong in this country. The voting system has clearly been a major factor in that. The change to a new voting system, together with the right public information campaign—I do not think that spending £4 million on public information before the election will be money wasted—will energise many people to take part in the election, whereas they would not have taken part in previous elections.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

When he opened the debate, the Home Secretary was asked about a national list. He had to agree that a national list would be even more inclusive, in that it would allow people who wished to vote for extremist parties to do so. It would enable people to vote for small minorities, in order to secure representation. That, is it not, is the logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's argument—if he really believes that this opens up the possibility of representation of a kind that constitutes the key issue in this context.

Mr. Linton

I would have thought that the point of regional representation was self-evident. Its aim is to give MEPs the possibility of being representative on at least some human scale.

The point made by the hon. Gentleman about a national list is quite different. As he knows, the introduction of a national list would reduce the pressure to introduce much smaller parties in the European Parliament. It is no part of my understanding of democracy that greater democracy can be achieved by our allowing parties with support amounting to 1, 2 or 3 per cent. to be represented. That simply confuses the issue. The point of a regional system is that it will create a threshold against small parties.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West grappled with the names of devisers, which he has apparently mastered. The point of the difference between the systems is this: the system proposed by the Bill will create a situation in which—in the south-east, for example—any candidate winning less than 10 per cent. could not be elected. Under the other system, the same arrangement would obtain, but the qualifying percentage would be 5 per cent. That is the crucial difference between the devisers.

I should have thought that, if Labour Members believe in a system that does not involve encouragement of the proliferation of small parties, they should—in this regard, at least—applaud the proposals in the Bill.

I have followed the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully, but the breakthrough point is different in different regions. It is 10 per cent. or 11 per cent. in the south-east, but it is 33 per cent. in Wales. Should we not have equally sized regions? The political system is being skewed by the existence of large and very small regions.

Mr. Linton

That is probably true. I used the south-east as an example, because, with 10 members in a 10-member region, it will normally take 10 per cent. to be elected if the other deviser had been used, it would, effectively, have halved the threshold.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) accused the Home Secretary of employing tedious arguments. I would say that the whole of this debate has become tiresome. In the House of Commons alone, we have discussed it for 36 hours. I hoped that Conservative Members would at least have returned to the new Session—having thought about the system that they supported in the last Parliament—with a workable system. However, we are back with the same unworkable system.

The Home Secretary pointed out that, under this system, a candidate could be elected with 300,000 votes, whereas a candidate from another party winning 500,000 votes might not be elected. That strikes me as enough of a problem with any electoral system, but there is an even worse problem in this system: someone could be elected, appearing as No. 2 on the list, with no votes at all. The system that is being advocated, and was advocated in the last Parliament, means that most voters would naturally take the top name in the box, and all the votes would be counted for all the people in the box—even candidates who received no personal votes and no indication of support from the electorate. Even those people could find themselves elected. No wonder the system is only used in Finland and Luxembourg, and has not recommended itself to any of the other countries of the European Union.

Mr. Randall

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why that system is so apt for Finland? If it is unfair, why are the Finns using it? He is very unfair to them.

Mr. Linton

The onus is on the hon. Gentleman to explain why he advocates the Finnish system. I can only point to the great difficulties of such a system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) talked about the experience of Switzerland, a non-European Union country which also has an open list system with voting not for parties, but only for candidates. That system has created competition between candidates and the anomalous position whereby candidates receiving no votes nevertheless get elected.

I struggled for a long time to understand the mystery of why the Opposition ignored open lists, month after month. They abstained on them in Committee and never mentioned them in debates. Suddenly, towards the end of the process, they became obsessed with open lists.

Mr. Clappison

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he has given me the opportunity to put right what he and several of his hon. Friends have said. As the hon. Gentleman heard my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) say, and as I can confirm from my own experience, we raised the question of open lists in the debate on Second Reading a year ago. We have raised it at every opportunity since, and we have opposed what the Government are doing because we want voters to have a choice. The hon. Gentleman, too, has said in the past that he wants them to have a choice.

Mr. Linton

I have spoken in favour of the Belgian system, which is semi-open, but, as I recall, there has been no Opposition support for that system at any stage. Only in the later stages did they discover the apparent benefits of the Finnish system.

I have found the reason why the Opposition changed their opinion during the debate. It is nothing to do with the arguments made in the Chamber or in the other place, but it is to do with events within their own party. Towards the end of the debate, they had already selected their candidates for the European Parliament so they had obviated one of the obvious difficulties that they would have faced had they had an open list system and a lot of pro-European candidates.

I quote from the Financial Times, which states that, rather than having a 'broad church of views on Europe' … candidates were put forward only if they vowed 'not to rock the boat on our single currency policy'". In other words, far from giving the voters a democratic choice of Conservative candidates—which they appeared to do, and which is the principle on which they support such a system—the Opposition carefully weeded out any candidates who would present the electorate with any choice whatever.

An article in The Daily Telegraph carries a statement by two Conservative Members of the European Parliament who had hoped to stand in the Conservative cause in the European elections next year, but were deselected by the Conservative party. They say: 'It is untrue and unacceptable to claim that the Conservative candidates for next year's election represent 'all opinions on Europe'. In reality, only two categories of Conservative are represented: those who say they agree with William Hague on a single currency and those who say he has not gone far enough in his opposition to it. Those who made clear their disagreement with Mr. Hague's opposition to British membership for up to nine years were rejected or, in our specific cases, deselected.' Having got rid of any dissenting voices, the Opposition presented to the electorate an apparent choice of candidates, but that choice is of only Euro-sceptic or Europhobic candidates.

Mr. Loughton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he quoted two MEPs who were not reselected. One might expect them to say that, but the vast majority of MEPs were reselected. Is it so strange to him that, if that policy was demanded of candidates, it was demanded by all members of the Conservative party who were entitled to vote? It may surprise him that there was unity of purpose on the European policy of the Conservative party in those selections—decided not by the party leadership, but by every individual member acting as one.

Mr. Linton

Of course, but the result was convenient. Only after the result of their hustings—when they realized that they had a complete Euro-sceptic ticket—were the Opposition prepared to offer the electorate choice among their candidates. [Interruption.] If, perchance, the Opposition were successful in pressing their amendments and they were lumbered at the last moment with their Finnish-Luxembourg open system for selecting candidates, it would cause anarchy in the Conservative party. The party would have to reselect candidates at short notice, and that would open up the splits that it has done so much to conceal.

We are discussing the Bill because of the opposition of Conservative hereditary peers in the House of Lords. It is well within our rights to question their right to tell us how to run a democratic election, and to challenge their credentials for pontificating on, of all things, electoral systems. If there is one area that they cannot claim to have expertise in, it is elections.

I shall mention some of the Conservative hereditary peers who voted in the House of Lords to ensure that the Bill fell in the last Session and has had to be re-introduced and discussed again tonight. Why is the Marquess of Ailsa a Member of the House of Lords? Because, in 1831, one of his ancestors married William IV's illegitimate daughter. Why can Viscount Cranborne, the late lamented leader of the Conservatives in the House of Lords, vote on our electoral system? Because one of his ancestors was Elizabeth I's adviser, whom she affectionately referred to as her pygmy—he was surely the original Blackadder. I refer of course to Robert Cecil, the founder of that aristocratic house.

Why is the Earl of Romney a Member of the House of Lords, and why did he have the power to reject this Bill? Because one of his ancestors, Sir Robert Marsham, paid £5,000 for his barony in 1716. Why did Lord Ampthill, a Cross-Bencher, have the right to vote against the Bill and to send it back to the House of Commons? Because he is a descendant of a Victorian diplomat, Lord Odo Russell, who was a member of the family who happened to own Bloomsbury.

Why was Lord Palmer, another Cross-Bencher, able to vote on the Bill, and why was he able to determine our electoral system? His name gives us half the answer. Lord Palmer was one of the great biscuit tycoons of the Victorian era—he was half of Huntley and Palmers. Far more relevant to his ennoblement was the fact that he was a large-scale contributor to the Conservative party.

I come lastly to Lord Sudeley, another Cross-Bencher, who cast his vote against the Bill in the Lords and is one of the causes of our having to discuss it tonight. His family made a fortune in the slave trade in the West Indies. In a recent interview in one of the weekend supplements, he justified his family fortune by saying, "We used to be better orff with slavery." We would be better off getting on with Third Reading.

9.9 pm

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I followed the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) in a debate a few weeks ago. He was confusing and confused then, and he is no better now. This time he spoke even more claptrap. I shall be extremely brief, because a number of colleagues want to speak.

In the past, it was a characteristic of dictatorships that when a messenger came with an unpopular message, the dictator executed the messenger.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

Is that what happened to Lord Cranborne?

Mr. Sayeed

No, Lord Cranborne is still going strong.

With this Government we have an elected dictatorship. For them, the merits of the argument count for nothing. The only thing that matters is the size of their House of Commons majority.

We have a Prime Minister who, either through fear of Parliament or contempt for it, does not bother to vote in this place, rarely bothers to attend and relies on obsequious Back Benchers to push his sometimes cockamamie legislation through. Rather than test on the anvil of parliamentary debate the measures that he wishes to put forward, he prefers to use taxpayers' money to pay for spin doctors, who manipulate a sometimes acquiescent media.

Because the Prime Minister does not like the message that the Lords have been sending him, knows that they may do exactly what they did to a Conservative Government—reject certain Bills that the Government put forward—and does not like the Lords, or even the threat of the Lords disagreeing with him, he has decided to execute the political messenger. As he cannot do it fast enough, he has been denigrating the Lords with ridicule, and the Home Secretary has been his assiduous servant.

What have the peers been saying? They have been saying something very simple: local people have the right to determine who their candidate is. They have not been opposing the Bill. They have kept strictly to the Salisbury convention. They have been supporting the Bill, but asking the Commons to remember that this is a democracy; that is all that they have been doing.

I hope that, when the Bill goes back to the Lords, they will continue to support democracy and stand firm because what has happened in this place is a denial of democracy—true democracy. Even though the majority in this place dislike the way in which the Labour party operates closed lists, the majority have voted for them. That is a denial of democracy.

If the Government had had the humility to accept that the way in which the Labour party operates closed lists is a disgrace and abhorrent to any democrat, and had operated the list system, even a closed-list system, in the way our party or the Liberal Democrats operate it, with local people deciding who the candidates are and the ranking of the candidates, the Lords would probably have let the Bill through. It is because the Government have not done that that they have brought on themselves their own difficulties.

I would have hoped that the House would oppose the guillotine motion, which was disgraceful. I hope that it will oppose Second Reading, but I do not expect it to do so. I hope that the Lords will stand firm because they will certainly need to do so.

9.13 pm
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), who, at earlier stages of our debates, has made similar distinguished contributions and taken a principled stand on the Bill.

What has depressed me in this debate is that, from the Home Secretary and other Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton), we have not heard any recognition of some of the new arguments that have been advanced in relation to the Bill. In particular, I was depressed and saddened that the Home Secretary, who in his speech on the guillotine motion suggested that he had answered every question, conspicuously failed to pick up on both questions that have been asked in previous debates and issues that have been brought forward in relation to this Second Reading.

Time is short, so I want to refer just to two points—well, perhaps three, if you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is important that they be debated. I fear that they not going to have sufficient debate, but I want to raise them, so that the Minister can at least give some sort of reply.

The first concerns an argument that has been made time and again and was propagated by the hon. Member for Battersea. The Home Secretary and others have suggested that open lists are unacceptable because if voters can express a preference between individual candidates, it is statistically possible that a candidate of party A could be elected even though he secures fewer votes than the candidate of party B. The Home Secretary signally failed to accept that that occurs for two reasons.

First, the system gives proportionality to parties. The Home Secretary asserts—and, fundamentally, it has not been denied—that people primarily, but not exclusively, vote for parties. Some people choose to vote for candidates rather than parties, though they are probably in the minority. It is purely because of the insertion of proportionality into the system that someone in party A with fewer votes than the candidate of party B might get elected.

Secondly, under the Government's closed-list system, it is possible—indeed, likely—that candidates will be elected for parties when they would be shown to be much less preferred than the candidates of other parties if voters were able to express a preference. The point is that we will never know. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) talked about his candidate preferences, but we will never know what differences may exist among voters in respect of their preference for particular candidates.

Mr. Linton

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that in his Finnish system, it would be possible for a Conservative candidate who attracted no votes on a ballot paper to be elected?

Mr. Lansley

Of course that is possible, but it would only happen if a party's No. 1 candidate was a particularly well known national figure who is likely to attract the largest number of votes. My noble Friend Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish instanced some such examples on closed or semi-open lists. By virtue of winning such a proportion, a candidate can bring through a tail of much less well known candidates who have had a negligible or even, statistically, a nil return. That is a direct product of proportionality.

Even, however, if we accept the principle enunciated by the Home Secretary—that party is the principal reason why people vote—that does not preclude the possibility that significant numbers of people may wish to express a preference—or wish to have the chance to—between candidates from one party. The hon. Member for Battersea would admit that, even in his party, the homogeneity imposed by the panels in Millbank tower has not yet reached the point where supporters of the Labour party are completely incapable of distinguishing between Labour candidates. Even to this day, they are capable in certain circumstances of distinguishing between them.

That would particularly be so where, as in the west midlands, at the top of the list imposed by Labour's selection system sits someone who is self-evidently not familiar with the west midlands and whose fame derives from work in the acting profession. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) apologised for having to leave, so we will forgive him for not being here; but if he were, we could chide him for seeming to argue that a candidate's notoriety would be a reason for a party not to put him at the top of the list. When it came to it, his party went down precisely that route and sought a famous candidate.

That points to one of the besetting sins of closed lists: the examination of candidates down to the second, third, fourth or fifth place on a list is irrelevant. All parties seek to do is to signal party allegiance and, perhaps, in respect of the No. 1 person on a list, seek someone to present it in the best available light. That is an abuse.

Conservative Members have instanced cases in continental systems in which people have been placed first on the list simply to attract the party vote, but who subsequently resign and hand over their office to someone else.

Mr. Linton

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the case of the proposed Labour list in the west midlands, no one will be asked to vote for a well known soap opera star just so that other candidates will be elected on his coat tails? People will be voting for a party, and that candidate will be elected according to his order on the party list. The position would be quite the reverse under the scheme—the Finnish system—that the hon. Gentleman is proposing, as the person in the first position on the Conservative list—be it Lulu, Lord Archer or someone else—would carry on their coat tails people for whom no voter had expressed any preference, simply because he or she was sufficiently famous and attractive in their own right to win votes in sufficient numbers.

Mr. Lansley

The hon. Gentleman is right about that. However, he is highlighting a distinction between closed and open lists that supports Opposition Members', not Ministers', argument. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear in previous speeches that he is in favour of open lists—at least the Belgian list system, which would offer some of the benefits of using the attraction of specific candidates, whether they occupy the first, second or third position. That leads to the question of why the Government are proposing to use a closed-list system in which the only preference that voters can express is between parties, whereas they are including on ballot papers parties' candidate lists. What is the point of doing that?

The point is that, in the west midlands, for example, the Labour party believes—erroneously—that it will be able to use the name of a well known soap opera actor, thereby augmenting its vote.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

Before my hon. Friend moves on, there is a point that requires amplification. Is not the practical effect of the closed-list system the outcome that parties would tend to transport into the European Parliament—or any other body, if the system were to be extended—people of whom they hold a high opinion, and who would not want the inconvenience of having to serve an electorate in any meaningful or real way?

Is not the truth that that would be a step back to the time before the passage of the 19th century reform Acts, when places in Parliament were in the gift of notables, whose favourites were elevated to Parliament without having to do any of the hard graft? Is that not the real issue? The issue is not, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) suggested, about an opportunity for famous people to drag others with them. It is about an opportunity for famous people—in the sense that they are famous in their own party—to be given the opportunity without the hard graft of properly standing for election and making themselves accountable to the electorate.

Mr. Lansley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Liberal Democrats have been trying to argue that we should distance the way in which the Labour party has selected its candidates from our debates on a closed list, as if they were separate and unrelated issues. However, the way the Labour party has selected its candidates is the precise issue. A closed list has enabled the Labour party to select candidates as it has, in what it believed to be the secure expectation of contesting the European parliamentary elections with candidates in the order decided by the party apparatus, rather than requiring it to insert Labour party members' preferences into the system.

On ballot papers, although there will be an opportunity for voters to express a party preference, the Bill will not allow voters to express a preference between a party's candidates. Moreover, voters would not be able, if they were so minded, to express a preference on an issue, thereby elevating it above party. The bishops in another place, for example, were rightly very exercised by the desire of some voters to use the vote that they cast by reference to issues of conscience. Some voters put issues of conscience above party when electing representatives. Under the Bill, that will not be possible.

Since our most recent debate on the Bill, the Home Secretary—whom I am pleased to see return to his place—has asserted, on 26 November, that it was compatible with the European convention on human rights, which we have also debated. This is the first time the House has debated a Bill on Second Reading in the light of the requirement that Ministers should say whether it is compatible with the convention.

Article 3 of the first protocol of the convention says: The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature. The Home Secretary made his statement on the compatibility of the Bill with the convention not by answering a question in the House or in the Votes and Proceedings of the House; presumably he simply signed a piece of paper in the Home Office to that effect.

The Home Secretary has not explained why the Bill is compatible, even though I raised the issue during the debate on the guillotine motion. The aim of the convention is for voters to be able to express their opinion freely. That opinion is not expressed exclusively between parties. The bishops in another place made it clear—as have we, time after time—that the expression of opinion by voters between—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman and several of his colleagues have raised issues during the debate and addressed questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or to me. It appears that they do not intend to allow us time to respond. Is it in order for him to carry on in such a way that we shall not have an opportunity to respond?

Mr. Clappison

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of the Minister's request for further time, given that the Government have underestimated the time required for the debate, is there any way in which the Government can be assisted to reverse their guillotine motion and give us time to debate the Bill properly?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Although the debate is time limited, the length of time that a Member speaks is not. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has the Floor.

Mr. Lansley

I might have been able to make more progress if the Minister had not interrupted me on a point of order. Labour Members, including the Home Secretary, have said that there is nothing new to be said about the Bill, but lo and behold there is something new and they do not want to hear it. The Home Secretary knew that compatibility with the European convention was an issue, but he failed to address it, just as he failed to say whether he believed—regardless of whether it is in the legislation—that there should be a review of closed lists. It will fall to be debated in another place, as has happened too many times on the Bill, where Ministers will have to answer questions that have been raised here and should have been debated here—but for the fact that the Government have prevented us from doing so.

Mr. Loughton

Many new points have been raised during the debate. Is my hon. Friend aware that only last week 17 angry churchmen, including archbishops, bishops and the chairman of the conference of Methodist Churches, expressed their great anger to the Prime Minister that conscience was being squeezed out by the Bill? No one will be able to vote for a candidate on a matter of conscience.

Mr. Lansley

My hon. Friend illustrates the point with force. The European convention gives voters the right to choose the members of their legislature. As the bishops rightly say, some voters may want to express their free choice on a matter of conscience. Moreover, some people distinguish between candidates of the same party on ideological grounds, but that will not be possible under the closed list system.

Mr. Beith

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the first-past-the-post system, which he favours and to which we would return if the Bill fails, is open to challenge in the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that it does not allow the voters a choice between candidates of the same party?

Mr. Lansley

I am not saying that, as the right hon. Gentleman and the Home Secretary know. Saying that first past the post is a closed list of one is a red herring, as that system is devised to secure a different objective—a relationship between an elected representative and a defined geographical area. As the Home Secretary made clear, regional electoral areas are being created only for proportionality. Regions could offer voters the opportunity to choose between candidates, but the Bill will deny them that opportunity.

What will happen if, before the European elections, people go to a court to seek a declaration of incompatibility between the European convention and the legislation on the grounds that their right to choose a particular candidate as a matter of conscience will be frustrated? The Home Secretary has chosen not to recognise the consequences of the Human Rights Act 1998, but he should tell us—not through the medium of his Minister of State in another place—whether he intends to make secondary legislation using the Henry VIII powers in the Human Rights Act to change the voting system at the last minute if it is found that there is incompatibility.

I am surprised that no Labour Member has been sufficiently acute to have asked whether any of the five European countries that use closed lists have discovered that the system is incompatible with the European convention on human rights. In fact, no country has done that yet, but only because the matter has not been brought to court. As a consequence of the timetable, we are debating an issue—

It being four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to the Order [this day].

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 315, Noes 123.

Division No. 6] [9.33 pm
Ainger, Nick Banks, Tony
Alexander, Douglas Barron, Kevin
Allan, Richard Battle, John
Allen, Graham Bayley, Hugh
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Beard, Nigel
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Begg, Miss Anne
Ashton, Joe Beith, Rt Hon A J
Atkins, Charlotte Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Austin, John Berry, Roger
Baker, Norman Best, Harold
Ballard, Jackie Blackman, Liz
Blizzard, Bob Follett, Barbara
Borrow, David Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Bradshaw, Ben Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Brake, Tom Galloway, George
Brand, Dr Peter Gapes, Mike
Brinton, Mrs Helen Gardiner, Barry
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) George, Andrew (St Ives)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Browne, Desmond Gerrard, Neil
Burden, Richard Gibson, Dr Ian
Burgon, Colin Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Burstow, Paul Godman, Dr Norman A
Caborn, Richard Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Goggins, Paul
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Golding, Mrs Llin
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gorrie, Donald
Caplin, Ivor Graham, Thomas
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Caton, Martin Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cawsey, Ian Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Grocott, Bruce
Chaytor, David Grogan, John
Chisholm, Malcolm Gunnell, John
Church, Ms Judith Hain, Peter
Clapham, Michael Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clark, Dr Lynda Hanson, David
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Harris, Dr Evan
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Healey, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clelland, David Hepburn, Stephen
Coffey, Ms Ann Heppell, John
Cohen, Harry Hesford, Stephen
Coleman, Iain Hill, Keith
Colman, Tony Hinchliffe, David
Connarty, Michael Hodge, Ms Margaret
Corbett, Robin Home Robertson, John
Corston, Ms Jean Hoon, Geoffrey
Cotter, Brian Hope, Phil
Cousins, Jim Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Crausby, David Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cummings, John Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Dafis, Cynog Humble, Mrs Joan
Dalyell, Tam Hurst, Alan
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Hutton, John
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Iddon, Dr Brian
Davidson, Ian Illsley, Eric
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Dawson, Hilton Jamieson, David
Denham, John Jenkins, Brian
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dismore, Andrew Johnson, Miss Melanie
Dobbin, Jim (Welwyn Hatfield)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Doran, Frank Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dowd, Jim Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Drew, David Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Drown, Ms Julia Jones, Ms Jenny
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) (Wolverh'ton SW)
Eagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Efford, Clive Jowell, Ms Tessa
Ennis, Jeff Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Keeble, Ms Sally
Fatchett, Derek Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Fearn, Ronnie Kemp, Fraser
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Fisher, Mark Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Fitzsimons, Lorna Kidney, David
Flint, Caroline Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rammell, Bill
Kingham, Ms Tess Raynsford, Nick
Kirkwood, Archy Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rendel, David
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Roche, Mrs Barbara
Laxton, Bob Rooker, Jeff
Lepper, David Rooney, Terry
Leslie, Christopher Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Roy, Frank
Linton, Martin Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Livsey, Richard Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Llwyd, Elfyn Ryan, Ms Joan
Love, Andrew Savidge, Malcolm
McAvoy, Thomas Sawford, Phil
McCabe, Steve Sedgemore, Brian
McCafferty, Ms Chris Shaw, Jonathan
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Sheerman, Barry
McDonagh, Siobhain Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Macdonald, Calum Short, Rt Hon Clare
McFall, John Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McIsaac, Shona Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
McNulty, Tony Snape, Peter
McWalter, Tony Soley, Clive
McWilliam, John Southworth, Ms Helen
Mahon, Mrs Alice Squire, Ms Rachel
Mallaber, Judy Steinberg, Gerry
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stinchcombe, Paul
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Stoate, Dr Howard
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Martlew, Eric Stunell, Andrew
Maxton, John Sutcliffe, Gerry
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Swinney, John
Michael, Alun Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Milburn, Alan (Dewsbury)
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Moran, Ms Margaret Temple-Morris, Peter
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Morley, Elliot Tipping, Paddy
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Todd, Mark
Mullin, Chris Tonge, Dr Jenny
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Touhig, Don
Norris, Dan Trickett, Jon
Oaten, Mark Truswell, Paul
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
O'Hara, Eddie Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
O'Neill, Martin Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Organ, Mrs Diana Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Walley, Ms Joan
Palmer, Dr Nick Ward, Ms Claire
Pearson, Ian Wareing, Robert N
Pendry, Tom Watts, David
Perham, Ms Linda Webb, Steve
Pickthall, Colin White, Brian
Pike, Peter L Wicks, Malcolm
Plaskitt, James Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Pollard, Kerry Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Pond, Chris Willis, Phil
Pope, Greg Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Pound, Stephen Woolas, Phil
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Worthington, Tony
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Primarolo, Dawn Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Prosser, Gwyn Wyatt, Derek
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms Joyce Tellers for the Ayes:
Quinn, Lawrie Mr. Clive Betts and Mr. Robert Ainsworth.
Radice, Giles
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Leigh, Edward
Amess, David Letwin, Oliver
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Lidington, David
Baldry, Tony Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Beggs, Roy Loughton, Tim
Bercow, John Luff, Peter
Beresford, Sir Paul Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Blunt, Crispin MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Boswell, Tim MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Brady, Graham Maclean, Rt Hon David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter McLoughlin, Patrick
Browning, Mrs Angela Madel, Sir David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Malins, Humfrey
Burns, Simon Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Butterfill, John May, Mrs Theresa
Chope, Christopher Moss, Malcolm
Clappison, James Nicholls, Patrick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Norman, Archie
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth Ottaway, Richard
(Rushcliffe) Page, Richard
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Paice, James
Collins, Tim Paterson, Owen
Cormack, Sir Patrick Pickles, Eric
Cran, James Prior, David
Curry, Rt Hon David Randall, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Donaldson, Jeffrey Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Ruffley, David
Duncan, Alan St Aubyn, Nick
Duncan Smith, Iain Sayeed, Jonathan
Evans, Nigel Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Faber, David Shepherd, Richard
Fallon, Michael Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Spicer, Sir Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Spring, Richard
Fox, Dr Liam Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fraser, Christopher Streeter, Gary
Gale, Roger Swayne, Desmond
Garnier, Edward Syms, Robert
Gibb, Nick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Gray, James Taylor, Sir Teddy
Green, Damian Tredinnick, David
Greenway, John Trend, Michael
Grieve, Dominic Tyrie, Andrew
Gummer, Rt Hon John Viggers, Peter
Hammond, Philip Walter, Robert
Hawkins, Nick Wardle, Charles
Hayes, John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Heald, Oliver Whittingdale, John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Wilkinson, John
Hogg, Fit Hon Douglas Willetts, David
Horam, John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Hunter, Andrew Woodward, Shaun
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Yeo, Tim
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Tellers for the Noes:
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Mr. Nigel Waterson and Mr. Stephen Day.
Lansley, Andrew

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House, pursuant to the Order [this day].

Further proceedings on the Bill stood postponed, pursuant to the Order [this day].