HC Deb 12 May 1998 vol 312 cc226-30
Mr. McLeish

I beg to move amendment No. 26, in page 3, line 12, at end insert— '( ) A registered political party's regional list has effect in relation to the general election and any vacancy occurring among the regional members after that election and before the next general election'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendment No. 27.

No. 10, in page 3, leave out lines 33 to 35.

No. 109, in clause 5, page 3, line 37, at end insert— '[1A] A registered party's regional list must be displayed in a prominent position at each polling place for inspection by any voter.'. No. 3, in page 3, line 39, after 'may', insert '(subject to subsection (4) below)'. No. 11, in page 3, line 40, leave out 'a "regional', and insert 'an "additional member'.

No. 12, in page 3, line 40, leave out from 'vote' to end of line 42.

No. 66, in page 3, line 41, after '(a)', insert 'a candidate who is a member of'. No. 13, in page 4, leave out lines 1 to 3.

No. 4, in page 4, line 3, at end insert— '(4) Where an elector gives his vote under section 1(2) for a candidate representing a registered political party, he shall be deemed to have given his additional member vote under this section for the same registered political party and that vote shall be counted accordingly.'. No. 14, in clause 6, page 4, line 9, leave out 'regional'.

No. 15, in page 4, line 9, leave out second 'the', and insert 'constituency candidates of that'.

No. 67, in clause 7, page 4, line 28, leave out from 'order' to 'except' in line 29 and insert 'of the number of votes cast for the candidates, with the candidate with the highest number of votes being elected first and so on'. Government amendment No. 28.

No. 17, in clause 8, page 5, line 4, leave out from second 'the' to 'within' in line 5, and insert 'vacancy occurs'.

Government amendments Nos. 29 and 30.

No. 68, in clause 9, page 5, line 26, leave out from 'them' to end of line 27 and insert 'received the greater number of votes.'. No. 16, in page 5, leave out lines 32 and 33 and insert— '(7) A vacancy in the seat of a regional member shall not be filled if it occurs within the period of three months ending with the day on which the poll at the next general election would be held, disregarding section 2(5).'. No. 71, in clause 10, page 5, line 42, at end insert— '(1A) For the purposes of an election for membership of the Parliament section 1(c) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 shall have effect with "16" substituted for "18".'. No. 18, in page 5, line 44, after 'constituency', insert 'or regional'.

No. 19, in page 5, line 44, leave out from 'member' to the end of line 1 on page 6.

Government amendments Nos. 31 to 34.

No. 69, in schedule 5, page 62, line 11, leave out 'except the franchise'.

No. 70, in page 62, line 11, at end insert— 'Section 1(c) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (the minimum voting age for elections to the Parliament)'.

Mr. McLeish

In view of the number of amendments that other right hon. and hon. Members have tabled, I shall try fairly quickly to explain the purpose behind the Government amendments. At this stage, I shall not comment on the other amendments in the group, but with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will deal with them if I get an opportunity to wind up the debate.

Amendment No. 26 makes provision for a party list to have effect in relation to a general election to the Parliament and to any vacancy occurring among regional Members after that election and before the next general election. That makes it quite clear that vacancies for regional Members will be filled from the list presented to the electorate at the general election.

Amendment No. 27 makes it clear that a registered party's list of candidates for the purposes of the election of regional Members could contain only one name if the party so wishes.

I turn to amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30. Amendment No. 28 effectively provides that, where a person on a party's list is returned as a Member, that person should be removed from that list so that he or she would not thereafter be available to fill a vacancy. That corrects a possible anomaly, whereby a Member loses his or her seat through failure to take the oath or by disqualification, but because his or her name is still on the party list, he or she would arguably be entitled to be returned to the Parliament again. If a Member refused to take the oath or was disqualified, he or she should not be considered by the returning officer, and under the amendment, could be removed from the list.

Amendment No. 34 ensures that the order to be prepared under clause 11 can make detailed arrangements for what will happen if two regional parties or individual candidates get the same number of votes. It will also enable the order to regulate the filling of regional vacancies. For example, it has been pointed out that, as the Bill stands, a candidate on a party's regional list who had subsequently resigned from the party could still be returned to fill a vacancy that subsequently arose. That would clearly be absurd.

The House may be interested to learn that we have established a working group involving the four main parties in Scotland, electoral administrators and returning officers to consider the detailed arrangements for the elections. The group will be of assistance to the Scottish Office in preparing the order.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 32 simply improve the drafting of the Bill. I urge the House to accept the Government amendments.

Mr. Ancram

All the Government amendments seem to be moving in a sensible direction, so I shall not comment on them in depth, except to say that here we are again dealing with clause 4, which refers to enactments providing for the registration of political parties, yet we have still not seen the draft legislation. I have protested before about this; it is outrageous. Three Bills have gone through the House without our having seen the draft legislation. We were promised it at the end of March, then soon after Easter. Now, it is the middle of May, and we still have not got it. I register once again a strong protest about that.

The main Conservative amendment, No. 4, relates to the question of split-ticket voting, to which I have referred before. Under the present system, it is possible, by registering a different party name from that under which candidates stand in direct elections, to enhance the number of seats won. I have given figures previously to indicate how that can be done. It is a way of manipulating the system against the spirit of proportionality, and is of considerable concern.

For instance, if last May's figures for the Glasgow electoral region were replicated exactly under the additional member system, Labour would have won 10 seats on direct elections and two on the list system—a total of 12. The Scottish National party would have won three seats on the list—a total of three—and the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would have won one each on the list.

If a party splits its ticket and uses an alter ego party, such as the Co-operative party, which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) has mentioned, and candidates do not stand under Labour on the list system, a totally different picture emerges. Labour would win 10 seats on direct elections and six on the list under the Co-operative party banner. The SNP would win one list seat and the other two parties would win none.

The Secretary of State shakes his head, but that analysis was done by a very senior political lecturer in Aberdeen on behalf—I understand—of the Labour party. It shows that there is a fault. Having tried other methods, we are simply trying in amendment No. 4 to get around the problem by having not two votes but one, so that the vote cast in direct elections for a candidate would count for that candidate's party on the indirect list. That would avoid party manipulation. I admit that it produces a result that would not allow for individual candidates on the regional list, but I hope that the Government will consider it seriously as a way in which to get away from a very dangerous weakness in the system.

Mr. Dalyell

If I am no friend of this Bill, I am an enemy of lists—partly for the reasons that were eloquently given in an earlier debate by the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne).

I must be one of the few who has seen lists in action. It was when I was exiled to the indirectly elected European Parliament and had friends in the Social Democratic party. They were good politicians and good people, but whenever it came to a crunch issue, their judgment was determined by the reaction back home of Herbert Wehner, who was then the all-powerful floor leader of the SDP. I thought that it was absolutely humiliating for Members of the European Parliament to say, as they did, "Yes, we would like to vote one way, but we cannot anger Herbert Wehner." I know why they could not anger him—he was extremely tough. However, he had absolute power as to where individuals would come on the list next time around.

If there is to be a Scottish Parliament—it is possibly water under the bridge now—there should be 142 or 143 Members, giving gender balance. There should be two Members in each constituency—taking into account Orkney and Shetland—and we should leave it at that. Lists will create endless difficulty and a lot of rancour.

8 pm

Mr. Gorrie

We have tabled a number of amendments, covering two particular points. First, we propose to make the closed-list system an open-list system. Under the Bill, after putting an "X" for their first-past-the-post constituency Member, the voters would put an "X" against the name of the party they support.

We propose that they should put the name of a candidate of the party that they support on the list. Candidates on that list would be elected in order of the number of votes they received from the electorate. The electorate would choose who got in from the party's list, rather than the party managers. We feel that that would be much more democratic, as a closed list gives too much appearance of manipulation by the party and leads to the sort of thing that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned.

Secondly, we should consider having votes at 16, rather than 18. The age of voting has come down, and there was a time when women were considered suitable to vote only at 25. The age was moved to 21, and then to 18. There are some countries whose voting ages are less than 18. There is a greater rapidity of maturity among young people, many of whom show great interest in politics. The decisions of the Parliament will affect them greatly, and we should consider a voting age of 16. There is no doubt that our amendment will not be carried today, but it is a marker and we should pursue that issue. I hope that the Minister will consider both those matters favourably.

Mr. Hayes

The hon. Gentleman's argument about the greater maturity and understanding of young people is extremely interesting. Given the different rates at which men and women mature—young women mature much faster than young men—and given the fact that young women do much better academically at a much earlier age, would his party go as far as—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that this is a time-limited debate, and we should not go down that route.

Mr. McLeish

Unfortunately, I have one minute to deal with a number of outstanding amendments and I will have to write to individual Members to respond to the debate. I hope that the House will accept that proposition in good faith, rather than having me start and finish in roughly 30 seconds.

Amendment agreed to.

It being three and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Bill, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order [13 January] and the Resolution [this day], put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Amendment made: No. 27, in page 3, line 13, at end insert '(but the list may include only one person)'.—[Mr. McLeish.]

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